04 March 2008

WV-08 DAY 6: Comin' home

Tal & Sera's Excellent West Virginia Adventure

DAY SIX - Wednesday, 20 February.
Destination: Back home in Effingham County, Georgia.

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
--Isaac Newton's Third Law

Just before the start of a vacation trip, there's an initial feeling in the morning, a massive euphoria washing over one as they realize: "Today we start our vacation!" All the excitement, all the anticipation, the preparation and planning build up to the elation of waking up on departure morning.

Well, for each morning like that comes waking up on the other departure day, the one when vacation is over and the long drive home awaits us. Typically it's a feeling of malaise, the beginning of what could be called a post partum of sorts. After the excitement and anticipation of vacation time, then quicker than we wish, it's all over. Back on your heads.

One thing that made it hard was leaving 25 degree weather with two inches of snow on the ground (and falling heavily). We left the cabin at about 10:00, taking US-19 to Beckley, then the turnpike (I-77) south out of WV and into Virginia, then North Carolina. I-77 ends in Columbia, S.C., but this time we'd be taking a small detour in order to rack up more counties in South Carolina. More on that below.

It was snowing like all get-out along US-19, although it began to taper off south of Beckley. It was cool seeing the ski slopes at Flat Top all nice and white, with the ski lifts operating at full capacity.

The white stuff disappeared quickly after we left West Virginia. Snow gave way to wind, big time wind when we got to Wytheville (a big watering hole at the point where Interstates 77 and 81 intersect). I stopped at the first exit to get gas at a Kangaroo station, where it was selling for $2.93/9. Here the wind was stiff; we're talking gusts of up to 35-40 MPH. Almost blew the cap clear off my head and back into West Virginia!

I redeemed our $2.00 Virginia scratch-off ticket, and bought us another one. Busted. Damn.

It was about lunchtime and we were getting hungry. A detour off the interstate into Wytheville was made in order to find us some lunch.

Our options, as you probably guessed, were limited mostly to the usual fast-food suspects. We chose Wendy's, where they just so happened to have wi-fi access. Now offering wireless internet in places like Wendy's, Mickey D's or (as nearly all of 'em do now) Krystal strikes me as risky. Not for the access itself, but in trying to eat and navigate your laptop at the same time. Generally, the food (especially Krystal) is greasier than a gas station's garage. Do you want all of that smudge on your notebook??!!

Well, somehow we managed to check our e-mail without the laptop looking like it lost a fight with Fonzie's hair.

As we ate, I saw the price sign of the Go-Mart across the street increase from $2.89/9 to $2.95/9. Well, crap. Good thing I already filled up.

All out of eye candy...

Filled with Dave Thomas' culinary legacy, we reentered Interstate 77 for the last portion of Appalachia. The eastern edge of the mountains cross from North Carolina into Virginia right at the spot I-77 does. We're talking serious downhill grades, complete with "runaway ramps" for those truckers who haven't yet mastered the art of mountain driving. This is one of my favorite parts of interstate (especially driving northward!!), as the panoramic view toward the southeast is indescribable.

And literally at the North Carolina state line, you're out of the mountains and into a more 'rolling hills' kind of terrain.

I-77 through N.C. is about as exciting as Ben Stein giving a lecture on the history of dust bunnies. But we took a small detour to avoid the muck of Charlotte ... we meandered our way to I-85 at Gastonia, where we visited a convenience store to redeem those N.C. scratch-offs. Busted! Lady luck had left the building.

Meanwhile, there were a couple of guys trying to bum money off of people (an increasingly common sight at gas stations these days) ... this guy asked us, "Can you help me get to Charlotte?" I resisted the temptation of saying: A) "Yeah, I-85 north, the onramp is to your left ... you'll be there in no time.", B) "Sure, see the luggage rack up there? Climb up and hold on!!" or C) "You've spent all your paycheck on lotto tickets, beer or cigarettes (or all three), and you're taking me for a sucker."

Nothing Could Be Finer, part 2

South Carolina was our next state. Cherokee County was last visited in 1987, but now I've traveled it with my wife. At Gaffney we got off the interstate to head southward on S.C. 150, just in time for a good episode of "Jack Benny" on Sirius 118 Radio Classics. We entered the extreme southeastern portion of Spartanburg County (another one last seen 21 years ago) before adding Union County to the S.C. county tote board.

With Union conquered, that leaves us with just one county out of 46 we've yet to visit, either on our own or together: Saluda. Originally we were going to take that one in (going due south toward Georgia on US-321 instead of the slightly-longer-but-quicker I-26/I-95 route), but we were both ready to get home. Let's save Saluda for another time .... heeeey, a nice excuse for a future visit to the upstate (we are way overdue for a weekend in Nettie-land, after all).

Another reason for a weekend up that way was the giant Disney outlet store we saw near Union, S.C.; Seraphim was beginning to drool.

Suppertime found us in the environs of Columbia. And we all know what that means: mustard barbecue. Instead of the original "Piggy Park" location of Maurice's, we tried the one near I-26 in the bedroom town of Irmo. This one, alas, wasn't as good ... the 'cue had very little sauce on it (yeah, I KNOW you can add it from the bottle on the table, but it's much better when it's prepared with the sauce already mixed in). Plus, the bun was overtoasted.

Eh, you can't win 'em all. There's always next time (and a lesson therein: Piggy Park never fails to please!)

Anglo-Afro-Cajun-American??? Or: "Graveyard convenience store" is as high as you're gonna get on your career ladder.

Gas in the upstate was in the low $2.80s, but was creeping up as we got closer to Columbia. And, from a Savannah perspective, gas in Cola-town is dirt-cheap! I thought we'd better go ahead and fill up before we entered Colonial/Enmark monopoly territory.

The prices were fluctuating between $2.89 and $3.09 in the Columbia area, but we found an exit with good prices near Orangeburg along I-26. On the left was a Pilot station with $2.95/9 ... and on the right was a "Cricket" store advertising $2.91/9 gas. Okay, Cricket it is.

Or maybe not. Two other people at the pumps were complaining of slow dispensing. Plus, the card swiper at the pump didn't work. Welllll, crap. I went inside to see what was going on, and I was greeted by a form of humanity I won't soon forget (much as I wish I could).

This woman was a walking PSA against the dangers of inbreeding. Actually, I think she was the love child of a manage-a-trois between a black man, a white woman and a Cajun of unspecified gender. I swear to gawd, she talked in a south Louisiana dialect of ebonics. I didn't see the inside of her mouth, but I suspect she was more than a few teeth down.

Her response to me was something like, "Card thing be not working, we be outta gas. You be have to try da Pilot over dere baby."

Ever see the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy? Sometimes I wonder if we aren't already there......

Holy crap on a swiszle stick. Over to Pilot we went. At least the gas started with a 2, so it could've been worse. Seraphim -- surprise, surprise -- made herself a "Trucker's Coffee" and I drew myself a "Fountain Dew."

And that, my friends, was our last stop on Our Excellent West Virginia Adventure. The rest of the trip ... I-26 to I-95 and back into Georgia ... was same-ol'-same-ol'. We arrived back home (to the sight of $3.14/9 gasoline) at about 9:30.

Crunchin' dem numbers......

CHEAPEST GAS: $2.70/9 in Fort Calhoun, S.C.
HIGHEST GAS SEEN: $3.29/9 at the Exxon stations along the WV Turnpike Wednesday.
HIGHEST GAS PAID: $3.09/9 in Summersville, WV (later that day it went up to $3.19/9)

It was a fun trip. Too fun and too short, as usual.

But plenty of memories created to live on until our next trip to God's Country......

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Mountaineer at heart" Gleck

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