Friday, August 1, 2014

Life moves pretty fast... the great Ferris Bueller once said.
So much has happened in the past year. I'll have to catch you up on that later. But the good news is that we're a mere few days away from our annual road trip. This year, it's back to North Carolina to visit with our friends - The Dees', The Fields' (both generations), The Aldridges, Momma B, and the fake nieces and nephew. Oh and baseball and beach time and maybe some pickin', flea marketin' and game cardboard searchin'!

See how I went all Southern there? I'm getting prepared.

Fake Nieces Win NC State Softball Championship!

This picture is from July. Now they are off to play in the World Series in Myrtle Beach, SC this weekend. We hope to be there on Tuesday to see them play. Good luck Little Lamb, Lady Pinkston and Big Chicken!

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Christmas Card

Here is what you've been waiting for all year long! Consider it our gift to you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Saturday Lights in Raleigh, NC

So my last post from August was from the first game of the North Carolina High School football season. This one is from this past Saturday at the North Carolina High School 4A State Championship game at Carter-Finely Stadium in Raleigh, NC, home to the NC State Wolfpack. I was there as a "school videographer," which means that I went with my friend, Redneck Randy, who tapes the games for the Scotland High School coach, who also happens to be his brother-in-law.

It rained, nay, monsooned all day long from the time we arrived until late into the night. The weather was awful and I was thankful that I was not playing. A) Because of the weather and B) because of my advanced age and out-of-shapeness.

While we did not get the desired outcome, the Scots went 15-1 this season and the game, which I would normally not give a flying rat's patootie about, was actually quite exciting to watch from the press box. It was warm and dry there and free food was involved. Can't beat that with a North Carolina pine branch.

Here are a few pics from the game. Enjoy!
View from the end zone stands
View from the actual end zone...on the field!
The Scots are ready!
Cool view
I had this wolf bronzed after it attacked me and I wrestled it to the death
Read it
The monsoon turned the field into a lake. And there was another game after ours.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Crazy Skies Over Hope Mills, NC

Double rainbow

Crazy clouds

Chasing the leprechauns. I want my gold!

Another crazy sky shot

Red sky at night...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Almost forgot...

A special thanks to P-Mac for the use of his laptop over the past month! You helped make the blogging much easier. Now run and do some statistics at Mizzou.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bellefontaine Cemetery - Saint Louis, Missouri

I've been to Calvary Cemetery before, but I had never stopped in next door at Bellefontaine before, so I decided I would. There is some serious St. Louis history in these two cemeteries...that's for sure.
I actually went for one reason (see above photo), but once I got there and met the super nice lady in the cemetery office who gave me the map and told me about all the famous graves, I had to drive the entire white line. If you go, you'll know what that means.

To catch a glimpse of what I was fortunate to see on an awesome Friday morning in St. Louis, click HERE.

Calvary Cemetery - Evanston, Illinois

I've driven by this cemetery a million times on the way to visit Brother David (Julia's other brother) in Evanston. Since I was in grave visiting mode (see Al Capone's grave from a few days prior), I checked out the Find A Grave website for Calvary's famous interments and found the final resting places of several baseball folks. Talk about baseball heaven...
Yep. That's one of the aforementioned baseball folks.
Peep those pics HERE.

A-Rod Suspension Day

I just happened to be in Chicago at the same time A-Rod's suspension of 211 games was announced. Coincidentally, it was also to be his first start of the season due to off-season hip surgery. Manager Joe Girardi said he was going to start against the White Sox, so I wanted to be there to witness the chorus of boos that was going to rain down upon the man.

In case you are not familiar with MLB suspensions, if A-Rod chooses to appeal the suspension, which he did, he can still play until the outcome is determined.

Once I found a $7 ticket deal on the White Sox website, I convinced Brother Peter to attend with me. The only perk of the evening was that it was White Sox Garden Gnome night for the first 10,000 fans to pass through the gates of Comiskey. Sorry, I cannot/will not refer to it by it's corporately sponsored name. It just doesn't feel right off the tongue. Ergo, Comiskey it is. That's probably still sacrilege, but it's better in my mind and that, friends, is all that really matters.
Only the weather could keep me from A-Rod
When we got there, it was drizzling a bit and we got in a line of about 2,000 folks for the gnome. Then it started to come down hard enough that I would forgo the gnome just to get under cover. Brother Peter asked an usher if there was another gate that might not be as crowded. He sent us to Gate 5, where instead of 2,000 gnome-awaiting fans, there were about 40 in line. Sweet. A gnome and impending dryness. What could be better? Oh, yeah...the A-Rod sighting...

See the photos from A-Rod Suspension Day HERE.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Chicago: August 1-5, 2013

Back when we were on our 2013 Road Trip, you may recall that we visited The Mayor and friends in North Carolina. He informed me that he, Vernon and Randy would be making the trip to Chicago for The National Sports Collectors Convention - basically, an enormous baseball card show covering more than 350,000 square feet with nearly 800 vendors peddling baseball joy in the form of game cardboards and other memorabilia. They invited, nay, demanded, that I join them on the trip. And when Rednecks make a demand, you obey. We worked out the details and the time came for me to make the drive to Windy City. 

Fortunately, Julia's car needed some body work after some storm damage while we were on our road trip and it coincided with this trip. That meant that I got a rental car for the journey FO' FREE! Nice, huh? Coincidentally, Brother Peter was in Springfield, IL, so I stopped and picked him up and chauffeured him back home to Chicago. Weird how that worked out...

Here's the gist of the trip:

The Show
Thursday-Saturday: We attended the convention for a minimum of five hours each day. On Thursday, we were there from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. before leaving for the Cubs game. The feet, knees and lower back functioned as pain centers after ambling around the concrete floor for seven hours. I covered the entire place on Day 1. Admittedly, I skimmed many of the booths, looking only at things that caught my interest. However, with 350,000+ square feet of stuff, there's bound to be some repetition, which I ignored. In contrast, Randy the Redneck covered only 1 1/4 aisles on Day 1. He looks at every single item in great detail and converses with every vendor, thus, becoming lifelong friends. Randy made 800 new friends over three days.
Read the sign to know where we are.
Thursday Night: Dodgers vs. Cubs at Wrigley field and our first time seeing the Dodgers'rookie phenom, Yasiel Puig, play in person. He had quite a night going 2 for 4 with a double and a home run. He also got thrown out at the plate, which was fun to see.
    Friday: Day 2 of the convention. 10-6 p.m. I was slightly smarter on Day 2. I took several opportunities to park it, thus saving a bit of wear and tear on the old bod.
    Mr. Vernon and the rose water tower
    Friday Night: Dinner at Giordano's, which The Mayor can't seem to remember, so he says "Geraldine's." It's the best pizza in Chicago...WAY better than Gino's matter what somebody told Vernon!
      Saturday: Day 3 of the convention. I'd say Vernon and I were done on Day 2, but A) we still had tickets for Day 3, B) The Mayor and Randy still hadn't covered everything and C) there was still so much to see. However, Vernon and I decided that we didn't need to stay for the raffles at 2 and 3 p.m. since they guy picking the numbers always pulled form the top of the pile and never mixed them up. We knew Randy would join us and that The Mayor would be the only one who would need some convincing. It didn't take as much as I thought it might and we were off.
      North Carolina and Tina Turner on Michigan Ave.
      Saturday Night: We met up with Brother Peter at Hancock Tower and took a walking tour of Michigan Avenue with a few side stops (Hard Rock Cafe and Harry Caray's). It was quite the tour, but it was over much too soon. After a few great hours spent downtown, we headed back to the hotel so that The Mayor could attempt to pack all of his new stuff, both for him and the store. By the way, I'm pretty sure he's obsessed with USA softball Olympic gold medalist, Jennie Finch. He left the show with at least 20 autographed items including cards, photos, a bat and a batting glove. In his defense, he has coached softball for more than three decades, and JF is probably the most popular player ever. I'll give him that! Unfortunately, I think his obsession may go beyond that a little bit.
      Sunday: We all got up, threw their bags in the Impala and I dropped them off at O'Hare for their flight back to the homeland. I then went back to the hotel and packed my stuff and headed to Mt. Carmel Cemetery to visit Al Capone's grave. It was recommended by the Roadside America app that VanDaWillyWonka, a friend and sometimes Ding Keeper, got for a road trip to Minnesota and recommended to us for our trips. It was quite a cool destination before heading to Brother Peter's and Wrigley Field for my second Cubs game in a week.
      Monday: Tonight, we're going to the White Sox game to see if A-Rod does, indeed, play after being handed a big, fat suspension today. He's said all along that he would appeal, and if he does, he gets to play until his appeal is heard. We shall see.
      Here are links to the photos from the Great Chicago Trip of 2013. Enjoy!

      Wednesday, July 31, 2013

      Worse than Cheerwine

      Sad, but true.

      Monday, July 29, 2013

      Day 17: Homeward Bound

      Now that we’ve been back from our 2013 Baseball and National Park Road Trip for two weeks, I guess it’s high time I finish up the blogging. This one shouldn’t take too long since it was just the travel day from Louisville.

      In the morn, the idea came to me to drop Brother Peter off in Springfield, Ill., home of the mother lady. Instead of making him go home with us, spend the night keeping the Dings awake with his infernal racket, and getting up at the buttocks crack of dawn to chauffeur his arse to the Amtrak station to board the train for the Illinois state capitol, why not just banish the luggage before heading home? Sure it would add a couple of hours to the travel day, but it would also alleviate super early rising, night tremors, and angry, sleepless felines. Good idea, Dave! You rock.

      So off we headed from Louisville en route to the Land of Lincoln. Of course the day wouldn’t be complete without a stop at a pickin’ place, the last such stop of the journey. As usual, Brother Peter retreated to the comfort of the Rav after about 30 seconds and his sister followed not long after as I received this text, “I’m done. Are you about ready?” I took my selections to the register to exchange payment and joined the siblings for the remainder of the trek homeward. As we inched closer to Springfield, we of course hit every rest stop and grimy gas station lavatory east of the Mississippi.

      After 47 hours of driving, we rolled into the capitol city to dump the baggage at the Mama’s. Unfortunately, for Brother Peter, he was supposed to arrive on Monday and we decided to surprise the mother with the gift of his presence a day early without informing her first. Thus, he was shunned and sent away as his unanticipated arrival interrupted her plans. Poor guy…banished twice in one day.

      We left town before she got the idea to send him home with us and directed the vehicle toward Cardinal Nation. Ninety minutes later, we were passing Baseball Heaven leaving only minutes before the felines would be reunited with their precious owners. We pulled into the driveway and had to quickly dump our belongings in order to return the Rav to the rental facility, pronto. The Dings were not pleased, as they barely received head pats before we were once again gone from their sight. Poor little lambs.

      Once we dropped the Rav at Hertz and Julia joined me in Black Indy, we headed to the exit for the ride back home to the four. As I made the turn to leave the lot, a shuttle driver turned down the same aisle in which we were traveling from the opposite direction and pointed her people carrier directly at us as though she was challenging me to the age-old automobile game of chicken. I naturally assumed, since we were not driving in the UK, or another country where the common practice is to drive on the left side of the road, that she would remove her vehicle from my path and the inevitable head-on collision she seemed intent to cause. I tapped the brakes to wait for her to veer, which she apparently had no intention of doing. I honked the warning device and threw up my hands as to say, “WTF, shuttle driving nutjobber?” She flailed her torso extensions in a “Go around me” gesture. Seriously? I very nearly went Fight Club on her arse and I’m certain I would have left the vehicle to cause some sort of ruckus had Julia’s cool head not prevailed. “Just let it go…” said she. I’m not sure why that worked on me, and while my anger did not subside, I did not wind up in jail for bludgeoning a rental car shuttle driver. And for that, I guess I’m thankful, but she was sooooo lucky.

      I have no photos to offer from the day except for this...
      WARNING: Abhorrent vomit-inducing fluid contained herein!
      This is the gift we bring back for our Christian friends whenever we travel to the southern regions of our nation. They actually put in a request before we depart. You see, the Christians are Southern – he’s from Georgia, she’s from Alabama – and it’s part of the Southern Code to enjoy this vile liquid detritus. You must also take delight in the Southern food groups  sweet tea, grits, and everything else fried smothered in gravy, as well as their own national pastime, NASCAR. Those are the rules and that’s the code. Embrace it or head home, Yankee.

      When I visited Charlotte back in 2009, my most hated cousin, Cindi, asked, “Have you ever had Cheerwine?” “No,” I said. “You’ll like it. It tastes like Dr. Pepper,” she alleged. You had me at Dr. So I laid down the cash in exchange for this magical beverage only to be extremely disappointed and damn near poisoned, first by the initial sting of its flavors upon my palate and then by the horrible aftertaste of this noxious liquid that coated my esophagus and the lining of my cheeks and melted the enamel from my teeth. It tasted like Dr. Pepper about as much as a nice fuel oil and cherry Twizzlers concoction. I’d much prefer to consume discarded motor oil, a gallon of Prestone (not mixed with water), or even one of those carcinogenic Tab soda beverages.

      I offer this simple warning. If you hail from north of the Mason-Dixon, DO NOT attempt to consume this so-called beverage. You will suffer temporary blindness and your taste buds will dissolve, in an instant, on your tongue and you will crave immediate death. It will take weeks to physically recover. Emotional recovery, on the other hand, may never come to pass.

      And thus concludes the 2013 Baseball and National Park Road Trip travel blog. Until 333 days from now, peace out, or as I learned from a Southern belle on the trip…

      “Peace out, girl scout.”

      Saturday, July 27, 2013

      Recent Offenders

      Day 16: Louisville

      Day 16 began with packing up the Rav one last time before heading to Louisville. Due to my Tetris-like packing abilities, this was a simple feat and off we went for the morning meal at Panera or, as we call it in the land of its founding, Bread Co. While standing in the queue, minding my own business and perusing the menu boards, I noticed two children – the elder a male, the younger a female – with their apparent female parent in front of us. Her offspring were flying erratically around the place like Dementors seeking souls. Lupin had these particular ruffians pegged when he said, “Dementors (aka these children) are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling; every happy memory will be sucked out of you... You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” Right on Remus! Well said. And to think those two trilogies and an extra book were works of fiction…
      Yep. That's them.
      As these hooligans tore around the place like screaming banshees hopped up on Mountain Dew, I threw them a few stink eyes to no avail. That is until the boy child, running about like he was appearing at the NFL combines, ran smack dab into my right hip/leg at full speed – easily 106 miles per hour. For him, it was like crashing into a wall of brick and mortar as he stumbled backwards in a daze with obvious signs of bewilderment upon his face. He was in such a state of shock that he could nary muster a whimper, much less release the fluids of the tear ducts. It was then that he experienced a fear unlike any he had ever imagined. This unfamiliar, body-freezing terror was caused 100% by me yelling “EXCUSE ME!” in a clearly angered and unforgiving tone. It was then that this pile of slugs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails took the form of a carbonite encased Han Solo as he cuddled ever so closely to the parent figure. He did not, nay he could not, move, as though he was frozen in that moment in time gazing up at my angry scowl and forever having the words rattle around his tympanic membrane. I must admit that the unbridled expression of dread upon his face provided a nice chuckle for me.

      Did the mother figure scold, reprimand, admonish or otherwise express any displeasure toward her troubled descendants? No. She did not. Thus, she proved to be unfit to rule her minions and should have those powers stripped by the constable. No sort of apology was offered, nor would one have been accepted. Tether those children to thine side if they are in dire need of discipline and cannot possibly immobilize themselves whilst you, the child-bearer, places an order for their morning feeding.

      Upon concluding the consumption of the breakfast foodstuffs, we commenced the five-hour drive to Louisville for the final nine innings of the trip. Wait…Brother Peter was still with us, so make that a seven-hour drive to Louisville. Remember the formula – for every two hours driven, one must factor in 30 minutes for Brother Peter’s potty breaks. So I’m actually spotting him 15 minutes here. I’m ever the benevolent driver.

      Eventually, we arrived in Jefferson County, Kentucky and rolled up to our hotel near the Louisville Airport. Once the luggage was dumped, we headed to Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats. Finding a parking spot rather close to game time proved to be a bit of a challenge, but a spot was found and we walked over to the stadium. We entered the seating bowl and tried to locate a way up to the second level. Not an easy task as there are only two stairwells at the far reaches (sections 108 and 124) of the concourse to ascend to our seats. There were many ways to get down, but not up. Strange, I must say.
      Yep. That's the place.
      It was at the Bats game that stupid crap, in this case, shoddy quality t-shirts, was being slingshotted around the place as some sort of prize for the fortunate ones who might snatch one from its flight pattern. While speaking to Julia, my head turned to the right toward her, I detected such an object en route to our section from my peripheral vision. I extended my left hand in a claw like fashion, without even turning my head, and snagged the tossed garment much in the same manner as our national symbol, the bald eagle, snatches a fish from a flowing stream. Quite impressive, if I do say so myself. Quite impressive, that is, until we unrolled the t-shirt to reveal a Long John Silver’s logo. Seriously? You couldn’t toss Bat-imprinted shirts to the crowd? I hate seafood and I hate crappy t-shirts with stupid things printed on them. So consider that gift horse’s mouth looked.

      While in attendance at Louisville Slugger Field, I received a text from Brother Peter including a photo he had taken on a walk from our hotel to Churchill Downs. I decided that after the game we, too, would seek out the land of the run for the roses. Oh Dan Fogelberg…where are you now? Well, according to the Wikipedia, Mr. Fogelberg died in 2007. Now don’t I feel like a jerk face with my humorous obscure reference? I’m not afraid to admit it, Dan…I loved “Run for the Roses” as a nine year-old in 1981 and I’m pleased to say it’s in my collection still today. Rock on, Dan!

      Once the Mud Hens put the final nail in the Bats’ coffin with a 10-0 shutout victory, we pointed the Rav in the direction of Churchill Downs. For some reason, from the few times I’ve watched the Derby over the years, I was under the impression that Churchill Downs was outside of Louisville on or near some sprawling Kentucky bluegrass farmland or something. Nope. Couldn’t have been more wrong.
      Sure looks like the Churchill Downs I know and love.
      As you turn onto Central Avenue from Crittenden Drive, you cross a long bridge over the railroad tracks and pass the University of Louisville’s football and baseball stadiums. You are then, officially, on the wrong side of the tracks – definitely not the idyllic bluegrass farmland I had envisioned all these years. It is apparent that Churchill Downs is responsible for maintaining Central Avenue outside of the main entrance as the lawns are super well-kept and the fencing is sparkling white like freshly bleached teeth. Turn the corner to drive down any of the other surrounding streets and it feels as though one made a wrong turn into post Flood of ’93 Lemay. Just not the picture I had in my mind.

      The other thing I noticed, or didn’t notice, I should say, was people. Nobody. We drove around the entire complex and saw small, old, mildly dilapidated homes, crappy lawns and even a car on blocks, just like any other wrong side of the tracks in this great land of ours. But we never saw a soul except for the chronic gamblers parked at the main entrance of the Downs who were inside the OTB facility, The Parlay, dropping the last of their life savings on “I Eat Hair” in the third. It was bizarre and it felt like a scene out of the Left Behind books. With that, and the fact that I feared we had been spared from an alien invasion, we headed back to the lodging place for the evening to rest ourselves for the final leg of the journey home.

      Wanna see more photos? Of course you do. Click HERE so that all of your wildest dreams will come true.

      Friday, July 26, 2013

      Day 15: From Sevierville to Johnson City

      Day 15 brought with it the realization that the annual road trip was swiftly coming to a conclusion. However, there were still two games left, so all was not yet lost.

      We left the cabin in the direction of town and the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. The hosts (there were two) were not the most welcoming of folks, but I’ve come to the conclusion that decent customer service is really no longer the norm nor can it be expected. Those same people could quite possibly be the friendliest individuals outside of their work environs, but as long as they are on the clock, they mutate into zombie form and seem to eye each new being simply as a brain sandwich as they cross the threshold. You must now consider yourself fortunate to even be greeted with a grunt and a stink eye as you enter as they scan your nervous system to determine the size and tastiness of its primary organ. How many of us will that one feed? I might be reading too deeply into this, but with the zombie craze currently taking hold of our nation, nay the world, who could argue? I triple dog dare you. Yeah, I skipped a few levels on the dog dare scale. Now Christmas Story your arse up, Ralphie, and offer a better hypothesis.

      Once seated, mind you, all the way in the back away from 95% of the other patrons, a server took our drink order, but then ditched our table in favor of another party that arrived after. Another server brought the drinks and remained with us as for the duration of the morning meal. The food was tasty – they served beignet-type items as though they were bread, so we gorged on those for a bit until the bounty arrived. We filled ourselves with scrumptious yumminess and then moved onward.

      The Pope is still Catholic, right? Well that means that we hit several antique stores on the way north on the Winfield Dunn Parkway from Sevierville en route to Johnson City. Last year, the pickin’ places had MUCH better offerings than this time around. Not sure if I’m just pickier (Get it? Pickier…pickin’? I’m so amusing.) or if the quality of items has actually plummeted that much in 365 Gregorian calendar earth rotations. Same thing with the two large flea markets we patronized and a third piss-poor one we hit off of I-40 a few miles east. I spent all of $1 between those stops on a 2007 Detroit Tigers magazine that I may present to my long lost brother, Larry, in Florida - that along with a 1984 Purple Rain Tour program I picked up for $1 in Southport, NC. That Larry is one lucky long lost brother, I tell you.

      Speaking of brothers, Brother Peter’s hummingbird bladder necessitated many more potty breaks along the Parkway, I-40, I-81, I-26 and all, and I mean ALL, roads in between. If only there was a way to collect, purify, and transport his liquid waste matter to convert it into some form of irrigation fluid– perhaps delivered similarly to the Log Flume system used at the Mingus Mill – droughts would cease to exist, deserts would transform into vast farmable lands, and hunger would vanish from our planet.
      In a mere five years, the very word “hunger” would become a forgotten utterance, not unlike Ye Olde English, Aramaic and Latin. Hey, Monsanto…why don’t you and Six Flags team up on that one and save the world and maybe the cheerleader? Then get to work on that polar melting issue. I kinda like polar bears and they seem to sell quite a few Coca Colas at Christmas time. And you really don’t want to see Kevin Costner’s gem of a motion picture, Waterworld, become actuality, do you? Then drop the bon bons and have at it.

      We reached our hotel in JC, once again dropped off the baggage (all of it) and headed to see the Cardinals’ Rookie affiliate/Appalachian League team, the Johnson City Cardinals, have a catch with the Pulaski Mariners. What we didn’t know when we arrived to a game already in progress, was that a game two nights prior had been rained out and our game was now a double header! The baseball gods had blessed us with an extra game of joy and our six-pack of road trip games evolved into a baker's half dozen. PTL!

      We reached our seats and immediately recognized Julia’s boyfriends (Yes…boyFRIENDS – plural) from last year – two 80-something menfolk each toting a mouthful of tobacco and a receptacle for chew-spitting. Also interesting to note was the temperature difference between the 2012 stop at Cardinal Park and this 2013 visit – 30 degrees – 105 versus 75 one year later – at least according to the WeatherBug app. Last year, it was so hot that my hair and fingernails were sweating. And this year, by the end of Game 2, I had to venture out to the Rav to retrieve a jacket and blanket for Julia as her limbs and digits tend to freeze once the temperature drops below 75 degrees. A strange phenomenon indeed.

      At some point, I headed down to the front row for some close-up photo ops with the Canon Power Shot SX50 HS. On my way, a man on a return trip from an apparent restroom break asked, “Did they just hit into a double play?” “Yes,” I replied. “Well, it wasn’t my kid who hit it, but he was the runner on first.” How cool – I had just chanced upon a parent of a current minor leaguer. The Cardinals catcher was Rowan Wick and his father, Clayton, was in the house all the way from Vancouver, BC to watch his son play. Clayton and I shot the breeze for a good 20 minutes while Julia was making friends with her new BFF, J.T. I eventually made my way back up to the hemorrhoid-inducing metal slab and parked it as the Cardinals continued to fall further behind en route to an 8-2 Game 1 loss. For the record, Rowan went 1 for 3 with a walk.

      Between games, I strolled around the stadium in search of prime photo ops and freaks and wound up on the third base side where I, once again, came across Clayton. This time, his wife (Elaine) was with him and he introduced me. Again, we chatted for quite a while, perhaps half the game. At one point, the Cardinals trainer tossed a ball up to Clayton and he handed it to Elaine to secure it in her purse. The ball presentation caused my brain to relay the story of an usher in Memphis one year, who upon hearing of our road trip saga, pulled me aside as though I had violated some rule, only to present me with a game-used baseball. How cool was that? Upon completion of the story, Clayton disappeared for several minutes. When he came back he said, “Rowan said he can get us another ball, so give that ball to Dave for his collection.” I was stunned, yet quite appreciative. It just goes to show that it’s not just North Carolinians who are so friendly and generous. Who knew that our neighbors to the north had similar folks? And from the land of the hated Vancouver Canucks, the team who bounced our beloved St. Louis Blues from the playoffs in 1995, no less.

      Shortly thereafter, Julia located me and I introduced her to my new Canadian friends. Apparently, J.T. had been pawing on her a bit during my absence. Julia somehow spurned his advances and, as she often does, extracted a bit of information from the octogenarian.
      • He had been married four times.
      • His current wife, #4, and he do not live together.
      • She fixes him dinner on Monday and he takes her out to dinner on Friday, unless there’s a game. In that case, she has to fend for herself. He survives on chew and hot dogs at the game.
      • J.T.’s wife #3 and wife #4’s husband were having an affair, as were J.T. and wife #4 at the time. A bit hard to follow, but read it again – you’ll get it.
      • So both sets of affair participants are now married to each other’s ex-spouses. Make sense? J.T. is now married to the woman with whom he was having an affair (wife #4) and J.T.’s wife #3 and wife #4’s husband, who were having an affair of their own, are now married. Consider it a more permanent game of Spouse Swap.

      What a nice second visit to Johnson City – rekindling old relationships and forging new ones. I highly recommend a trip of your own. By the way, the Cardinals took Game 2 by a score of 7-6 and Rowan went 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter. Hope to see you in The Show someday, Rowan!

      Now, go see the photos HERE.

      Thursday, July 25, 2013

      Day 14: The Smokies (continued)

      Due to our lack of spotting the elusive Ursus Americanus (to the layperson, a black bear) on Day 13, we prepared ourselves to venture forth from the cabin in the woods to head back to Cades Cove early in the morn on Day 14. Certainly we would catch a glimpse in a hoosier/redneck/kickable-free environment, right? We decided to test that theory. So again we made the trek over the river and through the woods of Wears Valley to the 11-mile Ursus Americanus Highway for an anticipative viewing.

      One simple four-letter word describes the culmination of that journey – FAIL. You thought I was going to use another four-letter word, huh? I did, in fact, use it at the time, but this is a family blog. I’ve come to the conclusion that the elusive Ursus Americanus is either A) a figment/lie formulated by the evil genius, backwoods-living rednecks to entice unsuspecting Yankees/tourists as a food source beyond possum and raccoon or B) said members of the animal kingdom simply abhor us and hope to make each of our attempts complete failures. At this time, I will lift a quote, and slightly changes the lyrics, from a little ditty from the cinematic masterpiece, Ted. It goes a little something like this. “F**k you black bear! You can…” I’ll stop there. This is a family blog. Needless to say, the imaginary bears of The Smokies can K my A.

      After the failure, we headed in the opposite direction to Gatlinburg. Yes, that means that we would have to traverse the two-lane, tourist trap of a road through fro-yo-t-shirt town. If one perseveres through that hideous mess, the Gatlinburg entrance to the GSMNP is worth the trauma. You get to take a super cool snapshot like this:
      Unfortunately, one also gets to be the personal photographer for the next 15 people in line simply by virtue of sporting the Canon Power Shot SX50 HS around stem of one’s head.

      Once our original goal of spotting the non-existent black bear became moot, the new objective for the day was to head to the 90 degree angle footpath leading 6,634 feet in elevation to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the GSMNP. Don’t let the words “½ mile paved hiking path” fool you into any false sense of security or lull you into thoughts of hiking ease. Those would be more lies perpetrated by the woods dwellers with the sole purpose of consuming your flesh. It’s a well-known fact that the Top 3 protein sources for these people are possum, raccoon and human. No lie. Those who falter on the path of death are rarely seen or heard from again.

      Brother Peter said that he was out of shape and would most likely be behind us on the way up the trail of bereavement. Umm…Brother Peter…have you looked at us? We are old, rotund, protein sources whose primary exercise is lowering one’s self into one’s automobile and, the even more difficult, elevating one’s self out. Throw in 12-15 stairs per day and you’ve got us figured out. We did this same hike last year and it did nearly snuff us out, but we were determined to conquer it this year Chicago River bridge style. Two words to describe the output of that hike: Dome conquered. In the words of Ivan Drago, “I cannot be defeated.” So take that Mr. ½ Mile Trail of Hades.

      Upon crossing off that bucket list item, we continued onward through the park to Cherokee, North Carolina for lunch. Cherokee is an Oconaluftee Indian Village on the Oconaluftee River. Makes sense. We wound up at Subway before heading back to Tennessee and our domicile in the woodlands. On the road back, we took a quick left turn just out of town to see the Mingus Mill, which for some reason, reminds me of Mundungus Fletcher of Harry Potter fame. Not expecting much, the Mill was quite the cool place, both literally and figuratively.

      The Mill is a typical old mill building that everyone has seen somewhere at some point in their lives. Although it was a cool old building, the highlight was the Six Flags Log Flume type water supply leading to it. The temperature was at least 20 degrees cooler a mere 500 yards into the woods near the flume. It was cool as H. If you view the photos, you will agree with this assertion. So do it.

      From there, we meandered back through the North Carolina and Tennessee portions of the GSMNP, waded through the trash in downtown Gatlinburg so that Julia could visit the pottery places on the 8-mile artist loop outside of town. We patronized several artist dens and made a few purchases of pottery seconds – pieces that may include multiple glaze pinholes, glaze skips, uneven glazing or the pottery being off-round – otherwise known as crap one’s eyes don’t detect, but that come with steep discounts. Woo hoo!

      We left the artist loop and headed back into Pigeon Forge in search of more crafty-type things. There was a place that sells primarily cat-related items – t-shirts, magnets and a host of other kitty crap and there was even a store kitty. For some reason, my Assisi skills did not seem to affect this particular feline. I’m convinced the animal was a Jedi apprentice and was practicing the Jedi mind trick on me. This is not the feline you are looking for. The cat was not interested in me, thus, I had no interest in it…after the first time it ignored me. Whatevs cat. You only wish you were a Ding instead of a meager store cat in Pigeon Forge with a crabby owner.
      The concluding stop on the day’s jaunt was a place we had passed on several occasions – a place called Goats on the Roof. Yep. Goats on the damn roof. And guess what? Goats hang out on the roof. No lie. It’s really just a genius ploy to entice the passerby to say, “Hey. There are goats on the roof. Let’s investigate this hubbub.” And it works. It’s nothing more than a souvenir shop and general store with goats on the roof. Get ‘em in the door with the goats and they’ll buy our crap. Sort of a “Field of Dreams – If you build it, they will come” type thing. While I did not partake, if one purchases a small bucket of goat foodstuffs, one places it on a little shelf and then pedals a bike to raise the bucket to the roof with the purpose of feeding said rubbish consumers. I witnessed someone take part in the goat sustenance delivery system and decided I would look like a tool…more so.

      Be amused by the photos of the day by clicking HERE.

      Monday, July 22, 2013

      Day 13: The Smokies

      We’re back in the Smokies, so you know what that means? Breakfast at Mel’s Diner before heading off to Cade’s Cove for the 11-mile drive of nature’s Smoky joy in search of the elusive bear. So we drove the loop and almost immediately came upon a large group of cars and their inhabitants peering out into a field. We rolled up next to a truck full of hoosiers/rednecks and asked what was out there to be seen. The answer did not come back from the truck in the voice of its human driver, but in the voice of a small kickable canine on the driver’s lap yapping its high-pitched yap. Thank you mangy, flea-infested mutt. I’m sure the bears love to hear your yappy ass in the morning much in the same way Kilgore loves the scent of napalm. If only you’d wander off into the woods, wrapped in bacon and slathered in Poo Bear’s honey, in search of bear, coyote, fox, camel, Siberian tiger, dragon or any other animal/mythical creature that might consume you in a single morsel. Ah, wishful thinking.

      So here’s this group of people staring off into an open field at a tree line in the distance saying that a bear pops up occasionally. Whatevs. As long as I watched, nothing out there moved – not a single blade of prairie grass, not a single leaf on any tree, not a wing of a butterfly, not the snot of a squirrel, not an alien from the X-Files, and least of all, not a bear. Those fools stayed behind as we moved on to mile 10.5 in search of a real actual bear. I managed to snap about 5,000 pictures of stupid Smoky Mountain deer, but the bears of the Smokies evaded me like D.B. Cooper and thwarted my nature photos once again. I hate them. They are not nice bears. I bet they aren’t all that photogenic anyway. I’d rather have photos of those bigger and better Alaskan bears. Hands down.
      Yeah. Kinda like those.
      After the morning’s bear disappointment, heading back to Wears Valley, we all realized our hunger for foodstuffs and started looking for the BBQ place we stopped at for lunch last year. We couldn’t remember the name of said establishment, but knew there was a man’s name or two in it. Turns out that Dakota Jack’s Hawg Pit moved about a half a block down the road into a gazebo-looking building. They were the same tasty, sauce-covered eats we remembered and oh so cheap! Jack should really charge more for his grub, but I’m sure glad he doesn’t while I'm in town.

      The road to the Cade’s Cove side of the park goes through a place called Wears Valley with a narrow, winding, two-lane road with several pickin’ places scattered about along the way. So of course we had to make a few stops in the valley to peruse the antique findings. After making no purchases, we left Wears Valley and headed into Pigeon Forge to the Book Warehouse, a mostly used bookstore, and a general store that prides itself on its extensive Moon Pie inventory. I picked up a book and Julia picked up a Moon Pie…a single, solitary Moon Pie that she apparently did not intend to share with her driver/trip planner. Her excuse was that it was a mini Moon Pie and not one of the life-sized Moon Pies that are big enough to share. Why would this woman, with whom I share four Dings, partake of a chocolate-covered treat of any type in my presence and not expect to share it? Better yet, why would she only purchase one such delight to begin with? Pretty sure she hates me. Never you mind. You know what they say about paybacks…

      As you ponder the payback options, click HERE to see the photos from the day.

      Sunday, July 21, 2013

      Day 12: Winston-Salem to The Smokies

      Day 12 included travel from Winston-Salem to our Sevierville, Tennessee cabin in The Smokies, but first, one of our new found Southern friends, we shall call her D-nice, suggested we make a quick pit stop on the way out of town.

      Miss D-nice pointed us in the direction of Dewey’s Moravian Bakery in Winston-Salem. “They have some delicious pastries and cinnamon rolls,” she wrote on the FB. Cinnamon rolls? You don’t have to tell this Yankee twice! Thus, Dewey’s was an immediately-added side attraction. So we left the farm-side hotel en route to the bakery and arrived to find this tray of ridiculously sweet and cinnamony joy:
      Insert Frank Barone’s “Holy Crap” here once more. Seeing that Elmer’s Glue-like frosting, asking for milk was an absolute necessity. I hate to admit it, but for the first time in my four decades of earthly existence, I encountered a cinnamon roll that I could not tame. I simply could not finish it. I quit. I was, and still am, ashamed. Like that bridge over the Chicago River I conquered the second time during Bike the Drive, I hope to dominant a Dewey’s cinnamon roll the next time we enter the Winston-Salem city limits. Like LL Cool J, I’m gonna knock it out!

      While waiting for some of the cinnamon roll to settle before attempting to consume more, I consulted The Google to find that another Edward McKay bookstore was located less than half a mile from Dewey’s. After failing to finish the roll of the god of all things sweetened, we headed across the road to peruse the sports books section. I grabbed a few and the visit was over in a flash and we were again on our merry way. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, here we come!

      After a few hours of road tripping and potty breaking, it was time for lunching. Thus, the search for a Bojangles began. Any other time, there was a Bojangles at virtually every exit. Not so today. Mile after Bojanglesless mile we drove. “Wendy’s?” No. Subway? No. Hardee’s? No. There would be no compromise and no substitutes. My Monday morning Hope Mills Bojangles breakfast would not be my last visit to the real Southern Comfort. I would have none of it. So lunch was put off a bit longer until, lo and behold, the red and yellow logo of supreme awesomeness appeared on the food locator highway sign. God bless America. And, thus, we broke biscuit.

      With the midday feeding out of the way, we continued onward to our Smokies living place for the next three days. Like my brother-in-law, Marky, we took a different way than what Karen suggested in exchange for a more scenic route than what I-40 had to offer. This roundabout way actually became familiar when we rolled up onto Gatlinburg from the back way. We took the left fork once we hit downtown G-burg and headed into Pigeon Forge and, finally, to Sevierville to check in. A right turn at the G-burg fork would have taken us through the "Vegas of the Smokies" and the 15 t-shirt stores and other assorted touristy crap along the route. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to avoid the G-burg strip for the entire trip as one of the entrances to the GSMNP lies just on the other side. It hurts my soul to drive that strip, but it’s worth it once you pass.

      Since we rolled into town in late afternoon, almost early evening, we decided to simply chill for the evening at the cabin. So I began catching up with some blogging… Apparently, I’m still in catch up mode. I promise I’ll finish before the 2014 Road Trip!

      You know the drill. Click HERE for the photos.

      Friday, July 19, 2013

      Day 11: Bojangles to Winston-Salem

      Day 11 began with breakfast at Bojangles. I know! Bojangles, perhaps the greatest road trip lunch/dinner/snack fast food offering in the South, nay, the Nation, serves breakfast too! The Mayor went with some sort of chicken on a biscuit thing, which I, ever the poultry lover, just couldn’t do for the first meal of the day. Or, as The Mayor would say, I wouldn’t do. “Broaden your horizons, Dave,” he said. No thank you, sir. Most of the time he can talk me into anything, but Yankees don’t do chicken for breakfast unless they have, for some reason, forgotten what time of day it is. And I knew the time thanks to the iPhone, although on this trip, one could never be confident with the device’s choice of time zone. But it was light and looked like morning, so I went with that.

      The foodstuffs were consumed and we were off. We took Julia back to the house with a breakfast snack for Brother Peter and for time in The Mayor’s salt water pool. This would be perhaps the last time they would have the opportunity to enter the water on the trip other than bathing, which neither of the siblings seem to do very frequently.
      Oh, sobbing Cubs girl, how I love thee.
      The Mayor then led me to his game cardboard collection in the garage. In sports card lingo, there is a thing called “commons” or cards of lesser name players. Much of what is stored in his garage are such commons, but he also has duplicates of sets and other fun basebally items. He had me rummage through to see if there was anything I wanted/needed for my own collection of baseball joy. I picked five sets – the 1984 and 1985 Topps sets to name a few, so now I have every Topps set from 1981-1995 and then 2006 to the present. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure The Mayor’s garage was a little slice of heaven. The only thing better would be front row seats at Wrigley Field as the Cardinals stomp a mudhole in the Cubs while this girl continues to sob and I’m surrounded by millions of game cardboards printed between 1909 and 1965. Throw in some fatback, Dr. Pepper and Grandson’s peach cobbler and I’m there! Oh, and a BLT from Crown Candy Kitchen and fries from Bojangles… I’ll stop now.
      He then took us over to the “barn” of one of his rental properties where he stores yet more cards since he doesn’t have enough room in his garage. And there was yet one more barn that he showed me that he said contained more common cards. The first barn was actually just a garage behind a house and the second was a two-story shed behind another in the shape of a barn. Those Southerners and their wrong speak. He also let Julia choose from at least 100 golf clubs to add to her set. Once again, and needless to say, The Mayor is probably one the most genuine, nicest people I have ever met – in the Top 5 anyway in case I’m overlooking someone.

      For the final time, The Mayor and I headed of for another round of pickin’ in Fayetteville to visit the stores that were closed on previous visits. I have a friend, whom I call VanDaWonk or simply VDW, who is currently in the process of gestating a miniature human. VDW and her husband have decided upon a circus theme for the wee critter’s room and in all of my pickin’ adventures, I rarely see circus-related items. Hideous, creepy, scary, “can’t sleep, clown will eat me” clowns – yes. Statues of elephants getting attacked by tigers – you got it. But a big top motif, a strong man, or Barnum and Bailey? Not so much. Until today. Well, that’s a bit of a white lie. I did find a round metal circus tent thingy at an antique place earlier in the week, which I figured I could clean up nicely for random small human items. But on this day, I found something even better – a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus pennant from the 1940s or 50s for the outrageous sum of…I’m building suspense here with the use of the ellipses…your brain is racking to figure out if it was really cheap or upwards of a Benjamin…insert a wee bit more suspense here…for the outrageous sum of…$4. No. That’s not a typo. For $4. And I decided that if she didn’t want it, I would keep it. It was that cool. Update: she liked it and kept it. I may break into her house later to reclaim it though.

      After the final pickin’ adventure, we headed back to Casa de Mayor to pick up Julia, Brother Peter, Pinky and her twin for lunch at Becky’s. Apparently, The Mayor has breakfast at Becky’s every day. It was a narrow, shotgun-style place with maybe ten tables. Either the AC was not in the “on” position, or the heat from the nearby kitchen was warming the place from back to front. Becky arrives at 4:30 a.m. to open the place for breakfast, so it was no surprise to The Mayor that she sat at the table across from us dozing with her chin pressed into her chest. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was snoring, but if she was, it could not be heard over the ambient noises of the restaurant. Brother Peter should take heed. It took some time for the food to arrive as it’s made fresh to order, but my burger was quite scrumptious. Julia and Brother Peter opted for a “hamburger steak,” which they thought would be some type of burger, but turned out to be a hamburger steak (as advertised).

      Upon leaving Becky’s with full bellies, the twins made sure that we went to Big T’s for snowballs, what we Yankees call snow cones or shaved ice. These things we bad to the bone. I’m not sure why, but the ice didn’t melt as one consumed it, even though it was 507 degrees out in Hope Mills that day. Those were some tasty treats after that hearty lunch at Becky’s.

      After the gorging, it was time to head back to The Mayor’s house to say goodbye to the fam (that means you Pinky and the Twin) and to pack up to head to Winston-Salem and the Dash game. Using my mad packing skills that I acquired by stacking blocks, Legos and Lincoln Logs for many hours as a child, I loaded up the Rav with our baggage and new purchases and off we went. We arrived in Winston-Salem, dropped off Brother Peter and the other baggage at the hotel and headed to BB&T Ball Park for the game and the biggest surprise of the trip – how nice the stadium was. I’d estimate another crowd with less than 500 fans in attendance. What gives people? Even so, we enjoyed our garlic fries, the stadium and the mascot (Bolt) and The Curse of Julia was lifted, if only for a night, with a 12-9 Dash victory.

      So see some photos from Day 11 by clicking HERE.

      Tuesday, July 16, 2013

      Day 10: Pickin’ on the Way Back to Hope Mills

      It was our last day at the beach, but it certainly wasn’t our last day of pickin’! Julia and Brother Peter followed Susan and drove the Rav back to Hope Mills. The Mayor and I set out on the road earlier and took a different route through Lumberton, NC and visited a couple of pickin’ places along the way. I picked up a book about great pitchers for $3 and The Mayor got some supplies for his store and we continued onward towards home, at least, The Mayor’s home.

      We rolled into Fayetteville and hit a bookstore called Edward McKay (indirectly related to the awesome McKay stores in Tennessee) where we both added to our baseball book collections very inexpensively. God love used book stores who don’t price gouge.

      Our next stop was a scary flea market in an old grocery store or something called Bragg Boulevard Flea Market. Man, was the place was rather vile. And there was a $1 admission fee to boot! I can't believe we paid for that. And a visit there necessitated a hazmat bath upon leaving the premises. Who knows how many new and undiscovered microbes attached themselves to our persons during our time in that Petri dish. While there was vendor after vendor peddling fake or otherwise crappy crap, there was also the traditional cell phone accessory booths and the random knock-off fragrance sellers. Then there was a vendor selling framed photos of movie and sports stars for $5 each. While I would not purchase such items anyway, I did take a gander and quickly noticed that not only were they printed on the guy’s printer at home and crammed into Dollar Store frames, but it was totally evident that he downloaded low resolution images from The Google for said printing/framing/selling. Embarrassing and probably somewhat illegal.
      Not my photo. I was too busy thinking about my safety.
      About six months ago, The Mayor opened a pickin’ place of his own in Fayetteville called The Thrifty Patriot. This would be our last stop, at least downtown Fayetteville would be, before we set final sights on Hope Mills. It was after hours time at the Patriot, but the man is the proprietor, so the dude’s got keys! His store is not huge, but it was very well laid out and quite tidy for a pickin’ place and, best of all, I had it all to myself. Oh the joy. He showed me every nook and cranny and I made a small pile of baseball-related items (shocking, I know) and got a great deal from the owner.

      There’s an interesting story behind one booth in particular at The Thrifty Patriot. The booth’s owner is Jeff Allen, who is described in a Fayetteville Observer article titled “Fayetteville man to sell keepsakes to help feed the hungry.” He is “turning collectibles into food" and selling his stuff to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank. Most of my haul came from Mr. Allen’s booth. Quite the cool idea sir. I applaud you. Even cooler is the fact that Mr. Allen owns a feline named BoyCat.
      Allen and BoyCat. Or is it Gandalf the Grey and Bumpkin?
      Read more about Jeff Allen HERE, if you care to do so.

      The Mayor then gave me a tour of downtown Fayetteville with a quick drive past the Market House, which served as a farmers market until 1906 and the second floor as the town hall until 1907. It’s a cool old building built in 1832 and teeming with Fayetteville history.

      Just down the street from the Market House, The Mayor showed me this sign:
      How awesome is that? The Babe’s first pro home run AND the nickname?

      As if that wasn’t enough, it was getting to be darned near supper time in Hope Mills, so we headed down the road a piece to Grandsons. Perhaps you recall last year’s visit when I got a frantic call from my niece just minutes after she had been involved in her first car accident? She was quite certain that her father would, indeed, either take her life or never let her drive again for the rest of her days. I’m happy to report that she is still among the living and driving around town today. You may also remember that that phone call also basically ruined that Southern buffet experience of joy, but not before I was able to taste the single greatest dessert treat known to man, Southern and Yankee alike – the sweetest delight also known as peach cobbler. Thankfully, there was no such interruption this year and I towered my plate like Pisa and partook of many fine Southern items – fried chicken (yep, on the bone), God’s pork gift of fatback, and that other gift from above – peach cobbler. It was so joyfully sugary that it made my teeth tingle with cobblery goodness. And all of that was washed down the gullet with a gallon of unsweetened tea, not that nuclear runoff sweet tea poison stuff.

      Click HERE to see the photos from Day 10.