Saturday, May 31, 2008

Day 2 - Some goofy stories

Also from my journal.

7:40 PM – Which sign do we hate the most? Reduced Speed Ahead! – Marie
Note: Andrew Lewis Mem Highway – Who is that?

My disclaimer should be that I really liked the South, but so far, the only thing I've written has been some stories of weird things that we experience in the South. I'll write more about the GOOD things.

Unsolicited Advice from Old Ladies

We started the day at the Travelodge with the breakfast. For some reason, I was telling stories about Sparta—nothing scandalous. Later, after we’d moved on to another topic, some lady approached us and said, “I heard you talking about Sparta. Well, I’m from Succasunna.” I was like, Oh, how nice…then she said, “So I hope you didn’t say anything you didn’t want your mother to know, because I might know her!” I guess she was joking – she was chuckling – but Mary and I were kind of horrified. Then she laughed and said, “I don’t know her, ha ha” and told a story about meeting someone from Succasunna in Alaska, and I was like “Yeah, people from NJ are everywhere, ha ha.” Mary said (after the woman had walked away), “In Germany, people would NEVER do this.” We were annoyed because we weren’t saying anything bad, anything we would care if our mothers knew! Whatever.

Later, after we exited Shenandoah National Park, between the end of Skyline Drive and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway, there was a visitor’s information center (or something.) It was in a sort of hilly gravel parking lot with a closed gas station and some other junky, rusty looking things, set back behind all the junk. We planned to go in to use the bathrooms and ask where the nearest post office was. In the parking lot were three cars, and one had a bunch of bumper stickers on the back. One in particular caught my eye and pissed me off—red background and white text – MARRIAGE = (picture of a man) + (picture of a woman). I was all annoyed, uggghhhh how about mind your own business, what an offensive sticker, blah blah blah. We went inside and it was totally weird looking. There was a long desk at which two old people stood. The desk was in a long, narrow room, with two doorways leading into a much larger room. In a corner stood a life-sized wax status of General Robert E. Lee. Along the walls were brochures, conveniently arranged by geography (Northern VA, Lexington, Waynesboro, etc) In the back was a rack of books, mostly old paperback romance novels, and a sign saying that the proceeds (from the book sale) would benefit a local church. We overheard, as we looked around and some people were leaving, the old lady say to them, “Goodbye! God bless you!”
In the bathroom hung a stupid painting of a bathtub. Why? After we left the bathrooms, we approached the counter to ask for information and directions to the local post office. The old woman was unaware of our presence for a bit, then seemed startled. “I didn’t realize you were here!”
We asked how to get to the nearest post office. “Oh! You’ll have to go into town for that!” she exclaimed!
Duh! I thought, and also, being from New Jersey, What does she mean? Aren’t we IN a town right now!? How far away is ‘town?’  [ed note: added later - this was before I learned that outside of NJ, there are unincorporated place that are not in a town.]

As she talked, the old man appeared behind the counter. We didn’t notice him at first, not until:
“Well, I was gonna say go to the filling station and—but I forgot, that filling station is closed—oh! He’ll draw you a map!”
The old man was silently drawing on a piece of scrap paper. This took several minutes; all four of us were silent. Finally, he pushed the paper toward us and began to speak:
southern directions

“You got your wind-y mountain road…”

This is never a good way for directions to begin. We were at the edge of Shenandoah National Park. Which wind-y mountain road, exactly, belonged to us? Every road there was a wind-y mountain road!

We turned to leave, thanking them, but the old woman stopped us and inquired, almost desperately, “Did you sign the book!?!?!” She indicated a guest registry. We filled out the information and turned to leave.

“You girls be good!” she called to us.

We stopped in our track and stood, kind of stunned. And then:

“You girls be careful!”

“We will…thanks…” We opened the door and started to leave.

“I love you!” she called as the door closed behind us.

We drove for a few minutes on the Blue Ridge Parkway, falsely assuming that this was our “wind-y mountain road.” It was not. In short, the map wasn’t totally wrong or useless, but it was barely correct. In the end, thanks to a nice convenience store clerk in Waynesboro, we got to the post office and back out to I-64, on our way to Tennessee.

We felt that this was a very Southern experience.

Silly Country Songs

On the road to Shenandoah (which was, by the way, the Patsy Cline Memorial Highway), we put on the radio, searching for the regional music (country.) The first song we got had all the stereotypical catchwords in the first thirty seconds—“caught my wife with another man” “prison” “my cousin in Tennessee” and “got my gun”—and then, without warning, it dissolved into the real subject of the song—a dog. I couldn’t stop laughing.
The song that followed began with the scene of the singer driving away from a funeral, either of his friend or his friend’s wife (I wasn’t paying close enough attention.) But that’s not what the song was really about! Oh no! It was a song for a girl! See, going to this funeral made the singer realize, “It could have been you and me,” so he was going to get wine and flowers and candles and (in other words sex) “love you like it’s the last day of my life.” So it went from a funeral to sex!
(Well, I can’t say that non-country popular music has much better lyrics/topics.)

Let’s see what else…The Bikers on Skyline Drive. So we got on Skyline Drive, and there were a lot of bikers! At the first visitor’s center, Dickey Ridge, there was a pack of men in Harley jackets, all looking rather funny juxtaposed with the installations of plastic flowers and woodland animals. Also, they were speaking a language that I thought at first was German, then realized that about 10% of the words were intelligible, and it was a very singsongy language, so it was something Scandinavian. (There is no point to this detail, just that I thought it was interesting. I kept thinking, how did they get here with their bikes? Did they rent them? Did they already live in the U.S.?)
Later, at a really nice scenic overlook, there was a pack of bikers that we thought were the Scandinavians from earlier, until they asked us with very American voice if we could take some group shots of them – one without their bikes, and one with their bikes. There was something endearing about these big guys handing us single use cameras and posing like a group of kids. So we asked them if they could also take a picture for us, of us with the mountains in the background. “With our cameras?” one of them asked.
Ha ha ha.
Then, as he took the photo (with our cameras, of course!) he kept saying, “Oh, this is beautiful…this is gonna be beautiful.” So that was potentially creepy, but who cares.

The rest of the day can be told through photos – of Shenandoah, of the Natural Bridge, and of…FOAMHENGE! One of the strangest yet most fun things we saw on our trip was a replica of Stonehenge made entirely out of Styrofoam.

Notes from Day 1

Copied from my journal, with some editing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

First stop – Bridgewater Commons

1:49 on the road at Somerset and Louis Sts intersection

1:50 waved goodbye to Ale & Wich

1:54 in Franklin – forgot to write down when we left New Brunswick!

Believe it or not, this is not the German writing this log!

2:06 PM First wrong turn! Going to Bridgewater Commons

3:54 PM on the road for real

3:55 PM I told you, Pennsylvania

Mary leans on the horn for the first time. [This was when we got cut off ridiculously by someone from Pennsylvania; one of the first driving-in-America lessons I gave Mary was to watch out for the blue and yellow license plates.)

4:13 – first traffic – on I 78 twds PA still in NJ

4:27 - We’re in Pennsylvania!

Next stop – 5:16 PM – HAMBURG!

6:45 PM – first heavy rain – thunder – lightning

On I-81 near mile marker 41

6:55 PM - saw horse and buggy

7:08 “I hate Pennsylvania drivers!” exclaims Mary.

7:28 Maryland (cross Mason Dixon Line)

[Somewhere, we wrote down the exact times we got into West Virginia and Virginia.]
9:00 AM (Wednesday, May 28) Arrive at Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive

We stopped in Hagerstown, MD to find the Park Circle Tavern from Roadfood. 325 Virginia Ave – well, Hagerstown is cute but the Tavern (which was recommended for Terrapin Chowder, a decadent-sounding meal of turtle meat (!?!?!) and sherry (!?) and other things) (Didn’t sound like Road Food to me, as it sounded like something to unsettle a traveler’s stomach….I guess you have to get in road-mode and get used to heavy food and motion…) Now it’s the Grille at Park Circle and looked from the outside to be tavern-y but it’s full of old people. Lots of regional seafood stuff on menu—it’s seafood Tuesday!

I’m getting seafood pizza!

The menu said something like they pride themselves on good healthy food – “low fat, low cholesterol, and low sodium content.” (Explains all the old people.) Decorated with old sports stuff, a turntable, some Decca record (can’t see the title or artist) next to us. And a random model ship.

Krebs-Crab – in Maryland eating crab potato waffles which are good with cocktail sauce. [OK, the meaning of this cryptic message is that we realized it was a stunning coincidence that we were in MARY-land and Mary's sign is Cancer, the crab (Krebs auf deutsch) and crab is a big thing in Maryland. Uncanny!

I hear Southern accents! Seafood pizza good.

I realized today is the one-year anniversary of the END of my France trip. So last year vacation ended on the same day that this year, it begins.

We’re getting up early tomorrow to drive on Skyline Drive. Then back to 81 to Knoxville and on 75 to Atlanta and on to Tampa!

The Road Trip Begins...

When I was a little kid, my family always took road trips. I don’t think we went anywhere that wasn’t within driving distance, and it never occurred to us to fly anywhere. We went to Disney World almost every year, driving on I-95. For me, the drive was part of the fun of the trip, and I think this is what planted the seed in my mind—that road trips were fun. When I was thirteen, I don’t know what exactly sparked it, but I decided that someday, I wanted to drive across the United States. It was one of those dreams that I kept coming back to, like wanting to be a botanist, and I had visions of myself driving through a desert with the sunroof open, windows down, wind blowing my hair everywhere, and loud music playing. I bet this is part of why I grew my hair out the past two years—once the road trip dream became a reality in planning, I would think, “If you cut your hair, you won’t get to have long hair on the road and that will be boring!” (This is the…ahem…logical way that my mind works.)

Even though I wasn’t old enough to drive for most of those trips, that road is familiar to me. When we were first planning our trip – to go south and then west – I automatically started planning to take 95. It was one of those roads that’s like home, the road you always end up on, even if you didn’t plan to. I knew which states had good welcome centers, which rest areas to avoid, which Shoney’s restaurants had the best breakfast buffets, the northernmost point where you could see palm trees, and which bizarro places to stop at (such as South of the Border – not to spend the night but just to take pictures of people posing with giant cartoonish statues and go in the stores to buy sparklers and fireworks.) I saw quite a bit of the South as a result of all these road trips, and I liked it. It was warm, it was pretty, and the speed limit was 70.

When I was thirteen and first conceived of this trip, I hadn’t yet met Marie. We became penpals when we were about fifteen, and finally met in person at the end of April 2002 at Newark Airport. I’m not sure when it became clear to us that we should make this trip together, nor am I sure when we knew that, when she came to visit this spring, we would make this dream trip. We’d been planning for most of the school year, and we went back and forth, sometimes thinking it wouldn’t happen for various reasons – one or both of us had a potential job that would start too early, gas prices were too high, we didn’t know if we could afford it, blah blah blah. But here we are.

It is the end of Day 5 as I write this. So far, our route has been the following: I-287 to Bridgewater Commons (to buy some things we needed and go to the AAA office), 22 West to I-78, through Pennsylvania. We stopped in Hamburg, PA, because Marie is from Hamburg, Germany. (Later, we went to Sparta, TN, but not just because I am from Sparta, NJ.) We kept on I-78 until we got to I-81. The original plan was to take I-81 south to Knoxville, TN, and then get on I-75 to Tampa, FL, stopping in Atlanta on the way. After Tampa, we would backtrack north, get on I-10, and head west, stopping in New Orleans and San Antonio, going through the Florida Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Mississippi. We’d cross the border in El Paso, just to say we’d been to Mexico, come back, head into Arizona, and then take a different road to the Grand Canyon. Then we’d go to Las Vegas, and then keep heading west to Los Angeles. However, at the end of Day 2, when we were still in Virginia, I suggested we take the I-40 way so that we’d be able to keep up this leisurely pace, spend more time at the Grand Canyon and in Las Vegas, take our time in California, and take an interesting way home instead of speeding home on I-80 or I-70. The way we plan now, we will most likely have time to go to Mount Rushmore and someplace in Canada.

Last summer, I went to France to visit family members, many of whom I’d never met before, and to see the places where the family had lived for centuries. I flew home on May 27th. This year, we set out on May 27th—kind of cool that the day my travels ended last year, they began one year later. Also, this time I visited the place where my dad’s family has lived forever, meeting more relatives I’d never met before. So, I was a long-lost cousin both summers. That story deserves a post all of its own.

We’ve been to nine states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. (Ten if you count New York, which we visited before getting on the road.) We’ve crossed into the Central Time Zone, and tomorrow we plan to go through Texas and into New Mexico, so we’ll be in the Mountain Time Zone. We didn’t take a picture of the tachometer before we left, but we know we went at least 2,000 miles, although Google Maps calculates our route as only being 1,833. (I guess we covered a couple hundred miles with all the turning around and getting semi-lost trying to find food or gas.) We’ve eaten Maryland seafood and Tennessee barbecue (and hush puppies and cornbread and fried green tomatoes and fried dill pickles and fried catfish), we’ve done a ton of shopping, we’ve gone the entire length of Skyline Drive, we’ve seen the Natural Bridge and the neighboring Foamhenge, the world’s only guitar-shaped museum in Tennessee, the convention center that housed the World’s Fair in Knoxville twenty-six years ago, Nashville at night, a random yet lovely state park beach in Mississippi, family I’d never met before in the mountains of Tennessee, Graceland, Beale Street in Memphis, the Mississippi River, the Arkansas River, the Blue Ridge mountains, the Smoky Mountains, the Ozarks, a farmers’ market and (the outside of + store connected with) the Bill Clinton Museum, Arkansas wine country (who knew?) including the town in which The Simple Life (who cares) was filmed, the Cherokee Nation, the Cheyenne-Arapaho Nation, and Oklahoma City. What will Day 6 bring?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On the Road

We have a road trip blog, but right now stupid Google locked it and it could take four days to unlock it!

There's a lot to post about; I'll probably post there and here. We went to Shenandoah yesterday, and we also stopped at the Natural Bridge and then at perhaps the most exciting tourist attraction in the Southeast:


So weird!!!!!!
So now we're in Tennessee, just over the border from VA, and our plan is to get to Nashville today and hopefully cross another state line. I have many funny stories to write up, such as our first experience with Southern directions ("Here you got your windy mountain road...") and a few things that made us know for sure...we are in the Bible Belt...unsolicited advice from old ladies, a few other things. Oh we already had good beer, too.
We keep changing our route, too. Now it looks like we're going to take I-40 straight to the Grand Canyon...
So, next stop, Nashville!
(Actually, next stop: breakfast.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ALSO - boozey ice cream

It's not even frozen yet but I can tell it's good already, so I'm posting my praises for this recipe. Nigella Lawson's No Churn Margarita Ice Cream.
I had no idea what to make for my friend's Welcome to America (Again) Dinner, and I was thinking "What's in the fridge besides artichokes, which she doesn't like, and olives, which she doesn't like, and yogurt and fifty kinds of fancy cheese and of course, ketchup and a block of tamarind?" There's a package of Trader Joe's chicken chorizo in the freezer, so from there, I'm making tacos. With horribly out of season produce--tomatoes, corn, etc. I bought mesclun salad mix because I hate iceberg lettuce, hope it's not disgusting with tacos! I'm going to make guacamole and refried beans (the pinto beans are soaking in the microwave...uh...cause the stupid mice have found a way to get on our table now...right now!)
So a week ago, when I was in that germ-induced fog, I bought a thing of heavy cream to make ice cream, having no clear plans to make ice cream in the near future. I was thinking it would be nice to have homemade ice cream when Mary is here. But what kind? I was in a creative rut.
So yesterday morning, I Googled "No Churn Ice Cream." Of course five billion hits came up for Nigella Lawson's No Churn Pomegranate Ice Cream. But I've made that already! And pomegranates aren't in season anyway!
Then, on page two or three of the Google search, was this lone little Food Network link for Margarita Ice Cream. Ooh! That will go with Mexican food. And it's ALSO from Nigella Lawson, a trusted source of interesting no churn ice cream flavors.
Isn't that PERFECT?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

More nerding

I am writing as I take a break from endless work. Today I worked for seven hours at the plant sale at my new job. It was really fun, though towards the end I was like homework homework panic panic. I'm just trying to remind myself - there's a slim chance that I won't graduate...EVERY SEMESTER FOR SIX YEARS at the end I've thought "Right now I'm at the point where I'll either do an awesome job on everything, or not get it done at all and fail my classes" and the latter NEVER HAPPENS but it always seems like a possibility...and then the stress is crippling and causes me to get less done...
Anyway, I keep trying to remind myself that I WILL graduate, that if I get crummy grades just this one semester, the Plant Science department will not take away from me the academic achievement award they gave me, and I will get into SOME graduate school, on that day when I am ready to apply. And then Mary will be here on the 14th, and then we'll drive across the country, and then I'll be at work at my cool plant-related job and then I'll move into a less-ghetto apartment and then I can stop stressing about everything!!!!!
Anyway, I was thinking today that there are a lot of characters in my life and I've been meeting really quirky people at work, and even though I think of these things as complimentary, I shouldn't blog about them because they might not find it complimentary. Like, on Thursday there was this really cool elderly woman in the library which is my office, talking to me about various plants, and I was really impressed because she seemed very alert and interested in life and then when she was leaving she WALKED UP THE STAIRS instead of taking the elevator like most people. Today this one very endearing, nice, funny lady was, among other endearing things, eating the kale that was put out as garnish on our sandwich platter.
I bought 11 herbs. That is not including what I got last week at the Cook College Ag Field Day plant sales. I now own two basil plants, several tomatoes, several fennel, several lavender. I got epazote even though it smells like gasoline - why the heck did I buy this? I was intrigued and could see, somehow, how that bad smelling plant could really improve a pot of beans! When I have time and can break from Academic Hell, I will post pictures of my newly-acquired plants and also go to thrift and garage sales to get containers to put the things in. I hope that they survive while I am off driving around the country for four weeks. I hope they survive the neglect they will surely be victims of during the next week or so when I am struggling to finish final projects.
I got:
(last week)
Thai basil
Hot Pepper mix
Lemon Boy tomatoes (which are indeterminate...whoops! not suitable for container gardening! well they were free!)
Rutgers tomatoes
(this week)
Rosemary 'Salem'
Lime Thyme
Purple Sage
Cilantro (some kind of finely dissected leaf variety that's more ornamental then the normal kind and less strong of a smell and flavor but still really good- I've already eaten some!)
Vietnamese Coriander
Mexican Tarragon (I never use
African Blue Basil
Pineapple Sage (impulse buy...I will probably NOT cook with it but this lady was talking about how pretty its red flowers are and I was like MUST BUY)
Sorrel (I don't know...I wanted to try it)
Fernleaf Dill

Plus I already had some crassulas and a very small Brazilian Firecracker plant, and will probably be inheriting more plants my job doesn't want throughout the summer. Right now I'm nursing four Maidenhair Ferns. AAHHHH!!!!! I need to stop acquiring plants RIGHT NOW.