My sentimental Journey Part 2
Day 10: Sunday, Savannah, GA: Michele took a tour of the city while I stayed with the camper and did maintenance work. I cut a larger hole for the new carbon monoxide detector. In a Siskiyou Woodcraft Guild Class on whittling and carving Will Sears said that anything that can be built with wood can be built with nothing more than a good knife. He inspired me to open the hole for the CO detector with my Swiss Army knife. I have all sorts of tools at home I might have used, but on the road, not so much. Well, the knife and a little elbow grease worked. I stretched my horizon and it felt good. Then I went online and posted the first part of the trip on my blog. That felt good, too, but I felt a little self conscious. I have never shared my journals with anyone, now with everyone! This trip is changing me. Not in a new direction but more in the same direction,. I am becoming more at peace. I feel very comfortable with the here and now. While driving down the highway I don’t see “trees.” I see that tree and that one and that one. Each tree is different and I see that now. And I love it. And hanging out in the camper, working on the CO monitor or writing this blog, I love that too. I am more comfortable than I can ever remember. We ate in a restaurant by the river called, of all things, “River House.” The food was OK but I thought it was overpriced. Michele got the view out the window but I got to see the seagulls in a reflection from the glass case housing a 1903 sailing ship replica. We both had very different days but both were very satisfying.
Day 11: Monday, Savannah, GA to Jacksonville, FL: On our trip to the Antarctic in December and January we ran into a couple Michele had met in Thailand two years ago. Lu and Ted were from Jacksonville and were on the cruise with their next door neighbors, Ann and Robert. We spent a lot of time with them on the cruise and enjoyed their company. When I called, Ted invited us to stay with them. When we arrived they had a wonderful layout of Hors D’oeuvres and they took us to dinner by the Jacksonville Harbor. The dinner and company were great, the view outstanding. Jacksonville has many bridges and we saw a lot of them, including a railroad draw bridge that we watched go up. Then Michele and Lu played Rumicubs while Ted and I shared Picture files from our Antarctic trip. Ted and Lu are active in the Tea Party. We have many different views on politics and economics but seem to share a mutual affection and respect for one another. I hope they enjoyed our company as much as we enjoyed theirs.
Day 12: Tuesday, Jacksonville, FL to Charleston, SC: On the way to Charleston we passed a billboard that simply read “Who is John Galt?” The phrase “Who is John Galt?” is repeated in “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. Rand was a rugged individualist. She was born in Russia and saw the damage Russian communism did. She was ardent about personal responsibility and despised weakness. She favored limited government and felt that government regulation interfered with the free flow of business. I imagine a lot of Tea Party people agree with Rand and that is probably who sponsored the billboard. Former FED Chair, Alan Greenspan, was a fan of Ayn Rand. Nicholas Johnson, a member of the Federal Communications Commission under President Johnson (no relation) said in one of his books something to the effect of “For a system to work it must be capable of being carried out by self-serving men of average intelligence. To dream of systems to be implemented by angels is futile.” (I am sure I am not as eloquent as Johnson but I hope you get the drift.) I don’t think free market fans like Ayn Rand have an answer for people like Bernie Madoff and the guys who put together the mortgage bundling fiasco that led to this last recession. Just like Karl Marx didn’t have an answer to Stalin or Pol Pot. “To each according to his needs and from each according to his ability” only works if everybody plays fair. Free market capitalism only works if everybody plays fair. Unfortunately, we can’t trust everyone to play fair without some oversight. Well, enough of my philosophical ramblings, back to the trip to Charleston.
We first went to the visitors’ center where I was not allowed to park in the regular parking lot and Michele collected info about Charleston and the available tours. They did not warn her of the tour we were about to take. The KOA was in Mt Pleasant. But the GPS did not recognize Mount Pleasant, so we entered the cross streets we found in the AAA directory, Rte 17 and I 526. Two choices came up that looked a lot the same to me. But there was no KOA 5 miles past I 526 on 17. A phone call got us on the right track. It’s “North 17,” not “South 17” and I 526 loops way out and around Charleston and intersects with 17 on both the north and south sides. Well, now it’s rush hour and on the way back into town we see the traffic we just missed on the way out. But, then, we get to the center of town and join the outgoing rush hour stop and go traffic jam! I didn’t time it but I suspect it cost us over an hour. On the plus side, it gave us extended views of the Cooper River Bridge. (By the way, in Charleston, “Cooper” is pronounced “cupper.”) The other plus wasn’t discovered until the next morning when I checked in the KOA office and found that they charged me $30 for the night. If I chose to stay another day the second day would cost $40! Late check-ins only pay $30. But, if you check in before the office closes at 6PM you pay $40. I checked out and said I might come back after their office closed that night. We did.
Day 13: Wednesday, Charleston, SC: Marvin was our tour guide. “Doin’ the Charleston” was the name of the tour. Marvin has been “doin’” it for 20 years. His tour company allows dogs on board. He doesn’t allow two year olds. He gave us a wonderful tour and explanation of old Charleston. At one point he leaned out the window to greet the mayor who called Marvin by name! The tour bus had a screen that showed the interiors of the mansions we passed and the historic pictures of places like Fort Sumter, which by the end of the “War” was a pile of rubble. Oh yeah, in Charleston, and, I guess, in the rest of the south “the War” refers to the Civil War, as if there were no other. After Marvin’s tour I put Lucy back in the truck and Michele and I had a delightful dinner at a French café called Rue de Jean. I thought the escargots were delicious. We’re told that in the south the three meals are breakfast, dinner and supper. Oh, I’m sorry, those last two are “dinah” and “suppa.” Well, our Dinah being French we had a very light suppa and did our laundry back at the camp ground.
Day 14: Thursday, Charleston, SC to Greensboro, NC: We started the day at Boone Hall Plantation. There was no mention of any relationship between this Boone family and the more popular one. At one point Boone Hall had 5000 acres tended by 900 slaves. It now has 700 acres and 40 employees. Many of the slave quarters still stand, a grim reminder of our less humane past. We stopped in Santee North Carolina for lunch at a Thai restaurant. I thought the food was good, Michele thought it was great. The proprietor spent the entire lunch talking to us. (We were the only customers there, the others left soon after we arrived,) He gave Michele some brochures about Thailand where he grew up. He told us of how he left Los Angeles to buy a restaurant in a town of 700 people!
Proof reading what I have written of this trip, I think I have been pretty positive. I saw the positive of getting lost in Charleston and wasn’t too upset when GPS, who I have named “Gorge Paul Snodgrass,” took me the slow way through Reno. When I saw a bunch of trash by a beautiful road I thought of the David Wilcox song which turned a spilled can of paint on the kitchen floor into a work of art. “Leave it as it is!” But I can’t leave the south without noticing the Kudzu! We saw it in Georgia, Florida, both Carolinas and in Virginia. It is dormant now. It looks like a brown blanket over fields, bushes and trees. I had heard of it and it is about as bad as I expected. And I don’t like it. It could be out of a poor Science Fiction movie, but it is real, not fiction.
Day 15: Friday: Greensboro, NC to Greenwood, VA: We stayed in a Ramada last night. It was a pleasant change from the camper. There was room to move about. We got to Monticello at about 2 PM. The house tour started at 2:40. I have always admired Thomas Jefferson, the Renaissance man, farmer, philosopher, politician, statesman, scientist and tinkerer. I had faulted him for his inconsistency on slavery and his poor money management that left him practically broke at the end of his life. At the end of our tour I had more respect and understanding of the man. Sure he wrote “all men are created equal” and he owned slaves. I suspect he didn’t free his slaves because the times being what they were his slaves might have fared worse if they had been freed into a slave state. His money lasted through his life even if he did have to sell off his library and other things to make ends meet. But he supported a lot of relatives and friends in a fine manner right until he died and even after.
Michele keeps asking me how I am. She knows of the peripheral neuropathy (PN) that has bothered my feet since my chemotherapy last year. It was January, 1973, when I coined the expression “I don’t let my pain interfere with my pleasure. “ I first said it when someone asked me if I was crazy to go skiing in such poor weather. Later in the day, after getting a bunch of stitches in my head after falling of my skis, I said it again as I headed out onto the slopes again. Several days into this trip my gout returned and I got an infection of some sort in my nose. Michele noticed the nose and suggested I treat it with an antibiotic. It hasn’t gotten worse, but it hasn’t gotten better. It doesn’t bother me much. The gout hurts like hell. Ibuprophen seems to help. The PN doesn’t respond to anything I have tried so far. Sometimes it is worse other times it is better, but it always is uncomfortable and frequently painful. I don’t let my pain interfere with my pleasure and my new aphorism is “Pain is God’s way of reminding us that we are still alive.”
Trees: Trees keep coming up as a subject of this trip. Not only have I discovered that there are no two trees alike, I have also discovered that there are many colors to the trees. They are grey, brown, black, red, many hues of green, pink, white and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. There are Oaks that turn brown in autumn but save their leaves until spring. There are Oaks that keep their green leaves all year, others shed their leaves in fall. The blossoming trees are spherical, conical or oval, white, pink, yellow or red. By the side of the road we frequently see Daffodils. At Monticello we saw Tulips and violets and Vinca in bloom. We’ve seen Azaleas, Flowering Quince, Forsythia and camellias. It has been a wonderful colorful, exciting, informative and spiritual trip.
In a way, today is the first sentimental part of the trip for me. I first visited Monticello in February, 1973. I had been transferred to Middletown, VA in October, 1972. I went from a busy social environment to stark loneliness. I had been miserable for three and a half months. I took a trip to Monticello by myself. I decided that day that there would be no more lonely weekends. I went home to Winchester that night to a party and took up with a new girl friend and was not lonely again for a year. Some lessons need to be learned and learned and learned before they sink in. I hadn’t planned on going to Monticello on this trip, my sentimental journey, but it sure fit into the scheme of the trip.
Day 16: Saturday: Greenwood, VA to Washington, DC via Middletown and Winchester, VA: Our campsite was in the Misty Mountain Campground resort. It was a beautiful setting with a babbling brook next to us, a large field with horseshoes and volleyball and basketball, and a small pond. We left early to get to Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is bumper to bumper during the fall color season. Today it was almost deserted. We pulled off the road many times to enjoy the spectacular views with different colors. We saw many deer, lucky for us, Lucy only saw one. We had dinner (Dinah) at the Wayside Inn in Middletown. The Wayside Inn has been an Inn continuously since the 1790’s. It would never meet today’s building codes, ceilings too low. Their specialty is Peanut Soup. I’ve never had it anywhere else. I worked in Middletown in 1972-73 for Western Union. The building I managed in now run by AT&T and it has two microwave towers instead of the one I managed. We got to the parking lot, but not inside. It looked pretty buttoned up. They no longer have the guard shack we used to have. From Middletown we went to Winchester where I had lived. I had bought a mobile home and parked it on Short Street. I didn’t recognize anything in Winchester. It has grown huge. The area where my mobile home had been looks pretty run down. I wouldn’t want to live there now! The Back Room where we used to hang out is gone. I wanted to find an old friend, Justus Russell. As we drove up from Middletown I noticed an Elks Lodge just off the freeway. We found our way back to it and went inside. It was pretty busy for a Saturday afternoon. I asked a few people if they knew Russ, or Junior, or JR. One guy said he thought he had died, but wasn’t sure. No one else even had a hint. They didn’t recognize Patty or Sissie or Janet Kline either. And so I gave up. I asked George, the GPS, to take us to our hotel on New York Avenue in Washington. I didn’t recognize any of the roads from when I lived here. They were wide and fast and crowded. New and big houses were all over the countryside. Then George took us on a toll road past Dulles Airport, didn’t even warn us that it would cost $5.65! When I lived in the DC area in the 60’s Dulles airport was way out in the country. There was nothing around it. When they built the Beltway it was considered too far out in the country. Not now! There are high rises by Dulles! We passed some construction that narrowed the road way too much for a wide camper. Driving was stressing. Soon after we crossed into DC we went into a tunnel and George squeaked and said he had lost satellite contact. When we came out of the tunnel he was confused. He told us to turn left, then right and finally I realized we were on New York Ave and headed for our hotel. Then George got his bearings and told us we had arrived at our destination. It was a thrill to drive past Georgetown and see how big it has gotten. I can’t wait to visit.
My sentimental journey to Middletown raised some questions. What was I thinking when I bought that trailer? I was only planning to be in Middletown 2 to 4 years. Buying real estate would have been foolish, but buying a mobile home was just plain stupid! And why has it taken me thirty eight years to see that? I could have, I should have, rented! I was lucky to find a fool to buy it from me for the payments. I didn’t lose as much as I could have.
Back to trees: I have noticed along the highways we have travelled a strange shrub, can’t call it a tree, can’t call it a bush. As I recall, in summer it has large green leaves. Late summer through winter it has what I guess is a fruit that is dark red, maroon maybe, shaped sort of like a small ear of corn, without the husk, on the end of its stalks. It never grows more than 15 feet high and doesn’t stand straight. I remember seeing them along the rail road tracks between New York and Port Chester when I was going to school. I’ve never seen them is anyone’s garden.
Day 17: Sunday: Washington, DC: There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, but not the roads, when we woke. It was gone by the time we had our breakfast. Yesterday I finally got to talk to a person at the kennel I wanted to send Lucy to. She was not cooperative. Lucy won’t be going there. Other dog hotels required letters from vets about vaccination and health. I didn’t get one from our vet before we left. A big oooppss! So I found on-line a vet/doggie day care on P Street who was open on Sunday. We asked George to show us the way. We found Sunday-only parking less than two blocks away! The vet doesn’t do the boarding but sends the dogs into the Maryland countryside to a doggie resort. Bur the resort wants proof of health and vaccinations. Lucy is due for vaccinations in June anyway so we asked if the vet could take care of it for us. A half hour later we had an appointment. After Lucy was given her shots and a thorough checkup and a clean bill of health and I was given a bill for about three times as much as it would have cost me at home we were on our way to Georgetown. The Traffic! The traffic was terrific. Fortunately I had left the camper at the hotel, so it could have been worse. (But, not much.) I didn’t even grit my teeth. I relaxed into enjoying the slow pace of sightseeing in a strange place. The street cars are gone, thought some of their tracks still abide. The “Old Europe” restaurant is still on Wisconsin Avenue but I didn’t see LOU-ROSE. Sugar’s drug store is now a café. Wooton’s is gone. The campus at Georgetown has grown! It is still recognizable but different. The old temporary buildings are gone. There are many new and big buildings. We went into Healy Hall and Lucy got her first and second ride on an elevator. She was shocked! The floor moved! When I went to Georgetown we used to meet at “The Tree.” Sometime after I left I remember a controversy about taking the tree down because it was old a diseased. To me, there should be a new small tree. But, no, it is big and looks old. It made me feel old. I asked some students if freshmen still get hazed. They asked “What’s that?” When I explained they said you could get arrested for that now. I showed Michele the stairs between Prospect and M Street that were featured in the movie, The Exorcist. Then we were off to see the Cherry Blossoms. I took a detour from George’s route to look at the street where I had lived in Arlington when I left college and got married. It was changed so I couldn’t recognize it. Lee Highway is four lanes. The railroad bridge that used to be there is gone. The green valley that made our apartment seem to be out in the country is filled with buildings. I think all the buildings where my friends and I had lived are gone. Then it was back on George’s route to the cherry trees. More traffic, more enjoyment of the slow pace. Then I saw a sign for disabled parking. I still have a disabled tag I got when I was so down from chemo. It expires next month. There were seven disabled parking places and only three were taken. The road they were on was blocked off for the construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. It was near the FDR memorial. What a pleasant surprise. The FDR memorial is large and has many of his quotes, many of which should inspire our leaders today. We got to walk right next to the Tidal Pool where the cherries bloom. The sun came out and the sky cleared and we both got pictures of a blue sky behind the Washington Monument reflected in the Tidal Pool.
Lucy was very nervous about approaching Fala.
It was a wonderful day. Earlier in the trip my aphorism had been “Here and now, boys,” from Huxley. Today I coined two new ones of my own. “Sentiment is highly overrated.” And “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.” Middletown, Winchester, Georgetown, Arlington are not the same places I remember. I’m not sure if there is any value in trying to go back to places that aren’t there anymore. This trip has been great. I have gotten so much out of it that I didn’t plan for or expect. Maybe it is more a journey of discovery than a sentimental journey. Maybe I’m discovering that I’m an old man trying to recapture his youth! Do I really want to go to Blue Bell, PA, Loyola School, Port Chester, Candlewood, Boston or Chicago? Do I even want to go to Bethesda or Potomac? Is the lesson from this trip “here and now, boys, here and now!?” Is it time let go of the past? Forget about old successes and defeats, old friends? Are friends you haven’t seen in forty years still friends?
When I was a boy there was a television program called “The Naked City” (I think). Its tag line was “There are seven million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” Are all seven million stories worth remembering? Is mine? Tonight the existential questions just keep coming. The answers don’t.