26 February 2008

WV-08 DAY 3: A nice Sunday drive!

Tal & Sera's Excellent West Virginia Adventure

DAY THREE - Sunday, 17 February.
Agenda: Revisiting two sites from last year - Hawk's Nest Overlook and the "Old" New River Bridge; Mullens, WV; Tri-State Gaming Center, Nitro, WV.

Morning in our little cabin! Beaucoups to do on this Sunday, so let's get started!!

Today was w-i-n-d-y. We went down US-19 to go north on 60 for a short distance through the small village of Ansted, WV (where the Dairy Queen was closed for the winter!). Just past town is what has become one of my favorite spots in West Virginia: the Hawk's Nest Overlook. This is one of two views one gets from its vantage point......
I love this view. We first saw it last March, and since then it's become something of a mental "happy place." I'm sure that railroad bridge makes for a nice challenge for whitewater rafters. Limbo low ..... how low can you go?

And looking to the right, going up New River, here's a good dam view......
[rimshot]

For some reason, the music of Bernard Hermann began to fill my mind's ear as we passed this empty flophouse on US-60.
Our next stop was back to the 'original' one-lane New River Bridge, to catch yet another gander of the arch bridge (the one engraved on the West Virginia quarter). I love the view which that bridge offers.

From there, we did our makegood for the Mullens joyride. Last year on our way out from Mount Nebo, we passed through "coal country", including Mullens. It used to be a thriving and bustling coal-mining and railroad town. The view from Highway 16 (or, as they call it up there, Route 16) gives a gorgeous first impression as you enter the city from the east:
Deep inside, it isn't so pretty in many places. When passing through last March, I noticed a very disturbing sight: an abandoned "town diner" -- I knew something was terribly wrong when the proverbial corner diner was boarded up. Some simple Googlistic research showed that Mullens, West Virginia was nearly destroyed by floods in 2001, and many businesses didn't rebuild and instead chose to vacate.

This town once sported its own multi-story hotel. The Hotel Wyoming was built in 1918, and was named for this county:
See the curtain in the window second from the left? It was flapping around in the wind, giving a heartwrenching message of emptiness. I could see into the main lobby -- the floor tiles spelled "HOTEL WYOMING" in mosaic form.

My mind kept morphing this building into its former grandeur, when Mullens served as a hub for southwestern West Virginia, back when coal and the railroads were king. I so wished it were 1955 again, so we could walk in there and get a room with a view -- a panoramic vantage point over the town and the mountains surrounding it.

I'd have to say the most haunting image we took from this visit was found in the window of what used to be a pool hall. Amidst the tiffany-style table lamps piled in the window, my wife spotted a box full of mud-caked billiard balls!
But not all is bleak in Mullens, West Virginia. A tavern and a Dollar General was bringing folks in on this leisurely Sunday afternoon..............
It was depressing, yet offered glimmers of hope. That's West Virginians for you; down but never out.
*********
We made our way out of Mullens and back to Beckley, where we picked up the West Virginia Turnpike for a trip northward to Charleston, where we'd try Lady Luck again. Would one of us make a small jackpot on the nickel slots? The answer after this pleasant visual interlude:
It's a typical image of what one gets on the turnpike between Beckley and Charleston -- much of it winds between two mountainsides. One feels all 'snuggled in' driving this stretch of interstate.

Okay, the answer? Cue the Price is Right "losing horns" -- we busted. We left the Tri-State casino completely devoid of the gambling wampum we allotted ourselves. Oh well. At least half of it was gravy from the scratch-offs Friday afternoon!

Supper was procured at Cracker Barrel south of Charleston, then it was back to the cabin. Tomorrow: A trip to Switzerland. Really. No joke.

CONTINUED....

23 February 2008

WV-08 DAY 2, cont'd: Two tunnels, four states!

[Or, "Look, Ma, I can fold a map and drive on a mountain road at the same time!"]

Tal & Sera's Excellent West Virginia Adventure

DAY TWO - Saturday, 16 February.
Final Destination: Mount Nebo, West Virginia.

From the As Seen on TV® outlet store, we turned back southbound on I-75 for the next exit, Tenn. 63 and US-25W. From 75 it was about 40 miles to the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, which opened to traffic about a decade ago. It replaced a dangerous (even by mountain road standards) clip of road between Cumberland Gap, Tenn., through about 1/10 mile of Virginia, and through the gap into Middlesboro, Ky. They've since pulled up much of the road, and restored it to its original Daniel Boone-era trail look.

But first, a little shout-out to Glass Source of (I presume) Jacksboro, Tennessee:

These yahoos were riding my ass while I myself was doing fairly fast (60 in a 45 zone). I merged to let 'em by ... then got a nice shot of their truck.

Remember them for all your glass needs.

ANYhoo, continuing up Tenn. 63, it was a nice and flat drive, running parallel to a couple of mountain ranges. It was a nice 36-ish miles, and soon we found ourselves at the intersection of US-25E, Cumberland Gap and the tunnel-ific fun thereunder.

Did we remember the Sudafed? It's pretty congested in there......
The Cumberland Gap is one of only two tunnels in the U.S. which cross state lines (the other one, which we'll do later on, is the East River Mountain Tunnel connecting Virginia and West Virginia). This new alignment burrows between just Kennessee and Tenntucky, cutting off about 23 inches of pavement in Virginia.
We spent all of five minutes, if that long, in The Bluegrass State ... then it was back into Tennessee for just a few more minutes to explore the breathtaking village of Cumberland Gap. Truly a beautiful little mountain town. What I wouldn't give to have this view right before my eyes each and every day...
And check out this sweet repurposing of an abandoned railroad overpass. The railbed is now a walking trail, and they built a covered bridge over the crossing. Cool, yes?

US-25E hasn't run through downtown Cumberland Gap since the tunnel opened a half-mile to the west .... but that was 10 years ago (or thereabouts). This piece of metal, still posted in downtown CG, nearly predates my 43 years: The "TENN-US" shield design hasn't been used since at least the mid '60s! Way to the cool! (go here for how it looked 10 and 15 years ago)

Y'know, In a town where time seems to have stood still, it's a nice fit.

Maps and Mayhem

We continued north of town on a small stump of the old 25E, then turned around to go back through town and back to US-58 for our foray into Virginia.

We were on a gentle winding incline, and I was going maybe 10 MPH. The street was as busy as our cul-de-sac, and had guard rails. Now, granted, I might could've waited until we were stopped, but I was folding up a road map while maneuvering this treacherous (*rolls eyes*) road. By my wife's reaction, you would've thought I was doing 50 MPH on this road when it was still original 25E, sans guard rails, and I was dodging 18-wheelers! Yeah, I guess you could say she freaked.

The good thing is, that became our "joke" for this trip. I loved torturing Sera with references to folding road maps. Hey, what good is a wife if you can't torture her? :-)

Into the Old Dominion.......

After that pleasant diversion, we got onto 58 and continued our merry way toward The Part Of Virginia Which Refused To Secede. This was a long period of simple travel ... we made a bathroom stop in Jonesville, and settled on Mickey D's for lunch in Duffield before turning south on US-23/56/421 (and retracing, from the opposite direction, part of our route toward Pittsburgh back in September 2006). The McDonald's/Sunoco combo was a repeat visit, as we made a pit stop there in '06. The only difference was that gas was much closer to $3.00 a gallon than $2.00 the last time we were here.

Matter of fact, gas was beginning a steep climb on this Saturday ... I'd checked gasprices.com to get an idea of how they looked. Virginia typically has lower prices than average (though not as cheap - relatively! - as South Carolina). I saw $2.65-$2.80 just days before, but today I didn't see anything lower than $2.89/9, and mostly flirting with three bucks. I shuddered at how high they were beginning to get back home in the Savannah area -- despite our gasoline coming in via port, our monopoly (Enmark/Colonial) has a stranglehold on fuel prices.

Well, knowing West Virginia's gas prices are vicious, even worse than Savannah's, I thought we might want to fill 'er up while we were still in Virginia. I settled on a small gas station maybe 20 miles outside of Bluefield, WV. The Rupert King Family SUV-ster got a tankful of petrol to the tune of $2.91/9. A handmade sign outside read "Look! Cheap Gas!"

Yeah, sure, if you say so.

We were both thirsty, so Sera got a Diet Coke, and I a can of 7-UP.

Wild and Wonderful at Wast!
We crossed Bluefields and were now in the embrace of The Mountain State. I like the background design of their welcome signage, but that's all I like. I revile the "Open for Business" slogan shown here -- yes, WV is economically depressed, generally poor in finances, but the sentiment expressed here smacks of desperation [Fortunately, the big slogan question was put to a vote ... and the longtime "Wild and Wonderful" won out. I hope to see different welcome signs on our 2009 visit].

In many ways, West Virginia and Arkansas are kindred. Both are 'poor' states who have to work overtime to live down unfortunate stereotypes and ugly misconceptions.

The difference is the people. The way I put it to my co-worker, who is a proud WV native, is that her state is "like Arkansas without a chip on its shoulder." Arkansas has her share of fine people ... in most cases, without a thread of pretension. The difference is, Arkansas tends to be a little too "xenophobic", and circle the wagons ... i.e., "if you're not from here, you're not one of us." I saw it to a smaller extent in Jonesboro and North Little Rock, but more so in Hot Springs and especially (!) Pine Bluff.

On the other hand, I haven't picked up any of those attitudes in West Virginia ... just the intense pride in their state (which Arkansans also have). You see the state outline on so many advertisements and businesses in both places. But instead of mistrusting outsiders, West Virginians seem to want to share their bounty with the rest of us.

I love the people up there -- truly good folk. Real salt-of-the-earth, not the largely phony "hospitality" veneer one sees so often here in the South.

Sometimes God doesn't make sense -- He has blessed this area with the most beautiful scenery this Earth has to offer, but with the other hand He has put prosperity out of reach for so many of her people. I don't get it. If anyone deserves to have it all, it's the people of West Virginia.

Since our Pittsburgh trip nearly 18 months ago, I've tried to put a finger on why I've become so smitten with West Virginia. If it were just the mountainous terrain, then why not Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and even Georgia? All have a share of Appalachia within their borders. But there's something about West Virginia, and I have a feeling it's more than just the mountains I love.

Perhaps I've grown to look at that area as my own church. I feel closer to God when I'm within the state's boundary, drinking in the raw splendor which He and He alone created, and my interaction with West Virginians, most of who are as pure and genuine as the day's longness. As I get older, I crave substance in a world where it's disappearing. Sprawl and generic, lifeless and plastic corporate conformity does not have a place in West Virginia. It's like an untouched piece of God's great bounty.

So could this be why I love it so much? It sounds less and less absurd to my aging mind the more I think about it. And the idea of retiring here someday hasn't faded, at least not now.

Whookay. That was deep. Let's continue with our adventure, shall we?

Over instead of under

Prior to the East River Mountain Tunnel opening up in 1974, the only way between the states was on a winding and dangerous two-lane US-52. The road still exists, as WV 598/VA 598. We took the road, and planned on returning into WV through the tunnel. At the mountain's crest is the state line (and some abandoned buildings which I understand used to be a fireworks/crafts/liquor superstore before the tunnel was finished) ... and there's also a city park which features one mean overlook:
If Wal-Mart bought this park, I'm sure they'd find a way to airbrush out the view of the Kmart in the right middle.

The state line signage was all missing. The only evidence of the line itself is the pavement change. But going down the Virginia side of 598/old 52, we encountered something intriguing:
Virginia normally outlaws radar detectors (which puts a crimp in the cops' argument that they don't work too well -- if they don't work, why would anyone want to ban their use??), but on this downhill slalom, they apparently allow 'em. "That's fine, son, but you better make sure it's turned off and put away by the time you reach the bottom."

I-77 was waiting for us at the base of the mountain, and we turned north and went through the tunnel to 'officially' enter West Virginia.

This time, it wasn't raining. And the welcome center was open. We stopped to get some information about the small Swiss town of Helvetia, which Seraphim wanted to visit while we were up here. The center had a small gift shop, which had something I was looking for: a West Virginia gazetteer (a topographical map with all the backroads). Fantastic! I didn't want to go on a wild goose-chase trying to find one, and the welcome center didn't let me down.

Three Out of Four Ain't Bad

It was now about 4:30 in the afternoon, and the winter sun's brightness was beating down on us. We accomplished the As Seen on TV® store, the Cumberland Gap tunnel, and old US-52 .... but I was beginning to feel like the late-afternoon sun wouldn't be conducive to taking pictures in Mullens. Besides, both of us were ready to get to the cabin. We'd just add Mullens to tomorrow's agenda.

We continued on the turnpike to our exit in Beckley, US-19 north, where we went through Fayetteville, and crossing the New River arch bridge, then passing US-60 and finally to our destination of Mount Nebo.

And as we drove down into the hollow toward our cabin, Traveling Wilburys' classic "End of the Line" came on Sirius 18, The Spectrum (their Adult Album Alternative channel). A very appropriate way to end our journey up here. We arrived at our cabin at just before 6:00 p.m.

Arriving, indeed! And, looking the other direction, here was the view of our hollow:
This is a very cozy and isolated piece of land. The driveway down here is a good 40-degree grade at points, but Rupert handled it capably. Cellphone signals? Fuggedaboutit. TV signals? As if.

This is about as isolated as it gets. And I'm loving it.

If this is my church, then it's worship time.

CONTINUED

WV-08 DAY 2: As Seen On Freeway!

Tal & Sera's Excellent West Virginia Adventure

DAY TWO - Saturday, 16 February.
First Destination: Pioneer, Tennessee.


Morning in Knoxville!

We awakened from our first night all relaxed, and rarin' to hit the road. We left our hosts' household just before 8:00, and right on schedule. Our initial stop called for breakfast and filling the tank of our Rupert King Family SUV-ster. Hardee's was on our mind -- that is, until we saw the bright red CHICK-FIL-A banner rising behind it. Well, everyone knows chikun trumps goofy, retarded smiling star any ol' time. Sera got the Chik-n-Minis (or however the hell it's spelled!) and I enjoyed some Chick-Fil-A biscuits. Yummmm-yum!

Gasoline was procured just north of Knoxveeeeeel at the (again, relatively) cheap sum of $2.82/9. And then it was back north on I-75.

The plan was to take yet another 'scenic route' toward Mount Nebo, W.V. We had four (4) things we wanted to accomplish today:

2) The Cumberland Gap tunnel.
3) Travel the "old highway" over East River Mountain south of Bluefield, W.V.
4) Explore the struggling coal town of Mullens, W.V.

"Wait a cotton-pickin' minute, Talmadge -- where's #1 on the list?"

"I accomplished that before we left this morning."

"That joke really 'pissed' me off, Tal."

"Yeah, I know. Ain't I sumthin'?"

Okay, number one (1) on the list was something we just had to see, after passing it on our way back from Mount Nebo last year (and a side visit to the Kentucky Fried Chicken birthplace in Corbin, Ky.). At first, I couldn't believe my eyes. But, indeed, it's real:

There are outlet stores for damn near anything else, why not the illustrious "As Seen On TV®" items? (And would you believe that "As Seen On TV®" is a registered trademark??) It's located at Exit 141 on I-75, near the community of Pioneer.

This promised to be fun. Seraphim was jonesin' for a "Buxton Bag", and maybe a "Vidalia Chop Wizard" (and that's pronounced vi-DAIL-yah!!).

I've seen a couple of blog posts about the store (would that be "as seen on Blog?"), especially this one. We wondered if "Victor" would still be working there ... and if I could find a T-shirt like the one he's wearing. I so want one of those.

The curiosity was raging, even more so after seeing the billboards going up I-75......
"Not available in stores ... WRONG!"
"Food, Fuel and Flowbees - 12 miles ahead"


Maaan, this is almost like how Stuckey's used to be! There's nothing like the power of frequent roadside billboard adverts to reel in the travelers, especially the ones from points northward, and make 'em part with their "dollahs." Just ask South of the Border!

"Thank God the North won the war. It would have been awful if there hadn't been any Yankees to sell to." --William Sylvester Stuckey, founder of Stuckey's.

And speaking of Stuckey's, all this deja vu yielded one powerful "vu" once we pulled into the parking lot:
Holy Flowbee, this was gonna be good ! ! !

And it was, too.

It was your typical "kitsch" store, and there were plenty of little TV/DVD combo players running loops of product demos. (shouldn't that be "As Seen on DVD Player"?) Victor wasn't working this morning, but we had a very pleasant lady in there.

As Seraphim browsed the store, I quickly got diverted by the little 'museum' of old ASOTV products from the '70s and '80s, all displayed on a long shelf near the ceiling.

I resisted the temptation to do my imitation of the fast-talking leather-lung'd K-Tel announcer from the commercials of old. (besides, SCTV's Dave Thomas did it much better).

But wait ...

There was a little corridor connecting the main ASOTV store and a convenience store (no, the gasoline wasn't branded "As Seen On TV®" - don't I wish it were, because then I could "order one gallon and they'd double my order" .... no, it was just plain ol' garden-variety "Shell")

Well, in that corridor was another flashback:
Both of the machines were unplugged, but the "Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga" combo to the left was working. Talmadge Gleck is always up for a nice game of Galaga; after my pocket was one quarter-dollar lighter, the oh-so-familiar fanfare filled the building, and I started to play.... Seraphim soon came over to me and said, "I heard the music and thought 'Oh geez, Tal found the Galaga!'")

The machine was placed in a weird position, so I had to play it from a 45-degree angle, which of course affected my (rusty) game. I made just 62,000 (high score was 69k and change) -- very sucky because I can usually make well into the 100,000s. ANYhoo, I wished "Space Invaders" worked, because that would've been fun. Haven't played that in ages. Ahhhh, high school memories.

Did I mention there was even a snack bar? You guessed it, it's called "As Seen On TV® Deli & Grill" Alas, we were a bit early for mealtime (it was about 9:30 when we got there). Besides, our gastric chambers were still processing the Truett Cathy vittles.

"Order one hot dog and we'll double it. We'll even use our old Veg-O-Matic to dice, slice and chop the pickle-relish! Oops, did one fall off? The 'Buttoneer' even reattaches fallen food bits, too!"

A couple more amusing items to share:

Does it come with a free bottle of Budweiser? No? Well, how about a can of Alpo?

Relax, Refuel, Refresh -- A Stuckey's stop keeps America going.

And nothing says "STUCKEY'S" like these puppies!

What the hell are THESE??

So. Did Seraphim find her coveted Buxton Bag?

No. They did not have those yet. #$%&!!!!!! (cue "losing horns" from The Price is Right)

But we did exit the building with:

One (1) "Vidalia Chop Wizard" (Sera was one-for-two): $19.95
One (1) "Dryer Max" lint cleaner (Will this work? We shall see!): $19.95
One (1) "Ped Egg" massager thingy (Seraphim says it works! And yes, her feetsies are quite smooth!): $12.99
One (1) "Mesh Dryer Bag" (to keep the shoesies from bouncing around in the dryer - see "will it work?" comment above): $6.99
One (1) "AS SEEN ON TV® Outlet store souvenir shot glass" (no fridge magnets, as we usually collect): $2.99

And, last but not least ....

Dammit, I had to have one. A "Mr. Mystery" invisible ink game book. Underneath my curmudgeonly exterior lays a child at heart. $3.49.

Total ... with 9.25% sales tax (at least Tennessee has no state income tax; what's Alabama's excuse??) .... $72.50.

Phew!

And we were on our way ... next stop: Cumberland Gap, Tenntuckyginia!

CONTINUED.....

22 February 2008

WV-08 DAY 1: Countin' Counties

Tal & Sera's Excellent 2008 West Virginia Adventure

DAY ONE - Friday, 15 February.
Destination: Knoxville, Tennessee.

We pulled out of our driveway at exactly 5:35 a.m., and headed north on Highway 21 through the foggy darkness. Our first stop was at the IHOP in Statesboro, which is now open 24/7 -- a nice change from when it used to open at the ungawdly hour of 7 AM. Sirius 118 "Radio Classics" was wrapping up a day-long tribute to Jack Benny's "39th" birthday, and after a good dose of Jack, Mary, Rochester, Don, Phil and Dennis, we had a vintage Bob Hope Show to listen to as we got into the 'Boro.

There's nothing like a good breakfast while traveling. I love it. And IHOP did not disappoint! By the time we finished, the sun returned from Europe and we continued on our merry way.

Seraphim had the bright idea of us listening to Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" as our trip began. Since I didn't have a copy of that record to my name, I did the next best thing: I lifted the song off our copy of Vacation and bumped it to a CD (Say, does anyone have the long out-of-print soundtrack?). Leaving Statesboro after breakfast, with daylight, was the perfect time to play it. It fit the mood, even though we were not driving a 'metallic pea' Wagon Queen Family Truckster™ ("You think you hate it now ... just wait'll you drive it!")

The route we took was a meandering journey, for a very important reason. In nearly 10 years of having Seraphim at my side, we'd traveled in 158 of Georgia's 159 counties together. That day started with us lacking one: Hancock. So I plotted a route that would finally conquer her.

We made it there at about 9:30 a.m., took pictures for the occasion, and continued on our trek. But were we through with counties? Hell, no! Now that we had Jawja all covered, our attention turned to South Carolina. We lacked three counties (Abbeville, Union, Saluda), plus three others (Oconee, Spartanburg, Cherokee) that I'd last visited in 1987 when returning from Washington D.C. with Gran Lera. I wanted to revisit those counties with Sera, to make them truly "count" (why do you think they're called COUNTies, anyway??). The route we'd be taking, both to and from, would take us closer to that goal.

159 out of 159: Seraphim and Talmadge have now traveled all of Georgia together!

Nothing could be finer...

Crossing the Savannah River east of Elberton, Ga., Georgia 72 became South Carolina 72 and we entered the small town of Calhoun Falls. Okay, cross Abbeville County off our list!

And since we were in South Carolina, that meant CHEAP GAS (in a manner of speaking). A small convenience store was asking $2.70/9, so we relieved 'em of some of their supply.

Any doubts as to what state we were in evaporated by a sign on the door:

If it weren't close to lunchtime, I would've relieved them of some of that supply, too! After paying for our petrol, I bought us a couple of scratch-offs (or, as my brother's ex-wife called 'em, "scratch-and-sniffs"). And we relieved the South Carolina Education Lottery of a $12 payout. Yee to the haw.

Skirting Nettie-land

The route I plotted for us was to take us back into Georgia for a northward run toward I-85, then back into S.C. to take in Oconee County. However, I decided on a diversion -- we stayed inside the Palmetto State, going northward on S.C. 81 and what turned out to be a nice, picturesque route.

Our stomachs were going "Rumble-rumble-rumble! Mutiny-mutiny-mutiny!" as the outskirts of Anderson greeted us. The city's dining options were limited to the usual, basic fast-food guano .... so we Had It Our Way. Both of us ordered a world-famous dish, Le Whopper a la Regal.

Leaving the Burger King parking lot, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I let out a "whoop!!", as Seraphim wondered just what in tarnation was going on. I addressed this discovery in a previous post, but I'll recap: South Carolina now has a new design for their state highway markers. And they shore are purty. I love the blue, really I do.

We left Anderson to the west on S.C. 24, and after crossing I-85, the sight I'd been waiting for finally greeted us: mountains!! And joining US-76 at Westminster gave us our first taste of curvy roads for this trip, plus Oconee for the South Carolina county tote board.

Back in Georgia we turned back northward on US-23/441 at the town of Clayton. Our next pit stop was in Rabun Gap. Bought a couple of scratch-off tickets at a small convenience store ... Seraphim busted on her ticket, but I rubbed off a $50 winner. Holy crap, this bodes well; now that North Carolina and Tennessee both have lotteries, we'll see if we can go 4-for-4.

The Pilot has turned on the Smoking sign

The Traveling Gleckfolk picked up I-40 near Waynesville, N.C. It was time for a bathroom break before tackling the Great Smoky Mountains. We were due in Knoxville at about suppertime, so we had just enough time for one more stop -- there was a Pilot station where we got onto the interstate, so that's where we went (my wife loves their coffee).

What I noticed about their bathrooms were the ashtrays in the stalls. Yeech!! (At least mine didn't have smoldering remains from a previous squatter; Sera, alas, got a healthy dose of Marlboro carcinogens as she did her business). Welcome to North Carolina......

I would've sat all broken-hearted, were it not from a personal message from Him, written in a celestial black Sharpie on the bathroom stall door in front of me: "SEE YOU SOON. LOVE, GOD." It even had a heart drawn beside His name. Seeing as how one of the most treacherous stretches of interstate loomed before us, I didn't know how to take that. A loving message from My Creator? Or an ugly premonition?

After our respective Necessary Visits, Seraphim poured a cup full of what she calls "Truckers' Coffee", and I found a 20-oz. bottle of The Grapefruit Nectar Of The Heavens (read: Squirt). That, and a couple of $2 North Carolina scratch-'em-offs, and we were out the door.

In the car, we rubbed 'em off. Success! Well, not as much as we had further south, but we cleared $5.00 from our $4.00 investment. Okay, I guess. Instead of redeeming at the Pilot, we chose to save 'em for our return journey, as the clock was beginning to catch up with us. We'd done enough "dawdling" for now.

Smoky-Dokey

With a "truckers' coffee" resting in the missus' cupholder, and a Squirt in mine, we tackled I-40. Now, most of you know that I love a good mountain road. Love it, I tell you. But this is a little different. It's a freeway, and we had to share it with a buttload of 18-wheelers going I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can.... in the right-hand lane, while I'm trying to pass 'em on the left. That stretch of interstate has what's a called a "Jersey barrier" separating the two roadways, and brother is that part of I-40 n-a-r-r-o-w. Concrete to the left of me, truckers to the right ... here I am, stuck in the middle with Seraphim.

There's a brief tunnel in the middle of the mountainous area (eastbound lanes have another tunnel). I was amused by a sign which read "TUNNEL AHEAD: REMOVE SUNGLASSES."

A dilemma, I'm certain, for Corey Hart.

We crossed into Tennessee, the first time I'd entered on I-40 from that side, compared with maybe hundreds of times entering the state at I-40's other entry point, Memphis. It's nearly 445 miles from there to the pyramid next to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge ... but the terrain made it feel like ten times that.

The exit for Cherokee Foothills Parkway told us we were out of the more rugged part of I-40 ... and from there it was mostly flat going into K-town. All told, a fun (if sometimes nerve-wracking) drive. I'd always wanted to drive through the Smoky Mountains, so that's one longtime "to-do" on my travel list crossed off.

Downtown Knoxville proved a challenge, as they're rebuilding the interstate from the ground up. More than once I felt like Dick Van Dyke sidestepping that ottoman. Crazy as that was, it sure as hell beat the "other" intro.

It was right at 6:20 when we arrived at Seraphim's high school friends' house, where they were grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. The supper was great and the company was even better. We were up late talking a storm ... but I was beginning to conk out by 11:30, so I called it a night. Sera did so soon after. We had another long, exciting day of driving ahead of us tomorrow!

CONTINUED

21 February 2008

Someone finally listened to Talmadge Gleck!

While passing through Anderson, S.C. on our "scenic route" toward the mountains last week, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It was a sign, and it had blue numbers and border, looking much different from the longtime - say it with me: "Borrrrr-innng!" - South Carolina highway shield.

I let out a "whoop!" "Could this BE?", I thought to myself (as Seraphim rolled her eyes and lamented her status as wife of a road geek). I wanted to check and make sure my eyes weren't playing palmetto tricks on me, but lunchtime traffic prevented such doubling of back. And hopes of seeing blue while driving back through on our way home last night proved nil.

After getting home last night, I Googled this mystery. Yup, South Carolina's DOT recently changed the state highway shield design! Buh-bye boring white square, and make way for:

It appears this is going to be a "by attrition" kind of thing where the new shields will replace old ones as they wear out, just as Mississippi handled their transition in the '70s (some old triangle shields remained well into the '80s; today, a small handful remain).

According to the press release, "Members of the SCDOT Commission agreed that the change is an improvement in identifying state roads. The addition of the state outline, state symbol and the spelling out of the state's name will clearly indicate to travelers that they are in South Carolina."

Very good reasoning. And a little color goes a long way, too.

I half-wonder if some SCDOT worker with a little influence happened upon my rant about a year ago regarding South Carolina's state signage? Who knows. This even incorporates the state flag element, just as my own suggestion did.

I like the new design. A lot. Now if West Virginia would only do something about their own dull as dishwater state shields, we'll be batting .1000!

Good work, S.C. A lifetime supply of boiled peanuts should go to the person responsible. (And if anybody wants to take on the task of defacing the old shields so we'll get more blue signs quicker, say the word and I'll buy the Krylon, heh heh. Just kidding. I think.)

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "I like" Gleck

14 February 2008

Wild and Wonderful times await!

Tomorrow (Friday) marks the beginning of our "Anniversary Trip", and we're destined for what has become our 'vacation spot': West Virginia. Just like last year, we have a cabin lined up in Mount Nebo (although in a different place).

We're taking the 'scenic' route up there, and the first night will be spent in Knox-veeeeeeel, Tennessee (R.I.P. Rev. J. Bazzel Mull), with a couple of Seraphim's old friends from high school. That promises to be fun. From Knoxville, we plan on taking another scenic route via the Cumberland Gap tunnel up toward Mount Nebo, hopefully arriving about suppertime on Saturday.

I doubt we'll have internet access (isn't that part of the whole point of a mountain cabin, anyway??), but if we do, you'll hear from us. Otherwise, look for a 'trip review' after we get home (Wednesday night).

The mountains of West Virginia are calling .... and we're ready to answer.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Hittin' the road" Gleck

05 February 2008

Bottoms up, Effingham!

With all but one precinct (Tiger Ridge?) reporting, it appears that "wet" has carried the day!

Effingham County
YES: 59%
NO: 39%

And there were also two separate referendums for residents of Rincon and Springfield. We actually had to vote at two different places tonight: Our regular polling place - Rincon Baptist Temple - for the primary and Effingham County vote (both of us went Obama and "wet"), and we had to high-tail it to the Rincon Community Center for the city vote, where it felt like a time-warp: we cast our lot on old-school voting machines. Man, I haven't used one of those things since the '80s, when I was living in Arkansas!

Wet won in both places ....

Rincon:
YES = 911
NO = 380

Springfield:
YES = 160
NO = 102

That's right, boys and girls, no more "wine margaritas" for El Real!

Now then, when are we gonna get us sum-uh-dem "full-service restaurants"??!!

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Always Vote Early and Often" Gleck