In Which Daddy Gets a New Pair of Shoes

It’s a true statement to say that a man will go to great lengths when he wants to impress a young lady he finds attractive.

Generally, it starts with little things, things to get a girl’s attention. A new haircut. A fresh, clean shave on a day he might have otherwise gone unshaven. A spritz of cologne whenever there’s a remote chance that the young lady in question might be near. In some more advanced cases, the spritz of cologne turns into a few extra spritzes and worrisome questions that “maybe I used too much”. And, as is generally the case with these kinds of things, if you have to ask the question, you probably did.

In more extreme cases, a man might set about remaking himself entirely, just to make himself more attractive to her. He might join the gym and lose 30 pounds. He might throw out all his old, frumpy clothes and buy an entirely new wardrobe of slightly more stylish clothing. He might buy a new house or a new car in order to upgrade his life. He might even go back to school in order to improve his job prospects, just so he’ll have more to offer.

Of course, those are extreme cases and I don’t know that I’d ever go so far myself.

Not again, at any rate.

But I did once buy a new pair of shoes to impress a Cute Girl. The year was 2003 and there was this fancy function to attend and I knew the Cute Girl was going to be there. I had a small crush on the Cute Girl and was hoping to impress her enough to at least score a date. Doing what guys do, I went out and bought a new shirt, a new pair of pants, a new wallet, a new belt and a new pair of shoes. Not a whole wardrobe, mind you. Just a new…outfit…for lack of a better word.

Aside: I do not like to use the word “outfit”. The word is not meant for guys. Guys don’t wear outfits. We wear…clothes. Sometimes those clothes match. Having our clothes match doesn’t make those clothes an outfit. Outfits are for girls or for children.

Second aside: More often than not, our clothes do not match. Usually it is because we picked them out ourselves, without appropriate female supervision. When our clothes do not match, it’s okay to refer to them collectively as a “getup” as in, “take a look at that guy’s getup.” But it still isn’t an outfit.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. So, I bought this new…set of clothes…in order to impress Cute Girl. And I went to the highfalutin’ affair in my new clothes, on which I’d spent a decent amount of money and, as luck would have it, she wasn’t even there. Typical.

Kindof aside: I did eventually manage to set up one date with Cute Girl. We planned it right before I went out of town for an extended vacation. I call it vacation but it was really just a long, paid leave-of-absence from work so I could go to a family reunion down in Mississippi. My parents wanted me to drive down from North Carolina with them because they were nervous about making the long drive themselves, they being old or something. So I take use my vacation time to go to Mississippi for a family reunion for 10 whole days.

Aside from the aside
: I don’t know if your parents are like this but my parents love some Cracker Barrel. I swear, over two days of driving for that trip, we had Cracker Barrel for seven meals. I kid you not. It was all I could do to get them past an exit with a Cracker Barrel. Mom got “Uncle Herschel’s” for every single meal.

Another aside: And don’t get me started on how often we had to stop for pee breaks. OMG. We broke the trip up into 30 mile segments. We went from Cracker Barrel to Rest Stop to Cracker Barrel in rapid succession.

Anyway, when I get back, Cute Girl is dating some other guy, the guy to whom she is now married. I think they have like two kids or something. I dunno. Utterly freaking typical. And my parents want to know why I haven’t given them any grandchildren yet. Two words for you, Ma and Pa. Family. Reunion.

End Asides.

Anyway, the whole point is that trying to impress a girl by buying stuff was and is a total waste of time and money.

Except that I still have the shoes from that particular purchase. As you might imagine, they’ve seen better days. They are scratched and scuffed and haven’t been my dressy black shoes in many years. After six years, they’re getting to the point where I really shouldn’t be wearing them at all. As comfy as they are, I feel poorly put together when I wear them.

Like I did yesterday when I wore them to work. I felt so poorly put together that I decided then and there to buy a new pair of shoes. I went to Zappos and I ordered a new pair of Giorgio Brutini’s.

The experience was so positive that I had to blog about it. As per usual, I got an email stating that my order had been received and was being processed. An hour later, I got an email stating that my already-free shipping was upgraded to “expedited” shipping at no charge to me, by way of saying “thank you”.

I was, of course, pleased and thought I might return from my Thanksgiving holiday to find a new pair of shoes waiting on my doorstep. Imagine my surprise to find a new pair of shoes waiting for me when I got home from work today, not even 24 hours after placing my order. Free overnight shipping. Zappos rocks.

I was already a fan of Zappos because of their excellent customer service on previous orders. They do not charge for shipping to you and, more importantly, they do not charge you for shipping any returned merchandise to them. My loyalty to Zappos is that much stronger now that they’ve given me a free upgrade to overnight shipping.

If you don’t want to get out and brave the Black Friday crowds after Thanksgiving, you might check out Zappos for shoes, clothing and other fashionables. If you’re a guy, you might even find something to impress the Cute Girl in your life. But, whatever you buy, remember this.

It isn’t an outfit. Ever.

Greetings from the Great Northwest

Greetings, all, from the great and friendly Pacific Northwest! I’m currently propping up a counter at the Top Pot Doughnuts on the corner of Galer and 4th atop Queen Anne Hill in the great city of Seattle and thought that, since I don’t have a camera with me, I’d paint you all a picture of my experiences in Seattle thus far.

Why am I in Seattle, you ask? Good question and there’s a good but convoluted answer.

I’m here in Seattle at the invitation of my brother, Bigwig. He’s out here for some kind of training class and he had a weekend to kill. He’s a huge fan of beer, especially if it’s beer he’s never had before. In theory, Seattle offers a whole new world of beers and bars and breweries for him to experience and explore. But there’s one problem. My brother hates to drink alone.

It’s more than that, though. I actually believe him to be incapable of drinking alone. It’s like a physical law of some kind. When forced into an environment in which he is to be drinking alone, my brother can, will and must do everything in his power to befriend those around him, just so he won’t have to drink alone. More often than not, the environment is a bar and, more often than not, the people around him are inveterate drunks. This can lead to interesting and entertaining encounters but, more often than not, it leads to conflict. More on this in a minute.

In this particular instance, my brother decided that the best way to keep from drinking alone was to invite all his buddies to join him in Seattle for the weekend he had free. Together, we’d all explore Seattle and try lots of new beers and have a grand old time. As luck would have it, I was the only one who could make it. Everyone else begged off due to the expense or the time or whatever.

So that’s why I’m in Seattle. I am designated drinking buddy.

If you’ve been following the logic thus far, you’d likely conclude that this would prevent my brother from having to make friends with those around him in the bar. You would, however, have come to that conclusion erroneously. Tragically, I just got in last night and he’s been here by himself for two days. He’s explored every establishment within a two-mile radius around the hotel. And he’s already made friends in at least one location, the one location we hit upon my arrival last evening.

I don’t recall the name of the place but it’s maybe half-a-mile from our hotel. Apparently my brother visited this same location the night prior to my arrival and made friends with the bartender. The bartender gave him complimentary Japanese Whiskey and a permanent bond was established.

My brother also apparently befriended some guy named Tom who spends 318 days of the year on a fishing boat somewhere in the Pacific. Tom, apparently, on the days he isn’t out fishing, spends his time in this particular bar pickling himself with Bud Light. Well, it just so happens that Tom wasn’t fishing last night and my brother, being the social critter that he is, invited Tom to join us whilst we sampled beers and sang a little karaoke.

My first impression of Tom was that he was awfully quiet and possibly shy. My second impression of Tom was that Tom couldn’t speak because he was stone drunk. Guess which impression was the more accurate?

Tom did eventually speak to me. After three or four minutes of sitting with us at table, Tom looked at me and said “Do you arm-wrestle?”

Now, I don’t know about you but, in my experience, people don’t generally open polite conversation with that question. I don’t think anyone has ever posed that question to me, certainly not since I left high school. Maybe this is what they do on fishing boats. I assume when you’re out on a boat for weeks at a time, you get a little bored and do silly man things. Like get monstrously drunk and arm-wrestle one another.

Regaining my composure, I replied that I did not, in fact, arm-wrestle on any kind of regular basis.

“I could beat anybody in here at arm-wrestling. Do you thumb-wrestle?”

WTF? Seriously?

“Um, not professionally, no.”

“I could beat you at thumb-wrestling.”

This is when I let myself get sucked in by the whole affair. He began both to try upon my patience and practice upon my competitive nature. I decided that, not only was this guy a drunk but he was also a jack-ass. So I decide that, fine, I’ll arm-wrestle. And thumb-wrestle too.

So we throw elbows on the table and some thoughtful, experienced soul wanders over and removes our beers from the table top. I’m thinking to myself, “This happens here often. I’m going to lose.”

Sure enough, I did. We start to throw down and he does something with his wrist, twisting it inward somewhat. This totally destroys my leverage and the match is done before it’s begun. Fine. Whatever. I do my best to earn my revenge in thumb-wrestling but to no avail. I have always sucked at thumb-wrestling. I don’t have the thumb length for it or something. I dunno. It’s not important.

Tom goes on to arm-wrestle my brother, carrying the match even faster. Salving some of the Stafford pride, Brother actually wins the thumb-wrestling follow up and the two retire to the out-of-doors to share a victory cigarette.

Eventually, the two come back and things have obviously turned sour. Brother, in addition to finding it impossible to drink alone, also has a difficult time shutting up about things about which he does not know. After some while, this almost always leads to his new-found friend threatening him with some kind of beating.

In this case, he has taken what little knowledge he has about commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest and expounded upon it at great length, extolling the virtues of the crab-fishers on “The Deadliest Catch”. You’d think that would be safe enough ground but, no. Apparently drunk fishermen who spend 318 days of every year in a cramped boat greatly resent the crab-fishermen of “Deadliest Catch” as self-serving glory hounds that hog all the media attention.

Oh, and Brother also suggested that some of the fishing activities in which Tom and his mates engaged were probably illegal.

I start rolling up my sleeves, convinced I’m going to have to save my brother from having his teeth fed to him. He’s no fighter, that’s for sure. I was the one that grew up doing all the fighting. It’s what happens when you have two older brothers.

I should know better. It never ends in fisticuffs. It always ends peacefully. He always manages to talk himself out of every richly deserved ass-kicking. I don’t know how he does it but he does. He talks himself into being friends with even the most lost souls at the bar. He talks himself into their good and then their bad graces. And then he talks himself through it and back into at least some kind of peaceful resolution, swallowing every shred of pride he might have had in the process.

How does he do it? I’m sure I don’t know. My own nature is such that I would never engage the damn drunk in the first place. And I would never go out of my way to earn their good will. And I would certainly never swallow my pride just to keep the peace. I’m sure it’s a great failing of mine. God has been talking to me about my pride lately. I’m doing my best to listen and learn but…well, I’m not there yet. I guess I’ll just keep trying to see everyone through His eyes rather than my own.

Anyway, I’m shutting down and moving on. There’s a coffee shop across the street that was particularly recommended to me, Cafe Fiore. I need a refill on my latte and it sounds like the place for me. There’s also Umi Sushi to hit up for lunch. I can’t wait to try it out.

Unlike my brother, I’m perfectly capable of doing these things alone. Maybe when I learn to conquer my own pride, I won’t have to any more. Certainly wishing some of you were here to share the trip.

Lines Composed At Gate B34

I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight home to RDU. The flight is delayed, of course. I thought that, while I had the time and since I don’t have a book with me, I’d get some blogging done.

I don’t have internet access and I’m too cheap to purchase access. It’s highway robbery what they charge you to access the hot spots at most airports. $7.99 for a 24-hour pass? I think not. Even T-Mobile, my cellular provider, wants to charge me $4.99 for a four hour block. Uh, no. I would purchase an internet access plan from them if the data transfer limits weren’t so paltry and the access packages so unreasonably expensive. $39.00 to $59.00 dollars per month with download limits? I don’t think so. Not when I pay $39.00 dollars for unlimited bandwidth at home.

Anyway, I’m heading home to be with my family. My father has been in the hospital all week and he’s having triple bypass surgery in the morning. I am blessed enough to have a good friend who works for Delta. She was able to get me a buddy pass I could use to fly home at the last minute without paying an arm and a leg. I can also fly home when I want, rather than scheduling a flight back to home to Atlanta ahead of time. The drawback is that I have to fly standby and I’m dead last in priority. The good news is that there are myriad delays at the airport today and the desk attendant feels certain there will be handfuls of people that do not make their connecting flights. I feel sure that I’ll either make this flight or the flight that leaves later this evening. Keep your fingers crossed.

Once again, I find myself chasing gates. When I checked in at the front desk, my seat request form listed gate B05 as the departure gate. Continuing my string of good luck with departure gates, the gate was at the far end of the terminal, requiring me to walk as far as possible. Delta, not feeling that was a sufficient walk for me, switched departure gates on me as I was making my way through security. The new departure gate was B33. As you may have guessed, B33 is located as far as possible from B05 without actually switching terminals. I had to walk so far, in fact, that Delta was able to switch the departure gate on me once more while I was in transit. Thankfully, B34 happened to be the new gate. All I had to do was cross the aisle.

In addition to blogging, I’m whiling away the hours by listening to an elderly Vietnamese woman literally scream into her phone. The good news is that I have company in listening to this woman. She has the most piercing voice you have ever heard and literally everyone at this end of the terminal is listening to her. I’m pretty sure I just saw blood streaming from the ear of the man sitting next to her. You could chop down trees with this woman’s voice.

My departure time continues to be pushed back. Not good news, especially since my whole plan involves other people being delayed whilst I leave on time. The further back my departure time is moved, the more likely that those late arrivals will make it after all. I hate to wish ill on other travelers, especially given how much I hate air travel, but I’m hoping to get out of here tonight. If I don’t, I will have to come back early tomorrow and repeat the process of walking the length of the terminal searching for my flight, all without a guaranteed seat. I probably should’ve purchased a full-price ticket.

Hell, if my plane gets delayed another hour, I probably should’ve just driven. What with the traffic to the airport, the 5k walk from the parking lot, the prison-rape that is airport security and the inevitable delays, the six-and-a-half-drive probably saves me my dignity, a few hundred bucks and a half-an-hour. Is it wrong of me to hope our miserable economy claims a few airlines as victims? Maybe our government will step in and restructure the industry so that flying isn’t the broken down, spirit-crushing experience it happens to be. I mean, look how they’ve fixed banking?

Okay. Nevermind. But I am waiting on a revitalized passenger rail service. It can’t possibly be a more predictable failure than the airline industry. Right?

Gone Fishing

Greetings from Durham, North Carolina. Sorry if I sound distracted but I’m doing something I rarely do these days. I’m watching television. It’s been so long that even the commercials are new and intriguing. I am having difficulty concentrating on the task at hand, which is…um…hold on a second….writing this blog.

Have you ever seen this show “Rotten Tomatoes“? It’s a movie review show that, apparently, tells the truth about the movies. It’s the kind of movie review show I would do. It’s sarcastic, caustic and likes less than half the movies they review. Not that the review show itself is any good but it moves quickly. It’s like the television equivalent of ..oh! shiny!

Anyway, what I was going to say was that I’m sitting here watching television with my brother waiting to go fishing. We’ve watched “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield, several Tivo’d “Family Guys” episodes and are now watching the aforementioned movie review show. It’s enough to make you believe that the end of the world is near. Of course, I said the same thing after watching “The South Park Movie”.

Tomorrow, we go fishing. We have three days on a house boat out of Atlantic, NC. The plan is to stick six of us on a boat, motor us out into the Ophelia Inlet, anchor the boat and leave us to stew for three days. calls for rain all three days, with scattered thunderstorms. In some lands, they call this “vacation”.

For the record, I hate fishing. Don’t get me wrong. I like catching fish. But catching fish is not the same thing as fishing. “Catching fish” is thirty seconds of thrills and excitement that happens up to once every fishing trip. “Fishing” is the art of sitting around for up to fourteen hours wondering whether you still have bait on your hook or not.  And believe you me, you do not. You do not have bait on your hook. Ever.

I suppose I should be happy to be out of work. Technically, I’ll be “at the beach” and on a boat. In most books, that’s not a bad way to spend the day. Did I mention there will be five fishy-smelling drunks on board trying to squeeze in as much “guy time” as possible into a 72 hour period? I myself will be encouraged to drink too much and we’ll tell the same stories we’ve told each other for nine years worth of fishing trips now. And Icehole wonders why I don’t want to come on the annual fishing trip any more.

The good news is that I have come up with a plan to amuse myself while we’re aboard. Since we have six guys and one small bathroom facility, I plan to consume nothing but canned asparagus for the next three days. If all goes according to plan, the whole boat should smell like a truckload of burning pencil erasers. I won’t have internet as of tomorrow but I’ll update you all as soon as I get back Sunday evening.

We’re leaving pretty early in the morning so I guess I should wrap this up and get to bed. Wish me luck. Maybe this trip I’ll actually be blessed with catching a fish.

Seeing as how I refuse to check my bait more than once every 45 minutes, I’m guessing not.

Beach Bumming

Greetings to all my loyal readers (both of you) from Ocean Isle, North Carolina. I know you’ve missed me and I’ve missed having the opportunity to ignore the blog. The house we’re staying in does not have internet access, much to the collective chagrin of all current occupants. We all brought laptops but can’t get on the internet without some travail. Well, at least not without some travel. The nearest free wireless internet I could find happens to be Jumpin’ Java in Shallotte, NC.

I thought that whilst I was here clearing emails, paying bills, checking accounts, etc. I’d go ahead and update the blog with a short note. The weather here is beautiful and I have had just about enough of it. As is always the case, I have missed a few vital spots with the sunscreen and exposed myself to random patches of sunburn. My body looks like a reddened map of some archipelago. Thankfully, only two spots are really painful.  Thinking that the better part of valor would be staying out of the sun today, I’m off playing while the other 8 members of my party are soaking up more rays.

Other than swimming in the ocean and laying on the beach, we’ve been playing a lot of bocce and running a few miles. For the record, my teams are 2-2 in bocce. The two losses were blowouts and the two wins were won with clutch throws at the end. Just call me Lebron.

Seriously, we are thinking of starting some kind of professional bocce league.  It’s the kind of staid sport in which I could see myself excelling.

Anyway, we’ve also done some exploring. The Greek and I drove down to Sunset Beach and Calabash two days ago and got some good Calabash shrimp. Last night, we all piled into vehicles and hiked up to Southport to celebrate the birthday of he High-Heeled Assassin. We ate at a restaurant called The Pharmacy right around the corner from the riverfront there. It was a little nicer than some of the family-style restaurants that grace the area. I can recommend the crab cakes and the duck. It’s actually the first time I’ve really liked duck.

The night ended on the deck of the Giggling Mackerel back in OIB. We took in a little music before heading back home to watch crappy shows on E! I swear, between that channel, the WE network and VH1, I’m convinced the apocolypse is upon us. The trash that passes for television these days…

Sooo…that’s pretty much my trip so far. Lots of relaxing, lots of running, lots of bocce, lots of dining and some swimming.  Tomorrow I pack it all up and head home again. I do not look forward to the 7 hour drive but I do think it’s been worth it.

I’ll try to post something in the next day or so to let you all know I’m home. Happy Memorial Day to all and, if you travel, travel safely.

A Slow Start to Vacation

It’s 9:32. I should be somewhere around the Georgia-South Carolina border. Where am I? I am in my chair, drinking coffee and reading the news. It is the first day of my vacation and I refuse to be rushed into it.  I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and promptly decided to ignore it.  My plan was to leave for Ocean Isle at 7 a.m. I slept in until 8:30. I still have packing to do. Life is good.

I realize that I will regret my sloth later on in the day. The drive is somewhere north of six-and-a-half hours. I could’ve knocked a quarter of that out already and been there before 2 p.m. As it is, I’m looking at closer to dinner time and probably will have to deal with a rush hour somewhere. Does Myrtle Beach have a rush hour? I wonder.

Anyway, my secondary goal was to be out of here by 10. I have 24 minutes to pack and load the car.

I do not foresee this happening. I still have a half-pot of coffee and I’m feeling just fine with myself right now. Maybe I’ll try to leave around 11.  I guess I should probably Google up some directions, huh?

Next Stop: Points West

Back in the clubhouse checking email before heading out for points west. Going to try to visit Mamma and maybe my cousin’s family before heading to mom and dad’s. Life at the beach has been relatively uneventful. We’ve done a great deal of nothing, punctuated by long periods of more nothing. It’s been relaxing.

We did hit up Jockey’s Ridge yesterday afternoon after lunch at Stack ‘Em High and some window shopping. Tiger and I climbed the ridge and had a lot of fun sliding down the dune. We had so much fun we did it twice. I had sand drifting in every crevice the rest of the afternoon. Nothing like jumping and sliding down a fifty foot sand dune for shoveling sand into your underpants. It was good times.

Charlie on the slopes of Jockey's Ridge, before the pants-load of sand.
Charlie on the slopes of Jockey's Ridge, before the pants-load of sand.

Dinner last night was “Red Drum Grille and Taproom“. It was another disappointing experience. With a name like Red Drum, you expect some great southern sea food, complete with piles of hush puppies. It was not to be. We inquired about hush puppies but there were none to be had.

I am developing a theory that the ethanol-fueled shortage of corn is driving the price of corn meal so high that restaurants are no longer able to afford hush puppies. If this is indeed the case, I will immediately contact my representatives to have the ethanol subsidies revoked. I was find with the high price of corn as long as it was only affecting the price of tortillas but when it starts to affect my fried corn-meal products, it’s hitting too close to home.

My alternate theory is that the transplanted Yankees do not know the value of a good hush puppy and, therefore, they have been removed from hush puppy serving establishments. If this is the case, my poor opinion of your average transplanted Yankee will sink even further. As it is, I think this was just a case of poorly managed expectations. The Red Drum bills itself as a “Grille and Taproom” and that’s what it is.  Only the name led me to expect good southern seafood.

In actuality, I got decent pub food and that really seems to be the focus of the restaurant. They had a great beer selection (some Highland brews, Fat Tire on special and a smattering of other stuff) and the food, while not what I expected, was decent. I ordered the fried flounder, expecting something floured and pan-fried. What I got was fish and chips: battered and deep-fried flounder fillet served with vinegar and fries. In other words, I got pub food.

We seriously considered driving around looking for hush puppies after the meal. If it hadn’t been so late, we probably would’ve. Instead, we stopped into the Dairy Queen for ice cream. It quickly dissipated any lingering disappointment in the meal or the menu of our chosen dinner place. I got a vanilla blizzard with Butterfinger and Heath Bar.  Yum.

Anyway, seeing as how I’ve been accused by many on Facebook of being addicted to the internet, I should probably sign off and go enjoy the sun and sand whilst I’m able. I’m leaving here after lunch to go spend a few hours with my grandmother and then heading on to see my folks. The one negative about vacation in North Carolina is that I have to spend the greater portion of it driving the length of the state in order to see everyone I have to see. It’s a good thing I like driving.

It’s also a good thing that gas is relatively cheap. I didn’t tell this story earlier but I nearly ran out of gas on the way to the beach. I left Durham with about an eighth of a tank and made it somewhere near Rocky Mount before the low fuel indicator lit up. I didn’t feel led to gas at any of the stops in Rocky Mount, striving instead to reach the Raceway in Tarboro.

Did you know that there is a relatively unpopulated stretch of highway between Rocky Mount and Tarboro? It’s true. It stretches for what seems like 25 or 30 miles, especially when you’re low on fuel. I was so worried about running out at some point that I shut off the air conditioning and reduced speed to 55 (in a 70 m.p.h. zone).

As it turned out, I exited the highway at a relatively remote exit, hoping against hope that I could find some out-of-the-way gas station.  Little did I know that, had I continued, the Raceway would’ve been at the next exit. I prayed and kept my fingers crossed and managed to come up on the back side of the Raceway by an accident of turns and circumstances.

Once spotted, I even passed two more gas stations to get there. Raceway always has the cheapest gas and I’m cheap enough to risk running out of gas to save thirteen cents a gallon. Anyway, the half-a-tank remaining should get me back there. Hope so, anyway, as that’s my planned stop for fuel on the way home. For those on the other end of my travels, I’ll see you soon, barring unforeseen circumstances. Like running out of gas.

And Happy Birthday to the Romanian!

Disappointing Beach Barbecue

Greetings from Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  I only have a short while to update the blog before I have to abandon my wireless connection and grab lunch with my companions. We do not have readily accessible wi-fi (read: “free”) at the condo we’re occupying, much to our collective chagrins. We have to walk across the street to use the wi-fi in the clubhouse. This prevents hours of web surfing, emailing and Facebooking at each other from the comforts of the sofa. It’s probably for the best.

I got here yesterday in the middle of the afternoon and we’ve done little of note since that time.  We’ve napped, read, had a lot of coffee and been to one meal together. We decided to get “North Carolina” barbecue at a little restaurant off mile post 1 in Kitty Hawk called “High Cotton“.  I put the “North Carolina” in quotes because, while the restaurant bills itself as North Carolina style barbecue, it really isn’t.

In my experience, North Carolina barbecue means a couple of things. For one, there’s no red sauce. The sauce is a clearish, vinegar based sauce untainted by tomato sauce or molasses. High Cotton offered both a weak vinegar based sauce and  a sweet molasses based sauce on the table.  That was party foul number one.

In addition, various styles off ribs, chicken and beef brisket were on the menu.  In North Carolina, “barbecue” means one thing and one thing only: pulled, sliced or chopped pork. The most severe definition would limit it to chopped pork.  If you are going to serve other types of barbecued meat, you can’t call it North Carolina style.

There were various other indicators that the North Carolina styling was nothing but clever marketing. There were no hushpuppies or corn sticks. Corn sticks are on the menu but not served. You get a dryish cornbread instead.  The best North Carolina barbecue restaurants offer up awesome hushpuppies.

The restaurant also served beer. While it was low-brow canned beer, it is still a violation of the no-alcohol rule that is the default of most barbecue restaurants in Eastern North Carolina. I don’t know that all of these establishments don’t serve beer. I’ve just never, ever seen it on the menu. Barbecue in North Carolina is a family event and it’s typically accompanied by a Pepsi or sweetened tea.  The only time I’ve seen barbecue consumed with beer was at a family pig-picking.

Lastly, the pork itself didn’t fit the North Carolina barbecue mold. It was neither the color nor the texture nor the flavor nor the consistency that I’ve come to expect from good North Carolina barbecue. It was what I’ve come to expect from out-of-state establishments that bill themselves as “North Carolina” style while not really coming close to the heart and soul of North Carolina “cue”.  As with most of those experiences, this one left me just as disappointed. It’s been a long time since I had good North Carolina barbecue. I had the craving and, well, I have it still. I got chopped pork but I didn’t get NC barbecue.

And neither will you if you visit High Cotton. My three companions and I, all well versed in NC (and Virginia) bbq gave it 2 and-a-half stars on a five point scale. It has a long way to go if it wants to live up to the Eastern NC traditions of King’s, Wilber’s, Allen & Son or even second-tier (to me) establishments like Parker’s or Smithfield’s or The Murphy House.

I will say one good thing about High Cotton. The coconut chess pie was good stuff. It served to erase some of the disappointment in the meal. If you’re in Kitty Hawk and decide to stop in, skip the cue and grab the pie.

Alright, I’ve overstayed my time in the clubhouse. Time go go grab lunch. Maybe Pigman’s won’t be a total waste of time. I’ll let you know.

Three Years

If I was in Romania four years ago, that must mean that, three years ago, I was walking the streets of Paris. If memory serves, and it usually does, I was actually on the way home from Paris three years ago today.

A roving band of American houligans in Paris.
A roving band of American houligans in Paris.

That was probably one of the longest days of my life. The flight from Paris is something like 10 or 12 hours and the flight was delayed somewhat due to overbooking. The Air France people tried to keep us off the flight because we were late arriving at the airport. We touched down in Atlanta in the middle of the evening but it was nearly four a.m. by our internal clocks when we got off MARTA to hike the mile to C’s place. We were, needless to say, exhausted.

We were also barely speaking to each other. After 8 days of constant companionship in Paris, our patience with one another was wearing thin. She’d also tried to teach me how to Salsa on our last evening in Paris. As with most other attempts to teach me to dance, it ended in horrible, flaming failure and a shouting match to boot.

From the paragraphs above, you’d probably think that we had a terrible time. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. I had a blast. As much fun as I had in Romania, I had more fun in Paris, largely because of C. It was great to see all the sights and explore the city with her. I’ll always thankful I got to see the city with her and can’t imagine having done so without her.

My favorite things were the Eiffel Tower, the scenic boat ride down the Seine and Sacre Coeur. I liked Notre Dame but Sacre Coeur seemed much more spiritual. Notre Dame was much more noisy and crowded and touristy. We spent a good 45 minutes sitting in Sacre Coeur just praying. It was very peaceful and still.

Sacre Coeur
Sacre Coeur

Apart from that, just being in the city was great. There’s a wonderful energy about it, as there is with most of the really big cities I’ve been in. It was great to just get on the train and go or to walk the narrow streets and alleyways and see the city. St. Germaine and Montmartre were some of my favorite areas, just because they were so tightly packed and full of secrets.

I visit Paris in my mind sometimes, especially around early March of every year. In my head, I walk the streets again or ride the metro or look out from Le Tour Eiffel. I walk through the catacombs or down the Champs Elysee.

C and C in Paree, atop Le Tour Eiffel. She's wearing both our coats against the biting wind. I was immune.
C and C in Paree, atop Le Tour Eiffel. She's wearing both our coats against the biting wind. I was immune.

Mostly I just remember who I was with and I share it with them again in my heart. It always makes me a little wistful but rarely fails to bring a smile to my face. I guess, no matter what else, we’ll always have Paris!

Four Years and Two Days

I hate sometimes that I only get to update the blog late at night. I have so much more energy to say the things I want to say during the day. I think of things I’d like to write and the words seem to come so much easier than when I actually have time to write.

Maybe it’s the physical act of sitting and having the computer in front of me that makes it more difficult. Maybe it’s just the fact that, during the day, writing on the blog would be a welcome distraction from work.

Whatever the reason, I find it hard to say the things I want to say when I actually have the opportunity to do so. This is why my loyal readers get lots of the song in my head and little of the thoughts in it. Posting songs is easy. Composing thoughts…not so much.

Anyway, I have been thinking a lot lately of traveling. I haven’t been thinking so much of the places I want to go so much as I’ve been thinking about the places I’ve been. Little things keep popping up to remind me of them.

For instance, I’ve recently started drinking kefir every day. Kefir, roughly translated into English, means “omfg, this milk has gone rotten and has chunks! Sorry but it is now in your hair and all over your luggage.”  It’s a drink I first experienced in Romania, four years and two days ago.

The people who were with me then, the Italian, the Greek and others, would be surprised to find me drinking kefir willingly on a daily basis. The first time I tried it, I quite literally sprayed it all over our bus.

The UNCG MBA crew in the Carpathians.
The UNCG MBA crew in the Carpathians.

When you’re parched and in a foreign land, there’s nothing quite as quenching as cold, fresh milk, especially when all the water is of the mineral variety. When you’re parched and anticipating a long, refreshing draught of milk only to receive a mouthful of sour, lumpy kefir…well, let’s just say that there is nothing quite so likely to stimulate your spontaneous spit-take reflex.

But that’s not what I want to write. That’s just one story of many from the trip. What I really want to write is that it’s been four years since my trip to Romania with the Italian and the Greek.

It’s been four years since I shared eight days worth of long flights, cramped buses, bitter cold and taxi rides to nowhere with those two. It’s been four years since we stayed up all night drinking the night away in a chateau in the Carpathians. It’s been four years since we visited Bran Castle. It’s been four years since we regretted our carousing on the excruciating bus ride down the mountain.

View of the Carpathians from our Chateau. You can't quite see how cold it was.
View of the Carpathians from our Chateau. You can't quite see how bitterly cold it was.

It seems like only yesterday but, already, it’s been four years and we’ve all moved on. We’ve graduated from school, moved, changed jobs, some of us three times already. And the Italian is getting married, for crying out loud.

Where did the time go? Has it really been four years? Hard to believe.

And am I really drinking kefir every morning? Seriously? After the nasty shock I received that day on the bus, all those years ago? I guess life does move us all down the road after all.

I guess, in a nutshell, that’s what I’m trying to say. During the day, there just seem to be more words to say it, more ways to express it.  Life move us all on down the road, no matter how we might like to stop and linger for a while. The best we can do, when we remember the people who shared the trip with us, just for a little while, is to smile at the memories, raise a glass and drink a toast in their honor.

Greek, Italian
Greek, Italian

Here’s to the Greek and to the Italian and to all the rest. Thanks for sharing with me a little piece of the trip called life.