Friday, July 29, 2011

Vicksburg Battlefield

With Democrats and Republics fighting up in Washington Day Care, it seemed fitting to be walking the Vicksburg battlefield where relatives fought each other, and Arkansas even had troops on both sides of the battle. 

One thing really stood out at Vicksburg for me.  Here is the Union leader, General Grant.

Now, maybe he was drinking that day (note the sculptor caught him stuffing the flask back into that inside pocket), but he doesn't look anywhere near as good as Stonewall Jackson, does he?

Vicksburg's terrain makes it a neat place to visit.  There are a lot of dimensions to the battlefield, making it easy to visualize the actual conflict as well as very photogenic.

Whoa, that's a big cannon!

Finding True South – a real Southern Buffet in central Mississippi

We braved “Bloody 98” today!  After a bit more research, we were able to bypass the nasty bit in Alabama, and jumped on in Mississippi.  It turned out to be a great drive.  The four-lane divided highway (unlike Bloody 98 in AL) was well paved, had no traffic, and shed the water dumping down from Tropical Storm Don easily.

Best of all, it took us through Magee, where we used another old tech solution to finding a good restaurant – the “parking lot meter”, as Yelp is as yet undiscovered here as well.  Berry’s Seafood and Catfish house had a huge parking lot, and it was nearly full at around 1pm, which either meant that there was nowhere else to get a meal for miles around, or it was good.  We headed in to find out. 

My wife and son went to the buffet first, while I hung out at the table to watch the valuables and order drinks.  They came back looking mystified, carrying plates full of macaroni and cheese and bread.  I asked “was it that bad?”  They replied, “no, but we have no idea what any of it is, and we didn’t want to accidentally eat that possum you keep talking about”.  I realized that they had never been in the South, having lived only in Florida.  I fetched two platefuls of real Southern food – fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, fried chicken, green beans and ham, sweet potato pudding, collard greens, corn pudding, cole slaw, and pecan pie.  We proceeded to enjoy a real Southern feast.

Now this is a pecan pie, not that hockey puck thing they tried to serve us in Washington D.C.  OK, so there are a few bites missing, but I stopped them in time to snap this with the Droid 3.

Yes, it is a small slice, but I had to try the lemon cello-like dessert, and the chocolate pie as well, which yet again I have no picture of as they disappeared too fast.

Departing the Red Roof Inn – Pensacola West

What a beautiful morning – a free breakfast at the Red Roof Inn – Pensacola West, beautiful blue skies framing its imposing frontage...

…and in the garden out back, a lovely photo of the blossoms on the trees, and amongst the trees the same group of homeless tucked in behind the McDonald’s dumpster, gathering what another man spills as the Dead would say, or living off the trash of Babylon if you’re one of the Rainbow People.

For an inexpensive place to rest for ten hours, this hotel did just fine.  The inside was clean, the beds comfortable, the bathrooms spotless, the showers hot, and the wireless Internet worked great…and that’s all we really ask for at the end of the day at this price point.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bloody 98 - Sorry Vicksburg - Did Youtube Save My Life?

We were looking at tomorrow's drive, and considering a northern route that would take us through Vicksburg to see the Civil War battlefield.  This would involve a run up US Highway 98 in Mississippi, and given the weak storm moving through the Gulf, it's likely we'll run into a bit of rain.  So, what do you check out YouTube to see if anyone has written a song about the road you're thinking of traveling.

Alas, any highway that has a song with the word "Bloody" in the title written about it is pretty much immediately disqualified when our young son is in the car.  So, tomorrow, we will do battle with the 18-wheelers on I-10 instead of the killer curves of "Bloody 98".  Google "Louisiana highway 98 traffic accident" or "Mississippi highway 98 traffic accident", and you'll see what I mean.

Also, a bit of bad news - I've learned that Enola Prudhomme's Cajun Cafe, just north of Lafayette in Carencro, has closed.  This is a true heartbreaker, as my wife and I enjoyed one of the best meals we've ever had in this restaurant many years ago, at a fraction of the price of her brother's place in New Orleans (which we had eaten at the week before).  Enola's food was miles better than K. Paul's at about 1/4 of the price.

I love a good pitcher of salsa - Javier's Mexican Grill in Chipley, FL

With Yelp out of action, I turned to the most reliable old tech solution - ask the guy at the gas pump next to me where a good restaurant is.  As usual, it worked OK.  People on the both the left and the right agreed that in Chipley, FL, you head to Javier's for a decent Tex-Mex, super-fast service, and guaranteed relief after that cup of McDonald's coffee tomorrow morning.  Once again, I was too hungry to get a picture of supper (yes, "supper", since we were eating after lunchtime but before dinner, and are clearly south of the Mason-Dixon line).  However, I did manage to get a picture of the chips with the nice pitcher of the excellent salsa provided.  I love it when the restaurant gives the pitcher, as we can empty a bowl of salsa faster than a dress comes off on prom night.

Our one huge disappointment, we got the dates wrong and are going to miss the 42nd Annual Wausau Possum Festival!

Nothin' says summer in the south like a Possum Parade and some gospel music.  Needless to say, I had to order the vegetarian cheese enchiladas and chili relleno at Javier's.

McDonald's Dumpster - Pensacola, FL...a great meal if you're homeless

It seems like our Verizon Wireless is the only thing that has been reliable in the hinterlands.  Even my favorite app, Yelp, listed Domino's Pizza as the best reviewed restaurant along about 50 miles of I-10 in the Florida Panhandle.  Of course, that may be a reflection on the number of people in this area that actually use the Internet for anything other than adult entertainment...but that's another post.  Likely, I'm just feeling a little cynical tonight since we had to have management here at the hotel chase the congregation of dumpster divers away when checking in tonight.  Sorry for those of you that wanted camping pix...until the temperature drops below 80, which should be about the time we reach the Eastern Sierras in CA, I prefer to maintain harmony by putting the wife up in the best hotel I can find on the Droid 3 with 30 minutes notice, and seizing the opportunity to teach our son situational awareness - also known as how to spot the guys who need to break into your truck when they run out of their drug of choice in a few hours and have to leave the commune behind the McDonald's dumpster for a bath in the Red Roof Inn pool and a bit of scrounging in the parking lot.  Homeschooling for the day is complete.

Verizon gamble pays off - Verizon Droid 3 spanks AT&T iPhone 3GS !!!

During the trip to VA and DC, we spent a lot of time traveling through rural areas, and our AT&T service was not reliable.  However, Verizon seemed to have a wireless store in every town, so we asked around.  No surprise, the locals all favored Verizon.  Since we will be traveling almost primarily in rural areas for the next six months, I fired AT&T and finally turned my ancient AT&T RAZR V3 (which has worked flawlessly for me on four continents and through a half-dozen hurricanes) into a brand new Verizon Droid 3.

The bet paid off over the last two days as we cancel our lives in Orlando and hit the road. 

First, the iPhone hotspot didn't work on my laptop.  It worked fine on my wife's, which I assume is because she has iTunes installed.  Sorry, but I don't want iTunes on my business laptop.  It's not a jukebox, it's a toolbox.  So, strike one on the iPhone and AT&T.  Second, the Droid 3 worked out of the box the first time as a hotspot, no modifications required.  Not only did it work, it provided a good connection for three laptops simultaneously, again with no problems and no need to install some Apple Bloatware on all our computers.  Third, as my wife was chatting with a great friend of ours from NYC, we topped out on a small hill and headed down the other side, and you could almost hear Emeril saying "BAM, you're in the boonies"!  The AT&T iPhone dropped the call like a hot potato, so I simply said "call her back on my Verizon phone".  It worked.

AT&T 0  Verizon 3

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wilson's BBQ and Grill - Emporia, VA - There Aren't Enough Stars for this Place!

Wilson's BBQ and Grill in Emporia, VA - there are many imposters across the USA, but there is only One Wilson's BBQ!

Every now and again, you walk into a place and you know immediately that you are near to a higher power.  It starts with the mouth-watering smells eminating from the smoker outside, it continues as you swing open the door to a decor so textbook Southern BBQ that it's like coming home, and when you see this menu on the table waiting for you, you know that you're going to be late for wherever it is you're supposed to be next.

Then you learn that the one guy alone in the kitchen is the owner, and the one who made the six BBQ sauces that you're about to try, and the one who smoked the meat, and the one who made the wing sauce, and the one married to the shining example of Southern Hospitality that is taking your order.  A tear creeps into the corner of your eye, and despite the fact that you've got another 400 miles to drive, you see Charlottesville, VA-brewed Starr Hill Northern Lights ale on the board for only $3, after paying twice that for an inferior brew in "the big city" the day before, so you order a round.  Then you open the menu and realize that you can sample everything - a pulled pork samich, a pulled chicken samich, a half-dozen hot wings, the smoked sausage, and even some slaw so you can pretend that you've eaten a vegetable, and you can do it for less than a single burnt entree in a supposedly five-star DC hotel will set you back.

This place is now the pinnacle of good eats on the trip.  The owner and his lovely wife were Genuine in a way that you will only find in a family-owned and operated place.  He obviously loves food, loves to cook it, loves to serve it, and loves to wash it down with a good beer.  There are few things more satisfying in life than enjoying a meal like this.

A little bonus, if you fill up your gas tank here instead of across the border in North Carolina, you're going to save quite a bit of money as well.  So, don't eat breakfast, and make sure you stop at 769 N Main St., Emporia, VA 23847 right off of I-95.

Tony and Milena's Pizzeria - Hayes, VA

We had a bit of inside info in finding Tony and Milena's on George Washington Memorial Highway in Hayes, VA, as it is a bit off of the beaten track.  Again, it sure it nice to be outside of D.C. where the owner of the restaurant serves you personally.  We wanted a salad before the meal with a bit of "umph" - black olives, feta, etc. - and Tony whipped up a fantastic side salad that fit the bill perfectly.  When the Sicilian pizza arrived, it was phenomenal!  The crust was soft as a pillow, had fantastic flavor, and the toppings were tasty and there in just the right proportion.  We rarely order a deep dish pie, as the crust can be overwhelming, but not this was perfect.

If you're ever touring the Yorktown battlefield, it's worth the drive up the GW Memorial Parkway to enjoy a pizza in a friendly, high quality, family-owned and operated pizzeria!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Great Food and Great Service at Carlyle in Arlington

What a pleasure to be out of D.C. and back to the land of easy-to-find, great meals.  Right off of I-395 in Arlington, VA, we stumbled upon Carlyle.  The restaurant was fantastic, from the cheerful hostess, to the server who took an interest in the copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War that our son was reading and made a recommendation of another book he would like (the Hagakure).  We had salmon and hamburgers, followed by a deep dish apple pie, and everything was served quickly, piping hot, and tasted fantastic.  Yet again, the apple pie disappeared so fast that I had a choice between digging for my camera and missing out entirely, or grabbing my spoon and fighting like a hockey player for a bit of pie, ice cream, and whip cream – so there’s no picture of dessert, sorry!

After a run of good-but-not-great meals in northern VA and D.C., and the not-so-good experience at the Fairfax, Carlyle had us back on track.  I can’t say enough complimentary things about it – great location, fast and friendly service, and great food quality combined in one location!

Washington D.C. Memorials

The memorials in Washington D.C. are a great reminder of the amazing intelligence and courage that graced our country’s leaders in times past.  Walking them leaves me with a bittersweet feeling - pride in how great our country is, and bitterness at my belief that it is now being run by "leaders" and "judges" who have been bought and paid for as part of the plutocracy, concerned only with preserving the debt-slavery credit economy.

Even with the temperatures hovering near 100º F, we trekked from the Washington Monument to the World War I and World War II memorials, then to the Lincoln Memorial and the sight of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech, by the Korean War Memorial, and then around to the Mason Memorial and finally to the most important one of all for me personally, the Jefferson Memorial.  All of these are must-see sights, and all will stir deep emotion if you stop to read the inscriptions and think about what these men accomplished.  We did pass through a memorial to the president that gave us government-sponsored mortgages and Social Security, and it was quite beautiful especially on a hot day…but I choose not to mention him in the company of the great leaders above.

P Street Eats

After our disappointing fare at the Fairfax, we got out of the hotel asap for breakfast and ate before returning each evening.  P Street offered a variety of restaurants of all types, and here are a few that we liked.

At Le Pain Quotidien, the service was great, and the décor made it an excellent place to sit and have breakfast and a coffee.  It was also a relief to find a restaurant offering local and organic fare.  The coffee was good, as was the bread.  The highlight was the French Toast.  The wild mushroom omelet was nice, but we had to fight over the bites that had mushroom in them, so the filling was a little sparse considering the price.  Overall, it was great meal for a D.C. breakfast for a trio who prefer a fully cooked English breakfast to a bagel or donut.

We also enjoyed Scion, which I personally wished we had eaten at a few more times as I liked the beer selection and wanted to try a few more menu items.  There we had the artichoke and crab dip app, our son had a surprisingly good mac & cheese topped with bacon off of the kid’s menu, my wife had the stuffed chicken, and I had the salmon wellington and a flight of ales.  All in all, it was a great meal.  Only the dessert, billed as a bourbon pecan pie, was a shocker, as it was more like a TV dinner dessert than my expectations.  Some of my fondest memories are of eating pecan pies made by my aunt with fresh pecans from the tree in the front yard of her farm in North Carolina, so I’ve got a pretty high standard for any dessert that calls itself a pecan pie, and this wasn’t even close to being a pecan pie…it was more like a choco-pecan-puck.

Just up the street was the Café Japone, a sushi place with an excellent happy hour.  We were so exhausted from doing tourist D.C., that we didn’t remember to take pictures until the second round, but here’s a shot of their rainbow roll, seaweed salad, and gyoza.  Great service again, and a nice window seat to watch the sweaty masses scurry home in the near-100 degree heat...I just wish they had offered just one stout or IPA!

Finally, the fourth restaurant worth a mention was Panas, which offered some very nice empanadas that we grabbed to go and munched on as we wandered the Mall and the monuments.  These were a great treat to save us from the food courts of the Smithsonian, and they were tasty, some were spicy, and were enjoyed by all.

Fairfax Hotel – not all Lamburgers are created Equal

The Fairfax at Embassy Row, Washington, D.C. (2100 Massachusetts Avenue NW) has comfortable and well-appointed rooms.  It is convenient to the Metro red line, and there are a couple of decent restaurants just south on P Street.  The staff, however, leave a little something to be desired.  We use the Internet when on the road, and when we asked the bartender about it, his response was “I just work in the bar”.  When we asked the front desk, they very cheerfully let us know about the free wireless areas near the meeting rooms, and about the wireless available for a fee from our room.  Unfortunately, I guess I needed to ask specifically about wired Internet access from the rooms, as it wasn’t until I was checking behind the couch in our suite for lost toys that I discovered the data port for free wired broadband in the room.  Since I had spoken to three different staff members about where I could get Internet access (twice to check on locations for availability, and once for the password) during our stay, and no one mentioned that wired broadband was available in the room, I was a bit shocked when I jacked the Cat-5 cable into my laptop and got right on, no password and no hassle.  I found this same game of twenty questions had to be played throughout our stay there – staff were not really willing to divulge information without repeated questioning, whether it was regarding the fee for valet parking, or when the hotel restaurant was actually going to be open, or any of the other bits of information that I had to extract with persistence learned from watching news reports of Guantanamo Bay interrogations.  While the word disingenuous is a bit strong, I never got the feeling of genuine desire to make our stay better from anyone except housekeeping, who were pretty much spot on if you ignore the pile of fingernails left next to the bathroom trash can in our room that greeted us upon arrival and remained there through the entire stay.

While the hotel restaurant, the Jockey Club, is supposed to be a great place to eat, the food their kitchen served us in the bar was so far below par that we had no interest in being overcharged for a second offering from the same cooks.  Upon arrival, we headed to the hotel bar (since the storied restaurant was closed), and I was excited to see Lamburgers on the menu.  Hoping to get a shot at having a meal as good as Natasha’s, I greedily ordered two plates of the Lamburger sliders and a salad to make sure there was plenty to go around.  Alas, the Lamburgers were dry and lifeless, the sauce resembled a French onion potato chip dip, and the buns were burnt to a carbon-topped crisp.  The salad was OK, but that’s little consolation when a small restaurant in Floyd County, Virginia can serve a meal that is a hundred times better than a supposedly “five star” hotel in Washington D.C.  Here are our burnt Lamburgers, courtesy of the Fairfax Hotel:

Needless to say, for the next four days, we had our meals on P Street and around the Dupont Circle area...more on that later.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bull Run Battlefield

Bull Run battlefield, just north of Manassas, celebrates its sesquicentennial this week.  The volunteers that staff the various Bull Run battlefield visitor centers did a fantastic job on our visit.  They are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and did a great job of bringing the battlefield to life for our group!

It is a shame that the Confederacy is associated more with its pro-slavery stance than with the issue of states' rights.  Slavery should never have been allowed in America.  Asked can Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers have allowed slavery to continue while issuing a Declaration of Independence that says “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it”?  Unfortunately, slave owners of the time introduced language into the Virginia Declaration of Rights, legalese that excluded slaves from the benefits of "civil society", and this document was more influential in the politics of the times than the Declaration of Independence.  This bit of legal maneuvering cost 600,000 lives in the Civil War - quite a bill that can be laid at the feet of lawyer Edmund Pendleton, among others.  Having said that, I am tremendously proud of the willingness of the people of the Confederacy to follow Jefferson’s Declaration and go to war when they felt that their rights were being trampled by the government, even if it was in defence of the indefensible.  Seeing the larger-than-life memorial to Stonewall Jackson rising over the battlefield is a stark reminder that this country was once made of men with the courage to fight for their rights when Congress did not act to secure them. 

I used to question whether we should stay and try and change this country, or if moving to Panama was better.  Obviously, I decided that leaving was the better course.  The bailout of the banksters in the face of overwhelming popular disapproval was the last straw for me, but every day it is easy to find an example of why America is slowly going from plutocracy to police state. 

Here is a long-time politico trying to explain why this is the Worst Congress Ever, when I can sum it up in a single word: plutocracy.  Government and the justice system are now operated primarily for the benefit of those with wealth - both corporations and individuals.

This story showing Rochester, NY as part of the police state appeared on the local D.C. news last night, even though it dates from June, and there have been more developments.
..and this one on the killing of Jose Guerena by a Tuscon SWAT team was particularly infuriating when I ran across it earlier this year.

...and from yesterday, yet another opinion piece on the dangers of rising inequality in the USA.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Roanoke Weiner Stand - Hot Dog Title Fight!

Given our plan of driving about 5,000 miles in the next five months, the last thing I want to do is turn this into Hot Dog Wars.  With the number of great hot dog stands in this country, I'd be grabbing my chest somewhere around Albuquerque.  However, no trip along I-81 is complete without a stop at the Roanoke Weiner Stand.  Located in downtown Roanoke on the market, this place is an iconic landmark that has been serving the best hot dogs in America for almost 100 years!  Having said that, my wife - who was not born in America - liked the hot dog from Willie's Wee-Nee Wagon better.  My son and I, both born here in the USA, prefer the Roanoke Weiner Stand dog all the way.  To be fair, Willie's pork chop sandwich and fries have no peer...but the chili and the dog are better at the Roanoke Weiner Stand.

While it looks empty, notice that they are packing dogs into boxes on the counter above...while I stood in line, I watched over 48 dogs go out the door with four customers!  As well, I figured it was better to wait for the guys on the bikes with the long hair and patches to get up and leave before I took the interior pictures.

Lamburger! Natasha's Market Cafe

Yes, we love to eat, and we try and eat well when we're on the road.  Our latest find is Natasha's Market Cafe on Route 8 just north of Route 221 in Floyd, VA.  With the desire for another visit to Willie's Wee-Nee Wagon still fresh in our minds, I didn't think we would find another meal so good so fast.  I had no idea we were about to run into the Lamburger.  A delicious patty of ground lamb, as tender as the cute little lamb itself, topped with a tangy yogurt and dill sauce, left me sorry that I ordered the pork BBQ.  Look closely at the picture below.

Before I could order my second beer and get the camera out to take the picture, half of the Lamburger (on the right) had been devoured, as well as half of the equally good cream of mushroom soup on the left.  As well, I'm guessing on the ingredients to the Lamburger, as I only got the briefest of looks at it before it was completely devoured, and my wife growled like a Rottweiler standing over a steak bone when I asked for a bite.

While my son and I still give Willie the edge based on a combination of taste and price (Willie's sandwiches cost half the price of Natasha's), my wife's choice of the Lamburger set a new gastronomic high point for the trip to date.  If I had been smart enough to order the Lamburger, I would have a new favorite as well!

Natasha's can be found here:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Willie's Wee Nee Wagon

Our journey is now complete.

Day one, and I think we've likely had the best meal we're going to see this trip.

If you're ever driving through Brunswick, Georgia, don't be a fool and sacrifice quality for speed!  Take the extra fifteen minutes, and drive a whole 4 miles off of I-95 and taste real meat served by enthusiastic, friendly, genuine people - not ammonia-soaked, processed and pressed garbage filled and wrapped with some form of corn by-product.

One last look at what you've been missing for almost 40 years:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hobo Land

Our son summed it up in a sentence.  "I'm looking forward to the camping, but I don't want to leave my friends."  It's time to look forward. 

We will depart Hobo Land tomorrow for a trip to VA for a family reunion and to put 200 cubic feet of personal treasures into a safe place for storage while we do the farewell tour.  "Hobo Land" is another good one-liner from the nine-year-old, an apt description of our current living state (not the State of least, I don't think he meant it to apply to the whole state even though I guess it does sum up certain parts of it). 

For two months, I have been Louie the Liquidator.  However, in this market, there are some things that, though I might think them valuable, really have no value.  So, all of these things were donated today: couches, lamps, tables, toys (painful), and boxes of household goods.  We enthusiastically support an organization called Mustard Seed (  They describe themselves as follows:

The Mustard Seed is the only furniture bank in Central Florida. When individuals in the community have experienced personal tragedy, homelessness, disaster, abuse, illness or loss of employment, we provide the basic household items and clothing they need to start fresh as an individual or family. During fiscal year 2009-10, 3,945 Central Floridians with 60% of those being children, received help from The Mustard Seed. We rely on furniture and household donations in order to keep our inventory plentiful!
It's a win-win, as we had a ton of nice stuff that just isn't worth the effort to sell, but has years of useful life left in it.  They help us out by taking it away, we feel better about helping others, and someone out there receives a really nice living room furniture set, TV, and enough beer steins to throw an outrageous block party.  After Mustard Seed left, our son christened the living room "Hobo Land", pictured below:

We will Escape from Hobo Land tomorrow morning.

Yes, that is a Grow-Tek NFT hydroponics system, one of the few I could find that was guaranteed to be made from food-grade, virgin PVC, purchased from Crop King ( and the envy of the neighborhood; and an Excalibur dehydrator, another product that I wholeheartedly endorse.  Excalibur Dehydrator

Wish us a safe journey!