Rosie and Me: Day 24. Honey, I’m Home!

I looked everywhere.

I looked in the suitcase, in the duffle bag that I used to transport exercise clothes, and of course I looked to see if they were hanging on the travel rack in Rosie’s back seat with all the rest of my clothes, where they should have ended up.

Nothing.

Nowhere.

I was distraught.

I only have two pairs of jeans. (I’m a khaki kind of guy and have been since medical school)

One is a pair of Levis 501 button fly jeans that are okay. The other is a pair of Wranglers that are comfortable, fit me better and feel better to me for some reason. I was looking forward to wearing them both on the road and in the car while traveling.

The Wranglers were gone. Vanished. AWOL. I couldn’t find them anywhere, and I was so disappointed and angry with myself since I thought I had lost them somehow during the packing and leaving for the trip. I could not for the life of me figure out what had happened, but Levis it was for the duration of the trip and nobody died.

Fast forward three weeks to today, Day 24. I arrive home, haul everything up the stairs to my apartment, start to dump things on the bed and anticipate the (at least) six or seven huge loads of laundry I was about to tackle.

I turn around to put my hiking boots in the closet.

They’re there, forlorn and forgotten, on the floor under the blue seersuckers and the suits and the full length wool winter coat, all of whom had to stay behind and pull guard duty as the rest of us traveled the US. I guessed they had slipped off the hanger as I picked up armloads of clothes for the trip.

They were down, but not out.

I smiled. At least I hadn’t lost them.

Now, direct your attention to my desk, whereupon sits a huge pile of three weeks’ worth of mail placed nicely in a USPS box for me.

About halfway down in the geological survey that is this afternoon’s mail opening exercise, I come upon an envelope from Seattle. Not from my friend Elizabeth, who has been busy doing her own traveling in North Carolina this week. Not from anyone else that I know, at first glance. Official looking, this envelope. I figured it was not a thank you note for shopping at the Pike Place Market and buying Dungeness crabs (though they should have sent me a thank you note, as expensive as those suckers are!)

I opened it and soon realized that I had been spotted by THE MAN in Seattle and had supposedly been doing (GASP) 29 mph in a 20 mph school zone. I have no memory of this, of course, but here are two pictures of Rosie happily cruising (not at 92 mph, like in Montana, but at a child-killing, pavement scorching 29 mph in Seattle), plus a picture of my license plate.

Busted.

Fine: $189.

Welcome to sunny Seattle. We’re so glad you’re here. You didn’t buy enough crabs, you jerk.

Sigh.

Well, nobody died, right? I’m home, the trip was grand, and I will just consider this overhead. I really, really, really thought I had traveled 6987 miles with no tickets of any kind and was feeling pretty damn smug about it.

The moral to this sad, sordid, fishy tale, my dear readers?

If you ever find yourself in a new city, life starts to go a little fast, and you get caught with your jeans down, you are just screwed.

Don’t come crying to me. Been there, done that, paid the ticket.

Good evening, my friends, from the sunny state of South Carolina, where the women are lovely, the jeans are blue, and so are the crabs we catch with our own hands, some chicken necks and a string on the coast.

It’s been real, and I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

Rosie and Me: Day 22. A Chevy, A Steak Sauce and a Birthday.

After our wonderful cocktails and meal last night at Mark and Becky’s house, it just made sense that Mark show me the gorgeous new exercise and fitness facility at Tulane University in downtown New Orleans this morning. Technically called the Reily Student Recreation Center, this is a wonderful place that had multiple floors of racquetball courts, basketball courts, treadmills, exercise bikes, open exercise rooms, an Olympic size pool and a ping pong table or two.

In the first storyboard draft for Pixar’s film Cars, the main character, a race car named Lightning McQueen was going to have number 57 as his racing number, in reference to director John Lasseter’s birthdate, January 12, 1957. But in the final cut, Lightning’s racing number changed to 95.

They check your ID and make you sign in as a guest with a sponsor. If you forget your ID, they won’t let you in until you catch your friend’s wife just before she leaves the house for work and have her bring your wallet from your back pants pocket. Not that I would know anything about that, of course. No.

I walked the track to warm up and then spent the rest of an hour on a kick-ass bike. Fun.

Then, it was time to bid New Orleans goodbye and head out of town towards Birmingham.

Passenger 57 was a film starring Wesley Snipes.

I met a friend from high school, Lawton Higgs, who I have talked to on Facebook for some time, for dinner at a local barbecue place in Homewood, Alabama. Saw’s BBQ is an excellent place to experience home-cooked ribs, chicken and pork, among other items. We had a great time talking and filling up on some great food.

Heinz 57 is a brand of sauce, and the number of varieties of foods claimed to be produced by the H.J. Heinz Company.

We then walked a couple of storefronts down the street to the Edgewood Creamery on Oxmoor. Cinnamon ice cream is good. Just sayin’.

57 Channels (and Nothin’ On) is a song by Bruce Springsteen, from his 1992 album Human Touch.

This was a nice day.

Carnegie Hall is on West 57th Street in New York City.

Oh, yeah, I had a birthday today too. Guess what year I was born in and which birthday this was.

Tomorrow, I will head for Athens to see family and have one more day and night to relax. Then, it’s back to Aiken to check mountains of mail, emails, turn off the away messages and get ready for the inevitable post-vacation letdown after such a long time away.

Thanks to all of you have followed along at home, seen the sights with me, sampled the food, and even had a Corpse Reviver #2 last night. You’ve been great.

Good night, friends, from Birmingham, Alabama.

Rosie and Me: Day 21. Madder Than a Hatter Eating a Beignet in Jackson Square

So today was New Orleans day! How cool is that?

My high school friend Mark told me right away that I had to buy a hat, and that my first stop was to be Meyer the Hatter, one of the biggest hatters in the south.

“Just go in, tell them that you’re visiting and that you don’t know what you want, and they’ll fix you right up.”

I walked from Tulane down Canal, then took a right on St. Charles Avenue, went in and said exactly that. After finding out what kind of hat I liked, which season I wanted it for, and if my taste ran to finer hats in the group (it did), he picked out two hats for me right away. The first was too small. The second fit perfectly. I walked out in ten minutes flat with a wonderful black wool felt hat with a brown and black leather band.

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I then went all the way down Canal and hopped the Algiers ferry ( two bucks each way) and got some glorious shots of the city.

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After the ferry came my usual big walk around the city, heading down towards Jackson Square. This is once again a beautiful part of New Orleans, with sun splashed water, vibrant color, the laughter of children, and the raucous sound of a jazz band on the green.

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What trip to New Orleans as a tourist is complete without a trip the the Cafe Du Monde for beignets and chickory cafe au lait? Such a beehive of activity! Dozens of waitstaff and powdered sugar-coated people scarfing down trios of the just warmed pastries, washed down with smooth coffee. Divine. Yes, sadly, I ate all three.

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To work off the calories from the Cafe, one must stroll the French Quarter, with its signature horse-drawn tours, pedal cabs, and balconies now decorated in style for Halloween. This city seems to love this holiday, as I’ve seen ghouls and ghosts and strings of orange lights and zombies and witches everywhere I go.

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Lunch was with my friend Mark at Pesche, a restaurant open for one year in an old reclaimed warehouse. Stunning architecture, excellent seafood gumbo (yes, Knot, I took your advice and it helped, thank you), roasted pumpkin, and a fine LA-31 Pale Ale. Magnificent!

The rest of my afternoon was spent at the WWII Museum, and ever-expanding tribute to the many who sacrificed to literally save the freedoms of millions in the 1940s. The D-Day portion of the Museum is fully open, the huge new Boeing Pavilion is up and running and it houses a B17 bomber suspended from the ceiling along with five other period planes. Talk about a huge room!

Other exhibits about the European and Pacific theaters will open in the next year. Well worth a few hours of your time if you’re in New Orleans.

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Then, it was home for a wonderful dinner with Mark and Becky, complete with Mark’s signature cocktails. My favorite was the Corpse Reviver #2. Suffice it to say that if you drink more than one of these I think it would have the opposite of the intended effect.

I even got a house tour last night, with stories of Katrina recovery on a very personal level and an introduction to the house ghost in the attic.

This was a wonderful day.

Tomorrow, it’s hit the gym first, as Mark wants me to see the fine facility affiliated with Tulane, then Rosie and I will cross the Mississippi River and head to Birmingham.

It’s almost time to feel South Carolina sunshine on my face again.

Oh, one traveler’s tip for you today. How do you take an excellent photo?

Look around for the area of grass or dirt or other surface near your subject that is the most worn down. This is where thousands of people before you have taken the shot.

Don’t stand there.

Change the light, the angle, the perspective, the shadow.

You will take a beautiful photo that brings back memories and that you can share with others.

Good night, friends, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rosie and Me: Day 20. Visiting Relatives

Some observations as I made my way from Little Rock to New Orleans today.

The hotel in Maumelle, Arkansas, was one of the nicest of the properties I’ve been in on this trip. It looked brand new, smelled of new construction, had nice carpeting and furnishings, and the staff was warm and welcoming. My room was large, well-appointed, was directly across from the fitness center, had modern NFC access built into the door and just seemed to be brand new. When I asked the clerk how long the hotel has been open, she said since 2011.

I have had a chance to meet several online friends on this trip, people I have come to know very well but had never met in person. I have known them for 1-5 years, and I dare say I’m closer to a couple of these friends than to most of my “real life” ones.

When I attended the dinner given by Elizabeth for my high school friends in Seattle, it was almost like we picked up right where we left off. After almost four decades, we could tell stories, joke and kid each other, and act like goofy teens again for awhile. We were in many ways the same people, but with lifetimes of experiences since our last meeting.

I drove into New Orleans today, marveling at how busy and active everything looks. When I drove down the same interstate in 2005, with a Red Cross on my rental car, we were the only people on the road except for the National Guard troops who let us into the city. I counted the number of windows blown out of the Sheraton Hotel building and heard gunfire down by the levee. Today, I heard the roar of traffic and the sound of streetcars. That visit saw New Orleans bruised and battered. This trip will see it happy and beckoning.

I have been very busy and active on this vacation, so much so that some of you have repeatedly told me to slow down! I have been following an itinerary that I set for myself. I’m doing things that I choose to do in places I want to go. Contrast this with work, when I am driven by schedules and job needs, and when I feel tired and worn down many days, not energized.

Tonight I had a wonderful New Orleans meal and great conversation with my old high school friend Mark Vanlandingham and his wife Becky at Boucherie on Jeanette Street. Tomorrow will be full of coffee, good food, walking, parks, art, military history, and just being out in the good warm southern air.

Things I’ve learned from all this?

Everything is relative.

Everything has context.

Everything is transient.

Everything has importance.

Everything will end.

As one of my regular readers often says to me, “Carpe diem!”.

I will do my best to make tomorrow one of the best days I’ve ever had.

Will you?

Good night, my friends, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rosie and Me: Day 19. Dr. Bates and the Secret of the Ya Ya’s Supperhood

Traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas today, with a feeling that I was getting back to my beloved south. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the sights all around this great big country of ours, meeting new friends and seeing old friends again, sampling food and coffee in more places than I can count, and seeing how beautiful America is. It is getting to be time to get back to my roots, though, back to the warm, humid climate, the slower pace and the drawl of the south. You can take the boy out of the south…

The weird sign of the day award goes to this little jewel seen somewhere in Arkansas I believe, if memory serves:

“Toad Suck Park”

I’ll just let you sit with that one for a minute. Get another drink if you need to. I’ll write the rest of this post while you’re gone.

The nice event of the evening today was dinner in Little Rock with three people I’d never met in person before. Ramona Bates, she of the scarf and baby quilt making fame, had wanted me to come through and have dinner with her and her husband Brett. She sent me a text when I got here and said that Val Jones, a blogger and physician who I had met on Twitter years ago, just happened to be working a locum tenens job at a hospital in town, and she also joined us for dinner.

We ate outside at Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro, a wonderful place in an upscale retail area. The weather was perfect in the early evening, the food was excellent and the company fine. We enjoyed getting to know a little more about each other, and it was remarkably easy to do. Funny how that happens when you have Twitter or Facebook relationships for years before actually meeting someone in real life.

Ramona had made me a Mobius scarf and some homemade bread, so I came away in good shape tonight!

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As I wrote before I started this trip, seeing the people, old friends and new, has been the highlight of my travels across the land. We all need friends, people who we like and who like us, people we can share our hopes and fears with, as well as sharing a crab dinner or a drink or a story or two.

Thanks to all my friends across the USA who enrich my life and make it better in so many ways.

I love all of you guys.

Tomorrow, we travel to The Big Easy to visit with Mark and Becky and eat (really, again??), see the WWII Museum and see what else we can get into. It will be my first visit back to New Orleans for pleasure since I worked for seventeen days just after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. I’m looking forward to a much more pleasant experience this time around.

Good night, dear readers, from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Rosie and Me: Day 18. Flint-stones.

Once upon a time there was a coffee shop in Emporia, Kansas…

Well of course there was a coffee shop. Whose blog is this anyway?

Granada Coffee Company was my mid-morning stop today to recharge and sample the local beans and muffins. A blueberry one and a big Americano with plenty to take on the road was perfect. The shop was little but homey and comfortable, with just five or six tables. The lady barista was very friendly to me from the start (are you sensing the pattern here, that people who are around coffee, who drink coffee and who brew coffee are all very nice people?), and I was very impressed with the fact that she called every one of her customers while I was there by name as they walked in the door. The sign on her wall said, “Enter as strangers; leave as friends.” I believe that this fit just right.

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Then, it was on to see the Flint stones. No, not the yabba dabba doo kind, but the rolling hill kind that were a nice shade of yellow-brown-gold and undulated nicely through the rest of Kansas before I hit Oklahoma. The Flint Hills were a very pretty part of the state to drive through indeed.

The highlight of my day, and the only real destination I had set myself today, was the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. How can I describe this place to those of you have never been there? I expected that it would be a very visceral experience for me. I am getting a little road weary now that I am in my third week away from home, and I tend to get a little more emotional when I’m tired, so I knew that this would be a very interesting and educational, but emotionally painful, stop. It is telling that one of my close friends texted me just before I got there and checked in with me, offering to touch base later in the day to make sure I was okay.

Walking up to one of the massive gates, situated at each end of the site like gigantic bookends of time, plus seeing the sections of fencing that have been left to accept tokens and memorabilia from visitors, immediately hit me in the gut. That and the fact that Jesus, in the form of a large white statue across the road, had turned his back on the horrific trauma, covered his face, and wept. I saw the tiny tennis shoe hanging from the fence, the pictures of the victims and the still-fresh grief of the families that said goodbye, probably for the hundredth time, to their daughter or father or husband, and I had trouble seeing to use my camera to capture the pain.

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I spent a total of about four hours at the site, three in the bright sunlight of the outdoor venue and inside touring the museum, and another hour as the sun set. I wanted to get another set of pictures as the wonderful lighting slowly changed the feeling of the Memorial from a sun-splashed beauty to a melancholy glow. I was very glad I took the extra time to go back.

The Memorial is one of the best I’ve ever visited, and I highly recommend you see it if you ever go to Oklahoma City. The museum educates as it should, with words and pictures and sounds and emotion and shock and closure. The outdoor area is nothing short of spectacular in its ability to recreate the space as it was in the moment before the blast, but to also bring us forward in time long past 9:03 AM on that fateful day of April 19, 1995. The horror of the loss is apparent in the Field of Empty Chairs, but the hope and serenity that comes up from the perfectly clear and calm pool of water between the bookended gates of time is calming. Above it all, the Survivor Tree lets us know that when all hope seems gone, life can go on.

I don’t have any other words that do this place justice, but I tried to capture some of the emotion behind the lens of a camera to share with you. I hope I have done a good enough job.

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The overarching themes of this Memorial are that out of horrendous destruction springs monumental beauty, from hate can come love, and from darkness can come soothing light.

If you love someone, tell them.

If you feel strongly about something, act.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

Good night, dear readers, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Rosie and Me: Day 17. Days of Wine and Winstead’s

Today’s first stop was the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas. I had read that this was the least visited of all the presidential libraries and museums, but after seeing it I’m not really sure why. Maybe the location is a hindrance, but the content of the site and the poignancy of the story of the child who grew up here and left at twenty to head to West Point is history writ large.

The physical site itself is very open and pleasant, and the day was sunny and warm for my visit today.

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I was able to tour the boyhood home, a small, spare white house well over a century old, where the 34th President of the United States lived from age eight to age twenty; one of seven boys. His mother was the last of the family members to live in the home before a foundation was formed to put it on display.

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Eisenhower came from a highly motivated, hard-working and successful family. His father once worked eighty hours every two weeks for ten dollars pay. He came home and hung his hat on an animal horn that still adorns the wall over the telephone that his mother used while she lived in the house. His brothers were in business, newspaper editors and presidents of colleges.

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All of the furnishings and furniture in the house are original. Our docent had her stories down and imparted a lot of information about the family and the reasons the house looks the way it does. We could see everything from a dough box, where Mrs. Eisenhower made up to nine loaves of bread every two days to feed her family, to a set of plates given to her by President and Mrs. Eisenhower, to the old footpedal sewing machine in the bedroom that his mother lived in until her death.

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The rest of the grounds included the library and museum, a large statue of Eisenhower, and the final resting place for him, his wife and one of their sons. It was a very quiet, plain, simple place, much like I think Eisenhower probably was in some respects.

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Another stop during this travel day was Wyldewood Cellars, a place that one of my friends in South Carolina had told me to check out of I went past it. Just so happens that it is in Plexico, Kansas, just off the interstate. I bought four bottles of elderberry, spiced and mulled wines, and a couple of port-like dessert wines, one of which has strong chocolate tones. Should be nice for the holidays or the cold winter months to come.

The last meal of the day, and definitely the most fun, was at a local Winstead’s Hamburgers in Overland Park, Kansas.

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I had not been to this restaurant in over seven or eight years at least, so I was pumped to get a double with everything, onion rings and a chocolate malt. They did not disappoint. It’s good old fashioned hamburger joint-malt shoppe food, and if you like it, there’s no better place to get some. if you’re in KC, go there. Period.

All in all, it was a fine day.

Tomorrow, I will be back on the road bright and early to get to Oklahoma City by lunchtime. I want to have plenty of time tomorrow afternoon to tour the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, including getting some pictures at dusk or dark if I can swing it. I’m sure that will be a very solemn but educational place to visit.

For now, thanks for reading, and good night from Kansas City.