Hard to believe it’s been a whole year since our last motor trip, and more significantly, a year since our reading audience has had the unique opportunity to be bored to tears by what amounts to a real-time version of the much maligned annual Christmas letter, but far less concise, and no mention at all of any family member’s infidelity, infallibility or insolvency. Only drivel that could just as easily been documented by sitting at home by the fire, supported by Google Earth and Wikipedia. However, perhaps out there somewhere there is someone so desperate for entertainment, or maybe a sociologist searching for examples of cultural idiosyncrasies, that some amusement or amazement will be realized. That being said…
DAY 1: Monday, February 25 - Mashpee, MA to Atlantic City, NJ
This winter traveling can be sketchy. First, we moved our departure date out one day, just to avoid the probable traffic delays due to the rain / snow / sleet on Sunday. Then, once we got going on a sunny Monday morning, we didn’t think we’d ever get to the wicked gambling dens of coastal New Jersey. What is normally a 7 hour drive (we do go the long way…), turned into a 9 hour drive, due to, of all things, two (not one, but two) accidents on I-495 between the Cape and the Mass Pike; one about 5 miles beyond the first! Not bad weather, or anything as simple as that; just poor timing, I guess.
But the drive from there on was pretty uneventful, and though we did get to the Tropicana early enough to indulge in some quality time with the slot machines, it must have been so late that the bandits were gladly accepting money, and dispensing only meager amounts…
DAY 2: Tuesday, February 26 - Atlantic City, NJ
Another day of hanging out at the casinos. Discovered a new venue, the Atlantic Casino & Hotel (the old Hilton) just down the boardwalk from the Tropicana, and were very impressed with not only the gambling floor, but also the dining options; much better than the Tropicana (BTW, the Tropicana has been in bankruptcy for something like the last 5 to 7 years, so some leeway has to be allowed…).
The other neat thing about checking out new casinos is that if you sign up for player’s cards, after playing for 30 minutes with your own money, they give you anywhere from $10 to $5000 of their money to keep playing. Huh, most people get $10…
There is little noticeable super-storm Sandy damage, either along the Garden State Parkway, or in Atlantic City. Although the shops and below-sea-level hotels got flooded, the piers and the boardwalk appear to have been spared, and by now in fact, most of the hotels and shops seem to have reopened. Most of the damage occurred further north…
DAY 3: Wednesday, February 27 - Atlantic City, NJ to Fredericksburg, VA
Long drive; not so much distance, but lots of traffic. Welcome to the greater DC area. More and more lanes keep being added to I-95 and the beltway, until I guess eventually they’ll have to start building condos in the median. And to think that most of these commuters are employed either directly or indirectly by US government agencies or contractors… no wonder nothing seems to get done; NOBODY CAN GET TO THE OFFICE!
DAY 4: Thursday, February 28 - Fredericksburg, VA to Fayetteville, NC
(Legal notice: As always, the knowledge of, and many of the details regarding, the “attractions” we visit are courtesy of the Roadside America website. This has been an indispensable source of entertainment, amusement, confusion and bewilderment in our travels over the years.)
- First (and only) stop was to view a rather difficult (impossible?) to see Civil War memorial in Fredericksburg. We’re not exactly into war history, (actually, not at all…) but the back-story was interesting. Seems a local citizens group wanted a simple sign erected to commemorate a battlefield in rural Fredericksburg, but instead got a strange, 27 foot tall stone pyramid. The why is lost to history… And just to make it now even more obscure, the pyramid is only visible from a small park about 300 yards away, across some very busy railroad tracks.
The rest of the day was driving, and yes, just so that you don’t think we forgot how…shopping. The Burkes / Beall’s stores start popping up more frequently the further south you go, and the fear of suddenly filling the car too much too soon looms large…
Weather has been good so far. It got up to 50o yesterday in Virginia, but still windy, and cloudy and cooler here in North Carolina.
And finally, just so as to not disappoint our regular readers, here begins the questions / observations section.
- Why is the speed limit on the portions of I-95 with 3, 4, 5 or more lanes 65 mph, while it is 70 mph on the 2 lane sections?
- Why do so few car haulers have sleeper cabs?
Another driving day over what is now for us a well-traveled route. Without getting too distracted by the Carolina countryside, it’s pretty hard to drive south along I-95 and find new stuff to do. But in addition to intentionally not going to South-Of-The-Border, we did manage to find a couple of interesting sights
- A very nice park and memorial in Lake City, South Carolina in honor of Ron McNair, a crew member of the ill-fated Challenger Space Shuttle. McNair was born and grew up in Lake City, and attended local schools and South Carolina universities before going to MIT and later into the astronaut program. Prior to the 1986 mission, McNair was a member of the 1984 Challenger crew.
- And of course, no trip is complete without at least one car museum, race rack or NASCAR facility visit. It’s the southeast, we’re Sprint Cup fans, and Darlington Raceway was right on our route. Very large, unassuming facility in rural South Carolina, but with a small, well presented museum, the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Hall of Fame.
Then a little shopping, and on to visit friends in Summerville, SC.
…and, the first palm trees, pivots and grits…
- Oh, and a comment about the weather…We left New England hoping that as in the past, the temperatures would, however slightly, continue to climb as we headed south. Not so. Other than maybe a couple of hours when it got into the low 50’s (out of the wind), it doesn’t seem much warmer than it was when we left home! Just no snow…
Every trip south necessitates at least one stop at a flea market. The first time we did this, many years ago, we naively thought it would be similar to those we have on Cape Cod; essentially a large field, or perhaps an abandoned parking lot, with maybe a smattering of sheds or stalls, housing anything from tag sale items to new merchandise, much of indeterminate and suspect origin. Yeah, right. As we soon found out, and as most people probably know, southeast America’s flea markets are either huge warehouse-like structures full of vendors selling basically department store items at reduced prices or, as the one was we visited on Saturday, multi-acre fields with a veritable labyrinth of interconnected buildings housing the most varied and sometimes bizarre assortment of wares imaginable. Without going into detail, the most extreme range of offerings I can think of was a booth full of Ford and Chevy V8 short blocks, next to the somewhat unsettling sale of puppies, displayed and housed in small cages. Plus more clothes, boots, tools, household, food, jewelry, electronic and weapons (!?) then you could possibly imagine.
- Sale pitch comment of the day (from vendor selling personal safety items):
Just pick out one, I take cash only, and ya’ll can just go stun away ‘til your heart’s content.”
DAY 7: Sunday, March 3 – Richmond Hill, GA to Waycross, GAOne word sums up today…COLD. Not cool; COLD. High 20’s last night (FYI, Richmond Hill is just south of Savannah), high today of about 40, very windy. Though we did stop at what was going to be sort of a major attraction, the Okefenokee Swamp Park, just south of Waycross, once we got out of the car, saw all the tourists (like us) bundled up in ski parkas and gloves returning from the boat tour / walking trails, we decided maybe it just wasn’t a prime swamp-viewing day. Maybe next year…
Other highlight today…laundry
- This aspect of traveling like we do is best taken with a sense of humor and a full stomach. And some alcohol, although Waycross is dry on Sunday. (Yep, booze sales in Georgia are still decided town-by-town)
- Hotel laundry facilities generally range from very good (todays) to so bad that by the time you’re done you’d swear that you and your clothes are in worse condition than when you started.
When this trip was planned, even though we were not going all the way to the Sunshine State, we thought that by going at least as far south as Waycross, Georgia, a convenient turning point, we’d at least get some warmer weather than what we left behind in Mass. Well, that didn’t really work out; the southeast, especially Georgia, is experiencing near record cold, with little sunshine, and temperatures running 10o to 20o below normal. So our route has been altered a little to delete outside attractions for which it is either too chilly, or the likelihood that the attraction (such as gardens) might not even exist!! But there’s always shopping…and a couple of attractions.
- A functioning bank in Alma, Georgia that sort of looks like those designs from the 1950’s predicting what the world would look like in 2013; and were not even close.
- We also stopped in Vidalia, Georgia, the onion capital of…I don’t know, the US? The world?? Well, they don’t seem to get a whole lot of tourist mileage from it. Went to the Vidalia Onion Company and all they had were products containing…you guessed it, onions. Which isn’t really all that unusual when you thing about it…sort of like a water museum…
More cloudy, cool weather, even heavy rain late in the afternoon. Today’s activities covered:
- A quick stop at the Solo / Dixie / Sweetheart factory in Augusta (with a giant cup out front that said…Dart). Dart is the parent corporation that makes a variety of paper and plastic cups.
- Much meandering around Augusta, seemingly through the seediest part(s) of the city, in search of a couple of attractions that we gave up on partly because we began to feel like characters in a really bad horror movie, about to meet some untimely demise at the hands of crazed locals out to get revenge for some ill-defined misdeed. (Actually, this happens occasionally when searching out roadside sights; you just laugh and move on…)
- A mufflerless muffler man in Washington, Georgia, and…
- The best of all, a visit to the Callaway Plantation in Washington, GA., a very interesting post-Civil War home and out-buildings. The home is fully furnished with period furniture and décor, much of it original to the late 19th / early 20th century inhabitants. Interestingly, the property has always been lived on by ancestors of the original land grant recipients of the late 18th century, in one of several homes on the property, ranging from a crude log cabin to the 8+ room plantation home. In fact, although about 50 acres of the original 500 acre grant is now owned by the Town of Washington, via donation from the Callaway descendants, those same descendants continue to live on adjacent portions of the original grant. All very nicely displayed, and presented via a most well-informed tour guide (the best kind!). As has happened many times before, just when you think the travel day will yield nothing of great interest, a real gem comes along and saves the day! (and yes, it is the same Callaway as the golf equipment company…and the Corvette performance manufacturer).
DAY 10: Wednesday, March 6 – Athens, GA to Cartersville, GAIf we thought yesterday was cool…today was COLD. 28o this morning, with a wind chill of 17o; even had some snow flurries up in the hills. Frost on dem ‘ol Georgia peaches, if you know what I mean…
Yesterday, one of us (the driver), was getting a little bummed because we were not able to do a lot of stuff that we had planned, mostly seeing those attractions that required time out of doors, like gardens, parks, etc. And a few of the roadside attractions just weren’t panning out. Well, today we made up for it, with stops at:
- A very small park and life-sized chicken-topped monument right in downtown Gainesville, Georgia, commemorating the city’s claim to fame as the chicken capital of the world. It seems that not only is the poultry business high on the Gainesville pecking order, the town was also the home of one Jesse Jewell, who revolutionized chicken processing by utilizing “mass production techniques”. Fills your head with some really strange thoughts..
- Then, as a corollary to the “chicken” faction, a part of town once known as Rabbittown attempted to equal Gainesville’s notoriety for chickens by promoting their own food group specialty, the bunny wabbit. Didn’t work out so well for the Rabbit-towners, but they did erect an even taller monument, with a very-much larger-than-life-size rabbit on top.
- Next up was a winery stop, Frogtown Cellars, in Dahlonega, Georgia. Unlike the southern part of the state (flat with pine logging, cotton and dairy farming), north Georgia has many wineries. Several bottles were added to our growing stash of wine.
- Then it was off to Cumming, Georgia, and a quick stop to check out a couple of giant, reclining pink panthers. Words can’t describe… (Passenger voted this the best attraction of the day)
The final stops of the day were right in the Cartersville area.
- First, Wes-Mans Truck, a mid-60’s panel van that is supposedly painted every day. It does seem to have about an inch of paint on the body, but I can’t verify the every day aspect of the story. Rumor has it that when you eat (or more likely drink) at Wes-Man’s Diner, you get to paint the truck…
- Right across the street was “Old Car City”, an auto graveyard located in the same place since 1931. Unfortunately (fortunately?), it was closed. Rather than a true junk yard, with piles of old rusty cars heaped about (very common in rural America, we’ve found), OCC is more like an outdoor museum of abandoned cars from the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. So instead of being for sale, the true connoisseurs pay their $15, bring their cameras, and just stroll around and view the rusting remains of once proud (or perhaps not) motor vehicles. Driver could have spent hours in this place…
- And finally, in the center of downtown Cartersville is a statue erected by a debtor in honor of his credit holders. Seems a local fellow, through some financial misfortune, lost a piece of real estate valued at $100,000 (in the 1860’s; THAT WAS A LOT OF MONEY!). However, a number of friends and acquaintances got together and bailed him out, and in appreciation, he built a monument to them. (Never found out if he paid them back…)
- Today’s key observation: We’re considering replacing our fence at home, and we saw what may be a unique answer to the question of fencing material. Surrounding a home, many out-buildings, and various vehicles, tractors, piles of trash and other miscellaneous crap, was a complete perimeter structure comprised of…OLD SCHOOL BUSES. Each parked nose to tail, slowing sinking into the Georgia clay, wistfully waiting in their faded yellow splendor for the youths of the past, now probably they themselves interred in the red earth.
SUNNY! Warmer! (Above freezing this morning!) Yes!!
- First stop, in the city of Rome, Georgia, was the Tomb Of The Known Soldier. In a very steep hillside cemetery is the grave site of Charles Graves, the national "Known" soldier, who was killed during World War I and buried in France. His body was later disinterred and moved to the United States, selected to be buried at Arlington Cemetery alongside the Unknown Soldier. His mother refused to let the government have the body and had it brought home to Rome, GA. He was buried in the family plot, but subsequently dug up by American Legion members and reburied at Myrtle Hill Cemetery. If the observation is at all appropriate, Myrtle Hill is a very picturesque cemetery.
- Then to counterbalance the somber story of Mr. Graves, next stop was to see three (not one, but three) very large fiberglass fish in Centre, Alabama. Would have looked good outside a Bass Pro Shop store…
- Then on to Gadsden, and a quick stop to see the the Emma Sansom Statue. During the Civil War, a 16-year old girl named Emma Sansom showed General Nathan Bedford Forrest a way across the river so that he and his Rebel army could press a counterattack against a raiding Union brigade on mules . Through the years, teenagers in the town have dressed her up, rolled her in toilet paper, etc., but she has survived it all, standing right in the median of a downtown street.
- And finally, before the afternoon’s winery shopping stop (not to be confused with this morning’s Beall's Outlet shopping stop), was a visit to the 95 foot Noccalula Falls, also in Gadsden. There’s a very sad tale about a Native American princess Noccalula, who chose to leap to her death into the falls, rather than participate in an arranged marriage with a member of an enemy tribe. Unfortunately, although it has been substantiated by many attendant “facts”, “fables” and “news accounts “since the story first appeared in the mid-18th century, none of it is true…
Today’s motoring observations:
- For those of us brought up on and continuing to drive in states with a “slower vehicles to the right, passing on the left” tradition on multi-lane highways, it’s always difficult to get accustomed to the seemingly southern concept of immediately getting into the far left lane, and driving slightly below (or sometimes, much below) the speed limit, while those wanting to pass do so on the right…weird…
- We also experienced (for the second time in our many trips around the US) a real money making concept for state highway departments that the northeast seems to have missed out on; the one-lane construction site escort. Normally, at least in New England, when construction dictates that a two lane road be reduced to one lane, traffic flow is controlled by two workers, one at each end of the sight, who alternately display either “Stop” or “Slow” lollipop signs, the appropriate side determined via walkie-talkie communication between the two workers. But today we came upon a small section of one-lane construction (probably no more than 500 yards) where not only were there the workers with the lollipop signs, but also a full size pick-up truck and driver that escorted each batch of vehicles from one end of the site to the other, then turned around and repeated to process…all day long… So the Alabama tax payers are paying for the fuel and a driver to simply drive ahead of a lane of traffic to perform some unobvious function…
DAY 12: Friday, March 8, 2013 - Gadsden, AL to Scottsboro, AL
Another sunny day, a little warmer and more inane sights…but first…
- Once you get out of the southern Georgia / Alabama flatlands, the transition to the lower end of the Appalachians is most dramatic. Where one day you’re driving for hours across wide open dairy and pine forest country, very soon you’re driving up and down and across the mountains of northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama. One adjustment that does have to be made, from a perhaps bit too technical aspect, is that by looking at a map, or the navigation screen, it’s not obvious where and when the topography of the terrain changes. So to go from point A to point B on flat highways at 55 to 70 mph obviously takes much less time than it takes to cover the distance, when the road is at a 30o angle, and your speed is 25 – 35 mph!
- First, a stop in Fort Payne, Alabama, home of the legendary country music group Alabama. Surprisingly, we learned that the group still tours (evidentially mostly cruises and such), even though they range in age from the mid-50’s to the mid 60’s. Is it the money, or the applause? Most of the town is very “Alabama” focused, welcoming fans, and playing up the name in any way possible. There is a very nice little park in the center of town with four bronze statues of the band members, and engraved monoliths documenting their rise to fame and multiplicity of awards.
- Of cause, there is also a museum…sort of a converted grocery store, with a somewhat eclectic assortment of memorabilia, and a very poor quality video. Not too impressive.
- Next up was a quick pass by Joe’s truck stop; not a diner or café, but rather a large cement and stone wall built to protect Joe’s house from runaway logging trucks that fail to make the 90o corner in front of his property. Unfortunately, his neighbor was not so well prepared, and a considerable amount of the front corner of his home was recently destroyed in just such an event. Skid marks, and the tarp covering the as yet to be repaired home are clearly evident.
- Then it was off to Scottsboro, Alabama, and a long drive way out into the country to check out a farm with a very interesting display of painted rocks, all resembling various animals. It was actually quite clever…
- Last stop of the day was Unclaimed Baggage Outlet, Scottsboro’s claim to fame. This is a very large (40,000 square feet) retail complex dealing exclusively in items unclaimed from airlines around the country. At first, it’s hard to imagine where all this stuff comes from, but in retrospect, not only is it the items left on planes by passengers, but also the contents of lost luggage for which the traveler has been reimbursed, and unclaimed bulk shipments. In addition, a lot of the new items are in all probability stuff people bought, and either left behind, or as mentioned, the airlines “lost” the peoples bags, compensated them, then located the items later. It is amazing, though, that people would “forget” $2000 Nikon cameras, and newest generation iPads (lots of electronics, to the point where they limit the number you can buy). And just tons of clothes, especially outerwear (but also all the garments you would travel with, including shoes, sox and undies!!)
Day 13: Saturday, March 9, 2013 – Scottsboro, Alabama to London, Kentucky
Today, the passenger takes a turn at the keyboard since the driver is busy re-rerouting us. It seems we’ve somehow ‘lost’ a day from our flexi-schedule. It might have something to do with all those shopping stops and wine tasting events. Anyway, here goes.
- Someone at breakfast today thought they recognized the driver as one of her old college professors. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard that comment. I think it has to do with the long hair and bearded 70’s look. I keep trying to get him into a vintage clothing shop to pick up a tweed sport jacket with patches on the elbows to complete the look; so far no sale.
- Lots of highway driving today through the Tennessee mountains, singing along with Waylon and Wilie and enjoying all the classic country music stations. Actually, the passenger and the truckers were enjoying the music; the driver was missing his classic rock stations (or maybe it was the passenger’s singing that troubled him….not sure). At any rate, the scenery was nice even though most of it was viewed from the left hand lane. That’s the driver’s preferred location when trying to make time. This gives the passenger an opportunity to keep abreast of the various models of trucks on the road and to discuss horsepower and shift gears, diesel power and engine capacity; all those things that make highway travel so delightful.
- One important stop of the day was in Corbin, Kentucky, at the Sanders Café. Though not the original franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken Store (that’s actually in Utah...), the Corbin locale is where Sanders got his start, first as a tourist stop entrepreneur, than as a gas station owner. It was only after the interstate highway (I-75) came through in the 1950’s, taking the mid-west snowbirds off the Old Dixie Highway (US-25), did Sanders finally close up shop. He took his secret receipt, a $105 social security check, and at 66 years old, began a new career as restaurant franchiser. The rest is, as they say, history… The original café has been reproduced (and is a KFC store), but most of the attendant buildings, such as the two service stations Sanders owned, are gone.
Weather still pretty good; some sun, some clouds, but still fairly cool. High’s only in the mid-50’s.
Day 14: Sunday, March 10, 2013 – London, Kentucky to Charleston, West Virginia
Today was lots of driving, to accommodate more big schedule / route changes. Some of our pre-selected Roadside and Major attractions are not really working out as planned. As always, we’re finding that either they don’t exist, are not open, or are so far off the beaten path that…who cares? And then of course, there are those that you think are only going to occupy 15 minutes, and we spend a couple of hours poking around…
- For instance, we spent a considerable amount of time looking for the Country Music Highway Museum, in Paintsville, Kentucky, only to discover once we got there , it was closed (all advertising and online info said it was open on Sundays…) BTW, US-23, which runs through this here neck of the woods, is known as the Country Music Highway, due to the large number of Country Music performers who were born and / or grow up in the immediate vicinity.
Today we found only three sights worthy of mention.
- Right in London, Kentucky, is the Library of Mountain Millstones, a collection of perhaps 50 various shapes and sizes of millstones. These are all arranged on the grounds of a mill, and are interestingly affixed to the ground to prevent theft, I assume. Though I’m sure they’d made interesting lawn décor, I would suspect they do tend to be on the heavy side…
- A tall stone pillar made entirely of coal (what else…) in the center (and I mean the center, like right in the center of the street…) of Baxter, Kentucky.
- The Mother Goose building in Hazard, Kentucky, a building made to look like a very large…goose.
Another key observation, also pertinent to travel scheduling. Be wary of time zones and seasonal time changes. We didn’t even notice the gained hour when we went west from Georgia to Alabama, but returning on Saturday, the last day of Standard time was a real shocker. In a split second, two hours were gone… I’m sure those readers who travel back and forth across country are very familiar with this situation.
Day 15: Monday, March 11 – Charleston, West Virginia to Hagerstown, Maryland.
Cloudy…all day. And still some snow up in the mountains from last week’s storm.
Hours of highway driving today, with only one stop at:
- The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, constructed between 1858 and 1881, is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, and is purportedly the second largest in the world, next to the Kremlin. It was designed by the renowned architect Richard Andrews following the Kirkbride plan, which called for long rambling wings arranged in a staggered formation, assuring that each of the connecting structures received an abundance of therapeutic sunlight and fresh air. The original hospital, designed to house 250 souls, was open to patients in 1864 and reached its peak in the 1950's with 2,400 patients in overcrowded and generally poor conditions. Changes in the treatment of mental illness and the physical deterioration of the facility forced its closure in 1994 inflicting a devastating effect on the local economy, from which it has yet to recover.
…They have tours, but when we were there…it was closed…for renovation…