12 June 2007
Trepidation alert

You'll notice that there have been no announcements regarding World Tour '07. The reason for this is twofold:

  1. In the past I have done a better job of ignoring budgetary limitations than I'm doing today, and it doesn't help that Gwendolyn's last trip to the shop cost somewhere around 55 percent of the projected cost of the tour. Yes, I have plastic to spare, but there's that little matter of paying it back.

  2. I'm still apparently a tad skittish after the abrupt ending of World Tour '06, even though it proved not to be the abrupt ending of me, as some might have expected.

Yet somehow I feel I have to go, in the manner of the kid who falls off the bicycle: if I don't do it now, or at least soon, I'll never do it again, and we can't have that, can we?

So I'm thinking in terms of a smaller jaunt — say, 2500 miles or so instead of the usual 4000-plus — over ten or eleven days instead of sixteen or seventeen. Training wheels. That sort of thing.

First actual vacation day is the 9th of July. I hope to — I had better — have something to announce by then.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:34 AM)
5 July 2007
Massive internal torment

Not a function of taquitos for lunch, but of a so-far-unresolved conflict: World Tour '07 is supposed to begin Tuesday (I have medical stuff to take care of on Monday) and I am no nearer to setting an itinerary than I was a month ago.

The basic criteria are as follows:

  • Thirteen or fourteen days. Fifteen at the outside. (I've noticed I start to run down rather seriously after fifteen.)
  • At least one pass through the Kansas City metro. (This is primarily to visit the Younger Generation.)

One possibility under consideration is a sort of Reverse Trail of Tears route, which ends up somewhere close to North Carolina. Advantages: there is much of this area I have not seen in years, if at all; roads tend to get interesting as the mountains get closer; a lot of bloggers along the way. Disadvantages: a lot of this may end up on I-40; if it doesn't, I may run perilously close to a sixteenth day; a lot of bloggers along the way.

I've also considered a Trans-Texas Tour, looping through the Lone Star State. Advantages: I never get tired of Texas; the variation in scenery is considerable; Texas road discipline is something to respect. Disadvantages: Texas in the summer is either hot or damned hot and the endless rains won't help; tricky to make that loop through Kansas City.

Other possibilities present themselves, but these are the front-runners right now. Suggestions are welcomed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:44 AM)
8 July 2007
The official WT07 FAQ

When does the World Tour actually happen?

It begins on 10 July, and continues for somewhere between two and three weeks, though closer to two.

What makes it a World Tour, exactly, since you're not leaving the States or anything?

Two things: it's awfully damned long, and much of it is through relatively unfamiliar territory.

How long is "awfully damned long"?

I expect somewhere between 4000 and 4500 miles.

You've done this five times before. Why do it again?

Because I can. More to the point, it's good for me to get out of town, and it's good for my car to get a serious workout once in a while.

Will you be blogging every day?

That's the plan, anyway. You can still read the reports from 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. (The 2006 version ended in semi-tragedy.) I have Wi-Fi capability, I carry a spare CAT 5 cable, and if all else fails, I have a dial-up.

What's the shape of this year's route?

It's an irregular polygon.

How much of this is copied from previous World Tour FAQs?

Rather a lot, actually.

Is there any chance you'll say "Screw it" and not go home?

I would have to be extremely fortunate, in the winning-lotto-ticket sense, or extremely smitten, in the "I've been waiting for you all my life" sense. Don't count on either of these actually taking place.

How come it took so long to post this?

Two factors: I couldn't reconcile my desire for a shorter Tour with the fact that I've seen most of what's close by, and I have lingering concerns about my car, which has performed admirably on 400-mile days in the past but whose ailments, once manifest, tend to be hyperexpensive to cure.

What finally made you settle on a route?

An offhand (maybe) remark by Andrea Harris on this post:

It's been this way all my life: no one comes to Florida.

I can't believe you'd actually plan a whole trip over an offhand (maybe) remark.

That's not a question.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
10 July 2007
An open thread for the first day

Because, well, it's not like I'm going to have a whole lot of stuff today otherwise.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
Bringing in the Shreves

Shreveport, Louisiana — 400.2 miles

I note with limited glee that I disregarded the route proffered by the New! Improved! Yahoo! Maps, and saved a whole half mile in so doing.

The magic number today was 115, as in "Will I get farther this year than I did last year?" And I admit to breathing a bit easier after the 115th mile. At that point, of course, it started to rain.

It had occurred to me that I'd never actually driven the Indian Nation Turnpike, so I gave it a spin. It's a nice little road, a bit over 100 miles, posted for 75 mph, and given that it's a toll road, the state maintenance on it is slightly less haphazard than on those crummy "free" roads. Indeed, two interchanges appear to be getting an upgrade this summer. Where the turnpike ends, US 271 kicks in, and almost immediately the sun came out. (Didn't last.)

First stop of any note was in Mount Pleasant, Texas, a pleasant (well, it is) little town where 271 crosses Interstate 30. I'd been there once before, mostly because I'd married a girl from there. (We all know how that worked out.) The north side, near a probably-artificial lake, has some really spiffy new homes; downtown is pretty much your standard small town in Texas with a lot of the age spots covered over. The chatter around the lunch counter was about half drawl, a quarter Spanish-accented, and a quarter actual Spanish, so that much hasn't changed.

Two bits of weirdness today. Just east of Longview I encountered an appliance-white Ford Crown Victoria with a ginormous antenna on the back and a Louisiana plate, doing a solid 74. Something official, I figured, and dropped back a hair. Suddenly it lurched over into the left lane, and as we rounded the curve I saw what was going on: a rest area disgorging half a dozen trucks at once. He knew. I got close enough to pull alongside and read the legend on the door: Halliburton. Not knowing which version of the death ray they had on hand, I did not further challenge them.

And as I was entering the hotel, a teenaged girl, teasing her little brother, released some spinning-top toy into the air. Gravity introduced itself, and the plastic whatever-it-was landed with a thump on top of my head. Children and parental units looked equally appalled; I said something to the effect that it couldn't hurt me where it landed.

Toll report: Indian Nation Turnpike, $4.75.
Gas mileage: 26.5 mpg.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:35 PM)
11 July 2007
Itinerary updates

Since there is some peripheral interest in where I'm going, here's what's mapped out so far (actual hotel reservations are lagging by a couple of days so far):

  • Central Mississippi
  • Southern 'burbs of Atlanta
  • North side of Orlando (where Disney ain't)
  • Somewhere else in Georgia (considering Savannah)
  • The Old North State Marathon (westward starting at Raleigh)

And thence into Tennessee.

Details on request, or watch this space.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:06 AM)
No sign of W. C. Fields anywhere

Philadelphia, Mississippi — 727.8 miles

Two anomalies this morning before I ever got underway. First, the father of the two kids in the Infamous Spinning Top Incident caught me at the door and offered profuse apologies, and said "I know you said it was no big deal, but they have to learn not to do stuff like that." With this sort of thinking around the house, I think they'll learn just fine. Besides, what is life without the occasional risk?

About twenty-five feet later, I looked over at Gwendolyn's flank, and the left rear tire seemed flatter than usual. (I've had radials long enough to know that appearances can be deceptive, but work with me here.) I muttered something under my breath, popped open the console, and withdrew my pencil gauge. The results were discouraging. And if you were thinking "Yeah, but this is the kind of person who brings a freaking air pump with him," you get the gold star. (It hadn't lost any more air by the time I gassed up, so I assume that this was just a failure of my pre-launch countdown procedure.)

Two universities live, cheek by jowl, in the middle of northern Louisiana, and I saw them both: Grambling, an historic black college, is only a few miles from Louisiana Tech. Tech is neat, almost antiseptic; Grambling is rambling, and the legendary old football stadium has seen better days. (On the other hand, the new Assembly Center is pretty spiffy.) I saw lots of Tech students, not so many at Grambling, but everyone seemed bright and neatly-pressed, probably because it was still pretty early in the morning and the humidity hadn't kicked in yet. Were I the cheapskate I profess to be, I'd probably wonder why these schools, five miles apart, weren't merged. But their missions are altogether different, and I certainly wouldn't want either of them to go away.

Canton, Mississippi is the home of Nissan's US truck plant, which you'll find out quickly enough if you come up 55 from Jackson: the exit right before Canton proper is marked "Nissan Dr." The plant itself is huge, and has the capacity to produce 400,000 vehicles a year. (And if you want the tour, you need to request it a lot earlier than five minutes after you arrive.) Canton itself is full of "Home of Nissan" banners, but there were a lot of other manufacturers' trucks downtown, although I did spot two Infinitis in one block, one of which was a loaner from the Jackson dealership.

Mississippi 16 is a lovely, if unchallenging, two-laner that starts in Canton and took me to Philadelphia, a town of about 8000 that probably wouldn't have so many hotels were it not for the Choctaw Nation reservation just to the west, a veritable Casino Heaven if you like that sort of thing. Me, I shrug.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 PM)
12 July 2007
Waiting for the stars to fall

Newnan, Georgia — 1056.5 miles

Old 80 and I go back a long way. I can remember being sprawled on the floor of a VW Microbus (to the extent you can sprawl at all in a VW Microbus, which isn't much) all along Old 80 from Savannah to God knows where. Probably Shreveport. We made this cross-country run I don't know how many times, and somehow Old 80 became more than just a road: it became a memory.

The eastern edge of Mississippi twisted itself into the leading edge of Alabama, and something was different somehow. It didn't take too long to figure out what it was: one of the last segments of the old two-lane was being upgraded to a full-fledged four-laner. This will no doubt improve the road; it may even make it safer. But it basically killed the emotional connection: it's as though they'd actually continued building I-20 along Old 80 instead of detouring it through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham on the way to Atlanta. This may not perturb you particularly, but I'll miss the way it used to be.

One thing I won't miss is I-65 through Montgomery. There would be suicide on a Guyanese scale in ODOT had Oklahoma City's soon-they-say-to-be-supplanted Crosstown Expressway deteriorated to this point: the speed limit is down to 45, and even that's a pain in the ball joints.

Just beyond the Georgia line, I filled up Gwendolyn's tank with another shot of 93 octane, a rare commodity back in Soonerland. (We're a quarter-mile above sea level, which I assume is the reason most vendors offer 91 at the most.) She seems happy with it, returning almost 28 miles for each gallon, and it's not much more expensive than the alleged premiums in Oklahoma — except in Georgia. The person who had filled up at this pump before me left her receipt behind, and I don't know why. I do know, though, that in the three hours and odd between her fillup and mine, the price went up six cents a gallon. I blame McGehee.

Newnan, focal point of the McGehee Zone, is named for road engineer Alfred E. Newnan, whose I-85 project has been going on for what seems like decades. But don't bother asking him about it: he'll just shrug and say "What — me hurry?"

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:23 PM)
Beyond mere sustenance

At least once in your lifetime you should eat at a place which has a Lewis Grizzard special on the menu, especially if Alan Jackson used to wait tables there.

McGehee confessed to some misgivings about the recommendation, but here in the real world, I wouldn't pass up such a thing. (And we had a wonderful time; I swear he almost cracked a smile.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:08 PM)
Share the drought

Noontime in Alabama:

"Doesn't look like rain," I said to her as she was cleaning up tables.

"Too bad." She shook her head. "We need all the rain we can get."

I told her where I'd come from, and that we'd had a year's worth of rain in less than seven months. She asked if we were going to plant rice next year. I said I'd certainly suggest it.

In the meantime, fashionable Oklahoma women (yes, there are such, now shuddup) have begun wearing these:

Haute couture waders

Click to embiggen. (Thanks to S.M.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 PM)
13 July 2007
Going the distance

Through the first three days, I've traveled 1056.5 miles. How does this look compared to previous Tours?

Remind me to order a "Slacker" T-shirt.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
Heed the calendar

Longwood, Florida — 1539.2 miles

Things started out innocently enough. I had gotten to within a hundred miles of the Florida line when I saw Hugh Hefner's trademarked Rabbit on a billboard. Who knew that (1) there was a Playboy Outlet Store (2) in Georgia? I pulled up, decided the place looked too depressing, and drove off. What's within, said this traveler:

It was disappointing. I was really hoping for more variety but honestly? It was all scary leather 'clothing' with the bunny head in contrasting leather colors. And the shoes oh, my, nothing like the Playboy brand shoes you find in the local stores, no, these were jelly heels. Heels, y'all. Jelly. Heels. Oy to the vey. But I did pick up a pair of pink and silver bunny post earrings. Of course, because of the big biker party that weekend the cash register wasn't hooked back up yet so I had to go to the adult store next door to pay for them.

Apparently I didn't miss much.

Closer to the border was a place advertising thousands of books, none over $3. Which is true, sort of: they have two storefronts, one at each end of the strip, and one of them has more conventional (and higher-priced) remainders, but the other one is indeed $2.99 and under. (Yes, I hit them both.)

Then I entered Florida, and there was a billboard that read "Welcome to Florida. Mortality rate 100%. Are you ready?" Pertinent Bible verse affixed near the bottom. Then the rain started. And got worse. Visibility dropped to zilch. I said, mostly out loud, "Do I really want to die this way on Friday the 13th, fercrissake?" So I pulled over and waited it out.

Interstate 75, incidentally, is like the New Jersey Turnpike with crummier pavement; getting off of it was the single most relaxing thing I did all day. And due to people testing that mortality rate, it took an hour to get across Orlando. I suspect, though, that this is the norm for Mausplatz.

Toll report: Florida's Turnpike, $3.00; total $7.75.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:39 PM)
14 July 2007
Is this still Friday?

Hardeeville, South Carolina — 1835.7 miles

Actually, things started out pretty well: breakfast with the Twisted Spinster.

No, really. And her vaguely pixie-ish appearance would seem to conflict with that whole Right-Wing Death Beast thing, but that's not important. What matters here is her demeanor, which is Seriously Genial. Besides, she can discourse on a ginormous (there's that word again) number of topics, something I always appreciate. (And she got a ride from Gwendolyn, albeit short.)

There's more to tell, but my wireless card isn't working (again), and there's no local dialup number to be had, so I'll have to pick this up tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll pull another post from the can so you'll have something to read.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:11 PM)
With heels of tar

Tomorrow, barring catastrophe (I use that phrase a lot these days, I've noticed), I begin the North Carolina Slag. First stop, for no good reason, is Fuquay-Varina, mostly because I've always been curious about a town that would keep a name like Fuquay-Varina. (Mental note: Here's an excuse to go to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico next year, or whenever.) This will be followed by a run to Asheville, and then into deepest Tennessee. If you're on the way and would like my cell number, drop me an email.

Addendum: Because I wanted to know:

Fuquay Springs received its name from a farmer named Stephen Fuquay, great-grandson of settler William Fuquay, who discovered a mineral spring while plowing his fields in 1858. This spring eventually attracted attention from people living in other parts of North Carolina, for it began to develop a reputation for its healing properties.

Meanwhile, Varina was affectionately named by a Confederate soldier in honor of the pen name used by his sweetheart in their wartime correspondence. Initially, this name was applied to the first post office, but later the Varina Mercantile Company was formed. In time, a community developed around this store and adopted the name Varina as its own.

Over the years, these two towns grew by commercializing the popularity of the mineral springs and capitalizing on the profits associated with the tobacco industry. In 1963, the two merged into one town.

And now you know.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:22 PM)
Who knew I had a social calendar?

So this evening I met up with the lovely (well, she is, dammit, and I refuse to believe she's that old) Deb from Boondoggled, and not only can she put up with me for an hour or two, she's a pretty fair raconteur (I refuse to turn this into "raconteuse") in her own right. Over Mexican food and beverages I will not describe, we swapped tales about all manner of things, a task made easier by the fact that most of her pre-Suthun life was spent in good ol' Oklahoma. (There's a funny Wayne Coyne story, but I'd rather she told it.)

Which means that the middle of the day, which was marked by thunderstorms and traffic and more thunderstorms, will eventually be forgotten, while the memories of two remarkable women (here's the first) will remain. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:50 PM)
15 July 2007
Out of sight, out of shorts

Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina — 2166.8 miles

No rain, and no impediments to high-speed driving, so I got here about an hour before check-in, decided not to wait around, and backtracked about seven miles to a coin laundry. Five days' worth ran me a solid $6.75.

Also no bars: contrary to T-Mobile's coverage map, either there is no GSM 1900 east of about Nashville, or they lost their roaming agreement with whoever does have it. Either way, I got no phone, so I dug out a TracFone (I do try to anticipate these things) and put myself through the activation process, which is a genuine pain. The phone, or Fone, is kinda cute: it's a Moto V170.

Oh, about that "high-speed" business: I didn't think I was going that fast, and I made several stops along the way, yet the desk clerk seemed amazed that I could get from north of Savannah to south of Raleigh in five hours forty minutes. It's only 300 miles, for Pete's sake. (Today's mileage total reflects both the retrace to the laundry and a tour of downtown Fuquay-Varina and nearby Holly Springs, which pushes the day's work to about 331.) I don't think I ever once (okay, twice) hit over 80 mph.

Overheard in a Wal-Mart: "Why is it 'men's wear' but 'women's fashions'?" I suspect this will be someone's thesis someday.

Tonight: meeting with Dr. Weevil; other possibilities present themselves.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:57 PM)
Garden of Weevil

Erudition I expected; a puckish sense of humor I expected. But I didn't envision the man's capacity for pizza, which exceeds even mine own. (The operative word is "hefty": we ordered a large, they brought a small followed by a large, and we did make a dent in the big one before senses were regained and/or acid reflux was remembered.)

And I didn't count to be sure, but I suspect he has more books than I have blood cells. What's not to like?

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:08 PM)
16 July 2007
Altitude adjustment

Asheville, North Carolina — 2462.4 miles

First order of business after leaving Fuquay behind was breakfast with Bigwig, who tore himself away from the usual sysadmin stuff to trade stories and reminisce about blogs gone by and stuff like that. (You could tell he was a sysadmin just from the uniform. I'll let you wonder about that.)

Today's route will make life complicated for the cartographers in our midst. I took US 64 west from the Triangle to the Triad. (North Carolina: The Threesome State.) From Thomasville, more precisely, NC 109 north to Winston-Salem (didn't see so much as a pack of camels), and west on I-40, partially to see if it was as drab as Jennifer warned (it was) but mostly because Interstates have that Holy Grail of travelers: rest rooms. I was sufficiently bored by around Statesville to drop onto US 70, which was mildly entertaining for a few miles but eventually reconnected to I-40. And then, mirabile dictu, the Interstate became interesting: the ups and downs and almost-off-camber curves made poor Gwendolyn have to work for her BP Ultimate, and truckers were falling by the wayside left and right. (Mostly right.)

Still no official phone coverage, but I have the little Dispos-A-Phone up and loaded with 120 units, which may or may not be minutes, so I'll at least have some form of voice connectivity for the next couple of days. I have five months to use it up. And since it has a 919 area code, it will be interesting to see how much they're going to soak me for roaming. Cute little Motorola, it is; unfortunately, its ultrasleek design makes it a poor choice for leaving it on the car seat. One good curve, and NC has plenty of them, and the phone is under the seat. (Another disadvantage of automotive leather.)

A thunderstorm brewed up about ten minutes after I got here; the rumbling seems so much louder than usual. Of course, I'm in the mountains: I'm closer to the source.

Random statistics: I have spent $274 so far for gas. Total expenses, here near the halfway point, are hovering around the $1000 mark.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:52 PM)
I meant it about that altitude

Still raining outside, but here's a straight horizontal shot, give or take a degree or three, from the hotel room, which should give you an idea of how far up this place really is.

West of Asheville

(Click for larger version.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:13 PM)
17 July 2007
Speaking of expenses

At least someone is buying me gas.

I probably won't redeem the points until after I get home. Still, fifty bucks is fifty bucks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
The shape of things to come

This is the schedule from here out, subject to minor alterations for logistical reasons and, as always, barring catastrophe:

  • Tuesday: Knoxville
  • Wednesday: Nashville
  • Thursday: Champaign/Urbana
  • Friday: Cedar Rapids
  • Saturday/Sunday: Kansas City

Inasmuch as the first item here reads "Knoxville," here are the Top Ten things I'm more likely to get than an audience with Glenn Reynolds:

  1. The chance to rummage through Marg Helgenberger's lingerie drawer
  2. The keys to an S-Class Benz
  3. A winning Powerball ticket
  4. Video of Al Gore buying a Hummer
  5. The RIAA reconstitutes itself as a time-share operator in Florida
  6. Hillary admits she's had nothing lifted or resculpted — but Bill has
  7. Immediate and permanent cessation of all comment spam
  8. Burge/Goldstein ticket unstoppable in the primaries
  9. CBS replaces Katie Couric with Megan McArdle
  10. Actually getting blogrolled by Glenn Reynolds

Jagger's Law — "You can't always get what you want" — applies.

Update: It didn't come off, and the Interested-Participant thinks he knows why: "I personally believe that Reynolds wants cash."

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
Opportunity Knox

Knoxville, Tennessee — 2642.2 miles

Well, maybe not so much: the Professor is still unaware of my existence, and the lovely Tamara K. is otherwise occupied. (I think, though, I caught a glimpse of her about 3:35 Eastern on I-40 westbound, and if she really looks that good, maybe it's better I keep my distance.)

A lot of driving today, but not much actual distance. I spent the morning at the Biltmore, about which more later, and there was a nasty wreck on I-40 west of Asheville which closed the eastbound lanes for about three hours. I was westbound, but I decided I didn't want to deal with it anyway, and dropped down 23 to 74, taking a side trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway, where 45 mph is more than just the law: it's a survival mechanism.

I came back to I-40 about mile 20 and discovered that inasmuch as the trucks can't hold to 50, what with gravity and all, it's pointless to try to keep it at 55. Not that it's any less scary at 70, and if you're in the fast lane, those concrete barriers in the median seem a whole lot closer.

Mixed bag here at the hotel. The chair is too, too short; on the other hand, there's a hot tub. Let's see if I can be inventive after a seven-day slog.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:19 PM)
On the verge of a Great Truth

After a few radio commercials, I determined that Asheville doesn't have a Lexus dealer — but does have a Land Rover dealer. And judging by this view from the Blue Ridge Parkway, I find this perfectly understandable.

Village of Saunook

(Click for larger version.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:57 PM)
18 July 2007
The big house

At the time, it was the largest personal residence in the country, and despite the best efforts of Hollywood types and other dealers in delusion, nobody's yet built one bigger.

There are many reasons why there will never be another Biltmore. For one thing, nobody, not even Gates or Buffett or Carlos Slim, has this kind of money anymore: George Washington Vanderbilt's nine-figure wealth of the 1890s would easily equal twelve figures today. And even with a hundred billion dollars at hand, you're not going to find any 200-square-mile tracts in highly-desirable areas.

Perhaps more to the point, styles have changed, and not for the better. The Biltmore House is imposing, but it's not ostentatious. For one thing, it's a three-mile drive from the gate to the house, which means that the house is not exactly scowling down on the rest of town. For another, with the possible exception of the 70-foot ceiling in the Banquet Hall, nothing is really oversized or overdone: everything is where it is, and everything is the size it is, because Vanderbilt specified exactly how many guests he might wish to accommodate, how many servants would require quarters, how many objets d'art he expected to be able to display. Among the fifty-odd rooms open to the public, I found very little wasted space.

(Okay, maybe one bit of excess: before I got to the appropriate section of the audio tour, I said something to a guide to the effect that having one's own pipe organ was probably as luxe as one could get. The guide gently corrected me: while the pipes indeed had been installed at Vanderbilt's request, the actual organ, a vintage 1916 Skinner, was not put in place until 1999.)

In 2005, the restored quarters for the female servants were opened to the public for the first time. They were not as fancy as the rest of the house, but they were likely better than anything their occupants could expect to find elsewhere, and Vanderbilt apparently paid them above the prevailing wage for their hard work and long hours. What's more, Biltmore's advanced technologies — the house had elevators, refrigeration of a sort, electrical wiring, hot and cold running water, and a complex call system — might well have made life a bit easier for the housemaids.

Vanderbilt's original plan called for the estate to be self-sufficient: Biltmore had its own livestock, its own truck farm, even (during its construction) its own brickyard. And the estate is still self-sufficient: there's a winery, an inn, lumberjacks — Biltmore was practicing serious forestry from day one, and founding forester Gifford Pinchot went on to head the US Forest Service — lots of activities, and almost three thousand visitors a day. I suspect most of today's were as impressed as I was.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 AM)
Among 1352 guitar pickers

Nashville, Tennessee — 2876.7 miles

Says Tamara K.: "I check my email once a week, whether I need to or not."

Late yesterday, she did, and after a bit of voice chatter, we met for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel. Like many Southern women I know — she describes herself as an Atlanta girl — she carries the wisdom of the years, but it's not visible as lines on the face: you read it in her eyes, and you discover that someone who is probably smarter than you and who can probably kick your butt nine ways to Sunday is someone you ought to cherish. Besides, she seemed amused that I had a small grasp of the importance of Kingston Pike, a few blocks away, and I think I didn't bore her too much:

He's as witty in person as he is online and, despite having been blogging since the web was steam-powered and data was transmitted by banging two rocks together, modestly starts hardly any stories with "When Glenn Reynolds was a pup..."

I suggested that she could write rings around me: consider that an arc.

The run to Nashville was largely inconsequential; I dropped off I-40 at Lebanon and entered Music City by way of US 70, and inasmuch as I'd gained an hour by crossing back into Central time, I decided to see if I could get myself into a Nashville frame of mind. When I was a pup, WSM used to pump out the Opry on weekends and good C&W the rest of the time; on the other hand, WLAC, the other big radio blowtorch in town, had the legendary John R., rock and roll, and R&B. But WLAC is talk these days — I dialed over and found Rush Limbaugh — so WSM it was, and they obliged me with Hank, and I mean Hank Sr. I drove around for about an hour and a half, and I suspect I'm no closer than before to understanding that which is Music City, though I did wander over to the fortress of Gaylord Entertainment just for, um, laughs.

Winston Rand of nobody asked offered me the Grand Tour, about which more after it happens.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:24 PM)
Doing Music City

I had the honor of being shown the town, the town being Nashville, by Winston Rand, and he knew almost instinctively what would interest me: the hustle and bustle of Broadway at the official beginning of nightlife, the upscale West End, the not-so-upscale underbelly of downtown, a life-sized replica of the Parthenon, and for extra pleasure: ribs, fresh from Calhouns. It's a slighly crazy place, and I was glad to see it, and I was happy to have his enthusiastic guidance. And if you're a blogger, there's a small chance we didn't talk about you at dinner.

Tomorrow I leave the South behind once more, knowing that some day, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I'll be back again.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:58 PM)
19 July 2007
Just got home to Illinois

Urbana, Illinois — 3260.1 miles

Actually, that line, a variation on a theme by John Fogerty, just doesn't sound right, even though I was born in Illinois fiftysomeodd years ago: I've never quite felt any gut-level connection to the Land of Lincoln. For one thing, I wasn't here long enough for the place to imprint itself on me: before I was two I was whisked off to Maryland. And it's not like I have any relatives around here: neither of my parents had any Illinois roots.

On the other hand, there are some nice things about Illinois. For one thing, I get to stifle a giggle when I have to write to a place called Springfield (I imagine Patty or Selma sitting on the request for a week) for a copy of my birth certificate. For another, so long as you're not in the shadow of Chicago, it's sort of wide-open and innocent. (Chicago has charms of its own, but that's a tale for another time.) And while I'm not overly fond of Governor Blatherskite, not a whole lot of politicians impress me anyway. Besides, Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, fercryingoutloud.

The route up from Nashville was uncomplicated: I-24 to I-57 to I-74. A little rain north of Effingham, but otherwise uneventful. One thing I did notice down in Music City: apparently almost everyone in the hotel had checked out before I did, which was 8:30 am. I mean, there wasn't even a straggler for the waning moments of the Free Continental Breakfast. (Like they have biscuits on the Continent. As if.)

Trini wrote to tell me that I'd missed a Woot-Off. Just as well. You don't want me constantly hitting F5 while driving; I might hit something else. (And someone took out a deer on 57 this morning. Wasn't me.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:50 PM)
Impertinent observation

This particular inn is located very close to the University of Illinois, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that every time I've approached the lobby I've been fortunate enough to catch a glance of some remarkably-attractive women.

The fact that the one I thought was, um, most appealing also appeared to be the oldest of the bunch may or may not be relevant.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
20 July 2007
Oh, Cedar makes your life easier

Cedar Rapids, Iowa — 3550.9 miles

Maybe the Cedar noise-reduction system might simplify my life, once I spent the ten or twelve years it takes to get good at such things. In the meantime, this is Day 11 of 14, and there are things to report, starting with the Car Wash Incident in Urbana.

Five bucks to use the automatic wash in back of the Mobil station, and I had exactly five singles. The third one wouldn't take. There was no indication that a fin would be more acceptable, so I kept trying. No luck. A Ford van pulled in behind me. Finally I gave up and drove through the wash. The clerk at the counter was bemused, but she allowed me a code for the usual price, minus the two bucks I'd already dropped into the machine. The Ford owner was right behind me, asking "Is it broken?" It was not broken, but I waited until the van was finished before I punched in my code.

I was going to start out on I-74, but it was shut down for about twenty miles, so, map in hand, or at least on seat, I plunged into the cornfields. And there were a lot of cornfields, occasionally interrupted by soybeans. I couldn't help but wonder just how much of that stuff was going to end up in gas tanks. Not being a big fan of nondrinkable forms of ethanol, I found myself wishing that we'd give up the whole idea and return corn to its proper place in American life: taco shells, Fritos®, and whiskey. At about thats moment I passed a soybean field which bore a sign reading BIODIESEL and a URL. I like that better: the big rigs might be able to run on it, and I won't care if the price of tofu goes up.

Iowa is offering free Wi-Fi at Interstate rest areas, so I pulled in to try it out. No soap. (Not a lot of soap in the actual rest room, either.) Admittedly, I was at a fairly distant picnic table, and I've had wireless issues on this trip before (maybe I just don't have much of an antenna), so I am loath to pronounce it a failure. (Something like this is what comes up when you log in.)

The sweet (apart from one item of roadkill) little town of West Branch vends both historical color and Herbert Hoover, who was born there in 1874. Hoover had the misfortune of having had the Great Depression hit during his watch, which no doubt explains why he served only a single term. (Were that term today, Hoover would probably have been blamed for Hurricane Katrina.) But Iowa, for all its vaunted progressivism — I spotted a "Welcome Home John Edwards" sign on a fence — does not turn its back on an honored son.

Cedar Rapids bills itself as the City of Five Seasons, after this stylized tree. I liked this quote from Jack Kerouac better:

[I]t was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.

When you're on the road, you tend to make statements like that. I know.

(Title suggested by Jan.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:21 PM)
21 July 2007
Goin' to Kansas City

Independence, Missouri — 3909.5 miles

The last stop on the Tour, before I go home Monday morning, and an opportunity to drop in on the young'uns and see what sort of mischief they've been up to. (Okay, the younger of the two is twenty-six, but still: mischief. These are my descendants, after all.)

Judging from this map, I wouldn't have expected to see a Terrible's in Iowa. Then again, I have to admit that I didn't anticipate seeing anything called "Terrible's" at all.

Nor did I anticipate this little concrete flower box, at a nearby rest area (click for larger version):

Random flowers

While loafing around the north end of the Kansas City metro this afternoon, the radio picked up a continuous ticking noise on 1140 and 1160 kHz. This is not what one expects to hear on 1140, anyway, so I conclude that this was a very brief anomaly.

And speaking of Kansas City, no, I am not going to the corner of 12th Street and Vine, mainly because they don't intersect anymore. (Run up "1200 Vine St Kansas City MO" in Google Maps and you'll get something like this.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:32 PM)
Loud, fast, and out of control

Dinner this evening with Russ and Alicia and their three quasi-hellions at O'Charley's, a place Russ suggested, I suspect, for its noise level: whatever unearthly shrieks the children emitted would scarcely be noticed. And actually, the two boys were relatively placid, comparatively speaking.

I shot this in front of Gwendolyn's rear bumper right afterwards. You'll notice that Laney is trying to bounce out of the picture, that Jackson won't give up that last chicken strip, and that Gunner is trying to ignore the whole procedure. (Click to embiggen.)

Random grandchildren

Later they were bribed with ice cream, I am given to understand.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:56 PM)
22 July 2007
Reasons to be kind to your ex

#2,613: Occasional free food.

In fact, my first wife* and her third husband invited me over to a cookout today: steaks and the stuff that goes with them, and it went very well indeed. My daughter was on hand for a while, but then headed off to work. The happy couple complained a bit about their stodgy old PC, and I figured the least I could do was see if I could get it to behave itself. The following High Truths quickly presented themselves:

  • The only thing worse than a version of McAfee is an AOL-branded version of McAfee.
  • You do not let kids install P2P stuff.
  • There is high-speed Internet, and there is high-speed Internet.

I figure any machine that takes nine minutes to bring up the Control Panel Add/Remove Programs applet is in serious disarray.

A couple of hours later, I had banished the offending stuff, installed AVG antivirus and OpenOffice, and gotten the start time for that applet to twenty seconds or so. (You can do only so much with 256 MB of RAM on an XP box.)

The steaks? Just fine.

* This is not intended to indicate that I have, or have had, or expect to have, a second wife.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 PM)
23 July 2007
The line forms on the right, babe

Dustbury, Oklahoma — 4333.7 miles

Yes, I'm back in town. I have a stack of mail half my height, a yard nearly as tall, two loads of wash going, and just enough grocery shopping done to fill that empty aching void in the fridge.

It wound up being a foursome for breakfast today: Becky and her pride and joy (I remembered being a seven-year-old boy, and I'm surprised any of us were allowed to live to eight), her mom (the aforementioned ex), and me. I checked out at 10:50; I crossed into Kansas at 11:00 on the dot and it rained on me for the next fifty miles.

Originally this was supposed to run around 2500 to 3000 miles, so you can see how well I planned things. On the upside, the massive fatigue that normally hits on day 15 will get to me this evening.

Toll report: Kansas Turnpike, $5.25; total $13.00.

(Aside: Kansas, dammit, puts their money to good use: the horrid THUMPTHUMPSCRITZTHUMP that sets in the moment you hit the Oklahoma line is both disconcerting and annoying. Even the segments of I-35 ODOT has redone recently aren't as slick as the K. Since Brad Henry doesn't read this, here's a hint for gubernatorial candidates in 2010: consider sacking ODOT outright and outsourcing the whole thing to Topeka. If this requires a state question, I'm for it.)

Fuel consumption: 151 gallons; 28.7 mpg. (Tanks ranged from 26.5 to 31.0.)

Total expenditures: $2,135.43, including all cash spent, all charge slips signed, $485.14 worth of gas, and $13.08 to run a long-distance dialup the day my Wi-Fi wouldn't work at all. This is about sixty-five bucks less than I anticipated.

Thanks to:
Tip-Top Cleaners and Laundry, Angier, NC
TracFone Wireless, Inc.
And special thanks to everyone who welcomed me with open arms on this long, strange trip.

Regular programming will resume once I get some shuteye.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 PM)
1 August 2007
The Dustbury Trace Parkway

Neither Rand nor McNally will acknowledge such a thing. Just the same, those of you who followed World Tour '07 may remember that Kirk was plotting the route, day by day, on Google Maps.

It finally occurred to me to take a look at the finished product — I'd seen it in its formative stages — and while the link is a mouthful, the results are just fine. Thank you, sir, and remember: 2008 is not so far away.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:38 PM)
The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

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