The following story is based on actual events, but has
been filtered through my leaky memory. Assuming that
events necessarily took place in the order described, or
that any dialogue herein is a verbatim quotation of
anything actually said, would be highly foolish.
Bearing this in mind, I present to you...
Road trips do strange things to the mind. No sooner had I escorted Eric the Red on his epic adventure across the northern United States on our trip back from Vancouver to Columbus, Ohio, when my thoughts turned to what the next trip could be. The experience of driving solo 2,700 miles in four days suggested that sharing some of the driving may be a good idea and thus the search for a collaborator was on. I knew Peter could be counted upon and sure enough, all it took was about thirty seconds of persuading and he was convinced that driving between dingy motels in a twenty four year old car, 200 miles away from the nearest automotive repair facility was the best way to spend a month of hard-earned holiday.
The West still beckoned and called. I thinks it's all those American road movies I've seen, with people blasting along lonely desert roads in Detroit steel testimonials to American freedom. Besides, given a choice, Eric much prefers a warmer climate, being even more reluctant to start on a cold morning than myself. Everyone and their dog has driven along US-66 in everything from a stretch limo to a bathtub on wheels pulled by toddler's tricycle -- and written a book about it -- so the search was on for something a little different. A couple of weeks unfocused surfing on the Internet suggested that US Highway 60 was an interesting trip. It still exists (unlike Route 66) and is of some historical significance -- although arguably not the same as US-66 which linked Chicago with the West Coast.
Then reality came knocking. Unfortunately, my occupation is not primarily that of travelling writer and photographer but that of Ph.D. student, which means that much to my disappointment, by university doesn't actually pay me to spend a month on the road, bumming around, and to then write something semi-coherent about my experiences. They'd rather have me spending a month in a small office, bumming around, and then write something semi-coherently about those experiences. So, our trip needed to be cut short. A month got trimmed to two weeks, which got trimmed to twelve days. The West was off and a new destination needed to be found. Freetrip-dot-com (amazingly enough still alive after the NASDAC genocide of the past four months) optimistically announced that driving to Atlanta in Georgia from Columbus would take nine hours along the interstate and from there, it was a mere ten hours drive to Key Largo. Hmm. South instead of West? Peter jumped at the idea of seeing the Keys, and thus, it was quickly decided one cold and blustery January morning that the three of us would welcome the spring in Key West.
I picked up Peter on a chilly Monday evening at Port Columbus. After having located his luggage which had been displaced by some rather over-enthusiastic baggage handlers, we made our way out to the parking lot where Eric was lingering. I introduced Peter to Eric. I introduced Eric to Peter. They eyed each other with mild suspicion at first, while coming to grips with the prospect of having to navigate something the size of a freight barge along six-lane US interstates and being wielded by someone new to both US traffic and 1977 Lincoln Continentals, respectively, but eventually seemed to resign themselves to their roles of responsible driver and well-mannered car without too much trouble.
We were scheduled to leave on Friday morning. Being the superlative host I am, I handed Peter a pair of car keys and a flat key, a map of Columbus, and a Rand McNally road atlas of the US and told him to amuse himself for three days. He took this with remarkable composure, while I worked frantically at getting my C++ and Java code to do what I had initially envisioned, as opposed to what I'd actually told it to do. In-between getting a transmission fluid change, an oil change, new air filter, PCV filter, replacing a coolant hose, and stocking up on various aerosol chemicals in pressurised canisters covered in health warnings, Peter explored the joys of driving in Columbus traffic and the delightful experience of what happens when your left foot slams down on the 10 inch wide brake pedal -- thinking it's going for the clutch: Your forehead makes rather sudden contact with the upper parts of the steering wheel. While I had taken the precaution of covering the wheel in leather padding in anticipation of this very effect, I'm not sure he fully appreciated my efforts. Anyone visiting Columbus will be able to see the remnants of our negotiating rush-hour traffic in the turning lane of Lane Ave going to SR-315 North. The tire squeals were worthy of any 1970's Hollywood car chase.
Friday arrived. I detest planning, apart from being absolutely abysmally poor at it, so my normal strategy for travelling is to have a vague idea of where to spend the next night and then set off in that general direction. Quite often I actually end up in the initially envisioned location, but it certainly is no guarantee. Fortunately, Peter's approach to travel is much like mine, or I suspect we wouldn't have survived the first twelve hours. For various reasons, our initial reason for going to Atlanta was no longer valid and so we found ourselves with no clear idea of where to go. I'd spoken to Tom A before departing and he suggested that we go down the Atlantic coast. Being a member of the Leica Users Group mailing list means grasping every opportunity to meet other LUGGERS, take over a restaurant, pile cameras on a table, and talk endlessly about Leica minutiae. I had very briefly met Tina Manley in Boston the previous autumn and had decided that my encounter with this talented, soft-spoken photographer had been much to brief, so Charlotte, North Carolina (NC) was on our itinerary. Tom suggested giving Roy Moss in Charleston, South Carolina (SC) a call. We had also met briefly in Boston, again, much too short, so I followed Tom's advice. Down the coast it was.
We drove due east out of Columbus on I-70 until we hit I-77, then turned south. Eastern Ohio is largely unimaginative. I think the Great Creator felt exhausted after New England and the Appalachian mountains and couldn't really muster any more creative effort until she got to the Rockies. We zoomed down I-77, into West Virginia, leaving Ohio behind. Mark, a native West Virginian and West Point graduate, used to work in the CSEL lab at Ohio State University when I first got there. I learnt from him that the correct, formal name for West Virginia is "West By God Virginia". He'll be delighted to know that I displayed the appropriate reverence upon entering his home state. WV eventually gave way to Virginia and with Virginia came hills and mountains. By this time, Peter had taken over the driving duties and I sat with my mouth gaping open at the splendour of the Appalachians as we drove through tunnels and over peaks and ridges.
I'd corresponded with both Tina and Roy via email and subsequently managed to loose both their telephone numbers prior to our departure. Fortunately, the most important parts of my work computer fit on a CD, so after hunting through 650 MB of information, I unearthed them in time to give both a call. Tina was preparing for a minor family emergency scheduled to take part over the weekend, so we decided we'd visit her on the way back north, but Roy -- being a retired Major General from the US Marine Corps -- was used to swift re-planning afoot and provided superlative directions -- a prerequisite when dealing with me -- with only a few hours notice.
We spent the first night just south of Columbia, SC. The US Interstate system was designed for people like me and Peter: every exit is preceded with large, informative signs detailing exactly which gas stations, restaurants, and motels are available at that exit, completely removing the necessity to make any advance reservations -- or even knowing where you're going to spend the night. Being complete news junkies we, upon entering the room, immediately turned on CNN and then promptly proceeded to fall asleep.
Columbia is about two hours north of Charleston, but being the early birds we are, we made it there just in time for an early lunch. Roy resides in Mt. Pleasant, which is connected to Charleston via a series of spectacular bridges and is indeed a pleasant community. Eric purred happily in the warmer weather of the South, while Peter and I gawked wide-eyed at palm trees and girls in summer dresses. We found Roy's house, navigated the tricky driveway, and were welcomed by his imposing statue, warm smile and firm handshake. Roy is a good bit over six feet tall and, trust me, Maj. Gen.s from the USMC do not slouch, retired or not!
Roy is the former editor of the Leica Historical Society of America's quarterly magazine, The Viewfinder. As such, he is supremely knowledgeable about all things Leica, having spent a number of years interacting with members and editing their articles. It is also a position which has enabled him to assemble a rather impressive selection of Leica cameras and lenses. I hesitate to call it a "collection", since that would suggest that Roy is a collector. His many superb photographs from Charleston in the Viewfinder (serving as encouragement to other members to submit their own pictures for publication) testify to the fact that he is first and foremost a photographer. In any case, Peter got to witness first hand the grip that Leica-fervour can have on young minds as I listened to Roy's stories while carefully fondling an absolutely mint, black-enamel M4 camera body. Reluctantly, I had to hand it back to Roy, much to the smirking satisfaction of my own M2 black-enamel repaint.
We had lunch at a nearby seafood restaurant. This necessitated negotiating Roy's driveway again, this time in reverse. This particular driveway is quirky, because one side of it is lined by a hedge, while the other meets the grassy lawn. However, the lawn side tapers ever so slightly, proving a perfect optical illusion that expertly directs you into the hedge. Roy demonstrated an admirably calm composure, presumably from years of dealing with raw recruits, as I happily charged a rear quarter panel of Eric straight into the hedge. A certain amount of wiggling later both we and the hedge escaped unharmed, although I'm not sure about the lawn.
Mt. Pleasant is home to a fishing community. The glorious sunshine that we had brought with us from Virginia (I always make a point of bringing good weather with me -- it just seems like a common courtesy) beckoned us to load our cameras with slow film and spend some time crawling around fishing boats and tackle huts. We pulled over, readied our cameras, and set forth. As I pulled out my lightmeter, Roy announced:
"Oh, it's about 1/500s at f/11 on 100 ASA. What're you shooting there, colour or black-and-white?"
"B&W. I'm currently using an Agfa movie stock, Agfapan AP-250," I replied.
"Well, one of my trips to Vancouver, Tom gave me a 400ft roll of the stuff. I bought it back to Columbus, but discovered that no daylight film loaders will take 400ft rolls, so you need to load it into cassettes by hand. As it happens, I don't have 6ft of light-proof space in my apartment, so on my last trip back to Vancouver, I brought the 400ft canister with me and loaded it in his darkroom instead. Then I brought the 80 rolls of film it resulted in back to Columbus and most of them currently sit in my freezer at home. I brought about thirty rolls for this trip."
"How do you process that?"
"I run it for 21 minutes in Rodinal 1:100. It's an outdated film -- of course, the only kind I shoot -- and the base fog is a bit much after being five years out of date and going through airport x-ray machines about seven times, but I just extend the printing exposure times a bit. Scanning's a challenge, through."
"Do you ever shoot colour?"
"Naw -- I only shoot one kind of film: free film. Tom's a great supplier of outdated film, someone gives it to him, and I bring it back to Columbus. I think I have two 200 feet of Pan F, 200 feet of FP-4, a 100ft roll of HP-5, a 150ft roll of old East German Orwo-27, a 100ft roll of Fujipan 100 Presto, and about five rolls of Verichrome Pan in 120, which I actually bought new. Oh, and I think there might be an outdated packet of fish fingers in there too. I just run everything in Rodinal 1:100 for around twenty minutes and it seems to work. Except the fish fingers."
"Rodinal is nice, but you get a lot of grain."
"Aah, but I'm a grain monster," I replied. "I've been toying with the idea of running the Orwo-27 in Rodinal 1:10 or in Multigrade paper developer 1:9 to get that harsh, gritty look."
Roy shook his head at my folly. I decided against telling him that my best picture was shot on 35-year-old outdated Kodak Plus-X.
Before our departure, I had lent Peter my Leica R6 SLR. He'd hunted around for his Chinon at home, but apparently not found it -- or so he claimed -- so I gingerly agreed to let him use the R6 while planning to do finger- strengthening exercises during the trip so I could pry it back from him upon his departure. In real life, I was secretly delighted, since that meant that I could not only use Peter's unfortunate state of deprivation as an excuse to bring the R6 and a 200mm Telyt-V lens, but it also practically guaranteed that I'd never have to carry them since I'd quickly delegated that particular honour to Peter himself. After all, I was carrying an M2, M6, 15mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm lenses myself, and while Eric would happily swallow that and more, my slender shoulders start to protest vociferously somewhere around that level.
(Peter still lives under the charmingly naive illusion that he will be able to resist buying a Leica, despite having used one, knowing me, having met Roy and Tina, a promise to be introduced to Tom A in the autumn in Sweden, and having taken the decision that lurking on the LUG would be a good idea. But then, he still hasn't developed the three rolls of slide film he shot with the R6, fondled an SL, or used a rangefinder yet... ;)
We thoroughly enjoyed Roy's company and were delighted when he suggested we meet the following day too. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the WWII vintage USS Yorktown carrier ship which serves as a floating museum in Charleston. Peter works as an officer in the Swedish Air Force while I (ostensibly) do research in collaborative work and information displays, so we spent uncommonly large amounts of time pouring over the radar displays and navigational equipment on display, much to the bewilderment of younger visitors who incessantly requested of their guardians that they be taken to the aircraft on the flight deck.
Once the museum closed, we made our way into downtown Charleston. It's a beautiful town and one which you can walk around. We parked Eric on a street corner where he immediately started attracting attention from bypassers ("No, no, my dear little Donald, don't look at the horrible gas-guzzler! Try to think of ecologically sound hybrid cars instead.") something he's quite used to these days. In fact, it's difficult to pull into a gas station and _not_ have someone ask "what year is that?" -- not to mention the wide, satisfied smile that spreads across the station owner's face as you place the pump handle in the fuel pipe. I'm tempted to file for tax relief for charitable support of Texas oil barons this year.
It had occurred to me that I'd lived for more than a year in the US Midwest, and never had BBQ ribs. This is a veritable staple food in the Midwest, much like grits in the South, although in my opinion a great deal tastier. We found a restaurant and local brewery called "The Smokehouse" located just off the Charleston market district and proceeded to sample the grilled produce. It turned out to be a splendid choice, doubly so, because they provided a large, white, paper table cloth and Crayola crayons at every table, so after a sumptuous meal, I let my fledgling artistic talents rip, much to the merriment of our waiter.
The following morning, we picked up Roy, carefully negotiated the driveway -- only slightly damaging the lawn (but avoided stripping any leaves off the hedge this time) -- and went in search of breakfast. Americans take breakfast seriously. In Sweden, a breakfast is considered to be a combination of a bowl of cereal, two sandwiches made from a careful balance of rye bread, low-fat cheese, and ecologically farmed ham, accompanied by a glass of pasteurised juice, the fruit of your choice, and all washed down with black coffee which will strip paint off wood if applied judiciously -- otherwise it'll whittle down the wood too.
In the US, breakfast starts with coffee. At least, that's it's official designation. I've seen rainwater which has more colour than some American coffee, especially the kind that is usually served in breakfast diners. But the refills are endless and coffee is only the start. A balanced American breakfast consists of three scrambled eggs, three rashers of crispy fried bacon, two sausage links (which alone usually count for the energy intake needed for the day), and your choice of homefries (diced, fried potatoes) or grits. To those who know it, "grits" is a bit like runny "mannagrynsgrot" in Sweden, but -- unbelievably enough -- with even less flavour. I stopped eating the stuff when I was eight and haven't voluntarily done so since. If you don't know what "mannagrynsgrot" is, think "diluted, grainy wall paper paste" and you're pretty close.
That's just the start. Having consumed this, you then move on to either pancakes, or waffles. The International House of Pancakes (IHOP) prides itself on serving authentic pancakes from all over the world. They have "Swedish pancakes" on the menu, which they serve with lingon berries. Whomever designed the IHOP menu has clearly never been to Sweden. Both pancakes and waffles are served with a healthy dollop of whipped cream and butter. The correct manner of eating these is to apply either the cream or the butter (or both) liberally over the entire surface of the pancake or waffle, and then pour Canadian maple syrup over the whole thing, until you have what amounts to a small lake of fluid carbohydrates punctured by tiny islands of fried fat. Upon consuming this, you then finish it off by soaking up the remaining maple syrup with a few slices of French toast. From what I've seen, I'm betting that most people who order the Swedish pancakes don't let the lingon berries stop them from pouring maple syrup over everything.
This is the "light" version of the American breakfast. The "regular" version consists of substituting the bacon and sausage links for a 10 oz (380 g) T-bone steak, biscuits (much like English scones) and gravy. Pancakes are not optional. Rumour has it that there is a "full" version of the American breakfast too, but no-one has actually survived eating one who could tell you what is in it.
We rolled out of the breakfast diner and the ample interior size of Eric suddenly became extremely welcome -- not to mention the gentle, undulating suspension components. With Roy as our tour guide, we set off to see Charleston's old town in daylight and took pictures of its beautiful seafront and town squares. Roy has an exceptionally effective way of striking up a conversation with dog owners: "Who's walking who there?", which I've now memorised to use on spandex-clad co-eds on early morning runs with labradors in Columbus -- always assuming that I'm ever actually awake when they're out running with their dogs, something that historically has proven to be a somewhat unlikely proposition.
Following downtown Charleston, we made our way out to an old cemetery which serves as the final resting ground for many of the South's soldiers from the American Civil War. Among the small, uniform headstones of the soldiers were large crypts and sarcophagi of more wealthy patrons. It'll never cease to amaze me the amounts of money people will spend on monuments to the splendour of their past lives to display to people they'll never know. Personally, I doubt I could care less what happens to my mortal remains -- I figure I'm not going to be around to be offended in any case. But they make great pictures. An overcast sky brought out textures in weathered marble and the Spanish-moss laden oaks in the cemetery provided a gentle reminder of the more southern latitudes.
We bade Roy goodbye in the early afternoon and under his stern eye, managed to negotiate the driveway one final time, without straying from the tarmac. We pointed Eric southward along I-95 and with Peter at the wheel, I neglected my duties as passenger and promptly fell asleep, missing just about all of Georgia. A little re-planning enroute later we decided to give Savannah a miss (having passed the turn-off, the decision was an easy one to make) and headed for Jacksonville in Florida, stopped at a non-descript Microtel motel just south of Jacksonville and tucked in for the night.
Somewhere during this time, Eric turned into a steam bath. During his trip to the US, Peter had contracted a minor cold as the result of breathing recirculated air shared by 250 other passengers. My immune system put up an honourable fight during the first three days in Columbus, but caved just in time for our departure for Florida. So, during the first couple of cold mornings and evenings before we hit Florida, we run the heater in the car to beat the chill from our bones. One of these evenings, we'd pulled into a gas station to get something to drink, then quickly set off again. As we made our way down the on-ramp, the passenger compartment of the car filled with white steam billowing forth from the ventilation ducts below the windscreen -- neatly filling the windscreen with opaque condensation in the process. Experience has taught me that you always keep a roll of kitchen paper in the car for various emergencies and with our warning flashers on, creeping at 30 mph, Peter at the wheel and me frantically wiping the inside of the windscreen, we slowly made our way along the shoulder to the next exit.
I dug out the Haynes repair manual and tried to make sense of it. Eric was dripping anti-freeze from the heater unit bolted to the bulkhead behind the engine, so I guessed that a tube had ruptured inside the heat exchanger. As usual, the Haynes repair manual stopped just short of telling you anything really useful, so it was mostly guesswork with a shaving mirror and a flashlight. We let Eric cool off for an hour while we ate dinner in a nearby Pizza Hut, listening to two Swedes at the next table complain about everything from the lighting to the amount of bread in the deep-pan pizza, then gingerly started him up again. With a bunch of rags over the ventilation ducts by the window and with the heater and A/C turned off, things seemed to be just fine, so we drove the rest of the way like this. About a day later we decided to do some more formal repair, and replaced the rags with silver duct tape.
Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is a bit like a NASA version of Universal Studios California, but they actually do real work there. $24 buys you a bus tour of three major areas: An overview of the launch pads (from about half a mile away: the 200mm was foolishly left in the car), the Saturn V Rocket Display, and the International Space Station assembly building. You can get off the bus and stay at each as long as you like.
You don't actually get to see much of the launch pads, but you get to appreciate the size of the "crawler": the tracked vehicle that drives the eight miles from the vehicular assembly building (where they bolt the space shuttle to the external fuel tank and rocket boosters) to the launch pad. With a top speed of two miles an hour (unloaded, 1 mph carrying the shuttle assembly), this 131 ft (40 m) long and 114 ft (35 m) wide monstrosity weighs in at 2,721 metric tons and is enough to give even Eric an inferiority complex. At 150 gal (568 l) of diesel fuel per mile it even has worse fuel economy. They didn't specify whether this was city or highway driving, though.
KSC is all about size. If large things impress you, this is the place to go. And nothing is larger than the Saturn V rocket. These days, it's housed inside its own building, broken up into three parts, and laid out horizontally just out of reach of prying fingers (trust me; I tried). Even standing just next to it, the mind is incapable of actually grasping the sheer size of the thing. Your right brain hemisphere goes "WOW! THAT'S SO, LIKE... BIG!" while the left one realises that it'll never manage to relate the size in anything that the right one will understand and promptly goes to sleep.
The other thing KSC is all about is semi-religious enthusiasm. Before you can enter the Saturn V main room, you are in a dark antechamber where they play a video. There are no chairs. The video screens are located above the doors to the main room, so everyone has to stand, facing slightly upwards, being basked in the light from the video screens. This "slightly above head level" strategy is used throughout KSC which, along with the constantly upbeat and pompous, space-opera muzak that pours fourth from hidden speakers everywhere, gives you the feeling that your actually visiting the Church of Space's main cathedral more than a working scientific and engineering community. Still, it's interesting seeing the evolution of space travel and you can't get Space Dots ice-cream anywhere else.
At the International Space Station, they were putting the finishing touches on the Italian modules "Leonardo", "Donatello", and "Raffaello". Peter and I debated whether the modules were named after the Italian renaissance masters or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and concluded that our vote would go to the latter. There was a tour guide on hand answering questions from the public and one bright young boy asked how you move a ten ton ISS module around in space.
"Oh, in space you can move ten tons with your finger," she chirped happily in response. Despite her size, she was curiously unfamiliar with the Newtonian concept of inertia, or indeed any of his laws of motion: the second means you're not going to be moving it much with your finger unless you're superman; the third means that unless you're anchored to something pretty damn big, you'll be moving much faster away from the space station than the ISS module will be moving towards it; and the first states that lacking any outside influence, you'll continue along the same trajectory for quite some time, which is probably exactly what the kid concluded had happened to her.
From KSC we made our way south along I-95. Between KSC and Fort Lauderdale, there isn't much along I-95, so we took a left turn and went out to US 1 along the coast, where we found a funky little motel late in the evening just north of Daytona Beach. Adhering to our evening ritual, we flipped on CNN and promptly fell asleep. The following day we drove the half-mile further east possible to A1A which hugs the east coast in Florida and entered Daytona Beach.
With Peter at the wheel, we putter along at 35 mph through Daytona Beach when we come across road signs stating: "Beach access".
"Want to do a little beach driving?" I ask Peter, who slices through A1A traffic at the next intersection and pulls up at a toll booth.
"Five dollars," the man tells Peter.
"Five dollars," Peter tells me.
"Five dollars. Pay the man." Peter smiles.
"Wait a minute: You have the pleasure of driving Eric along Daytona Beach and for this I get to pay $5??" I ask in disbelief.
I hand Peter a $20 which he hands to the man in the toll booth. In return, he gets a ticket to put inside the windscreen and then tares off.
"HEY!! Wait for the change, would you?"
"What? I thought you handed me even money."
The beach is perhaps 200 meters long as we putter along at a leisurely 5 mph. A few minutes later it ends and we're back on A1A. Life is filled with brief pleasures and swift disappointment.
Anyone familiar with Quentin Tarantino's films will know about Big Kahuna Burgers. In "Pulp Fiction" there's a whole discussion about their virtues ("that's that Hawaiian burger joint, right? I hear they have some tasty burgers") and they appear as casual references in the background in "Four Rooms", "From Dusk to Dawn", and "True Romance". Big Kahuna, like the Red Apple cigarettes that appears in many Tarantino films, is a fictional brand-name, created by Tarantino and Lawrence Bender, instead of using established brand-names. Imagine, thus, our surprise and delight when, as we're driving down A1A, Peter suddenly calls out:
"Hey! We just passed a Big Kahuna Burger joint!"
"Man, those are some tasty burgers," I instantly reply. Hey, I can play the Quotation Game too.
"No, no, no, we actually just passed a Big Kahuna Burger joint!"
"What!?" I look up from the map book I'd had my head buried in, but by now we're way beyond the restaurant.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Did I break your concentration?"
A recent breakfast and surrounding traffic pre-empted our slamming on the brakes (Peter's left foot had by now become resigned to inactivity), but we made a mental note of the location and a pledge to find the place on our return from Key West.
I've long held a soft spot in my heart for art deco design. Architecturally speaking, it appears to be making a comeback, since it seems impossible to build a multiplex movie theatre in the Midwest these days without giving it an art deco exterior. Of course, the place to go is Miami Beach's art deco district. We park the car, appropriately enough, just near Lincoln Mall Rd and spend a couple of hours walking around the area, taking in a coffee shop along the way. Great looking buildings, great looking people. Upon returning, we find ourselves six blocks in the wrong direction, but make it back to the car before the meter runs out. Half a block down the road, I discover the ticket under the windscreen wiper. It a "Traffic Complaint" stating that we'd parked in a loading zone. It seems peculiar that they should mark a loading zone with a white rectangle on the ground, and place a parking meter just next to it. I'm guessing they saw the Ohio plates and figured, a bit like drive-in restaurants, that we'd be too far down the road to do anything about it by the time we discovered it. If I want to contest the "complaint", I need to appear in a Miami court, but I don't see that happening anytime in the near future, given my departure for Sweden at the end of the month.
Early afternoon came and we pointed Eric towards the Keys. The drive from Miami to Key Largo is a long, narrow, straight road with very, very little to see on either side of it, apart from in two places were road side signs announce "PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE -- ONLY THREE MORE MINUTES TO PASSING LANE", where, upon reaching them, the cars behind you blast past with an indignant roar of pent up frustration from their exhausts. That long, narrow road is like cleansing chamber, an airlock, a passage of rite, mentally preparing you for the slower pace of life awaiting you on the islands themselves.
After a while you start seeing a few more houses, then a few more, a small mall. There were no real road signs and the map showed Key Largo as a single, small dot, suggesting that it might have a clearly defined outline. We pulled up to a few shops, I dove into a Radio Shack and asked:
"How much further it is to Key Largo?"
"You're in Key Largo."
We found a mile marker (MM) and a motel. My Florida Keys guidebook and the Lonely Planet US guidebook both suggested that a good place to eat dinner would be Mrs Mac's Kitchen at MM #99.5. Peter decided to catch forty winks while I reconnoitred. A single four-lane highway runs along the length of the Keys, US Highway 1. It is separated by a wide, grassy median for most of the distance, but every now and then, the road narrows into a two-lane, two-way traffic road. Despite the relatively well populated Key Largo area, there are no streetlights along US 1, so you're navigating in the dark, trying to negotiate a combination of through-traffic which is paying absolutely no attention to the posted speed limit of 45 mph and local traffic which is constantly criss-crossing the highway in death-defying reliance on the acceleration performance of modern cars. Add to this very few street signs and an almost complete absence of traffic lights and you have an interesting scenario.
Our motel was about five miles from the restaurant, so finding it was relatively easy. Just before the restaurant, the highway narrowed, or so I thought. As I pulled out of Mrs Mac's parking lot, I suddenly found myself facing a wall of headlights, all barrelling down at me at 60 mph in both lanes of the highway. I turned out that instead of becoming a two-way road, the median grew to around 100 meters in width and there were houses on the median. The two lanes were both for south-bound traffic and I was travelling the wrong way down a one-way highway. There was a NAPA Autoparts parking lot in-between the four lanes and I nimbly swerved into there to let both myself and Eric regain our breaths and let our respective heartbeats reach more normal levels.
Mrs Mac's Kitchen is a great little place; it was packed and understandably so. Homestyle cooking, good meals, spicy food, and an interior decoration that almost exclusively consists of old license plates. We had dinner and finished off with Key Lime pie. About halfway through the Key Lime pie, it occurred to me: I still had my old British Columbia license plates in the boot of the car. Upon registering the car in Ohio I had switched plates, but kept the old ones. I went out to the car, dug out the front license plate, and went back in.
"I've seen a number of Canadian license plates, but not one from British Columbia. Would you like one?"
"Oh great! Sure," the waitress said. I handed her the plate.
"Maybe next time you come by, we'll have it up on the wall," she said. We never did stop by Mrs Mac's on the way back, but if you go to Key Largo, stop by Mrs Mac's Kitchen, have the Conch Republic Special, and see if you can find a white license plate from British Columbia with the number AED-177.
We decided the following morning to get down to Key West all in one go and then stop at interesting points on our way back north. The only place I really wanted to see was the NoName Bar on NoName Key, but we missed the turn-off somewhere. We did get to see the Key Deer. A couple scattered across the road infront of Eric on Big Pine Key. They are an endangered sub-species of the Virginia White Tailed Deer, only found on Big Pine Key and NoName Key. Current population estimate is 600: they were down to around 50 to 80 sometime in the mid 1950's. There are special speed limits on Big Pine Key (NoName Key is off US 1) because of the deer: 45 mph during the day, 35 mph at dusk, dawn, and night. It didn't stop the car filled with Spring Break frat boys zooming past us at 70 mph despite the double-yellow lines in the middle of the road and the "DO NOT PASS" sign beside it. When we later drove out from the Keys, a sign on Big Pine announced that 18 people had lost their lives in traffic accidents this year on US 1 in the Keys. A little while later there was another sign: 38 Key Deer had been killed by the end of March 2001.
March is tourist season in Key West, which means that a motel you'd expect to pay $60 for anywhere else in Florida will set you back $125 easily in KW. We parked Eric by a sandy beach and went strolling for a while, letting our untanned Northern European skin soak up the sun which was at an uncommonly steep angle in the sky. Key West is actually well south of Marocco, level with about Western Sahara, southern Algeria, and Libya. Around the world, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Karachi in Pakistan, and Taipei on Taiwan are all situated close to the same latitude (24 degrees North), which is almost the at the Tropic of Cancer, something you're guaranteed to contract with prolonged exposure. My tea-dyed Tilley came in handy, as did the SPF 30 sun block.
Peter found a 1-800 number to an accommodation hot line and we dialled it. Amazingly enough, someone had been unable to let their rooms at the normal price of $129, so they'd dropped it to $89 ten minutes before we'd called. We booked for two nights and got two king-sized beds, an over-energetic air-conditioner, cable-TV, and a swimming pool on the premises. As we checked in, we were given strict instructions not to discuss room prices with any of the other guests, presumably because they'd be a tad perturbed at the prospect that their forethought and early planning had been rewarded by a $40 price hike. We parked Eric beside the motel and splashed down in the pool.
Good food is always welcome and usually a sign of good travels. We'd made a point of trying local the breweries we've come across, which almost always have something interesting on tap. Driving over the spectacular bridges that connect Key West to the mainland had taken it out of me and I took an afternoon nap while Peter went in search of a barber. Upon his return, we decided to find food and he mentioned the Italian restaurant just next door. OK, so Italian cooking may not be local cuisine on Key West, but I was starving, so out the door and into Abbondanza it was.
Now, the sign of a good meal is as follows: You start with a vodka martini, two olives. One olive is just stingy and any more than two doesn't leave room enough room for the vodka. In the US, they like to play a little game when you order.
"One vodka martini, two olives," I'll say.
"Certainly, sir. What vodka would you like?" the waiter will invariably ask.
"Do you have Finlandia?" I'll ask.
"I don't know, sir, I can check. If we don't have that, what would you like?"
"Smirnoff Silver. If you don't have that, then I'll take Absolut Vodka," knowing full well that they'll not have Finlandia nor Smirnoff Silver. Of course, I couldn't tell the difference between any of them. They could bring me moonshine and I'd happily drink it, but since they want to play the little game, I feel it's my obligation as a guest in their restaurant to play along. We were brought bread with our cocktails. Made on the premises and served with a small dish of seasoned olive oil, you tear the bread, dip it in the oil and eat it. It was absolutely delicious.
Following the vodka martini, you then have an appetiser. American's have the peculiar notion that a salad is something you eat before the main course (entree), rather than after, so you'll often find them in the appetiser column of the menu. Often I'll order soup, a much underrated dish, but on this occasion, being an Italian restaurant, they had Calimari Fritti on the menu. And damn if they weren't the best Calimari Fritti I've ever had! Incredible. A large plate disappeared in no time.
My main course was Frutti di Mare with Linguine. One bowl would have been enough for both of us. The servings were monstrous. We had a Californian Pinot Gris with the main course which complemented the food nicely. Finishing off the meal was our ever enduring quest for the best Key Lime pie, followed by espresso, a welcome change from the breakfast coffee we'd been drinking for the past few days. Then the bill arrives. I'll preface this by saying that it was the best restaurant Italian food I've ever had, with the slight exception that the pasta was a touch over-cooked, but nonetheless, it ended up at $93 including the tip. Quite an accomplishment for two people and one hour.
Our motel was on Simonton Street, parallel to the main drag Duval St. in Key West. The Old Town is located at the other end, so getting there meant navigating all the tourist shops and bars along Duval. We bummed around for a few hours, took in a bar or two, but eventually decided we'd had enough of the rowdy tourists and needed a good nights sleep. We turned around at the west end of Duval and were instantly hit by a flash rain storm. It lasted for less than five minutes but dumped more rain on KW than usually hits Columbus in a summer.
The spent the whole following day in KW. Before the trip we had ambitious plans to go snorkelling, see the coral reefs, perhaps do a little hiking, get closer to nature, that kind of thing. Once in Key West we were instantly transformed into slackers with energy for little more than ambling from one coffee shop or bar to another, occasionally shooting a roll of film or two, but were perfectly content with doing this. Unfortunately, neither Peter nor I have a dot-com fortune to live off which would have enabled us to fully explore the slacker lifestyle, although the preview was nice.
Another KW feature is cigar factories. Being only 90 miles away from Cuba, the craft continued here after the 1960 embargo, with many of the masters being Cuban or of Cuban descent. Contrary to popular opinion, the best cigars are not rolled on the inner thighs of Cuban virgins, but by old, weathered, skilled hands on a wooden table. I don't smoke regularly, but every once in a while, a hand-rolled, long filler cigar is very nice. Cuban tobacco is too harsh for my taste and I prefer a Dominican filler in a Connecticut shade wrapper. Given the cigar craze in the US over the past number of years, it's not uncommon to see confused thirty-somethings mistakenly thinking that bigger is better and walking around with a something the size of a broom handle in their mouths. I think tobacconists get a little tired of them sometimes and welcome someone who is interested in their knowledge, but still has defined tastes.
We walked into one cigar manufacturers in the old town and were greeted by the owner and the sight of the two most relaxed cats I've ever seen in my life. One was impossibly sprawled in a gravity-defying pose over a leather-covered stool -- as clearly ignorant of Newtonian physics as the NASA tour guide -- the other had flopped down on the counter. The owner had to carefully navigate between the two as it was clear that he was being outnumbered two to one. We'd seen cats ever since we arrived in KW: they seemed to be everywhere. Between cigar puffs he told us that there were around 46,000 cats on KW and 27,000 human inhabitants. I got the impression he would have been perfectly comfortable with the reverse relationship.
Tom A had told me that a long standing tradition in KW was to toast the sunset and give it a standing ovation. We found a bunch of signs down by Mallory Square announcing "Sunset". I was surprised to find a number of them belonging to hotels, announcing that their sunset celebration was proprietary and open to paying guests only, something that seemed to go against the non-conformist, non-authoritarian attitude I'd envisioned KW to possess. In any case, towards the late afternoon, Mallory Sq. filled up with people whom we assumed were all going to partake of this tradition. We bunked up along the water's edge with a couple of Key Lime margaritas and Ashton robustos, when suddenly the whole square filled with street performers who'd found new and inventive ways to separate tourists from their money and tourists who'd found new and exiting subject matter for their digital video camcorders. As the sun set, the cacophony continued, and I think we were the only two who actually raised our glasses and toasted the end of the day and absent friends.
It's interesting to observe how technology shrouds modern man from his surroundings. The modern tourist carries $2,000 worth of video equipment packed into a small camera slightly larger than two cigarette packages. They all come with swing-out, miniature LCD displays and everyone walks around with their camera arm half extended, looking at the video monitor, and talking on their cell phone to the poor people back home who are already now dreading the tortuous moment when they're going to have to sit through the six hours of unedited holiday footage with everything from gratuitous butt-shots of people they don't know to "and this is what our bed looks like, and here is the bathroom..."
On the one hand, KW was a welcome change from Columbus, both in ambient temperature, number of minutes of sunshine in any given day, and pace of life. On the other, it was a bitter disappointment. I had been expecting an off-beat, slightly quirky island with carefree inhabitants and glorious nature. What I got was a commercialized sprawl of carefully orchestrated "attractions" all of which were about as authentic as Dame Edna and only slightly less tasteful. We even resigned ourselves to having a bottle of the local Key West brew in Sloppy Joe's, which has pictures of Hemingway on every vertical surface and a meticulously designed interior that is supposed to look like it was randomly created over a long period of time, out of various trinkets brought back from exotic foreign locations. The bar next door, Captain Tony's, emphatically announced over its entrance that it indeed was the site of the original Sloppy Joe's bar from 1932-1935, but peering into its dim interior suggested the high likelihood that some of the original patrons were still drooling over pints from that era, so we gave it a miss.
We decided to give the rest of the Keys a miss too. We made an early start the following morning, but we still only managed to get just north of Miami by five in the afternoon. By nine in the evening we were getting close to Daytona Beach. We'd purposely put off dinner to work up an appetite for the Big Kahuna burgers, but were getting light-headed from food deprivation, heat, and long hours of driving. Between hallucinating about the tasty juiciness the burgers would have and worrying that we'd get there after they'd closed, we forgot that we'd been on A1A on our way down to Key West and drove through Daytona Beach on US-1 instead. When we figured out our mistake, we did something very foolish, but perfectly in keeping with the rest of the trip.
Both of us have, of course, read Douglas Adams's "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency". Dirk Gently has an interesting method of automotive navigation. Rather than relying on a map, or asking for directions, he will pick a car that seems to know where it is going and follow it. In the book, Dirk comments on the fact that this rarely gets him where he intended to go, but almost always gets him somewhere interesting where he really needs to be. I've discovered that Dirk's method of navigation is actually very good and, in most cases, a great deal more accurate than Douglas Adams would have you believe. It works particularly well in larger cities, especially if you are entering an urban area.
We weren't. We were on the outskirts of Daytona Beach when we decided that the Ford F-250 pickup truck infront of us looked like it was going someplace with confidence and thus we followed it. Now, a collorary to Dirk Gently's method is that you should strive to pick a car that is similar to yours when deciding which one to follow. Many could probably argue successfully that a 1977 Lincoln Continental has many and striking similarities to a late 80's F-250 pickup, but this would unfortunately be the same sub-category of "successful" that many sophomore university students' term papers fall into.
We ended up on a long, narrow, unlit road going through one of Florida's natural forests. The pickup truck eventually turned into a state park which was closed to public traffic for the night and we were left with the option of travelling without guidance until we could figure out which road we were on and where it lead. So, we puttered on. The air-conditioning in Eric consists of winding down all the windows until they're fully open so as we were driving along we could hear all the sounds of the forest. It was amazing. We were essentially driving through a jungle. We turned off the radio and listened to the millions of insects, birds, and other animals chirping, squeaking, calling, grunting, singing, and squealing. Before leaving for Florida, Eric had developed an odd chirping sound which I thought emanated from the U-joint, but generous lubing of the U-joint before departure did little to stifle the noise. If you keep the accelerator pedal in just the right position and you're not going too fast, it sounds just like a giant cicada. I'm guessing that it sounds just like a giant female cicada, because as we were driving through that night, they real ones went absolutely berserk as we passed. I suspect we were the cause of the most widespread case of entomological sexual frustration since the redesign of the "stubbie" beer bottles in Australia.
Eventually we found another road and I-95 again. Going to Big Kahuna meant turning back, a mortal sin if there ever was one, so we found an almost abandoned BBQ & grill house 30 minutes before they closed. Blackened Mesquite chicken and baby back ribs did the trick. While not where we'd intended to go, it was where we needed to be, so Dirk Gently's navigation technique came through on this occasion too. The interior of the restaurant consisted of a mixture of old Bogey film posters, fake street signs, and humorous warnings. My favourite read: "Unattended children found running will be towed at the owners expense". We both fell for the waitress and left an outrageous tip before continuing north and eventually ending up at the same Microtel motel south of Jacksonville as on the way down, turning on CNN and promptly falling asleep.
Saturday mornings means National Public Radio and Cartalk. Cartalk is a long-running NPR programme hosted by two middle-aged ruffians from Boston named Click and Clack, with thick Massachusetts dialects and an encyclopaedic knowledge of anything with a combustion engine. Listeners call in with everything from problems with their gear boxes to problems with their love life and receive healthy doses of sarcastic humour cleverly disguised as automotive repair advise. One young newlywed calls in describing how her husband had found her dream car, a 1974 Datsun pickup, and wanted to know if spending the $170 he did for it was too much. In response, the brothers wanted her to describe her husband: if a 1974 Datsun pickup was her dream car, what did her dream man look like?
Normally NPR is commercial free, but this turned out to be pledge week. This is the time of year (usually twice) when the stations try to squeeze money out of freeloading listeners like myself who enjoy their programmes, but always manage to conjure up new and elaborate excuses as to why we shouldn't contribute any financial support (my own excuse is that I'm leaving the country within the next month). Adoration and loyalty should be enough, one would think, but apparently that doesn't pay electricity bills. NPR doesn't get any government funds -- hardly a surprise in the US -- but relies on corporate grants and listener support, so during pledge week, about 40 minutes of every hour is taken up by calling, begging, demanding, pleading, and outright ordering the listeners to call toll-free numbers with their credit cards handy and give $75, $125, or whatever they feel is appropriate to keep their favourite radio station commercial free and on the air. It gets a little tiring sometimes, but this is probably part of the strategy. One announcer finished off a call for pledges by thanking those who'd called in and reminding them to "enter the secret code we gave you into your radio to that you won't hear the pledge messages any more this week".
We'd missed Savannah on our way south, but northbound we found ourselves just outside the town in time for lunch, so we turned off I-95 and took I-16 downtown and parked by Chippewa Square. We hiked through the old town down to the water and had a good lunch in a seafood restaurant called The Shrimp Factory. Savannah is a place I'll have to return to some day -- we spent far too little time there to explore the undulating cobble stone streets, the odd little cafes, and the many beautiful squares. Despite its relative fame since the book and film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" it didn't feel overrun by tourists like Key West and in many ways struck me as the less well groomed and perhaps slightly wilder cousin of Charleston.
Tina lives with her husband Tom, a dog and two cats, in a wonderful house in Rock Hill, SC, just south of the NC border. We arrived there Saturday evening, just in time for the splendid Mexican dinner she'd prepared and the NCAA semi-final basketball game between NC's Duke University and Maryland. After a tour of the house, including both a kitchen and a darkroom I'd seriously consider giving someone's right arm for, the others tucked in for the night while I frantically searched and finally found CNN among the 150 channels on the cable TV, listened in disbelief to the Chinese claim that a US EP-3, 24-seat, prop-driven aircraft somehow should have rammed a nimble Chinese F-8 jet fighter into the ocean, and then promptly fell asleep.
Tina introduced us to breakfast Southern style: Biscuits and gravy. In any other country this would qualify as dinner but I gather that Southerners just take it all in their stride. Delicious, but very hearty, and as Tina commented, probably just the thing you needed before you went out and ploughed forty acres with two oxen. Peter and I declined the oxen in favour of taking Eric to Charlotte instead. Unfortunately, Charlotte is nothing like Charleston or Savannah. It's a banking centre and the downtown is closed and dead on a Sunday morning. In a desperate attempt to seem hip, the downtown area has been named "Uptown" but it's still possible to get more signs of life out of a frog's leg wired to a battery than Charlotte on a Sunday afternoon. We did get into the NationsBank Corporate HQ skyscraper (the tallest building in Charlotte) to see the frescos by the Italian-trained painter Ben Long, but anything above ground was closed to the public so we left pretty soon afterwards. Hurricane force winds blew us around the city streets until we finally resorted to finding sanctuary inside a Starbucks coffee shop, under much protest from myself.
We essentially had a day to kill. Peter was flying back to Sweden on Wednesday, and we were about a day's drive away from Columbus, which meant that we had an extra day, but no clue where to go. Tina and Tom suggested we drive west to a small town called Asheville and see the Biltmore Estate.
In the late 19th century, George Vanderbilt bought 125,000 acres of North Carolina real estate and decided it was the perfect spot for a 16th century French chateaux. Apparently, the wealthy Vanderbilts had a habit of building outrageously lavish homes for themselves and the young George appears to have been suffering an inferiority complex -- one for which he compensated amply. Today it serves as a museum and monument to Vanderbilt splendour and accepts one million visitors a year, all of which more or less happily part with $32 for the pleasure. Having driven all the way out there, you're really left with little choice, a shrewd marketing tactic, I'm sure.
The house itself is relatively uninteresting and much too perfect. All the rooms have either been or are in the process of being restored to something that looks more like a 18th century version of a mail order catalogue than anything anyone actually ever lived in. I've never been much of a fan of the 18th century, gold-leaf-encrusted design ideals, so I thought the basement level which housed the servants quarters, pool, and exercise room was much more interesting. The fine workmanship in the oak wood fittings against the cream plaster walls was a much more refined aesthetic than the overly ornate upper levels. Indeed, the most interesting aspects of the house is really the technology: Vanderbilt included 19th century versions of central heating, electricity, fire alarms, mechanized cold-storage, an electrical intercom, a swimming pool with underwater lighting, a pipe organ with its own engine room, and a fascinating laundry room with belt-driven washing machines and heated forced air drying chamber, resulting in the only time in my life that I can recall being interested in anything to do with laundry. It was like walking through a Jules Verne novel.
The gardens and land of the estate are really much more interesting than the house itself. Vanderbilt hired the landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead to design the surrounding grounds -- Olmstead is the man behind New York's Central Park and the U.S. Capitol grounds. Early April is a little too early to enjoy the gardens as few flowers were out (in particular, I would have liked to see the English rose garden) but a miniature version of Kew Gardens provided exotic palm trees, while the path covered in woodchips through the shrub garden was both a familiar and painful reminder of the cross-country running track in Ryd in Linkoping. On our return to the house we witnessed the most grossly obese carp I've ever seen swimming in a pond in the Italian garden. It looked like it had swallowed a couple of golf balls and, judging by its behaviour, it was on the hunt for two more. The gardens are relatively small, a mere 250 acres, and the rest of the estate was a commercial timber forest which eventually led to the establishment of the US Forestry Service (parts of the original 125,000 have since been donated to the federal government as a national forest).
Biltmore Estate was run as a commercial enterprise with a dairy farm as one component. In the 1950s the dairy operation was abandoned and in the late 70s wine production started. I get the impression that the current owners feel that a vineyard is much more in keeping with aristocratic style than a dairy farm. They have a tour of the wine production facilities -- in name at least. You start off with a five minute wine advertisement video not so subtlety disguised as a historical expose and are then shuttled to a small annex where you can peek through a dusty window at oak barrels, followed by a complementary wine tasting session and the only exit leading you through the wine shop.
Biltmore Estate closed at 5 pm and we made our way into Asheville. From Asheville we were planning to drive US Highway 25 north through the Appalachian mountains until we'd hit I-75 just south of Lexington, KY. We decided that driving through the mountains at dusk was a little pointless, so we headed for downtown Asheville instead, in search of a motel. Asheville quickly showed promise -- an evolved town rather than a planned one, lots of interesting little places, crooked streets, and quirky architecture.
We were ambling along one of the streets when something suddenly caught my eye: The Jack of Wood pub. A little circumnavigation later, we found a nearby motel and walked back to the pub. We had a traditional English dinner, nachos followed by fish-and-chips, washed down with the pale ale, extra special bitter, and stout all brewed fresh on the premises. Highly recommended. The owners had started with a vegetarian restaurant, housed on the top floor, then decided that they wished to branch into the beer-and-live-music market. They toured Ireland for a month, taking pictures of pubs and doing research on what a real pub looks like and offers. They succeeded very well. I think the nachos might be a concession to the South, but somehow they fit in perfectly with the rest.
Asheville itself is also great. Home to a number of artists, including the aforementioned Ben Long, it combines a modern day artistic bohemic style with historical significance. Located in the foothills of the Appalachians, its streets undulate gently, always harbouring a new surprise over the next crest. Being grotesquely fascinated by gargoyles, I was lying on the pavement (sidewalk) around midnight, photographic Asheville's tallest building and only real skyscraper while Peter pretended as best he could that he had no idea who I was.
From Asheville we drove US-25 north through the Appalachians. It was wonderful getting off the interstates, although at times Route 25 bears an uncanny resemblance to one. North Carolina gives way to Tennessee, which in turn takes you to Kentucky. On a number of occasions we stopped to let traffic behind us past, so we could continue in our slow pace, gasping in awe as the mist rolled in over the peaks. We stopped at a combined rest stop/viewing point and I darted out, shooting a roll of misty landscapes while Peter found himself entrapped by an elderly gentlemen who, by the sounds of it, had never been outside of Tennessee but gladly divulged his views on everything from current foreign policy to a unique version of historical events which conflicted with the commemorative plaque they were standing infront of.
Radio in the US is, apart from NPR, often a sad affair. I'd brought about a dozen CDs, but it didn't take long to go through them twice. In case you're wondering, the way one plays CDs in Eric is to use an 8-track to Philips cassette converter, and place a Philips cassette to portable-CD player converter in that. Sound quality is a touch better than the eight tracks themselves, but not by all that much. In many ways, it's a bit like bolting a 1935 Leica lens on a new M6 (or maybe a new Cosina lens on a Leica II), so it felt wholly appropriate for this trip. Since the status of the a/c was in doubt, we'd taken to driving with all the windows down, something that results in a fair amount of wind noise when going at 70 mph, so the volume was turned up accordingly. At one point, we were driving through South Carolina with arias from one of Prokofiev's operas blasting out over the countryside, in a sort of twisted intellectual white middle class protest to all the gangsta-rap pounding out from SUVs we'd heard along the trip. I'm not sure that anyone fully appreciated the irony, though.
US-25 links up with I-75 just south of Lexington, KY. From there, it's about a two hour drive to Cincinnati, OH and then a touch over two hours to Columbus. As you approach Columbus on I-70 from the west, you go up a very slow, shallow climb until you can see the lights of Columbus in the distance. We had Stravinsky's Firebird suite on the radio and Peter managed to time it so perfectly that just as we saw the first sign for the turnoff to Grandview Heights, we reached the climactic glaring crescendo. A rather fitting end to the journey.
Many thanks to Tina Manley and Roy Moss for their generosity, hospitality, and enthusiasm. And, as always, to Tom A for being such a terrible influence on me.