Ocean cruising, once a vacation option for the wealthier, has become an enormously popular and affordable vacation option for the masses. My wife and I had discounted ever taking a cruise because of the mistaken idea that it required formalities such as dressing up each evening for supper and/or renting a tuxedo.
In 2002, however, the McClain Alumni Association hosted an all-class Caribbean cruise aboard the Carnival ship Sensation. It was a wonderful experience from which we decided cruising was something we’d enjoy doing more of. We just returned from our eighth cruise and have a ninth scheduled for next spring. Thus far we’ve been on Carnival six times, Royal Caribbean once, and Norwegian once and here’s a few notes on what we’ve concluded:
The best deals are for those who have a bag packed and can walk out the door at a moment’s notice.
My brother and his wife are relocating to Florida from North Carolina and offered my children some surplus furniture. So, my daughter Kris and I rented a large U-Haul trailer and headed south and east to Beaufort, North Carolina. She took a couple of vacation days and our intentions were simple, get the furniture and spend some time along the hopefully warm and sunny coast. I planned to fish while she walked the beaches searching for shells.
The Wednesday drive to Beaufort was warm enough but the skies were very overcast. We even encountered the remains of the winter snowfall in the mountains of West Virginia. The day’s highlight was stopping at Wilber’s BBQ in Goldsboro, NC for a small to go sampler. Our family has faithfully been stopping at Wilber’s since 1983 and consider it to be the best in the universe.
On Thursday morning, after loading the trailer, the plan was to drive over to Harker’s Island for a look-see followed by the afternoon at Emerald Isle at the tip of Bogue Island. On the way to Harker’s I noticed a sign for the ferry at Cedar Island that runs to Ocracoke Island. Couple of years ago we had a house rented on Ocracoke but had to cancel when the place was hit by hurricane Irene. I suggested to Kris we change plans and take the ferry to Ocracoke and then return home via the Outer Banks and Interstate 64. Her face lit up like a flashlight at the idea.
Back in 2004 Danny Masters and I were sitting on the liar’s bench at the local truck stop talking about traveling. He said he’d never been any further than Kentucky and Eastern Indiana. So, I told him about a BBQ place in Huntsville, TX I wanted to try so why didn’t he and I get in my van and go get some ribs and a brisket sandwich? The BBQ joint was next to and operated by the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church and the lady in charge was 86-year-old Annie Mae Ward. It was known far and wide as the church of the Holy smoke and CBS Sunday Morning laid claim that it was the world’s best BBQ.
Danny agreed so a few days later we were driving through Memphis, TN and headed south and west. We had no trouble finding Annie Mae once getting near Huntsville. We pulled over and asked some utility line workers and they gave us excellent directions and said they never failed to eat there when working that area.
One of my earliest elementary school memories is of reading a story about a young boy living in Malaysia. We were studying geography and I’m pretty sure that story was where I learned what a peninsula is. That I still remember it probably speaks to my lifelong fascination with geography and the cultures of other lands.
I have always loved travel and while I would prefer being there myself I can be content doing it vicariously through books, magazine articles and other media. I’m the weird one who would actually show up if you invited me over and see your vacation slides.
During the past week I’ve been watching a nine-part Netflix documentary titled, Long Way Round. It focuses on the multi-month effort of two British motorcycle enthusiast, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, to ride a couple of BMW bikes around the world (see map) in 2004. A third motorcycle was ridden by cameraman, Claudio von Planta and a support team consisting of a medical doctor and several others in a couple of AWD vehicles stayed within a day’s drive of the bikers.
What struck me most about their fantastic journey was just how rapidly what we Americans would consider mandatory infrastructure disappeared as they traveled east. All-in-all they traveled just short of nineteen thousand miles and visited thirteen countries. Somewhere in Kazakhstan or Mongolia they ran out of anything resembling a real road and pretty much had to rely on their dirt bike skills to reach the Russian port city Magadan in the far east of Siberia.
I posted a photo of the Rock Bridge bridge that crosses Paint Creek in Fayette County. That photo prompted several people to start talking about camping along the creek and the times they got soaked by torrential downpours.
I’m pretty sure anybody who’s ever spent much time in a tent can recall waking up in a pool of rainwater and spent the rest of the night wishing they were anyplace else on earth. When we were kids we spent lots of summer nights camped somewhere along Paint Creek and its tributaries. The tents we used were surplus WWII Army tents. Each soldier was meant to carry half a tent, one pole, and a few wooden stakes. At night a couple of guys would buddy up and put their halves together to attain a little shelter from the elements.
These canvas tents had no flooring and keeping dry required digging a diversion trench around the perimeter of the tent to carry away run off. If it rained too hard the trench
If you enjoy the creations of artist, artisans, musicians, and creative people of all kinds, and you’re near by Huntsville, Alabama, you need to consider a visit to Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment Center.
Lowe Mill began life a hundred years ago as a cotton mill which later became a shoe factory. Even later it was reborn as a central location where artist, artisans, and musicians could create, display, and vend their works. Over a hundred creative people have studios on the three floors of the mill, each housed in an aptly sized cubicle. I have a niece, Erin Michael, who has a studio on the ground floor where she creates one-off pieces of silver jewelry and decorative wall art made with silver chainmaille.
The second floor houses what is referred to as The Flying Monkey and occupied by a group of free thinkers that are definitely throwbacks to the 1960s. When I walked through
Over the years that I’ve been salt water fishing I’ve caught any number of sharks. I always told myself while swimming in the ocean that sharks were not common and hung out further at sea. That myth got busted when I began fishing in the very waters I once swam in.
The most common shark is the dogfish and is a valued food source. If you do any bottom fishing in and around the coast of North Carolina you’ll eventually hook up a dogfish. They are so common they are considered a nuisance. I don’t target sharks and all I’ve caught have simply been coincidence. The only exception was a couple of years ago when I deliberately rigged up to catch a shark from a pier in North Carolina. The result was the largest fish I’ve ever caught, a 120 lb spinner shark on a rig that many would use to fish for larger fresh water catfish.
I recently paid an evening visit to the Gulf of Mexico’s longest fishing pier at Navarre, Florida. At the far end was a group of five men armed with very heavy-duty rigs consisting of 6′ graphite rods and 10-12″ geared reels spooled with 125 lb test braided line. Each line was terminated with a 15′ piece of 900 lb test mono-filament leader followed by a 6′ solid steel wire leader and a huge stainless steel “circle” hook. The large mono-filament leader is necessary to keep the braided line away from the shark’s sandpaper like skin.
When I first arrived on scene two of the men were cutting a large 4′ stingray into several chunks. I assumed they were preparing the ray to be taken home for the grill. Instead these chunks were destined to become shark bait.
What do I know about New Yorkers? Like most Mid-Westerners, my knowledge of those in the Big Apple is based on having watched countless episodes of Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City. I know the place is inhabited mainly by, hookers, pushers, pimps, cops on the take, wise guys, rude cab drivers, soup Nazis, a mayor that doesn’t like Big Gulps, and fat cat one percenters who work on Wall Street and live in the Upper West Side.
I know they speak with an accent that to my ear can be loud, boisterous, assertive, threatening, and at times, whinny. I know that none of them can be trusted, they’re all on the take, they are cold and uncaring, they think out of towners are rubes, and most of the women wear stiletto heels costing thousands and with which, they would gladly poke a hole in your heart. Continue reading New Yorkers→
I had not laid boots on the concrete of NYC since 1963. We had driven through on a few occasions but not stopped. So, for practical purposes our recent trip was like having never been there and we made lots of rookie mistakes. Just in case you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple, here’s some tips that may smooth your way.
I had driven in NYC more than once but got talked out of it this time. Instead we made reservations at a Holiday Inn Express in Woodbridge, NJ not far from MetroPark, a train station that offers frequent and affordable half-hour trips into New York’s Penn Station. Penn Station is in the mid-town area so you’re central to where most of the action takes place.
Some friends were recently talking about visiting King’s Island and how they now spend their time hanging around the coffee shops and watering holes while their children and grandchildren take on The Beast or Diamondback. One mentioned that his daughter, now the mother of two, has reached that age where a cup of hot chocolate is the preferred activity over tossing up lunch after exiting The Drop.
I can understand all this since I’ve never been much of a fan of even mildly extreme amusement park rides. During the street carnival days of my youth I enjoyed the bench seat on the merry-go-round and questioned slightly whether any good could come from actually climbing onto the back of one of those wooden horses.
First time I met a crab cake, or for that matter a crab, was in Maryland in 1960. I was in a tavern in Perryville, MD and featured on the menu was something called deviled crab cake sandwiches. I was 18 and my seafood experience was limited to Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks and the occasional skillet fried blue gill from a local farm pond.
Immediately I took a shine to crab cakes and haven’t passed up too many opportunities to enjoy them since those days of being stationed along the Chesapeake Bay. About five or six years ago I had what remains the best crab cake experience of my life along those same waters. A cousin who lives in Maryland took us to a local crab shack and we had lump meat crab cakes. They consisted mostly of pure lumps of blue crab meat with just Continue reading If it Walks Sideways it May be a Crab Cake→
You don’t need a boat, you don’t need a high-dollar pickup truck to pull a boat, you don’t have to fill either with $4 a gallon gasoline, you don’t have to buy special insurance to protect you if you have to be towed back to port or if your trailer malfunctions during the haul. You don’t have to worry about mechanical repairs so far from home where a marine mechanic may take advantage of you because he knows you’re not local. And, you don’t have to sit on a boat talking to yourself waiting for the fish to decide it’s snack time.
Those are just a few of the things you don’t have to do when you decide to fish from one of the many public piers that dot the coastline of the Eastern United States.
Back before the Internet killed amateur radio I had daily conversations with people from all over the Eastern US. Many ham radio operators developed a tag line of some sort to make themselves a little unique. One Indiana ham would announce his presence by broadcasting, “This is amateur radio station WA9RNC, coming to you from downtown Dismal Seepage, Indiana.” Another listed his location as Starvation Flats, Kentucky. I’ve checked and there are no such places in reality but there are plenty of American towns that have names the local Chamber of Commerce may wish they didn’t. The long list includes the following: Continue reading You Live Where!!!→
I’ve been going to Florida on fishing trips for over 10 years now. Normally I take my boat and fish in the inlets and bays along the coastline. A couple of years ago I began leaving the boat at home and fishing from the many piers that dot the shorelines of both the Atlantic and the Gulf coasts of that state. A year ago I spent a couple of weeks fishing the piers between Virginia Beach, VA and Bogue Inlet, NC.
There are advantages and disadvantages to pier fishing as compared to boat fishing. A major advantage of pier fishing, for me, is the opportunity to meet new and different people. More times than not a visit to a pier will produce meeting someone with a story to tell and one worth listening to. In my book a good story is just as enjoyable as catching a trophy fish.