Monday, October 15, 2007

Vacationzilla, part 1

Where to start? A 2,000-mile car trip with Grammy and two little kids has got to have some stories, right?

Oh, yes.

First, a few things I learned on this trip:

  1. Do not attempt to drive in Washington, DC. Just find Union Station, park your car, and catch a cab. As the epicenter of American bureaucracy, it's no surprise that roads only appear to go the direction you want to go, until they turn somewhere else, depending on what time of day it is.
  2. Snacks are the key to happy kids while driving. Especially tiny snacks that take some time to eat, like raisins or pretzels. Guaranteed quiet in the back seat for minutes at a time!
  3. Don't think that you can work during a vacation like this. You just can't, even with internet access.
  4. In the South, the four food groups are Fried, White Flour, Sugar, and Meat. Sometimes all in the same dish. "Sweetened" iced tea involves a whole lot of sweet with a bit of tea. Hushpuppies are quite yummy, as are collards cooked with ham hocks, fried catfish, and deep-fried okra.
Our first day we drove 400 miles to lovely Emporia, VA, home of many hotels and restaurants and not much else. On the way we stopped in DC to try to see the Jefferson Memorial. This is when I first got an inkling of point #1 above. You can drive around and around the Jefferson Memorial, but it's really just a mirage. Actually, it's a taxicab company conspiracy: the roads circle it, sometimes one way, mostly without signage, so that the beautiful building, reflecting in its lovely way into the Potomac tidal basin, is completely inaccessible to mere mortals. Only cab drivers know the magic spell.

After leaving Emporia we zipped through North Carolina, where we started to see many, many billboards with rather un-PC drawings of a Mexican man saying things like "You Never Sausage a Place! You're Always a Wiener at Pedro's!" and "Sometheeng Deeferent." Eventually these billboards led us to a place often mentioned on lists of tacky US roadside destinations: Pedroland. (Check out the link for more wince-inducing "Spanish.")

After surviving the billboard onslaught and the climactic "Oh My God" experience of seeing the complete tackiness of the amusement park/hotel/restaurant/trinket shop/enormous sombrero tower extravaganza, we made our way down to Georgia.

What can I say about Georgia? Most of it is quite lovely farmland:


Yes, that's cotton. I was very excited to see actual Southern cotton growing (we had seen it growing in California's Central Valley, but that just wasn't the same). I kept trying to get pictures of it, not realizing that it would be quite difficult to get a good picture of a small plant while driving 80 mph. And when the perfect field would come into view, I was never ready. That one's the best I could do.

Unfortunately Augusta wasn't so lovely, at least the part we were in. Mostly looked like L.A. really, all strip malls and billboards. Maybe next time we'll try to go down to the historic part of town, or check out the Savannah River. The other thing I noticed about Georgia was the great number of churches. Literally one on every block. And they don't pull many punches down there: we saw names like True Church of God in Christ and Church of the Most Holy. Our church will get you into heaven; if you don't attend here, you're going straight to hell.

We saw lots of fields of cotton, peanuts, and collard greens, and vast pine tree plantations. The kids kept yelling out when they noticed the trees were planted in lines instead of higgledy-piggledy like in a forest. We also saw lots of ginormous piles of waste wood and debris left to be burned after the plantations were logged.

After celebrating Great-grandpa Fred's 80th birthday, we drove down to Florida to visit Mimi and Grandpa Paul...another stop on the grandparent parade! We didn't see a lot of Florida since they live right near the Georgia border, but we were treated to two things that are distinctive of that state:


and jai alai gambling!


Grandpa Paul entertained the kids with stories of the cougar living in the forest out back, and Poo the chihuahua became our new best doggy friend.

On the way back to Augusta, we stopped for lunch in Homerville, GA (population 2,800, county seat of Clinch County), at Mama's Kountry Table. (There seems to be an endemic spelling disease in the South; witness the fast food chain Chick-fil-A. On a related note, there is also the tendency for down-home humor, as in the Wife Saver "Put a Little South in Your Mouth" restaurants.) Though the food was decent and the people were friendly, I couldn't help a little Northeastern Big-City smirk on my face when the cashier commented that she has two kids too, though unlike my preschoolers her daughter was "fixin' to be 13" and her son was "fixin' to be 15."

After returning to Augusta, the next highlight of the trip was a fishing expedition to the small lake in the community where Grampa Fred and Gramma Betty live. The kids both caught small brim using cane poles and Napoleona even reeled in one all by herself! Here's Napoleona showing off the brim she just helped clean:

The kids proudly scraped off the scales, helped pan-fry the fish, and ate them for dinner! They were yummy, but full of tiny bones. Evidently in the South you eat fish like that with your hands.

Coming soon, Vacationzilla, part deux: further adventures in DC traffic, a kids'-eye view of the Washington Mall, and why you should never, ever stay at the Alexandria South Days Inn if you can at all help it.

4 comments:

Papa Bradstein said...

My bad. I shoulda' warned you about driving in DC. Not only are any decisions the city gov't makes about traffic and street design subject to the approval of Congress, but the whole mess was designed by a Frenchman. The Jefferson Memorial is particularly bad for driving to. We live here, and I still insist on taking the Metro in to see the cherry blossoms.

Charlotte said...

Great to have you posting again. (Funny old Bloglines though - you posted this on Monday, and it only turned up on Wednesday.)

I love your tales of Georgia. We lived there for three months when my kids were tiny and your post, and the Spanish moss, brings it all back. We lived in Atlanta, but my favourite town was Savannah.

Hope you are still having a great vacation.

Henitsirk said...

Papa B: And I had thought that the whole "planned" part of DC city design would involve some common sense! Silly me! Sacramento downtown has a lot of one-way streets, but it's a regular grid so you know you can change direction at the next block. Same with Manhattan.

Charlotte: I did publish this on Tuesday (my time) but forgot to change the date stamp from when I began writing it on Monday! We're back home at last.

Despite all the time we were there, we didn't get to see very much. There is so much history (of which I am woefully ignorant)and distinctive culture in the South . We did get to do several things in DC which will be in part 2, coming as soon as I can get the film developed -- yes, we used actual film (disposable) cameras so that the kids could each have a go.

(un)relaxeddad said...

Welcome back! Only bit of the south I've ever visited has been Florida (staying with my mother) which was a deeply odd place. Or at any rate, most of the places we visited were.