- Where We Started: Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
- Where We Ended: Charleston, S.C.
- Miles Driven: 434 (1,012 total)
- New States: 1 (South Carolina)
- Total States: 3 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHT
On trips like these, the days tend to fall into two categories: days where the goal is seeing things, and days where the goal is getting somewhere. Monday was the latter, as we decided we wanted to make it all the way to Charleston, a seven-hour ride. It didn't hurt that there wasn't a whole lot to see between the Outer Banks and Charleston. We considered taking a ferry from Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke, and then another from Ocracoke to Cedar Island, but since it's the off season, the ferry schedule didn't match ours. So we set off by land.
Because driving was the mission of the day, I spent the first few hours of the drive wondering what I'd write about today, and came up as empty as John Turturro in "Barton Fink." As we were blowing down U.S.-64 toward the tiny town of Roper, the answer came with a plume of smoke in the distance. Joan noticed it first, and immediately declared it a fire. I thought it might be a low cloud. As we got closer, two things became obvious: it was indeed a fire, and we were heading right toward it. Sure enough, we soon came upon a wildfire, not more than 20 feet off the highway.
As you can see, the fire wasn't huge, though it had spread to most of the surrounding woods. Emergency personnel had just arrived when we got there. We saw the flames too late to get any real good photos, so we decided to circle back and come down U.S-64 again to get a better look. But this ain't New York City; it took us 15 minutes to get ourselves back on the highway toward the fire. And, my, how 15 minutes had changed things. Now, an ambulance and police car were blocking the right lane of the highway, and emergency personnel were wandering on the roadway.
Even worse, embers from the right side of the roadway had blown across the highway and lit the median on fire.
So now, we're sitting on the highway to hell. Both sides are on fire, and visibility ahead is nil. We patiently wait for direction from the emergency personnel, but it's slow coming, as the guy in the photo above is on his cell phone. Finally, this policeman and a volunteer fireman start discussing what to do with the motorists that are piling up right next to the fire. Since we're first in line, this conversation is happening right outside our window. My best recollection is that it went something like this:
- Me: What do you want us to do?
- Volunteer fireman: Go ahead, but go slow and stick to the left side of the highway, since the fire is on the right.
- Policeman: No, dude, the fire jumped the road; the median's on fire too.
- Fireman: Oh. Crap. Hmmm.
- Fireman: Go ahead anyway. Just go slow.
This is not the answer I'm expecting, and I'm somewhat positive it's not a good decision. They probably should have turned us around. And, needless to say, if I'm driving between two fires lapping at the sides of my car, slow is not really in my vocabulary. So I go, as slowly as I need to in order to avoid mowing down emergency personnel, but not exactly slow. But slow enough for Joan to capture the part of the woods close to where the first picture in this post was taken 20 minutes earlier. An amazing difference.
There was a second wildfire in the area as well, and we saw that plume of smoke as well. A local television affiliate wrote about both fires.
- We're still working out our morning routine, which involves writing this report, planning our day, packing our bags, loading the car, etc. Shockingly, it's exercise that is being ignored, though we've done a decent amount of walking. But I managed to exercise my middle finger for the first time Monday, near Washington, N.C. I had just gotten to the point where I could legally pass a slow-moving lumber truck -- I didn't realize that part of North Carolina was such a big lumber area -- and started to move into the oncoming lane to pass, when the guy behind me decided he wanted to go first. Now, you can't pass two cars at once in most states, so I'm assuming this was illegal, not to mention dangerous. Plus, I was obviously eager to pass myself and wasn't exactly lolly-gagging. So I decided to signal our displeasure in the universal language of the middle digit and re-stretched that finger when we shot past the truck mere seconds later. I'm slightly competitive.
- As I'm sure you all know, it's tax time. As such, Liberty Tax Service is eagerly seeking customers. For the second time on the trip, we saw a guy dressed up as the Statue of Liberty standing out by the road and dancing in order to attract customers and/or attention. Now, I've never worked in marketing, but is this really the best way to get people to sign up have them do your taxes? Taxes are sober and serious work -- unless you choose not to pay them, like some people we know -- and when listing the skills I'd most value in a company doing my taxes, dancing would fall pretty low. To this guy's credit, he seemed to be enjoying himself, though I don't think the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor is wearing work boots.
- One of the cool tools we're using on this trip is Google Latitude. This allows anyone who's signed up for the free service to see where we are at any moment on the trip (assuming we allow you to see). My mother has been using it faithfully, and when on the phone with Joan the other day -- my mother likes Joan much more than me -- asked her, unprompted why we had not yet left Fredericksburg. Now, letting my mother know about this feature was a bold move on my part. My mother is always worried about personal safety: hers, ours, anyone's. There used to be a store in Tysons Corner called "The Safety Zone," that was made for her. Snake bite kit? Yes! Asteroid strike kit? YES! Anything they sold, my mother could envision a need for. So Google Latitude will be a mixed blessing for her. She can now see where we are at any moment. I am now wondering whether she's able to calculate my speed based on how quickly we're moving on the map. Then again, right about now, she's more outraged -- and quite fairly -- that we consciously drove back to experience a wildfire from close up.
- Speaking of speed, about 10 miles before we reached the blaze, I saw my own personal favorite road sign for the first time: SPEED LIMIT 70.
- One potential plot development re: this trip. The men's basketball team at my alma mater, The American University -- and don't forget the "The," by golly -- is in the championship game of the Patriot League tournament on Friday. If the Eagles win, they will make their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. If so, that would also be their second ever. If they win, there are eight potential places they could play, and two of them -- Dayton, Ohio, and Kansas City -- are places we could relatively easily get to for the game. Two others -- Minneapolis and Greensboro, N.C. -- are outside possibilities. The rest -- Boise, Idaho; Miami, Philadelphia and Portland -- won't work. So let's go Eagles!
- Sign of the Day #1: "Hematoma Paintball," in Chocowinity, N.C. Now, maybe it's just me, but is it a good marketing technique to name your business after the injury you may well sustain by participating? Maybe after your paintball fun, you can head on over to the Chocowinity's "Gaping Head Wound Shooting Range." OK, I made that up. By the way, Chocowinity stands for "Fish From Many Waters."
- Sign of the Day #2: In Hampstead, N.C., on an ice cream shop: "Closed or Renovations." I was making snide comments about what I thought to be the overly indecisive owner, then I realized he was merely the victim of a missing letter.
- As we were in the home stretch of our long drive yesterday, we passed through Georgetown. S.C. And we did it as quickly as possible. The city smelled so bad, it made that stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike right outside New York smell like lilacs. When the smell enveloped the car, we immediately suspected a beagle. We looked into the back, and Fred and Hank were giving us looks that seemed to say, "We smell it too, and dude, it wasn't us." Turns out Georgetown is South Carolina's third-oldest city, so maybe it was just moldy.
NON-TRIP RELATED NOTE
- OK, this has nothing to do with this trip, but I'll shamelessly flak myself: Poynter posted a Q&A with me about a wide range of issues around digital journalism. Thankfully, it sounds like I was on my meds when I did this.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Olympic Fanfare'" by John Williams. You know, I really don't have this much John Williams on my iPod, despite the fact he's now come up twice. Having said that, in the pantheon of sports-related music, this is a pretty good piece. And I will admit I do have a CD of NFL Films music on my CD. Great music to get psyched up to.
- Most played albums Saturday: "Bachelor No. 2" and "The Forgotten Arm," both by Aimee Mann. Best tracks, respectively: "Deathly" and "I Can't Help You Anymore."
- With the clock nearing midnight and Joan sound asleep in the passenger seat , I put my personal late-night driving rules into effect. Among these rules: No Pink Floyd. Ever. I love them, but man, if you try and listen to "Dark Side of the Moon," "Animals" or "Wish You Were Here" late at night, you'll wake up in a ditch, if at all. Conversely, any song that makes you want to air-drum is good. So, yes, that means a lot of Rush late a night.
- Lunch: Food Dudes Kitchen, Kill Devil Hills, N.C.: Always go with the recommendations of locals. Before we departed the Outer Banks, Tammy and Chip took us to this small place in a non-descript strip mall near the water. It was fabulous. Joan and I each got the grilled chicken salad -- though I got the bacon and she didn't. But she threw that advantage away by getting coconut cake for dessert, while I settled for my ninth refill of Diet Pepsi. Jim Nutrition Check: Very solid performance, though I can't lie; I did have a few bites of Joan's cake. (Editor's note from Joan: Yes, if five counts as "a few." I consider that sharing) . Restaurant Rating: 5 stars (out of 5). If you hit the OBX, you should try this place. Apparently, it's owned by chefs from some other local restaurants.
- Dinner: Hieronymus Seafood, Wilmington, N.C.: We sought recommendations for a dinner spot on Twitter and in the blog. We got a bunch, so thanks. Unfortunately -- sorry, Whitney -- we struck out at this seafood place outside of town. Now, Mondays are always dodgy nights to eat out. The focus of most restaurants is the weekends, so we've often found Mondays to be generally bad nights for restaurants. Our seafood here was pretty pedestrian. Not much else to say. Jim Nutrition Check: I made some good choices, and some bad ones. I got my seafood blackened, and we did start with oysters and clams on the half shell as an appetizer. But the waiter suggested I should at least get the calamari fried, and I caved. And I got fries again. That will be the last time I will have fries for a while. I swear. On the bright side, I didn't drink. Restaurant Rating: 2 stars (out of 5).
- Best Western Charleston Downtown, Charleston, S.C.: Perfectly passable hotel, though parking lot construction made it hard to find a place to put the car. The room was fine, and relatively clean. Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).
- Dogpark.com: It's not wildly comprehensive, but this list of dog parks from around the national is still pretty useful.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
From Beth Jacobsohn:
- Reading this is now part of my daily routine -- don't know what I'll do with myself once you return. I've looked, but I can't seem to find an itinerary. How long will you be gone? Where are you headed? I looked back at some 2003 weblogs -- sounded like a great trip. I had no idea you were gone for so long and hit so many states! Keep it up!
A few folks have called for us to post a long-range itinerary. So just to be clear: While we have a general idea where we're headed, we really don't plan more than a few days ahead of time. But here's the general plan: From here, we'll head to Savannah and Atlanta and then into Mississippi and Alabama. We'll then head to New Orleans, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and into California. We'll work out way up to San Francisco and then back through the north, most likely via Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. But this is all subject to change; keep the recommendations coming from anywhere, since we like detours.
UPCOMING PLAN (subject to change)
- Today: A walk through Charleston, and then to Savannah, Ga.
- Wednesday: A day to recharge -- you need these every so often on trips like this -- in Savannah.
- Thursday: Some random Georgia sites -- Plains, Warm Springs, Andersonville -- on the way to Atlanta.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO
Fred chews on his paw after stepping on a burr. Both Fred and Hank had paw problems on Monday because of these burrs, although Hank seemed to be OK by day's end. Because he's a complete hypochondriac, however, Fred is still slightly more addled. In terms of today's planned walk around Charleston, Hank is probable and Fred questionable. Both will be game-time decisions.