Category Archives: food

Southern Fried Road Trip Day 9: Aiigh! Zombies!!

I really didn’t want to leave Savannah this morning.  I was very cranky about the whole idea of it.  But I have decided that I will, at some point, make this place (at least part-time) home and so that goal firmly entrenched, I was able to point the car west.  But first, one last stop to pat a turtle…

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When you read my book, you will understand the significance of that…

The theme for my last full day of vacation was back roads and zombies.  Instead of taking the interstate to Macon, I took a series of two-lane highways through towns like Statesboro, Portal, Twin City, Swainsboro, Wrightsville, and Toomsboro.  None of them are terribly exciting, but they were much more colorful and interesting to cruise through than a constant blur of trees rushing by at 80mph.

I did see a notice of interesting roadside oddities including Randy’s Pickin’ Parlor in Bloomingdale, Georgia – a guitar shop and live music venue that looks like run down shack set back from the highway.  I kind of wished there was a show going on so I’d have an excuse to stop.

The other was in tiny Portal, Georgia, where they have a big sign advertising the upcoming Turpentine Festival.  Yes, turpentine.  And it’s the 34th annual, I have just found out with Google’s help.  It’s something about going back to yesteryear and learning the art of turpentining.  Did you know there was an art to turpentining?  I certainly didn’t.  And I absolutely didn’t know that it was festival worth.  October 3, 2015 – parade, fair, food, entertainment, and a street dance.  Mark your calendars.

Then it was the day’s main attraction – a tour of iconic places that were used as settings for The Walking Dead.  Last year, I got a picture of Terminus…

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And this year, I got the highway where the survivors are stuck at the beginning of Season 2 (where Sophia went missing)…

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I tried to get a picture of the prison but it’s a working studio where they film TWD and other shows so you can’t get anywhere near it.  Ditto Father Gabriel’s church, which is on the studio grounds and Hershel’s farm, which is a private residence guarded by very tall fences and sternly worded signs.

So it was on to Woodbury!!

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The town’s real name is Senoia, Georgia, about 45 south of Atlanta.  The main street, where they shot the bulk of the scenes that took place in the Governor’s little corner of the world, is thriving with antique stores, restaurants, candy shops, and more, with dozens of people wandering around, taking pictures, and buying stuff.

The town is the main headquarters for TWD exterior filming.  The prison/studios are about a mile away and the Alexandria Safe Zone is about two blocks off of the Woodbury main street.  Another one you can’t get close to but you can see the metal fence in this shot…

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They also have an official TWD store, which must have 30 people in it when I was there (the picture doesn’t do the crowd justice)…

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I asked one of the locals, “Was TWD the best thing that ever happened to this town?”  She sort of shrugged and said, “It’s divided.  Some people love it because the town was kind dying before all this happened, but others are a little tired of the tourists and the traffic and the filming disrupting their lives.”  Understandable.

So of course I had to buy some TWD swag.  Mark Rehn… the mouse pad is for you…

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Then it was on to Atlanta, where I am safely ensconced in a terribly boring Hampton Inn that was only thing I could find that was well-located and somewhat reasonably priced.  It’s no Marshall House – instead of a veranda with a rocking chair overlooking a tree-lined street I have a window looking at a parking lot and the back of a Kroger’s – but it’s fine.  No, really.

One last dinner… there’s a BBQ place right next door called Lovies, so I got me some pulled pork and mac and cheese.  It’s not bad – not the best I’ve eaten on the trip – but overall I’d give it a solid B+.

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I fly home tomorrow and then start the process of sorting through the nine bajillion photos I took.  I should have my author photo proofs sometime early next week and then it’s the mad dash to get the book ready for a late October or early November release.

I hope you enjoyed reading along with my little adventure.  I certainly enjoyed doing it!

 

 

 

 

 

Southern Fried Road Trip Day 8: BACON FEST!!!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, today was the second annual Savannah Bacon Fest and for the second time I was here to experience it.  I am truly blessed.

Before we get there, though, a couple of random things…

First, last night there was a drag show at the bar I was at.  Drag is really big here in the south – not sure why.  Most of the ones in this show were not very good.  One did back flips in high heels while another just kind of pouted and moved her mouth randomly as opposed to trying to lip sync the words.  But there was one that did a fine job, probably why she is the reigning Miss Gay Savannah…

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And just because I don’t want to finish with this, I want to show you what I saw on my way back to the hotel after bacon fest.  At first I thought I was having the meat sweats and hallucinating but no, I got photographic evidence…

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Driving around the square, music blasting from a tinny speaker (country, of course), and the big sign that says “Tired of all the LIES?  Sarah Palin for President 2016″ and then goes on to list a bunch of her admirable qualities like honesty, bravery, and intelligence.

Feel free to editorialize as you wish.  I certainly did.

But back to my day… it started in Bonaventure Cemetery where I was having the first of two photo shoots to try to get a good author picture for my book.  The photographer, Angela, was very patient with my extreme discomfort of being anywhere near a camera and I think we got some good shots.

Afterward, on the recommendation of one of the drag queens, I went to Johnny Harris restaurant, a Savannah institution since 1924.  They are famous for their BBQ and for their batterless fried chicken – I sampled the latter.  Really good – juicy, crispy and peppery skin.  I approve.

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From there it was back to the hotel as a few big thunderstorms rolled through, dumping torrents of rain on the city.  I sat out on the veranda and enjoyed the hell out of it.

It let up just in time for me to go to photo shoot #2 and this photographer, Heather, was also very patient with me.  We did this one along Factor’s Walk, the row of old cotton factories along the river with lots of pretty parks, cobblestone streets, brick alleyways, wrought iron walkways, and more.  Here’s a taste of the area:

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Afterward it was just a few feet to BACON FEST!!!  Last year they just had the one night, taking over the city’s usual First Friday celebration.  This year they stretched it out to two days, but I can’t be here tomorrow so I had to get in all my bacony goodness now.  Let’s start with the ambience… bouncy castles, slides, and statues…

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A mechanical boar (instead of a mechanical bull):

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Right on the river with the paddlewheel boats floating past…

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And lots and lots of people, booze, art festival booths, and restaurants selling all things bacon…

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So what did I eat?  Well, I started with a Bacon Pork Popper – pulled pork and a jalapeno wrapped in bacon and then deep fried…

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Yes.  That’s all I have to say about that.  Yes.

Next, a Bacon Pancake – bacon, dipped in pancake batter and cooked, served with maple syrup…

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Hell yes.

Next… the Bacon Pop… strips of bacon on a stick with a cherry glaze and a cherry on top…

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It was right around here that my vision started blurring so I didn’t get the bacon cotton candy, which is served on a bacon stick – they wrap bacon around a stick and then twirl the bacon flavored candy onto it.

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Genius or evil genius, you decide.

My vision came back so next I got a two-fer – the Reverse BLT, with bacon on both ends, followed by lettuce, tomato, and a crispy piece of bread in the middle, topped with a  bacony ranch dressing.

Also, Bacon Chips served with peach marmalade.

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The bacon peach thing was insane!!  I’m lying on the floor in serious pain as I type this but I really want more.

And finally… the Bacon and Pimento Stuffed Meatball Slider…. no explanation necessary, I think:

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And of course, I got me a t-shirt…

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If I feel better I’m going to wander back down and watch the fireworks.  If not, then I still think my Savannah trip ended on a definite high note!  As has happened every time I have visited, I totally don’t want to leave.  I was looking at real estate again.

But cooler heads will prevail and tomorrow I head back to Atlanta, taking a little The Walking Dead road trip along the way, and then home on Sunday.   Booooooooooooooooo.

 

Southern Fried Road Trip Days 6-7: It’s My Birthday and I’ll Drink If I Want To

And I wanted to.  I went out last night for a few cocktails, which should surprise absolutely no one who knows me.  It’s pretty quiet here in Savannah this time of year so the bars were not terribly busy but I still managed to find some fun.  Vodka helped.

On my way back to the hotel, I snapped a bunch of great pictures of eerie Savannah at night.  Here’s a couple…

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Speaking of eerie, the hallway in my (supposedly haunted) hotel.   Is it wrong that every time I walk down it I hear two little British girls saying “Come play with us Danny… forever… and ever… and ever…”

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Anywho… I got up early this morning to go to the first of two photo shoots I have arranged to get author photos done for my book.  Unfortunately it was raining so we postponed it until tomorrow.  So I’ll be doing one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  At any moment now I’m going to start stressing about what to wear.

So it was back to bed with me, where I lazed until 10-ish (good for me!) and then finally hauled myself up to go attack the day.

First on the list was to complete my Savannah Historic Squares tour.  Yesterday I did 13 so that meant there were 9 left to go.   Saving most of the photos for my book marketing push, but here are some good ones of Whitefield, Lafayette, and Troup (where the heroine of my books lives):

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I also wandered by the Mercer-Williams House, the place made (in)famous as the murder scene in “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil.”

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While I was doing the squares, I turned a corner and, providentially I will say, there was Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room.  This is a Savannah institution, serving family style meals of all sorts of different kinds of Southern down home cooking.  Usually there is a line down the block but this time there were only about 30 people waiting – the first rush had already been seated and was being served.  It only took about 15 minutes and I got in and took my seat at the head of a table that looked like this:

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I’m sure I didn’t note it all but there was at least… beef stew, meat loaf, bbq pork, cabbage, macaroni and cheese, butter beans, black-eyed peas (not the Fergie kind), squash, dirty rice, mashed potatoes with cheese and onions, candied yams, pickled beets, red rice, collared greens, okra and tomatoes, potato salad, baked beans, macaroni salad, creamed corn, cole slaw, and corn bread.  And it is worth noting that this is BEFORE they brought out the fried chicken…

They also serve dessert but I wound up leaving before it came, already feeling like my body was going to rebel against all of this rich food.  Good thing, too, because when I got back to the hotel there was this from my friend (who knows me very well) Maureen:

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Thank you Maureen!

Next on the agenda was Forsyth Park, a big beautiful public space located just north of the Historic District in what is known as the Victorian District for the architecture found on most of the buildings in the area.  This is the park where you’ll find the iconic fountain that you will often see in pictures of Savannah…

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Next it was out to Wormsloe State Historic Site in the Skidaway area of Savannah.

Among the first colonists to the area in 1733 was Noble Jones, a physician, who leased land on the Isle of Hope about eight miles south of Savannah.  He built a house of tabby concrete, with fortifications along the Skidaway River to keep any attackers out.  Not much is left standing of it today but the walls that remain are the oldest known structure in Savannah.

There isn’t a lot so see – the grand main house that Noble’s descendants have occupied since the early 1800′s is not open to tourists – but you do get to enter along another iconic bit of Savannah landscape:

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Can you imagine that being your driveway?

You can wander through portions of the estate, see the ruins of the original tabby house, and walk out onto an observation deck overlooking the marshy river…

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After way more exercise than I ever intended to get (I was hiking through the WOODS y’all!), I came back to the hotel to relax and recharge and eventually headed out for more photos and then to dinner at neighborhood kitchen called the 5 Spot.  They have an eclectic menu but it was their bacon wrapped meatloaf, smothered in Carolina BBQ sauce that caught my attention.

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Now that’s what I call eatin’.  It was fantastic and my only regret was that I couldn’t eat more of it – a common regret these days, but whatever.  What I am able to eat tastes good!

Back at the hotel for another recharge and then I’m probably going to go out and hoist another couple to finish off my birthday.

Thank you very much for all of the kind birthday wishes – I really appreciate it.  That and a beautiful day in Savannah is all I need!

 

 

Southern Fried Road Trip Day 6: I Heart Savannah

There really is something magical about this place.  Look at this picture, just a slice of Savannah, and tell me how you could not want to be here…

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I left Charleston this morning and headed south along Highway 17, which winds its way through the marshy wooded lands just off the Atlantic.  It’s scenic and much more interesting than the Interstate but it does force you to go over this:

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Have I mentioned that I’m terrified of heights and get severe vertigo when I drive over tall bridges.  This one was designed to give me vertigo.  I drove across, talking out loud the entire time… “Okay, we’re driving and I’m looking at the car in front of me and I’m not looking off to the side I’m just going to keep staring at the car in front of me, which is  Lexus, and the license plate is…” and on it went for the entire two minutes it took me to drive across.  I’m pretty sure I bent the steering wheel.

I’m staying at Marshall House, which is now my favorite hotel in Savannah.  It opened as a hotel in 1851 but was used as a hospital during the Civil War and again during two yellow fever epidemics.  It became a hotel again until 1957 when it closed and sat derelict for more than 40 years.  In 1999 it was purchased, restored, and modernized.  My room has 14 foot ceilings, a (non-functioning) fireplace, an antique claw foot tub, original wood floors, and a window that you can climb out onto to access the wide veranda with rocking chairs.  Seriously.  I want to live here.  A couple of pictures…

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It’s also reputed to be haunted, having been used as a hospital for all those years.  It’s been on the Travel Channel several times as one of the most haunted hotels in America.  We’ll see…

Just as I arrived, a huge thunderstorm blew through town, which I took as a greeting since I love thunderstorms.  We don’t get them in Los Angeles (or at least very, very rarely) and it was so cool to sit out on the veranda, watching the rain and the lightning and feel the warm wind.  Have I mentioned that I want to live here?

After it cleared up, I went off on one of my missions while I’m here, which is to get pictures of every single one of the 22 historic squares in town.  I’m going to be using them for the website and social media campaigns for my book Interitas Volume 1: The Beginning of Sorrows, which is set in Savannah.  I can’t show you all of them – there are too many and I’m saving the really good ones, but here’s a little taste:

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Lunch today was at The Pirate’s House, which is one of those Savannah rites of passage that I hadn’t done until today.  It opened in 1753 as an inn and became a favorite for the bloodthirsty “arrr matey” types who sailed the nearby waters.  It became such a part of the pirate lore that Robert Louis Stevenson is said to have incorporated some of the action that took place here into his book Treasure Island.

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I had heard you come here more for the experience – the rambling dining rooms spread throughout the house, the staff dressed like pirates who wander around and try to nick things off your plate, and the treasure chest filled with candy – and less for the actual food, but I figured I had to give it a shot at least once.  I had the chicken gumbo and it was not fantastic but it was pretty good – lots of tender meat and veggies, just the right amount of kick, and a big mound of Savannah red rice.

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And yes, I found the treasure chest:

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The rain came back and so I was forced to sit on the veranda and read for most of the afternoon.  So sad!

It cleared up again in time to go to dinner and I walked about a block away to B&D Burgers.  I had heard good things about them and tried their Colonial – 1/3 pound Angus, with applewood smoked bacon, cheddar, and a fried egg.  It wasn’t great – the patty was tiny and a little dry, the bun was right out of a store bought package, and the curly fries were obviously frozen and dropped into a fryer – my first disappointing meal of the trip.

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I am now on a mission to find a really good burger before I leave Savannah.

After dinner I strolled along Bay Street and River Street and got a lot more pictures, again most of which I am going to save for later, but will share one…

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Tonight I’m heading to a local watering hole and will be toasting the arrival of my seven squared birthday with a shot of something at midnight.

Tomorrow, I go for the first of my two photo shoots for the author picture for my book.  This one is going to be at Bonaventure Cemetery!  Then more photos, a visit to a couple of the local bookstores, and hopefully better food than I had today.

 

 

Southern Fried Road Trip Day 5: Dog Days

I was kind of lazy today.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am old and tired and old some more so I just couldn’t face walking a billion miles in the Charleston heat and humidity to explore all the things I wanted to explore.  So I blew off a visit to the Magnolia Plantation this morning and just slept in.

For lunch, I ventured out to the Tattooed Moose, a really interesting combination of a dive bar and a foodie gastropub.  It kind of looks like it was a dive bar first, complete with sassy signs (“We don’t serve women here, you have to bring your own.”) and lots of animal heads with wacky party hats on them.  Then, it seems at least, someone came along and said “let’s serve something more interesting than chicken fingers and burgers.”

Hence what has been hailed as the “best sandwich ever,” Mike’s Famous Duck Club – duck confit, applewood smoked bacon, hickory smoked cheddar, garlic aioli, lettuce, tomato, and red onion, on Hawaiian bread done like thick, grilled Texas toast.   That and a side of duck fat fries served with more of that garlic aioli.

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So, okay, “best sandwich ever” is pretty lofty praise and almost impossible to live up to but I will say that it was absolutely incredible.  The bread, the bacon, the cheese, the garlic, and the tender, melt in your mouth duck…  I can understand why people give the accolades they do.

As I left, I spied a couple of classic southern cemeteries nearby.  I’m kind of a sucker for really beautifully done places like this and while it wasn’t as drop dead (pun intended) gorgeous as Bonaventure in Savannah, it was still quite lovely.  A couple of pics…

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On my way back to the hotel I saw a sign that rung a bell and a detoured off the main road to see if it was what I thought it was.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is where 9 people were murdered during a prayer service a few months ago by a guy who liked to do things like pose with Confederate flags.  I didn’t take a picture of the church – it seemed unseemly – but I did stop for a moment to silently pay my respects from afar.

Continuing the theme of “Wow, People Can Be Monsters,” I visited the Old Slave Mart Museum.  Charleston was one of the major slave trading ports in America – in the world, actually – and until 1856, they could be bought and sold on the street like oranges at the bottom of a freeway off ramp.  When a law forbidding that practice was passed, nearly 40 slave marts were set up around town including this one, the biggest, known then as Ryan’s Mart.  It had a showroom, of sorts, where the slaves were inspected and negotiations between traders and buyers happened, and a jail, a kitchen, and more.  Today only the main hall still stands and they have turned it into a nice little museum about the horrors that people inflicted on other people.

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The price of a slave in good condition back then?  About $900, or roughly $23,000 in today’s money.

Saddened and needing a shower to wash off my white liberal guilt, I headed back to the hotel along a lovely cobblestone street…

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…that is lovely to walk but absolutely SUCKS to drive on.  I had to go this way last night and I thought the fenders were going to fall off the Malibu.

Back at the hotel I sat on the balcony with some freshly squeezed lemonade and read a book – Finders Keepers by Stephen King in case you’re interested.  It’s the second in a trilogy that is a crime thriller rather than a supernatural monster type thing.  Enjoyable.

For dinner I walked a whole 50 yards or so to Poogan’s Porch, another one of those Charleston institutions for nearly 40 years.  The story behind the name from the restaurant’s website:

Built as a spacious and grand Victorian home in 1888, the structure and its neighborhood had, by 1976, changed suitably to allow for the conversion of the house into a restaurant. The owners sold their home and moved away. A little, down-home Southern dog named Poogan stayed behind.

As far as he was concerned, our porch was his. After all, he’d been a neighborhood fixture for years, wandering from porch to porch, in search of back scratches and table scraps, endearing himself to all. From his proud porch perch, he served as official greeter. It seemed only right to the name the restaurant after him. Poogan died a natural death in 1979. We still miss him. His porch and restaurant live on in his honor.

And this, along the front path…

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Awwww….

The house is lovely – I ate in what I think was the former dining room right next to a beautiful fireplace.  For dinner, a traditional fried pork chop with country ham gravy, served on a bed of mac and cheese done with aged, smoked gouda and ham, and a side of butter whipped potatoes.

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It was fantastic.  They really know how to eat, here in the south.

I got a dessert to go, which I am eating as I type this – bread pudding with strawberries and peaches.  Yum!!!

I was supposed to go to a show tonight but it was cancelled, so I spent the bulk of the evening catching up on the rest of the world, reading some more, and enjoying watching Charleston go by from my little balcony.

Tomorrow it’s off to Savannah!

 

 

 

Southern Fried Road Trip Days 3-4: Did I Mention It Rained a Bit?

I managed to have miraculous timing last night in terms of avoiding the rain.  As I mentioned, it was pouring on the way over here but then broke so I was able to go out for dinner.  Snapped a few pics on the way back.  Pretty churches…

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But then it started raining again and I”m not just talking about a sprinkle here and there I’m talking cataclysmic type rain.  My phone kept going off all night with weather alerts for flash flood warnings.  In the end, parts of Charleston got more than six inches of rain – an all time record – and caused quite a bit of flooding, although not where I am staying.  You can see some pictures here.

It lasted until late morning and then blew out over the ocean, leaving it hot and muggy – hotter and muggier than it normally is this time of year here.

I took the air conditioned Malibu out for lunch at a place called Swig & Swine, because how can you not want to go to a place called Swig & Swine?  Here’s the sign outside the place, which is officially, the Best. Sign. Ever.

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I got a platter with smoked pork belly, burnt ends, Brunswick stew, and baked potato salad.  I urged them to give me small portions of everything because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it all and this is what they delivered to the table, saying “We cut it down for you…”

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Um.  Yeah.  The stew was perfect!  The baked potato salad, amazing.  The pork belly was a little fatty, which it always is, but more so than usual and not fantastic.  The burnt ends were stupid good.  They had four different kinds of sauces – vinegar, sweet, mustard, and white – sort of a horseradish kind of thing going on.  Next time I’m going to go for the sausages, which looked delicious on the plate of the person sitting next to me.

After that it was time to go explore Charleston and I was reminded, yet again, that I am two days shy of my 49th birthday, totally out of shape, and saddled with a gastric system that seems to think that I am its enemy most of the time.    I walked probably 3 miles last night to and from the restaurant and at least another 4 or 5 today and I kind of want to lay down and not get up again for a week.

But I saw and did a pretty fair chunk of what I wanted to do.  I strolled up Meeting Street, also known as the Museum Mile, and stopped first at the Charleston City Market, in business in one form or another since 1804.

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It’s got several blocks worth of vendor stalls selling everything from souvenirs to books to soap to crafts and beyond.  This being a Monday in what they call their slow season, about half of them were empty – mostly where the farmer’s market type food goes on weekends and peak times.  Most of what was there was overpriced tourist trap type stuff, but it’s still a cool facility worth a stroll through.

In the window of a neighboring wine and spirits store, the Second Best. Sign. Ever.

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From there I went to Charleston City Museum and got tickets to both it and the neighboring Joseph Manigault House.  The latter was first on the docket, from the outside looking a bit like Murder House from “American Horror Story” no?

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It was built in 1804 by a guy who had inherited his money from a line of rice field and ship owners and used as the in-city home for entertaining and during the times of year they didn’t want to be at the plantation.  Federal style, about 9,000 square feet, and very well restored with lots of original detail including the beautiful chandelier above the 3-story main entrance.

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The house had an interesting history.  After the Manigault’s sold it, it eventually became a tenement house, had a gas station built on its front lawn, was home of the local USO, and then eventually donated to the Charleston Museum by a princess.

Next door, the actual museum, in a more modern (read: boring) building.

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It offers a pretty comprehensive look at the history of the city, from its founding as a walled fortress through the Civil War (sorry, the “War Between the States”), and into the 1900s.  It was mostly stuff in glass cases with things to read – not much interactivity – so I buzzed through it pretty quickly.

It was right around here that my body started rebelling so I made it back to the hotel and took a break.  I did snap a few more interesting pictures on the way of a pretty street (there are lots of them here), a cool old theater, and the Charleston Bay.

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Eventually I went for dinner at Magnolia’s, a bit of a Charleston institution for the last 25 years.  Upscale low-country is what they call the cuisine.  I started with the Down South Egg Roll – collared greens, chicken, tasso ham, red pepper puree, and spicy mustard all stuffed into a traditional egg roll shell and topped with a peach chutney.  Damn!  That’s about as perfect of a dish as you can get, right there, my friends.

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For the main course I did fried chicken with mashed potatoes, collared greens, and summer corn.  The chicken was good, not great – a little dry – but that corn?  I could’ve eaten that all day.

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Tomorrow is more Charleston only with a LOT less walking and a lot more sitting on my balcony reading a good book.

 

Southern Fried Road Trip Days 2-3: Anybody Got an Ark?

Last night in Atlanta I ventured out for dinner at a place I had heard about that was supposed to have the best fried chicken in the city.  Challenge Accepted!

It’s called Odd Bird, and it’s kind of a pop-up concept in a popular breakfast spot called the West Egg on Howell Mill Rd a few miles west of Midtown.  There were too many good choices.  Chicken and waffles with thyme butter and rosemary infused syrup?  PB&J chicken sandwich (pimento cheese, bacon, and tomato jam)?

In the end I went for the Chicken Biscuit #3, with sharp cheddar and apple butter.  The thing that sold me?  They call them Butterlard Biscuits because they make them with butter and lard.  Can someone please call my cardiologist?  Tell him I also got a side of mac and cheese, please. It looked like this:

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The chicken was perfect, with an extra crunch skin, tangy cheese, and sweet, sweet apple butter that was like the best applesauce I’ve ever had.  And the biscuit melted in my mouth.  Put this on your to-do list the next time you are in Atlanta.

Today, I was going to take a meandering road trip through Georgia on my way to Charleston, stopping in Athens and Augusta and any cute small towns I could find, but it was raining and I decided to skip Athens and take the freeway east to Augusta.  I’m glad I did.

About halfway there it started to rain heavily.  Then it started to pour.  Then it became a deluge.  Then I started collecting two of every animal to put in the trunk of the Malibu.  Most people pulled off to the side of the road and the few of us that kept going were doing maybe 25 miles per hour at best and it was impossible to see more than 10 feet in front of the car.  Scary. It let up and I had just gotten back up to speed when this happened:

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That would be dead stopped traffic on I-20 east of Atlanta.  Turns out a semi carrying a huge tractor decided to take a little detour into the median, taking out several signs, part of a culvert, and most of the front end of the truck.  We sat there for about 20 minutes until they managed to get one lane open and we inched past.

By the time I got to Augusta the rain had let up, which was good because I hadn’t done anything more than plug “Augusta” into Google Maps and let it take me from there, thinking I’d end up in the main part of town.  For the record, if you do that, this is where you will go:

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It’s a condo complex miles from the main downtown area.  I don’t know why. Following the moderately tall buildings I could see in the distance, I made my way to Broad Street, a broad street (hence the name) with a plaza running down the center and lots of shops and restaurants in the old buildings lining both sides.  It’s a neighborhood that looks like it is trying to be nicer than it really is but needs a good scrubbing to be attractive enough to want to spend any time there.

I did, however, stop and snap a picture of two of the Augusta landmarks – the statue of hometown hero James Brown…

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And the Cursed Pillar…

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A farmer’s market used to stand here at the corner of 5th and Broad Streets in the 1800s.   According to the legend, a preacher came to spread the holy word at the market but was denied by authorities.  As he left in a huff, he swore that the market would be destroyed by a mighty wind and all that would remain is one pillar.

Shortly thereafter, a tornado blew through town and took everything of the farmer’s market except for what you see in the picture above.

Supposedly, attempts to remove it over the years have failed, with tales of construction workers killed by equipment malfunctions or crushed by debris.  Now it is said to bring a curse upon anyone who touches it.

No, I didn’t touch it.  I don’t believe in cursed pillars, but why risk it?

Since the rain had let up, I decided to get on the back roads and do a little more exploring.  I have to tell you, if you ever take a road trip and your option is the interstate to get to wherever you’re going quickly or two-lane country highways that may take a while longer, remember that (according to that great Hobo saying), a journey is not about the destination but how far you traveled to get there.

A few things I saw on the wandering roads of Georgia and South Carolina… I spent several miles behind a very large pickup with the license plate “COOTER.”

I saw a woman on the front porch of her house – mid-30s, plus sized, long hair – taking a selfie.  No, let me correct that – she was taking a SELFIE, throwing her hair back and bending over backwards as she held the camera up above her.  Damn girl, you go!

I wondered why Baptists seem to like burying people next to parking lots.  It seemed like every single Baptist church I saw along the way – and there were a LOT of them – had a small cemetery next door next to the parking lot.

I, quite by accident, drove through Bamberg, South Carolina, which has a huge sign at the town limits touting the fact that it is the hometown of Governor Nikki Haley.  So later, when she runs for president (and she will) and tells heartwarming stories of her childhood in Bamberg (and she will), I can say “I’ve been there!”

I got to Charleston about 6pm, staying at the Mills House Wyndham Grand.  It was built in 1853 and at the time was one of the city’s finest hotels.  It managed to survive the Civil War including the burning of Charleston in 1861 that reduced pretty much everything around it to rubble.

It’s a nice place, although it could probably stand some modernization/restoration to get rid of the popcorn ceilings in the rooms and 80s era white marble in the public spaces.  My room has a balcony overlooking Queen Street (shut up), which is cuter than the picture I took of trash cans.

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Because it still hadn’t started raining yet, I took a walk down to my dinner spot for the evening, Hall’s Chophouse.  It’s only been around for a few years but the family it comes from has quite a pedigree, managing restaurants and food operations at ritzy hotels around the southeast for 40 years.

As I walked in, a man walked up to me, extending his hand with a smile and a “how you doing?”  I thought he had mistaken me for someone, but no… that was Billy Hall, Jr., one of the two brothers that run the place now.  He thanked me for coming, took my umbrella, walked me all the way to the back of the place to show me where the bathroom was, and stopped by the table several times to see if everything was all right.  It wasn’t me… he and his brother did that with everyone they didn’t know.  The ones they did know, got a huge “Hey!” and a hug.

Being from Los Angeles and averse to any human contact that doesn’t involve screaming at people who won’t go faster on the freeway, I was immediately suspicious.  I think they’re hiding something.

Anyway, the food… unbelievable.  As y’all probably know, I write about Las Vegas, so I have eaten at more steakhouses than I ever care to think about.  This one could kick the ass of just about all of them.

They had an onion soup that came with gooey gruyere, scallions, and topped with french fried onion straws.  Absolutely the best version of this dish that I have ever tasted.

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For my main course I had a bone-in filet that I would probably rank in my top three of the best steaks I have ever tasted in my life.  Tender, juicy, flavorful – that bone-in thing really added to it I think – with a smoky, vaguely peppery flavor.  Man that was a good steak.

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Sides included pepper jack creamed corn, which is exactly what it sounds like and exactly that amazing, and loaded mashed potatoes.  There was bacon in it. Not cheap but totally worth it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… no, I can’t eat anywhere near all of anything that I am taking pictures of.  I managed to get about halfway through the soup, maybe a third of the way through the steak, and was only able to have a few bites of the sides.  And yes, I feel like crap after every meal, but darn it, I’m enjoying them while I eat them!

I wandered down King Street on the way to and from the restaurant, one of the main drags of Charleston.  It’s lined with shops and restaurants and is cute, but a little too mainstream for my tastes.  There are a few indie stores and galleries, but most of it is Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Chipotle.  It’s like those suburban malls that are done to look like an old downtown street scene (The Grove or Americana in LA or The District or Downtown Summerlin in Vegas) only somehow less interesting because they took actual old, interesting buildings and slapped giant GAP signs on the front, covering the interesting architectural detail.  In a way, it has the exact opposite of Broad Street in Augusta.  That one needed a scrubbing, this one was a little too well-scrubbed.

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But that was just one street and there is much more to explore, hopefully tomorrow but we’ll see.  The forecast is calling for severe storms and torrential rains, some of the leftovers of Erika, through tomorrow afternoon so I might be seeing Charleston from my balcony until it clears up.   More tomorrow.

Southern Fried Road Trip Days 1-2: Pork & Pontiacs

The flight in was uneventful, which is always good.  Eventful flights may give you fun stories to tell later but they kind of suck when they are actually happening.

Got the rental car and had a bad feeling about it.  It was a Ford Fusion, which normally would be just fine – they are good cars, generally speaking – but this one had 44,000 miles on it.  I used to work for Avis and I can tell you that 44,000 miles on a rental car is like 132,000 miles in a regular car.  But it wasn’t banged up, seemed to run fine, and had a sunroof, so what the hell.

On the way to the hotel, the radio quit – like, just quit.  No matter how many buttons I pushed, it had decided to not work.  Of course then it decided to start working again, after I had turned the volume all the way up thinking that might help for some reason.  I almost drove into the center divider.  I love Rhianna but nobody sounds good with the sound turned on high in a closed car.

Then it seemed fine.  (insert ominous music for foreshadowing here)

Staying at the Hyatt Midtown, which is a Hyatt in just about every way.  Clean, comfortable, modern, boring as hell, but it works.  If you haven’t been to Midtown Atlanta lately you probably wouldn’t recognize it with all the construction.  There are new buildings everywhere and cranes everywhere else.

082815_01_skylineFor dinner I went back to South City Kitchen just a few blocks away.  I started with the pork BBQ hoecake, with scallions and horseradish slaw.  Sweet and savory and spicy and tangy all in one, with the sweet coming from the hoecake, the savory from the shredded pork, the spicy from the horseradish, and the tangy from the BBQ sauce.  It was perfect.

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Just in case: hoecake – a cornmeal flatbread, often sweetened.  It’s sort of like a flat piece of cornbread.

I followed it up with the pork chop that I have been dreaming about since I ate here last year.  Bone in with a creole-mustard glaze, topped with crispy onions and sitting on a bed of fingerling potatoes cooked in bacon fat.  COME ON!  I will continue dreaming about this until the next time I come back to Atlanta.

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So after dinner, I decide to go out to a couple of fun bars that I go to when I’m in town and I ask for my car from the valet and it takes FOREVER.  Finally the guy comes and tells me the car won’t start.

So I go up into the garage with him and get in the car and it starts just fine – no problem at all.  He swears to me that he turned the key and nothing happened – no sound, no clicking, no lights on the dash, nothing.  I’m concerned, especially after the radio thing, but I really needed a drink so I went on anyway.

Stopped at a bar and came back out later to start the car and it was fine.  Stopped and started the car again and it was fine.  Stopped and went to start the car the third time, now about 1am, and nothing.  Dead.  Zippo. Zilch. Nada.  Complete and utter silence when I turned the key.

I kept trying for about 15 minutes and was about to call the rental company’s roadside service when I decided to turn the key one more time… and it worked as if nothing had happened.

So, this morning I got a later of a start than I intended because I had to drive back to the airport to exchange cars.  Now I have a nearly new Chevy Malibu, which is as boring as the Hyatt, but at least it runs.

After revisiting Hartsfield, I hit the road north to have a bit of a Plucky blast from the past.  Way back in 2008, on my third Plucky Survivors See America trip with my friend Mary, we did 2,400 miles through the deep south round trip from Atlanta.  On our second to last day we stopped at a place called Poole’s BBQ in East Elijay, Georgia.

The place is famous for it’s colorful owner, the (honorary) Colonel Poole who proudly displays his conservative political views on the walls of the restaurant and has become a de facto campaign stop for any Republican candidate who comes through the state.  There are pictures of him, usually wearing the a bright yellow suit and an American Flag top hat, shaking hands with everyone from Pat Buchanan to Mitt Romney.   He looks like this:

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Politics aside, Poole’s a hoot.  The main restaurant is called  the Taj Ma-Hog and behind it is the Pig Hill of Fame, where people can pay a few bucks to have something written on a wood cutout of a pig and placed on a big hill.   Oh, and they have really good BBQ, also.

Mary and I ordered a pig and they were supposed to write Plucky Survivors 3 on it and place it on the hill.

So today, I drove about 90 minutes north of Atlanta back to Poole’s just to see if I could find it seven years later amongst the hundreds of signs on the hill.  I couldn’t, but it was still fun to know that it was there, somewhere.  All I could think is that if Mary she would have been 100% convinced that she would be able to find it and would have stayed until she did.  Damn, I miss her.

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Then I went inside to have me some ‘que.  Got a plate with a quarter-white chicken, pulled pork, mac and cheese, and corn on the cob.  If you look closely, you’ll note that the corn is sitting in a pool of melted butter, none of this hipster crap with the roasted corn and chile powder rub that you find at gastro pubs these days.  Hot damn, y’all, I’m in Georgia!

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And you want to know how else I know I’m in Georgia?  All the confederate flags on people’s cars and signs like these…

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Please note that all of these were within about 1/4 of a mile of each other in the little town of White, Georgia.  Feel free to insert your own eye roll.

Just down the road a piece, was the main event of the day – Old Car City.  This is 34 acres of trails through the woods – about 6 miles if you do them all – that are lined with junk cars.  They range from 50s Cadillacs to 60s Thunderbirds to 70s Pintos to 80s Pontiacs and beyond, over 4,000 of them rotting there in the Georgia countryside.

It sounds like a junkyard, and it is, but it’s also kind of art, and I found it thought-provoking in a way that I hadn’t expected.  As you scroll through the pictures below, remember that every one of these vehicles was built by people and owned by people.  People drove to work in these cars and took vacations in them and maybe slept in them or drove them drunk one night or fought with their wife in them or sang with the kids or got someone pregnant in the backseat or maybe just took a drive through the Georgia countryside for some memories and some really good barbecue.

I’m taking a meandering road trip east tomorrow and will write more when I am settled in to Charleston, South Carolina.  Someday there will be a gold Chevy Malibu sitting in a junkyard somewhere that helped me get there.

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Sweet Home Chicago Day 1

I really need to learn how to be the type of person who can go to a place and just enjoy it, rather than looking at everything and wondering how I’m going to describe it later. It’s the travel writer in me, perhaps yearning for a chance to write about something other than Las Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing about Las Vegas, but there are so many ways I can describe a buffet or a white tiger.

So here I am on my annual trip to Chicago and here I am writing about it. I hope you enjoy.

I got in late Thursday night after an uneventful flight. I had splurged on first class, just because, and while it is certainly better than economy, this particular plane was not exactly posh. Comfortable, but probably not worth the extra dough I spent. Oh well, at least the movies were free.

“Cake” with Jennifer Aniston. Darned good flick, by the way.

Traffic from the airport into the city is always a nightmare – like, worse than LA traffic believe it or not. An 18 mile trip took me about an hour and forty minutes so by the time I got to the hotel all of the life had been sucked out of me.

I’m staying at the Congress Plaza, which in its day was undoubtedly a stunning place. It was built in 1893 and then expanded in 1902 and 1907 to have more than 1,000 rooms, making it one of the biggest hotels in the world at the time. The location is pretty amazing, on south Michigan Avenue right across the street from Grant Park. I have an incredible view of Buckingham Fountain, which you will know if you ever watched “Married, With Children,” and beyond that Lake Michigan.

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The problem is that this grand old dame has seen better days. The carpeting is threadbare in spots, the wallpaper is scuffed and torn here and there, and someone thought it was a good idea at some point in its history to put in acoustic popcorn ceiling tiles and harsh, white fluorescent lights in the halls and other public spaces. The elevators are best described as rattletrap (and break down frequently) and the fire doors between various sections of the hotel look like they have been bashed into repeatedly by large, heavy luggage (which is probably the case). The furniture in the room, which is circa 1993, appears to have met the same luggage a few too many times.

Still, my room is spotlessly clean, big, with 12 foot ceilings, crown molding, and that aforementioned incredible view and other than sitting here writing about it, I’m not spending that much time here doing anything other than sleeping (on the unusually hard mattress and rock hard pillows) so in the end, it’s fine. I’ve decided to say that it has character and leave it at that.  Did I mention the view?

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Friday I slept in, because, vacation, and then set out on my day’s amusements.

The first stop was Willis Tower, the artist formerly known as the Sears Tower, and the second tallest building in the United States, behind only the new Freedom Tower in New York City. No, I did not go there to go up more than 100 stories and walk out onto a plexiglass box hanging off the side of it. I went because they were supposed to be having a food truck fest on the plaza at the base of it. I believe that I have my priorities in order, thank you very much.

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When I got there, only 4 trucks were parked along the curb and they were pretty lame – a coffee truck, a Chicago pizza truck, something else that was so completely uninteresting that I can’t remember what it was, and a BBQ truck that, for some reason, didn’t seem all that appetizing. I was there on the early side so I decided to waste a little while by going up in the Willis Tower anyway. No, I had no intention of going into the stupid box, but I figured it was there and why not. Well, because the wait time was about an hour and I’m sorry but going up into a crazy tall building so I could experience terrible vertigo and cold sweats is dumb enough but waiting for an hour to do it seemed ludicrous.

So I went to the BBQ truck and ordered a pulled pork slider and some mac and cheese. I should have listened to my instincts. The pork was tough, the sauce was glorified ketchup, and the mac and cheese was… I don’t even know how to describe it. Noodles in a soupy, cheese-like substance with chunks of cheese sitting on top. Um, no.

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I had a plan for the day but this threw a wrench into it, so I decided to rearrange my schedule and head to The Purple Pig for lunch instead of dinner as I had intended. For those of you who may not remember the last time I was in Chicago, this is a delightful little place on Michigan Avenue near the river whose purpose is “Cheese, Swine, and Wine” according to the sign over the front entrance. It is insanely popular and they don’t take reservations so you have to sometimes wait for hours to get inside. Last year I lucked into a single seat at the bar twice and today it happened again. The restaurant was completely full with at least 50 people in line outside and I managed to slide into the one single spot left in the entire joint.

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Not wanting to mess with what I knew was a good thing, I went for the Greek Cornbread, which is fluffy and delightful and topped with Feta cheese and honey and wow, and the pork shoulder, which is served on a bed of mashed potatoes and a spoon – it is that tender. Everything was just as good as I remembered it from last year and I may have to go back again at some point before the trip is over.

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After that I strolled up the street to the Hershey store and bought sweets because apparently the honey drenched cornbread just wasn’t sweet enough.

Later that night, dinner was at Portillo’s, my favorite Italian Beef place in Chicago, which did not disappoint.

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In between the two meals, however, I want to tell you about one other thing I did, but first a little backstory.

I don’t often refer to myself as a cancer survivor. Part of it is because I’m only two years into my remission and you have to get to five before the oncologist will pat you on the back and say you are cured and send you on your way, hopefully with a lollipop. All cancers are tenacious little bastards and like to come back when you least expect it but esophageal cancer is especially insidious that way, enjoying a good lurk in the hidden recesses for years until it decides to rear its ugly little head and say “Hey, remember me? I’m baaaaaaack!”

So, yeah, not calling myself a “survivor” is a little bit of not wanting to jinx myself, but it’s more than that. There’s also the whole survivor’s guilt part of the equation.

A few weeks ago I co-chaired a bit charity event to raise money for the Esophageal Cancer Action Network where people rappelled down the 24 stories of the Universal City Hilton. It was a great day, made deeper and richer by the stories we told of the people our intrepid group were doing the rappels in honor of – those who had faced esophageal cancer and, in most cases, had been lost to it.

I put together all of the packets of material and scripts for all of these people and couldn’t stop being overwhelmed by those razor’s edges we walk all the time. The line between what happened to me and what happened to them is impossibly thin and the fact that I was there to tell their stories instead of having mine told in my absence was sobering to say the least.

Being a “cancer survivor” seems to imply a strength of character and a sense of obligation that I can’t live up to even on my best of days. The only reason I lived is because I was paying attention, I had really good doctors, and, most of all, I was incredibly lucky. Like, stupid lucky. Lotto lucky.

And then there was Mary. And Dave. And all of the other people I have known who weren’t so lucky.

So yeah, I feel a little guilty. Sue me.

Still, technically, I have survived thus far after having cancer so I guess that qualifies me, at the very least, to take a self-reflective stroll through the Cancer Survivors’ Garden located in Maggie Daley Park in the heart of the city.

It’s a pretty space set on a terraced hillside leading down to Lakeshore Drive by Lake Michigan. At the top of the hill is a metal structure resembling a greenhouse of sorts, inside of which are various placards talking about cancer in all of its various incarnations. Down below is a series of pillars, each with an inscription that aims to be inspiring that I mostly kind of rolled my eyes at. Don’t get me started about the whole “positive attitude” thing.

There was one inscription that I liked… “At least one person has been cured of every type of cancer known to man.” Screw your positive attitude, let’s talk about curing this bastard.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and so I sat on a bench in the Cancer Survivors’ Garden and had a cookie from the Hershey’s store.

Now that’s what I call surviving.

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TYOLD May 26, 2014: More Pigs & Random Tourism

I had planned on driving over to Dubuque, Iowa today to see a friend from high school (hey Patty!) but wound up not for several reasons.

First, they were forecasting some bad weather for this afternoon and I just pictured myself huddled in a ditch somewhere next to a cornfield along the seven  hour round trip drive that is Chicago to Dubuque while a twister was heading my way.  For those that don’t know me well, that is EXACTLY the kind of luck I have.

But second, and more importantly, it is becoming painfully obvious every single day that I am no longer 25.  I would like to blame my sheer exhaustion on the fact that I had a cold when I arrived and had also screwed up my back a bit so I felt horrible in a bunch of different ways and yet didn’t amend my schedule of activities to account for it. There was still food porn, sightseeing, museums, and more than a bit of drinking and carousing.  By last night, all I could think of doing was napping.

So my official apologies to Ms. Poggemiller.  I will see you at the *cough*choke* 30 year high school reunion in August.  Sigh.

Today I decided to take it fairly easy and so I went back to lunch at the Purple Pig again (which is more or less right next door to the hotel), hoping against hope I could snag another single seat and I lucked into one amazingly.  That I was able to do this two days in a row at lunch time on a holiday weekend is a bit of a miracle. There were people that were waiting for upwards of two hours to get in.

I started with Prosciutto di San Daniele, which is, quite simply, amazing.  It comes from the thighs of pigs raised in the north central region of Italy, is never frozen, and is cured in a very specific way that makes it a little bit sweet.  The flavor is insane.  Add in the beautifully garlicky crustinis and it’s just perfect on a plate.

And that’s before I had the milk-braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes.  Now, as you will see from the picture below, what is interesting is that they serve this cut of meat with a spoon.  It is that tender, that juicy, and that stupid good.  I want to go back there and eat every single thing on the menu.

As I was waiting for my food, a couple sat at the bar next to me and were going over the menu with the waiter.  The woman, when advised of several of the menu items, said in a very firm manner “No, no, no… no pork!”  And I thought, “Then what the hell are you doing at a place called The Purple Pig, whose slogan – writ large in iron over the front gate – is ‘Cheese, Swine, and Wine?!’”  Okay, yes, they have other things including a roast turkey leg that is roughly the size of a small Toyota, but it should not be surprising that a place with “pig” in the name should have a lot of it on the menu.

Then my food came.  She took one look at that pork shoulder and order that.  And the bone marrow, which I took a shot of below.  I’m not a fan of the marrow, but the presentation of this is great – huge, with big chunks of garlic bread and salt.

After lunch I proved that I am not 25 anymore by sitting in a rocking chair along the banks of the Chicago River.  Totally serious.  The second Chicago picture below is taken from that vantage point.

Then I took a Chicago River boat tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  Our guide was a little too heavy on the esoteric architect/builder names and light on, what I consider to be the more interesting, historical context that illuminates architecture.  Yes, I see that is an neo-classical building and I don’t care, quite frankly, who built it (unless there’s a good story there) but tell me why neo-classical architecture was all the rage in the late 1920s and how it changed in the next decade after the Great Depression into the less ornate (and grandiose) Art Deco styles of the 30s and 40s in response to more austere times.

Still, it was cool to see the city from that vantage point and something I have never done before so Diferentlies accomplished.  Pictures below.

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