Heather and I drove to Savannah, Georgia to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I love Savannah (and Tybee Island) a lot.
Read from the beginning below, or jump to each day:
Heather and I drove to Savannah, Georgia to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I love Savannah (and Tybee Island) a lot.
Read from the beginning below, or jump to each day:
I picked Heather up from work around 4pm Wednesday afternoon, and we headed out of town. The plan was to drive overnight to Atlanta, in order to maximize our time spent on the coast over the weekend. It was a good plan, if better in theory than execution, but we’ve done this sort of stupid thing before.
The trip was uneventful through Minnesota and Wisconsin. By Madison, I was on my 9th shot of espresso for the day, so things were looking up. Having just seen Radiohead a few weeks ago near Madison, we decided to start a Radiohead retrospective. We argued for a while about whether OK Computer came before or after Kid A. We argued about the meaning of ‘Creep’. (I say it’s about your average self-hating, insecure loner, she says it’s about a creepy stalker. I know I’m right.) We had to listen to ‘Lurgee’ twice while I tried to pin down what exactly I was crying about that time I was driving around my old neighborhood in Chicago late at night, listening to that song. By Rockford, we had made it to The Bends, and had to listen to Thom Yorke singing, “She looks like the real thing; she tastes like the real thing,” two or three times before agreeing that it might be the best song ever, then moving on.
Around 10pm, a little ways south of Rockford, I got out my travel journal and started jotting observations about Illinois. First of all, their towns seem to use some kind of buddy system, as if they were scared to be out there in the middle of nowhere all alone. There’s Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Rock Island-Moline. Also, once you get past Rockford, you enter what is more appropriately the south than the midwest. Long ago, we had decided that Chicago was technically not part of Illinois, and that the rest of the state was actually part of Kentucky.
If you don’t mind, I’ve taken the liberty of redrawing the map in accordance with my theory. So, you’ll see that the large tangerine-colored state is the territory now known as Kentuckinois. The salmon-colored state near the top remains as a tiny remnant of the original Illinois, and contains mostly Rockford and various tollbooths along the interstate. The lime-colored state along Lake Michigan encompasses what is now officially named Chicagoland. All other midwestern states remain as is (for now). I think you will all agree that this is a great improvement on United States cartography.
Somewhere further south in Kentuckinois, I decided to write a new website. I have ‘humpregistry.com’ written in my notebook, but on second thought, it’s not such a great idea. After that, I decided to write a book. Then I wrote down two other undoubtedly excellent ideas, but I managed to write one on top of the other (it was dark!), so they are unfortunately lost forever. Around 1am, I told Heather, “Father Hennepin gets me hot.” She replied, “Yeah. I know.” We decided maybe it was time to stop and take a break.
We pulled off the freeway at (Champaign-)Urbana, and found a 24-hour grocery store called Schnucks. As we were crossing the front of the store with that funny quick!-where-are-the-bathrooms? walk, this guy stopped us:
UrbanaBoy: Hey, did you girls just get back from that show?
Me: What show? (Taking a full 10 minutes to realize he’s referring to my Realistics tshirt) Oh, no. We’re just driving through.
UrbanaBoy: Where are you from?
Me: Minneapolis. We’re headed to Nashville. And Savannah.
UrbanaBoy: What do you think of Illinois?
Me: Um. Are you from here?
Heather: It sucks!
We peed, then went in search of snacks. We were not disappointed, as Schnucks is apparently the store for stoners. There were six or seven aisles of snack food. I didn’t get a store map, but if I remember it correctly, it went:
Aisle 1: Produce.
Aisle 2: Chips. Nuts.
Aisle 3: Candy. Cookies.
Aisle 4: Canned Goods.
Aisle 5: More Chips! Pretzels!
Aisle 6: Pop (they call it ‘Soda’. Ha.)
Aisle 7: Munchies! Even More Cookies! Want Some Peanuts?
Aisle 8: Toilet Paper.
Aisle 9: Holy Crap, DORITOS!
And so on. By the time we got to the register, we were in barely-restrained hysterics. Then, standing in line, surrounded by a bunch of just-a-little-off people, we both had that moment where you think, ‘there is something very very wrong here, and I need to escape.’ So we did. With our snacks, of course.
Back on the road, it was my shift. I’m really terrible driving at night, something about being sleepy and not seeing very well that makes for a surreal, video-gamelike experience rather than safe, defensive driving. But I was doing fine, and Heather dozed off for a couple hours. I woke her up to see the giant roadside cross in Effingham, which is lit well enough to be seen from outer space, so that even alien life can come to find the one true path. I listened to Amnesiac twice, because I felt bad waking her up again to switch CDs. Finally, round about 4:15am, we crossed into Kentucky, and decided it was time to stop for a meal, and what better place to do it than Paducah?
We pulled off at the first exit, figuring there’d be about a million roadside diners open in the middle of the night. We were wrong. Heather experienced the thrill of victory when she sighted a Bob Evans, then felt the bitter agony of defeat when she realized it was closed. Still hopeful, we got back on the highway and headed to the next exit (because, yes, Paducah is so large a metropolis, it has itself three whole exits on the interstate). This exit had a couple truck stops, a closed McDonald’s, and a Waffle House. There was no question about it: Waffle House.
Now, I have to admit, I have a thing for Waffle House. No, I had never been there in my entire life. They don’t even have Waffle House in Minnesota (this is pancake country). But every time I see a Waffle House, I have to point it out. And in the south, that’s at almost every exit. See, the thing about Waffle House is the logo. Tell me it’s not great. It’s like the ugliest logo ever designed, and it would make for the best tshirt ever.
Also, their restaurants look like see-through trailers. What’s not to love?
So, we went inside. We got some funny looks, but I’d have been mad if we hadn’t. The cook and the waitress were standing behind the counter, just waiting for new
victims customers, because it was 4:30am and they were chatty and sick to death of each other. There were a couple other trucker-types sitting at the counter, shoveling eggs and toast into their mouths silently. I picked a booth right in the middle of all the action, so we could get the full experience. We giggled at the placemat menus. We thanked the waitress, who gushed about our hairstyles for far too long. Heather showed me the bottle of salsa, labeled ‘Casa De Waffle.’ I told her to steal it, but she wouldn’t. That girl has scruples, or something. I ordered the only thing on the menu I could eat, and even that was a stretch: grilled cheese. Then I saw that they had cheese grits, and how could I resist? Cheese grits + Waffle House + Paducah + 4:30am. You understand. Heather got the All-Star Special ($4.99): 2 eggs, grits, toast, jelly, waffle, and bacon.
As he finished each item, the cook guy would yell, “Eggs over easy! Order up! Take me out back and shoot me!” or “Grilled cheese! Order up! Take me out back and shoot me!” I dumped the quarters from my wallet onto the table and headed to the jukebox. What I found there was almost too wonderful to relate, but I’ll try: the first twenty or so selections were all songs
about the Waffle House.
I am not joking, even though you suspect it is too good to be true. Since you obviously require proof, I have done some investigation, and am beyond ecstatic to be able to offer you the following: Jukebox Favorites and It’s a Waffle House Christmas. And now you know what you’re getting for the holidays.
I treated the lucky customers of the Waffle House to ‘844,739 Ways to Eat a Hamburger (At the Waffle House)’ by Billy Dee Cox, because I had been staring at the sign on the wall with the same message on it, trying to figure out if there was real math involved, or if they had just made that shit up. My food arrived while I was typing in my next selections, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, followed by ‘Stand By Your Man’, and then ‘My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.’ It was a southern triple-play par excellence. I returned to the booth to find Heather rolling her eyes, and a bowl of grits with an unmeltable slice of american cheese on top. I ate it anyway.
I never wanted to leave the Waffle House, because it was the most perfect place on earth, at least for that moment. But we had places to go, and a state line or two to cross before we reached our destination.
So we got back on the road. It was Heather’s turn again, so I pulled the pillow out of the back and managed to fall asleep pretty quickly. I awoke an hour or so later in rush-hour traffic outside Nashville, and was so sick to my stomach I wanted to die. Heather said she felt exactly the same way. We cursed the Waffle House for leading us astray.
It was around 7am, still to early for much of anything to be open, so we decided to find coffee. We were tired and punchy and nauseated. We found our way around the maze of university campuses to Bongo Java, and barely even noticed the Nun Bun as we ordered as much caffeine as possible. We sat out on the deck, squinting at the morning sun. I paged through the paper, providing insightful commentary which Heather skillfully ignored. We debated about whether it was acceptable for stores to not open until 10am in the civilized world. We made fun of the workmen across the street. Finally, we dragged our asses off the deck and back to the car, and drove into downtown Nashville.
We walked up and down Broadway, stopping into the horrible tacky souvenir shop we always stop into when we’re in town, even though half their merchandise is emblazoned with the rebel flag, and it never fails to piss me off. Then we went to see if the Charlie Daniels Museum was open. Unfortunately, it was not. By that time, our real destination, Hatch Show Print, was open, conveniently allowing us to spend our money and move on.
After that, there was more driving, which is all now a blur. We arrived in Lynchburg after a while, because Heather wanted to pick up some souvenirs in the cute little downtown. I wanted to stop in and say hi to Goose. So we ran into the distillery, and asked the woman at the counter (the very same woman who had been sitting there 6 months before, when we expressed our vast enthusiasm for Goose the first time) if he was working that day. She told me, with poorly-concealed pleasure, that he was not.
We drove some more, along these tiny winding roads through idyllic Tennessee backcountry. It was actually really pretty, and just added to my warm feelings towards that state (excepting the depressing shithole that is Chattanooga). We had been hoping to find lunch in Lynchburg, but the three restaurants there proudly featured 100% meat in all their dishes. On the way back to I-24, we went through the town of Cowan. As I drove past the mini-mainstreet, I saw the word ‘gourmet’ on the front of a building, and swung around the block to investigate.
The cafe was called the Goat Track Gourmet, and it was awesome. The woman who owned the place was working behind the counter, and she said they had been open for three months. They had plate lunches, which Heather and I were unaware of until we drove through the south: you pick an entree, then two sides from a wide and exciting array of options. I had spinach bread pudding with smoked gouda grits and sesame green beans. Everything was so good, we thought about maybe staying there forever, because what are the chances we’ll ever get back to Cowan, Tennessee?
We got back to I-24, and headed towards Atlanta. I was starting to fall asleep behind the wheel, resorting to slapping myself on the legs to stay awake. I pulled off at a rest area outside Chattanooga so we could switch. We staggered into the bathroom, and were sitting in stalls next to each other, in silent hysterics. I don’t even know why, other than that we were so exhausted we couldn’t stop laughing. Heather pretended she was crying, just to upset the other people in the bathroom. She was text messaging me from her phone; I had tears running down my face, and hearing her trying to not laugh out loud was just making me laugh even harder. I can’t imagine what the other women in that restroom were thinking.
Heather managed the rest of the drive, which is good, because I wouldn’t have made it. We were both so tired we wanted to vomit. Or maybe that was Waffle House. We got stuck in traffic for an hour outside Atlanta. I probably dozed off, woke up, promised myself not to doze off again, then dozed off twenty times or so. We got to the hotel around 5pm, and as fast as we possibly could, we jumped into bed and passed out.
I woke at 8pm, and got dressed so we could go out for dinner. Room service had nothing to offer me but grilled cheese, and after Waffle House, the thought of it made me want to cry. We did some quick investigation and decided to try and find our way to Buckhead, which I had heard had good restaurants. We found it easily, and decided on the Raja Indian restaurant. It wasn’t the best Indian food, but it was good, and prominently featured naan and paneer. We were happy.
We awoke at 9am and happily realized that neither of us felt sick to our stomachs anymore. On the way out of town, we stopped for coffee; all the Starbucks baristas were singing along with that Natalie Merchant song about getting older, and complaining about their pathetic barista lives. We took a detour to the town of Juliette, home of the Whistle Stop Cafe (of Fried Green Tomatoes fame). The residents are totally working it as far as the tourist trade goes, which is kind of amusing. All the shopkeepers are chatty and eccentric and cute. We considered maybe eating at the cafe, so went in to look at the menu. I looked down and saw a tableful of deep-fried food and I knew it wasn’t going to happen. So we continued on to Macon, Georgia, the location of our originally-planned lunch spot: Len Berg’s.
(And, yes, since you asked, we are the type of people who could consider Macon a destination.)
Len Berg’s is a bizarre little place. It’s in a small building in the alley behind the courthouse, and has been doing its thing for almost 50 years. It’s all about down-home cookin’, and it’s incredible.
We had discovered it in the AAA guide the last time we were in Georgia, and Heather has had recurring fantasies involving their biscuits and sweet tea ever since. They’re only open for ‘luncheon’ during the week. The kitchen is in the middle of the little building, with a lunch counter facing it. There’s a hallway on either side, and then dining rooms that branch out from there. The rooms are small and connect together like a maze. One of them has a large table with eight seats around it; another has two huge old creaking booths and nothing else. The seating is á la VFW post, cheap veneer tables and vinyl chairs. The waitress brought us the bread, which is amazing: buttermilk biscuits and little corn bread sticks. I asked her where the restrooms were located, and she gestured off towards the distance somewhere, saying, “through that door, you take a right and a right and a left and a left.”
The restaurant features classic southern cooking that you pick from a printed-daily menu. You can choose ‘lunch priced with two vegetables’; Heather ordered the baked stuffed pork chop (W) with fried fresh corn (Y) and country cole slaw (Z). I picked the vegetable plate, and selected my four vegetables: fried fresh corn (Y), country cole slaw (Z), tossed salad (S) with homemade bleu cheese dressing, and broccoli casserole (L). Worth noting: macaroni and cheese (M) is one of the vegetable options. I love the south.
The fried corn is sort of liked creamed corn, only with no cream. The bleu cheese dressing was the color of thousand island, but it was good anyway. My diet coke came in a tiny glass bottle. It was perfect.
Well, actually, the broccoli made me puke, but that was more my issue than theirs. Have I mentioned I’m fun to go out with? Yeah. Anyway, while I was in the bathroom, I could overhear the conversation in the eight-person room (which was a little disturbing, but still). There were a bunch of guys in there who obviously worked over at the courthouse, probably lawyers or judges. One of them was telling the others that for the last year, he had been exercising every day and trying to eat right and lose weight (what Len Berg’s had to do with eating right, I don’t know), because he had the new pacemaker. It occurred to me that everyone has their own personal struggle that nobody else knows about until they hear that person’s story. I mean, I know that should be obvious, but you don’t think about it. You go around thinking that your own life is this intense, gut-wrenching drama, and you envy other people’s simple, happy lives. And it’s not like that at all.
Back at the table, Heather was picking apart her peach cobbler and smiling about the people at the table behind her. It was a group in town for a conference, something about the needs of the blind. The women had the most stunning southern accents, stereotypically polite and genteel. One of the guys at the table was talking about how he helped set up a blind baseball league for kids in his county, and it was fascinating: he talked about the effect that success in sports had on the kids’ self-esteem and ability to function normally in school. Across the way, there was another old couple who had obviously been married since the beginning of time. They had ordered the exact same thing and were eating in silence. When the waitress visited their table, the woman would hold very lively conversations with her, then go back to dead silence when she left. Len Berg’s rules.
Leaving the restaurant, I again felt like crap, so Heather got to drive. I passed out for half an hour in the passenger seat, then felt like returning to the living. She informed me that I had missed the bamboo farm that I was intentionally looking out for, and then pointed out the hurricane evacuation crossovers that allow people to drive on both sides of the freeway while running for their lives. We figured those would probably be in use before long, since Hurricane Isabel was headed that way. At 2:50, I sighted my first seagull. We were getting near the ocean.
By 5pm, I was laying on the beach. I checked into the hotel and was instantly in love, once again, with Savannah. Or in this case, Tybee Island, but close enough. (Tybee island is on the Atlantic, 20 miles east of Savannah, across a series of bridges and causeways, and past miles of seagrass, turtle crossings, and palm trees.) The girl at the counter called me honey and sweetie and told me I was very striking. I swooned.
Our room was on the 4th floor overlooking the beach. We ran in, dumped all our stuff in the room, changed, smeared suntan lotion all over our pasty northern-european flesh, and went out to the beach. Heather went for a swim, which mostly meant standing about 10 feet into the water and getting knocked around by waves. I spread the blanket on the beach and laid down, meaning to read, as usual, but getting stuck just laying there instead. I pulled out the camera and took a picture of my viewpoint from the blanket. I called the parents to let them know we had arrived safely. They couldn’t believe how quickly we had gotten there, and I could hear my dad silently calculating driving times and speeds in his head, as usual. He highly disapproved of the fact that we had driven all night as well, of course. I told them about Atlanta and Macon and our early-morning visit to the Waffle House. Then my mom told me Johnny Cash had just died. That kind of dampened my enthusiasm for the beach.
I watched Heather’s head slowly bobbing south, and considered calling Alex in Miami to tell him to be on the lookout. I watched kids paragliding, and was a little jealous. Heather showed up after an hour or so, and we decided to go to dinner before we got sunburnt, then go back to the beach later.
We drove up to the other end of the beach, by the lighthouse, to a place we had eaten at on our last trips, the North Beach Grill. We had agreed it was one of those perfect moments: the ocean, the salt in the air, the wind, dinner on the beach. We sat out on the deck and ordered fried plantains with salsa. The Flying Sheephead Band was just warming up, a bluegrass trio with banjo, upright bass, and guitar. I ordered the veggie plate, which ended up being two black bean cakes, pineapple salsa, sweet potatoes (I can’t even describe how they were prepared, but they were the best thing I’d ever eaten in my life), and sugar snap peas. The band dedicated their set to the memory of Johnny Cash. The food was excellent and the weather was perfect. It was beautiful.
After dinner, we drove through the little neighborhood of bed & breakfasts and vacation rentals. Passing the pond in Jaycees Park, we saw a funny-looking duck standing there, so we got out to take a look. It turned out that she had a crowd of ducklings, and they all came dashing towards us as we approached. We resolved to come back the next day with something to feed them. I also noticed as we were leaving that the cicadas there near the ocean are unbelievably loud. When I’m walking at Lake Harriet, talking on the phone, and a plane passes overhead, I have to stop talking for a minute because of the noise; it’s kind of the same thing with the cicadas there. Crazy.
We drove back to the other end of the strip, and decided to go all the way to the south end to see what was there. Tybee Island is the typical beach resort town, although it’s still fairly unspoiled: there are a few tacky beach shops and convenience stores, and the obligatory motels and little cafes. But it’s no Virginia Beach; it’s uncrowded and friendly and nice.
We drove three blocks past our hotel and found the end of Highway 80, and a block and a half of little shops and restaurants. We went into a couple stores, which had everything on end-of-season clearance. Heather saw Ben & Jerry’s, so we stopped in, and discovered that their flavor of the month was sugar-free blueberry. Yay!
On the way back to the car, we saw an old guy come out of his shop, lean over and hock a huge gob of spit on the curb, then go back inside. Apart from that, the night was beautiful. We took our ice cream back to the hotel and sat out on our balcony, staring at the ocean. Then we went back downstairs and walked down to the pier. Apart from the wind, the weather was perfect, and we could see a million stars. There were probably 20 guys out there fishing in the dark. We went back down to the beach, took off our shoes, and walked all the way down to the south end, where it was pitch black and signs were warning us not to do something, but we couldn’t read them. There were kids scrambling around the beach catching crabs, and people strolling slowly, being in love. The tide was coming in, and we waded in the surf, my pants legs getting soaked for the second time that day. When we got back to our room, the moon had just come up. I watched Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash playing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ on VH1. We decided to sleep with the patio door open so we could hear the sound of the ocean.
I woke at 7am to the pinkish glow of the sunrise on the wall. I sat up on my elbow and watched seagulls and pelicans flying past the balcony. I realized that I was hearing almost the same sound I hear at home when we have the window open, only at home, it’s traffic on Crosstown, not the ocean. Sigh.
We drove into Savannah and parked near the City Market. We found a little breakfast place called the Express Cafe, which had a million tasty-looking pastries and espresso. I got oatmeal with apples and cinnamon, and the world’s largest iced americano. From there, we walked down to the riverfront along the Factors’ Walk. It’s a level down from the rest of the downtown, with cobblestone streets built with the ballast from ships coming from England. The shops there are all pretty cheesy/touristy, and we stopped into one for postcards. One of the women who worked there came running at me from across the store, raving about my hair. And, yes, I had to admit, my hair was perfect. We had named it ‘ocean hair’, because of the effect of the humidity. It was really curly, but not at all frizzy. I hardly had to do anything to it in the morning, just poke it around a little and spray it. It was magical. I wanted ocean hair to come home with me, but that was not to be.
We walked down to see the waving girl statue [OK, I found this link about the Waving Girl, and I order you all to complete the Suggested Activities, and get back to me with your very own monument design], then went back up to the main part of town. We wandered amongst the huge trees draped with spanish moss, through squares with statues, and past beautiful old homes. Around 11am, just as we were arguing about whether the south understood decent coffee or not (Heather’s standpoint being that there’s nothing in between Minneapolis and New Orleans; I hold out that there are little enclaves of espresso-consciousness), we happened across a cute little coffeeshop right on the corner near SCAD*.
*Heather also has a deep and burning fascination with SCAD, since she works for MCAD, and there’s some kind of art college rivalry, or something. Don’t ask me.
Anyway, the cafe doubled as a little shop, and at least 99% of what they were selling was cute. Our experience there might have been ideal, had it not been for the women. OK, back up a bit. At our hotel, there were all these people who were in town for a wedding. Seemingly everyone there but us. Which was fine. But, then, at this coffeeshop, all of the women there were in town for a wedding as well. We were starting to get the sense that, in fact, everyone was in town for this wedding, to which we were not invited. And I’m perhaps just a little miffed by that. Yes, I said miffed.
So, I kind of hated these women. They were so very Ivy-League-Sex-And-The-City-South-Beach-Diet-Ann-Taylor. They talked about their sorority reunions and their babies and their socially clueless lawyer husbands. But the way I see it, it was good to spend some time in close proximity with those girls. It was a reminder of exactly what I hope to never be. Hopefully it’s not contagious.
We left the shop and did some more walking. We wandered into a little gay gift shop (Yes! There are gay people in Georgia! Outside Atlanta, even!) with a supercute puppy by the door. Heather stayed outside and got chewed on, and I went in and wandered around. I ended up talking to one of the owners, who used to work for Norwest Bank, so he spent much of his time in Minneapolis. He missed the winter mornings where he’d walk outside and the air was so cold it cleared his sinuses instantly. I told him he was crazy.
We eventually ended up back near the City Market, and decided to try our luck with lunch there. The City Market is this little pedestrian mall about three blocks long with shops and cafes. When we first went to Savannah, I was excited about going to the market, because I thought it would be all cart vendors and local crafts and food and such. I was wrong, but that market does actually exist in Charleston, so I got my wish later. Anyway, we went to shops and looked at menus and didn’t find much promising, but by then it was about a hundred thousand degrees (in the shade), and humid, so we finally settled on the City Market Cafe.
After lunch, we went back to the car, which had been sitting in the sun all morning and had warmed up to the internal temperature of a combustion engine. Heather got in, because she is a trooper, or possibly a masochist, while I stood outside and danced the there’s-no-way-i’m-getting-in-there dance, until a car pulled up wanting my parking spot and I felt stupid. So we were off. We drove around and explored some more, ending up at Colonial Cemetery, which was really cool, and almost as good as those in New Orleans.
There was a mix of above-ground brick vaults and regular graves and some random headstones affixed to the wall. Some of them were ancient, cracked and barely readable. I liked the font, or whatever it was called before there were fonts. Typeface? On a gravestone? I’m not sure. Many of the headstones were worn down almost to little nubs, which made me wonder. Why were those so much more eroded than the others? Crazy wind patterns? Poor choice of materials? People rubbing them for good luck? Hmm. Also, the walkways were made of oyster shells. Neat.
We went past Mercer House again (you know, because of that book), took photos, mailed some postcards even though the folks back home wouldn’t get them until long after we were back in Minneapolis, and headed back to Tybee Island.
On the way to the hotel, we stopped again at Jaycees Park to see if our ducks were still around. Heather found a gigantic, cranky blue heron, various other waterfowl, tiny fish, and finally, the ducks. This time, we came armed with some styro-corn chips from Schnucks, so they were happy. We met a guy out walking his dog, Lucy. He called her a hound dog and said, “Y’all have a good night,” and I was charmed by his Georgia-ness. We stopped at our hotel, changed, and went back to the beach.
Heather swam again, and since there were more people around to notice if she started drowning, I told her I was going to take a walk on the beach. I left my shoes on the blanket and set off, heading north, walking at the edge of the water. Now, the problem with me is that I’m not good at stopping. If you set me walking in a straight line, I’ll keep going until I run into something, or collapse. In this case, I ran into the huge rocks at the north end of the beach, by the lighthouse and the place we had dinner. It was where all the huge cargo ships came out of the Savannah harbor, and headed off into the great unknown.
So I stood there for a minute, looked at all the funny people and the ships, then turned around and headed back. I had no idea how long I’d been walking, but it felt like a lot. A woman pointed out a stingray that had beached itself, wondering out loud as she picked it up by the ‘wings’ if it was going to sting her. It didn’t, and seemed a little stunned to find itself back in the ocean. I started to notice jellyfish on the beach, which I knew had definitely not been there the first time around. They were those perfectly transparent blobs, and they were hard to see on the sand. I started seeing more and more of them, and realized I was walking through a jellyfish minefield. Also, my feet were hurting, and I could feel blisters starting to form on the bottom of my left foot and heel. I thought walking on the beach would be all soft and comfy. I was so wrong.
About the time I was beginning to wonder whether I was going to make it back alive, I spotted the pier. My feet were killing me, and my injured hip was aching. I had the choice between walking on the wet sand or in the water, which was causing blisters, or walking on the dry sand, which was hot and slowed me down. In the distance, I saw Heather on the blanket, and figured she was probably wondering where the hell I had disappeared to. I laid down, and we shared a protein bar and figured out that I had been walking for two hours. It hurt.
We went back to the hotel room so Heather could shower. I considered changing, since my pants were wet and would be all salt-stained when they dried, but I figured it was the right thing to do, wearing ocean-wet pants to a restaurant on the beach. Because, yes, we were going back to the North Beach Grill. It’s that good.
The exact same band was there again, playing the exact same set. We had plantains yet again, and watched the people around us. They were weirder than the previous night, so it was good entertainment. After that, we stopped in at Ben and Jerry’s again, and were back to the hotel by 9pm, sitting on the balcony and watching the tide come in.
We woke up at 7am to some horrifying talk radio station. We got up and fed the seagulls our remaining pretzels from the hotel balcony, then checked out. We were on our way to Charleston, via Starbucks.
I was cranky as hell, as I usually am in the morning. It seemed to take an extra long time to get there, which we finally did around 11:30. Heather wanted to do some present shopping at the Old City Market (on eBay Street!), I wanted to pee. We drove around and around looking for parking, but the place was mobbed. Finally, I told her to go shop and I’d keep looking for parking, and call her when I found it. I never did. Around 12:30, about to pee my pants, I called her and told her we had to switch so I could go to the bathroom, so we did that. Then she went back in for more, and I circled until she was ready to go. Charleston is an incredibly beautiful city, but when you don’t have time to enjoy it, what’s the point?
We got back on the road. I was still crabby, since we had over 1300 miles to drive and were making hardly any progress. We stopped in Columbia, South Carolina for gas and food. We wanted to eat in the car, and since fast food is almost never an option for me, we picked a grocery store, Bi-Lo, instead. I emerged with a protein bar, 2 bananas, and grapes. Heather got a sub sandwich she told me she had ordered because it had “salami and salami and salami and salami and cheese”
We drove and drove and had nonsensical conversations about pretzel dessicants and giant cicadas taking the place of the headrest in your car. Sample conversation*:
Me: PARDON ME, THERE’S A CICADA BEHIND YOU!
H: WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU! I HAVE A CICADA FOR A HEADREST!
*This conversation is best when screamed at the top of your lungs.
It kept us awake, even if we barely managed to stay on the road because we were laughing so hard. We drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, then the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee. By 6:30pm, we were in Knoxville. I had decided that I really, really wanted to write a book, and had the outline written in my head. Heather was loudly voicing her opinion of each and every other driver on the road. We stopped at a gas station to pee, and Heather had a fight with the slush puppy machine. I decided that ‘Easy On, Easy Off’ was the new title of my autobiography (which gets a new title almost every single day).
At 7:30pm, we were passing the town of Corbin at an alarming speed, and both saw a sign that could possibly change our lives, so we exited. Because, my friends, Corbin, Kentucky is the birthplace of KFC, and the home to the Colonel Sanders museum.
We went into the Sanders Cafe, which is a functioning KFC attached to the original restaurant. There are some statues and displays honoring the (fake) colonel, which were reminiscent of the Sam Walton shrine in Arkansas. They had original menus and photos and even a Colonel Sanders halloween mask, which was both unsettling and erotic. They have the original kitchen and dining room, the (fake) colonel’s office, and a motel room. That’s because the (fake) colonel also ran a chain of motels in the area, and in order to advertise their swankiness, he built a replica in his restaurant. Weird.
Speaking of Sam Walton, on the way back to the interstate, we encountered this:
How often do you see an abandoned Wal-Mart?? It was a good feeling, until I realized that it was because they had just built a brand new Wal-Mart Supercenter down the road. Fuckers.
At 8:15pm, we decided to stop for dinner. That was because Heather’s dream had finally been realized: we found a Bob Evans in Richmond, Kentucky. I don’t know why she likes that place so much; we had stopped at one once because it was the only thing in the entire state of Missouri that was open on New Year’s. Something about biscuits. Anyway, we stopped. In the lobby, they had an American flag hanging on the wall, with a marker for pledging your allegiance, or something. So I did, because there never was a truer patriot than me. We got seated, and I went to use the restroom. On the way back, I passed three waitresses (I know, I usually refer to them as ‘servers’, but this was the kind of place where the girls all worked out front, and the boys all worked in the kitchen), and none of them would make eye contact. Maybe it was my ‘THUG’ tshirt? They all had poorly-conceived face paintings on their cheeks. In an orgasmic frenzy, Heather ordered the Homestead Breakfast with sixteen types of meat, and three pounds of starch. (She wishes for me to mention that she did not, in fact, eat it all. Not even close.)
I ordered a salad and a grilled cheese, which at least was digestable this time around. From our booth, I could see all the behind-the-counter antics, and watched with fascination. The waitresses compared tips; ours counted her cash and had a total of $35. Now, I’m just making assumptions, but I’m pretty sure she must have worked the dinner rush, since they were only open til 10. Sunday dinner, and only $35 in tips? Kentucky sucks.
Carl, the manager, was one of those guys who’s married, in his mid-30s, and likes to refer to the staff as his ‘girls’. He was flirty and condescending. He liked to throw his substantial weight around. He was sure that he was well-liked by all, and he was seriously mistaken. He probably touched a little too often, too. At one point, our server called him over to see if she was making a side salad correctly. He counted the croutons, then removed some. I wanted to cry, because somewhere, a really bad country-western song had been written about this man.
Our bill was $15, and it was disturbing to realize that my $4 tip would make up a full 10% of her take for the night. We got back on the road to get in a few more hours of driving that night. I didn’t see much of Kentucky, but Louisville struck me as kind of cool. From there, we crossed into Indiana, and were safely ensconced once again in NASCAR country. It was raining and we were tired, so we finally pulled off at the Mariann Motel in Scottsburg, one of the three listed in the hotel guide we picked up at a rest area. We each took a bed and collapsed for the night.
I woke up to a horrible, horrible country song and knew I had to get out of Indiana. It was foggy and cold as we got on the road. Somewhere in central Indiana, I pulled out my notebook and occupied myself with making a list of the top ten places I’d ever had sex (which, in Illinois, Heather followed up with facial hair, gay bar, or sex position?). In Indianapolis, Heather called a Starbucks for directions and the girl hung up on her. We found one anyway.
Outside Chicago, we gained an hour, and got into town around 11am. I was moaning about the huge distance we still had to go, and told Heather to expect I’d be crying by the time we got to Wisconsin. She launched into an elaborate word problem involving highway-distance math, something like (A – B) < (C – D) where A = Chicago, B = Frankfort, Indiana, C = Minneapolis, and D = Madison. It still seemed like a lot to me.
We did the usual thing, which was to stop at IKEA for lunch. We shopped a little, then went to the cafe. As always, I had the vegetarian plate (pytt i panna), which has been on catalog special since the beginning of time for $2.49. You can’t go wrong.
I drove out of Chicagoland, through the newly-altered state of Illinois, and got us safely to Starbucks in Madison. I promised Heather again that I would cry before the day was through, so she took over driving; she almost always gets the Madison – Minneapolis shift, because it’s the most painful.
I spent the rest of the afternoon sewing in the passenger seat (it’s a long story, but will someday be a creamedpeas episode). Because I wasn’t paying attention, she ended up listening to entire CDs over and over. Wisconsin was all about road construction, as always. A couple times, we blew past state troopers sitting in the median. Heather would slam on the brakes, slow down to less than the speed limit, and pull into the right lane. Once, she and the trooper even smiled at each other. I told her she couldn’t possibly be less subtle, but we’re lucky. We entertained ourselves once again with cicada jokes, and eventually made it home. And I didn’t cry once.