Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Off Again

The "First" trip of 2012 — that unexpected jaunt up to Colorado last month doesn't count — is underway. This year's Condo Trip is being held in the Spring (I forget why, but I'm sure there's a reason) in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This year, unusually, the wife has taken enough time off from work to drive out and back with me. It's a blessing, and a curse: a blessing because, (A) I have her with me the whole time, and (2) because she helps keep me focussed on important things like WeightWatchers (even if not entirely successfully); a curse because (A) I have her with me the whole time, and (2) because she helps keep me focussed on important things like WeightWatchers. 

We started out Saturday, dropping Homer off at the kennel after watching Spurs draw at Sunderland in the early match. Along about Belton, north of Austin, I heard a noise from the front of the car and discovered that my left front tire was coming apart. That only caused a delay of maybe two hours while we replaced both front tires, counting our blessings that it happened on Saturday around noon, instead of Easter Sunday, when nothing would have been open. I had only expected to get as far as Texarkana that day, and that was as far as we got; just a little later than I'd figured on. We checked into a motel and had dinner at the first decent-looking place we saw, a steak house on the Arkansas side of Stateline Avenue. 

Pictures from this trip are in the
Picasa Web Album
"2012 Trip to the Outer Banks"
Next morning we were out early, and, after a short stretch of freeway, turned onto the back roads. My half-hearted County Quest took us first to Crater of Diamonds State Park, where we paid our seven bucks to dig for gems in their plowed fields, just as it started to rain. Digging for diamonds in the mud is, uh, an unattractive option. Oh, well. We'll have to come back some other time and make a day of it. 

An hour or two later we were in Hot Springs, where we toured an old bath house, the one the National Park uses as its visitors' center, and walked along the Grand Promenade. Then we drove up the mountain to the observation tower. The views were nice, but for me the best part was the one-way winding road. Afterwards, we headed off towards Mississippi, getting only as far as Pine Bluff, Arkansas. That leaves only Jackson County in Arkansas, which I expect to go through on my way back from Chicago in June.

The trip across Mississippi was uneventful. We were listening to an audiobook, Blowfly, by Patricia Cornwell: probably the last Patricia Cornwell novel we'll ever listen to. It doesn't have as crafty a plot as her previous works we've heard, and it seemed to absolutely wallow in gratuitous gruesomeness at every opportunity. Plus, I'll tell you one thing: I would never trust any of my secrets to her character Lucy, the former FBI agent now free-lancing as a sort of black-ops security specialist: That woman spills the beans with just a cross look.

We stopped off in Starkville, Mississippi, so I could try to track down an old man who had been a friend of my father's: the only such friend I know of. The last time I saw him I was probably six or seven years old, though I did talk to him a couple of times on the phone in the last seven or eight years. I had it in my head that he might be able to shed some light on a couple of curious points of family history. I've been calling his number for the last couple of weeks, in anticipation of this trip, but no one ever answered. I didn't have an address, just knew that he lived in a cabin or shack in the woods about four miles from the University where he used to teach. So I went to the courthouse and checked with the chancellery office, figuring he must've owned the land where his cabin was. I learned that he had died in 2009 and his property transferred to his heir. So for the next couple of hours I was full of reflections on death and memory and such, but only slight regrets that I had no further chance, that I can see, of illuminating the little mysteries of my ancestors. But knowing such things isn't really important anyway: it'd be about as significant as knowing the plot of an old Dick Van Dyke Show episode.

Late that afternoon we passed through Huntsville, Alabama, having decided to find a motel on the far side of the city. Well, guess what: when you go through Huntsville from west to east on the freeway, the city ends very suddenly, and there are no motels (or restaurants) until you get to Winchester, Tennessee. It was a beautiful drive (with the top down most of the way; so far that's been the only day it was both warm enough and dry), especially the last part, along a winding narrow hilly road in the fading light. And I thought we'd scored a bargain in the mom-and-pop hotel we found in Winchester ($38/night, with wireless internet). That always makes me more cheerful, to find a clean, comfortable, inexpensive motel along the way. The last few years, all the ones I've found, in every part of the country, have been operated by people from India, which makes me ponder the habit of immigrant groups to follow their own kind in the New Lands. I suppose it's what the Irish and Chinese and Italians did in the 19th Century, and the Scots and Germans and Swedes before them. It gives us stereotypes like Apu, the Quickie-mart owner on The Simpsons, and Chinese laundries and restaurants, and those, I suppose, linger on after the ethnic group members have merged into the general population. Well, except the Swedes, who are still all big, blond boneheaded farmers up north.

Yesterday we drove up the Sequatchie Valley in Tennessee, then back down to Chattanooga, where we spent a good part of the day at Lookout Mountain. The weather was just cooperative enough for us to admire the vistas that spot offers. We wandered around Point Park, and down to Sunset Rock, then headed east into the Smoky Mountains and crossing into North Carolina. At a visitors' center on the Ocoee River, the location for some whitewater events in the '96 Olympics, we heard about the town of Highlands, North Carolina, which sounded like Atlanta's version of Fredericksburg: a weekend getaway full of cutesy shops and restaurants and hotels. It just happened to be at the right co-ordinates for us, as we drove into town on a winding mountain road right about sunset (pausing to drive under a waterfall a mile or so west of town) and booked a room in the Highlands Inn, and old (1880) ramshackle building on the main street of the town. Everything in Highlands is seasonal, but our desk clerk found us a restaurant that was open until 8, where we enjoyed a nice dinner. By the time we were done, the weather had turned cold, which was not what we packed for, so we headed back to the room and shut ourselves in.

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