On the Road Pt. 3

After a day spent on the edge of Virginia’s storied Atlantic coast, Megan and I headed inland for the arbitrary terminus of Gatlinburg, Tenesssee and the Great Smoky Mountains. Exiting the coast through Norfolk, we passed by Naval shipyards with soaring cranes and massive hulls slowly coming together, and on through Portsmouth in a vaguely southeast direction until we were on the dark night road towards North Carolina.

At this point in the trip, we were headed into country that I had never visited before and was completely unfamiliar with. I was glad that our particular route was almost completely on unlit, two lane highways, for it gave us the opportunity to stop at random intervals along the way and gaze up at stars. Since we were driving overnight, we made it a point to stock up on Red Bulls and have a solid playlist that treaded eventually, and wonderfully, toward an emo mix that brought forth tales of angst ridden high school days gone by. I would have never expected Megan Rose to have loved The Used, just like me!  They were my first real concert that I remember going to at age 15 or so, back at Bogart’s in Cincinnati.

It turned out that our reliving of emo glory days and Tuarine-laced beverages could only get us so far into the night, and by 3 or 4am it was clear that we needed to stop for rest. Megan had convinced me that sleeping in the car would be OK, so I pulled off a random exit somewhere along I-40 and soon ended up in the front yard of an under construction house on Bee Tree Road in rustic Silver Creek, NC.

Needless to say, an hour and a half of sweaty, upright sleep in the driver’s seat of a late model Pontiac is not the ideal format. Half dreaming and half awake with a steering wheel all up in my face, I was shot awake by the headlights of a white van pulling up in front of the newly constructed house. My heart was racing and I awoke Megan because I was so freaked out by the prospect of some North Carolinan coming up to investigate and tap on our window with his knife, gun, pitchfork or what have you.

Megan, to this day, insists that I hallucinated that van, but she definitely did see with me a pair of dogs that came up to the car shortly thereafter and started sniffing around.  That’s when we knew something was up with our parking spot. I was in such a rush to get Gilda to the safety of the paved road that as I backed out and pulled off the lot, I failed to notice a ditch running parallel to the road.  The soft thud of our front tires sinking into that viscous southern mud was so defeating and disheartening. We tried a number of items for traction, including cardboard and some 2×4 planks, but those wheels just kept spinning and the undercarriage had bottomed out. We were stuck.

What else to do when waiting for AAA to arrive but to explore your surroundings, and we were happy to find that the nearly new house was unlocked, at which point our sleepy sojourn in Silver Creek became an episode of our favorite HGTV show, House Hunters. As the pictures can attest, we turned a potentially downer situation into a fun excuse to photograph each other all over this brand new house.

Once the car had been pulled from the mud by a reticent man in a fluorescent jumpsuit, we were back on the road and soon crossed into Tennessee, climbing steadily upwards into the pristine green mountains of lower Appalachia. After an hourlong nap on a random roadside blacktop just outside of town, we pointed Gilda towards a pancake house in the touristy Smoky Mountain “resort town” of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I had heard stories of Gatlinburg a lot growing up in Cincinnati, but this was my first time seeing the place. After loading up on breakfast food and freshening in the bathroom, we promptly drove midway up one of the passes and stopped for the afternoon at a series of rocky, wide runs of a cool mountain creek. After a two hour nap to the lulling sound of water churning over and throughout stones, we ventured around on the rocks in swimsuit and proceeded to shampoo our hair and, in my case, body hair while we had the tubs of creek water conveniently surrounding us. Predictably, an impromptu photo shoot ensued with Megan’s phone, for we can never resist an opportunity to be as vain as possible.

Feeling all refreshed and clean and nature-y, it was time to make the final leg of our journey to Atlanta, which required passing over and down the other end of the Smokies and into the Georgia basin. The most remarkable thing that happened in this last leg was rain and a faulty windshield wiper blade, which Megan bravely and repeatedly attempted to fix while underway at highway speeds.

By nightfall, we were exploring our new home here in Midtown, Atlanta. That was two weeks ago, and I’ve already got a lot to say about my newly adopted city, so stay tuned!

-MJC

On the Road Pt. 2

I love the ocean. As a native of the landlocked midwest, I have truly come to appreciate the briny blue sea in my five years living on the east coast. There is something inherently calming about such a vast and constantly fluctuating surface of water stretching as far as the eye can see, reflecting back a million points of light.

Knowing that we were moving significantly inland for the summer, Megan and I made it a point to stop at a beach along our journey down to Atlanta. Looking at a map of the Mid-atlantic coast, our eyes were inexplicably drawn to the landmass that most blatantly reaches into the Atlantic ocean, Virginia Beach.  It took us about four hours of driving along scenic highways to reach the beach, and it was well worth the trip. Our excitement steadily mounted as we sat baking inside the car, rushing closer to the ocean waters that we knew would be significantly warmer than the icy North Atlantic to which we were accustomed. Before we had any sight of water, we travelled through a series of long tunnels as a final tease before spotting the serene blue surface of the Chesapeake and exponentially increasing the scale of our surroundings in a moment’s time. A long concrete bridge is leading us over an expansive sheet of water, with massive Navy ships docked in the distance and the steady sounds and sights of fighter jets overhead.

Compared to New England, the shores at Virginia Beach are much more densely populated by high rise hotels and condominiums that you have to traverse between in order to reach the pristine sands and sloshing tides. After sitting sweatily in the car for almost a day’s time, stripping to our swimsuits and diving head first into the cool saltwater breakers felt amazing. Spending as much time as possible in the water, we let the swells lift us off the sandy sea floor and roll our bodies around in frothy splendor, only breaking for a quick bite to eat on the shore.

We spent a solid three or so hours between the sandy shores and the water, until a huge cloud rolled in and the thunder started clapping.  At the first sign of thunderstorm, the lifeguards’ whistles sounded and the beaches had to be emptied.  Our spirits had been lifted by the beach enough that we decided to drive the next and longest leg of our journey overnight, a good nine hours diagonally across North Carolina towards Tennessee.  After eating dinner at a seafood restaurant right next to where Gilda had been parked all day, we took a quick pit stop at Borders for Wi-Fi and reading materials and then pointed the car west towards the great unfolding expanses of the American South.

Next up, Part 3: Virginia Beach to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

-MJC

On the Road Pt. 1

I borrowed the title of this post from Jack Kerouac’s famed beat novel, On the Road, which I just this morning finished reading.  Considering all the trips that protagonist Sal Paradise and his best friend Dean Moriarty make throughout the story, It was a timely read.  Megan Rose and I made our very own pilgrimage recently, relocating to Atlanta from Boston with no particular plan besides a sublet and a summer of fun in a new city. Here’s my Kerouac-ian take on our journey:

Part One: Boston to Washington D.C.

The day we left Boston, in the immediate wake of Joan & Alex Cooper’s wedding, there was a haze of forest fire smoke enveloping Boston and rendering its comforting skyline nearly incomprehensible from afar.  I hastily finished packing up my room at 121, and stuffed all of my Atlanta-bound belongings into the back of Gilda. After a night spent in Rehoboth, Megan’s hometown, we rearranged all of our stuff in the back of the Grand Am (my deconstructed bike fit!) and took off for Washington D.C. at 8am on Tuesday, June 1st.

Inching towards the GW Bridge

Since Megan didn’t sleep the night before, I agreed to drive the first leg of the journey and let her nap in the front seat. Our journey along I-95 through Rhode Island and Connecticut was pretty unremarkable, considering how many times we had traversed that route between Boston and NYC.  Around noontime, we descended upon the New York City area at the behest of Joyce, our navigator (aka Megan’s Droid Phone), and spent a good hour baking in the misery of bumper to bumper traffic waiting to cross the George Washington Bridge. At one point, we passed underneath the bowels of Upper Manhattan, literally right underneath a superblock apartment building!

Headed underneath the super block apartment tower

Passing through that underground mess of steel and concrete gives you the sense that you’re descending into the bowels of a true megalopolis.  Once we got through the mess of NYC, we were back on the open highway, cruising down the New Jersey Turnpike towards Philadelphia.  Up until this point, Gilda’s A/C had been on the fritz, just blowing warmish air into the already hot cabin of the car. Although I initially objected to a freon-refill pit stop, Megan was desperate for some cool air. After driving between two auto service shops in Brunswick, New Jersey, we reached the fabled Pep Boys and demanded a refill of our Freon!

Upon paying for the freon and labor, the Pep Boy who was helping us told us that the A/C system didn’t take the freon and that we were out of luck, but had to pay anyways.  Dejected, we returned to the Grand Am as sweaty as ever, only to discover that the A/C was, in fact, blowing frigid air!  After being set up for disappointment, we were near ecstatic that we could now travel in climate controlled comfort for the rest of our journey.

Although we had originally planned a brief stop in Philadelphia, our pit stop in Jersey left us with only enough daylight to make it to Washington D.C.  We made great time between Brunswick and our destination, passing through Delaware briefly and then onto Maryland.  All three states (NJ, DE, MD) charged multiple tolls to pass along their interstates, but the state of the roadways was evidence to me that an occasional fee was worth it.  In comparison to the disgusting, litter-strewn shoulders of New England and New York highways, the passage through Maryland towards D.C. was delightfully bucolic and billboard-free.

We arrived in D.C. and parked Gilda at the exact time I had predicted we would arrive, 7pm. We stayed with my dear friend from Cincinnati’s May Festival Youth Chorus, Katie, and her roommate Rachel in their beautiful Capitol Hill apartment. It was so good to see Katie again after four years, and I am very proud of how much she has accomplished since graduating from Miami University. She and Rachel are both working for U.S. Representatives from Florida and Texas, respectively.  Talking with Katie about her work on important issues, particularly dealing with the Gulf Oil spill (her boss Ginny Brown-Waite’s district is on Gulf waters) left me so impressed with her professionalism and grown-up demeanor.

After a dinner at Tune Inn we took a stroll around the Capitol grounds, which were surprisingly deserted for a warm summer night. The highlight of this evening sojourn was seeing the Jonas Brothers exiting the Library of Congress and getting whisked away in a black on black Suburban.  I couldn’t name a JoBro song if my life depended on it, yet I still recognized them from afar. I definitely read too many gossip blogs.

 

 

The next morning we were up early with Katie and Rachel and out the door with them on their way to work.  I originally wanted to do lots of sightseeing around the National Mall, but I had already visited all the major tourist stops in my two childhood trips to D.C. and the lure of the beach was irresistible to me and Megan.  Nevertheless, we did linger for a few touristy shots around the Capitol Building and in front of the Smithsonian’s latest addition, the National Museum of the American Indian.

Next up, Part 2: Virginia Beach, North Carolina

-MJC