A Detour into the Past
The beach house was in the vicinity of Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base, where I spent First through Sixth grades. My son almost drove me down there, to relive some memories, but we decided to pass because it would have eaten up half the day at minimum. A little research on the web confirmed that there wasn't much left of the Camp Lejeune of my childhood.
If you live long enough, the roads of your youth disappear, the buildings disappear, the people disappear and the culture disappears. Live long enough and you will die in a foreign country.
I think the young may find it entirely too easy to dismiss, as mere nostalgia, the reflections of the old on their youth, a yearning for the lost days when they didn't need to rise out of bed every three hours to pee. But this is far too facile an assumption. Things are lost with the passage of time, important things. Like living life without TV for instance.
Returning to the recent past, when not hanging out at the beach, we also visited a few of the local tourist attractions, the best of which was the Atlantic Beach Aquarium, a surprisingly nice place. As is our normal practice, we left huge amounts of money in the gift shop.
Most dinners were prepared in the kitchen of the beach house but one night, we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Apparently all the Hispanics living in Atlantic Beach eat there as half the customers were wearing soccer shirts. Went in with low expectations and were very pleasantly surprised. It seemed, on the trip, that every small town across America has a Mexican restaurant, but as a child growing up in North Carolina in the 50's, Mexican food was an exotic foreign treat. It was so uncommon, that you had to buy your tortillas in a can.
Also, highly recommended for lunch was Beach Bumz (dog friendly outside).
We Wave Goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean
Finally, and all too soon, it was time to depart. Leaving Atlantic City we trace our way back through North Carolina and Tennessee and somewhere along the way stop, by pure chance, at a place called Lefty's BBQ and had lunch on the bed of the Dodge. By far the best restaurant brisket I, and the dogs, have ever eaten. Why can we not get brisket like this in California?
Paducah, Kentucky, on the Tennessee river, is another one of those many hidden gems of middle America. One of the surprising discoveries of this trip, is just how many little art centered communities there are in this country. There is absolutely no shortage of cute little towns that you've never heard of. Paducah clearly fits in that category and as an investment opportunity, it probably ranks high. Lots of old homes, full of traditional craftsman work, capable of restoration to a greater beauty than they originally possessed. Probably one of those, "why didn't i buy when i had the chance", kick yourself later, situations.
Our travels have given me the impression that one of the things that all of these little "art and tourist towns" have in common is a surplus of retiring baby boomers and given the large number of retirees coming into the "downsize" market, I would expect demand for housing in these towns to increase through 2030.
The 1887 hotel where we stayed was absolutely first class. Impeccably decorated in the finest taste. Two hundred dollars a night in Paducah, would have been $500 a night in L.A., minimum. And I want, no... I need, a rain shower.
Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here
Leaving Paducah we head west and north to Kansas City and then to Sioux Falls. Not much to report about this leg of the trip. Passing through Saint Louis, one gets the impression that although there might be nice areas of that city, you sure can't see them from the interstate. There is nothing in the west like the urban decay visible in Saint Louis. At least our crappy California neighborhoods have palm trees and the buildings are not old enough to be literally falling down. Literally... Falling ... Down ...
Entering Kansas City we also encountered the typical big city urban scenes of the east coast, as depicted in the movie Escape from New York, and I was worried that Mrs. Moose had booked us into an area even worse than the one we encountered in Memphis. However, the last mile to the Best Western changed from decaying slum to office buildings. The Best Western had a nice courtyard into which we emptied the dogs. The dogs seem to be content. They, and we, are settling into a routine. Drive, eat, sleep, drive, eat, sleep.
That evening we had BBQ from a restaurant named Q39 in our room. Once again, excellent brisket, although not quite as good as Lefty's. I have resolved to buy a smoker when we return in order to attempt to recreate what we ate. (Note: I did buy one and a review was published).
Onward to Sioux Falls
Interstate 29 was closed due to flooding, so heading north to Sioux Falls we detoured over a hundred miles through rural Iowa, the land of archtypical farm scenes with Red barns and rolling Hills. In contrast to the decaying cities of the east, it seemed as if every immaculate farmhouse had been repainted within the last year. On the way we passed a historical marker commemorating the horrible ax murder (unsolved) of 12 people in 1912 (which I theorize was committed by someone who was booked into a crappy AirBnB by their wife).
We made a short stop in Atlantic, Iowa and ate the leftover BBQ in a public park with restrooms cleaner and more graffiti clear than any you could ever find in a public park in California. The park boasted a Civil War memorial and a log cabin built in 1865. The dogs claimed the park as their own.
After seven hours on the road, we arrived at a huge Best Western in Sioux Falls just crawling with kids. This is still the land of right wing, gun tote'n, unkempt cigarette smokers. Saw a sign driving into town: "Eat Steak, Wear Fur, Keep Your Guns". I love it! Mrs. Moose remarked that among the beautiful people of California or Santa Fe she might be just OK, but here ... here she was desirable, top shelf, prime woman material. There were still patches of snow on the ground here.
Vroom, Vroom Goes the Dodge Through South Dakota
You would think that if you're allowed to drive 80, and if you saw signs that said speed limits are strictly enforced, that you would get the hint and just chill and enjoy what you've been allowed. But noooooo .... we saw many folks getting tickets. WTF !!! Some people just can't pass up the opportunity to press every bet. In any event we raced at 80 MPH across southern South Dakota towards Mount Rushmore on a very rough interstate. Along the way, and I mean all along the way (even before the prior night's stop in Sioux Falls), every 10 miles or so, we saw signs advertising Wall Drug, which apparently is a 76,000 square foot mall with every kind of tourist kitch you can imagine and, as the signs constantly reminded us, five cent coffee. We were slowly being massaged into a white hot heat of frenzied desire to see everything Wall Drug had to offer.
After a hundred billboards or so over spread over hundred's of miles we were primed and ready and chomping at the bit. Finally, the Wall Drug exit. We pulled off and ... closed on Easter. I haven't been teased that much since high school.
Finally, we reach Keystone, the gateway to Mount Rushmore. We stay at a cure little cabin, dog firendly like all our lodging, in the wilderness. Small but very nice with verdant grounds and bordering on a small creek.
We Come Face to Face with Mount Rushmore
The next day we visit Mount Rushmore and buy half the stuff in Keystone. This area has much, much more to offer than just Mount Rushmore and is worth an extended visit.
This area has more rock shops than grocery stores. Mrs. Moose loves rocks and all things geological. We bought rocks. From the dawn of time people have always bought rocks.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
I was getting so frigg'n tired of sitting in a car. You would think that my butt would have adapted by now but instead, my tolerance for being folded in half was shrinking by the day.
The Black Hills portion of South Dakota must be the most beautiful part of that state but on the other hand, there's not a lot of competition from the other areas; in fact no competition at all. Nevertheless, its close enough to California, and has enough variety of attractions, that we vowed to return in the future.
As we left South Dakota we entered the world's largest unkempt lawn, the National Grasslands area of Wyoming. Occasionally, we would see something of interest like Pronghorn Antelope or a fossil hunting area but overall, we just settled back and listened to a book on tape, the sequel to Relic (monster in a museum genre if you haven't seen the movie). Plot summary: hundreds die horrible, horrible deaths but things work out in the end. Amazon Audible is great for these long trips and the books really do make the drive more enjoyable.
Loopie has settled into a routine where she lays the front half of her body over the center console between Mrs. Moose and me and sticks her nose into my love handles between the seat belt and the seat back and falls deeply asleep. Moosie pants.
Finally we arrive in Rock Springs, Wyoming where we settle into an AirBnB with no working TV and once again in a shabby neighborhood. A very well decorated place in the interior but dogs were prohibited in the park across the street and, what's worse, there are few grassy areas in Rock Springs. Apparently its just not worth the effort to have a lawn in Rock Springs and the dogs were forced to struggle to evacuate themselves over a few weedy areas.
At least there was a well stocked kitchen and Eva could cook.
The next morning we are up early and risk a $750 fine and sneak into the park to empty the dogs. After executing the crime, we're off to Winnemucca Nevada. Passing through Utah the landscape gets more interesting until Salt Lake City and then reverts back to miles and miles and miles of an arrow straight road running between areas of sand and shallow salt water punctuated at the Nevada State line by a huge modern casino. An interesting thing about this desolate area was the frequency of what I would call beer bottle graffitti. Along side the road people had stuck beer bottles upside down in the sand (or used rocks as well) and arranged them to spell out their names or express their love for one another by initials in a beer bottle heart. There were literally well over a hundred of these that I could see, en route and they were so ubiquitous that I googled several iterations of "salt lake beer bottle upside down in sand" hoping to find an image but strangely none to be found. At least it added some interest and a crude sort of charm to the drive in this area.
The Best Western at Winnemucca was a pleasant surprise and wins the award for the best Best Western on the trip. Large rooms and two, count em, two chairs. That evening we had dinner at a BBQ joint across the street called the Pig (dog friendly) and were served by a Hungarian waitress. I have come to the conclusion that, pork is a strange attractor (in the sense of chaos theory) for Hungarians in that proximity to pork increases the chances of a random encounter with another Hungarian.
We gambled for a while in a tiny place that had the gall to call itself a casino and lost $45 but had a bunch of fun.
There's No Place Like Home
A short 5 hour drive from Winnemucca brings us finally to the end of our journey. Arriving home we find everything covered by a thin layer of pollen, the trees now have leaves, the ivy has overgrown the walkway and Mrs. Moose's car won't start. Now is the time for judgement and links. The envelopes please:
Best Best Western - Best Western Plus, Winnemucca Nevada. Clean and modern large rooms. Food and gambling within walking distance. Decent breakfast.
Worst Best Western - Best Western Tehachapee. Small smelly rooms.
Overall, all of the Best Western Plus (you gotta get the Plus version) facilities were pretty good.
Best Bang for the Buck - La Posada, Santa Fe. Beautiful room with private outdoor patio. Expensive but still worth much more than we paid. An easy walk to many fine restaurants.
Best Roads - The southwest.
Worst Roads - South Dakota. It amazes me that they allow people to drive 80 mph on roads with many potholes the size of a trash can lid. To be fair, much of the road damage may have been a result of the flooding that they suffered.
Most Beautiful Scenery - Anywhere in the Appalachians and off-interstate Iowa.
Best Public Toilets - Any big truck stop. These places keep their pissoirs clean. Truckers don't want a dirty restroom any more than you do and they're the repeat customers you want to keep (if you're a truck stop). There's absolutely no reason to stop at a small gas station when driving the interstate. And the fridge magnet selection is usually pretty good.
Best Rest Stops - In the Appalachians. Overall, there were no rest stops anywhere on the trip that were as vandalized and graffiti ridden as those that you find in California. In fact all of the rest stops outside of California were pretty nice. Travelers coming to California from out of state must be disgusted and appalled by our rest stops.
Biggest Surprise - Paducah Kentucky. Cosmopolitan and artistic. New York SoHo style hotel room at the 1887 hotel.
Biggest Disappointment - The AirBnB homes. Very inconsistent quality. The best feature was the availability of a kitchen and laundry facilities, but the beds were often uncomfortable and the neighborhoods less than sterling.
Best BBQ - Lefty's BBQ Crossville Tennesee. Neither over-smoked or over-seasoned. Pure brisket flavor.
Worse Restaurant Meal - Montana Mikes in Oklahoma. How is it possible to make a filet mignon tough and chewy?
Best Restaurant Meals - Robata Ramen and Yakitori Bar, Memphis. and Kicks on 66 Willimans