Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One Year Later

I was told over a month ago that we would be traveling for our anniversary. The destination was a tightly-controlled secret. I believe many other people knew where we were going, but I was kept in the dark until we had arrived.

My husband knows me well and picked absolutely the perfect place--a little B&B in Greensboro. Just far enough away to feel like a real get-away, but without spending too much of our short weekend, three days before Christmas, on traveling. A perfect solution.

We walked along Elm Street, and I was delighted to discover a plethora of shops filled with local wares.  Several cooperative galleries operate on Elm, with repurposed and upcycled items, as well as stuff from local artists.  One store included locally-minded t-shirts, including one with the outline of NC on it, and the simple moniker, "Home," centered in the outline.  Another divided our fair state in half, with "Tomato" on the left, and "Vinegar" on the right, showing the heated rivalry of barbecue styles.  (For those interested in more on the subject, simply google "NC BBQ" and check out the wikipedia page all about it.  BBQ is serious business down here.)

We got a ton of ideas for things to make, both for ourselves and for the home.  So many lighting projects, and so many yard decorations.  We purchased wooden Christmas ornaments and oohed and ahhed over various pottery and fused glass pieces. 

The culture of local and artistic permeates much of the street, and even the two eye glass stores double as art galleries, with beautiful pieces throughout the store.  They were completely comfortable with the two of us walking in simply to look around, with no plans to buy lenses whatsoever.  

We had parked near the B&B which was walking distance from Elm Street, and had wandered down to the shopping district.  We started with coffee and then headed up toward the area we were least familiar with.  We first spotted the F W Woolworth storefront from down the street, and initially were confused.  Then we remembered that this Greensboro is THE Greensboro.  It often catches me by surprise that I live in an area so steeped in history.  It shouldn't, really.  I come from Washington DC, which boasts current, or former, or old, headline-making locations around every turn.  But now, for me, North Carolina is just home.  We even commented that Duke University, to us, is just a nuisance that brings strangers and traffic to our down town.  Not that it's DUKE UNIVERSITY.  But here, right in front of us, is the -- THE -- Woolworth's.  Although not the first sit-in (there were some sit-ins as early as 1942), the Greensboro sit-in sparked a series of demonstrations that led to significant changes in public segregation.  I am happy to report that most of the violence associated with the sit-in demonstrations didn't happen in North Carolina, as I discovered later.  But as Bill and I stood in front of the Greensboro Woolworth's, I had in my mind the images of the violent protests and the courage of those who stood -- or sat -- for their rights.  We can draw our own strength from those who have been strong before us.  If four men can sit at a Woolworth's counter in 1960, not knowing how they will personally come out of it, but confident they can make real change happen in their country, then we can be assured we are capable of great things.  I am also pleased with Greensboro that they left the storefront intact -- it is now a civil rights museum -- right there in their downtown shopping district.  They are not hiding their history, closeting it away as something that happened "before," or something inconsequential now that things are "better."  No, they have kept the storefront--which wraps around the corner and is intact in its entirety--an enormous monument to the progress made in that simple gesture of sitting at a lunch counter.  The corner also features recent sculpture installations, my favorite of which is the "Cup of Freedom," depicting the four men at a counter which is shaped like a large coffee cup.  Under it is the "I Have a Dream" quote from Reverend Dr. King.  

But then Bill made the switch of that day, from being a fantastic husband, to being the world's most excellent husband, when he pulled out front row, center tickets to a local playhouse showing of the now-sold-out Snow Queen.  Based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen story, this play was commissioned for the Triad Stage on Elm Street in Greensboro, and featured amazing music from a well-known local bluegrass artist, Laurelyn Dossett.  The play is set in Appalachia and tells the story of a brave young girl who sets off in the snow-covered winter to rescue her best friend from the Snow Queen.  Our seats put us just a few feet--and in a few cases, mere inches--from the actors on the stage.  The music was amazing, the costumes were unbelievable, and the whole production left us speechless with delight.  We met Miss Dossett afterwards, and she was happy to sign our CD with a "Happy Anniversary" message, and throughout the weekend we would steer the conversation back to how amazing that experience was.  If it hadn't been sold out, I would have texted everyone to run to Greensboro to catch the last show.

We then ate dinner at the delicious Mark's Restaurant, and then a quick tour of the area to look at Christmas lights.  Greensboro has a delightful Christmas light tradition, which I am aware is spreading to a neighborhood in downtown Durham.  The home-owners make chicken-wire balls wrapped in colorful lights, and then in a series of steps using a potato gun, rope, and extension cords, they hang the balls way way way WAY up in the trees.  The beauty is in the multitudes, and in the neighborhoods we drove through, there were hundreds of colorful balls hanging over our heads and stretching in sequence for miles.  Not only magical and beautiful, but also undeniably a community event, with people walking through the streets, cars rolling slowly, and the obvious cooperation of scores--even hundreds-- of neighbors.  Durham has started this fun tradition, and I am looking forward to watching it grow in coming years.

So that was out anniversary celebration -- absolutely perfect!!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Nature of Mojo

The quote of the weekend became, "Wow, there is some bad mojo around that flat." We had ridden without incident to the beach, where we would be meeting friends. We were early though, having taken the whole day off and headed out early. So we stopped by another friend's house, napped, and hung out on their dock. We then went to meet our host-friends for dinner at Port of Call, a delicious restaurant in Salter Path. The waitress was nice, but our friends were late, and we ended up making ourselves at home, plugging in our phones and helmets and starting to cut up a bit in the corner. Our friends eventually arrived, and then we got really loud, ultimately closing the place down, with the staff pleasantly but firmly wishing us ON OUR WAY. In the parking lot I had a squirrelly experience pulling out of the spot, so I checked my tires, but all seemed fine. We headed off and in a few minutes, were pulling into the driveway of what would be our weekend home. It was lovely--perfectly decorated, welcoming, and delightful.

The next day we got up for breakfast, wandered around the town a bit, and even went for a walk. At 2, when we got ready to go out on the bikes, I discovered my tire was flat. By contrast to my last flat experience, my life was never in danger. My tire went flat in the driveway.  It was obvious, though, that whatever caused it had already started the night before, when I felt something weird in the parking lot.

And then began the series of small but significant problems that would become the most bizarre and frustrating weekend I have had in a long time. There were no tragedies. No one was hurt. No one suffered. But in spite of all this, one of us was heard to say (and the rest of us agreed), "I just want to curl into the fetal position and have a good cry."

So first, to set the stage, I have AAA for just such an occasion! A tow package. Specially designed for recreational vehicles like motorcycles. We called the very nice lady on the phone. She was happy to hook us up with a tow service. She was happy to call local shops and get us taken care of. Oh, but wait, motorcycle shops at the beach close at 2 on Saturdays. And then open again on Tuesday morning. Tuesday. Morning.

We called everywhere. The very nice AAA lady called everywhere. No dice. I told her we would wait on the tow, and I would get back to her.

We looked into fix-a-flat. Each can at the gas station stated in big, clear, bold letters, "NOT FOR USE ON MOTORCYCLES." We looked up fix-a-flat on the internet, which we could access intermittently from our phones. The 21st century is AMAZING, and I hold access to almost the entire knowledge of mankind IN MY HAND. But not at the beach. At the beach, you watch the spinning circle of lines spin on your phone. And spin. And spin. And spin. Almost the entire knowledge of mankind, stuck behind a spinning circle that will not relent.

But eventually we were able to discover that there are no hand-held, aerosol-can, fix-a-flat-style products that would be safe to put in motorcycle tire with a tube. And besides, I would not have trusted any such product to get me home, which left us back at the dilemma that the bike shops weren’t open till Tuesday.

But then our friend said, "I have a trailer hitch I have been wanting to put on my car. If you help me get it on the car, we can rent a trailer from U-Haul. We can trailer it back to Durham, getting everyone home in time to get to work on Tuesday, and then you can take it to a shop you know and trust."  Yes! What a great plan!

And this is where the true bizarreness of the weekend kicked in.

Around noon on Sunday, we pulled in to the Lowe's parking lot where the men were going to install the trailer hitch. The women folk shopped around Lowe's, oohing and ahhing at the Halloween decorations, considering faucets, and envying the Maytags. We blew about an hour, and then headed to join the menfolk, who most certainly must be nearly done with the hitch by now.

But no, they were still working on getting the bumper off. Older cars, such as we drive, have lots of rust and goo and age on their bolts, and this bumper was bolted on with serious determination. They had been working an hour and had two more bolts to go.

The women folk wandered to the nearby coffee shop with its free wifi. We caught up on all the internet happenings of the last few days, wrote the "Friday" blog post, and essentially spent several hours awaiting the men. Finally we texted them, hours later. The news, "Only two more bolts to go."


I learned later it was not the same two bolts, but rather, with each unbolting, they uncovered more. And each bolt took forever, as over a decade of rust, highway goo, and weight bore down. Over and over they prepared for the victory cry, and over and over, they were met with more bolts.

So when we strolled back over to the car an hour later, now truly FIVE HOURS in to this process, the bumper was at least off, but the men were struggling with a large bolt under the car that was in the way of the hitch. The four of us spent the next hour working with that bolt. And by “the four of us,” I mean the two men working the bolt, and the two women cheering them on as they made microscopic progress. We purchased an iron pipe to insert over the wrench handle to create more leverage. By the end of the process, the pipe was mangled. The bolt stubbornly stuck, but with each attempt, we saw the tiniest bit of progress--enough to keep us trying.

We took breaks periodically to re-assess. Should we be trying a different tactic? Should we go completely to plan B? Ultimately we kept trying. During one conversation we were interrupted by the sound of a loud explosion off in the woods.  My anxiety level was already through the roof, and the thought of whatever it could be certainly didn't help. However, no one else appeared to be reacting. The electricity in the shopping center didn't even flicker, and we decided a transformer had blown on a different line. Meanwhile, the parking lot emptied. Over to our left, a n SUV pulled up with the radio blaring. He waited a few minutes and then a Lowe's worker came out, screamed happily as the driver dismounted the car, and they embraced in a hug of the long-since-seen. They chatted briefly, and then she returned to the store, shouting over her shoulder to finalize the plans they had just made to get together at the end of her shift. Soon enough the lights dimmed, and Lowe's closed, while we fought that bolt.

We continued on our quest. Line up the bolt remover, line up the wrench under it, lock them in place. Slide the iron pipe over the wrench handle. Push, pull, stabilize. The men continued, the women cheered them on. It was after 7:00, no lie--we had been in the parking lot for more than six hours--when BAM! The bolt sheared off, toppling the wrench, the iron pipe, and the human pushing it. Boom. Gone. There was now no way to get the bolt out.

But in the end it was ok. The menfolk were able to get the hitch on the car, albeit a little crooked. The womenfolk, meanwhile, had been internetting and phoning to find a restaurant with crab legs, to tame the wild cravings growing restless and strong in the workermen. We called the restaurant and begged them to stay open while we headed over there.  At 8:45 we rolled in, were seated in the way-back, and then ate. Those who partook of the crab legs were pleased, as crab legs were exactly what they needed. Those of us who ate otherwise were less happy (the food there was kind of crappy), but we were hungry and had reason to celebrate the attaching of the hitch. The bumper was not re-attached, but we (the men) could do that in the morning before we picked up the trailer. According to the internet, a U-Haul renter about 30 minutes away had a trailer, but they were closed on Sundays, and I didn't trust that they would surely have it till we were able to reach them by phone.

The normal people in our bunch watched a movie before going to bed, but I-the-anxious fell sound asleep. This was all just too much for me.

The next morning was more of the same. The initial assessment to put the bumper on looked like it would be a difficult task, as now the hitch was in the way of the wrench. More importantly, we needed to get it wired first. The men set to work. More hours passed. It was about now the talk began about curling up into the fetal position. A call was made to the U-Haul place, a message left, but we had not yet heard back. The men went off to the auto-parts store to find the needed thingamajiggy to wire the lights. They did not return. An hour crawled by. A second hour. I texted. I heard nothing. Finally I got a call. They were on their way back. The needed parts did not exist on the east coast. They had reached the U-Haul people, who had the trailer, and were willing to assist with the wiring, provided we could find that thingamajiggy. They transferred my workerman to their service center. He talked to them for over 30 minutes, describing the situation, the needed part. Yes, yes, they understood. They had what he needed. No problem. Man said, "We will leave right now. Where are you?" Nice service center phone parts person said, "Ottawa." Man turned to manfriend, who was waiting to punch the location into the GPS, and said, "Ottawa, North Carolina." The nice service center phone parts person overheard him. "No, sir. We are in Ottawa, Canada."


Thirty minutes wasted. UGH! The men returned to the beach house to relay the tail of the Ottawa service center phone parts debacle. UGH. Meanwhile, they had also placed a call to the U-Haul people who had said they MIGHT, if we beg hard enough, be willing (for they were surely able) to "work something out." We waited. They called. Yes, they could wire the hitch for us. 

FINALLY, some good news.

We then went to the U-Haul place, and waited while the very pleasant people wired the hitch, then hooked the trailer up to the car. I just kept handing them my credit card. Whatever it took. Let me get this situation to a point where I believe this is actually going to work. And frankly, we were STARVING. By now it was late in the afternoon and we had been focused on this situation all day. We desperately needed food.

Once the trailer was attached to the car, my anxiety level finally dropped. I had been running in near-panic mode since Saturday at 2. Now, 48 hours later, I could breathe.

We ate at a steak house, where the waitress acknowledged she was brand new. Apparently the training consisted of letting her work the lunch shift alone. We took pity on her, especially when it became clear she knew nothing about steak. At a steak house. It's not exactly rocket science. But she was sweet and kind and did her best, and we were happy to eat. Eat eat eat.

Meanwhile, it was now after 3:00 and we were still hours from departure. The trailer had a large sign posted backwards so that it could be easily seen from the driver's mirror. MAXIMUM SPEED 50 MPH. It was going to be a long ride home.

We cleaned the house we were staying in, packed everything up, and eventually all the stars aligned just perfectly such that we could head back home. The two-and-a-half hour trip from this beach took over six hours with the trailer and the frequent stops for Bill, who was still on a motorcycle, to get gas. It felt like the middle of the night when we were finally pulling the trailer in to our driveway. Thank the stars above, we were home.

The next morning we took the bike to Combustion where we could be assured of good work. I had needed a new front tire when this back tire went flat, so I went ahead and ordered that, along with a much-needed service. Ultimately they discovered a nail in the rear tire, the cause of all our travails.

But then came the adventure to return the trailer. We had an address, and the name of a business, "Korean Express." I pictured a restaurant, with U-Haul rental out back. We drove down Alston Avenue, past the series of commercial fronts, past the residential section, back into a commercial section, back into residential. Rolling, rolling. Finally I saw a fenced area that looked like the kind of place that would rent for U-Haul, but it was closed, like permanently. Oh no! Was Korean Express gone??? But no, that address was slightly off. Oh, there! Two driveways down. Oh yes, a U-Haul. We pulled around a building and into the lot, and there, enormous, were three "Korean Express" trucks, clearly a wholesaler of cheap plastic crap. We burst out laughing, taking in the absurdity of the trucks backed against a closed warehouse, the large pixelated pictures of their wares plastered onto the trucks. Off to the left, the door said, "U-Haul. OPEN." We went in to find a teenager in basketball shorts and flip-flops watching something (let's call it PG-rated netflix) on his computer. He minimized it immediately when we entered, and jumped to his feet. Kind, helpful, and professional while simultaneously projecting, "Ack! Get out of here!" He perused the paper work, leaned out the door to spy the trailer dropped off in the lot, and waved us cheerfully, oh so cheerfully, on.

The entire adventure, including the work on the bike that needed to be done anyway, ran close to $1000, and I came in to work on Wednesday to learn I had been laid off, that my contract would not be renewed in February. I still had a job till the end of January, at least, but now I am on the job hunt.

Suddenly the mojo of the trip became clear. It was all leading up to that moment.

Monday, September 30, 2013



     The challenge this time was the wind.  Sometimes the wind blows sideways, and you slide across your lane with a worry that you'll slide off the road.  But today's  wind was more head-on, pushing my chest back, causing me to hold tight to the handlebars just to stay on the bike.  I had a vision of myself holding on tight with my hands, my feet flying behind me, semi-Superman style.  This of course would never work in real life, but I did enjoy the image.

     Large trucks would come from the opposite direction, and the wind, already a challenge, would become a wall of air, with surprising cohesion, and smack me in the head and chest.  Turns out the worst offender, the sensation of which I can still feel when I think if it, was a sweet potato truck.  Who would have imagined a sweet potato truck could pack such a wallop?  But it rounded the curve ahead of us, in a particularly open area, with no trees or buildings to create wind breaks, and its square load and large cab created a particularly vicious air pattern that hit like a medicine ball.  I had seen it coming and gripped the handle bars with both hands (not a given on a long ride) and was grateful to find myself still in my seat a second later.

     But these challenges just made the ride interesting, if not exhausting.  We were riding down 55 again, a path that is now wonderfully familiar, as it's one we take often.  The Pope & Pope law firm, the Cowboy Limo, and the various churches, cemeteries and collapsed barns now have a rhythm as we slide past.  This trip saw the addition of "Pray for Baby Layla" signs peppering a long stretch of road, placed quite purposefully in people's yards and in one church. I can only imagine Baby Layla's need, but I am humbled by it and hope there is recovery for her and relief and peace for her family.

     Perhaps because of her signs, I became aware of the various communities along the way, and how they are bound together. The churches are an obvious gathering place, but I also started to notice more subtle things--a hand-lettered sign announcing a neighbor's unexpected bumper crop of vegetables to be shared, the pink ribbon and "it's a girl!" sign decorating the mail box, the fresh flowers on the graves in the tiny cemetery tucked between tobacco fields.

     This was the first time I had passed tobacco fields that were already harvested.  The tall center stalks remain, and the wide, iconic leaves had been stripped off.  We passed acres of land with row after row of bald stalks sticking up like soldiers.  Soldiers for cancer, I suppose, but when I see the plants, I don't think of that.  They are a crop like any other at that stage.

     We also passed fields and fields of cotton.  I love cotton plants always, but this time of year they are magical.  They don't yet have that post-apocalyptic burned look they get at the very end of the season, but they are not lush either.  Their lower halves are full with fluffy white bolls, the top halves still leafy and dark.  Riding past vast fields created a rippling effect of the white puffs shimmering into view beneath a blanket of green-brown leaves.

     I also found myself face-to-face with one of the nation's tough commercial battles as we passed field after field marked with GMO designation numbers and the Monsanto buildings that are essentially small outposts compared to the enormous and unearthly-lit buildings closer to home in RTP.   Here the esoteric debates have life and essence in the form of completely normal-looking bean crops, with nothing but a round sign to differentiate them from every other bean field I have ever seen.

     We rode through Mt. Olive, which announced itself as the largest town in the County of Wayne, which is hilarious to me, since Wayne County also includes Goldsboro, which is a fairly large city in North Carolina.  But you go for it, Mt. Olive.  Claim your title!  Mt. Olive is also home to a large pickle company you may have heard of, sparking a recent conversation about buying locally.  If Mt. Olive pickles are produced in large quantities, packaged for national sale and distributed widely, are they still local pickles?  North Carolina is home to many nationally known treasures and the source of a sense of state --what?  Pride isn't quite the right word...  But whatever the feeling, my home state has brought you many lovable things, from Michael Jordan to the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mt. Olive pickles to Burt's Bees and This End Up furniture. We SUCK at public policy but we make great entrepreneurs and amazing artists.  (Seriously, the list of North Carolina musicians, artists and authors is truly impressive.)

     We rode through Seven Springs, which is also in Wayne County.  Seven Springs, by contrast, has a population of 85.  A population of 85.  If you were at my wedding, you spent an afternoon with half again as many people as live in Seven Springs.  Now THAT is a small town.  Seven Springs, though, is home to Billy Bobs, the hotdog place I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, which was the setting for one of our many fascinating forays into a few minutes of Carolina life.

     We rode on through the small towns lining Hwy 55, and turned on 58 toward the coast.  We watched the trees grow taller on the side of the road, creating a green tunnel.  Soon enough we saw the metal telephone polls that signal proximity to the hurricane-ridden coast.  I wondered idly, as one does on a bike, how much longer we would call them telephone polls, since I doubt many of them carry phone lines any more.

     Our friends would be joining us much later and they had the keys to the home where we would be staying, so we popped in on other friends--VERY good friends who were not home but told us where the keys were, and we went in for naps and a bathroom break.  Then we got out the shrimping nets and went down to the dock, with visions of cooking fresh shrimp as a thank you to the friends we were meeting. Bill diligently shrimped, tossing the net into the water again and again.  Each time he pulled out one or two fat, sassy shrimp, and visions of a delicious meal danced in his mind.  I had gone down to the edge of the dock and filled a bucket with water, and he dropped the shrimp in one by one.  I stretched out to feel the sun on my face and was greeted by the sound of an insistent and bossy sea gull demanding to be fed.  When Bill accidentally caught little fish in the net, he tossed them to the bossy bird, who skedaddled to where they each landed and ate.  After the first few, though, he became a lazy and bossy bird, screeching and chattering, sometimes tilting his head skyward, invoking God's sweet mercy to please have these humans send him fish directly to his mouth.  Directly. To. His mouth.

     Eventually we headed out to the restaurant where we would meet our friends, and then discovered the house where we would be staying.  For the first time ever, I could imagine living at the beach.  In a cute little bungalow just like this one!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Slice of Carolina Life

I am sitting at the Java Post, our little coffee shop at the beach.  Nothing but a gas station is close to the house where we stay, but it is a pleasant-enough drive to the Java Post each morning.  Bill, of course, is asleep.  As one should be at this hour on vacation.  I, however, am blessed with an insomniac's brain, so I am the one waiting in the parking lot for the coffee shop to open--vacation or not.

We drove down to Carteret a couple of days ago.  We had originally planned to take the bikes, but the weather looked unreliable, and we chose the car instead.  This was a good choice because it allowed us to really view the countryside--me especially, since I wasn't driving. We still took back roads, and I just so love the slice of life you see doing that.  There are grand houses with enormous fields of lawn; there are suburban-looking neighborhoods plunked down, cul-de-sacs and all, in the middle of rural stretches; there are mobile home neighborhoods, old homes on their last breaths of neglect, and makeshift shelters thrown together and crammed with life.  North Carolina has all of it, often right next to each other.

We pulled off for a potty break, and I perused the bulletin board outside the ladies' room.  A flyer advertised free day care for the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers.  A separate flyer offered alternative touch massage therapy for horses, and a third touted the upcoming truck pull featuring hot rod lawn mowers.

Back on the road, we passed an old municipal building--maybe it was a church, but it had more of a city-hall feel--that was unpainted brick, with vines growing all over it, and windows broken out, succumbing to the field it sat in just off the road.  I wondered what circumstance brought such a large and distinguished building to such a state of neglect.

I saw a very sad looking building, dirty, messy, neglected and depressing, with a hand-lettered sign out front that advertised "Cavy and Grandma's Thrift Shop."  We drove through Spivey's Corner, famous in these parts for their annual hog-calling competition. Spivey's Corner is pretty much one corner, with a gas station and a building I have come to love.  No idea what it does--or did--house but it is a painted brick structure with just enough age--and presumably sand-blasting--that the brick has the exact amount of wear and the perfect amount of paint remaining to look charming.  Whatever went on there, the building could tell tales, if we could just touch its walls and hear it.

We passed a gas station proudly offering the Official Fuel of NASCAR, and our favorite sign this trip was the "Cows R Us Farm," with the R backwards, as it should be.

That ride brought us to Wilmington and the afternoon there.  We didn't make it to the beach itself until well after dark, with the waves' crests appearing ghostily from the dark, the rhythmic sound of the ocean blending with the wind, and the eerie sense that the sand and the water teemed with life we couldn't see.

Yesterday was beach day.  The water was a perfect temperature for getting right in, and we dove past the breakers to the high swells, our toes seeking purchase in the moving sands, and rough seas tossing us sideways and back and forth. Bill was pretty much miserable the whole time, with every little thing conspiring against him.  Sun screen stung his eyes, his feet found every sharp surface, and his sun allergy brought hives to his back, shoulders and neck.  But he stuck it out with me because this is one of my favoritest things, to roll with the ocean and drift along.

I admit, though, when we first got out there, I struggled as well.  The water was extra rough, and the bottom kept changing.  I am not a strong swimmer, and I am really afraid of the ocean, with its strong currents and invisible creatures of all kinds.  When we first got out, I found myself in over my head--literally--and all efforts to swim were for naught, as the currents had a plan for me all their own.  I realized I would drown out there.  25 feet from shore.

Bill was a trooper, though.  Even when he felt a sudden and sharp pain in his foot.  He had been stepping on something sharp, even as he tried to move to sandier ground.  But this was different--this was a searing pain, he said later, all the way through his toe (the one right next to his big toe).  When the pain didn't relent, we moved toward shallow waters.  We sat where the tide was at its edge, the water just inches deep so we could see the little fishies scurrying in the froth.  He examined the cuts to his toe, and realized he had been stabbed by something that went entirely through his toe.  A large slash of an entry wound on one side bled into the water, and on the other side was a small cut where the end had barely made it through.  I asked if he thought he had just been pinched, but he could feel the wound going through, and he had felt the slash.  See?  These are the things that hide in the dark water.  And we just play there like it's ok.

But bless him, we went right back out, and we played more in the water until Bill's sun allergy was unbearable, and he had hives all over.

So we changed into dry clothes and checked out the shops near the house.  We bought cut glass bowls for our garden lighting project, and then went in for a nap.  This is a life we could get used to, stabby sea creatures and all.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Vacay 2013, Day One

This is a real thing, I'm about to tell you.  I didn't make it up.  It's real. They have a business license and everything.  We were headed to the Wimington Serpentarium (don't ever go there), and they are cash-only, so we went to the shop that is essentially next door, although you have to round the corner and go in from the other street, to use the ATM inside.  And this shop?  The one I didn't believe?  It's an oxygen bar.

Oxygen. Bar.

Perhaps you've heard of it.  Perhaps it is I who is so naive to the ways of the world--or the ways of people who have money to spend on such frivolity--but myself, I had no idea such a thing existed.

So here's the scoop.  They have a lovely and restful space--like what you find at a spa or massage place--and over on the left is a tall, wide table, with a row of bottles filled with liquid.  They are flavored?  Or are they scented?  With things like "springtime breeze" and "watermelon kiwi."  The plastic tubing runs into the bottle, pushes O2 through the springtime breeze, and out the other tube, which ended in a coupler.  Presumably, when you purchase your minutes, you get a clean cannula for your own nose to attach to the scent/flavor of your choice.

Nearby is a flyer with "O2 facts," and it is probably this that bothered me the most.  I mean, hey, if you want to hang out, breathing oxygen when it's not medically prescribed, and you think it helps with something, go for it.  After all, Michael Jackson, that bastion of sanity and health, used to walk around with an oxygen thingy.  You're not weird.  (And seriously, I feel a little guilty even writing this, because, honestly, if you like it, and you feel better, go for it.  I mean, I am a fan of Reiki, energy work, crystal therapy, and all that.  So yeah, this really isn't that weird.). But it's the fake science that wigs me out.  The fact sheet had incorrect facts on it, but also led you to believe, in that passive aggressive way of setting up incorrect conclusions from spurious data, that we were all slowly dying of oxygen deprivation, and a few minutes at an (pay-by-the-minute) oxygen bar would save our lives.

Then I remembered pages from the Bill Bryson book I just read where he describes the advent of refined sugar--people ate it till it blackened their teeth, and then having blackened teeth became a sign of wealth and prosperity.

So in some future book about life in the 21st century, an author will describe these oxygen bars as an example of how the rich showed off their wealth--they preferred their air watermelon kiwi scented. To breathe unscented air was just so gauche.

Unfortunately, I imagine we will HAVE TO breathe special air soon enough, and then I will feel extra bad about this blog.

But more importantly, we went to lunch with our friend Dave, and he took us all around Wilmington, filling us in on the history of the area. I love love LOVE the architecture of Wilmington. The houses are so beautiful, and we promised ourselves we would return to Wilmington for a weekend and make it a photographic journey. It is just so beautiful there.

We watched the paddle wheel river cruise boat go by, saw the horse-drawn carriages in town, walked by the old slave market, and I was drawn, as I always am, to the history and Americana of these river towns.  I love to imagine the lives spent here when the water was the access to the world.

I like to think of the absolutely vital supplies being delivered, how people counted on the shipments coming in time.  And I like to compare that to the richest of the people, who had more frivolous deliveries, like fine silks or expensive furnishings.  The equivalent, I suppose, of the oxygen bar up the street.

As I write this, NASA is moving its next Mars mission toward the launch pad for deployment this fall.  It has a cross-country journey ahead of it, in the belly of an Air Force cargo jet, before its big journey to Mars.  And I am thinking of how we will one day have "ports" on other planets, and how the lives there will turn on the supplies delivered.  For me, it will be the chocolate, and perhaps the eggplant, and maybe sweet potatoes.  The way certain things taste a certain way, and they are surely not going to be able to replicate the American sweet potato on Martian soil. Clothes, furnishings, and other non-edible stuff--I can adapt. But the flavors of home--that's what I would miss.

And here in Cape Carteret, we just purchased our annual Bogue Sound watermelon. They are truly special. I don't really like watermelon--never have (unless you're talking jolly rancher, in which case watermelon was da bomb)--but the Bogue Sound watermelon is a thing all its own.  It's on ice right now as I sit on the porch of Bill and Frances, feeling the ocean-past-the-island-and-over-the-sound breeze brush past my sandy toes. Now, this is air I would pay for.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pow wow rhythm

Take a piece of Indian fry bread, but don't add sugar. Instead, top it with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and sour cream. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!! The Indian taco is our go-to lunch for pow wows, and we're never disappointed. A pow wow is a feast for the senses--beautiful sites, a cacophony of sounds, and oh yes, deliciousness.

We got there early and were pleased to discover about a gazillion vendors hawking their wares--more even than last year. I love the wonders you find in a vendor tent, brimming with colorful goods, some hanging, some piled, some featured, some worn by the seller. I love the open-market, bazaar feel of pow wows, and the sounds, smells and colorful sights take me right back to the African markets I visited many years ago. There's just something about the energy of these places that can't be matched. And for some reason, American flea markets don't catch it. Maybe it's all the craptastic plastic at our flea markets that pales when compared to the hand-wrought, natural pieces in a pow wow market, but whatever the reason, we love these venues.

Bill and I have similar shopping styles. We choose our purchases based on the vibe we get from the seller, more so even than the goods themselves. We passed up hundreds of pieces of incredible jewelry, but purchased a small piece that wasn't all that pretty, simply because the seller was earnest and poured himself into it. The tooth-and-gem piece now protects my bike, and frankly, looks pretty badass.

So we made the loop, talking with each of the vendors. Obviously, we like the ones best who are selling their own art work. One gentleman had collected moose antlers and carved the most beautiful pieces into them. Even though they were way out of our price range, we couldn't help but stare at the gentle curves and organic shapes brought to life in the bone. Just gorgeous.

One vendor, who was also very cool and would have earned our business if I needed any more jewelry, crafted amazing bracelets from silver--each one different from anything I've seen before. Just gorgeous. 

Some tents are filled with flow-through purchases, mass produced and targeting a market of, well, I suppose little kids and people who just love to acquire stuff. But the cheap stuff, as long as it's not the dominant product, adds to the vibe as well. We found an herb shop--oh, the smells!!--bought a small, stone bear, a ring for Bill, some food. Soon enough after arriving, the sounds of the drums warming up in the main arena drifted through the venue. Then the strains of a single person singing with a guitar. That was so different and quiet compared to everything else, we stopped for a minute and stepped in to watch him warm up, the sounds of the market area fading behind us.

And then it was time to find a seat near the floor and await the grand entry. The emcee called to each drum for roll call, and they each responded with a short song, the hammers thrumming deeply on drums the size of a kitchen table, and I watched the smaller children off to my left, dressed in full regalia and too excited to contain themselves, dancing to the roll call. While I sat in my chair, tired still from yesterday's journey, I wondered at their energy. Even as a youngster, I didn't have that kind of vigor, and now, the thought of dancing for three days straight is unthinkable. I shall sit here, thankyouverymuch, and eat my taco.

And then it was time for the grand entry. The emcee announced the host drum, who got us started with a beautiful song, and in came the dancers, led by dignitaries of the host tribe and intertribal councils. Each time the pow wows start, goose bumps rise up on my skin, and a surge of emotion pours through me. This is a millenia-old tradition of travel, gathering, hosting, and honoring. The drums reach your soul and drag the life force of all the Americas to the surface, pouring through your limbs and out to the pow wow circle in front of you. The emcee identifies the honorees and then calls the dancing groups in, all of whom are moving to the rhythm of the drums, their magnificent head pieces, feathers, horsehair, skins, and cloth alive with the beat of their footsteps pounding out a history of pride, beauty and strength.

The dancers enter in a wide circle and create a tightening spiral as more and more pour into the venue. About 400 people finally gather, while the audience stands for prayer and song honoring the Creator, as well as the veterans and warriors of the various tribes present. The emcee remembers as well those empty chairs at area dinner tables, belonging to all those soldiers still in harm's way, whose families await their safe return.

Once the formal ritual is over, the dance competitions start. Catawba starts theirs with a number of intertribal dances, bringing large crowds of dancers out to the arena area, a festive, brightly colored event for the spectators to enjoy. New to me this year was the presence of iPads on the dance floor, recording the drums and in the case of one of the dancers, texting her mom. I love watching the adaptation of regal, beautiful, ancient ritual being brought into now, evolving in front of us, alive, current and relevant. Pow wows are not a harkening back to a glorious time; they are not historical reproductions of quaint or revisionist tribal traditions. They are the very present celebrations of a living culture that is filled with rich and honorable traditions but participating fully in modern America. The people of the pow wow have not set aside a weekend to "go be Indian." They are Americans in every way--not the least of which is military service--and enjoying a glorious festival this weekend.

There is a sound of a pow wow that is hard to describe. Yes, in the background are the ever-present drums, but also, the voices of the people, the speakers on the microphone, and all that. But beneath it all, cutting through the deep drums and sonorous voices--beneath it all is the bells. The women's dresses jingle with hundred of small bells, and the men's boots and women's shoes--all are decorated with bells. As you shop the vendors circling the main auditorium, you hear the sounds of bells as people walk the crowd. It all takes on a rhythm of the pow wow life itself, and soon enough it blends into a loud hum. 

But I remember as we left, we were seeking a smudge stick, and therefore made another round of the vendors. The grand entry and several dances had taken place, and now the vendor aisles were packed with people. I had seen the warriors in the dance arena, and they are a sight. Badass that I may be, these guys are hard-core, and as I heard the approach of the bells from my right, I looked up, and here came a warrior in full regalia. I know, I know, I KNOW he was a normal human being of normal height, but as he approached, I realized he had to be seven feet tall. I shrunk in my mind to a tiny girl, and he only got bigger as he got closer. The face paint, the skins, the feathers, all conspire to KICK ASS. In all my badass dreams, I can only hope to be a tenth as intimidating as that. A few minutes later we crossed paths with two more, and these were even taller than the last. Kick. Ass.

And so our pow wow day passed. We got back on our bikes, leaving the drum beat and remarkable sights behind us. We are pow wow bound again in a few weeks, this time to Lumberton, which is my favorite. And then it will be a year again, probably, before we return here. I can't wait!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Never motorcycle through orange

I woke up the morning of our motorcycle trip and did what I do every morning, pretty much as soon as I open my eyes. I grabbed my phone.
It's gross, isn't it? It started innocently enough. I would lie in bed for however long, do my usual morning things, and eventually check email and Facebook without having to get up. But then, the threshold for grabbing the phone got earlier and earlier, until now, I am often blinking at it, trying to get my eyes to focus through the haze of immediate wakening. Chide me if you must, but know that I chide myself at moments like that. Much as I love the technology of this amazing century, I must admit, I have drunk the Koolaid.
But regardless, this was an exciting morning--we were headed to Rock Hill, SC, on motorcycles!! We are SO COOL!!! And so, as I reached for my phone, a stab of consternation ran through me as I saw an hours-old text waiting for me from Alert Carolina -- which is a benefit of UNC employment I cannot opt out of -- stating that Orange County was under tornado watch. "Conditions favorable." Gack. We had heard there would be a cold front and accompanying storms coming from the south and west, the exact direction we were travelling. And now tornadoes. Rain wasn't going to stop us. We've gotten wet before. But tornadoes? Visions of Dorothy Gale and Toto -- in the sidecar with goggles, of course -- flashed through my head.

So this led me to the radar, also on my phone, and I could see the band of rain, almost a perfectly straight column, moving toward us. There were plenty of green areas, but this column had a surprising percentage of yellow and orange as well. Now, I was once on a relatively short ride around a local lake -- one of my typical evening, unwind-from-the-day kind of rides -- when I was hit by sudden rain. I had noticed the clouds building and tried to get to cover, but failed, and suddenly I was on a two-lane road, with no shoulder, in unbelievable torrents. The kind of rain where, in a car, you kick the windshield wipers up to maximum, turn off the stereo, slow down, and peer intently through the unrelenting gray to seek out tail lights and make sure you don't hit someone. I found a gas station fairly quickly, but in the intervening minutes, I was rocked about, the tires making a wake through the seemed-like-many-inches of water flowing down the road, and I strained to see through the wiperless visor and the rain that made sheets of water like curtains in front of me. Once I pulled to safety and checked the radar (I LOVE the century that has hand-held computers in it!), I saw the blob of orange over my road. This was orange. Never ever ever motorcycle through orange.

So these were the thoughts going through my head as I looked at the column of rain currently hovering between Greensboro and my house. Soon enough, the sounds of the large drops on the roof and in the garden came to us, along with the speedy arrival of a very wet orange kitten who flew in to the room from whatever mischief he had been getting into outside. Beyond the column, though, were clear skies, so we simply delayed our trip a few hours, and waited it out.

Which brings me to the intersection of Old Greensboro Road and 87, where we found ourselves a few hours later. The Shadow I ride has a large seat with an ample, curved section in the back that scoops up and cradles the rider, providing a little support for your lower back. This is a cruiser, meant for the over 40, girls-gone-wide crowd, for more relaxed riding. This is not a racer bike that zips past you with the rider bent into the wind for maximum thrill. So the seat is designed for comfort and support. This is the seat I was sitting in at the intersection of Old Greensboro Road and 87, when the rain came (the rain behind the column that wasn't on the radar when we left). This seat, shaped like a bowl, is perfect -- perfect! -- for gathering rain water. So as we pulled out of the gas station and headed back down the road, the rain came lightly at first. Our last trip, if you remember, was nothing but rain for four days. We could handle this. But I didn't WANT to. I wanted a nice, pleasant ride. But the rain came down, like needles, stinging my neck and my fingers. The drops were small, I guess, because they even stung my legs through my jeans. In a couple of minutes, I was soaked through. And on my left leg, the boots hit the jeans just so, such that there was a small fold in the jeans at the boot line, and that fold allowed the water to collect for a few seconds, and then drip onto my shin and into my boot. My right foot stayed dry, but the left felt a single, cold drip every few seconds that seeped down to my socks and sat there. Cold. The bowl/seat filled with water, puddling between my thighs. If you were to fill your tub with an inch of cold water and then sit in it, with your jeans on, and then turn on the shower -- that's how I felt.

But the rain was quick, and passed within a few minutes. For a couple seconds it came down very hard, and I worried we would hit an orange patch, but it never worsened, and in a very short time it was over. We would not see any more rain for the rest of the trip. But the deed was done. I was soaked to the core. And even after my body dried up a little bit, my butt never did. We arrived in Rock Hill seven hours later, and I still looked like I had peed my pants.  Motorcycle riding is so SEXY.

But that was the only negative part of our journey. Everything else was flawless. The Carolina countryside is gorgeous -- I have written about it many times. We made this exact trip two weeks ago, and the world was brown and wet. The trees have been busy in those intervening weeks, and they have sweet haloes of fresh leaves -- the tender kind that are a very light green. The forested areas look like fleece, with soft rolls created by the young, delicate leaves. We crested a hill where I had been admiring the wispy quality of the fresh growth when a magnificent dogwood appeared, stretched large across a freshly mown lawn. The startling white announced a regal presence and demanded attention. I love dogwoods for this very reason--they bloom just as the other trees are beginning to turn green, and around here, we see them tucked into forested areas, bright spots in the midst of wide swaths of dank, cheery hellos from Spring, herself.

I used to meet with a patient every Friday at 3:00. He was one of my favorite people, and he was an anchor at the end of my week to look forward to. We met for many years. He told me the fable of the dogwood tree. That its wood was used to fashion the cross of Jesus' crucifixion. At that time, it was a tall, straight tree of strong wood, perfect for such a task. But once it was used for that purpose, it was so ashamed that it never stood straight again, and that the flowers weep each year at the horror the tree wrought, leaving a dark stain on the inner creases of its petals.

Now when I see dogwoods I think of that patient, and of the beautiful myth of a tree, so shamed by the horrors humans wield that it weeps still, two millenia later.

And so we travelled on. We stopped in Richfield at a little roadside restaurant. I had begun getting crazy hungry and wondering if I would ever eat again, when the road stretched on before us, straight and empty, with fields and houses on either side. Not a business in sight for miles. Eventually we pulled into the town of Richfield and Bill spotted a little cafe. At first blush it looked like a house, and I had dismissed it, but his eagle eye caught the restaurant sign and we pulled in. It was quite possibly the worst restaurant in America. I was shocked, really, at how bad it was. Imagine the worst high school cafeteria lunch, and you might come close to this meal. Nope. We won't be going back there. Ever.

And soon enough, we were riding through Charlotte, which is just a gorgeous city. So very beautiful. And then down to Rock Hill. We were exhausted, but Bill had predicted this and found a hotel with a whirlpool IN THE ROOM. The only thing better than a hot tub at the end of a long day of riding is a PRIVATE whirlpool. Oh yes. Perfection!!

Today we are pow-wow bound, where we are sure to buy lots of beautiful things and feast on the delights of such a gathering. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Born of moonshine

When I think of museums--both public and private--I am reminded of countless field trips and hot weekend afternoons spent at the Smithsonian, passing dioramas of scantily clad mannequins representing early man, staring up at enormous, but lifeless, statues of dinosaurs and elephants, and gazing at plexiglass boxes with clothing, tools, shards of pottery, plaster-cast bones, and taxidermied wildlife.  As a young person it was painfully boring, and the marble floors and long walks between museums exhausted me.  As a high schooler and young adult, though, I loved the learning that could be had there.  And museums, for their part, were starting to get more interesting with the opening of the African American art museum and the Air and Space museum.

I moved away from DC fifteen years ago, and, it turns out, museums have changed a bit.  Nothing--and I mean nothing--prepared me for the experience that is the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

First of all, we had only just walked up to the box office when we were already faced with choices--did we want the individual combo ticket, with a simulator ride and lunch for only a few dollars more than the regular adult ticket?  If we'd had kids or a group, the decisions were endless--tickets, lanyards, lunches--on and on with the choices.  Much debate ensued, and we settled on a plain ticket because we knew, thanks to the great and powerful Internet, that AAA members could ride the simulator for free.

The admission "ticket" was a hard card, like a credit card.  It was, in fact, called a hard card.

We walked through the doors and were immediately greeted by a host of people there to help guide us through this experience.  A very nice lady in a motorized wheel chair called us over to the turnstile where she first swiped our cards through the magic card swipe thingy.  Then she directed us to the 
nice gentleman just passed the turnstile, who said, "You will want to go to the right, down the stairs, to our theater.  Your experience of the NASCAR Hall of Fame starts with a 12-minute video..."  And you couldn't skip the video and turn left, as the people behind us tried to do.  Oh no.  They were stopped and quickly redirected.  The nice startbygoingright guy also directed us to the Hard Card Check In kiosks, saying that we should be sure to check in after the movie.  We went before the movie, though, because wouldn't a bunch of people need to do it at once if we waited?  So we "checked in."  First you balance your hard card on a little rack specially designed for it, and then the screen starts asking you really personal questions.  Name, birthday (with year!!!), email address, number of sexual partners and promises of handing over your firstborn to the hag in the back...  So, taking a deep breath of normal-people-just-fill-this-out, I entered all the requested data along with the blood sample and voided check.  (I'm exaggerating, but seriously--they asked a LOT of questions).

Then we were hustled over to a big green screen where they took our picture.  Finally I started to freak out.  What is this for???   The picture lady was super nice--it's just for fun!

(PS--If you're in the witness protection program, DO NOT go to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.)

The introductory video was actually pretty cool, and honestly, I would have watched it even if I hadn't been forced.  They talked about how stock-car racing was born in the south--the Appalachian mountains to be exact.  We have a proud tradition here of course. Of running moonshine.  Yep.  We started modifying cars so we could outrun the cops.  And apparently, back then, the fact that Officer Smith saw Jed driving, and recognized Jed's car, and knew he was running 'shine--apparently none of that mattered unless you were actually caught.  So in the 20s and 30s, folks made quite a living souping up cars and outrunning the popo.

And as so often happens, the men who were rebuilding their cars and racing through the streets of the Carolinas, started bragging.  And soon enough they had to prove their prowess, and runners started racing their cars in fields.  By the late 40s, the racing was formalized and NASCAR was born.

In the early 40s, though, my dad was known to race cars here and there.  I doubt it was anything he really stuck to, but I imagine there were a few summers in there when he wheeled around a dirt track or two.  My dad was an amazing driver--had driven all sorts of vehicles, from two wheels to many axles--and never met a car he didn't want to open up and make fly.

By the time I was old enough to understand what stock-car racing was, cars looked like the General Lee, and that is always what I pictured.  Of course, though, my dad would have been racing in something that looked more like something that should have a rumble seat.  And that was the video we watched on the enormous screen this morning, as cars crashed into one another and tore apart on those dusty fields of 1930s North Carolina.

Unfortunately for me, NASCAR is now synonymous with a culture that represents so much of what I don't like in this country.  The fascination with Jesus (seriously, I'm almost completely certain--certain--that Jesus isn't concerned with who wins the Daytona 500) and war (now, Jesus might actually have an opinion about that) are real turn-offs.  But the fast cars, the technology, the LOUD!!!!, and the home-grown history reach me at a core level.

I love to drive.  I love to drive fast.  And I love the fact that the drivers look like astronauts, with temperature-controlled g-force suits, gadgets and monitors all over their bodies, and rocket booster seats bolted in to amazing machines designed to withstand radical g-forces, 360-degree impacts, and even fires, without exploding the tanks filled with essentially rocket fuel.  Give me more of that!

So we started our tour in the main gallery, after many warnings to be sure to check in our hard cards at every opportunity, "to track our progress."  Progress?  What the hell?  But anyway, we mostly ignored all that and looked instead at the awesome cars lined up along the outer edge of the circular gallery.  The track starts with a 0-degree bank (flat), but by the end is at a crazy 33- degree bank.  There they have a section you can stand on, carefully surrounded by grabby railings because, although 33 degrees sounds easy, it's crazy steep.  One of the driver quotes is, "You're chasing the track all the way around.  And you can never catch it."

And then we were upstairs where they have interactive displays.  We were met at every turn by very assertive and helpful staff, who snatched our cards and registered us for all sorts of fun.  I got to "change" a tire by operating the lug nut thingamajiggy while Bill operated the jack and also ran behind me to fill the tank.  We did it all in 28 seconds.  Having arrived just as they opened, we were the first adults of the day, so our 28 seconds made it on the victory board.

We wanted our free simulator ride (thank you AAA!), but first we had to qualify.  Really?  Yes!  So we stood in line for the qualifiers, watching everyone before us wipe out and go spinning across the digital grass.  Again the hard card was entered and we raced on software that looks a lot like the racing game I have downloaded on this very iPad where I'm typing this blog.

Then we stopped at the place where you get to announce a race.  So while the screen displays real race footage, we were expected to act like announcers.  They offer you the same footage with real announcers as an example.  Here's what I sound like announcing a race (the simulator reminded me we want to paint a pictures with words, for those who can't see the race):  "There's a yellow car, and a white car...  Ooh!  The yellow car is going really fast!"  Bill, my fellow announcer, breaks in.  " Honey, that car is orange."  And, " Oh no!  The yellow car is about to hit--ooh!  It HIT the white car!  It really shouldn't do that..."   And then Bill, "Holy cow!  What a hit!"  And so on.  The recording played back and Bill and I dissolved into giggles, attracting the attention of the nice Canadian family passing by.

And then it was off to the simulator, with the seat rumbling and the loud loud roar of the engine in your ear, and the lady next to me who so didn't want to be there.  Her grumbling was hilarious as she swore at the gear shift and argued with the seat adjustment.  "Drivers, start your engines!!!"  VAROOOOOM!

We walked through the rest of it, touching tools and car parts, and watching footage of amazing wrecks where the drivers just got out of their cars and walked off the (crazy-steep) tracks.  As we left, we had to "check out," so again with the hard card, and now we got to see how many points we'd made and where we were in the line-up.  WHAT?  This was some sort of competition?  Aye carrumba, why would I want to compete for my Hall of Fame experience?

But regardless, it was a great time.  I got to think of my dad, I got to wield seriously heavy tools and, I got to go varoom varoom.

Sent from my iPad, which makes me feel all Star Trek-y, which makes me feel like a geek, but then I remember how cool George Takei is, and I think maybe I'm kinda cool, but then I realize I'm really not, except that I have an iPad and that MAKES me cool. Right?

Back roads

I am watching Charmed.  After all these years, it is my go-to guilty pleasure when it comes to tv. Not only am I awake at 7 to watch Aaron Spelling's homage to boobs and combat boots, but I have been up since 5.  After all, how else might I squeeze every minute out of my vacation?

Our packing had been delayed by a Tolliver nap (cats can't resist an open suitcase), but eventually we gathered all our things.  I, of course, overpacked, the back of the CRV crammed to the hilt with clothes for every occasion, shoes to match, food (don't forget the chocolate bunnies!), books, electronics.  We were expected to be gone about 48 hours.  Bill, on the other hand, packed two pairs of socks and boxers, two shirts, and trunks for the hot tub.  How reasonable of him!

Leaving also means extensive instructions for the pet sitter.  Two pages of details about the kittens and cats, their likes and preferences, how much to feed them and when.   I laughed when after many paragraphs, the dog instructions were simply, "throw some food in Eddie's bowl."  I am cat all the way.  Bill is dog.  As it should be.

We both had to work, so it was almost 4 when we headed out.  The highway route is about two and a half hours to Charlotte, our ultimate destination, but the back roads are so much more interesting, so off we went, through Chapel Hill to Old Greensboro Road, to 49, which would take us all the way to the hotel.  We were sad to be in a car, but this year's cold, wet spring meant no motorcycles yet.  We will definitely retrace this route, though, because it was some beautiful riding.

But spring it definitely is, as we passed farm fields filled with babies.  The itsy bitsy cow sticking his head out of the fence to eat the grass by the road, the hop hop hopping goats.  My favorite was the teeny tiny goat, all spindly legs and shaky knees, who climbed up on his reclining mother to a triumphant stance, king of the hill!  The mom goat just lay there, with her baby standing tall, his tiny hooves on her belly much like my cats sit on me for that early morning lovin'.

Bill is some sort of turkey whisperer and often when we are traveling, he will suddenly shout, "Did your see that???" and I never do, and he'll shake his head sadly that I missed the turkeys in the field.  One time we were on bikes, and he pulled over unexpectedly.  "Did you see that?"  I had missed it completely so we doubled back. He pointed to a long shallow field by the road.  "See?"  I saw nothing.  I stared.  I sought.  He started freaking out.  "Right there!"  Finally, my eagerness and anxiety in full swing, I saw them. Turkeys!  A bunch of them!  How DID I miss them?

For this trip, we again passed a shallow field that ran the length of a stretch of road.  Bill pointed. And there, on the edge by the trees, a turkey.  Gobble gobble!  Finally my turkey goggles are working!

We rolled through the gorgeous North Carolina scenery, still brown and desolate from our unusually wet and long winter.  A few weeping cherries brightened our path, but mostly the woods were still brown and damp.  We passed a Pentacostal church with the simple marquee, "God is awesome."  In Asheboro, we passed the classically Carolinian "Guns and Gold" store.

We passed beautiful farm houses with gorgeous outbuildings, triggering my outbuilding envy and discussions of "when we win the lottery."  In spite of all the stories to the contrary, we are sure the money won't change us.  And with our winnings, we would of course take care of our friends as well.  See?  The money won't change us.

We passed a junkyard of exclusively old cars--acres of fins, grills, enormous steel hoods, and trunks big enough to hold today's cars inside. Most of them rusting, forlorn.  Ford coups, Old Willys coups, Buicks, and the like, stretched out along the roadway, a monument to the glory days of the auto industry.  

Eventually we pulled into the Embassy Suites where we were greeted by a lovely fountain with fake ancient ruins.  The manager's reception offers a full open bar--potentially a great thing if only Bill or I drank alcohol.  The steak dinner at the hotel restaurant was exquisite and our waiter a lot of fun.  Totally worth the mortgage payment we forked over when it was all done.

Today will take us to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which promises to be yet another bastion of redneck delights. We are also hoping to find a salvage/repurposing center in case the Charlotte crowd throws away better stuff than Durham.

We love our state!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One man's Heaven

It was a redneck heaven, plain and simple.  Which made it hell for me.

It was a gift.  For my amazing husband, who has been so very sweet since the wedding, and whose life story means he rarely got to enjoy the simple, American pleasures most of us take for granted. 

He had worked that morning, not unusual for a Saturday, but still not ideal.  We had ridden our motorcycles in the afternoon, through a nearby town, enjoying the sort-of-country-and-sort-of-suburbs of it all, the March crosswind rattling us around a little bit.  And then in the evening, we met up with friends, drove to the PNC center, where our local hockey team—the Hurricanes—has been winning games, making friends and wooing Triangle fans.  But tonight the ice was hidden—no sign of it in sight.  Instead, we were greeted by a bare dirt floor, tarps draped across the first eight rows of seating, and crushed cars arranged in a pattern in the center.  This, ladies and gentlemen, was no hockey game.  This was MONSTER JAM 2013!!!

The ultimate American experience.  I had no idea it was such an American experience, until I was there, and the Monster Jam announcer kept telling me.  It's always good to have these things clarified.

We watched as the four-wheeler teams—North Carolina vs. South Carolina—warmed up, zinging their open-bodied, four-wheeled vehicles around the track.  We listened to the emcee interviewing the "captains" of the two teams, and thought of wrestling matches, the way they have over-the-top villains and heroes.  Totally ridiculous.  But then, it happened.  The emcee's voice shifted in tone—it was time to start the event.

He had been engaging the crowd—barely a third of the arena—during warm-up, and now he came out and talked about America, about pride, and about patriotism.  He had members of the armed forces stand up, listing each branch of our military, and then veterans.  And then he called on firefighters, police officers, doctors, and EMTs.  He did not, of course, mention nurses, teachers, or social workers, but I'm sure he meant to.  But he had them all stand and the crowd applauded, and I did too, because cheesy or not, I am indeed happy to honor those who serve our communities.  And while we applauded, his speech dropped off, and the music turned up.  "Proud to be an American" came loud and strong through the arena.  (Thank the gods for good sound technology as we could actually hear and understand everything said that night.)  And as I sat at the PNC Arena, and "Proud to be an American" floated dulcetly through the air, the jumbotrons in the center of the space showed pictures of the American flag, images of patriotism, and, yep—there it is—MONSTER TRUCKS POPPING WHEELIES and jumping and smashing cars.  Monster trucks getting great air and BAM! dropping on CARS.  PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN, people, where you can SMASH cars, and pop WHEELIES, and dammit!  This is MONSTER JAAAAAAAMMMMM!!!!!!

And so went the evening, with loud pumping music, crazyloud vehicles tearing apart the space and crunching metal, and the crowd screaming loud and proud.  At one point, Matel toys arranged a major give-away event to a lucky fan.  The spotlight found a cute cute kid in the crowd, and the emcee made his way over.  He promised he would give the child as many toys in the bag as the crowd cheered for, and so then there was pressure—we had to scream or the kid wouldn't get any toys.  And so there we were, cheering for the little guy so he could get every toy in the bag!!  We cheered and screamed—and why?? Really.  We were a quarter-mile away, but still, we screamed and joined the sounds of the cheering crowd, all to make sure the little boy got his remote-controlled, car-smashing, stone-climbing bit of America.

I do have to say that I really love the monster trucks.  The sound is unbelievable, and the over-the-top craziness of it is hilarious.  The tires are enormous, and the engines whine so loud, you can feel your cochleae shattering and your cilia shriveling such that you'll never hear again. 

And then.  After intermission.  It was here.  Lowered from the ceiling.  Settled carefully on the ground.  Here it was.  I'd seen commercials for it since I was a child.  And now, in front of me, unbelievably, I would see it live and in person.

The Sphere of Fear.

The steal bubble cage, into which one can ride a motorcycle, and, if one is skilled enough and talented enough, and has balls big enough, one can ride the interior of the sphere and achieve the impossible—ride upside down. 

And the announcer made a big fuss about this Sphere of Fear, and he told us—and this part was very important—the motorcycle in the Sphere of Fear is fueled by our cheering!  We must cheer loudly to keep the motorcycle operating safely in the Sphere of Fear.  And then the very daring Mr. Flores came out to the arena, he zoomed his motorcycle into the Sphere of Fear, and then he was locked in it.  Locked in!!  This was very important to the announcer, who said it many times—Mr. Flores was locked in the Sphere of Fear.  But really, they just shut the big metal door, and now it was a true sphere (of fear!) and the daring Mr. Flores could zoom zoom zoom his motorcycle in big circles, first sideways and then—and ladies and gentlemen, this is really amazing—upside down!!  But this is not all!!  Soon there were flames shooting up from the center!  Mr. Flores was inside the Sphere of Fear, and there were flames!!!

And then the daring Mr. Flores exited the Sphere of Fear and was safely, once again, on the dirt floor of the arena.  Imagine our surprise, then, when his beautiful, 15-year-old daughter rode her motorcycle into the arena, and then…  then…  into the Sphere of Fear!!  She also got locked in, rode in swooping circles, with her one hand waving us on to cheer her, and then… and then… upside down!!! 

But wait!!  What is that little motorcycle there?  Is it?  Could it be?  Yes!  This is Mr. Flores' son!  He is only ten years old!  He is the youngest motorcycle rider to ride in the Sphere of Fear!  He is only ten!  He also got locked in to the Sphere of Fear and rode in swooping circles, first sideways, and then upside down!!!

After much hoopla and cheering – to fuel the ride – the entire family was in the Sphere of Fear, and the whole thing was on fire, and it was cool, fueled by our cheering.

But the best part was definitely the end of the evening, when the monster trucks engaged in their freestyle "competition."  There are "judges" and the competition is "scored," much like wrestling, which you can imagine, is a major eye roll for me.  However, I do have to say, it's fun to watch the trucks express personality—and they really do!—as they smash cars up.  I mean, what's not to like????

Seriously.  I loved it.  And we're so going back next year!!!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I Have Staff

I feel very Downton Abbey when I am roused at 9 a.m. on the Sunday after the time change by the people I have hired to work in the yard.

Brian is also a very good friend, and as is the custom around here, he let himself in. Eddie's barking had long-since alerted us to his presence so at least I was decently covered with jammies when the door opened.

But of course it meant I was to get dressed and join the conversation outside. It was 33 degrees, so I had to fix my hair to accommodate a hat, and then I stood, listening as the menfolk talked.

My presence was totally unnecessary. This is a job that is weeks in the works, and the specs of which have been clear for longer than that. Move the six ENORMOUS truckloads of mulch from the front of the house to the back. Spread it around.

Brian is the perfect kind of worker, and we have a great thing going here. I have a never-ending to-do list of house projects, and Brian comes whenever he is free to work on them. I don't have to be here--he brings his own tools, knows where our things are should he need them, and cleans up after himself. You would hardly know he's been here, except that the work gets done. We have an agreement on the number of hours every month, so he can count on the income, and we can count on the work. For big jobs like this one, we pay as we go.

It's a perfect arrangement.  Everyone should have a Brian.

Except when you're trying to live in denial of the time change and it's 33 degrees out.

I am reminded of the scene in Downton Abbey when the maid comes in to open the curtains, waking Lady Mary and her new husband. The maid has been up for hours at this point, having prepared the house for waking habitation. Mary and Matthew chat happily, not the least but concerned that they have been slothful.

I, on the other hand, realize that Brian and his coworker have been up long enough to waken, get dressed, (I hope) eat breakfast, and I see from thermoses set on the rocks, prepare coffee. Not to mention the 30-minute drive to get here.

Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, isn't it?

And so I busy myself. I move the cut wood (cut by Brian, of course, while I was out to dinner with friends earlier this week) to the pile; I half-heartedly rake out the piles of mulch, knowing Brian will come behind me and do a better job; I consider the difficulty of winning the lottery; and could I possibly pay someone to cook for me without feeling gluttonous (deadly sin number two)?

I suppose it's a good thing I am not rich. Perhaps some of us really are born of "peasant stock" (as my father used to call it), driven to work--or at least pretend to.  And for those of you wondering, yes, I am using reverse psychology on the lottery fates and not the least bit worried that winning will "change me."

Come on, big money!!!

Monday, March 4, 2013

90 Minutes Around the Bend

It's winter time.  We're lucky here; at times throughout the winter, we are treated to beautiful days of sunshine and mild temperatures.  Although there are days at a time when it's quite cold, and we have our share of wind, rain and even sometimes snow and ice, we often find ourselves outside for many days throughout winter.  I used to garage the motorcycle at a friend's house, but I have since learned that we can ride at least once or twice every month of the year.  As much as February is my least-favorite month, it's in February when I am most grateful for my decision to move to North Carolina because truly, beautiful weather is just around the corner.

So here we are, the last weekend of the dreariest month, and we've had rain and ice for many days, leaving our yard a slog of mud and swamp.   Even the simplest tasks are crappy that way.  Taking out the compost is a slip-slide smear-fest that tears up the grass, soaks your shoes, and dampens the cuffs on your jeans.  The animals leave paw prints everywhere, and the standing water that pools in low spots is depressing and a harbinger of dead grass, mosquitoes, and the steamy summer sure to come.

You can imagine, then, the relief of the weather report calling for 65-degree sunshine.  And on a weekend, no less!!

We had had a busy Saturday—up early to take the snake to the vet, along with an emotional roller coaster that was "we might have to put the snake down right here right now" all the way to "a total clean bill of health and keep up the good work!" in the span of 30 minutes.  Then a busy afternoon of fun social obligations and then a black tie fundraiser that had us dressed up and dancing (in fancy footwear, both of us—ouch!) into the night.

So Sunday dawned sunny and bright, and we threw the covers over our heads and rolled over, the sound of thunder paws from our now-four-cat household providing a joyous soundtrack to our extended snooze.

Eventually, though, we roused, blinking in the sun, old creatures feeling every muscle and joint.  Oh, so craggy and ancient!  But we fed ourselves, caffeinated ourselves, kissed the furry ones, and headed off to the gently curving roads and lakeside views we love so much around here.

With Bill’s bike in the shop, our only option was for me to ride bitch, which gave me plenty of time to look at the houses and dream of retirement, when I plan to live in an old white, wood home with a few acres around me, cats and an herb garden.  My favorite are houses that are tall in front—plantation style, I guess they call it.  And then only one story of rambling rooms in the back.  You can imagine the builders designing a lovely two-story home, perfect for the time, and then the subsequent families adding a room at a time.  I love how those kinds of homes have rooms with several doors and you can walk several different paths through the house, passing through bedrooms and drawing rooms.  I don’t really understand the allure of a hallway, with so much wasted space. 

I have a love of outbuildings.  I’ve watched enough American Pickers to know that most of those outbuildings house rusting, worthless collections of crap the homeowner just couldn’t bear to part with, but I like to imagine the studio or old-style apothecary or just a private retreat I would have in the outbuildings of my home.  I envied sheds for a long time—a place to put your mower!  Your tools!!  A neatly organized home for paintbrushes and screwdrivers, the chain saw and your loppers.  I have a shed now, and I love to walk in it, see all my stuff—the mark of a true home-owner and kindasorta handy woman—tools. 

And of course, I love the porches.  The big 15-footers that wrap languidly around the whole house.  Or even the 8-footers that house neat row of rocking chairs to the right of the always-red front door.  Oh, the things I would do with a grand front porch.  Never mind the mosquitos or the humidity or the choking pollen.  If I had a huge porch, I would have parties of people, dressed in linen finery, sipping on mint juleps, the laughter ringing into the night…

And oh, the houses with the benches out front!!  Where I would sit in the morning, sipping my coffee, letting the sunlight bring my brain to awareness, rather than the light of Facebook on my iPhone. 

And so we passed our 90 minutes, with Bill in charge, and my mind free to wander through rural Triangle life.  We eventually pulled up to our house, which I have painted myself, and I celebrate in its simplicity.  I love its gentle, cabin-y feel, and I like its dark brown, calming, welcoming feel.  I chose to ignore the enormous piles of mulch and dead grass, and focus instead on the mint juleps I will sip on my front porch when it’s all done.