ERIK DOES NOT BELIEVE IN TEARS


New Orleans – Blue…er, Green Bayou.
September 29, 2009, 8:14 pm
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We hiked through the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve’s Barataria Wildlife Preserve.  A boardwalk led us directly through the swamp.  We were in the center of impenetrable wilderness and closely surrounded by bayou animals and insects.

90 degrees fahrenheit.  100% humidity.  In the middle of the flooded bayou, we were soaked with sweat.  It was amazing.

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Tiny lizards darted away as we walked.  Lime green tree frogs basked in the sun, clinging to broad palmetto fronds.  Giant Golden Orb Spiders hung frozen in their elaborate webs that gleamed yellow in the sun.  Obese squirrels jumped between live oak branches. Ann Arbor squirrels clearly have ancestry in the South.  The canopy of cypress trees sheltered us from the worst heat.  Their little knees peaked out over the green cover. There were no alligators to be found.

Golden Orb Spider in its web.

Golden Orb Spider in its web.

A park ranger from Allen Park, MI stopped to chat.  His sister lived in Brighton, my home town.  The financial state of the economy left him distressed.  He blamed profligate overspending by Michiganders.  Avoiding a political discussion, we inquired about the alligators.  “In this heat, you won’t find any.  I’ve checked some of their favorite hiding spots, and I haven’t seen any all day.  But, I don’t usually see ’em until they are right on top o’ me!”

We were disappointed at his prediction, and a little unnerved that an alligator could be just inches away from us at any time without us knowing it. As we walked, I remarked that the bayou looked very fragile.  Emily pointed out that it withstands at least one big hurricane a year.

We ended the day at Napoleon House, drinking a Pimm’s Cup.

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Alabama – I heard Mr. Young sing about her.
September 29, 2009, 12:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized
Olivia will rise again!

Olivia will rise again!

We left Atlanta and started forward progress on our journey West for the first time by passing through much of Alabama.  We had decided to camp outside of Mobile.  The storms convinced us that this might not be wise, as the area might be wet.  Internet research indicated that the Gulf Coast area was not as wild as we had hoped, and was more suitable for mobile home “camping” than the real life variety.

We briefly stopped in Montgomery because Emily wanted to see the church where Martin Luther King Jr. led the bus boycott.  Montgomery, like Lansing or any other state capitol, was dead on a Sunday.  There was not a car, not a soul.  We were surprised to find that the church was less than a block from the state capitol building.  Emily has studied the civil rights movement extensively and could not remember having ever learned that detail.  Strange not to remark upon such an interesting circumstance.  While the bus boycott went on, and the fight for civil rights grew, the organizers were just steps from the seat of white power in the state.

MLK Jr.'s church in Montgomery - the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

MLK Jr.'s church in Montgomery - the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

Not much going on in Montgomery.  We couldn’t find any buses for Emily to take a symbolic ride.  Although I should note that a billboard outside of town advertised that bus drivers eat free at Burger King.  We pressed on to Mobile.

Mobile’s main drag, Dauphin, has some beautiful architecture.  It is quite a cute little town currently undergoing some rejuvenation.  Unfortunately, we were visiting on a Sunday night.  As recommended, we went to Wintzell’s Oyster House, where we had po’boys and fried green tomatoes.  Our waiter  had forearms swelling with muscle and a boyish face.  He had lived in Mobile most of his life.  However, when asked what essential things we should do there before we left, he was at a loss.  He pointed across the street and recommended the bar.  He tried to convince us to order an oyster plate rather than the po’boy.  While the po’boy was delicious, upon looking at the oysters served to another table, we had made the wrong choice.

Wintzell's Oyster House in Mobile.

Wintzell's Oyster House in Mobile.

Having learned to trust this young man’s recommendations, or at least the implication underlying his recommendations (and lack thereof), we left Mobile early the next day for New Orleans.



ATLANTA – Sin City.
September 28, 2009, 12:09 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

We have still not seen any pink pants in the South.  Washington, D.C., you are full of shit.

We took in the standard Atlanta sights: A picture in front of MLK Jr.’s church; High class southern cuisine; A tour of the World’s Most Advanced Urology Clinic.

MLK Jr.'s church in Atlanta.

MLK Jr.'s church in Atlanta.

Olivia finally got her picture taken in front of a random bush.

 She only saw Savannah from the back seat of the car.

She only saw Savannah from the back seat of the car.

For the past two weeks, Atlanta has been inundated by vicious rain.  It poured as we entered the city.  I think this is because Atlanta is filled with sinners.  I have never seen so many fake breasts.  An amusement park was flooded.  If that isn’t a sign of disapproval at a debauched society, I don’t know what is.

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We stayed with a friend, who took us to several fun Atlanta joints.  He was very generous and we are eternally grateful for his hospitality.  Emily started ordering Jack and Gingers.  Our friend decided this was a simply a high class, more pretentious, Seven and Seven.  The bartender and I agreed.  Emily paid for her haughty snobbishness.  Hammered with a hangover, she made a sickness in our friend’s bathroom.  Thanks for everything dude!

After touring the World’s Most Advanced Urology Clinic, and that is not even a joke, two other friends took us out to one of the Top Five meals of my life.  Shrimp and grits!



Savannah – Cemetery Gates.
September 27, 2009, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
cheerful.

cheerful.

A middle-aged couple joined us at the breakfast table.  It was their first visit to Savannah as well.  The husband’s birthday was that weekend.  He was in love with trolley tours and had a deep southern accent.  His wife’s ethnicity was ambiguous: variously Brazilian, Cuban, or Pan-Asian depending on the conversation.  They said their daughter was a forensic anthropologist, working for the U.S. Army.

In the rainforests of Laos a man is working.  He is digging a ditch for irrigation or for a planned road, it does not really matter the purpose – all that matters is that he is digging.  As he digs, he feels the shovel press into something that is not dirt.  It is a dead body.  He sees the grey-green tattered clothes and the skeleton.  He panics.  Has he uncovered the evidence of some ancient and brutal crime?  The authorities arrive.  They make inquiries.  They examine the corpse.  The man in the ditch was not murdered, at least not in the traditional sense.  Whether the corpse is that of the victim of a crime is a political question.  The corpse belongs to a U.S. serviceman from the 1960s.

This sort of thing happens occasionally.  When it does, the U.S. Army sends a team to determine the identity of the body.  It is like “Cold Case Files” and “CSI” and “NCIS” all mixed together.  It is surprising they haven’t turned the unit into a TV show, actually.  It could star Jimmy Smits, he is unemployed, or perhaps Harry Hamlin.  I once saw a great Lifetime original movie starring Harry Hamlin and his real-life wife Lisa Rinna.  Harry played a sex addict and Lisa was his tortured wife.  I highly recommend it.

We took a short trip out to Bonaventure Cemetery, as if the “Ghost Tour” wasn’t really enough.

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It is only natural that the South should produce high quality forensic anthropologists and cemeteries.   It is an exceedingly morbid place.  The baroque gravestones, pendulous greenery, fruity cocktails, and fried food constantly remind you that the creeping hand of death hovers overhead.

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For a change of pace, we had a relaxing picnic in Forsyth Park, location of the Savannah Jazz Festival, and watched Pee-Wee football practice.  The Savannah Jazz Festival caters to a diverse crowd.  Shitty soul-patch Stevie Ray Vaughn blues masturbation, free jazz, big band.  You can hear what it would sound like if that girl you know who loves singing Showtunes in the shower fronted a large jazz band covering Ella Fitzgerald classics and sweet disco hits like “Knock on Wood.”

Tomorrow, we leave the sherry and brownies behind on our way to Atlanta.

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Savannah – Sherry and Brownies.
September 25, 2009, 10:46 am
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I had never stayed in a Bed & Breakfast before.  I was anxious.  I do not know the social norms of the B&B.  Is it impolite to come in to the house late?  And do we need to vacate the room at a certain hour, so the Master of the House can fluff our room?  And did he really say that he would “fluff” my room?

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The hosts have only been B&B owners for 7 weeks, having purchased an active establishment from a retiring couple.  Two middle-aged men, I gather they spent considerable time in B&Bs while on various jaunts: lighthousing* down the coast of New England, tasting through Napa and Sonoma.  They decided to try it themselves.  One was a CPA and would concentrate on the business, the other would use his skills at polite conversation and comfortable home-making.

Emily in her traditional posture.

Emily in her traditional posture.

In the foyer, our hosts set out a decanter of sherry and a plate of brownies.  You can partake any time, sitting in red and blue chairs.  Books about Georgia and Savannah fill the house, along with the eclectic result of decades of antiquing.  Real Civil War-era grapeshot and minie balls are on display over the fire place.  There is an antebellum ledger on cotton prices and a pipe from the 1700s.

*Lighthousing is apparently a verb.  And anyway, what is it with people and lighthouses?  Is it because they are phallic?

B&B Breakfast: biscuits, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, fruit cup, potatoes, orange slice.

Breakfast small talk with other guests success rate: 100%.



Savannah – Midnight in the Garden.
September 25, 2009, 1:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Lugubrious spanish moss burdens sturdy oaks along red brick sidewalks.  The paths run straight, the trail is flat.  The grid is broken every few blocks by twenty-two verdant city squares.

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Although the city began as one of the oldest colonies in America, it seems to have arrived fully formed in perfect geometric symmetry and architectural harmony.  The houses that line the streets were not built, rather they materialized one day on the shores of the Savannah River complete with wrought iron balustrades, lush gardens, crystal chandeliers, ornamental molding, and pretentious doors.  We spent the great portion of the day wandering the tree-lined avenues, with no plan or design. Somehow, spontaneity came easily in a place with a rigid map, filled with such meticulously crafted structures.

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Savannah boasts that it is the most haunted city in America.  We had heard it was essential to attend a “Ghost Tour” while in the city.  After thorough research, I selected a company with a reputation for solemn story-telling.  No one would launch at us out of the bushes wearing greasepaint and a black robe.  When we arrived, at 9:30 PM, we were greeted by a couple from Atlanta and their precocious son.  The boy later confided in Emily that his favorite horror movie was “Phantasm.”*  “My shoes squeak,” He warned us.

Our tour guide, an enthusiastic Ohio transplant with an encyclopedic knowledge of Savannah history, took us first to one of the most terrifying-looking houses I have ever seen in my life.  The thing reminded me of the first lines of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” (reproduced below for your pleasure).  A man apparently killed his daughter in the mansion, and today some will glimpse her looking out of the window.  The current owner has left it abandoned.  A black streak of soot runs along the houses’s wall in the shape of a tornado.  At the margin of the dirt, a stain that resembles a screaming human face appeared one day.  The boy clutched his mother’s hand, in fright.  I dared to peek into the windows and through the open mail slot.  Nothing but an old rocking chair with a white sheet flung across it.  Water stained walls and a torn mattress on the floor.  The house had materialized fully formed, but what else did it bring with it?  And from where did it materialize?  Another dimension?  Hell?  And is hell really this nice?

The third oldest synagogue in America.  Not haunted.

The third oldest synagogue in America. Not haunted.

*What a badass kid.

Glorious food provided by lovely B&B hosts: Sherry and brownies!

Opening Lines of “The Haunting of Hill House”:   No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.



Savannah – Kudzu, King of the Highway Median.
September 23, 2009, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Editor note: The about me page has been updated.  It includes the google map of the Route for easy access.

Until today, the furthest South I had ever been was Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.  I’ve also been to Memphis, but that does not really count because Graceland was like some kind of psychedelic 1960s meth nightmare.

Detroit and its surrounding suburbs, where I grew up, have a history of serious racial strife.  I have often heard that the Midwest is in some ways more racist than parts of the South.  I confess I accepted this received wisdom unchallenged, as I have limited experience below the Mason Dixon.  Then I met this guy:

Pedro, but he's apparently Irish.

Pedro, but he's apparently Irish.

Descending across the border into South Carolina from North Carolina, you will find “South of the Border.”  The billboards appear some 170 miles before the border, ratcheting up your excitement into a frenzy as you approach.  My friends who have been to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan will recognize this marketing ploy.  Unlike the “Mystery Spot” in the UP, “South of the Border” is not a gigantic sex organ hidden away in the woods.

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Have you ever seen “Carnival of Souls?”  This blonde woman crashes her car into a river.  She pulls herself out of the water, and stumbles into an abandoned amusement park.  The park is shot in moody black and white, and it is peopled by creepy undead carnival-goers that chase the woman around the decayed and debased ferris wheel with murder on their minds.

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“South of the Border” is a lot like “Carnival of Souls,” only instead of zombies it has this horse in a sombrero.

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The location’s mascot is “Pedro” (see above).  Pedro apparently owns several buildings.  There is “Pedro’s T-Shirt World” and “Pedro’s Tamales” (no tamales are served here) and “Pedros Leather Shop.”  We entered Pedro’s Coffee House/Hat Emporium*.

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There are no customers.  The parking lots are vacant, silent.  The only life consists of a handful of melancholy employees, eternally damned by Pedro to clean his floors with foul-smelling tile cleaner.  Leaving “South of the Border,” but not without taking advantage of Pedro’s restrooms, we soldiered on toward Georgia.  And when I say Georgia, I really mean Jesus:

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Jesus smiles upon "South of the Border" as we drive away.

Travel: Washington, D.C. to Savannah, GA.

States: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.

Post-trip meal: Domino’s Pizza and three 24 oz. bottles of Red Stripe.

*A word on my photograph of the Viking Hats.  Emily swears she had this exact hat in college.  What did she use it for?  Unknown.