This is the second installment of my summer road trip travelogue, starring Artificially Sweetened (AS), Cupcake, and this Turkey.
As Day One unfolded, we managed to survive the argument about who told whom to be ready at which time versus who was actually ready when. It didn’t matter. We were ready to rock and roll, with our morning faces in full bloom. I shut off the house water and the water heater, and reprogrammed the air conditioners to keep the house toasty, but not incendiary, while we were gone. And before we had left I had made a mental note to pry more on what are scented air filters so that the house wouldn’t go fetid and dingy by the time we got back.
We had decided to use AS’s van, which was roomy and would be comfortable for a party of three and “all our crap” as Cupcake called it. As we staged for departure, we loaded up the van with our crap, AS called shotgun, and away we went. Cupcake was talkative for the first 50 miles or so, then she fell silent. She had brought along an iPod, a perpetually attached cell phone, a summer reading assignment, and a pillow. So, she was either listening to music, reading, sleeping, talking with or texting her sister or her boyfriend, or engaging in some combination of those things. Occasionally, we would alert her to the presence of something photographable, such as the “Welcome to Georgia” sign, whereupon she would snap a picture while reading and listening to the iPod.
The first memorable quote occurred when Cupcake asked whether we would be stopping anywhere or driving straight through to the first day’s destination, which, as I’ve said, happened to be Asheville, NC. AS saved me the trouble of responding. “Of course we’ll be stopping. We all do have bladders, you know!”
When we stopped at the overcrowded South Carolina welcome rest stop on I-95, nobody’s bladder was in need of evacuation. I guess we all don’t have bladders. In any case, there was a Geocache at the rest stop that I had previously searched for when it was missing, so I wanted to see if it was there. That gave us the opportunity to get out and walk around a little. After we had nabbed the cache, we walked back to the van. As AS passed the rest area depositorium, she stated that she intended to use the facilities. I told her that we’d see her back at the van. She asked if either of us had to use the toilet; Cupcake and I demurred. AS grunted, “Hmph!” Now, I know that my bladder was trained on much beer over the years, but I had to wonder about Cupcake. Perhaps she had precociously and furtively pursued a similar training regimen with the same foamy substance.
After we were on the road again, we decided that we would stop for lunch somewhere, whenever we needed to get fuel. It was then that AS proclaimed that she had made the executive decision that we would eat at no chain restaurants throughout this trip. Fair enough. There were lots of good local restaurants where we could enjoy some reasonable semblance of local cuisine. That beats Burger King anytime, doesn’t it? Well, perhaps.
We hopped off the interstate at St. George, South Carolina, attending to the first order of business, which was gas. Come to think of it, the second order of business involved gas, too. AS said that she spotted what looked to her to be a good lunch spot because it had plenty of motorcycles and pickups, so we had our first anti-chain restaurant venue. I didn’t know whether we would encounter any other chains there, such as motorcycle chains or leather garment accessory chains, but it sure waren’t no chain lak ah evah seen. Skynard’s Sports Bar was the name of the place and the only way to find out was to try it. The decor was simple and South Carolina sports oriented. The clientele was similar. Cupcake quickly pointed out the world class cobwebs on the pull chain for the ceiling fan over our table, webs for which the spiders had died long before Steve Spurrier ever took over as head coach at the University of South Carolina. But the service was prompt and friendly, as it appeared to be a ma and pa kind of place, with both ma and pa prowling the floor and shooting the breeze with the regulars. The girls liked the french fries, noting that they were not machine cut and pre-frozen. That’s about all they had going for them, as they were overcooked and greasy. I had an acceptable fried oyster po’ boy, even though “ma” didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when I asked if anyone had eaten one recently and lived to talk about it. AS had a serviceable meal—no complaints—but Cupcake couldn’t finish her hamburger, which tasted awful and was dry. We mentioned that to “ma” when she came by. Her reaction was to sort of nod acceptance, as if to say, “What do these Yankees know about good food?” I’ll have grits with that, thank you.
I considered stopping in a convenience store for some Pepto-Bismol, but it turned out that we didn’t need any, at least for Skynard’s food after effects. However, the 20-minute traffic jam outside Columbia was another story. AS reminded me that we had encountered the same thing on our previous buy ventolin asthma inhaler trip to the North Carolina mountains. That was of little consolation to me. In my boredom, I glanced at the outside temperature frequently. It maxed out at 103º Fahrenheit—not really the break from Florida mid-summer heat we had been looking for. Maybe our blood had been thinned by many years of life in the reality of Florida’s inferno, but it wasn’t yet that thin! And this was the southeastern United States, so it wasn’t even the proverbial dry heat.
But the traffic eventually cleared and we resumed our voyage, onward and upward. Particularly upward.
Soon, we were in the foothills and the road morphed from flat to undulating to roller coaster. We closed in on Asheville, enjoying the mountain scenery to exclamations of “Prettttttttyyy!” from AS. I had my eye on the outside temperature, and it was much prettier than what we had seen in Columbia, too. That made me happy.
It wasn’t long before we were ensconced in our motel, which was the most expensive of the trip due to the desirability of Asheville in the summer, and the fact that this weekend was the Belle Chere arts festival, the famed Asheville event that attracts people from all over the world. Obviously, my copious research had some flaws in it, but we had an unexpected benefit awaiting us downtown and did not yet know it.
Cupcake had a blister on her heel from her new sneakers, which had received a compliment from me prior to the trip. The sneakers, not the blister—you should have seen the old ones. Anyway, AS wanted her to get some more comfortable shoes so her blister could have a chance to heal and wouldn’t impact her enjoyment of the trip. She felt that Keene sandals would work for both light hiking and city walking, which was what we had intended to do. To get the new shoes, we had to go downtown, and that’s when we ran into Belle Chere. Lots of streets were closed, parking “entrepreneurs” were charging $10 and $15 for a few hours, and there were wall to wall people. With the aid of my ever bitchy GPS, I decided to drive around until I got as close to the outfitter as possible. As it turned out, I was able to park a block away for $4.
So, there I was in Asheville, with two women buying shoes. We were at the Mast General Store, which is a popular and old North Carolina outfitter. We quickly found the women’s shoe section. After a couple hours of trying shoes, or so it seemed, they were done, and Cupcake had her Keene sandals. AS then told me that this Mast store didn’t have as much “stuff” as the one in Boone. I told her there was an upstairs. Mistake. After another few hours of looking at various and sundry crap, I had to perform a “double Mastectomy” to get them out of there.
Once out on the sidewalk, I asked if they wanted to take in some of the arts festival but got only negative grunts. Out of the unintelligible gutteral utterances (gutterances?), I made out something that sounded like “foood… eeeeat”. I knew what that meant.
I have to maintain a kind of remote blood sugar monitoring station for AS. When she gets hungry, she gets cranky. The last thing I needed was a cranky AS after a shoe shopping episode. So, we got into the van, endured some good natured drunken mockery from some sodden festival goers, and high-tailed it toward the quieter outskirts of Asheville to find another non-chain restaurant. The Flat Rock Grill looked good from the outside. On a previous trip, Zbeard and I had talked about having dinner there but never did. So, this time, it was a “go”. No motorcycles in the parking lot, though. AS didn’t care. But first, we searched for and found a nearby Geocache. Cupcake got the honors there.
Flat Rock turned out to be a decent place, well decorated, with excellent food, and fast service. And beer. I had the locally caught trout. It was very, very good. During dinner, I caught AS and Cupcake whispering about something. It turned out that they thought that the waitress’ complexion was of a color not available as a standard issue in nature. I don’t know whether they were accusing her of going to a tanning parlor or using makeup or what. Yes, this was yet another thing I would have never thought of had I been alone or with another man. I am always amused by these unpredictable creatures of the opposite gender. I had a fine time: Nice dinner, good company, the mountains tomorrow—what more could a Turkey want?
Returning to the motel, Cupcake was advised that her sleeping position was on the fold-out sofa bed, although for some inscrutable reason known only to her, she refused to pull it out. She brought her pillow so she could just sleep on top of the sofa. OK for you, kiddo. AS and I have the real bed, so do what ever makes you most comfortable. (Apparently, a sofa provides a better posture for texting her boyfriend all night.)
We took turns in the bathroom and conked out for the night.
Day Two would give us some time in the mountains before high-tailing it north to Pittsburgh. Look for it in our next installment.