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It’s my anniversary

12-8-2013 Deer Park

One year ago today my car sat parked up on the lawn outside my front door. It was cool and sunny in Connecticut but apparently there were some weather issues to the south. Rather attention grabbing weather issues.

I was preparing for a mad dash to Baltimore as the first leg of my journey. I had picked the date rather arbitrarily. It was a Sunday. I would leave at noon. But with reports of Baltimore having snow currently and, more of concern, by early evening it would turn to rain that would freeze on contact. Baltimore drivers were cautioned to avoid driving if possible. And I wanted to go there?

I wanted to visit my childhood friend Donna. Perfect yes? A little check in with my past as I stepped into what some friends called, lovingly, my mid-life crisis. Five and a half hours. A good first day’s drive.
Do I delay? Is it smart to drive into guaranteed frozen roads? Funny question. Is anything about this road trip “smart”?

The weather system, moving north, would be here in CT tomorrow. If I didn’t leave as planned I’d probably not leave tomorrow either. I asked the cat’s opinion and got nothing.
Okay. Well. Maybe I wouldn’t get as far as Baltimore but I could get somewhere. Drive as far as is safe then get a hotel. No procrastinating on this. I shall not be stopped by weather. Sheesh. Part of the whole point of this trip is to get away from the winter weather.

I threw some final, questionably necessary, items into the car, locked up the house for the house sitters arrival later in the day, said my goodbyes to the lovely seven pound elephant Miss Voodoo, and went to say goodbye to Vette and Rob at the Wadsworth Mansion Xmas craft fair thingy.
And that was it.
I was on my way. On the road again!

It was smooth sailing right onto and over the George Washington Bridge. Splendid day for the start of an adventure.
And then it started to snow. Pretty at first, I drove right into the thick of it. By the time I reached Elizabeth, NJ there was two inches on the ground. As I moved south the snow piled up quickly. Driving started to become treacherous in spots. Somewhere this side of Philly an 18-wheeler nearly ran me into a bridge abutment. That was a bit nerve wracking. It was kinda sleety. Traffic was slowing down.
What was I thinking? How many people are pulling over now to grab hotels and wait it out? Ugh.
How much farther to Baltimore? I can do this… Donna was on alert that I was attempting this. I texted and told her I was still on the way as far as I knew.
Traffic stopped.

I looked at the map again. I was hours behind schedule already. This little jaunt to Baltimore was becoming an ordeal. I looked at the map again and saw Newark Delaware not too far ahead of me. I had a friend there. A friend I’d known for years but had never met face to face. We were both in an online book group many many years ago.
The book-a-week group had always been a favorite of mine. Members read anything at all with the mere goal of trying to read 52 books each year. Then we’d write blurbs about what we’d read. I got many great unexpected reads from years spent reading with those ladies. The group kind fell apart when our beloved leader Donna got a nasty brain cancer and left this plain of existence. (Although I had never met Donna either, we were close. I still miss her.) She was our center and without her we drifted apart. I kept in touch with a few of the members, and facebook brought a few others back into my world. I always expected I’d meet Kari someday. We clicked right from our first emails. And she had extended an invitation to me to stop by. I figured I’d do so on my return. But. All this snow…
Wonder if she’s home? Wonder exactly how far it is? Wonder if she’ll let me crash there? I don’t have her number do I?
Traffic absolutely crawling. Snow and sleet and other icy particles collected everywhere.
I opened facebook to send Kari a message. It was the only way I had to contact her. I sent her my number and said “Text me, I’m stuck in snow traffic.”
She called right away!
Ha! She was stuck in snow traffic too. Had gone to a funeral today in Wilkes-Barre and was now trying to get home. Different highway. Same reality.
Sounded like we were both about the same distance from her house.
Of course I’d be welcome!
There was a big rest area just before her exit. We’d keep in touch and meet there.
Text message received – “I’m here.”
“What do you drive? Where are you parked? I’m two miles away.”
Cars are crawling into the rest stop and there’s no parking in sight.
But look! There! Through the slapping of the wipers, there’s a person standing outside a car widely waving arms! What a fantastic sight! Yay! Kari! You look like a crazy lady! Hello friend!
I have the biggest grin on my face reliving the moment.
Who would have ever thunk this is how we’d meet? Ten inches of snow on the ground. Sleet pelting our faces. A quick hug and a “follow me to my house” shouted over the general roar of the highway and the sleet.
Fifteen minutes later and we were warming and drying at her kitchen table.
A half hour after that we were out in the world again at a pub for some late night drinks, some warm food and to finally get to know each other.
The late night snow silence of the University of Delaware and the fire-warmth of The Deer Park Tavern were so far removed from the life I’d been living for years. I was elated to have launched. And to have landed, not just safely, but oh so enjoyably.
Thank you Kari!

(Alright here’s the deal folks. I’d like to think I’ll spend the time to relive my journey in a way I didn’t have time to write as I did it. Plus I should be writing and I haven’t been. I’m rusty. Bear with me.)
(Oh and hey. It’s not the first time I’ve written this story. Look there if you want to see pictures, or to see how I spent the next morning with Kari.)

Rainbows End Down That Highway

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I should always see Birds of Paradise in my everyday existence.

So a concerned reader wrote and said “Don’t let the sadness of Tony stop you from blogging. Why haven’t you written again?”

Ok. Ok. This is a place for truth. I have no concerned readers. It was actually my best friend who wrote and said that.

I’m sorry to have given that impression. It wasn’t at all “the sadness of Tony” that stopped me from writing. It was, instead, a couple of other things.

1 – The sadness of Tony wasn’t really Tony’s fault. Nor was it overwhelmingly his sadness I felt. His was real and true. But what weighed on me so heavily was the town itself, the other energies and people there. Once I left, things got better instantly.

2 – It was that I’ve been quite busy. I’ve been on the move. Socializing. Seeing people and doing things. I’ve been to the Salton Sea, to San Diego, to Laguna Beach for a few days, to visit friends and their four adopted Chinese daughters in Hermosa Beach in a house bursting with activity and lined up lunch boxes every morning. I’ve been to gajillions of Museums, had dinners with friends, and wandered on beaches for hours on end watching strangers wandering on beaches, I’ve been contemplating the lives of shore birds and enjoying the weather immensely.

3 – When I left Connecticut I imagined this blog would be something awesome, something thoughtful, educational, intriguing, worth reading. And I have a couple different blog posts half way shaped in my head, but none of them are yet fully formed (read: good enough to be what I want them to be.)

4 – I’m an active Toastmaster. I’m the VP of Public Relations at my home club. I promised to keep up my social media posting duties AND more interestingly, I’ve been visiting Toastmaster Clubs in some of the cities in which I have stopped. When I do that, I write a blog post for my club blog about their club, their meeting and my visit. So when I HAVE had time to write, I’ve been doing that first. Because it’s easier to write a report than it is to write something perfect thoughtful, and I’ve wanted to write those before the impressions fade.

But now I’m mostly caught up on Toastmaster blogging. And as of late last night I have landed at a friend’s house with some peace and quiet, no need to jump in the car to move on, nothing particular to see nearby, and he’s off at work for the next 8 hours.  So maybe I can work on this.

Oh, and if you want to see posts about Toastmaster meetings – that blog is here: Cromwell Community Toastmasters.

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(I do not know these people:)

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(Or these people either.)

Shoutout To TripAdvisor

Seriously, I just want to give a huge shoutout to TripAdvisor.

I’ve been using their app to find places to eat or visit.

Now on the eating front… I love that they rank places. ALL the places in a city. So you can look at them in order #1 through #2784. Or you can look at the ones near you. And even when you look at it that way it tells you what rank they are.

Yesterday in Dallas, as per recommendations from TripAdvisor, my friend Aryn (who just happens to be in town headed north while I’m in town headed south) and I ate at the following places:

The Velvet Taco – #18 of 2,962 – The place was AMAZING! Order at the counter, long communal tables, your name will be called. The menu was short and sweet and the girl at the counter asked “Have you been here before?” Then gave us a menu and circled all the best sellers. The menu is also on the wall and features a WTF special – that’s the weekly taco feature. I had the Rotisserie Chicken taco, and Ahi Poke Taco (which is raw tuna in lettuce) and the Rotisserie Corn – which was a delicious little cup of shaved Mexican corn on the cob goodness. If you are ever in Dallas – eat here!

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Cedar’s Mediterranean Mezza & Grill – #77 of 2,962 – Yay! It’s a salad bar. Sorta half Latin, half Greek, half oh I don’t even know but wow. Turkish salad, hummus (in three flavors), eggplant (five different ways), stuffed grape leaves, citrus potato salad, mint cabbage salad, roasted potatoes, Babaganoush, Tabouleh, pita pizzas, couscous salad with almonds, three different bean dishes, and more. The added bonus to our visit is that there was a large party in the main room that was fun to watch. It was a beautiful princess celebrating her Sweet 16. (Is it normal that she was dressed exactly like her cake topped figurine? Do they sell the dresses, hair pieces and figurines together?) It was joyous to watch her. No sarcasm at all here – the food was phenomenal and the party was sweet.

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Today we ate at:

Ellen’s Southern Kitchen – #157 of 2,962 – We went here for Brunch because it looked good and not expensive. “Breakfast served AL day because Grits RULE!”I had the Big Ol Country Breakfast – which was Biscuits and Gravy, scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns. Aryn had poached eggs with garlic and spinach on grits. She said the grits were great. Lots of alternative looking folk working here and dining here (along with sweet little old grandmas and such…) Definitely worthy.

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Asian Mint – #45 of 2,962 – We were both wiped out from a day of (free) museum walking (The Dallas Museum of Art is quite good.) and a visit to Dealey Plaza to honor America’s past and ponder brutality, reality and life in America. So we decided to just grab some food to take back to the hotel. Orange Chicken, Summer Rolls, and Coconut Soup. The place was packed as we waited for our take-out and we were delighted at how good it was. (I didn’t get any photos here.)

So yeah, Thanks TripAdvisor

I fell in love with Memphis

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I’ve been wanting to write about Memphis ever since I left, ever since I was there.

I was completely taken with the place.

The night before I’d been in Nashville. I expected to find some heart and soul there in Nashville but… I felt nothing. I know there was stuff to do. I found the cool part of town (or so I was told) – Five Points, and wandered around there, had a nice lunch at Marché Artisan Foods and wandered through some great little small business shops. But I was unimpressed. Inspiration level – flatline.

So I hit the road headed west. To Memphis. After spending the whole day in Nashville I arrived in Memphis in the dark. I grabbed a room online from a rest area because it looked pretty central to Museums and other things that looked interesting at first glance. When I arrived I asked if there was a room with a view and they hooked me up with a room that overlooked the trolley lines and Court Square. Court Square was decorated with a blue light fountain in the middle, and surrounding residential balconies dripped with colored lights. I was immediately charmed.

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Now it was time for food and so I took a walk out onto the trolley line. The place was deserted and looked enchanting all decorated with Christmas lights twirling up the street lamps and trolley stations adorned with glowing snowflakes. I wandered alone down the street. I felt completely safe and son found a restaurant that I’ll swear for months is my favorite place to eat in the entire US. It was called Flight and its entire concept was brilliant. Not only were the wines served in flights, but so were the apps, the salads, the soups, the entrees, the desserts and the after dinner cordials, and bourbons and gins and so on and so forth. Everything. And not only was the idea over the top, so was the food.

IMG_3654I strolled back to my hotel happy as a fried chicken on a waffle, smothered in mushroom maple sauce. I could love a place like this…

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It is believed that the Mississippian Culture tribes (Tribes known mostly for the Earth Mounds they built.) and later the Chickasaw tribes occupied the area for well over 10,000 years. The land Where Memphis sits is one of four natural bluffs that overlook the Mississippi River, making it ideal for settlement. The Spanish bought the land from the Chickasaw in 1795 in order to build a fort. When Spain agreed the leave the area, this bluff was decided to be the westernmost point of the newly admitted state of Tennessee.

Memphis wasn’t official founded until nearly 20 years later. It was named after the Ancient Egyptian city probably due to some similarity to its position on a major river. And later, this spiritual connection would lead a visionary builder to erect a huge pyramid right there in downtown Memphis, TN. (But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

The history of Memphis fascinated me. In 1878 a yellow fever epidemic destroyed the city. So many people died or fled that the city’s population was reduced by 75%. Property tax revenues dried up and city infrastructures crumbled.

The march of history astounds me. Determined never to suffer such a disease induced population decrease, Memphis rebuilt with state of the art sanitation methods. And oddly enough, a few decades later, it was a Sanitation Worker’s Strike that put the spotlight on Memphis as a hotbed of Civil Rights issues.

And sadly, it was in Memphis that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968.

I awoke the next morning knowing I was not ready to leave Memphis.

I spent the next three days exploring and I did not even come close to seeing one quarter of all the things I wanted to do while here.

I almost forgot that I had an old friend who used to write for my magazine a decade ago, that lived in Memphis. We’d sort of lost touch because she doesn’t use social media. But I was able to find her working two blocks from my hotel. After work we jumped in her car and toured the city. I love seeing a place with a local!

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From Sun Studios to The Cotton Museum, from Otherlands, one of the coolest coffeehouses I’ve see since Klekolo, to The National Civil Rights Museum, from Trolleys that travel in loops past the pyramid and the South Main Art District to Beale Street, from The Arcade restaurant (where Elvis hung out as a teen) to myriad city parks, from visual beauty to music history, Memphis captured my heart.

I can’t wait to come back!

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Fun Fact – Memphis is thought to be the city with the most mentions in all recorded music and the Memphis Rock N Soul Museum keeps a running list of songs on their website.

 

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Tennessee (Jed?)

 

 

 

 

(The title of this post is just a nod to a song I love. Sadly, I don’t know anyone named Jed in Tennessee…)

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December 14th.

I left Atlanta early and headed for McMinnville, TN. I wrote this while waiting for the concert to start:

No cell service here underground. Nor should there be.
A short walk deep into a mountainside leads to the cavern in which I now sit. They’ve turned it into a great little concert venue.
I’m here for the Pirate’s Christmas Bluegrass show. Signs around the place here tell us that by entering the area we are agreeing to be filmed for publication or play on the internet or on tv.
There’s hipsters and older folk and women in fancy dresses and heels. There’s families and big beards and a long hair or two. I have even seen a dancing bear tie dye in the crowd. The place holds 500 people I’m told.

This concert cavern started life as a saltpeter mine for the Confederates during the Civil War. Saltpeter was then shipped to Nashville where it was essential in making gunpowder. I enjoy knowing the history of a place.

(Now back to the present.)

It all sounded awesome. It did, right? But it turned out to be a little too cutesy and just average musicians with a gimmick. Not to say it was bad. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t totally spectacular. And did I mention all the cute cute children joining the band on stage? Oh and Santa. He was there too. I’m glad I went. The venue was very very cool. But I wish I could have seen an amazing band/musician there rather than a cheesy Pirate show.

On the plus side I was given a little cache of loot as a prize for being the one in attendance who came from farthest away…

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When I left McMinnville I *thought* I was heading back south – either to Hixson (just outside Chattanooga), or maybe Summetown where a good friend lives. But somehow, some way, my car headed north and next thing ya know, I was in Nashville.

Props to the bartender who told me where, in Nashville, to go – ie – East Nashville.

Dec 15th –

I spent the day wandering the Five Points area of East Nashville. Cute little independent stores, a great brunch place with organic and local food, and it’s fun to travel places while they’re all decorated up for Xmas.

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I fell in complete love with this Xmas tree made by a local Nashville artist. If I was rich, this baby would have been mine!

 

 

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Sorta steampunkish, sorta natural, all the way cool!

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After all this, I’d had my fill of Nashville. It just wasn’t calling to me. No matter what people say, I didn’t feel much heart or soul here – at least not for me.

So I left and headed for Memphis…