Posts tagged ‘restaurants’

A Bavarian Weekend Story

26 May, 2016 | | No Comment

“I’ve lost the bride.”

There may be no words in the English language more terrifying, more fraught with angst than those. (Well, possibly a sign stating “Sorry out of coffee” in a diner window, but that’s a story for another time, and besides, they’re closed.)

Let’s look at these four words.

I’ve – It’s personal, and it’s past tense. This is something I did, something I have done and cannot undo.
Lost – The absence of a thing, the lack, with the understanding that it’s something I had at one point, but have no longer.
The Bride – Sheer. Unadulterated. Terror.

These are the words SOBUMD and I heard a high-heeled, gown-wrapped woman utter as we walked past her into the Bavarian Inn last weekend for our Anniversary. I, luckily, have never lost the bride. It’s been 25 years since we held hands and jumped over my sword, and while I haven’t misplaced her yet, we decided to get lost for the weekend to celebrate.

The Bavarian Inn, should you find yourself in Shepherdstown, WVa, has all the amenities you could want from a getaway spot: rooms for sleeping, fireplaces, rooms for formal eating, rooms for less formal eating, swimming pools, and a view of the great Potomac River that could inspire poetry, or at least that kind of “huh, wouldja lookit that” sigh that passes for poetry among most folk these days. There was even a decent-sized hedge pig just outside our balcony, rooting among the flowers and the hedge, having a grand old time.

Bavarian View

Potomac River

Since we were only there for an overnight, we decided to maximize our time and headed straight for the pool – despite the 50-degree weather and the on-again off-again drizzling blatter of the rain. It couldn’t really even be called rain, truly – a heavy cool mist that couldn’t make up its mind to piss down or just piss off and let the sun through. It certainly wasn’t going to prevent us from getting into the mostly heated pool, the infinity edge of which appeared to drop off as a sheer cliff face to the curving bend of the Potomac River, 200 feet or more below us.

The view was wonderful, the water was warmer than the air around us – albeit not by a wide margin, but warm enough to get in and float around. After all, this was our own private pool! I realized that it wasn’t really our own private pool, but it seemed that way since we had it all to ourselves. We paddled and splashed our way to the edge, enjoying the vertiginous sight of the mighty river below, pondering the story arc of the past 25 years and contemplating the arc of the next 25, dreaming of the stories we will write together.

Paddling around the pool at the Bavarian Inn recalled for me a different story, one told by David Niven in his autobiography “The Moon’s a Balloon.” He recounts a chilling tale of Bavarian skiing one day, years ago before modern ski equipment, and mentions that he “suddenly felt coldest where he should have felt warmest,” if you get his drift. He got down the mountain as best as he could, and went straight to his friends and the doctor at the lodge, concerned about frostbite in a place most men should NEVER be concerned about frostbite. The consensus was that he should warm the afflicted appendage in an alcohol solution, and so a (presumably inexpensive) brandy was poured for him in a (presumably large) brandy snifter – which he then carried gingerly into the men’s room. He stood in front of a urinal, his chilly willy dunked in the drink, thinking about the horrors of amputation and reconsidering his recreational hobbies, when a casual acquaintance entered the room and took up arms at the urinal next to his. He glanced over.

“My God! David, what are you doing?”

Being David Niven had its advantages. His immediate reply was, “Why, I’m pissing in a brandy snifter. I always do.”

So there I was, hand in hand with SOBUMD, watching the river flow under the trees playing hide and seek with the mists and the rain, when David Niven’s story came rushing back to me as a kind of satori of embarrassment. One of the downsides of having a very new bathing suit is that one could forget that this new one might happen to have a zipper.

No brandy snifters were required, but I was quite glad to have realized my condition before our reverie was interrupted by six basic bros, all of whom had brought their beers with them, and most of whom might have been muttering things about lost brides. None of them looked particularly put out, and so I have to assume the erstwhile groom was not among them. (If he was with them, I will assume the wedding hadn’t been entirely his idea.)

SOBUMD and I headed back to our fireplace and changed for dinner, which was sumptuous, as was breakfast the following morning. The weekend was topped off with a stop at a small Shepherdstown Bookstore that was large enough to hold the secret of a long and happy marriage:  There, among all the stories on the shelves, you can get lost together or separately – but tucked in between the poetry, the biographies, the fiction, and the cookbooks, there’s always something for everyone, and your story never ends.

Just don’t lose the bride!

Come Fly With Me!

15 August, 2013 | | 2 Comments

I know, it’s been too long, and I’ve missed you too – but you can’t have a triumphant return if you don’t take some time to gather your mojo now and then.

Besides, today is an auspicious day.  21 years ago today, SOBUMD and I stood up in a church in front of family and friends and made promises until death did us part, and to our surprise no one said anything when the priest asked the crowd, “If anyone feels that this marriage is not in the best interests of baseball, speak now or forever hold your piece.”  At 21 years, our marriage can now go pick up beer at 7-11, but it looks so young that it would still get carded.

But rather than reminisce on the last 21 years, I’m going to focus on the last 4 days.  To commemorate those blessed nuptial celebrations, we woke up before the crack of dawn this past Sunday and drove to North Carolina’s Outer Banks – wheels up at 0430, and as Adrian Cronauer said, the “0” stands for “Oh my God, it’s early.”  We were packed and loaded for bear, by which I mean I managed to bring 4 different pairs of shoes, because I’m a girl.

Driving pell-mell down the coast in the gathering sunrise, stopping only to fill the car’s tank and empty our own, we made Stack ‘Em High pancake house by 0900 – good time by any measure.   It turns out I can’t stack ’em as high as I used to, but I still put a respectable dent in my hotcakes.  Pancakes were followed by finding the hotel, and since we couldn’t check into our rooms until four, we used their access to the beach and headed for the open water – stopping first to apply sunscreen in greater or lessor amounts.   Everyone enjoyed the beach, including myself and Number One Son, who is starting to be old enough to notice that some of the bodies on the beach make grown men think of wardrobe malfunctions, and prison terms.  We enjoyed the beach for several hours, by which I mean the Human Tape Recorder and I went out and got lunch and brought it back to the beach, and we hung out until we could check in.  Lunch, for those scoring at home, was from a place called Ten 0 Six, which was great – nice people, good food, neat local art for sale on the walls.

But I’ll skip to the lesson here – the kids burned. Well, that’s not wholly true. Number One Son burned. The Reigning Queen of Pink didn’t burn so much as boil.  (Note to self: do not let small pale pink things apply their own sunscreen.)  Of course, once applied and everyone was frolicking happily in the surf, no one gave it another thought – we HAD applied sunscreen, pretty liberally, all over, after all.   The Human Tape Recorder is in pretty good shape; she got a little pink but not too burned.  Number One Son’s nose is a study in epidermal conflagration, and the RQoP has blisters on her cheeks and chin.   The only positive here is that neither of them will ever again question anyone telling them to put on more sunscreen.  To say that we feel terrible would be gross understatement.

Dinner was a quick jaunt to Armstrong’s Seafood, which boasts a few tables, a big local fish selection, and a waiter who could get a smile out of a burnt prune.  The food was good, plus they had Black Radish beer, from my beloved Weeping Radish brewery – a taste I’d been missing for the past 14 years or so, that being how long it had been since we’d gotten to the Banks.  We hit a Brew Thru on the way back to the hotel, mostly because the kids didn’t believe us that there were places like that, and got to watch a particularly amazing lightning show from a large storm just north of us.  The storm had no chance of keeping us awake, however.

A little after 3 am, though, I woke up enough to step out onto the balcony of the hotel, facing the Atlantic, and looked out at the waves.  That being the prime night for the Perseids meteor shower, I was graced with the spectacle of distant lightning from the receding storm, the pounding surf, and a couple of shooting stars, all displayed for my viewing pleasure.  It was amazing, and I was asleep again inside 5 minutes.

Breakfast found us at Bob’s Grill (motto: Eat and Get the Hell Out!), and should you find yourself in Nags Head, you should find Bob’s as well.  Great food fast and a very friendly staff, motto notwithstanding.  Since the order of the day was to try to stay out of the sun, we found things to do that were not the beach – to wit, the Wright Brother’s Memorial.

The Doors of the Wright Brothers Memorial

The Doors of the Wright Brothers Memorial

There is a bowl on the top of the memorial that at times holds a marine beacon like those used in lighthouses.  The beacon wasn’t there when we saw it, making it look like there was a large salad bowl on top of 1200 tons of granite. There is also a set of doors, wonderfully wrought with stylized images of the conquest of the air.   There is no information anywhere to suggest what might be inside this vault, leading one to all sorts of dreadful speculation about what horrors it could hold, and wondering if the bowl on top were to be filled with the blood of human sacrifices, would some creeping eldritch terror from the dawn of flight come flapping out of the vault below to consume all the Piper Cubs in the world?

On December 17, 1903, Wilbur flew for 59 seconds.  His girlfriend back in Dayton, on hearing the news, was heard to remark: “59 seconds? Sounds about right.”  But the memorial does make you think about a world where flight was impossible in one decade and routine the next.  In 1903, the trip from Kitty Hawk to Dayton took 7 days.  This can now be made in less than 11 hours by car, and flown in several hours less than that.  There was a small piece of the Kitty Hawk plane that went up to the moon and back with Neil Armstrong.  As a nation – heck, as a species – we went from the standing on the ground wondering how the hell birds did that, to the surface of the Moon, in just 66 years. That is more technological advancement in the space of a human life than there was in any other two thirds of any century, ever.

SOBUMD at the top of Hatteras

SOBUMD at the top of Hatteras

I’ve decided the Outer Banks is a magnet for engineers.  Proving this, our next stop was the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  I took a quick picture of SOBUMD at the top of it, and she remarked that it had been 17 years since I’d taken her picture there.  I told her that I’d never taken her picture there.  It took her a minute to remember that the lighthouse had been picked up and moved 2900 feet west in 1999.   I mean, sure, it was going to be eaten by the ocean, but that’s a fate that pretty much all of us are going to share eventually.  Who the hell just picks up and moves one and a quarter million bricks, stacked 187 feet high?  We do.  We’re crazy like that.   Since it’s mostly decorative in today’s age of GPS and lighthouse apps on the iPhone, you would think as long as they were moving it they could have made the damn thing a little shorter, or put in a lift while they were at it.  All this engineering magic and I still have to haul my ass up 257 stairs?  Sheesh.

We got back down again and headed for the hotel, and some rest.  By rest, I mean that 257 stairs notwithstanding, the HTR and I still took our pet kite (Joe) for a walk on the beach – if you can’t fly a kite at Kitty Hawk, you can’t fly a kite at all.  Joe the kite went up easy, and I tied him to my belt.  If you think having a kite 200 feet in the air tied to your belt would look odd, you’re pretty much right – it looks just as odd as you think it does.   We returned in time for – you guessed it – more walking, this time to the Red Drum Taphouse for dinner.

Here’s a neat thing about walking to a restaurant for dinner – if you get there and the wait is 40 minutes, you’re still going to stay and wait, because you’re not walking back.  With the magic of the hat, and a few well placed “wow, these kids are troopers to have walked here” comments, a 40 minute wait suddenly became 10 minutes, for which I am eternally grateful.  In addition to good food, the waitress at the Red Drum also had a sense of humor about the name of the place – you can’t tell me people don’t pronounce it “Redrum!” all the time.  I understand the head chef is a guy named Dick Hallorann. Walking back to the hotel proved worth the effort, as the last of the Perseids fired a few shooting stars overhead, and we made one last stop on the beach to watch them before bed.

Obligatory Sunrise Picture

Obligatory Sunrise Picture

The following morning rose with the dawn, and the HTR and I took Joe the Kite’s sister Betty the Kite to the beach, early.  If you can’t fly a kite on the Kitty Hawk beach, it could be the lack of wind, but we decided that Betty the kite is afraid of heights.  After a few dips and dives, first by the kite and then by us, we headed back to check out and find some Duck Donuts, which are every bit as good as you think they are.  The lemon icing is particularly amazing, and the coffee’s worth the wait by itself.

A Very Pink Horse

A Very Pink Horse

We made a few stops along the way out, first to pose the RQoP next to a horse even more pink than she is, with wings, of course, because what’s the point of a horse that can’t fly on Kitty Hawk, and then on to Kitty Hawk Kites, to find a new kite who might serve as a therapist for the clearly neurotic Betty.

It began to rain as we left, proving that even the weather was sad to see us leaving.  SOBUMD got her final island wish granted as we headed west over the Wright Memorial Bridge to the mainland, as a large pod of dolphins broke the water to frolic and wave farewell to us, with a flashes of fins and something that sounded suspiciously like, “So long, and thanks…”

If the island was weeping for our leaving, it could only have been weeping like the Radish weeps for my tasty beer at the Weeping Radish.  I’m not much for lagers, but the Black Radish is one of the best.   The best part of that stop was that I was the only one to eat the sauerkraut, unlike the last time we were there, 14 years ago, when we fed it to the baby, who loved it.  Driving home 2 hours later, we had the windows down and tears in our eyes, and we didn’t love it quite so much.

But all good things come to an end, and thus our trip started as it began, later in the day but with the mighty tires still turning the earth beneath us, bending the planet around to where we wanted it to be.  It is interesting to me that two of the best known tire brands are called Bridgestone and Firestone.  What’s with that whole “stone” thing?  We haven’t made tires out of stone in thousands of years, or at least since the invention of the bumper sticker.   Despite bumper stickers being the main source of idea sharing in America these days, there were only two notable bumper stickers from the road trip home:  One that said “If you’re going to ride my ass, at least pull my hair,” and another that boasted “This car is running on clean, renewable bacon.”  Now THAT’s engineering!

And so today, as SOBUMD and I celebrate 21 years of church-sanctioned Hey Hey, I bid you, gentle reader, Hello Again.  Inspired by the Wright brothers, I’ll try to keep this thing off the ground a little more this year.


A Study in August: The End

17 September, 2012 | | 1 Comment
Flying Out of the Sunrise

Flying Out of the Sunrise

Wrapping up the vacation tales, since August is only a distant memory and the urchins are back to school…  When last we left our tale, we were heading back to the shore house from the crazy dayz at Wildwoods.  The next day dawned hot, as August will, and as ripe with promise as a seabird flying out of an ocean sunrise.  We heard tell of a trail for birds and shore viewing, and decided to let the younger few skip it in favor of the pool.  SOBUMD, the HTR, and I piled in with the Very Industrious Uncle as he drove us to what I think is probably some state park or other, but should be known as The Great Meeting Of All The Herons Everywhere As They Prepare For The End Of Days.

"Damn it, I told them No Pictures!"

“Damn it, I told them No Pictures!”

I’ve never seen so many herons – gray ones and white ones, but mostly white – in one place in my entire life.   In addition to the birds, there were more greenhead flies and gnats and mosquitoes than I would have thought a state the size of New Jersey could support.  The were keeping up with the truck, flinging themselves at the windows, trying to bore a way in through the hood.  Alfred Hitchcock could not have had a better ensemble cast than these bugs – they epitomized evil from wing to thorax. 

Skimming The Water

Skimming The Water

But the view of the birds was worth it.  You’re getting off easy – I’m only posting a few of them.  Call if you need me to hook you up – I’ve got hundreds more! 

As I type these words, I’m wearing a button that says “Ask me about my heron pictures!”  (Why would that not actually surprise most of you?  Yeah, well.)   My favorite was probably the heron version of the Dirty Old Man, who seemed quite upset that we were taking his picture – he looked like he was up to no good.  Catching a heron catching a fish was a nice touch as well.  There were a few other good shots, with big grey herons and white ones flapping at each other, but these are the highlights. 

Snack Time!

Snack Time!

 The other really fun thing to watch as you drive anywhere in this marvelous country is, of course, the road – and the bits of flotsam and jetsam that accumulate around it on both sides.   The Patio Drive In is a terrific example of a roadside business that didn’t know when to stop.  They offer Italian, hot dogs,  clams, pizza, hogies, Philly cheesesteaks, wings, ice cream, nachos, BBQ, and Mexican, all for dining in or taking out, with a set of benches and a brace of triangle flags that scream “notice me or my cousin will slash your tires while I’m scooping your kid’s ice cream.”  Heck, they’ve got Philly Water Ice (as opposed to what other kinds of ice, I’m sure I don’t want to know), and an ATM for you to give them more cash.  What’s not to love?    

The Patio Drive In

The Patio Drive In

Land Includes Bottle!

Land Includes Bottle!

And then there’s a bottle for sale, just down the road from the Drive In.  It’s filled with concrete, but hey, it comes with 3 acres of land!  Who doesn’t need a 20-foot concrete bottle next to the side of the road?  I was going to buy it myself, but SOBUMD didn’t think we could secure it on the top of the car too well.  Spoilsport. 

Seriously, who wouldn’t want that?  I love it!

But eventually the bottle of our vacation started to run dry, and we turned around to head home.  We bid the beach and the cousins and aunts and uncles a fond farewell, and set out for the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  I was going to take a picture, but you’ve probably seen a pine tree, and there’s a reason they’re called “Barrens,” if you get my drift.  It’s nice to see that there are still areas where people haven’t bothered to cut everything down and build, well, 20-foot concrete bottles everywhere, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It reminded me of some of the sights we passed heading down the shore in the first place.  For instance, there’s a Museum of Rural Life in rural Maryland on the Eastern Shore.  Hard to imagine why they’d need one.  We drove past a field of grasses with an old dilapidated basketball hoop in it, still tall but leaning, covered with rust.  How quickly nature presses full court to reclaim her own. 

Rivers with names like Pokomoke and Wicomio remind me that Europeans weren’t the first people here, and the 78 Cracker Barrels we passed (plus a new one opening soon out by the bypass!) remind me that it just doesn’t matter anymore. 

On the Eastern Shore of Virgina, we noticed right away that Virginia is much bigger into pushing tobacco – I don’t remember many, if any, signs on the MD side of US 13 for cigarettes.  In VA, you can’t throw a rock 10 feet without hitting two tobacco discount outlets and a fireworks store.  Closer to the shore, the signs start to morph – “Clams, tobacco, fireworks!”  We also proved that if you drive far enough in any one direction in this country, you’ll eventually find a Walmart.   

This proved even more true than usual when we were out of the Pine Barrens and approaching Philly.  There are plenty of reasons to go to Philadelphia, including “it’s on the way to my house,” but our main reason was to perform a public service for that city, our great nation, and in fact the world.  As we all know, as the Big Ugly Man Doll, I am the final authority on style and good taste in this country, and it had come to my august attention that there has been a debate raging in the heart of the City of Brotherly Love for many years:  Pat’s or Geno’s? 

In case you’ve been hiding under a culinary rock for the last 46 years, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks are two Philly Cheesesteak walk-up joints located across the street from each other on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia.  As the final authority on style and good taste, I drove my family to Sowt Filly and tried them both.  Just to make sure things were fair, we order the same sandwich at both places:  “One wit, add onions.”   The ‘wit’ tells them you want it wit da cheese on it.  We started at Pat’s, split one sandwich 5 ways, and crossed the street to Geno’s. 

Pat’s.  The answer is, if you’re parachuted in to South Philly and you’re nearly broke and on the edge of expiring from hunger, spend your last few bucks at Pat’s.  It costs 50 cents more than Geno’s.  Pay it.  Geno’s was dry, even with the cheese, and the bread was harder.  However, if you’re NOT about to fall over from hunger, the real answer is that I’m damn sure there are better places to eat in Philadelphia, even South Philadelphia, than either of these over-hyped tourist destinations.  They seem to be more interested in carrying on their longstanding granfalloon rivalry than in paying any attention to what they’re serving.  They no longer even see their customers; they see only each other and the reflections of themselves.  I’m willing to bet we’d’ve had a better and more engaging meal back at The Patio Drive In.

The Angel Moroni Trumpeting Us Home

The Angel Moroni Trumpeting Us Home

And so having eaten, and having found the answer we came for, more or less, we loaded back into the car and started down the long slow wending and winding that is southbound Interstate 95 on any given day.   We wended through and out of Philly, wound around and about Baltimore, and eventually fell back to the old familiar sights and sounds of the US Capitol Beltway.  The best reason to take the north path down and cross the Cabin John Bridge (as opposed to the south path and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge) is that as we near the 270 split, the Angle Moroni trumpets us home from the top of the DC Mormon Temple.  Despite not being Mormon, I’ve always found the temple a breathtaking piece of architecture.  Towering over the trees shading the road, it provides yet another testament to the constant element of surprise that you will find if you take your eyes from the eternal road, stretching in front of you forever homeward, and glance up as you pass the world. 

As always, dear friend, fond relation, gentle reader, thanks for joining us on the journey!

Reason #1575 to Host a Sit-Com at My House

27 June, 2012 | | 6 Comments

Tonight, I opened a fortune cookie that came with my Chinese food.  (SOBUMD is well enough to eat soft foods, into which category Hunan Tofu easily falls, and for which we are grateful and happy.)  I ate the end off the cookie, as is my custom, and peered into the hollow center like a gunfighter, knowing not what fate awaits me – knowing only to be brave, to face the cookie’s fortune for good or for ill.  (It is this “fate should not tempt me” attitude that lets me craft your Horoscopes every Friday with the frightening accuracy to which you’ve become accustomed.)

My cookie was empty.  There was no paper, no fortune, no future.  No, I hadn’t eaten it.  (Yes, I checked under my tongue.)  What kind of fortune awaits the man with no fortune at all?  The mind quails.

“Man, the budget cuts are really hitting everyone hard,” says the Human Tape Recorder.  “Don’t worry, I’ll share mine with you!”   So saying, she breaks open her cookie and goes to hand me part. 

“It’s not actually the ‘cookie’ part of the fortune cookie in which I seem deficient tonight…” I said.

“Oh, right, sorry,” she says.  “Here’s the fortune,” and here she pulled out the tiny slip of paper on which could depend our lives, and read as follows:

The weather is wonderful.

“What the hell kind of prediction is that?” she asked.  “I bet they don’t ship this one to Seattle.  The budget cuts are worse than we thought – they can’t even afford actual fortunes anymore.”

I’m just going to retire and let the 13-yr-old write the jokes for a while.

Road Trips, Mall Rats, Highways, and Evolution

17 May, 2012 | | 3 Comments

I’ve put 500 miles on the Blackfish this week, just going to meetings. That’ll happen when your meeting on Wednesday morning is just south of Richmond and your meeting Thursday morning is just south of Delaware. Wednesday morning I woke at 0430 and drove to Ft. Lee, VA, meeting the cohort at the predetermined rendezvous point at the appointed time with military precision. It’s the same cohort I usually travel with to Huntsville, and so by meeting at the appointed time with military precision, I mean they were half an hour late. By the predetermined rendezvous point, I mean, of course, Waffle House. There is something greasily satisfying about Waffle House that makes it the perfect road food.

Ft. Lee is just down the way from the Petersburg National Battlefield, where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off Petersburg’s supply lines, leading to the fall of Richmond and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender shortly thereafter. Since the Civil War has come up in about a dozen conversations in the past few months, and I was done studying earned value management and zombies, I decided early this week that I’d finally pick up The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s famous book about the battle of Gettysburg. It had been on my to-read shelf for more than 10 years, but I always assumed it was a somewhat dry rendition of the facts of the battle, and found something else to do.

If you haven’t read it, it’s NOT a dry recitation of facts and history. It’s a well told, well crafted story with engaging, tragic, larger than life characters and fascinating dialogues and internal monologues. Within the first 15 pages, I was hooked, and I asked SOBUMD with her amazing library-foo to see if it was an audiobook somewhere. She brought it home the next day, and I’ve been listening to it for 5 hours to and from Ft. Lee and now today 4 hours to and from Aberdeen, MD. It’s a great story – I can’t wait to see how it ends, so if you’ve read it already, don’t tell me!

This morning I awoke again at 0430 and drove, this time, to Aberdeen, MD, arriving in time to find, no, yes, wait for it – a Waffle House. I can’t get enough of their greasy lovely food, nor into my older pants. Aberdeen is prettier than I expected, and the meetings there went well.

I took I-95 to Aberdeen, but I took the smaller Rt 40 most of the way back, at least into Baltimore. The interstates are fine for getting places quickly, but that’s about the only thing they really have going for them. On the slower, older, blue highways, as William Least Heat-Moon calls them, you can see the older America. It has stoplights. Some of them are at the intersection of the Past and the Future, where a simple car repair shop has a distinct carport right next to the highway and suspiciously Greco-Roman architecture, and you realize that this was once a filling station for highway traffic, 60 years ago, before the interstate came through and left this piece of road as a Left Turn to Nowhere.

The interstate, were you to open your windows while driving it, which is not always a great thing to do at 80 miles an hour, smells of diesel fuel and stress. The 20 miles of Rt. 40 I drove this afternoon smelled predominately of honeysuckle, and I left my windows down for all of it.

On the older roads, too, you can sometimes find those places where men of industry have started businesses next to icons, the features of the landscape that stick in the imagination, natural mnemonics that ensure you’ll remember their restaurant or gas station because it’s next to the Biggest Rock In Town or something. Mind you, once you’ve made that Left Turn to Nowhere, sometimes the true entrepreneur needs to create their own mnemonic, their own unforgettable icon to ensure you come back and tell your friends.

Chicken On The Roof

Chicken On The Roof

To wit, the Chicken On The Roof Grill. Don’t have a handy natural outcropping or memorable piece of landscape? Put a 20-foot plastic chicken on your roof and name your shop after that!

I didn’t stop. It was on the other side of the road (why did the Chicken On The Roof Grill cross the road?), and I wasn’t hungry. A spot of internet searching reveals that most reviews are along the lines of “take the Beltway, the food sucks,” so perhaps it was for the best.

Arriving home, I found I was in time to pick up the younger of the three lunatic children from school, and so fitting plan to deed I did that. This is always interesting, since right after school is about the only time they’ll both talk about their day. (I think they clear cache after about 10 minutes.) It turned out, on questioning, that the Reigning Queen of Pink had a bad day. This involved food that she’s not allowed to eat being substituted with other food she’s not allowed to eat, plus boys yelling at her. Number One Son asked, “Why were they yelling?”

BUMD: “They’re probably yelling because they’re 3rd grade boys, and 3rd grade boys are stupid.”
Reigning Queen of Pink: “All boys are stupid, and you [Number One Son], meaning no offense, are no exception. No offense, you understand, but you’re one of them.”
Number One Son: “How could I be offended at a true fact?”

These are the future leaders of our country.

Speaking of the future leaders of our country, because driving 500 miles in the last 36 hours wasn’t enough, I then this evening went downtown to Pentagon City Mall for a dinner meeting with a group from my company. The dinner was excellent, but of course the best part was before going in, I took the opportunity to circumnavigate the mall and notice the people, the sounds and the sights and scents and the sense of the place.

I almost wished I hadn’t. There, then, below me, were the quivering masses of humanity, walking and falling and running around in Spring Field Trip Season. Every other person was wearing a school logo or name tee-shirt, I suspect to help identify them to the leaders. It looked like there had been a mass breakout from the Sing Sing or Rikers Island Juvenile Detention Center, and all the escaped juvies had decided to go to the mall, yo. One group stood out in “Class of ” shirts, and instead of the year, they listed the names of everyone in the graduating class – the whole class. (You can do that in a small town. My graduating class would have needed the front and back of Hagrid’s dress robes to fit us all.) Those were the shirts; the young boys were otherwise in their best brown baggies and sporting their Bieber cuts.

The food court at a large mall may be 80 percent of what’s wrong with this country. Starting with the lack of Scotch dispensers. Smoke from the indoor BBQ joint clouded the upper levels, the sweet smell of charcoal, grease, and co-pays pungent in the air. I saw a fat man pay a thin man for a massage, in an open-air massage parlor – very likely the only physical human contact he gets all day.

There are no happy endings here.

Under the roar of it all, the songs of birds, struggling to hear each other inside this glassed-in urban forest they’ve adopted as home. Darwin would be proud; in 10 short years, these sparrows have evolved into flying mall rats, perfectly suited to life under the glass bubble. I noticed that they seem to instinctively flock toward younger children – genetic selection and experience has taught them that a 3-yr-old is more likely to drop the pretzel than an 8-yr-old. Mind you, the kids probably drop the pretzel out of surprise at seeing a bird in the mall. It makes you wonder if the pretzel shop lets the birds in, to drum up business by getting overstressed parents to buy new twisted baked goods to calm irate prepubescent consumers. No happy endings.

Like the like the open-air masseuse, like the Chicken On The Roof, like Longstreet and Lee at Gettysburg, there are no happy endings here. All I can tell you is that if you’re going to put 500 miles on your car in one week, make them good miles. Look out the window. Roll it down if you can. Skip the Interstate, skip the mall. Turn left next to nowhere, and explore the small spaces. You might find something neat, you might wonder how it got there, and you might wonder how the hell you’re going to find your way back to the road, but you’ll be glad you did. Tell ‘em the Big Ugly Man Doll sent you.