Day 28 – June 30

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Current Location: New York, NY

Well, New York must not have wanted its legacy on this blog to be based solely on the horrors of yesterday’s parking ordeal because like Annie always told me it would, the sun did come out tomorrow.  Although I can’t say that I simply strolled over to my car and effortlessly relocated it to a free spot on the other side of the road before waltzing down Fifth Avenue with a croissant and twenty carats worth of diamonds, the parking spot search-time this morning was dramatically shorter than yesterday.

In another point in the plus column for New York, “Operation Re-Park 2011” came on the heels of going to last night’s baseball game at Yankee Stadium.  I hope it’s clear that I’m not exactly a Yankees fan, and I’ll have a lot of explaining to do tomorrow when I arrive in Massachusetts and reunite with my Redsox-loving family, but for better or worse, going to a Yankees game seemed like a good item to check off the bucket list of America.  Everyone sitting near us at the game was incredibly friendly, and it was a good reminder that there are both courteous and rude people everywhere.  Sure, it’s true that my friend Catherine’s building’s superintendent refused to let me in yesterday because I didn’t have a key, and it’s also true that three of her neighbors passed me without any sort of acknowledgment as I was lugging my 312 bags up the stairs, but that’s fine.  That’s the same do-it-yourself attitude that helped found this country.  And for the record, no one helped me in Evansville, Indiana either.

I really do love New York, and it’s been nice to finally find that its twenty degree temperatures don’t linger all year long.  As far as I can recall, I’ve only ever been here at one time or another during the months between December and March, so I was beginning to wonder if the city did have another (warmer) side to it.  The heat is nice, but there is something to be said about donning winter boots to walk around this city.  They’re much more resistant to the puddles of sticky sewagey sludge that take up residence along the city’s sidewalks than flip-flop sandals have proven to be.  I only wish that I had thought to bring disposable shoes with me as I think I might be forced to throw away the pair that I do have.

Riding the subway continues to be one of my favorite activities here.  There’s just nothing like it.  Sometimes the train is relatively empty and relaxing and then other times, it feels as though you’re walking into a medium-sized fish tank that’s already serving as a holding cell for every single person living here.  And no one ever says, “shucks, that one’s full.”  The trains always have room for just one more.

After moving my car this morning, I went to Starbucks and found that just because something is a national chain doesn’t mean that it has a national price.  Everything is more expensive here, and I suppose that makes sense.  What might someone do?  Go to New Jersey for coffee at a cheaper rate?

Following my trip to Starbucks, I decided to head downtown towards Battery Park.  Of course, I’m somewhat unfamiliar with the subway system here, so I ended up walking about two-and-a-half miles.  I suppose I needed the exercise though.  I haven’t worked in a lot of physical activity in between driving 6,000 miles over the last thirty days.

I made it down to Battery Park and found that the intense level of patriotism displayed following September 11th continues to resonate from this area.  I haven’t been there in quite sometime, and it was nice to see the tremendous amount of work and progress involved with the Freedom Tower which will be the new One World Trade Center and completed in 2014.  I joined in with the masses of my fellow tourists by taking photos of the park and its sites, including the Statue of Liberty which looks ahead from her perch in New York Harbor.  Originally, I had thought of taking the Staten Island Ferry to get a closer look at Her Majesty, but when I saw that the line for such a ride spanned the length of Manhattan, I decided to head back uptown and rest.  I can’t do everything on this trip.

Feeling like a chump just sitting around in front of the TV while visiting New York, I opted to watch Sex and the City so that I could still get a look around town.  It’s very nice here.  The apartments are all fairly big and presumably inexpensive given Carrie and Charlotte’s general lack of meaningful employment.  It’s also incredibly easy to get from place to place and the people here spend a lot of time going to fancy events at high-end ballrooms and restaurants.  All in all, it seems like a good place to live!

Tonight I plan to rest up before taking off for the final leg of my journey bright and early tomorrow morning.  Even if I wanted to lag around a bit, New York’s streets mandate that I get out of here in a timely manner, so I’ll be arriving in Massachusetts by the afternoon.  I can’t believe that the end of my days as a wanderer is finally near!  Thank you for all of your encouragement throughout my trip.  I’ve really appreciated it all!

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Day 27 – June 29

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Miles Traveled: 228; Current Location: New York, NY

It took twenty-seven days, fifteen cities, and nineteen states, but it was New York City that finally brought me to tears.  There is an episode of Seinfeld entitled, “The Parking Spot,” in which George and another man quarrel over a street spot for hours, both refusing to let the other man have it.  I now know their pain.  And I no longer find any humor whatsoever in that episode.

Ever since I left Virginia, driving has seemed slightly more frustrating to me.  Maybe it’s just the routes that I’m taking, but the general consensus of the drivers that I’m riding alongside these days seems to be that we’re on a much more stringent mission that we used to be.  When I dreamt of riding in my car with my cowboy hat on, listening to the Eagles, and sipping on Diet Dr. Pepper, I didn’t envision rush hour traffic.  I didn’t envision tractor-trailers merging into my lane from both directions.  I didn’t envision the chaotic gridlock that forms upon exiting a tollbooth.  I didn’t envision driving around the Upper East Side for two and a half hours trying to park.  I didn’t envision New York.

Don’t get me wrong, I love New York.  There’s no city in the world that I’d rather visit, but I will never, ever, drive here again.  Ever.  At first though, I didn’t mind it.  As I was approaching the city, it started to feel like a game, and I was in it to win.  There was no sign of any kind indicating my entrance into New York, but I knew I was here.  I could tell by the chorus of honking and seemingly careless merging-practices that were unfolding around me.  This was it.

As soon as I became surrounded by the unflinching attitude of the drivers in this environment, I effortlessly stepped up my game.  My new motto was “be aggressive.” Be aggressive at all costs.  This persona worked for a while.  I thought to myself, “hey, I really have the hang of this,” and that feeling stayed with me as I drove through the city and navigated towards the Upper East Side.  I had been worried about driving in New York City, and my fears were totally unfounded.  Driving here is not a problem at all.  It’s the hope of ever actually stopping to get out of the car that you have to worry about.

I circled a radius of several blocks for quite some time to no avail.  At this point, I really had to go to the bathroom.  Like an absolute fool, I hadn’t stopped since Maryland which was now hours earlier.  When I saw a metered spot at 71st and Lexington, I took it.  The meters are only good for one hour, and several cars on the street already had tickets, so I knew that my car’s newfound home wouldn’t be a permanent option, but it seemed like a good temporary fix.  Surely, I figured, there’s somewhere to go to the bathroom near here.

Of course, I was hoping for a “somewhere” other than the gutter.  I wandered around for a while, looking for a suitable option, before stooping down to one of the oldest tricks in my book.  I walked into a restaurant, told them I was meeting someone, asked where the restroom was located, and then as I exited, pretended to be on my cell phone.  “Oh! 74th and Lexington.  Ok…See you in a minute…”  Never to look back again.

Now that one crisis was averted, I was ready to tackle another.  I had only some idea of where I had parked my car.  As I looked for it though, I passed a sign that read, “be calm and carry on,” and that, my friends, is just what I did.  Thirty minutes later, I found my car, and though I was tired, sweaty, and convinced that I had just trudged six miles uphill in the snow, I was determined to find a long term place to park.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t park in a garage, I have five words for you: “ten dollars per half hour.”  The street was the only option for me.  I got back into my trusty Civic, and carried on.  I would not let the streets of New York beat me.  This was about the time, however, when things started to get a little hairy.

My hyper-vigilant New York driving technique had long ago faded, and I became exhausted and careless.  I had morphed back into a country mouse trying to keep up with a pack of mice from the city, and my true colors were beginning to show.  I turned the wrong way down a one way street.  I could hear the echoed calls of “Masshole” floating my way, and I was completely panicked.

I started to back up.  People were staring at me.  I couldn’t do that.  Finally, I had the wherewithall to pull over to the side to assess my options.  I was illegally parked on a one-way street in Manhattan, facing the wrong direction, at a complete loss as to what my next step should be.  Eventually, the city mouse within me took over, and I realized that I would have to wait for traffic to subside in order to make a u-turn of some sort.  Have you ever waited for traffic to “subside” in Manhattan?  I was perilously faced the wrong way on a busy New York street for a very long six or seven minutes.

Eventually, I did find a place to park.  Eight blocks from where I was headed.  Although that might not seem very far, when you’re carting a huge suitcase, two purses, and a duffle bag, it does seem far.  Before I started my drive into the city, I told my mother that I was nervous about this leg of the trek.  She responded that I shouldn’t be worried.  Huh?!  My mom, who still reminds me to look both ways before crossing the street, told me not to be worried?  “Thanks mom,” I thought, “She’s right, it will be fine.”  Of course then she followed-up, “driving in New York is no problem at all, but don’t leave anything at all in your car.  They’ll break your windows for loose change.”

And there it was.  After this ordeal, however, the idea of taking everything out of my car and carting it eight blocks was completely out of the question.  So, if you’re in the market for 90210 tapes or Ugg boots from 2004, they’re yours for the taking at 78th and 1st.  First come first serve.  Please leave my yearbook though.

Due to the street restrictions, I’m scheduled to repark my car tomorrow morning at 9am, and it’s highly possible that I’ll be reparking it in Massachusetts, a day ahead of schedule.  Thank you for reading my blog!  And please, don’t try to park your car in Manhattan.

Day 26 – June 28

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Miles Traveled: 111; Current Location: Washington D.C.

I’m officially in love with Virginia.  Now I understand the slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” I think it must be a hard place not to love.  That being said, I take back my comment from yesterday about its perfectly paved roads.  Driving into D.C. is brutal.  Construction, potholes, tons of traffic.  If I can assume that this experience is only a small taste of the one that I’ll face tomorrow as I drive into New York City, I think I might be in trouble.  Luckily I’m sure the other drivers will be kind to me when they see my Massachusetts license plates and realize that I’m from out of town and presumably from Boston.  Right.

But back to Virginia.  I woke up early this morning to get to Shenandoah Caverns when it opened.  I read in the brochure last night and learned that the tours begin on the hour, and I wanted to make sure I was there for the first tour.  You can take the girl out of the workforce, but you can’t take the incessant need to be on time out of the girl.  Today though, punctuality worked in my favor because when I arrived at the caverns, the man at the counter told me that if I went with the visitors from the imminently arriving tour bus then I could go see the caverns free of charge.  I thought that this turn of events was really great, but perhaps I should have also thought, “this man must know something.”

As it turned out, the tour group was exclusively Asian.  I point this out only to reassure you that I had absolutely no hope of fitting in whatsoever.  Everyone, including the guide, clearly questioned how I had gotten mixed up with this crowd, but no one asked.  They’ll be wondering forever.  There were about thirty in the group, and none of them had any interest in listening to any sort of guidance or direction.  The tour took about twenty minutes longer than it was supposed to.  Truth be told though, I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to go along with this group.  Everyone on the tour was so enthusiastic about the caves and were audibly amazed each time we turned a corner.  It made the experience much more interesting than it would have been had I been wandering around by myself, alone with my cynical nature.  Everyone was very nice, and I grew to love my temporary posse.

As you might have guessed if you know me well, I didn’t actually have any interest in seeing the caverns.  I went to Rock City in Tennessee when I was about ten-years-old, so I’ve already seen a cave, and I’ve always thought that this warm memory would be enough to last a lifetime.  I’m also somewhat claustrophobic, so I was worried that the “cave experience” might prove to be a bit stressful, and I’m not a fan of stress.  You might now be wondering why I decided to go to the caverns at all, and naturally, I have an incredibly logical answer for you.

Before I left L.A., I researched Virginia and stumbled upon the existence of something called “America on Parade.”  If you guessed that this attraction is a parade float museum, you would be correct, and if you guessed that there was no way that I was missing it, you would be correct once more.  In a twist that makes nothing but sense, the admission for America on Parade is included in the ticket for the caverns.  When I thought that I was going to be paying money for this ticket, I figured I might as well suck it up and go into the caves while I was there.  And when I got the ticket for free, ducking out to see the parade floats seemed like it would be looking the gift horse in the mouth.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I did have my pick of things to see in Virginia.  Williamsburg, Monticello, sites from the Civil War.  They’re all there.  But when I found out about the existence of a museum dedicated entirely to retired parade floats, I think you can all agree that I wasn’t left with much of a choice.  I had to see America on Parade.

If I thought that the Big Chicken was frightening, I’m really not sure what I was thinking in my desire to see these floats.  I have no idea what I suspected that America on Parade might be, but what it is, is a warehouse full of giant sculptures pointed in your direction to greet you as you enter the building.  Ducks, King Tut, a Polynesian woman, rabbits, polar bears, a train… The Small World ride at Disney has nothing on this hodgepodge of ethnicities and species.

Some of the floats even have buttons to push so that you can witness them move… very….slowly.  I guess it looks more impressive on the actual parade route.  America on Parade features floats from presidential inaugurations, Thanksgiving Day and Rose Parades, and from my own personal favorite event, America’s bicentennial.

I’ve been bitter about missing the bicentennial ever since I first heard about it during the episode of Full House entitled, “Stephanie Gets Framed,” and it’s now my life’s goal to be around for the tricentennial in 2076.  In fact, a couple of years ago, I reached out to a tricentennial committee in an effort to start making ties prior to the big day.  They never responded to me, but now that I’ve seen all of these creations used in the bicentennial, I’m confident that I can start my own tricentennial committee and blow the existing group completely out of the water.

Something else that I learned at the museum is that the floats are reused from event to event.  The outer shells can also be changed, so for instance, polar bears that I saw today are white, but in the Rose Parade, they had been covered with moss.  So, over the years when I’ve said, “once you’ve seen one parade, you’ve seen them all,” I’ve actually been correct.

Today was one of my favorite days so far.  I loved interacting with my tour group in the caverns, and I was thrilled to see pieces from America’s 200th birthday.  Virginia is just great, and I plan to spend a lot more time here over the years.  And yes, next time I will go to Williamsburg, which I have no doubt I will tremendously enjoy.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been traveling for almost a month! I hope that everyone is having a great week leading into the long weekend.  Thanks for reading my blog, and the good news is, you’ll stop being pestered to continue reading it soon!

Day 25 – June 27

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Miles Traveled: 387; Current Location: New Market, VA

If it’s true that West Virginia is “almost Heaven” as John Denver claims, I have to then assume that Virginia must serve as its entryway.  Everything that I have seen of Virginia, which accumulates to hours worth of footage, is absolutely beautiful.  Although I have now driven alongside a generous number of trees through many states, Virginia just seems greener somehow.  It seems brighter.

Ever since I entered Arizona more than three weeks ago, I have held onto the theory that each state pays special attention to the conditions of its roads closest to the border.  Every time that I have driven into a new state, I think to myself, “wow ___ has great roads.”  Inevitably, the shipshape surface fades away, allowing the following state to step up and take the crown.  This pattern of road deterioration held true throughout each state’s change-off until today.  Virginia’s roads seem to be meticulously cared for throughout.  They are “border-paved” everywhere, and some of the medians even feature sponsored landscaping, contributing to the state’s already highly desirable aesthetics.

To top it off, Virginia beats South Carolina for cheapest gas that I’ve found, and in addition to the state’s natural beauty, it also has some of the weirdest manmade structures and objects that I’ve encountered on the trip.  Seriously, really odd stuff.

Obviously I suspected that there was a gem to be found within Foamhenge, and it lived up to its promise.  Touted as the “most exact” replica of Stonehenge that there is, I still really didn’t have any idea what to expect. After all, I’ve never even been to England.  I have, however, seen European Vacation, so I did have some preliminary concept of the structure, and if Foamhenge is any indication, which I assume it is as “the most exact replica,” I think I’ve seen enough of the natural wonder for my lifetime.

I don’t want to confuse you here though.  I love Foamhenge.  I love it because some guy (Mark Cline) took it upon himself to carve this thing out of styrofoam and post a sign next to it, threatening that he’s hiding in the bushes so if you hurt the structure, he’ll hurt your car.  I love it because it took him six weeks to recreate a structure of which the completion originally spanned 1500 years.  I love it because it’s in the middle of nowhere, Virginia, and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to its existence.  I love it because there is a giant sorcerer sitting on one of the “stones,” something that I can only assume doesn’t have a counterpart at the real Stonehenge.  I love it because only in America could someone put several blocks of styrofoam in the middle of a field and in turn actually attract visitors.  It only makes sense that like Kevin Costner, he must have heard that special voice too.  Foamhenge is tangible proof that “if you build it, they will come.”

On the other side of the coin though, if this thing truly does represent Stonehenge, I think that Stonehenge might be one of the greatest rackets of our time.  Or more appropriately, one of the greatest rackets of all time. I now understand why Chevy Chase knocked it down.  Yes, I suppose it’s intriguing given the mystery of its existence, but if I find myself in need of a good mystery, I think I’ll take a Nancy Drew book to Natural Bridge, Virginia and relax under the shade of Foamhenge instead.  This way, when I finally do make it to England, I can spend more time downing pints at a local pub.  I plan to visit Big Ben and London Bridge replicas before my trip across the pond as well, all in the interest of maximizing my free time when I’m actually there.

For Stonehenge’s sake though, the one thing that I hope Foamhenge has that it doesn’t is the massive swarm of tiny black insects avidly protecting the property.  I almost wonder if Mark Cline purposely harvested these bugs near his precious creation in order to ward off an over-abundance of onlookers.  Prior to arriving at the site, I had stopped off at the Natural Bridge gift shop (avoiding Natural Bridge itself due to its $28.00 admission fee) and had gotten a huge “red, white, and blue vanilla” ice cream cone.  Unfortunately, while eating the ice cream at Foamhenge, I inadvertently gulped down a mouthful of gnats instead.  Gross.  If you do go to Foamhenge (which I’m really not sure why you wouldn’t), either invest in a full beekeeper suit or don’t plan to get out of the car.

In addition to the presence of the great Foamhenge, this area of Virginia also highlights several other interesting structures.  For instance, I’ve seen more than one giant dinosaur.  I know what you’re thinking, “who among us hasn’t seen a giant dinosaur on the side of the road?”  I know.  But, when was the last time you saw the statue of a person riding dinosaur-back on the side of the road?  Although I didn’t perform an investigation into the greater meaning of these depictions, I am led to assume that their existence serves as an illustration of the religious belief that dinosaurs and humans once roamed the earth hand-in-hand.  Knock it if you want, but Hanna-Barbera made a lot of money on the same concept.  So roadside Virginia, I say keep on.  Let your dreams soar.

Although each state that I have visited has shown me its amazing strengths, I have to concede that based on this trip alone, as of now, I am most impressed with Virginia.  I try not to think of the states as competing entities because I like to think that they all work together in order to form my favorite country, but I have to admit that I’m particularly struck by the beauty and upkeep shown here.  Obviously the London Company felt the same way in 1607 when they settled in Jamestown, so although I don’t typically like to base my opinions off of the actions of others, I suppose I should have known.

Tomorrow I will continue to explore Virginia before heading off to Washington DC.  I can’t believe that I’m already in the last week of my travels, but I am so grateful to have had this experience.  I certainly do love America!  I hope you all have a fantastic week!

Day 24 – June 26

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Current Location: Wilmington, NC

Some of you might have noticed that I incorrectly labeled yesterday as “June 26th.”  In fact, it was June 25th, but it seems as though I put an accurate description on the future.  I thought that Wilmington was great yesterday, and on the real June 26th, my positive opinion remains intact.  I love North Carolina.

In my mind, North Carolina is the ultimate renaissance state. It has mountains, cities, camping, hiking, fishing, snowboarding, surfing, beaches, tobacco farmers, bankers, historical landmarks… just like “Pedro’s South of the Border,” North Carolina has it all.  I think that you could spend months touring the Tarheel State and leave with a number of strikingly dissimilar experiences, each one as fulfilling as the last.

As much as I love North Carolina though, I sometimes feel like it hates me.  On one road trip many years ago, Melanie and I inadvertently spent hours circling something called Grandfather Mountain, receiving directions from locals that included steps such as “look for the building with the red, white, and blue rooster out front,” or “make a u-turn one mile before you hit the bridge.”  To add insult to injury, North Carolina is also the only state (… aside from California) in which I have ever received a traffic citation, an incident that still evokes feelings of bitterness.  Another time, I asked a gas station attendant if I was close to Sugar Mountain, and he happily informed me that Sugar Mountain is in North Carolina, but I was not.

So North Carolina and I have been through it all, the good times and the bad, but I’m happy to report that without question, today fell on the side of good.  My cousin, Nikolai, lives in Wilmington, but in a hilarious Gift of the Magi twist, he’s in Massachusetts this weekend, where I’ll be arriving in five days.  Almost as good though (sorry Nik!), his awesome girlfriend, Lara, and her family have been nice enough to show me around town, and I have experienced yet another perfect summer day.  Basically, I never want to work again.

Every now and then I think to myself, gee, wouldn’t it be great to be eight-years-old again?  And today, I was.  Of course, I was the kind of eight-year-old that gets to have tequila with her pizza at dinner and see R-rated movies, so I was the best kind of eight-year-old there is.

After seeing Bridesmaids last night for the third time (personal record tied with Titanic), we woke up this morning and had a leisurely brunch at a local place in town.  Then the real fun began.  Lara’s mom’s dog was with us, and we took her to a boat dock to swim…. but Roxy didn’t want to swim.  She leapt through the water to chase sticks but refused to go any deeper than where she could touch the bottom.  Basically, Roxy is the smartest two-year-old I’ve ever met.  Then, as I mentioned yesterday, I was curious to see Dawson Leery’s house from the show, Dawson’s Creek.  As it turns out though, the current owners don’t actually want strangers traipsing through their yard to gawk at the property, so the house is purposely very difficult to see.  I decided to leave well enough alone and managed to overcome my feelings of despair by sitting by the pool, getting pizza, and eating ice cream.

Essentially, today reminded me of the story that my father once told me of the Mexican fisherman.  One day, the Mexican fisherman was sitting in a cantina when an American tourist approached him.  The tourist said to him, “why are you here so early? You could stay out later and catch many more fish.”  The Mexican responded, “I sell enough fish to meet my family’s needs as it is.”  The tourist didn’t like this response and questioned the fisherman about what he did with the rest of his time.  The Mexican explained, “I play with my children, spend time with my wife, play guitar with my friends, and drink margaritas at night.”

The tourist was outraged.  “You should spend more time fishing and with those proceeds you can buy a bigger boat.  Then, with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, and eventually you’d have a whole fleet of fishing boats.  Then, you could sell fish to the consumers directly and expand your enterprise to Miami, New York, and LA.”  The Mexican wasn’t impressed.  “But how long would that take?” he questioned.  “Ten years.  Fifteen tops.  Then you can sell stock in your company and make millions!”

The Mexican pondered this statement.  “But then what would I do, Senor?”  “That’s the best part!” the American answered, “then you could play with your children, spend time with your wife, play guitar with your friends, and drink margaritas every night!”

And that’s how I feel about today in North Carolina.  What could be better than sitting by the pool, eating pizza, making ice cream cones, and watching Full House dvds?  (I told you it was an eight-year-old kind of day).  As far as I can tell, this is my life at the top.  How could things possibly go any higher from here?

Of course, I’m still making an attempt to answer that question, and tomorrow, my journey will take me to Foamhenge which might take this expedition to a whole new level.  One can only hope.  After that, I have a couple more things planned for Virginia, a place that I haven’t spent much time before, so I’m excited for the experience.  Thank you again for following along with my travels!  I’m looking forward to a great final week!

Day 23 – June 25

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Miles Traveled: 456; Current Location: Wilmington, NC

In 1998, at the start of the show’s second season, Dawson’s Creek moved to Wednesday nights at 8:00, the same day and time that Beverly Hills, 90210 aired on FOX.  Suffice it to say, Dawson’s Creek and I permanently parted ways.  If you want to know where I thought the “cool kids” were hanging out, just look at where I spent the last seven years.  It wasn’t in a beach town in Massachusetts.  So, as a result of staunch loyalty to FOX’s aging flagship, I’m not as familiar with Wilmington as some of my peers.  Dawson’s Creek fans (like Jamie Rokus) know all about Wilmington because to them, “Wilmington” is just fancy word for “Capeside.”

By now, Dawson’s Creek is only one of many television shows and movies that have filmed in Wilmington, and upon my arrival here, it’s easy to see why.  Even at first glance, it was clear to me that Wilmington is an adorable beach destination without the tourist trap signifyers that plague so many similarly situated towns.  The boats, docks, and houses are picturesque, but the town still manages to exude an overall sense of calmness.  It’s as though there is actually room for all of these buildings and they’re not jammed in right next to each other as a result of over-expansion.  Maybe one day, Wilmington.  Maybe one day you’ll get there too.

After my arrival, we headed straight to the beach, and I enjoyed seeing the ocean again.  Then we went to a local fish market to get shrimp for dinner.  Typically, the only shrimp that I see come in the cup of noodles soup package, so these shrimp looked much different than the ones that I had been used to.  Shockingly, they were even better.  Tomorrow I will spend another full day in Wilmington, and I look forward to further exploration, maybe even of the setting for “that other teen drama,” the one that didn’t air on FOX.

So far, I give five stars to Wilmington.  Of course, before I got here, I had to make the drive from Atlanta.  The drive from Atlanta gets five stars as well but in addition to the five measly regular stars, it gets the special 6th giant bonus star.  It gets the “rest stop of America” award.

Thanks to a credible tip that I had received, I knew to expect something great along the way.  It was called “Pedro’s or something.  You’ll see it.”  Uh yeah.  “You’ll see it” turned out to be the understatement of the year.  Not only did I see it from a country mile, but thirty-five billboards told me about its existence for eighteen country miles before I arrived on site.  But once I did arrive, the glory of Pedro’s was nothing short of amazing.  If I’ve seen this before, my memory was kind enough to eliminate it for me so that I could experience it again as if I were visiting it for the first time.  Today, Pedro’s was new to me.

I make the following recommendation in all (some) seriousness.  Skip Myrtle Beach, don’t bother with the zoo, avoid getting a hotel and stop shopping at the mall.  You can do all of this – you can get everything you need – at Pedro’s.  Pedro’s has everything.  Leather goods?  Check.  Fireworks?  Check.  Ice cream and hotdogs?  Check.  Rides and arcade games?  Check.  Animals made of plaster?  Check.  T-shirts that claim you’ve vacationed in east coast cities that you haven’t necessarily ever visited?  You guessed it… check.  Pedro’s is a one stop shop for all things Southeast Coast and coincidentally, for all things Mexico.

See, Pedro’s full name is “Pedro’s: South of the Border,” as in, south of the Carolina border.  Pedro’s separates North and South Carolina.  I personally don’t think that America has ever come up with anything else quite as clever as this, except for maybe the Shamwow towel.  I spent thirty minutes at Pedro’s.  I didn’t get food.  I didn’t get gas.  I got random junk.  Random treasures from my favorite place to “stop off” in America.  I couldn’t risk not having souvenirs to preserve the memory.

Before I exited the interstate to get to Pedro’s though, I faced a dilemma.  It became obvious that by visiting this mecca, I was going to miss the sign welcoming me to North Carolina.  I was pissed. Don’t these state line planners realize that the people who stop at Pedro’s are the same schmucks that care about being visibly welcomed by the next location?  Trust me, every carload at Pedro’s finds joy in progressing to the next state.  These are the people who wake their kids up in the back seat to say, “look guys, Florida!”  I don’t know why we’re like this.  It’s still Florida whether or not you require the giant label, but for some reason, people like me appreciate the stake in the ground.  One foot to the left of the sign is in Georgia, the other foot is in Alabama.  We get a kick out of this kind of crap.  So why leave the sign there for the non-Pedro’s goers when it should clearly be part of the overall Pedro’s experience!?  I sense another letter coming on…

Aside from my time at South of the Border (as if I needed anything else), my drive was fairly uneventful – except for the new appreciation that I’ve developed for South Carolina.  South Carolina officially has the cheapest gas that I’ve found anywhere in the country.  Gold star for that.  In addition to the cheapest gas, I also noticed that some of their gas stations feature coolers filled with individually sold ice cold beers.  Does this feature strike anybody else as a little bit “off the beaten path?”  Of course, if the beaten path is still not drinking and driving that is.  What could be the reason for this kind of sale other than to take beer with you the car?  If you live in the area, presumably you own a refrigerator.  If you’re going on a trip, presumably you have your own cooler.  If you don’t have your own cooler, presumably the ice cold beer that you just bought will be warm by the time you make it to wherever you’re headed.  Presumably.  It’s too bad that there are about 1,500 miles separating South Carolina from New Mexico because if they ever had the opportunity to meet, I think they’d get along nicely.

As I mentioned, tomorrow I will stay here in Wilmington and then progress up the East Coast. I hope that everyone is having a great summer weekend!  I am very much looking forward to my favorite holiday, July 4th, next week but I am also enjoying my final days on the road.  Luckily, there are some interesting things scheduled for the final days, so stay tuned!

Day 22 – June 24

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Current Location: Marietta, GA

Back in 2005, during my first year at Pepperdine, it once thundered in Los Angeles.  Fifty percent of the freshmen students on campus, the fifty percent who hailed from Southern California, were visibly shaken.  It is my recollection that some of them even cried.  This weather pattern was a wholly unfamiliar event, and it was clear that these young adults felt that they were in imminent danger.  I let it slide.  We were young.  I got my bellybutton pierced that year.  We all make mistakes.

It was six years later before I heard thunder in the area again.  This time, a thirty year old co-worker sent me an instant message with the question, “did you hear that?”  I had no idea what was going on.  Did I hear what?  The latest presidential address?  “mmmbop” in 1996?  The crash of the New York Stock Exchange? … “Did I hear what?”  I typed back.  She rapidly responded, “the thunder!”

The thunder.  I’m curious as to what some people think thunder might be.  Satan knocking on our doors perhaps?  If you’re a person who startles easily as a result of thunder, I strongly discourage a move to Georgia.  The heart attack alone that you would suffer out of shear terror will be enough to take you down.  The weather in the Southeast is no joke, and believe me, a distant thundercloud would be laughed out of the entire region.

When I was a child, the house behind ours was struck by lightning and burned down.  That’s how serious the weather can be here.  But at the same time, no one looks at it that way.  Everyone drives at full speed, people still go ahead with their plans, the world keeps on spinning.  It has to.  Three out of every seven nights in the summer will be plagued with violent storms.  You can’t even afford to blink an eye when the sky turns dark.

Another noticeable characteristic of the Atlanta area is the over abundance of trees.  I’ve never seen as many trees in one place in my life than I’ve seen this area.  Every street is lined with foliage, and at times, it’s impossible to even see the buildings behind them.  As a result of being a forested area and the prominence of thunderstorms, trees are always falling down.  Houses are hit.  Trees fall in the roads.  Atlanta should come with the words of caution, “not for the faint of heart.”

Although it had rained yesterday, when I saw the skies in front of me turn slate gray this evening, I knew this was the real deal.  Just as I suspected though, no one cared.  People were on the sidewalks jogging, no one pulled over, one man was even biking on the side of the road.  By the time I arrived at my friend’s house in my old neighborhood, the power started to flicker.  Our immediate response was to leave for the restaurant we were going to.  None of us wanted to sit around in the dark, and it didn’t occur to any of us to stay where we were to wait out the storm.  I can’t imagine this scenario occurring in LA.  That city would have already been completely shut down.

As we were driving, the rain started to increase.  At this point, it seems that everyone’s natural inclination is to speed up in order to shorten the amount of driving time in these less than ideal conditions.  After all, no one wants to drive in the rain.

We progressed towards our destination while lightning lit up the skies in every direction.  It’s often said that the number of seconds between lightning and thunder represents the number of miles the storm is from your present location.  We couldn’t even get out “one Mississippi” before thunder drowned out the otherwise cheerful country music we were playing in the background.

The only option at this point is to keep going.  It’s harder to hit a moving target anyway, right? Eventually, a utility box on the top of a light post next to us was struck by lightning and sparks rained down on the street beside us like sparklers on the Fourth of July.  Again, we just kept on.  It’s not like we could pull over to fix the thing.

By the time we were driving back on the way home, half of the traffic lights were out.  For whatever reason though, it didn’t even seem particularly noteworthy.  That’s just the way it is here.  And that’s just the way the people are here.  Nothing keeps Atlantans off the roads.  Statistics show that Atlanta’s severe traffic is second only to LA’s, but when you’re driving on the streets here, you don’t need statistics, and the traffic certainly feels second to none.  Rain or shine, it always seems as though everyone is out on the roads.

People say that the weather in Los Angeles is perfect.  It never rains, it’s never too hot, and it’s also never too cold.  But I say what’s the fun in being perfect?  Live on the edge a little!  Dodge a lightning bolt or two!  Of course, growing up, there were times when my parents and I, along with my dogs and hamsters, were holed up in the basement due to a wandering tornado or two.  Those nights weren’t necessarily the best, (judging by her reaction, one of my dogs apparently grew up in Southern California) but they certainly were memorable.  At the very least, the weather provides a story to tell.

Like always, I will miss Georgia tomorrow when I leave, but I’m very excited to head on to Wilmington, North Carolina!  I hope that everyone has a great weekend, but don’t fly any kites if it’s storming outside.  Just because Ben Franklin did it doesn’t mean everyone should.  That’s why we’re not all out there starting new nations.

Thanks for following my journey!  There’s officially one more week to go!

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