As soon as Mrs. Moose heard that her daughter-in-law was going to drop a baby, she immediately went into high speed wobble and began to plan a cross country expedition to the East Coast. This is the story of that trip. A trip that takes us and the dogs, a golden, named Moosie and a terrier, named Loopie, east across the southwest, up to the North Carolina coast and then back west across the northern portion of the continent as we return to our quiet hovel in the gold country of the People's Republic of California. For those of you who are here from a dog link, all of the lodgings described herein, were dog friendly. Dog friendly restaurants are noted, otherwise, they are not.
This post was originally a series of blow by blow blog postings that I posted en route. I have changed the original content to add links and to remove most of the family related material (in which you, the reader, would not have found much of interest). The post is roughly divided into the various legs (of about 500 to 700 miles) of the journey each of which represents a single posting from the original series of posts.
The Central Valley and Tehachapi, California's Moist and Warm Armpit
We pick up our rental, a Dodge Caravan from Enterprise, and I figure its best not to mention that we're about to put 7,000 miles on the vehicle in the next three weeks. It has those disappearing seats and a low floor, which, for old owners of old dogs, are great.
We head down Highway 99, which has certainly seen some improvement since the last time I drove it but, of course, as anyone who had driven it in the past knows, it had nowhere to go but up. This hot and humid freeway through central California has little to recommend it other than the fact that it is not Interstate 5, a more hot, less humid, more dusty and far less verdant drive. So we settled in for an uneventful voyage with a quick stop in Kingsburg, nicknamed as "little Sweden" because it was settled by Swedish raisin growers in the late 1800's. Kingsburg is home to the world's largest box of raisins and a collection of some of the most immaculately maintained $100,000 homes i have ever seen (seriously, apparently no one has anything else to do but work on their lawn). I guess there are very few Swedes left, as all of the casual conversations we overheard were in Spanish, albeit with a slight Swedish accent.
Onward to Tehachapi where we learn that the Tehachapi Best Western dog friendly rooms smell like a bar of soap... held under your nose ... forever. Interestingly, the residents of Tehachapi do not eat out on Sunday because over half the restaurants were closed on that day. Faced with limited choices, we chose to get take out from followers of one of the eastern religions, a Thai restaurant called Thai-hachapi. Clever name and excellent spicy eggplant. Highly recommended. Of course, eating spicy leads to a certain amount of anxiety during the next day's drive. But as an added benefit, after dinner, the room now smells like soapy Thai food, a welcome respite.
On to Williams Arizona, Gateway to the Grand Canyon
While Mrs. Moose drives, Loopie sleeps mostly and Moosie just pants and pants. Often Moosie will pant directly over a sleeping Loopie and as her dripping saliva wets down Loopie, the smell of damp dog fills the Dodge.
Now on to Williams. The speed limit on Arizona freeways is 75 MPH. So cool ... Of course everyone drives at least 80. The Best Western here is much nicer. Little patches of snow on the ground. Williams has a much more prosperous look since my last visit here. More shops, more tourists, but no teapot water tower; so much for that theme. At lunch, at Cruiser's 66 Cafe (dog friendly) I absolutely nuked my Keto diet with deep fried and battered onion and jalapeno strings and a Margarita. OLE! Moosie and Loopie had a great time interacting with other dogs and their owners on the patio.
Not surprisingly the Cruiser's 66 Cafe has a sixties theme and plays 60's music continuously. Listening to the old tunes really brings home just how much of musical "progress" in the decades since the sixties, has been the transition, in popular tastes, from hit melodies to hit rhythms, or as I like to put it, from civilization to savagery. Sort of a musical version of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Now you kids get off my lawn ...
Had dinner at Kicks on 66 (dog friendly) within a short walk of the hotel. Continuing the destruction of my diet, this was by far the best dinner out recently anywhere, much less the best dinner of the trip. Chicken Chili Verde pot pie for me and Pork Osso Bucco for Eva. Service was great and food was just excellent. If we lived in Williams we'd eat here until we had exhausted the menu.
Indian Country to Santa Fe
From Williams we head east across the high desert plains to to the La Posada de Santa Fe resort in Santa Fe. Incredible scenery en route combined with views of grinding poverty.
La Posada is an incredible resort. We could stay here for weeks if we won the lottery. Huge, well appointed rooms and our own private patio for the dogs. Santa Fe is about 7,000 feet up and the hotel warns guests about altitude sickness and offers Oxygen treatment in the spa. We were in Santa Fe for a Full day. We dropped the dogs off at the sitter' and toured the art museum and did the other standard tourista stuff.
Had lunch at a Tapa's bar called La Boca. Excellent food. While we were eating it began to snow... in April. Glad i didn't bring my shorts.
Stepping up onto the soapbox for a moment, in the center of town there is a plaza with a monument erected in 1866. One of the plaques on the monument had been recently altered.
I mused about the word that had been chiseled out. I didn't think that it was "fooking" given the year, and certainly not "Cleveland", 1866 being a little too early for baseball, So I opted for the word "savage". A little googling of the news archives confirmed this to be the fact, the chiseling being done in response to the demands of native American activists. I think Orwell may have underestimated the zeal with which some people would welcome the erasure of history.
Finally, one parting shot at Santa Fe. Although the trees were just beginning to bud in Santa Fe, it was easy to look up and imagine what a beautiful oasis this city must be in the summer when the sidewalks and adobe are shaded by a canopy of green leaves. Still, it gives you a strange feeling, walking down the sidewalk and looking through the windows at spectacularly overpriced jewelry and $500 pairs of shoes, and $5,000 Katchina dolls, and designer Pendleton Luggage next to Native Americans in the plaza with their silver and sand painting work laid out on rugs before them. And in the tony four star restaurants it seems as if every other table is filled with well dressed, and well coiffed, middle and old aged women, giving the impression that Santa Fe is the retirement home of rich widows and the cast off first wives of doctors and Hollywood producers. Taken together, it lends to a weird vibe as if Malibu or L.A. North of Sunset had been transported to the middle of the high desert to form a club I can only visit as a guest.
Mesaland to Oklahoma (Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plains)
Leaving Santa Fe we head east over more of the same terrain and into the Texas panhandle. The earth is so flat and the sky is so big that you can see the curvature of the earth before you, punctuated by wind turbines sprouting from the ground like the pinwheels of a Brobdingnagian toddler. Abruptly, in the eastern part of the panhandle the geography changes and you transition from the old west, into the beginning of the "east". The brush and chaparral disappear and are replaced by deciduous trees and green rolling hills. Stucco gives way to brick as a building material. Oklahomans think of their state as the west: after all, they have cattle and oil and cowboys and Indians. But to me, it is the beginning of the East because it just looks like the East. We stop in Clinton, home of the world's largest route 66 sign and the route 66 museum, and are surprised by a clean and modern Holiday Inn adjacent to an indoor water park. With dog friendly lodging, you're like a virgin bride on her wedding night; you never know what you're going to get. We then proceeded to have the worst dinner of the trip (so far) at Montana Mike's (dog friendly), a local steakhouse. What weird magic could they have used to transform a filet mignon into a tough and chewy Kong toy?
Oklahoma to Arkansas and the Bible Belt
The next day, while trying to help with a work related service call, I fail at my duties as navigator and we miss a turn and ended up driving 120 miles on country roads instead of on the Turnpike. As a result we got to see rural eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas up close and personal. Unsure of the availability of food, gas and alcohol at our next destination, we stopped in Gravette Arkansas for supplies. I waited with the dogs in front of the town's supermarket, while Mrs. Moose bought groceries. As I did, I struck up a conversation with one of the market employees, a friendly white haired gentleman, who was gathering carts. Travel Tip: There is no better bait to use, when trolling for conversations with strangers, than a dog or two at the end of a leash. We discussed longevity in dogs for about ten minutes. True to the stereotype of the region, his smile, under a bushy white mustache, revealed a gap where a missing upper incisor once stood. This makes me wish that I had the huevos to ask people if i could photograph them; it would substantially add to the interest of the blog. Eventually, Mrs. Moose emerged from the market and informed me that the market did not sell alcohol and the cashier had no idea where alcohol was sold.
I began to panic ...
We continued on twisting and turning country roads towards our destination. There are a couple of unusual things which really stood out as we drove. First, I was flummoxed as to how an area with such a small population could support so many churches. There was one around every turn, most in small white buildings and seemingly adhering to obscure doctrines which must have been offshoots of the Evangelical or Baptist faith. (Apparently though, Catholics are as scarce as hens teeth in this area). One could make a career out of shooting pictures of these little churches, but we were running late and we bypassed the opportunity.
To digress while on the subject of religion, in eastern Oklahoma we caught a morsel of evangelistic preaching on the radio. I was struck by how little the accent and cadence of these preachers had changed since I first heard them growing up in North Carolina in the fifties.
Ah drueeem of a better waorrrrld.
There are two distinct features of this type of preaching: first, adding an additional syllable to single syllable words and second, drawing out words, especially at the end of a sentence, for 4 or 5 additional beats. Since no one actually talks this way except preachers, while preaching, I'm mystified as to how this type of speech has persisted since before my birth to the present day. The only other linguistic analog I can think of is the tendency of airline pilots to adopt a Chuck Yeager drawl. Perhaps preachers and airline pilots are only responding to people's expectations of what they should sound like.
The second observation of note was the fact that, while there were countless churches, there were no bars (and i was actively... no... desperately..., looking in the hope of finding a package store). Incongruously, along the way we passed three marijuana dispensaries.
As we moved east, the land became progressively more hilly and the roads progressively more twisty. I began to understand why people in this area have a reputation for marrying their cousins. Before paved roads and the car, traveling even a short distance must have required a tremendous amount of time and energy. It would have taken days just to go on a date with someone more distantly related than a second cousin.
Finally, as we approached our destination, a sigh of relief. A winery!!! At the Railway Winery we learned that prior to Prohibition, Arkansas was the leading wine producing region in the United States. Who knew? Exhausted, we arrived at our destination at Holiday Island. Although the name Holiday Island conjured up, for me, a faint whiff of the English holiday camps as depicted in the rock opera Tommy, I was pleased to find it to be a charming little resort community located on a lake in the upper northwest corner of Arkansas. The weather is perfect and the only sounds you hear are the warbles of the songbirds. We spent two nights here cooking our Keto friendly meals and enjoying nature.
All the Way to Memphis
After leaving Holiday Island, we make a short stop in the historic town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas which, like our hometown in the Gold Country, exists merely to milk its history laden past and sell things to tourists.
It was "Diversity Week" in Eureka Springs, which seems to be an annual event designed by the local chamber of commerce to bring in their fair share of gay and lesbian tourist dollars. Many businesses were flying their rainbow flags and the town was hopping with tourists even at 10 in the morning. Wading our way through a sea of spiky short haircuts, i was struck by how many of the visitors were lesbian and how few were gay men (am I, as a straight male, even allowed to discuss this or is this another one of the many topics of which I am forbidden to speak?)
Nationally, gay men out number lesbians by an almost 2 to 1 margin. This set my mind to wondering why, at this event, the turnout was so lopsidedly skewed in the other direction. I didn't ask anyone to speculate but I have a theory which I will keep to myself at this time. You might also ask, how is it possible that this event can take place in the middle of the bible belt? Is it possible we have been mislead about the people of flyover country?
On the other hand, as we traveled on, on three or four occasions, we saw the Stars and Bars displayed in front of businesses or homes. One was in front of a biker bar.
We stopped a couple of hours later at a huge Vallero truck stop next to interstate 40. Mrs. Moose, in an effort to maintain our Keto diet, bought for our lunch, a turkey leg and a hot link on a stick. One thing you would never ever, ever, experience in California was the song that they were playing over the speakers inside the truck stop (as I made my way to the restrooms); What a Friend We Have in Jesus. They were playing Christian music in a business owned by an NYSE company! I was gobsmacked by the apparent contradictions we were running into.
Along the way, beginning in Texas, I had begun to count roadkill. We hadn't seen a dead armadillo in a while so, it appeared that the final dead armadillo count would be 9. The critters must be weighted like a child's sippy cup in reverse, in that the intact dead ones always seem to end up on their backs. I was unsure that we would see any more as we made our way to the coast but resolved to continue to count and to attempt to puzzle out the mystery of Armadillo weighting. Was the back of an Armadillo chemically similar to buttered toast?
As we traveled further East, the sky opened up and it began to rain. A lot. Finally we arrived at Memphis.
Eva had booked the world's smallest room, with a lumpy queen bed, very little privacy, in an area undergoing gentrification within short walking distance to museums and homeless camps. How could she do this!? I was less than pleased. The next day I would concern myself with disposing of Mrs. Moose's body ...
Luckily, dinner was excellent. Ribs at Central BBQ and it was dog friendly.
Memphis (Thank you very much ...)
I set aside my plans for extracting revenge from Mrs. Moose and on the last day in Memphis we left the dogs with a sitter and visited the Memphis University Egyptian antiquities exhibition. Unfortunately photos were verbotten but they had some nice stuff and we were able to get up close and personal with a real mummy. (Andrew Jackson, one of the founders of Memphis, named the city after the Egyptian city of Memphis located on the Nile). We also toured Overton Park, named for one of the other two founders.
That afternoon we ate Cuban Tapas at Babalu; excellent, and in the evening we ate at Robata Ramen and Yakitori also in Overton Square. Excellent food and many very Keto friendly menu items. Memphis is a gourmet's paradise.
We then proceeded to drive the longest leg of the trip, so far, and also the prettiest drive. The trees were all turning green and were punctuated by bursts of pink and white from patches of flowering trees.
Mosquitoes, Hippies and Opulence
It is my strong belief that the street address of a house should match up to the actual street the house is located on but I guess this is not always the case in Asheville. After we had spent a half hour of fruitless looking and after the mutual exchange of several snappish and, hardly clever at all, comments, we finally located our very well hidden residence behind a large cloud of mosquitoes. By this point, Mrs. Moose and I were in a somewhat sour mood and all we wanted to do was kick back and have dinner, so I ventured out to the local market. There were two Whole Foods within an easy drive and off I went for provisions. This venture was a "do the hokey pokey" step into the past. The smell of patchouli permeated the market as aging hippy women in their long flowing skirts shopped at one of the most poorly stocked and poorly maintained Whole Foods that I have ever been in. I picked up some chicken at the butcher counter and asked the man behind the counter, who had a nicely tattooed head of hair on his bald scalp, if the the mosquitoes ever went away. "Hey man, that's just Asheville... They come in the spring and don't leave until winter." Scratch Asheville from my retirement destination list.
The next morning we gathered up the dogs and headed off to the Biltmore. The Biltmore was constructed by a grandson of the industrialist tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1895. (Apparently the Vanderbilt trust fund was pretty much dissipated by the time Gloria Vanderbilt came on to the scene and her son, Anderson Cooper, will not be inheriting any of the Vanderbilt fortune.)
It is well worth a visit even at the outrageous price of $65 per ticket (I got the senior discount and only had to pay $58 although, embarrassingly, I forgot my age for a brief second while at the ticket booth (which in itself might have been sufficient proof of my age)).
I'm not normally a big fan of mansion tours but this place was spectacular, exceeding the opulence of most if not all the estates of royalty I visited in Europe. The grounds are dog friendly and Mrs. Moose and I toured the mansion separately, while the other sat with the dogs. Once again, I had not a dull moment waiting outside, as Moosie and Loopie reeled in person after person after person for a few moments of pleasant conversation. It seemed as if the line for the dogs rivaled the line to get into the mansion. To imagine that someone actually lived here was stunning but would I trade places with him? On the one hand, this guy had money out the wazoo, servants, horses, a bowling alley in his house and an indoor swimming pool (now empty) as well.
On the other hand, I have dental implants and Viagra.
After a somewhat incomplete tour (a full tour would have taken more time than we could spare) we headed to the Biltmore village (dog friendly) where we had a nice Keto lunch of shrimp and Burata cheese at Village Social (dog friendly).
The next morning we rose early and began the final leg of the journey to Atlantic Beach.
Finally, we meet the granddaughter. That evening, Mrs. Moose cried more than the baby... a lot more. I can't begin to express what a great gift it is, and how thankful I am, to be able to be even a small part of the story of a new life. It's humbling, because it makes you feel terribly small and insignificant, not the same way as staring up at the stars on a clear night makes you feel tiny in space, but instead, tiny in time, a momentary splash in the long river of history. We're here, and then all too soon we're not here, and someone new and unique steps up for their turn at living a life. May our granddaughter always be happy, well fed, and above all, well loved.
Three days ago the realtor called and told us that the house we had reserved months earlier would not be available due to unfinished hurricane repairs. But as it turns out, the replacement that we were offered was much more luxurious. Although not directly on the beach, like our original choice, this place is absolutely 4 star quality. Even though we are on the east coast, the house is situated such that we have a sunset view, over the water.
We were on the third floor but thank God the home had an elevator. A minor glitch, however; the dogs are scared shitless of it and refuse to go near it. Soooooo .... my exercise routine includes carrying a 20 pound dog up and down two flights of stairs a minimum of 4 times a day. Paradoxically, its actually easier to carry a dog upstairs than it is to carry one downstairs. I suggested to Mrs. Moose that perhaps we should go shopping and buy a dog harness, 40 feet of rope, and a pulley. It would certainly make my life easier.
I love how the house buzzes with friends and family now. I was discussing road kill with one guest, and mentioned how the armadillos seemed to always die with their legs in the air and how the dead armadillos of the west gave way to the dead possums of the east as we traveled through Tennesee. She drawled in her Alabama'n accent, "Well, do you know what we call armadillos, in the south? Possums on the half shell."
Continued in Part 2