Sara and Jenn want to give a HUGE shout out to KEN LAWS. He got our site back up and running after years of it just not working. Thank you to the ends of the earth, Ken!!!!
Sara and Jenn want to give a HUGE shout out to KEN LAWS. He got our site back up and running after years of it just not working. Thank you to the ends of the earth, Ken!!!!
Plans are few and far between on the road, as are reservations when Jenn and I travel, and traveling solo was no different for me. As I made my way from East to West across the states I pretty much stayed where I wound up by day’s end that had a vacancy and a cheap rate. And always only after a bedbug bed check Jenn had instilled in me whenever we traveled as I’d watch her strip the sheets of her bed while I was more worried with checking Yelp for what nightcaps were in the area. Once she was satisfied they were clear, we’d settle in and head out.
Sometimes we’d note places to go and things to see and even get to them if they were of utmost importance, and sometimes we’d see a road sign for a landmark or local must-see and take a segue from the path for that instead. For the places we’d wind up missing as a result or didn’t get to in time we’d just add them to our list for the future.
And then there are the fruitless but fun pursuits. Somewhere outside of Atlanta Jenn texted me that the Big Banana Car was on display. So with her as my co-pilot in spirit I turned around and drove in its direction. If you know anything about Jenn then you know she loves her bananas.
And if you know anything about GPS and map apps you know they’re not always right. Half an hour into my journey the directions sent me to some industrial park with a similar named street. There was no banana where I wound up, just an office building and a cop who pulled up alongside to tell me to pull into the parking lot nearby instead of the side of the road where I was attempting to re-route my route. Eventually I did see 3 banana yellow colored cars but no actual banana.
Finally I made it to the strip mall where they had tweeted they were at when Jenn texted they just posted they had packed up and were off to their next destination. Mission Banana was a bust. By this point I was hungry and saw something banana yellow nearby calling my name.
It was named Moe’s and had a great big sign hailing it as the original Moe’s.
I figured it was a local southern fave. Turned out it was more South of the border as it served up southwest fare and was a chain rather than a Mom & Pop’s type place I prefer, but new to these parts it wasn’t a franchise I was familiar with and I’m always up for a quesadilla to quell my hunger, so I ordered up a chicken club one and sampled the salsa bar as I took a bite of a new (for me) regional staple. I was less bummed I passed up something more regionally Southern in these parts, like the BBQ joint I passed back by the industrial park, than I was about being able to connect with a banana for Jenn. We have a very odd bond. But when someone has saved your life in the past you’re willing to jump on board and support what they live for.
On my way to Nashville that night I made a detour to Chattanooga and delighted myself (I’m easily amused) by standing on the tracks of where the Chattanooga Choo-Choo once chugged along.
Whiskey is another passion of Jenn’s. Bananas and whiskey, what’s not to love about that gal? She’s a fun friend. It’s a shared love, as I do enjoy a good whiskey sour time and again, so in her honor as I continued on and saw signs for the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in the distance I also made a sidetrack trip to see that. Sadly it was closed by the time I made it to its gates, which is ironically situated in a dry county, but the scent of the pungent forbidden spirits filled the air. I paid my respects and took a photo before moving on.
Unfortunately Nashville would prove to be a dry stop for me as well even though it was soaking wet. After managing my hydroplaning car through a torrential downpour on the highway I could only find an affordable hotel on the outskirts of the city. I drove down the main strip of fun bars and listened to the live country music coming from each, but decided that to stop for a drink and try to find my hotel in the rain or bothering to go back was not particularly wise or safe (or would be near the legal limit if you saw the number of fun bars there were to try) so I stayed in and added a night out in Nashville to the future to do list for another visit.
The next morning I did find a funky banana yellow van in the parking lot registered to seekers of the paranormal. Proving that on the road you can count on the abnorm.
On my way out the random encounters continued as I drove through the city on a sunnier morning. I was greeted with participants dressed in tutus and even bunny ears gearing up in costume for some sort of run/walk fundraiser. I saw a big boot, a giant guitar, and the birthplace of bluegrass, Ryman Auditorium.
Somewhere outside of Music City there was no love as I came across a very likeable little place called the Loveless Café.
The BBQ smoker house adjacent was at it filling the air with rich smoky goodness for the dishes being served up inside but there was a line out the door and a wait for a seat so sadly I passed on some ribs and got some of their Piggy Popcorn, candied bacon popcorn, which they sold in their shop alongside an assortment of bacon concoctions and themed gifts as well as a variety of another local fave, pralines, including whiskey ones. I was really enjoying my taste of Tennessee.
As I drove out a loveless-themed tune called “Merry Go Round” by Kacey Musgraves came on the radio with the lyrics, “Mary Mary quite contrary, we get bored so we get married… Jack and Jill went up the hill, Jack burned out on booze and pills and Mary had a little lamb, Mary just don’t give a damn no more.” I turned it up as I was even starting to enjoy Country music too. They sure do know how to turn a phrase and tell a story. I looked forward to my next new story on the horizon as I headed down the road.
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I thought Virginia was for lovers, but since I was traveling solo this trip, and my last relationship was in the rearview along with the rest of the roadkill, I was just passing through, so there was no lovin’ as I drove through the state, heading back to the West coast to join back up with Jenn for some new adventures ahead, but I did have some tasty sliders for supper. More on that when I get there. As I ventured further into the South on this trip, having started in New England, it was time to see some history on the southside.
I stopped in Winchester where I pulled into the parking lot of the Visitors Center so I could get some info on these here parts. Across from it was Abram’s Delight, a beautiful stone structure and Winchester’s oldest home, built in 1754. There was a fee to enter it so I just took in its glory from the outside. Now I don’t mind spending a buck when worth it, especially when it comes to a recreational experience, beverage, or bite when on the road, which is my favorite way to taste life and the local cuisine as I travel, but some things you just get with a view and a photo. You know that scene in Vacation, where once they get to The Grand Canyon, they take it in briefly before Clark hurries them all back into the station wagon to keep moving? Sometimes I travel like that. But not at The Grand Canyon. That, by far, was one of the most majestic views and best stops on trips Jenn and I have hit the road for. We made sure to see both the North and South rims on that trip, and lingered throughout both days to take it all in. But I’ve seen my share of colonial stone homes, so I headed on into the Visitors Center to learn what else was around.
Not only was there a nice little informative film montage to fill you in on the history of the area but a very helpful desk attendant who handed out maps and even guided me to specific spots I should see and go eat at.
But before I got my grub on and left there, first I needed to go through the Patsy Cline exhibit. They had one there and it was free. It was also on the backside of the wall that projected the film retrospective I had just previously viewed. Turns out Patsy was from these parts and had a home there where she once lived that I also got a picture of.
The exhibit was as adorable and “Crazy” as Patsy. It was more like a shrine of sorts.
Consisting of signed and donated items by fans, mostly photos and painted portraits, including a piece signed by Jimmy Stewart dated 1996, and a jukebox with her tune “Crazy” at the top spot as the first selection.
Along with country music, there were some serious pre-Civil/Revolutionary War activities in the acres of this region as it stood its ground, dating back to 1755 with the headquarters of a young George Washington.
My first historic stop as I headed out was to see our first President’s office, which he occupied as a Colonel in the Virginia Militia while defending the frontier.
Along with a statue of his likeness, which provided a fun photo op, was the canon he used to defend Fort Loudoun. Pew Pew!
Just up the road, and a little further along on the history timeline, was Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters.
Occupied as a Major during his time there from 1861-1862, before leaving to head up his Valley Campaign and going on to become a General for the Confederacy, it now stands as an historical landmark.
A sign displays a snippet of a letter home to his wife describing everything from the wallpaper to the paintings to how the flue heated the home. Just goes to show, if an officer in his day in the midst of military planning could take the time to pen such descriptions to his beloved the least a modern day man can do is return a text. The lessons you learn on the road…
Wanting to keep it authentic I decided to dine at a local long-standing establishment, the Cork Street Tavern. Rumored to be haunted, having once served as a hospital space for recovering and dying Confederate soldiers (some whose bodies are said to have been buried in the basement below) the only spirits the tavern seemed to serve that day were at the bar. I ordered a Chardonnay from local winery, Naked Mountain. The tavern had also been rumored to have once been a brothel, so it seemed a fittingly named beverage brand to accompany my meal, the aforementioned sliders.
These were a step up from your standard small sized bar burgers as they served their sliders in the form of mini French Dip sandwiches. Tender roast beef slices slivered on golden egg brushed buns and fresh warm savory kettle chips on the side.
And speaking of sides, to my right was a Wall of Presidents; photos of various 20th century U.S. Presidents, and to my left were photos of the White House and Air Force One. Across the room was a wall of stars and comedians featuring framed photos of John Wayne, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers and the cast of The Honeymooners. Considering I once wrote political comedy, there were at least ghosts of my combined themed past in that room on those walls.
With some daylight left, I headed out onto the cobblestone walks and made my way to a brick-lined walkway leading up to the doorstep of Patsy Cline’s home, now a landmark itself. As the marker states, she was killed in a plane crash. Seems we’re sort of kindred spirits, except I managed to escape mine. I was not aware of how she passed before I came here, but like I said, there’s always something to learn on the road…
I soon was back on it and by that night with a full moon overhead I crashed at a HoJo in Salem which provided a plentiful buffet with fresh hot biscuits to boot and a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when I awoke in the morning as I set out for my next destination in the South.
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On a recent cross country road trip I grew giddy when I discovered I’d be passing through a must see city on my list, Memphis, and was sure to stop to see its local treasure, the hallowed home of Elvis. It was even apropos that my visit to Graceland would fall on Easter weekend to take in where the King of kings once lived.
With my AAA card I got a discount for the Platinum Tour which included a tour of his 2 planes and his beloved car collection.
Daddy’s little girl, Lisa Marie, got a plane named after her. And what a nice ride it was. My dad gave me the keys to the family station wagon to borrow once in a while and later the spare Hyundai we had parked in the driveway growing up. This was definitely a different kind of dad.
There was plenty of leg room on the Lisa Marie luxury liner. The couches and chairs were plastic wrapped for their protection from the public, as well as his bed. And oh what a bed. Would you expect anything less than a blue suede bed for the the man who sang about blue suede shoes?
A friend whose young daughter, Zoe, who was the same age I was when I first fell for the King had just discovered him and wanted to know if it was true Elvis had died on the toilet as she’d heard. I told her I didn’t ask but I did get her a photo of his bathroom on the plane.
In order to tour Graceland you take a shuttle bus you board across the street where you are given a headset device which talks you through the home, room by room, and throughout the total Elvis experience. It was lightly raining that day (or was it the angels shedding tears for the King?) as we drove through the gates and up the driveway to the entrance, decked out with lion statues, naturally.
What was surprising was how in comparison to today’s celebrity homes and suped up cribs of those with lifestyles of the rich and famous how much smaller Graceland is than I had imagined, but what was lacking in size was made up for in the grandeur of decadence as only Elvis could do. Upon entering the residence you are greeted by one of 3 nearby chandeliers.
Off to your right is the peacock themed living room housing a 15 foot couch and a grand piano in the adjoining room reminding you of the music that built this palace.
The upstairs is off limits, as Elvis preferred his privacy and out of respect for that (and for the fact that may very well be where the bathroom is that he passed) you are kept to the first floor and below. (Sorry, Zoe, I couldn’t get close enough to find out.)
As Lisa Marie informs us on our recorded headset presentation the kitchen was the central core of the home with ’round the clock meals thanks to there being so many guests and friends over and was a favorite hangout area and has been left intact as it last was actively used and decorated in its current 70’s tone. It was rather homey vs. luxe, and there is a TV there too.
And speaking of TV, again, next up is the downstairs, where you descend a mirrored wall staircase to discover Elvis’ triple threat of 3 TVs on a wall, which we’re told he had airing the 3 different networks at the same time so he could keep up with what was going on just like world leaders and newsmen of that day as he’d heard. Decorating another wall of that room is a lightning bolt, an image he became associated with during the 70’s and liked to have emblazoned on items and clothing. The monkey sculpture is funky and strangely makes sense in that setting.
The pool table in the adjoining room, where the walls are covered in cloth vs. paper, still has a tear on the tabletop where one of his buddies messed up a challenging pool shot as he tried to shark the King.
As you ascend back up another staircase you encounter the jungle, or rather another popular hang out room and recording space, The Jungle Room. Complete with tropical wood carved furniture, a waterfall wall, animal prints and the ever classic floor to ceiling green shag carpeting, it was inspired by Hawaii, one of Elvis’ favorite vacation spots. Talk about a man cave, this is about as groovy as they get.
Just outside is a brick enclosed space once used as a smokehouse by his dad, Vernon, and then later converted into a firing range so the King could get off some shots.
Along with his passion for karate Elvis also took up a love of racquetball and oversaw the building of his own personal court and leisure space, including a piano, for that pastime.
The court has now been converted into a space to showcase his performance wardrobe and several of his many awards.
Another whole room on the premises, The Hall of Gold, has been built to house the King’s gold, his extensive gold record collection and other outfits that marked his well lived life, including his wedding attire and his G.I. uniform.
Presley enjoyed a little poolside time and an area to relax with the Meditation Garden right next to it. Today fans can pay their last respects to where the King now rests alongside his parents.
After all of that Graceland gawking it was time to go get me some good eats. As I was in Memphis there was only one thing on my menu: some good ol’ Memphis barbecue! And luckily just down the road was a sweet spot to go get some.
I pulled up to Marlowe’s Ribs and Restaurant.
Just look for the Pink Pig and you’ve found it.
If you’d like, they’ll even give you a little Southern hospitality via their VIP service and pick you up in one of their pink limos.
I opted for their pink drink, called the Pink Cadillac of course. As you can see, even Elvis is a fan.
With its Elvis-themed kitsch adorning the place, in case you didn’t get enough at the Graceland gift shop, Marlowe’s is a tourist’s delight, but that doesn’t take a thing away from its BBQ. In fact I was in for a tasty treat, and award winning at that. The scent of rich smoky goodness envelops you as you walk through the doors courtesy of the barbecue pit in the kitchen.
I ordered the 2 entree combo plate featuring my two BBQ favorites: ribs and pulled pork, accompanied by coleslaw and corn fritters and the most delightful fried bread concoction. At first I thought they were just larger corn fritters but they turned out to be dinner rolls, if you deep fried them like a donut, lightly crispy on the outside but with soft warm delicious bread baked inside. I’m more of a sauce gal vs. a dry rub when it comes to my meat but they feature both and I was not let down. My plate came served up with some of the best sauce that has smacked past these lips. Their sweet tender pulled pork was a delight and the ribs had a deep dense smoke flavor that went beyond the pit and straight on into the bones themselves. I’ve never tasted anything so smoked through and through and it could darn well set off a smoke detector if it too had a tongue to take a taste.
With my belly blessed with some BBQ and my everything Elvis experience checked off my list I hopped back in my Honda, as no King ever got me a plane or a personalized Mercedes, but Memphis had loved me tender and it was time to hit the road.
First off, let me assure you there are plenty of big people (medium too) with big hearts in Montana. In fact we enjoy this state so much Jenn and I made sure to make another visit on this trip. But what we encountered this time around, instead of ghost towns and the site of an historical hanging, were actual little people, or rather midgets. Don’t get mad at me, I know the proper PC term to use and being tall myself I am sensitive to height issues, but according to the flyers at the local bar where they were set to perform they were advertised as “midgets”. Now our friend Paul, upon seeing the photos we posted on Facebook, commented that they appeared to technically be dwarves, but I digress. I’ll get to that event shortly, no pun intended. Back to Montana!
Upon arrival to Bozeman, we two weary road travelers were greeted by our good friend and host, Maria, with shots of tequila lined up and ready to go down the hatch as we dropped our bags at the door and entered her kitchen. Now that’s a way to greet your guests. We soon switched to wine and chatted away the evening on her patio catching up, all the while as I pet and reconnected with my official roadtrip boyfriend, Fernando.
He’s loyal, he’s warm, he’s furry, and oh that face!
The next day we enjoyed the warm weather and sunshine on the patio of The Club Tavern and Grill for brunch with Maria and our friend Bob. Bloody Marys and gravy smothered chicken fried steak were on the menu so they made their way to our table.
Later that day we made our way with Maria and Fernando to spend the afternoon at the river. As we sipped iced tea cocktails on the banks Maria warned us the area was also home to a nearby hunting ground. Fortunately the only danger we encountered was the chill of the water as we waded in to cool off.
That night was the big event: Extreme Midget Wrestling. Maria’s roommate Jeff had informed us of it when we arrived and there was no way we were going to miss it. Simply for the opportunity to witness that such a thing truly exists. On the way back from the river we stopped by The Belgrade Lounge to get our tickets. Apparently a lot of other people had to witness this too as they were selling out fast. And that’s when we met one of the main men of the main event, midget wrestler Rampage.
Again, I would normally and properly say little person, except after he asked if we wanted to take a photo with him and then he grabbed our asses just as it was taken, I get to call him a midget.
When we returned that night we discovered the midget wrestling was the least of the more memorable moments to be had. Among them: Jell-O shots, guys wearing wigs (these were the audience members not the performers, er, I mean athletes), drunk girls getting mad at me, a dance-off competition where the winner got to grind a midget and being caught in the middle of a bar fight. A chick fight bar fight at that.
To quickly recap: Drunk girl, or “drunky drunk girl” as Jenn dubbed her, one moment was telling me I needed to wear my part differently and started restyling my hair and the next got upset by something she did or said yet somehow got mad at me for and for the rest of the night glared at me. Remember the character Drunk Girl from SNL? She was like that. Her moods turned on a dime. Later that evening I found her out in the parking lot stumbling around and venting about some new issue as Rampage escorted her back to the bar. He appeared chivalrous in his action, but I can’t speak for his hands. Then there were the girls Jenn overheard in the bathroom who were upset that they didn’t win the dance contest. Following the first half of the wrestling event the show took a break so the emcee could invite the ladies in the house up to take part in a dance contest. The contest was called Grind A Midget. Yes I said, and saw with my very own eyes, Grind A Midget. Jenn and I declined but several other young ladies did not and jumped right into that ring. After the #1 grinder was decided, the “winner” then got to lie down in the wrestling ring as Rampage sort of climbed on top of her, flipped her over and grinded her as the crowd cheered. At least that’s the blur of what I last remember burning into my retinas when I finally put the camera down and went in search of Jenn.
Instead that’s when I walked directly into a bar fight. And a chick fight at that, my first one! A girl appeared to suddenly stumble and fall onto my foot. I assumed she tripped due to the crowd and as I reached down to help her up I suddenly caught sight of a gaggle of other girls leaping from their seats at a raised bar area nearby and charging our way. Turns out the leader of the pack had shoved the girl on the ground and they were ready to pounce while she was down. Now I’m a lover not a fighter so I froze, but luckily, like a scene out of The Jerry Springer Show, guys in shirts marked “Security” swarmed in.
They managed to pull them apart and subdue the scene, momentarily, because next thing I knew a guy wearing a wig got into a new fight right next to me. There was a group of guys wearing wigs that night. (At this point in the evening why wouldn’t that make sense?) His wig flew off and once again security flew in. By then I found Jenn and the two of us decided to take flight as well and called it a night.
But we had more than a few laughs, and since, recounting it all.
Just another reason to hit the road. You never know what you’ll find out there.
© 2013 Dart and Map All Rights Reserved – Copyright notice by Blog Copyright
Day 1 of our epic cross country adventure- This trip we left from LA, heading East as I would eventually drop off Jenn in Chicago for a visit with her fam before I headed on to friends in Massachusetts. With previous trips that started out as a 4 day excursion but wound up with us still on the road 2 weeks later roaming and discovering where we might end up next, we were well prepped for these travels.
First up, the world’s tallest thermometer located in Baker, the Gateway to Death Valley, because if you can’t find a ball of string big enough in these parts a thermometer embodying all that is grand about Americana culture will do.
Next stop, Las Vegas. Leave it to us to treat Sin City as a pit stop and a place to “do lunch”, but we needed to refuel, which we did at The PBR Rockbar on the strip.
We didn’t need to dance ‘til dawn this time around- been there, done that a dozen times – although we did miss our usual poolside service with cocktails topped off with toasted coconut at The Cosmopolitan, but this day we dined outdoors, beneath its looming exterior, remembering its glistening chandeliers, at the appropriately named The Chandelier bar and morning-after recovery brunches at Wicked Spoon, which we were wickedly tempted to try again, but were more than satisfied by our bold bar food selections and our sidewalk patio setting, watching the variety of people Vegas has to offer on display passing by. We skipped drinking PBR’s and stuck with root beers as it was back on the road for us following our meal.
The next test for us was to pass through the Valley of Fire without being burned. No problem for these two pros as we safely entered Utah, but only temporarily were we secure, for next up was an unexpected encounter with dinosaurs!
The Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm in St. George. Containing some of the best preserved tracks and fossils, which were discovered during a real estate project to level some land, and dating back more than 195 million years, this gem is a true Jurassic Park to treasure, and just as much fun for us to be let loose in.
Beaver would be where we would settle that first night, but not before we let off a little restless energy at Renegade Lounge.
This one stoplight town, and one bar, thanks to some sort of grandfather clause, as told to us the last time we were there by the guy whose grandfather owned the place, is the local hot spot. That’s right, this wasn’t our first time in these parts and served as a familiar go-to drinking hole, as it did for the other patrons passing through or seasonal workers stationed there. As soon as we arrived, Toto, we realized we weren’t in Los Angeles anymore. A group of friendly guys chatted us up, invited us to join them, bought us drinks and even offered up the delivery pizza they had at their table. (Those looking for a light bite can help themselves to the popcorn machine on the bar top.) Not one asked us if we were in the biz, or even what biz for that matter. There was simply actual human interaction and conversation taking place. And they were ever so much more interesting than any A-list celebs I’ve met. These guys weren’t just delightfully social, turns out they were death defying. I’ve had my share of crappy day jobs, from working for a pent up office manager who wanted me to decorate all of her binders with pretty patterns of wallpaper cover sheets and stylish font styles when labeling them to a high powered portfolio manager with unmanaged anger, who couldn’t make eye contact but could scream at you from down the hall and an office away. His former assistant quit in tears. I stuck it out amused by his issues. But unlike our new acquaintances, I had never risked my life by going below ground, surrounded by deadly gas at a geothermal plant drilling for hot water. Cade, who had tempted us to their table with cheesy bread and dipping sauce accompanying the pizza, (yeah, we’re very high-end and hard-to-get when we’re on the road) showed us video of them on his camera phone suiting up in tactical gear and gas masks as they prepped for their next shift. And I thought my ill-fitting tuxedo pants I got at a thrift store for my uniform during my catering days were bad. I just had to make sure I had my comfortable shoes and a wine opener on hand versus hoping I didn’t inhale anything toxic in order to make it through a shift.
We shared tales of cheating death and our taste for adventure. The crew was as colorful as their job description. Hector and AJ restocked the rounds as I was introduced to their boss man they affectionately called “The Old Buzzard”. He in turn nicknamed me “Funny Shit” as I made him laugh. He then tried to make me dance. Boys on the road, especially in the West, sure do like and look for any opportunity to two-step. We both soon learned I do not, and really can’t. The Old Buzzard who had suffered his share of challenges as a former bronco rider on the rodeo circuit, including a broken hip that caused him to limp, soon gave up on me declaring after a turn on the dance floor, “You keep leading. You don’t know how to follow!” Such is the curse, or benefit, depending on your dance partner, of being an independent woman. We returned to our stools and swapped stories of adrenaline rushing activities we enjoyed. I told him how I had jumped out of an airplane, he told me to top that I needed to ride a bull.
He then took Jenn for a spin and got her to two-stepping after she had wrapped up a freestyle session blowing it out with Cade in a dance-off below the pulsating disco lights.
Tired from the day’s long drive we took our bows for the night and trekked back to our hotel, the Best Western Butch Cassidy Inn, where we had comfortable beds waiting and a complimentary breakfast the next day before hitting the road, well rested and refreshed for the journey ahead.
© 2012 Dart and Map All Rights Reserved – Copyright notice by Blog Copyright
It is often assumed that Jenn and I are attached at the hip. We have been mistaken for sisters and even once for twins, although how our height and hair color differences didn’t tip people off otherwise I’m not sure. But at times we do exist separately, such as during my recent travels back East, however our shared love of travel and opportunity to do so continues even in each other’s absences. Such was the case on a day I found to myself with an opportunity to take a roadtrip to my favorite childhood spot on The Cape.
As I approached The Bourne Bridge, which won the American Institute of Steel Construction’s Class “A” Award of Merit as the “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” in 1934 and ceremoniously delivered me across the Cape Cod Canal, I smiled embracing the silence compared to the memory of piling into the family station wagon for the four hour action-packed ride with my siblings when I was a kid. Fortunately this trip was just 90 minutes from where I was staying. The familiar sights took shape as I was greeted by the iconic shrubbery sign spelling out “Cape Cod” as I arrived at the rotary.
I managed to make it once around in order to find my right route and headed in the direction of Dennis.
West Dennis, MA was where we stayed each summer and the very first landmark I encountered was the West Dennis Public Library, my go-to escape as a kid on a rainy day or for a pile of books to pour through at night back at our cottage. I popped in for a nostalgic walk around viewing the wide selection of books, kids corner and even a delicately handcrafted dollhouse on display (a traditional collectible item you can find throughout The Cape at shops along with antiques.) The library offers a variety of activities including creative writing workshops, yoga, crochet classes and reading sessions with the library puppies. Be sure to stop in when the cloud coverings clear out the beach.
Next stop was the local chain of the Christmas Tree Shops.
They’re a classic stop for knicknacks for bargain hunters and when I saw the familiar sign for one I had to pull into the parking lot. Don’t let the name fool you, you can find everything from summer patio decor to shell necklaces with your name to festive stocking stuffers. My mom loved to meander through when the weather turned and I even picked up a jar of pepper jelly in her honor. Try spreading it over a log of goat cheese to serve with crackers as a uniquely alternative appetizer for your guests or cocktail hour after a day at the beach.
With my taste buds tingling it was time for something sweet so I made my way to Stage Stop Candy in Dennisport. On this hot summer day I was greeted by both the refreshing AC and the always satisfying aroma of chocolate. Offering a fine selection of fudge and gourmet salt water taffy (I selected beach plum and creme brûlée) it is also the home of all things cranberry in the world of candy including: cranberry jellybeans, popcorn, and cream filled chocolates. I’m a truffle girl so I couldn’t resist their Cape Cod Cranberry Truffle I saw in the display case.
While the lovely saleswoman tallied up my purchase she produced a silver tray and offered me a sample of their dark chocolate cranberry cordial. As I bit down there was an instant OMG in my mouth! The rich bittersweet chocolate mixed with the tart liqueur… sensational. Do make a stop there yourself.
Finally it was time to hit the beach. You can never go home again but you can revisit your summer retreat so I took a drive down the road of our former rentals along Windward Road in West Dennis. Locked in time, I was happy to see not much had changed. The quaint cottages dotted the drive, including the home of my annual summer crush, a boy named Peter I used to shyly smile at and play in the waves with throughout my tweens. The sand dunes still figured prominently as I stopped to take a stroll and dip my toes in the warm water. A new generation of young families had taken our place now as their blankets and beach chairs were strewn throughout and children tossed around on their inflatable rafts. We’d spend our days here and at night, when the grownups were gone, as teenagers we would return to hang out and in my case receive my first kiss. I had outgrown Peter by then and shared it with an older boy named Mike (2 years my senior, which seemed light years away from my late-blooming age of 15). I chuckled at the memory of that nervous awkward moment, hoping we’d remain pen pals when we returned home, but I never heard from him again. Thus set the stage for my relationships with men I suppose…
Sea shells lined the shore where we would scoop up hermit crabs with our shovels and handfulls of seaweed to toss at each other after a storm. The row of rocks my brother and I would race down still stood in the sand reaching out into the water. Even the salty beach air smelled the same. After a sufficient enough time for me to reflect and retrace my steps of beach walks from bygone summers I left its warm embrace for a visit with a friendly fishmonger.
Just down the road I decided to drop by the Swan River Fish Market where I met Bill who wore an apron declaring “fishmonger” on its front.
Founded over 50 years ago by Capt. Don Sargent this was one of the first stops my family would make to pick out fresh lobsters and clams to bring home to boil and steam up for dinner upon arrival on The Cape. (Now I must confess, and this is almost sacrilege for this territory, but I don’t like seafood. Just can’t stand the taste. But that didn’t stop me from playing with the live lobsters on our kitchen table as they scurried about, making them dance, thankfully with their claws safely rubber banded before my mom tossed them in the pot. I like to think I gave them some last moments of joy before they met their fate, and our dinner plates.) Bill let me poke around the tanks and pointed out the bounty of the day’s catch. The spot overlooks the scenic banks of the Swan River, a raging rapid, depending on the time of day and tide, that my little brother and I used to body surf into the Atlantic.
Although I passed on the seafood my appetite was piqued and I soon found myself down the road swinging by Sundae School in need of a scoop.
This classic ice cream shoppe was the first place my big sister took us after receiving her drivers license and the keys to the car to take the rest of us younger kids out for a night as a treat. The true treats were through those doors. Situated right next to their own candy store the parlor is a page from history of an early Americana era with marble table tops, an authentic 80 year old soda fountain, period signs and even a player piano. Put in a quarter and it’ll play a ditty for you as you eat your ice cream.
Oh yeah, the ice cream… um, yum! I was looking forward to their black raspberry but was delighted to discover they had upped the ante with a flavor called Shark’s Tooth by combining it with white chocolate chips in honor of the recent great white shark sightings that have arrived in the area this season. A cute scooper named Kara served me up a cup which I chose to have drenched with their famous hot fudge. The ooey gooey decadence did not disappoint. Seated by me I met the Merrill family.
The Dennis locals were about to dig in when I snapped a shot of everyone’s favorite sundae the Our Famous Hot Fudge Sundae which comes with real whipped cream and is topped with a fresh Bing cherry. It looked divine and tasted it too they assured me. In the evenings this hot spot for a cool dessert deservedly has lines out the door, but if you make a mid-day pit stop like we did the place can be all yours.
With my sweet tooth primed I hit the brakes and pulled into the parking lot when I spotted the sign of my cherished bakery from my youth, Woolfie’s. As the sign says they offer “Old Fashion Home Baking” and a wide selection of pastries, breakfast sandwiches, desserts and even catering. The home baking takes place in a converted home itself nestled along this picturesque residential section of the street. As you wind your way up the walkway of the front yard and open the door you are greeted with their abundance of gigantic goods, specifically their massive muffins lunging at you from their case. I remember these oversized mammoths as a kid and although I have grown up I was glad to see they had not been downsized, instead they seemed larger. Nor had they skipped on the berries and assorted ingredients which decorated each top. Sticking with the local fruit of cranberry for this occasion I chose that one and was informed by the helpful Dale at the helm that day that it was actually cranberry walnut with orange zest- even better!
Dale guided me through their inventory and shared with me that he had come on board when his family took over the business from the original owners 2 years ago but assured me the recipes had remained the same. I will only contest that point in so much as I think they’ve gotten better. I spied my all-time favorite, their Mocha Stick. On Sunday mornings my father would head out early and return with a copy of the quintessential newspaper during our stay, the Cape Cod Times, and a box of treasures from Woolfie’s. Inside, along with those enormous muffins, would be mocha sticks and elephant ears (a multi-layered pastry sprinkled with sugar). The mocha stick consists of two sugary pastry sticks between which creamy sweet mocha filling is sandwiched.
It is a pure delight and sugar rush and the ones they make now were even better than I remembered as the filling seemed to billow right out from it. Dale told me I was in luck when I made my request as a fresh batch was just put out before my arrival. The bakery gods were shining that day. There were too many confections to choose from and count and I could have tried them all, but as I was retracing my childhood steps I stuck with my classics of the muffin, an elephant ear and that sinfully sweet mocha stick before skipping on my way. They serve coffee to compliment their menu and had I had the time I might have gotten a cup and stayed awhile as I crept toward my food coma, but I’m proud to report I simply took the box with me back home (with a bite or two for the road) and made those gems last a few days so I could relive the memory a little longer. Make your own memories and roll on into Woolfie’s.
As the late afternoon approached I utilized the last few hours taking in the scenery, which for me is the water, there’s just nothing like the beaches on The Cape in the summertime, so I strolled by another one, Haigis Beach, down the road. This public beach is available to just walk in to for free, otherwise you can park for a fee for the day.
I chatted up some of the fellow beach goers I passed in line at the ice cream truck, or “Hoodsie” as we called it as kids, based on the fact the ice cream was usually supplied by Hood but appeared now to be Blue Bunny. I had had my fill of sweet snacks so I skipped it but enjoyed the sight of the box truck and the still recognizeable ring of its bell. I took in the yachts at the Allen Harbor Yacht Club and Marina, as well as the lush hydrangeas, the unofficial flowers of this region, in bloom along the fences of the various sea salt sprayed cottages.
My final destination to dwindle out my day was The Lighthouse Inn. Just a stone’s throw down from the stretch of beach we used to rent at in West Dennis. As children we would walk along the shore and circle the grounds on our evening walks during sunset but I had never been past its doorway. On this day I made my way inside. The beautiful wood-carved interior carries the nautical theme for the property which houses the West Dennis Light.
It was first lit on May 1, 1855 and after being dark for 75 years the light was relit on on August 7, 1989, in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. Accommodations are provided mid-May through Columbus Day in Cape-style guest houses as well as cottages on the grounds.
I proceeded through the dining room to their airy patio to take in the secluded ocean view as well as an actual substantial meal to balance out my earlier sugar intake. On the menu of specials that day was featured the Reuben Casserole, a scrumptious bubbling opened faced hot dish version of the classic sandwich. Accompanied by a heaping side of tasty pub fries and a refreshing lemonade I dove in while I sunned myself on the deck, enjoying the sight of the occasional kayak boater or sunfish sailor on the horizon. I watched the friendly waitstaff pass each other with trays and playful exchanges, a bit jealous of the joy that comes with a summer job. Most Cape Cod servers are college students relying on their earnings from their stint for their tuition and cost of living. I had the pleasure of being waited on by the charming Emily. When asked, she informed me that she attends Wesleyan where she’s studying Anthropology. I had attended a summer program there as a high school student called the Center for Creative Youth (go figure) where I embarked on my path toward drama school through their theatre division. We chatted about the campus and the social activities there and the culture of Connecticut and it turns out she’s a fellow traveler and blogger of her journeys as well. Check out her exotic adventures in Thailand on her site: http://kaojai.tumblr.com/
As I checked the clock I was sad to see it was time for me to leave and return to where I was staying, at my best friend’s home outside of Boston, but as I headed toward the exit I was stopped by two gentleman taking in the view with a beverage as well who asked about the food and if I might have any recommendations for some nearby spots for a beer. This is where the college kids on staff come in handy as they would most certainly know where to go. I informed them that I was just passing through and wasn’t sure as my childhood trips to the area hadn’t included any bars so I summoned over Emily who I was sure could help. She asked for suggestions from the others and returned with a few for my two new friends, Vince and Tom, who I was now seated with and chatting up. They had left their wives at the beach to escape the sun for a little buddy time and were intrigued by my adventures as I described my day. I was a bit bummed I couldn’t stay longer to share some more laughs, and a round or two, but told them to check out Dart and Map as I departed. Apparently I had made my mark as I received an email the next day from Tom who told me I had inspired the two of them to take a spontaneous jaunt of their own and try out some of the local haunts on their way home. Among them were: Captain Parkers, Kevin’s, Wooden Shoe, Rum Runners and Jack’s 28 Club. They rated Jack’s 28 the highest based on friendliness, coldness of beer and atmosphere. Way to go Vince and Tom! Now that’s the Dart and Map spirit. I’m so proud of you boys, and so glad I got to meet you!
It’s a great big beautiful summer out there, folks. Look how much you can do in just one day. Get out and travel!
If you’re seeking some relief from the Arizona heat I suggest a Cold War era flashback for a pretty cool pit stop. On our way from Tucson to Tombstone Jenn and I made a visit to the Titan Missile Museum in Sahuarita, Arizona. This former top secret site is now a national historic landmark. You, too, can take a tour underground to see the only remaining Titan II missile site open to the public up close, and even stand on its launch duct,
without any special clearance required, just a reasonable admission fee, and a hard hat if you’re tall like me. (Those beams are low and the walkways tight in these close quarters!)
Following a brief film on the history of the site you are led by a tour guide to the formerly restricted grounds featuring exhibits of rocket engines.
Our tour guide was an engineer in this field, and like many others who work there, volunteers his expertise as he directs you past signs stating “Explosives”, “Safety First”, and “Danger RF Radiation” as you head to the access portal. These, of course, are all leftovers of a bygone era as we were assured no nukes remained. And to be sure of that we were told that due to agreements set in place post Cold War between the U.S. and former Soviet Union they are visited unannounced by our now comrades to double check. These former foes have even embraced the art of the American business trip, often showing up during the height of the golf season in Arizona to check the site and hit the links.
We descended 35 feet below ground into the missile complex, and of course captured a few fun photo ops. It’s what we do.
Entering the launch control center is like stepping onto a sci-fi set from the 1960’s.
The final stop is the missile itself, standing majestically in its silo. For this part of the tour we were handed off to another expert, a bit more serious in composure, and I’m not quite sure he appreciated the glee Jenn and I emitted as we posed for more pics. He seemed to be stuck in the Cold War mindset vs the appreciation of nostalgia we enjoyed as we took in its impressive anatomy decorated with the letters U.S.A.
T minus zero.
If you follow our adventures on Facebook then you know how much Jenn and I enjoy checking into prisons during our travels. And sometimes we even get to check one out. Bam! These two babes got behind bars at Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park.
During its thirty-three years of operation the prison housed 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women. But on this particular day these 2 sassy lasses proved they were bad to the bone.
The local townspeople called the prison The Country Club on the Colorado River. The convicts referred to it as a hellhole.
You don’t have to be married to be stuck with the old ball and chain, if you tried to escape the prison and were caught you were blessed with one of those too.
Not everyone made it out alive, in fact there are 104 prisoners buried in the cemetery grounds. Some say you can hear their ghosts at night still calling out for justice.
Have the ladies learned their lesson? We shall see… until next time… when they are released to the open road!