The Southeastern Region Folk Alliance Conference was a great time, basically two and a half days of nonstop music: performances, listening, discussions and networking. This was topped off with an informal killer jam at one of Asheville’s coolest breweries, hosted by a pair of incredibly hardworking music business professionals. We are talking three nights of going full tilt until 3 AM.
It was great.
I convinced MJ that she should fly down and join me after the conference, which she did. After a 12 hour snafu and a couple of delays, I picked her up at the Asheville airport at after midnight on Monday morning.
Asheville is a pretty cool hang and, after a leisurely Monday morning recovery, we set out to enjoy some incredible food and some lovely spots in and around the city including: Biscuit Head, Chai Pani, the Trail Head, the Botanical Garden, the Bob Moog and the Folk Art Museums.
When we left town on Wednesday AM we elected to drive several hours on the Blue Ridge Parkway and loved every minute. I couldn’t help but marvel at the vision to create this remarkable road and the engineering involved in building it. It was just lovely, with incredible scenic vistas and enjoyable visitor centers.
My plan was to drive the parkway for while before jumping on the interstate and heading up to the New RIver Gorge National Park. We had been rafting on the New River years ago and driven through the area several times since. But I hadn’t been there since the area became a national park.
And this is when the return trip started to get interesting.
After enjoying an array of unbelievable great food in Asheville, I was hoping to find a stellar breakfast place. A quick internet scan led me to this place with great views of the gorge. The food reviews were all over the place, but I was thinking, good view with a basic breakfast was worth the twenty minute drive.
Well, maybe not.
The drive involved traversing several miles of a paved one and a half lane road with a two foot gravel berm on each side, and the oncoming locals did not slow down a bit to pass by. The restaurant was actually in a lodge, and it did have remarkable views. Unfortunately, they did not have a breakfast menu, but offered a buffet weaker than what you might at a Comfort Inn.
We passed, and decided we would go back to a little town where we had seen a Tudor Biscuit World.
I am not going to going into the dissertation on the food, but somehow the experience kinda made me proud to say, I have eaten several times at a Waffle House, but I have only eaten once at a Tudor Biscuit World.
Think about that for a minute.
After eating, we did a really enjoyable driving tour of the gorge and began to make our way back to the interstate, and wound up driving through a small coal mining town, complete with two “company” stores. They were both closed up and in disrepair, but what a flood of emotion. All of the songs I have heard, or sang over the years that referenced the company store came trickling back into my mind. I had to stop and get a picture. All I could think about was what a cool music venue that place could be. A great Pa. musician Tom Breiding, has devoted a large effort in researching and recording songs from the coal fields and has promised to send me some stories about this place. He performed at this building.
We continued our way back to the interstate and resumed our 70 mile an hour way back north.
And the return leg of the trip gets more interesting.
We were approaching the West Virginia/Ohio boarder around lunch time, and I seemed to recall there was a Cracker Barrel at Marietta. After the breakfast experience I wasn’t up for a gamble and that seemed like a safe bet.
Unfortunately, a truck cut me off at the Marietta exit and the next exit only had a Subway. In what turned out to be a less than wise decision, I opted to drive by, thinking surely the next exit would have better options.
MJ was saying lets just grab something at a McDonalds, when I my priorities shifted from food to gas. I had planned on getting off in Marietta for something to eat and fuel. I suddenly had a sinking realization that Interstate 77 is not at all like Interstate 71. I drive from my house to Dayton dozens of times each year, and I am conditioned to hitting an exit every few miles and nearly every exit has a gas station.
But the time we hit the next exit, my Honda CRV was telling me I had a driving range of 9 miles. We soon realized that cell service was a little lacking too. When we pulled off the interstate and searched for the nearest gas station, for some reason my results were coming up for Marietta, Georgia. Whoa!
Ultimately, my phone’s GPS got oriented and indicated that there was a gas station 7 miles away. So we set out driving down “Cat something” road. It was a very rural road, and to my horror, we soon drove by a sign that said Road Closed 6 miles ahead. By now, the GPS was indicating that the gas station was 5.5 miles ahead so we were committed to moving along.
I turned off the AC which boosted the gas mileage, and we hit a really long grade so I let the car coast, so things were looking kinda bright on the “old distance to the gas station vs available gas ratio”.
We were approaching a T intersection and our GPS was indicating that I was going to turn left, and sure enough there was a sign that indicated the road was closed ahead. A reasonable person might assume the road “closed ahead” would refer to the section of the road “ahead”, but no, the our route to the left was missing a bridge.
Now it just so happened there was a man on a riding mower, cutting the grass at a boarded up house, so I stopped and got out of the car, he shut off his mower, and I asked him if I could buy some gas.
He looked at me and said, “Gas?” and he titled his head back an laughed. I don’t know if that was for effect or if he really thought that was funny. He looked at me and asked, “Are you out of gas.” And I assured him that I was pretty close. As it turned out, there were several gallons stored in a shed behind the house, which I gladly bought, and with new wind in the sails and a set of verbal instructions we were off to Lowell, Ohio, where there was one gas station and one restaurant.
As it turned out, the Mexican restaurant didn't open for another couple hours, so it was back to the interstate. I should probably mention that my travel companion had been quite supportive and had not, nor has not to this point said anything like, “What the hell were you thinking?” But she did say, “Your father would be fit to be tied if he was here.” And she was right.
Now you might ask, could things get any more interesting? Why yes they could.
Having been beaten down by the interstate travel gods, who were probably ticked off because I had driven several hours on the Blue Ridge Park Way the day before, I was now humbled into submission and read to resume the contemporary travel model of stopping at a fast food place for a drive by, grab and go meal.
Soooo, we pulled off the next exit that had that world renowned chow house McDonalds. I noticed a Wendy’s across the street and asked MJ if she had a culinary preference. McDonalds got the nod. We got out to take the time for a “dining in’ experience. The young lady at the counter was leaning against the wall, staring up and off in the distance, and said, “Our computers are down and we aren’t taking any orders.” I asked what the prognosis was and she said, “We’re just waiting.”
Off to Wendy’s. Thinking maybe this was a sign that we should just stay in the car, we pulled into the line for the Wendy’s drive through, only to be greeted by a young fellow, in a Wendy’s uniform and serving gloves who told us they weren’t taking any orders because the fryers were down and the maintenance guys were there.
So all we could do was continue north.
Ultimately we did get food, and we did make it home, but what a day of travel.
I decided a couple months back that my motto for the year would be, “Why be frustrated when you can be amazed.” I think this will serve me well.