Posts tagged ‘restaurants’

Of Lunches, Dinners, and Breakfasts

21 April, 2012 | | 6 Comments

0415 is a disgusting and unholy time of the morning, but there I was, awake and getting dressed.  Yep – we’re going back to Huntsville.

SOBUMD and the three lunatic children dropped me off at my folks’ house Tuesday evening.  As I’ve gotten older, the bedtime routine with my parents has evolved – I miss the bedtime stories, but the good-night Scotch is a welcome addition.  This kids acknowledged my blandishments about behaving for SOBUMD with their usual nonchalance, left with SOBUMD, and we shortly retired to sleep.

I may have mentioned in previous posts that my father collects penguins.  I’m used to all the birds around the house, but I’ll confess the penguin mobile over my bed was freaking me out a little.  The windows were open, and the little bastards were swaying, floating gently just below the ceiling.  Penguins just shouldn’t fly, ya know?  Of course, I’ve only myself to blame – I’m pretty sure we bought it for him.

Time in the wee hours progressing in the manner of a dream, I suddenly found myself thanking FOBUMD for the stay and the ride to the airport and walking into the eerily empty, post-apocalyptic vision that is DCA before 0500.  Neither the folks from TSA not the ticket agents speak, not even to each other.  I guessed they were communicating through some godless pre-dawn telepathy, as though to break the silence would profane even further this already unholy hour of the morning.  As I make my way to the check in desk, they all stare at me like somnambulant feral zombies, with only their eyes moving, waiting for any sign of weakness.  I had the distinct and uncanny sense that, were I to stumble, even for a moment, they’d be on me like a pack of hungry dingos on a baby.

I have no memory of checking in.  I suppose it’s possible that I might have supressed such a memory to protect my sanity, such as it is.  The next thing I remember was boarding a plane, finding my seat, and getting up again to make room for my cute twin blonde seatmates.

Things were looking up.  I like this dream.  So did they, evidently – they were both asleep before we pulled away from the gate.

As I reseated myself, an even more stunning brunette stopped in front of me and asked if she could move my hat.  I took it from the overhead bin and, after watching her struggle for a moment, offered to help with getting her carry-on up into the bin.  Mind you, when I say carry on, as far as US Airways is concerned, if it has wheels, it’s a carry on.  This was proven by the fact that she was pulling a 1973 Ethen Allen hardwood dresser that was taller than the Reigning Queen of Pink.  It had rolling casters on it, though, so it’s a carry on.  For $25 per checked bag, I didn’t really blame her.

My sleeping beauties made a few kind remarks about how strong I was, how polite I was, and US Airways redefining “carry on” – and drifted back to sleep.

I have vague and uncomfortable memories of channelling OJ Simpson in the airport at Charlotte, NC, which is somewhere between “bigger than I expected” and “fucking enormous.”  Mind you, when I say I was channelling OJ Simpson, I don’t mean I was jumping over furniture and people, I mean I looked like a slow-moving white Bronco going through the interminable hallways.  Walking out to the tarmac to board the next hop, I realized that happiness is seeing US Airways loading your luggage onto the same plane you’re boarding.  Mind you, since my luggage is technically smaller than most Buicks (at least smaller than pre-1990’s Buicks), I could have saved myself the worry and just carried it on.

We landed in Huntsville, where I was reunited with my luggage, rental cars, and that smell of Alabama air that is unlike anything else.  It’s not just roast pig, it’s something else undefinable.   It was a nice day, so with the windows down I drove about until hearing from my cohort that they’d meet me for lunch.  That right – it was time for Thomas Pit.

It remains a subject of myth and legend up here in the northern climes, but it’s real, and it’s been real since 1932, when between 80% and 90% of all Huntsville voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and put their faith and their BBQ in the New Deal.  Since then, it’s been pulled pig the best way, in a smokehouse behind the restaurant that may have seen a layer of paint on the outside, but the inside is just the same as it’s always been.  You cook pigs for 80 years, you get damn good at it, is my guess.

But I was stymied!  The cohorts were late getting out of their meetings, and we were all due back to work (I do, actually, work sometimes, hard though that is to believe) in short order.  We settled for nearby and quick.  It was Steak-n-Shake.

I have to admit that Steak-n-Shake does not suck.  The problem lies in its reach – I can go to Steak-n-Shake without leaving my home state.  (I don’t, but I could.)  I’ll go to chains at home, but when I’m travelling, I want to eat the local fare, not homogenized Generican food you can get anywhere.   However, in this case as in so many others, omnivorousness was trumped by expedience, and we retired back to the work.

Dinner turned out to be a return to the Ol’ Heidelberg, which lives up to its name by hanging multiple pictures of the bridge over the Rhine showing the ruins of the old Heidelberg castle in the background.  The surest sign that you’re not really in Germany is the wait, though – people don’t actually wait, usually, for dinner in Germany; if the place is full, you go down the street a block to a place that isn’t.  In this case, we waited for 20 minutes outside in the fading nice day, until we realized that we could get beer and then bring it back outside to keep waiting, but with beer.  Elements of my cohort were keen on a repeat of the last trip to the Ol’ Heidelberg, which involved Spaten Optimator.  My cohort whispered, “Optimator!”  I looked at her and said, “Optimator!”  But again, we were stymied!  They had Spaten, to be sure, and they had a few other varients, but not the Optimator.

What’s that you say?  A locally brewed Porter, you say, on draft?  You can recommend it since I liked the Optimator?  Hmmm.  Well, what’s it called?

“Big Bear.”  How could we go wrong with a local brew called Big Bear?  And so, we had us some Bears.

It turns out that Big Bear Black Bear Porter is actually brewed in Florida.  Now, local can have several meanings, and Alabama does – and I keep forgetting this – border Florida, so I was willing to give the waitress a pass on that, until I realized that it’s brewed in Coral Springs, which is just shy of Ft. Lauderdale and more than 800 miles from Huntsville.  We’ll settle for “redefining local” and roll with it, since it’s really, really good beer.  The Black Forest Schnitzel, veal topped with a Marsala wine sauce with mushrooms, onions, and the all-important bacon, was amazing as well.

The next day dawned with a shot a breakfast in the hotel, which turned out to include waffles.  That’s it.  Just waffles.  There was no protein, no meat, nothing but waffles and something that had been carefully manufactured to closely resemble butter.  Physically adjacent to the hotel, however, was a Waffle House, where they serve more than just waffles.  Oh, yes they do.

Several sausage and grits and waffles and biscuits and eggs later, I resumed the work with the intrepid cohort and we carried on our way.  Today, the dawn had broken in our favor, and the Great Pig was smiling on us.  Lunch was on for Thomas Pit.

This is the best pulled pork I’ve ever had.  I’ve said it before, I’m sure I’ll say it again.  The cohort – and we dragged several new mouths to this font of pork – tended to agree with me, to the extent they spoke at all; mostly we ate.  Mouth melting piles of hot porcine goodness, with a tasty tangy vinegar sauce next to it – excellent but not needed on pig this good.

But all good things must come to an end, even lunch, and the cohort split up for planes and offices and hotels. I met the boss back for dinner at Dreamland – Ain’t Nothin’ Like ‘Em Nowhere – and we split a rack of ribs; they were fine, good perfectly adequate.  Plus they changed the channel so the boss could watch the boxing match hockey game, which was nice of them.  We broke some pig, solved the socioeconomic problems of the world, and retired to our respective hotels to prepare for the morning’s flights.

0445 is a disgusting and unholy time of the morning, but there I was, awake and getting dressed.  Despite the hour, I was actually late to check in for my flight.  The US Airways ticketing lady was nice enough to put me on a later flight without charging me anything extra, so that was OK.  For a very nice change, the HSV TSA folks didn’t find any reason to take me aside and ask me about those embarrassing pieces of cutlery in my bag, mostly since I’d taken a different bag this time and deliberately failed to put anything with an edge on it in the new bag.  Ha!  That’ll show ’em.

My luggage and I eventually found our way back home, and SOBUMD picked me up in time for some lunch before she had to rush home to get the kids from school.  We went to a great Irish place called P Brennens, and had a plate called an Irish Breakfast.  Despite the afternoon, it was the first breakfast I’d had, and it was great.

It’s good to be back in my own bed – the beds in all the hotels are lacking something, no matter where I stay.  Mostly they’re lacking SOBUMD, but that’s a different post.  Huntsville was once again marvelous in food and people, and I was glad to have gotten to introduce more of the cohort to Thomas Pit.  With any luck, a return to their primal pig lies somewhere in my summer!

Lost River Weekend

26 October, 2011 | | No Comment

So once again there we were, staring down the barrel of the weekend with no ammunition and insufficient beer.  This past weekend started, as they all do, on the Friday beforehand, when at nearly 1pm I got a text from SOBUMD requesting that I leave the office early and pick up the kids from school.  Since this is a highly unusual request, and since the words “yes dear” have saved my marriage more than once, I of course complied.  It turns out that she’d been to a local Trader Joe’s to pick up ingredients for the evening’s meal, and they had more than the usual display of cinnamon-scented everything – not just as you walk in, but throughout several aisles and at each register. 

Since SOBUMD is highly allergic to cinnamon, this lead to her fighting her way home in a headachy blur and slamming several Benadryl, which is not conducive to holding one’s head upright without a drool-cloth, much less driving.  I retrieved said lunatic children and proceeded to make dinner with our friends Sara and Toby, who arrived full of good spirit and left full of good spirit and also fish.  Wonderful evenings are wonderful, and getting to show off my badass cooking skills to an interested 11-yr old Toby was a treat. 

The next morning dawned with the promise of the girls going to a birthday party for a 5-yr-old and then the Human Tape Recorder having 2 friends over for fun, dinner, and a sleepover.  Number One Son and I looked at each other, counted the number of girls in the house, gave a nod, and packed our overnight bags – by which I meant a change of clothes, and he meant his iPod. 

We lit out for the House in the Woods, up in West Virginia.  I have to tell you, driving the Blackfish up the hills and curvy, winding, newly-paved roads, with the windows down, on beautiful fall day, with Katy Perry telling me that I’m her missing puzzle piece – well, I think I understand why some people ride motorcycles.  I was very well behaved.  I mostly almost kept it under 70 going around the turns. 

Once we arrived and unpacked, we worked the fields for a while, evicting the black walnuts like tenants from a – OK, that wasn’t really going to be all that funny anyway.  We removed them from the path of the mower, since they otherwise sound like golf balls going through a shredder when the Very Clever Grandpa mows.  I mentioned that the riding mower is about the only way to open the damn things anyway; he mentioned that he didn’t want to open them in the first place; I mentioned that they were yummy and bitter and yummy; he mentioned that shut up and toss ’em in the creek.  I tossed ’em in the creek. 

Following the successful castration of the lawn, we enjoyed a celebratory cold beverage and did inside things for a while.  Once complete, we retired to a new venue for dinner in the neighborhood, by which I mean “places you can get to within 45 minutes in a fast car.”  Needless to say, we took the Blackfish and got to the Lost River Brewing Company in 44 minutes. 

Lost River Brewing Company – not to be confused with the already-famous Lost River Grill – is not yet allowed to brew their own beer.  If the food is any indication, this is a crime.  The Very Clever Grandfather and I both had steak with fries, very nice if slightly past medium rare; Number One Son declared his cheesepuck the equal of the Lost River Grill version; and the Cesar salad was interesting – standard fare until they dropped two anchovies right on top.  The jaw-dropper, though, was the plate of fried calamari.  Remember, this is Wardensville, West By God Virginia.  To say that “calamari ain’t local here” would be to risk understatement in the way “that’s a really big hole you got there” describes the Grand Canyon.  My expectations were not, shall we say, high. 

And they were blown away.  The calamari were as good as any I’ve had at McCormick and Shmicks and better than I’ve had at Legal Seafood.  Someone in the back of the Lost River Brewing Company is paying attention, and in a good way.  I hope they get their brewing license soon!

The kitchen staff may be paying attention, but the front office makes me wonder a bit.  Our waitress, dusky-eyed with a squint and a smile, was wearing a black tee-shirt with the words “Take Me Home.”  The rest of the wait-staff were also wearing black shirts with other lines from “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” – I can only assume that our friendly server drew the short straw that night.  Why would you do that to a cute young lady?  West Virginia gets a lot of miles out of that song, but still – you know she has to get heckled pretty badly with “Take Me Home” across her chest. 

Although, we had to remind her which wine was the red and which was the white (Cabernet is one of the easier ones to remember), and she slipped on the beer order as well – maybe she’s just very friendly and not too quick?  She was very nice.  But we didn’t take her home.

The next day we did come home, down country roads, at speeds that would be considered unsafe if not attempted by professional drivers on a closed course.  Since we’d spent the morning splitting logs that would not have otherwise split themselves, I found driving to be a fine course of therapy for sore muscles, and applied it vigorously.  The Very Clever Grandparents joined us for another excellent dinner, and the Lost Weekend was found to have been Almost Heaven.

The Once and Future Huntsville

23 September, 2011 | | 4 Comments

So there I was in Huntsville Alabama again. 

I know that’s not really fair, since I didn’t write up my last trip to Huntsville.  Think of it as having been a scouting expedition.  For what, you ask?  Why, pig, of course!

So here I am, doing what I always do in Huntsville, which is finding new and wonderful places to eat pulled pig.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have to go to meetings and stuff too, but I really just come here to eat.   Last time I was here, I was introduced to Dreamland Barbeque.  It wasn’t just good – it’s the second best pulled pork I’ve ever had in my life, and the place where I had the best pig (in Florida, of all places) isn’t there anymore.   Dreamland was good enough that I bought the tee-shirt. 

I’m going to pause in my narrative before we get to the food, though, to say a few words about Huntsville.  In Huntsville, I found people not only polite – please, thank you, and they tend not to interrupt you, nor one another – but also proud. 

Saturn V Rocket

Saturn V Rocket Standing Tall

The town was called Rocket City USA back in its heyday, and the people here remember that.  They helped put man on the moon, testing the Apollo systems and building the Saturn series of rockets – driving down the highway from the airport, this goes from noticeable to inescapable when you pass a Saturn V rocket standing sentinel by the road.  It’s an enormous monument to the engineering history of a world, a nation, and this town in particular.  Reflected in the people I met was an underlying sense that they’d been part of something greater than themselves once, and they’d like to do it again – with a quiet reserved understanding that lightning does not tend to hit in the same place twice.  Not that nothing’s happening there now, but you have the sense that it’s a town standing capable and ready, hoping to be called back into action if the US ever gets its space program back in high gear. 

They also tend to be more liberal in outlook than I confess I expected; I find the drive-through condom store to be a case in point.  I nearly drove through myself, just to check the going rate, but SOBUMD and I have been married so long that I can’t remember which elbow the condom goes on.  Besides, I was saving my money for pig. 

I wore that Dreamland tee-shirt while flying back to Huntsville this time, and I had no fewer than eight people comment on it – and the Hat, of course, but for a change the Hat took second billing.  Many told me that I needed to go to the original Dreamland, which is in Tuscaloosa.  That being a bit of a hike from Huntsville, the other place I was told to try – by several folks – was Big Bob Gibson’s, across the water in Decatur, Alabama. 

Sunday night, however, was Wintzell’s Oyster House, which was recommended by dint of it being walking distance from my hotel, plus the front desk gave me a coupon.  I dined under the watchful eye and tender care of the delightful and helpful Becca, who told me that despite being an Oyster joint, they had a fantastic Ribeye.  Since I can get a fantastic Ribeye lotsa places, up to and including my house, I stuck with the seafood – fried alligator, fried whitefish, fried crab claws, fried hushpuppies, fried shrimp, fried crab, and oh yeah, oysters.  Fried.  The beer was very good, a local IPA, and the seafood gumbo (which was not, in fact, fried) was one of the best I’ve ever had.  Also in the category of ‘best I’ve ever had’ were the green beans – you simply cannot get green beans cooked like that in the Northern climate, probably because we lack the bacon of our convictions.

Becca also told me that I had to go to Thomas Pit if I wanted really good pig – and when was the last time your check from your waitress included directions to another restaurant?  She used to live behind Thomas Pit and grew up with the smell.  I made a note of it, thanked her, and made my slow way to my hotel, 60 feet away.  By the time I got back to the room, I was pretty fried myself.   

Bathroom Attendant at Greenbrier Restaurant

Bathroom Attendant at Greenbrier Restaurant

On Monday for lunch, on the advice of Good Jim Coleman, I found – in the fullness of time, after driving right past it twice – the Old Greenbrier Restaurant, which boasts a bathroom attendant, great sweet potatoes, and wi-fi.  There’s a big sign as you walk in:  “Try our Sweet Potaters and Wi-Fi!”  It does sound like a hell of a combo meal, but as we know, I came for the pig.  The nice young lady who waved me in set a large basket of fried hushpuppies on the table by way of saying hello; this could have been a meal by itself, and I mean for a family of four.  Their pulled pig plate – and I will have you know that I ordered a “small” – came out with a baked sweet potato the size of my fist (I never did get around to trying the wi-fi), a side of passable cole slaw, and nearly a pound of pig.  They have their own vinegar-based hot sauce; the good news was that it was delightful.  The less good news is that the pig needed it – the flavor was excellent and well smoked, but it was dry enough that the sauce was a blessing.  I have to guess that the pig is probably less dry on a Saturday night. 

Mom's Place

Mom's Place

Leaving Greenbrier I realized that there are, in fact, quite a lot of choices in dining out here – I drove past Mom’s Place, which (unlike in the DC area) doesn’t stand for anything, except insomuch as I’m sure Mom’s stands for a decent lunch and won’t stand for anything less.  If there had been less than a pound of pig on my recent plate, I might have stopped out of curiosity.

Dreamland, Sitting At the Rail of Goodness

Dreamland, Sitting At the Rail of Goodness

Monday’s dinner and Tuesday’s lunch were both at Dreamland, and yes, it’s that good.   We sat in front of the rail – that would be the rail that separates the diners from the fire over which your dinner is cooking, or had been cooking for the previous 8 or 12 hours.   We got to watch one of the pit men throwing hickory logs the size of my leg on the fire.  This is living! 

Tuesday dinner was Big Bob Gibson’s in Decatur.  It turns out they don’t focus on ambiance, atmosphere, anything but pig. It was good pig, with sauce that went from good to great to fantastic with the white, bbq, and vinegar sauce, in that order.  The ribs were falling of the bone and completely off the hook – they win for ribs, hands down. 


At Dreamland, the motto is “Ain’t Nothin’ Like ‘Em Nowhere” – and they mean it.  They have decor, including a road sign hung in the men’s room stating “No Dumping Allowed.”   The Greenbrier restaurant seems to have a motto on the order of “we’re as surprised as you are” – which makes some sense, considering the signs in the place have signs on them, most mentioning that these were the original signs put up when the place opened in 1952.  Plus, you know, they have a bathroom attendant. 

Big Bob Gibson’s might have a motto.  If so, I suspect that it says “Big Bob Gibson’s wins BBQ awards.”  The closest thing to a cute sign in the men’s room was a pamphlet on the urinal stating that I was special to someone, and urging me to consider letting Christ in to my heart.  Since my heart was not what I was holding at the time, I left the pamphlet there. 

They have no beer, no pictures, and no TV – not that that last one is a loss, but it did confirm that going elsewhere for dinner and Monday Night Football for the boss the night before had been a really good idea.  I finally put my somewhat greasy, sticky finger on what was lacking:  They had no sense of humor.  There was no banter, there were no smiles.  It could have been a soul food joint, but it lacked soul.  The food really is that good, but you have to be able to smile.  I won’t be back. 

Since there was no laughter, on the way back we made our own, starting with what I’m reliably told is an old and famous furniture store, regrettably named Badcock.  You have to assume that’s a family name – what exactly do you name your sons there?  “Really”?  “Gotta”?   This lasted until we passed “Cumming’s Aeronauticals,” whereupon the remainder of the ride devolved into riffs concerning marriage between these two noble houses – “Mrs. Sawyer Badcock-Cumming, from Afar, AL” being the culmination of about 12 minutes and 8 miles worth of effort. 

There being only one way to clear away the gutter of our minds at this point, we stepped into the bar at the hotel to quench our prodigious thirsts and listen to bad Karaoke being sung badly by people who might once have known better, but for whom, by now, all hope had fled, taking with it their dignity, honor, and sense of pitch.  Since I walked in with none of those things to start with, I was glad to leave before finding Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night on the list.  SOBUMD, when hearing of this, remarked that “at least it would have been short.”  When asked to clarify, she confessed she meant my career, had I sung that – or anything else – for my boss and co-workers.   Ah, fame is such a fleeting, fickle bitch…

Wednesday meetings were early and reasonably quick, and I decided to venture out before finding the airport.  Having no particular destination, and being on my own recognizance, I started out toward the historic part of downtown Huntsville.  I’d been driving all of 8 minutes when a white utility van with some kind of company logo passed me on my right.  I stayed behind him for a few minutes before my brain kicked in and read the name, which was “Smokey’s B-B-Q” over a pair of crossed burning logs.  “Call us for catering!”  Mind you, this was just after noon local time.

Like my close personal friend Dirk Gently, I do not always arrive at my originally intended destination, but I find I usually end up where I need to be.   “Self,” said I, “Follow that van!”  I decided he was probably driving back from dropping off someone’s yummy porcine lunch, and even if he was on the way to drop said lunch off, he had to drive back sometime – and besides, he had Alabama plates.  It couldn’t be that far, right?

It wasn’t that far, but he stopped in front of a Restaurant Supply Store.  When he got out, I explained that I was an itinerant migratory lifeform with a tropism for pulled pork, and he gave me a brochure and apologized for not having any with him so he could give me a sample.  He also gave me directions, and I was right – Smokey’s is local, for reasonable definitions of local.  The directions sounded somewhat familiar, and in a moment got to the words, “You’ll see Thomas Pit on the left, and we’re about three blocks past that.”

Clearly, this was a sign, further oracular intervention from the Road Gods – two people in the food business mentioning Thomas Pit.  The quest was on!  I drove, first, to Smokey’s – as on any quest, certain rules and niceties must be followed, conventions adhered to, if one is to win though to one’s prize. 

Smokey's Takes Umbridge at Being Called Hapless

Smokey's Takes Umbridge at Being Called Hapless

Smokey’s is a walk-up/drive though in Madison, and a copy of the Decatur Daily newspaper was on the wall, highlighted.  Evidently someone there ran a somewhat inadvisable story about how the good, upstanding, and humorless people of Decatur were clearly beloved in heaven since they got to eat at the award-winning Big Bob Gibson’s, while the “hapless people of Madison have to settle for something called Smokey’s.”  That’s a direct quote.  The note included the paper’s phone number for the editorial desk (888-353-4612, if you’re so inclined) and exhorted Smokey’s eaters to give the Decatur Daily a piece of their mind, if not a piece of their pig.   I got the smallest plate of pig I could, and tried it both with and without the sauces – note that the Smokey’s motto is “The Difference is the Sauce!”  The pig was good, with pink smoke lines, nice flavor and texture, on solid par with Big Bob’s and comparing well with Dreamland (although not quite that good) and the hotter of the sauces was the better.  Better hapless than humorless, Decatur.  I thanked them and rolled down the road a short pace to the aforementioned Thomas Pit.

Becca was right. With sauce or without, Thomas Pit has the best pulled pork I’ve ever had. They’ve been doing this since 1932; I guess they’ve got good at it. The place is small and decked out with Western and Texas theme decor, also from 1932 by the looks of it.  I think.  I couldn’t look away from my plate for long – someone might steal my pig!  They have a vinegar hot sauce that is perfectly adequate and wholly unneeded.  This pig needs no adornment.  It’s melt-in-your-mouth pulled pig.  It’s a hot pile of pig that melts in your mouth after exploding with flavor all over your tongue like a razorback hog bursting from a pen toward a feed trough.  Wow.  I have a new number one – that place in Florida, just over the bridge from Amelia Island, isn’t there anymore anyway, and it was only almost this good.  They must have some kind of rub on that pig.

Wow. Thank you Becca!  Thank you dude from Smokey’s!  Thank you to the Road Gods, and to foodies everywhere!

Thomas Pit's Smokehouse

Thomas Pit's Smokehouse

As I drove away around the back, I saw the smoke house and snapped this picture, which does not do justice to the smoke or the smell – you can’t see it very well, but the chimney has flames shooting from it; smoke was seeping out everywhere.  As I watched in rapturous awe, an old pit man stepped out of the door to wipe his brow.  He was sweating like a – he was sweating a LOT.  He looked old enough to be Thomas – there are natural properties of pulled pig and smoke that will preserve a man from 1932 until today – but I suppose probably wasn’t.  I gave him the thumbs up and the shouted superlatives of my assessment and he grinned to the extent he could and said, just like in the movies, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear!” 

I will, Mr. Thomas.  I will. 


Driving at the Speed of Summer

19 September, 2011 | | 7 Comments

We drove out to the Very Clever Grandparents’ House in the Woods a few weeks ago, in a valiant effort to cram in one last bit of summer before school started and we all went back to work.  On the drive out, we were passed on the left by a nice-looking woman with long blonde hair who was simultaneously driving a Lexus and eating a banana. I decided that this, surely, was an omen, a sign from the Road Gods auguring a good trip, safe roads, and potassium. 

The number one thing that Number One Son wanted to do at the House in the Woods was go to the Lost River Grill, about which I’ve already written.  He has made up his mind that at the Lost River Grill, you can get the World’s Best Cheesepuck. (I’ve had to apologize to any number of waiters and waitresses about that; he got it from me, and I’ve been unable to dissuade him from the idea that most people say “Cheeseburger.”)  He maintains that the Lost River’s Cheesepuck is better than Johnny Rockets, BGR, and McDonald’s combined. 

Sometimes the only thing between a good time and a great time is a decent cheeseburger.  Without much fuss or ado, the girls all went to the lake for a nice long swim, and the Father of the BUMD (FOBUMD) and I took Number One Son to the Grill – our dinner plans were marinating at the house, but lunch was up for grabs.  Number One Son decided that, last time he’d been there, he’d ordered his Cheesepuck “medium” and that this time, he was really thinking of ordering it “large.”

After I finished choking on my beer, I had to break it to him that they were all the same size, and that the designation was in how he liked the meat cooked.  He stuck with medium, and the Very Clever Grandpa and I stuck with beer.

Once back to the house, we saw deer, birds, and spiders, but we didn’t see any gnats.  They saw me, though, and they told all their friends.  “Look, the fat one’s coming out of the house again!  Quick, tell Bob and all five thousand kids!”  The gnats were such a topic of consternation and conversation that when FOBUMD, who follows baseball and lives in DC, mentioned that the Nats had won a game, the Reigning Queen of Pink turned around and said,  “I guess they beat the Mosquitoes!”  Sounds about right, actually.

The life and times of the insect population was, in fact, a major topic.  Listening to the cicadas singing their hearts out in the screen porch; The Very Clever Grandmother wondered if they were talking to each other, and if so what they were saying. 

So I told her, because I am The Cicada Whisperer.  I can translate those chirps, no problem.  They’re all saying, “Fuck me!  Fuck me!  Fuck me!”   Trust me on this – Hey Hey is the number one topic in the insect world, with food running a close second, and not becoming food a distant third.  It’s a lot like prime time television.

The ride back home recalled the returns from the summer’s earlier road trips, in particular driving back from the Jersey Shore.  The local signs and scenes through rural West Virginia and Maryland made me wonder about the contrast between that drive and the hike through the rural wastes of New Jersey.  Coming home from down the shore, we drove through miles of farmland and scrub pines, where the only signs for miles around were advertising Italian restaurants and Gentlemen’s Clubs.  Now, the entire area for about 80 miles around looks to have a population of maybe 100 people, tops.  Outside of the Eyetalian Kountry Kitchen (“Good Vittles!”), the “We’re Rockin It” Gentleman’s club, the “Sensations” Gentleman’s club, and the world’s oldest Texaco (they have a pump marked “Leaded” that I hope was just for show), there was the First National Bank of Elmer, and not a whole lot else.  How many Italian restaurants and gents clubs can these places support?  At some point, it becomes a statistical certainty that you’re going to see your sister, daughter, cousin, or wife dancing on one of those poles after serving you tonight’s lasagna special. 

So what’s so different about the rural parts of WVa and Maryland?  More hills?  Fewer Italians?  Is there a pole-dancing shortage out there?  Are parts of the country just a little closer to the insect population, with the number one interests being Hey Hey and food? 

As we arrived home, my ruminations on this road sign dichotomy came to an end, as did the summer – and in much the same fashion:  “Oh my god, we’re here already?  How did we get here so fast?”  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Lexus go by as we pulled up, and I knew the banana had only been the start.  It was a good trip, even if it did go by with the speed of summer.

Wedding Road Trip, Part 5: Rolling Home

28 August, 2011 | | 5 Comments

For those of you just joining:  We’re driving to and from Chicago for my cousin’s wedding.  No, my other cousin.  Also, there will be no weather in this narrative.  The weather was fine, with only a few embarrassed clouds.  For the purposes of our driving descriptions, you should feel free to fill in whatever weather you prefer.  I’ll try to remind you where to fill them in, for those of you who require a little climate control in your narrative.  We resume our story on Monday morning, having married off my cousin and feted the 9th Birthday of the Reigning Queen of Pink over the weekend.  Wheels up.

Breakfast At Tiffany's?

Breakfast At Tiffany's?

I woke to the sound of gunfire, which I was getting used to at that point – it turns out Katy Perry was staying in our hotel, and she doesn’t limit the festivities to just Friday night.  Since we needed to get up anyway, this wasn’t an altogether bad thing.  We decided that the best part of the day was going to be over too soon, so we loaded the car, the kids, and Marvin the Martian and rolled out promptly – even skipping a chance to have breakfast at Tiffany’s, and when was the last time you got to do that, huh?

Road Trip Self Portrait

Road Trip Self Portrait

So we made the car go lightly down the road, spinning nature’s panoply of paintbrushes faster and faster under our tires, and made for the impending hurricane on the East Coast like a man tired of waiting on death row – not exactly thrilled with the destination, but ready to be done already.  Illinois quickly became Indiana, which gradually became Ohio.  Mind you, it would have become Ohio much faster had SOBUMD not taken a well-deserved nap while I drove us a good way toward Canada.  Luckily she’s a light sleeper and woke up before we crossed the border, steering me back toward the heartland. 

Not wanting to miss a chance to hear Katy Perry, we kept spinning the radio dial as one station would fade out and another fade in.  Local radio is a little more local in the heartland.  Lost dogs were described with their breed and the date and location where they were found; the report ended with “and Bob, ol’ Roscoe got out again, Mavis says come get him before she sells him to them girls from Sturgis who thought he was so cute.”

There being nothing like revisiting our misspent youth, we stopped for lunch at an Eat-n-Park in Nowhere, Ohio, which is just outside Youngstown.  The waitress obviously interned at an Olive Garden, because she stopped at every table with a baby, picked them up, and passed them around.  It was adorable, in a small, round, and talcum-powered kind of way.  Eat-n-Park has retired Sparkle, their evil Eat-n-Park star former mascot, and seems to have re-imagined their smiley-faced cookie as the Silver Surfer – a little freaky, really.  The food is just like I remember it, sad to say. 

See-Thru Barn!

See-Thru Barn!

We continued to roll through Ohio for the several hours one does that.  Eventually, following one of the many “What state are we in?” queries, Number One Son piped up.  “You know, this nation is e-mother-effing-normous.  And so’s Ohio.”  Can’t argue with him there. 

Phallic Symbols

Phallic Symbols

Another thing you’ll notice driving across America that’s less obvious when flying the the country’s fascination with phallic symbols.  Sure, the airport has an air traffic control tower that’s straight up with a knob on the top, but have you seen the grain silos we use?  Tell me you don’t think about the Washington Monument when you see those.  Is it just me?

And then there’s the Turnpike.  Taking the Pennsylvania Turnpike is a joy.  There are signed every few miles stating “Fines higher in work zones,” by which they mean the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The whole damn thing.  The view is also an issue – it was so boring that I fell asleep and had to have SOBUMD drive it.  Luckily, she was able to stay awake by listening to the radio, which was playing Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night. 

Road Trip Sunset Over Sidling Hill

Road Trip Sunset Over Sidling Hill

But Pennsylvania does roll into Maryland, and the sun does set faster on trips going East, and in the fullness of time we reached the construction zone fun ride that is the US Capitol Beltway.  Just as we turned off I-270 and went to merge onto the Beltway, I spotted the sign:  “You must be at least this tall to ride this ride.”  The Reigning Queen of Pink was again disappointed with the height restrictions.  SOBUMD did the dodging and weaving needed to make the trip safe and fun, and we approached the final exit – our exit – at 75 mhp in heavy traffic.  We passed the penultimate off-ramp, only then seeing the newest sign for the ride:  “Your Road Westbound Exit Closed 9pm – 5am”

After driving 13 hours, we’d missed the chance at our exit by 5 minutes. 

As we navigated an alternate route, there was plenty of time for blamestorming.  SOBUMD decided those 5 minutes were spent with me trying to drive to Canada.  I maintained that those 5 minutes were actually consumed by our carrying the extra weight of Marvin the Martian slowing down the car.  By the time we got home, we had decided that it was probably Katy Perry’s fault. 

The car was unloaded, the cats were out of their mind with joy at seeing us, and the next day the earth shook.  Again, sorry about that. 

So congratulations to my Cousin Drew and my new Cousin Rachel, great partners in crime!  It was a great trip made all the better for meeting new family, seeing old family, and rolling through the heartland with both. 

Thank you all for helping us get there and, once again, back again.  Rock on.