On a recent business trip, I encountered a strange tower that looks like it is made of green glass beer bottles. It is at approximately 19332 North Creek Pkwy. I have no idea what it is, but it looks cool at night. It’s like a bar saved every Heineken bottle it ever served and made a chimney out of them. During the day, it isn’t that special, so look for it at night.
When writing this post, the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came to mind. In that movie Johnny Depp (Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson)) and Benicio Del Toro (Dr. Gonzo) are traveling to Las Vegas (or was it from…) when Depp announces “wait, we can’t stop here, this is Bat Country!”, which is a famous line from the film. Bats become a major component of the film, and are mentioned 35 times in the script. There are many strange and creepy moments in the film, and bats are a major (but perhaps the most natural) part of the experience.
Driving through Garrett County, Maryland — alone and totally sober (okay, caffeinated) — I noticed the appearance of Bears everywhere. Signs in the shape of bears, wooden bears, places with “bear” in their name. And to be clear, I’m talking about black bears aka Ursus americanus. Garrett County Maryland is clearly “bear country”.
Unlike Raoul Duke, I had no fear of the dominant local mammalian fauna. Statistically speaking, only one person per year dies of a bear attack — and that’s all bears, not just black bears. You are 33,000 times more likely to to be killed by a human driving a car than a bear. That’s 3,300,000% more likely. Here’s the source if you don’t believe me. Now, am I suggesting that if you’re on a road trip in bear country it is safe to stop in a forest, and prance off into woods covered in spoiled lard and blueberries? No! You should be wary of bears, and pay them the respect they deserve, but don’t avoid Garrett County because the dominant megafauna are bears.
If you think like I do, you’ll want some bear-themed souvenirs. Bear Creek Traders in McHenry, Maryland is a super-market sized store filled to the rafters with all manner of bear-themed bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, quelque chose. When I walked through the door, an alarm went off that announced “a rube as entered the building”. When it comes to travel situations, I have little self-control, so I loaded up on $99 of t-shirts, mugs, magnets, shot glasses, and stickers. I love that kind of stuff.
The most iconic manifestation of Garrett’s bear obsession are the chainsaw-carved bears that festoon nearly every business or homestead in the county. Chainsaw bears are not unique to Garrett, but they “own” the art form. If you haven’t seen them before, they’re literally bears sculpted out of wood using a chainsaw; the limited precision of a chainsaw combined with the natural grain of the wood simulate the fur of the bears.
While mapping the outer edge of Brood V, I stopped at a chainsaw vendor in Bittinger along rt. 495. I met the proprietor, and we had a short conversation about bears, insects, religion, and life. There’s no sense in traveling unless you stop and talk to folks along the way.
Accident, Maryland is a town created by accident. Legend has it that there was a guy, and this guy had one job to do. That job was to divide up the land in Garrett County, Maryland. But, he messed up. He done goofed. Instead of dividing the land up evenly, he accidentally left one area unaccounted for. His accident became the town of Accident.
I visited Accident on purpose, but mostly to get this photo of this sign.
Sometimes you just can’t get a good night’s rest.
May 20-21st, I stayed at a Comfort Suites in Alexandria, Louisiana. The hotel was absolutely gorgeous: new, clean, flat TV, wifi, wood furniture, a fridge. I watched David Letterman’s final show and then hit the sack.
What should have been an awesome night of sleep, turned into a nightmare. Throughout the whole night: Thunderstorms. Local news warned of flooding. I pointed my flashlight at the parking lot — it seemed to be flooding. Then the hotel power went out. Noise and worry reduced 8 potential hours of sleep, to 2 or 3.
Before noon, I hit the road and started heading for Texas. The weather was lousy and when I got closer and closer to Texas the weather got worse and worse. I’m not saying that I saw a funnel cloud — but I saw clouds that looked like two elephants wrestling with their trunks.
I stopped by a Starbucks to regroup. I walked in and headed for the bathroom. The cashier screamed at me “SIR, YOU CAN’T USE THE BATHROOM UNLESS YOU’RE A PAYING CUSTOMER”! What was I supposed to do? Order a grande mocha latte and balance it on my head while I peed? Howard Schultz, get your staff in line. After grabbing the smallest black coffee, I checked the weather. Texas was about to have some of the worst weather in their history — I made the call to head east, away from Texas. Of course, my GPS had other ideas and routed me through Texas before sending me north-east towards Little Rock, AR. Modern conveniences — Starbucks, GPS — they all give me shpilkes.
A stop for energy drinks & peanut patties was enough to keep me sentient & focused, but I needed to get off the road and get some rest.
Around 3 pm I arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas. Tired & annoyed, I found the closest motel, booked a room and after spraying myself with Deep Woods Off (just in case because bed bugs), and slept for 18 hours. 18 HOURS! Compared to the hotel I stayed at the night before, this place was sort of a dump. The staff was great, but my room looked like it hadn’t been updated since 1978. It was definitely crusty.
My nap was punctuated by noises from tow trucks and hotel patrons, and the periodic fear that my car was being stolen, but I finally got all the sleep I needed.
The guy in the room next to me looked like character actor Dennis Burkley, which was cool.
And they had a lobby waffle machine! Four stars.
Is it possible to experience a city in only three hours? No.
However… if three hours are all you have, you can still have a great time. This article will show you how to have the maximum amount of fun in a limited period of time, using New Orleans as an example.
#1: park your vehicle, because you’re going to walk the town. Choose your parking space carefully. I chose to park near the place I wanted to visit the most (Red Truck Gallery). The streets are narrow in New Orleans, so fold in your driver-side mirror, so a truck doesn’t knock it off your car.
#2: if you’re going to drink, do that first, so you’re sober by the end of your improvised tour of the city. I recommend Muriel’s (801 Chartres Street). This bar/bistro serves amazing fancy drinks (or regular drinks, if you’re not into fancy drinks). It is also an opportunity to use a clean bathroom (so rare when you’re on a multi-city road trip).
#3: Observe everything. As you walk around the town, notice everything quirky, unusual and unique to the city. Record it all in your memory, and put photos of it on Instagram, Flickr & Facebook (if you use those sites). In New Orleans, be on the lookout for: drain pipes that look like fish, koi fish painted on the sidewalk, fleur-de-lis symbols, ornate drains along the foundations of buildings, the occasional Mardi-Gras bead embedded in a sidewalk crack, random things like wreaths made of snow cones, and of course the amazing New Orleans architecture. Remember: you might never get another chance to return, “so soak it all in” so you have no regrets later. on.
#4: Pick a primary destination, and spend an hour there. You might choose to check out some jazz music, or maybe your thing is to feast on gumbo and muffuletta, or maybe you just want to chill in a park and watch some street performers. Again, notice every detail — every sight, smell, and sound. Soak it all in, and participate if you can. Tip performers.
My primary destination was the Red Truck Gallery (938 Royal St). The art they feature really resonates with me. I’ve met them at art fairs like Scope in NYC, but to visit their gallery in person, was really something special. I made sure that I connected with the people working in the gallery, I took a free card advertising their latest show, and I soaked every detail in. I got to meet artist Bryan Cunningham and bought one of his paintings.
Generally speaking, if you like one destination in a neighborhood, you’ll enjoy others nearby. Royal Street in New Orleans has many unique galleries and shops, and I made sure I visited as many as I could.
Art by Jill Ricci at Orange Gallery (819 Royal St.):
Art by Chris Roberts-Antieau at Antieau Gallery (927 Royal St.):
#5: Connect with people. Smile. Make sure you talk to people. Try to get an interesting story or two from them. Even if you’re in a city for only three hours, don’t be a ghost.
#6: Eat Something! Eat something unique to the city. My “food” of choice was pralines. America’s greatest art forms include music and food — New Orleans has both, so make sure you experience them.
#7: Visit the touristy side of town, and load up on souvenirs. In New Orleans, you specifically want to get boxes of pralines, beads (and get the fancy ones), and hot sauce, in addition to the standard t-shirts, magnets, stickers and shot glasses. Get plenty of stuff with the color scheme purple, green & gold; stuff with the fleur-de-lis on them, plenty of alligator heads and jesters.
#8: Have some fun people watching. Check out the performers, musicians, shopkeepers & barkers. Check out the tourists. Check out the locals. Check out the locals checking out the tourists. Don’t be surprised when a woman on stilts, wearing a purple, green & gold bikini, hands you a flyer for an exotic revue or for a nearby poorboy shop.
Once you’ve achieved all these steps, you are free to go. Unless you are not sober — if so, hang out until you are.
Remember: you only live once, so experience all you can without harming others, and without regrets.
This year I drove through Alabama, from east to west, only stopping at a welcome center. The welcome center was nice, and the folks running the center were absolutely wonderful and enthusiastic about their state, as they should be.
While Alabama might seem flat, and boring to drive through, know that Alabama holds the richest diversity of wildlife in all of North America. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Alabama has 85 species of reptiles, 70 amphibians, 433 birds, 62 mammals, 450 species of fish, and of course plenty of insects and other invertebrates. It is, as a friend says “the Amazon of North America”, and like the Amazon in South America, it is just as in danger of over-exploitation for resources.
Next time I’m in the state, I’ll spend more time outside of my car.
The road can be lonely and monotonous. It is a real joy to step out of your car and see a smiling human face. The experience of going from the road to foot can be like walking out of a dark tunnel into shining light; like leaving a cave and walking into the midst of a tribal celebration; like walking out of a dark theater, into a bright & busy shopping mall (that last example sucks).
Upon entering the Alabama welcome center I was greeted by the cheerful voice of one of its employees. She looked like a young Sally Field and was dressed in a ranger uniform (the welcome centers are parks, after all). My mind can’t handle going from darkness to amazing beauty so quickly. Combined with the guilt of knowing I would not stay long in Alabama, I ducked behind the shelves of pamphlets, found a few, and politely thanked her and exited.