Trolling Through The South

When I was a young feller, I read Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road. I’ll be honest.  I didn’t care for it.  I was much more fascinated by the fact that he typed it on a long, continuous scroll of paper.  I recall that Truman Capote made a humorous, disparaging comment about the book.  Of course, I can’t recall what it was, but I’m sure I agreed with it.  I just completed my own sojourn through the southern United States.  I won’t write a book about it, although I’m certain I could write something at least as interesting as Kerouac’s babblings.  I will, however, blog about it.

I should note that I travel alone for work quite often, but this was my first “vacation” alone.  Unlike a work trip, where my days are filled with productive activities, on this trip I had to entertain myself.  There was a time when I would never have been allowed on a trek such as this, out of fear that I might never get to my destination or perhaps hole up in a hotel like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas.  

My son plays high school baseball, and his school played in a tournament in Fort Walton Beach, Florida from April 1 through 6.  He traveled by bus with his team and stayed in a hotel room with three of his team mates.  I traveled alone and stayed alone.  While he and his mates stayed on the first floor of the hotel, I stayed in the separate high-rise in the back, overlooking the ocean.  Very nice.

The view from my palatial room. My son suffered through the week in a ground floor room with three room mates.

I drove from Lexington, Kentucky.  The drive is a long one, taking about 11 hours with the obligatory gas, food and restroom stops.  The first leg of my journey was the Bluegrass Parkway connecting US 60 in Woodford County, Kentucky, to I-65 South at Elizabethtown (known to us as “E-Town”).  From there, you drive due south for an eternity.  Actually, it’s probably 400 miles, but I’m not sure.  Not much to report on that part of the trip.  The only thing that caught my interest was a large sign in Alabama touting something called “The Sons of Confederate Veterans.”  Really, now.  There can’t be any “sons” of any Confederate Veterans left, can there? Because I left very early in the morning, I was forced to break one of my travel rules–I stopped at truck stop in Smiths Grove, Kentucky.  Truck stops frighten me.  I don’t like gas stations with showers, I guess.  Plus, a high percentage of truck drivers are probably serial killers.

The drive gets more interesting just south of Montgomery, Alabama.  This is where you drop off I-65 and drive about 150 miles on the back roads.  There are several things which caught my interest:

Cemetaries:  Alabama was WAY too many cemeteries.  I mean, every town and turn in the road has a cemetery.  When the Great Zombie Apocalypse starts, stay the Hell out of Alabama.

Luverne:  I like this town.  Why?  Because it’s “The Friendliest Town in the South.”  It says so on a sign.   I stopped and bought a Coke in Luverne.  The clerk was friendly enough but nothing special.  So , I’m not sure about it being the friendliest place, but I’ll admit that a one person sample is too little to draw any conclusions.  Luverne is also the home Sister Shubert dinner rolls.  I like those rolls; thus, I like Luverne.

Highland Home:   It has a restaurant called the “It Don’t Matter.”  Good name.

It Don't Matter Restaurant. I'm sure it's my kind of place.

 I didn’t eat there, but I think I’d like it.

Brantley, Alabama:  This is one of those small towns where there used to be something happening.  They have a downtown, schools and houses, but the town looks mostly abandoned.  I’m sure that if I bothered to do any research, I’d find out what used to be there.  But, they do have a one thing:  A big sign declaring it to be the home of Chuck Person.  Chuck played basketball at Auburn and for many years in the NBA.  He could shoot the lights out.  For this reason–and because his full name is Chuck Conners Person–he was called the Rifle Man.  I loved the TV show the Rifle Man, starring Chuck Connors.  It was the story of a homicidal widower and his son in the old west.   Great show.  Brantley is proud of Chuck (Person), so much so that they have this big, nice sign:

Brantley loves Chuck Person.

No matter how badly things have gone for Brantley, they remember Chuck.  Chuck’s brother Wesley was a heck of a ballplayer at Auburn, too, but he doesn’t have a sign.  I’d like to think Chuck comes back to visit from time to time.  The folks in Brantley would appreciate it.

Opp:  Opp is the name of another Alabama town.  I just like the name:  Opp.  Plus, they have something called the Rattlesnake Rodeo.   I can’t imagine what that it is, but I’m intrigued by it.

Whatever it is, the good folks of Opp have had 52 Rattlesnake Rodeos

I came to the end of my trek at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where I spent the week.  Actually, I was on Okaloosa Island, but that’s just a technical difference, if any.

Fort Walton is not as nice as its newer neighbor, Destin, but still pretty good.  I blogged earlier about eating in Fort Walton, so I’ll spare you those details.  I worked out at Gold’s Gym everyday, which was across the street from this place:

No one does transmission work like a Bigot.

I’m sure he’s a fine fellow, but I’d think about changing my name.  Who is his biggest competitor?  Joe Racist Transmission?

All I did all week was the gym, the pool/beach, baseball games, naps, Starbucks and dinner.  Not too bad.  Substitute work for the pool/beach, and that’s pretty much what I do at home.  The only real downside to my trip was that my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA Championship while I was there.  I watched it in a restaurant crammed full of UK fans, but it wasn’t the same as being in Lexington when it happened.  We have a tradition of burning furniture when the Cats win the title, but I just couldn’t do it that far from home.

Fort Walton has an inordinate number of tattoo parlors.  I’m sure they cater to the nearby military bases and spring breakers, but it still seems like WAY too many.  I counted 14.  That just seems like a lot.  I thought about getting a “UK” tattoo, but my wife shot it down.  That’s probably for the best.  The next time we suffered a bitter defeat, I’d probably be stabbing it with an ice pick.

Since I ate alone, dressed like a bum and had unkempt facial hair, I was mistaken for a local almost everywhere I went.  As my son would say, I was “rachet.”  I liked that. For four days, my trip was great.  After that, I ran out of things to do and was ready to head home.  I lost one of my credit cards, but no one used it for a bunch of tattooing.

My drive back was uneventful, but laborious.  Two traffic accidents and road construction turned my 11 hour drive into 14.  Plus, I followed this frightening vehicle for about an hour:

Possible tarp-covered corpses.

Oh, I almost forgot, I did this, too:

Your author at his most rachet

I may take another solo road trip, maybe not.  I didn’t get into any trouble (except losing my credit card), so my wife may let me do it again sometime.  By the way, my son’s team when 4-1 in its tournament, and he played well. So, there you have it:  My version of On the Road, only much shorter and only slightly less interesting.

© 2012

Eating for One

I’ve been on a road trip this week to Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  My son is playing in a baseball tournament.  I’m flying solo.  The rest of my clan stayed home in Kentucky.  I haven’t seen a whole lot of my son down here, except for his games and when he needs some cash.  In the name of team-building, the players stay together and ride a bus to and from their games.  The result is that I’ve had a lot of “me” time, which suits me to a tee.

I’ve been eating  my meals solo, too.  Yeah, I’m that guy, the pathetic fellow dining alone.  I know this conjurs up images of a serial killer sitting in his tool shed eating gruel from a human skull.  It doesn’t?  Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks about that, but that’s for another blog. I’m quite accustomed to dining out alone.  I travel a fair amount for work, and it’s usually solo.  This time, it’s different.  I’m actually on vacation and eating out among the vacationers.  They don’t eat alone.  But, I do.  Here are a few of my observations from this week.

Where to Sit

Would you like to sit at the bar?  I’m always asked this, and I think I know why.  If you sit at the bar, it’s not obvious to the rest of the diners that you’re alone.  You won’t trouble them by looking like a disturbed loner.  Also, if you eat alone, I suppose there’s a more than fair chance you have a drinking problem.  Sitting you within arm’s length of gallons of alcohol is just good business.

I don’t sit at the bar.  Why not?  First, I don’t drink, so I don’t need access to the bar.  Second, the few times I’ve eaten at a bar, I invariably will be seated next to a talkative drunk.  Mind you now, even though I don’t drink, I have no problem with those that do.  Unfortunately, I don’t like making conversation with strangers or listening to some slurred discourse on topics in which I have no interest.  I know now why people avoided me when I drank.

The exception to sitting at a bar is Waffle House, the poor man’s Cracker Barrel.  Okay, it’s not a bar.   It’s a counter, but it’s the same basic set-up.  You eat beside someone you don’t know and, being Waffle House, he may well be drunk.  I’m okay with it, because it fits the ambiance of Waffle House.  I can also watch them prepare my meal.  It’s like sitting in someone’s kitchen.  Now,the  cooking utensils seem really nasty, but they’re not.  Waffle Houses usually have good health department grades.  Who cares if the cook’s flop sweat occasionally drips into your scrambled eggs?  The food’s good and cheap.  Down here in Florida, I’ve eaten breakfast at Waffle House every day.  Bacon, egg and cheese wrap; side of grits; coffee; and water for $7.95.  Good eats.

I should also note that I do not include fast food restaurants and Cracker Barrel as dining alone, because they are set up that.  No one cares if you eat alone at a fast food restaurant.  People are there to get something quick with the assurance that they know how it tastes.  Cracker Barrel has really good food, and I’ve eaten alone at many of them.  It’s no big deal.  They cater to travelers, many of whom are by themselves.  It’s not a big deal to go solo for a stack of pancakes at 2:00 in the afternoon.

This week has been different.  I’ve been to several sit-down restaurants alone.  I usually have a copy of USA Today and my reading glasses hanging from the front of my shirt.  I prefer a booth.  Why?  I don’t know.  It just seems a little more private, plus the tables usually give me more room to spread out my paper.  It also seems like fewer people are looking at me.  They DO look at me, you know.  All of them.

Attention Please

Dining alone, I never seem to have a problem with service.  It’s odd, because one would think that a large table of customers–and potential tippers–would merit the most attention.  Not so.  I get checked on all the time.  I think it’s because I seem pitiful.  Look at that poor man who has no friends.  We should be nice to him.  I like that.  Coffee and water always topped off.  I never have to wait long for my check. It’s like they opened the restaurant up just for me.

Who are these people?

Of course, I’m not the only one.  There’s always someone else eating by himself.  I say “himself,” because it’s almost always a man.  Even though I am doing the same, I can’t help but think:  What’s the deal with that guy?  Does everyone hate him?  Probably.  Poor, pathetic bastard.  Glad I’m not him.

My reaction is similar to the rare occasion when I encounter the Day People.  You know them.  They’re the folks out doing stuff like shopping and washing their cars during the day.  I always wonder why they’re not at work.  It’s none of my business, so I never ask.  When I get to the age where I can say anything,  I’ll ask:  “What are you doing out during the day?  Don’t you have a job, hippie?”  Something like that.  Again, I digress.

I’m sure these folks look at me the same way and ask the same questions.  I’m just a guy eating dinner alone.  I refuse to order room service or eating crappy fast food just because I’m alone.  Now, leave me alone.

Where do I go?

I’m sure you’re curious about where I’ve eaten this week, so I’ll tell you.

Waffle House:  See comments above.  It’s Waffle House.  It’s consistent.  And I always like it.

BD Pizzeria:  I just ate at this place because it was convenient.  Pizza buffet for $6.99.  Nothing special.

Bridge Street BBQ and Cafe:  I just saw this place while out scouting around.  Kinda of a dump, but it looked like my kind of place.  I was surprised when I went inside.  It was nice, clean and looked like someone’s home.  My waitress was about 70, and I’m sure she must be one of the owners.  She was extremely nice.  I had BBQ pork, green beans and mashed potatoes.  It was nothing special.  The pork was inexplicable chopped into chunks but was pretty good nonetheless.  The beans and potatoes were of the cafeteria variety.  That said, I really liked the lady who waited on me.  There were only a couple of other folks in there.  One guy was clearly drunk and just wanted to use the phone to call a cab.  Of course, they let him.  The other guy is pictured below:

Bridge Street BBQ and Cafe. Note pathetic patron dining alone.

Anglers:  This is a seafood restaurant overlooking the Gulf.  I had bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with crab; garlic mashed potatoes; and green beans. It was all outstanding but a little too pricey for what I got.

The view from Anglers

Mary’s Kitchen:    I picked this place because it had a smoker out back.  I ordered the BBQ chicken/pulled pork dinner with black eyed peas and cheese grits.  The pork and chicken were as good as it gets, and I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ.  The grits were the only thing lacking.  They tasted like they had melted Velveeta in them.  Nevertheless, I’d recommend this place to anyone.  Excellent.

Old Bay Steamer:  I got the one-person steamer:  Snow crab legs; mussels; clams; shrimp; oysters; corn on the cob; and new potatoes.  This was a home run.  Everything was great.  Ronnie the Waiter (who bore a disquieting resemblance to rapper Paul Wall) practically hovered over my table.  My water glass was topped off repeatedly.  Good service and great food.

The Steamer Pot at Old Bay Steamer

I’ve got a couple of nights left.  I’m thinking about steak for tonight.  I might go to Ruths Chris in Destin.  I’m pretty sure Waffle House doesn’t have a steak, but it might.  Wherever I go, it will just be me.  And that’s okay.

© 2012