Peach World

Peach World is Fantastic

Driving through Georgia on a major interstate road you’ll likely see dozens of signs for Peach World. Like the signs for Florida Citrus Centers in Florida, or South of the Border signs in South Carolina, the repeated Peach World signs form a mantra in the mind — billboard hypnosis that compels the curious to eventually stop at one of these roadside markets.

Peach World

Georgia, of course, is known for its production of peaches, and Peach World is an orange shrine to peaches and peach-based foods.

I visited my first Peach World in December of 2019 returning from a road trip to Miami. To be honest, it wasn’t Peaches or the hypnotic, meme-mnemonics of seeing a Peach World sign every mile — it was Boiled Peanuts. Throughout my travels in the South, I saw hundreds of signs for Boiled Peanuts. Peach World had them, and that was enough for me to stop.

Peach World VW Bug

The exterior of the Peach World was what you might expect: an orange-colored (not “peach”) building (if you think about it, peaches are mostly orange & yellow, not pink/”peach”) with a sign that reads Peach World. Both the sign and the ramp needed cleaning with a power washer. The grounds featured a donkey & pony, which you’re free to feed corn and an eye-catching orange VW Bug.

The interior was very clean (no need for power-washing). One side featured the cash register and various machines to make peach-flavored ice cream and boiled peanuts. The rest of the shop was packed tight with wooden shelves & tables, packed even tighter with so much good stuff — pretty much everything you can imagine that incorporates peaches, peanuts, pecans, and anything you can bake, dry, or otherwise preserve. And a minimal amount of souvenirs — magnets, shirts, glassware. The proprietor was perfect — not pushy, but eager to entertain any question about Peach World and the confections it offers.

Much of the food I encountered was not easily found in New Jersey (where I’m from). New Jersey has its fair share of farmers markets & foods, it’s known for (tomatoes, corn, blueberries, cranberries, pork roll, salt-water taffy) — but there’s nothing like a Peach World or Florida Citrus World in New Jersey — there’s no “Jersey Corn Country” or “Jersey Pork Roll, Egg & Cheese Planet”. I purchased a case of various jarred foods — peach cobbler in a jar, peaches, okra, tiny corn cobs, & quail eggs. They were all fantastic, but the cobbler & quail eggs were a revelation — both I would definitely get again, whether on the road or via mail-order.

Now, onto the boiled peanuts — the reason I stopped in the first place. They’re literally peanuts in the shell that have been boiled. You get a heaping hot bagful — and if you let it be known that you’re eating them on a road trip, you’ll get a plastic bag and napkins so your hands, lap & car doesn’t turn into a swampy mess of hot peanut juice. I recommend giving them a try. They’re warm and soft — almost like a tiny potato — any they taste like shelled peanuts, not like peanut butter.

It’s worth contrasting Peach World with a Florida Citrus World. While I’ve only been to one of each, they’re as different as they are similar. Peach World focuses on preserved foods & baked goods, like Florida Citrus World is more bags of citrus fruit & candy. Florida Citrus World’s souvenir section of t-shirts, glassware, alligator toys & other tchotchkes dwarfs the minimal souvenir selection of Peach World. Both have animals — I’m sure it varies by location — but Florida CW’s got baby gators. I guess, if you’re like me, you have to stop at both, at least once, but because the foods are so good at Peach World, it’s more memorable.

Here’s the Peach World website. If they have it, I recommend the peach cobbler in a jar.

If you visit in person, and you visit the same location I did, be sure to feed the donkey & pony.

Donkey & Pony at Peach World

Last visit: December 10th, 2019.

Oozlefinch or bust

In December of 2019, I took a few weeks off to drive to Florida, because I’ve never been to Florida before. Never — not even to Disneyland. Along the way, there was one place I wanted to visit more than any other: the Oozlefinch brewery in Fort Monroe, Virginia.

First, what is the Oozlefinch? An Oozlefinch is a cryptid (like Bigfoot or the Jersey Devil) — a featherless bird that was seen, as legend has it, by certain members of the U.S. military, perhaps during a state of intoxication, and was then embraced as a mascot. From Wikipedia:

The Oozlefinch is the unofficial historic mascot of the Air Defense Artillery – and formerly of the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps. The Oozlefinch is portrayed as a featherless bird that flies backwards (at supersonic speeds)and carries weapons of the Air Defense and Coast Artillery, most often a Nike-Hercules Missile. Oozlefinch has been portrayed in many different forms and artistic interpretations through its history.

oozlefinch

I learned about the Oozlefinch from a tour guide at the Nike Missle Radar Base at Fort Hampton in Sandy Hook, NJ. As part of the tour, the tour guide tells the tale of the Oozlefinch and its importance to the U.S. Air Defence program.  If you’re ever on Sandy Hook, make sure you take the tour and visit the various abandoned military bases there. It’s rad — it’s like something from a Half-Life video game.

The tour guide (I think his name is McMahon) explained the history of the Nike Missle program and the Oozlefinch:

tour guide sandy hook

Old radar, now a favorite roosting place for vultures (no Oozlefinches):

Radar Sandy Hook

As part of the history of the Oozlefinch, the tour guide mentioned the Oozlefinch brewery in Virginia. At that moment, I got it in my head to visit that brewery. Once something novel or bizarre gets lodged in my mind, there’s no getting it out.

If you’re traveling from New Jersey to Florida, no GPS will take you through Fort Monroe, Virginia — it’s going to take you on I-95S, circumventing Delmarva entirely. Even when you ask the GPS to take you to Fort Monroe, Virginia, it’s going to take you through Washington D.C. — you don’t want to do that — for many reasons. What you want to do is take US 13 South instead — through the guts of Delaware, into Maryland, and then into Virginia and across the Chesapeake Bay. Why? Because that’s the most scenic route. I’m also going to recommend crossing the Chesapeake at sunset because it’s spectacular.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is amazing. It’s 18 miles of bridges and tunnels over and under the Chesapeake bay — lit by the setting sun, illuminated by cycling rainbow-colored lights — it’s a sight to see.  At this leg of my journey, Spotify was playing Lana Del Rey and Grimes — pretty good, chill music considering the flow and visuals of driving across an 18-mile expanse of water at sunset. To be honest, I don’t pay attention to the lyrics.

bay bridge

I rolled into Fort Monroe right when the sky turned black and rain began. Nestled in the moist darkness of the Virginia milliary base, I found a black cinderblock building, with a beer garden illuminated with large-bulb, festive Christmas lights glimmering in the rain — and there it was: the Oozefinch bird in all its featherless, long-necked glory inviting me in.

Inside, like many brewpubs, there’s massive, gleaming brew kettles, and a medium-sized bar and souvenir area. They have an extensive variety of beers, with lots of fancy different flavored beers. Not basic at all. If you’re into craft beers, you’re going to want to try them all. I tried the hefeweizen — pretty tasty.

oozlefinch brewery

Unfortunately, they didn’t have food — no carbs to soak up the alcohol — and with at least 4 more hours of driving ahead of me, I limited myself to one beer. [REDACTED]. And I bought some souvenir keychains and stickers — in case I ever make it back to the Nike Missle Base in New Jersey, I’m going to give one to the tour guides there.

I hope to visit the Oozlefinch again, hopefully, next time I can get a hotel or a designated driver so I can enjoy more beer.

Oh yeah, why “Oozlefinch or bust”? Well, somewhere in Delaware my windshield started to crack… severely. The whole way I was thinking “am I going to make it without my windshield caving in?” I made it. And because I’m a low-key gambler, I drove that cracked windshield all the way to Miami and back…

B.A. Sweeties Candy Company in Cleveland, Ohio

I’m a sucker for candy and novelty as much as any American, and that’s why I stopped by B.A. Sweeties Candy Company (6770 Brookpark Road, Cleveland OH 44129) this past summer.

B.A. Sweeties is a massive warehouse of candy and soda. It’s about the size of a large supermarket or Best Buy, but not quite as big as a Target or Walmart. It is entirely filled to the ceiling with candy, gum, and soda. One of their slogans is “$3,000,000.00 worth of inventory available at any time!”, and I know I spend almost $200. If memory serves, I bought Charleston Chews, Cherry Mash, candy necklaces, Sour Patch Kids, DOTS, candy cigarettes, sour-candy-flavored breath spray, Chowards gum and candy, Goldberg’s peanut chews, Good n’ Plenty, and many more. Some of this I could get at the local 7-11, but a lot I cannot. I live in New Jersey, which is pretty much a “candy desert” in terms of good candy selection, so when I’m in Ohio, I stock up.

Receipt!

b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

With sympathy to those amongst us with Type-2 diabetes, or those like myself, who have struggled with obesity most of their life, here’s a selection of photos from B.A. Sweeties.

Here are some “old-timey” Chowards gum and candy. Their violet-scented gum always fascinated me. Who came up with that idea? Mrs. Chowards?
Chowards are an acquired taste. at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Look at all these chocolates! Have you tried a Cherry Mash before? If you like candied cherries and chocolate, you simply must eat an entire box full (in a single afternoon).
So much chocolate at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Necco Wafers! The legendary candies that no one admits to liking, but everyone in New Jersey used to use as Jersey Turnpike toll tokens (according to legends).
Neco wafers at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

I love Dots candies. Their fruity flavors are delicious, and never too weird. I love the sensation of biting into a Dots, and the sweet resistance they offer as my molars compress and slice into their candy gel.
Dots at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

Candy buttons! A classic! A little paper with your candy never hurt anyone!
Candy Buttons at b.a. Sweetie in Cleveland

I lost 45 pounds this year simply by cutting out sweets, and for the first time in my life, I could see my abdominal muscles. Since visiting Sweeties, I’ve gained back 10 pounds (not the full 45). I’ve found that the key to a happy life is to limit your treats and sweets for approximately 360 days a year, and then for the remaining five days, just do crazy and go on a candy vacation.

Funk n Waffles

Funk n’ Waffles

Ask people where you should eat in Syracuse, and more times than not they’ll say Dinosaur Barbeque. And when you tell them you went to Syracuse, and you didn’t go to Dinosaur Barbeque, they’ll gasp and sigh as you passed on the opportunity of a lifetime. I am not kidding.

Dinosaur Barbeque must be really good. But I’ve had barbecue in North Carolina, and most southern states. And I’ve never had fried chicken served on a waffle before. So when I was in Syracuse, I opted to dine at Funk n’ Waffles.

Funk n Waffles in Syracuse

Funk n’ Waffles is a groovy little restaurant that serves fried chicken tenders on waffles, with an optional selection of sauces. I think I got the ‘spicey maple’. Soul-warming and unexpectedly decadent. Crisp and tender. Savory and sweet. Recommended. Their logo is a waffle on a record turntable — doesn’t get much cooler than that.

I spent some time wandering around Downtown Syracuse. I walked past Dinosaur Barbeque — it was packed, inside and out. Decorated with cartoon dinosaurs. I didn’t get a second dinner, but I thought about it.

The colorfully illuminated art-deco Niagara Mohawk Building:
Art Deco with colorful lighting. Syracuse

A road cone with koi painted on it:
Koi road cone

A metallic building:
Metallic building in Syracuse

The reason why I was in Syracuse, might be more interesting than this story: 17-year Cicadas.

A Rave about Hunter DineRant

The diner: that great American species of restaurant! When I think of a diner, I think of a variety of food, at a reasonable price. Eggs at 2 am. A place where cash-strapped young adults can gather and converse, recovering from or plotting their next adventure over black coffee and fries. A place where laughs, worries and dreams can be shared among friends.

Hunter Dinerant (I’m guessing Dinerant is a portmanteau of diner & restaurant) is located in Auburn, New York, about 3 miles north of the finger lake, Owasco Lake. On Google, it’s called “Hunter’s Dinerant”, but the actual signage lacks the apostrophe. The Dinerant seems to hang over the side of the Owasco River.

The Dinerant is what I would call a classic American diner. Not quite the romanticized Hollywood version with a cast of gum-snapping, pomade-greased teenagers bopping about — but close.

The Dinerant has many of the features that every classic diner should have:

  1. It is shaped like a railroad dining car. A single aisle down the center. Curved corners.
  2. It is wrapped in gleaming chrome and detailed with crimson and white stripes.
  3. It has booths for groups and a counter & stools for solitary folks.
  4. Cadillac-pink vinyl upholstery. Pink Formica everywhere.
  5. Meat-pink floors flecked with white and black confetti patterns.
  6. Vinyl-protected menus listings dozens, if not hundreds of reasonably priced comfort foods.
  7. A mini jukebox at every table, with alpha-numeric keypads. You want to play a song just to feel the mechanical pop of those keys.

This type of diner differs from the Jersey Greek diners I’m used to. Jersey Greek diners lack the railroad dining car shape and 1950’s aesthetic. Same basic food and jukeboxes though.

The waitress was polite and welcomed me to sit wherever I like. I ordered a coffee, fries, and a grilled cheese on white — my personal favorite diner foods. It’s been 5 months since I was there, but I remember the coffee was strong, but not burnt, bitter, or sour. It was perfect. Nice white porcelain mug. The fries — not too thin, not too thick — I covered with a reasonable shower of ketchup — that familiar micro-moment resistance of the fried outside, giving way to the soft potato fluff inside. The grilled cheese was photo perfect — cut on a diagonal. Each bite was a harmony of buttery, barely-crisp bread, oozing with just hot enough to not burn your mouth American cheese. Delicious. Exactly the lunch I needed to supply the energy for a long day of driving.

Visit the Hunter Dinerant for its classic looks and a perfect diner meal. Marvel at how it partially hangs over the side of a small river.

Interior of the Dinerant — thankfully just one TV, with the volume turned low. So much pink and chrome.
Interior of Hunter Dinerant

The exterior of the Dinerant — see the river below?
Hunter Dinerant

Across the street and to the right you’ll see a large pale red sign for Genesee Beer. It looks like it was once neon, but the tubes have been removed.
Genesee Beer

Monorail

Jungle Jim’s International Market

Whenever I’m traveling through the mid-west I try to stop at Jungle Jim’s. In the past, I’ve said Jungle Jim’s was the greatest supermarket in America, but up until this spring I had only visited the Eastgate location. This year I visited the original Fairfield location… and I was not disappointed. Jungle Jim’s — no matter which location you choose — is the greatest supermarket in America.

James O. Bonaminio (Jungle Jim) started his business as a humble produce stand in 1971 in Hamilton, OH. Jim opened the Fairfield location in 1975, expanded to 19K sq. ft. in 1982, and added the trademark Zoo animal pond in ’83. By 2001 a monorail was added and the store expanded to over 284,000 sq. ft. — that’s roughly 5 football fields of food, beverages, and fun (source).

Nascar - Jungle Jim's

The big difference between the original Fairfield and newer Eastgate location (est. 2012) is their layouts — the Fairfield location feels like it evolved over time, which it did, and Eastgate feels like it was planned out ahead of time, which it was. Fairfield has more twists, turns, and bottlenecks, and the Eastgate location is more rectangular. The amazing selection of food and beverages are the same. Both have plenty of safari-themed fiberglass animal attractions, and pop-culture-themed displays — Fairfield has a NASCAR hanging over the Foodie entrance, an animatronic singing bear named Elvis, and a small yacht featuring the cast of Gilligan’s Island, to name a few.

IMG_0055

While Jungle Jim’s has plenty of vehicles and animals to amuse kids and adults alike, it’s the rare foods and beverages that keep me coming back. Isles and isles of food from around the world — particularly candy, maybe the best candy selection in the world. Hundreds of types of hot sauce. Hundreds of types of soda-pop. Hundreds of types of beer. All these crazy brands you’ve never heard of before. Yes, they have normal food too. They even have rows of health-food! Imagine the selection of Whole Foods, plus the most popular brands, plus an unbelievable selection of novelty food & drinks that would otherwise take a lifetime to find — all in one convenient location.

It’s Disneyland for your mouth!

Jim the Wizard of low prices and finer foods:
Wizard of Food

How many supermarkets have a tribute to Gillian’s Island?
Jungle Jim's Gilligan's Island Boat

The Massive Hot Sauce display:
Jungle Jim's Firetruck Hotsauce display

Jungle Jim’s has a massive selection of candy from all around the world. These Gummi Snails from Germany and sour lemon candies from Japan were amongst my favorites.

Gummi escargot #schneck #lecker #candy #escargot

Sour Lemon Candy from Jungle Jim's

Elvis

IMG_6764

Info: Jungle Jim’s website.
Location: 5440 Dixie Highway, Fairfield, OH 45014

Dick's Drive in in Seattle

Dick’s Drive-In and Driving Around Seattle

The point of this article is to showcase Dick’s Drive-In’s amazing rotating, partially neon sign. Look at this sign. Just look at it.

Dick's Hamburgers

The rest is a ramble about driving around Seattle in a rental car:

The week before last I found myself in Seattle, Washington on a business trip. The rental car was a Toyota Yaris, a peppy sub-compact that gave me the odd feeling of driving while sitting on a bar stool — higher up than expected, never quite comfortable, ever feeling like I could topple off at any moment. I never felt like the Yaris was my car — I felt like Hertz could remotely eject me from the vehicle at will or whim. This is fine. A rental car should remind you that you’re only visiting, and not here to stay (and perhaps not welcome). Yaris — weird, but fun to drive.

Every big city likes to brag about their traffic. L.A. takes an hour to move 5 miles. NYC has its gridlock. Atlanta has drivers who refuse to use turn signals. Seattle has bad traffic for its own reasons. Reason number one: it rains a lot. Rain is annoying as-is, but the accompanying foggy windows and tire-swallowing flooding are even worse. I imagine Seattle’s hilly streets can be quite treacherous on icy winter days. Number two: much of the area looks rural, but it is actually a city; hilly, tree-lined neighborhoods of bungalow-style homes quickly transition to congested highways — unexpected and jarring. Number three: the high-traffic times seem to last longer than expected — like from 5pm to 8:30pm. I wonder if this is due to folks working in the tech industry, where 12 hour days are the norm (Microsoft, Amazon). Think you’re going to avoid traffic by leaving at 7:30 pm — NOPE! Number four: Seattle-area drivers are not courteous. I live in New Jersey — a state that celebrates its rudeness; we call it “unhöflichkeitstolz” — Seattle is just as rude. If you see someone in the lane to your left who has signaled that they want to merge into your lane, give them space and let them in. Combine this set of challenges with an abundance of residents and visitors because of the tech industry, and driving around Seattle can be miserable. Seattle residents seem to take pride in their miserable traffic. “Elendstolz” or “misery pride” in German (I made that up).

Combine Seattle traffic with a less than accurate GPS, and a half hour trip becomes an hour and a half. If you’ve read my Maryland trips this year, you know I enjoy when my demented GPS takes me to places I otherwise would have never known. When time is a factor, however, a GPS that continually thinks you’re driving 1 street to your right can be both bemusing and vexing. You’re going to miss a half dozen exits and make 100 wrong turns, but you’re also going to accidentally see the tent cities, shipyards, the first Starbucks, the Fremont troll and dozens of other sights the typical visitor will miss.

The Dick’s Drive-In I spied was on North 45th street, which also features the tentacle neon of the Octopus Bar, and the brick and mortar manifestation of Archie McPhee. The Dick’s Drive has no servers on roller-skates or food trays that hang on your doors — this is not the 1950s. Instead, you find parking, wait in line, you watch workers prepare burgers, fries and shakes in bright, medically-white clean conditions, place your order, your order appears in about 10 seconds, you pay, and then you leave. Very efficient. No sass or insincerity. After an hour of Seattle traffic, simplicity and efficiency are what you need.

The “B-Side” of the rotating sign.
Dick's Drive In in Seattle WA

Cave

Kentucky and the Wonders of Limestone

The limestone rock of Kentucky provides the world with two natural wonders: caves and water for Bourbon.

Caves, of course, are amazing subterranean geological formations often created by the seepage and flow of water through soft stone like limestone. Bourbon, of course, is an amazing American alcoholic beverage made from limestone-filtered water and corn.

I visited southern Kentucky in the spring of 2014, after documenting the emergence of Brood XXII cicadas in the northern part of the state. I had a few days to kill, so I headed south for a tour of the Jim Beam distillery, and then Mammoth Cave National Park.

Jim Beam

The Jim Beam distillery welcome center & tour is as perfect as you might imagine. When you visit, you’ll first notice the massive black barn-like buildings. These are used to hold the barrels of bourbon as the liquor matures.The buildings are spaced far enough apart so that if one catches fire, the flames won’t be able to reach the other buildings. Bourbon, like most booze, is highly flammable.

Jim Beam Distillery, Kentucky

The welcome center, emblazoned with the famous Jim Beam logo, resembles a cross between a country store and an old West saloon. The interior is essentially two floors of gift stores where you can purchase tour tickets, all varieties of Jim Beam bourbon, and many souvenirs. I was tempted to get the $200+ used Jim Beam barrel, but it wasn’t going to fit in my car. I chose to get the Jim Beam Maple, which the cashier recommended pouring in my morning coffee. The bathroom was modern (it did not resemble a barn) and very clean.

Jim Beam Distillery, Kentucky

Jim Beam samples.

The tour (spoilers ahead) takes you through the bourbon making process, from grain and water, through to the final product. The highlight was I got to pour my own bottle of Jim Beam Single Barrel. Along the way, I was treated to the sights, sounds and smells of a working distillery — lots of tanks for fermenting the mash, massive pipes, barrels, lots of wooden structure binding & framing it all together — all the stuff you might expect. The tour culminated with a tasting session, where I got to try three varieties of Jim Beam. I think Booker’s was my favorite.

Overall it was a pleasant afternoon, well-spent learning American booze history, and obtaining fine bourbon whiskey from the source.

Mammoth Cave & Travel Lodge

My retro hotel room, Mammoth Cave Park, Kentucky

Later that same day I arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park, too late for a cave tour, but early enough to book a room in their on-site hotel. I had the choice of a cabin or a room in the building attached to the tourist center. I opted for the later and was rewarded with a room that seemed like something out of the 1950s, or maybe early 1960. Definitely pre L.B.J. Brick interior walls, no wi-fi, old black and white photos of the cave. “Lodge” is the word I would use to describe it. It felt like an interior scene from the TV series Twin Peaks. I fantasized about winning the lottery and living there for the rest of my life (I’m sure I could get Wi-fi at the local Cracker Barrel… I think.)

Part of the fun of staying at the lodge was watching the antics of other people staying there. The best was watching people try to get a cell phone signal. I watched four guys each take turns helping each other climb a tree in hopes of getting a signal. They would boost their friend up, and invariably he would tumble to the ground. Guys, you’re in the middle of a National Park — no cell phone signals here. Actually, not being able to get a signal was nice — it is so rare to go a day without email, web, Twitter, Instagram, etc — it was like a two-day vacation from the 21st century.

Before sunset, I walked the nature trail surrounding the tourist center. It was fantastic and refreshing to walk amongst nature. Not too far from the “Lodge” I discovered the rear exit of the cave and sneaked in un-guided. The exit was about 40′ in circumference, and went down at an angle of about 35 degrees for a few hundred feet before reaching a point that was blocked off. Cool air flows from the cave exit, which is quite refreshing and awe-inspiring on a warm spring day.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

After a solid night of sleep in my amazing room, I had southern breakfast (grits, biscuits and white gravy) in the tourist center dining room. Breakfast was not free, as it was in a dining room (remember the rule: breakfast is only free if it is in the lobby). It was here that I had my first mind-blowing experience, which was hearing the southern-Kentucky accent. I’ve been to about two-thirds of the States, and southern-Kentucky has the most distinct accent I’ve encountered. It was thrilling — I kept asking for more coffee and water just to hear the waitress’ voice again.

Next, I booked the longest cave tour available. About 80 people and I boarded busses and set off for the cave. At the entrance of the cave, the ranger/tour guide laid out the rules of the tour, all of which were violated hundreds of times, by my observation:

  1. “Keep your child with you at all times.” Kids buzzed around in manic figure-eight patterns out of reach of their parent’s control.
  2. “Do not take photos and hold up the tour.” People took a million photos, causing the tour to be broken up into unreachable segments, or piling together like the arch of a caterpillar’s back.
  3. “Do not imitate Golem and say ‘My Precious’ when we turn the lights out to show you how dark the cave is.” Okay, this last one wasn’t really a rule, and I did it.

The long cave tour (spoilers ahead) takes you down hundreds of feet of cramped, jagged limestone on slippery steel stares. Then you travel, mostly horizontally, through the cave, until you reach the end and ascend. Only the end has drip-stone formations (stalactites and stalagmites), but it is worth the walk and wait. The tour guide told the story of the men who discovered, explored and dynamited open the cave, all to exploit is as a tourist attraction. Back in the day, their intent was to exploit the local caves for revenue. Sustainability and environmental impacts were not known or considered. Still, I have to admire the moxie and bravery of the men who blasted open the caves for future tourists and researchers.

The final stop of the tour had us wash our shoes in a special solution, to destroy a fungus which is killing the local bat population.

I spent the rest of the day hiking the woods around the tourist center. When I think back over the past few years of my favorite experiences, this was definitely one of them. Hiking the trails, stopping to stare in awe of the sun setting over a lush green valley. It is my “happy place” so to speak.

Salamander. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Green River. "The cave maker". Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Cave City and other local towns

Driving to Mammoth Cave National Park you’ll see an abundance of signs for antique stores and rock shops. You’ll also see a lot of people selling geodes on their front lawns — geodes being those ball-shaped rocks with (hopefully) crystals inside. People just set up tables and blankets on their lawns and sell geodes.

I visited the rock shop with the most billboards, which was Big Mike’s. Big Mike’s rock complex featured two shops, a “mystery house”, and a yard loaded with bins filled with chunks of colored glass. The colored glass is pretty to look at, and catches your eyes from the roadside, like tennis ball-sized hunks of a rainbow. I bought two crystal formations (no clue what they are) from one shop, and various Mammoth Cave souvenirs from the other.

Big Mike's Rock Shop

After the visit to Big Mike’s, I headed for local antique stores. Along the way, I discovered the wonder that is the combination souvenir/fireworks/knife store. I visited several and bought plenty of souvenirs, but no knives or fireworks. You see, I do have some self-control.

Barrel Dog, Cave City, Kentucky

Next, I hit a strip of antique stores on Broadway Street in Cave City. I ended up scoring an inexpensive Mandolin and many vinyl records. The most memorable store was Magaline’s Antique Mall, which is staffed by Magaline, who dresses in the style of “Hello Dolly” Levi, and a guy who looks remarkably like Donald Rumsfeld. They noticed my lack of a Kentucky accent, which led to a conversation about “Super Storm” Sandy, how Chris Christy would never be elected as president, and how the biggest problem with Washington is the influence of big business.

I visited Cracker Barrel for dinner ordered a half-dozen sides and nearly exploded with excitement over the waitress’ thick Kentucky accent. I left a way-too-large tip in appreciation.

One more night in the Lodge, and I left for New Jersey — a 15-hour ride fueled by Red Bull, candy and Powerman 5000. I got back in time to see the sunrise, and then I slept until 4 pm. But when I woke, I had some of that fine Jim Beam Maple Bourbon in hot coffee.

Jungle Jim's

Jungle Jim’s: the Greatest Supermarket in America

Jungle Jim’s (4450 Eastgate South Drive, Cincinnati, OH) is the greatest supermarket in America.

Jungle Jim in Wizard Mode.

Imagine waking up one day and thinking: “you know what, I’m not satisfied with the boring local supermarket.” “I want a market that has the most diverse selection of foods & beverages imaginable, including exotic foods from faraway lands, and I want the experience to be fun for the entire family.” I imagine that is what Jungle Jim thought when he got the idea for the Jungle Jim’s supermarkets in Fairfield and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Now imagine a food store as huge as a Walmart, featuring every type of food you can imagine (and some you cannot), decorated with gorillas, rhinos, real airplanes, 50′ dragons and 1960’s cultural icons. Imagine a Whole Foods + a Wegmans + a Trader Joe’s + a liquor store + a cigar store + Disney Land, and that is Jungle Jim’s.

Don’t believe me? Check these stats:

  • Five isles of hot sauce, with a real fire engine parked amongst it to get your attention.
  • Two or three long aisles of soda pop (they call it pop in Ohio).
  • A candy section as big as a house.
  • Isles and isles of craft, international, and big-brand beers, and wines.
  • Five or six isles of International foods.
  • Need candy shaped like a toilet from Japan? They got it.
  • Need Jelly Babies from England? They got it.
  • Need Licorice Cats from Holland because that is the old thing that cures your gout? They got it.
  • Need some “century eggs” or bird nest soup from China? They got it.
  • Need some lollipops with crickets or ants inside them? They got those.
  • Need a hookah pipe? They got those too.

Whenever I’m in the Cincinnati area I fill my entire car trunk with unusual foods, snacks, and pop from Jungle Jim’s. It makes the 10-hour trip all the more worthwhile.

Foodie Entrance:
Foodie Entrance. Jungle Jim's, Ohio

Restrooms:
Jungle Johns. Jungle Jim's, Ohio

Why, yes, they do have 5 isles of hot sauce:
Hot sauce. Jungle Jim's, Ohio

A random display devoted to 1960’s musicians? Sure, why not:
1970s themed trailer. Jungle Jim's, Ohio

Coke R2-D2:
Coke R2D2 in Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati OH

Waffle House

Augusta, Georgia: golfers, cookies & grits

Augusta, Georgia is for golfers…

If you stay at a hotel in Augusta, Georgia, you will get to sleep around 1 am, and then you will wake up around 5 am. Why? Golfers. Southern golfers party hard into the night and then wake up before the crack of dawn.

I should have known. If you see a truck like this in the parking lot of your hotel, you can rest assured that you won’t get any rest…
Champagne Statement Monster Truck

This past summer I stayed at the Augusta DoubleTree, which is a truly magnificent hotel. Sure, the view from the window of my room faced a hallway, but I kept the curtains shut, so no one saw me sleeping.

Typically people stay at DoubleTree hotels for two reasons: Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005) & warm, complimentary, chocolate chip cookies.

  • Mitch Hedberg was a very funny comedian who had many jokes that referenced Double Tree hotels.
  • Double Tree hotels provide their guests with warm, complimentary, chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and they are delicious — they take the cookie out of the tiny cookie oven behind the desk, and it’s like Christmas and your Birthday and a hug, all in one. Their bus shuttles are even decorated with cookies — they are very important to their brand image.

Check out this “Sweet Ride” advertising their delicious, piping hot, complimentary cookies:
Augusta Doubletree Sweet Ride

I couldn’t bear eating dinner from the hotel vending machine, so I cruised the surrounding area for a restaurant. My two choices were a Twin Peaks, which is a strip bar/bar/restaurant…

Twin Peaks of Augusta

… or a Waffle House.

Augusta Waffle House

The first time I encountered a Waffle House was on a road trip to New Orleans back in 1995. So mysterious! A restaurant, open 24 hours a day, catering to road-weary travelers, and serving only waffles. Of course, I quickly learned that Waffle Houses are essentially diners serving a variety of foods, and at the time I was let down. Like finding out that Santa is just your parents, or that school lasts 13 long years.

Now, in 2015, there was no mystery. It was late. I knew I was hungry, and I wanted to eat. I did not want to eat at a strip bar.

Approaching the W’House, a teen called me out: “where you from, New Jersey?” “Yes”, I replied, without pride or fear. She followed me inside — my waitress. My waitress — let’s call her Miss Amazing Eye Makeup — was an amazing human being, with amazing iridescent blue, green, silver & black eye makeup. To say her eyes looked like some rare species of Costa Rican butterfly would not be an exaggeration! Miss Amazing Eye Makeup sat at my table (or did I sit at her table) and proceeded to grill me about fast food restaurants in New Jersey. We came to a conclusion that Georgia and New Jersey shared about 75% of the same eateries (the English language needs more words for “restaurant”). The whole time I felt like she was a cat, and I was a mouse — her eyes could control me — her stare, like a puppeteer’s strings — I didn’t want a large portion of grits at 10 pm, but she willed me to order it. And of course, she got a 50% tip.

I woke the next day, at 5 am. Thank you, golfers. Once the golfers discharged from the hotel (with the reticence & grace of a herd of angry cattle being washed through a gorge by floodwater), I was able to sleep again for a few hours. The hotel breakfast was expectedly bland, and a little pricey (should have gone back to the Waffle House), but satisfying. They should just serve a bottomless platter of their chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.

Thank you Double Tree, Waffle House, and Miss Amazing Eye Makeup for a memorable 12-hour stay in Augusta.