Tuesday, October 25, 2005

vacation, part 1: the irrational icedancing festival

We are listening to Into Thin Air as we drive through the mountains on the first night of vacation. I don’t know if it qualifies as travel writing, but it seems an appropriate place to hear it, sort of—even though climbing Everest has never appealed to me like traversing the Appalachian Trail. There are plenty of places to see out there that have sufficient oxygen, an environment that gets above zero, and that do not require the aid of a Sherpa to visit. Frozen mountains are indeed pretty, but they are not worth amputated extremities, brain damage, or death.

Then again, maybe they are.

I’m driving down the other side of the mountain and passing plastic white crosses at many of the sharp turns, and it occurs to me that climbing a mountain is probably a better way to go than driving off of one or having the brakes go out on the eighteen wheeler behind you. I assume that you won’t find plastic crosses on your way up Everest, and that is probably for the same reason they don’t line racetracks: one assumes the risk by virtue of attempt. Though tragic, there may be something a bit nobler in that.

Still, the frostbite would render my banjo useless.

We had thought about stopping in one of those mountain towns to sleep before going on to Norfolk. Ten or eleven hours seemed like too much to expect after leaving Murfreesboro at four, but a decent audio book generally puts me in the zone, and I had no problem making it past Greensboro and into the parking lot of a Burlington, NC, Super 8 Motel at about the time Krakauer started reading the epilogue. I was asleep within fifteen minutes.

That night I dreamed about the Irrational Icedancing Festival and was quite disappointed when the sun broke through the tacky curtains to bring me back to the Super 8. I dreamed that Mrs. Camino and I woke, showered, and then stumbled across the festival while meandering from one small Carolina town to another along the backroads. Reality was a let down, partially because it meant having to shower all over again, but more because I awoke before getting to see any of the actual icedancing. I had only made it to the concession and t-shirt stand before sunlight and the rumbling of an ancient Cadillac outside left my anticipation unfulfilled.

Is there such a thing as rational icedancing?

Mrs. Camino asked that very same question when I relayed the dream to her over our breakfast at Burlington’s own Biscuitville, and I told her then that I doubted it. I was still a bit deflated at the nonexistence of such a festival, but Buscuitville has some really kick-ass grits, and they brought some counteracting joy into my life. The biscuits were also good, but the grits surpassed expectations. The eggs and pancakes were simply okay, and the chicken tenderloin on my “eggs and chicken platter” made me think they had exhausted their own chicken supply and were supplanting it with second hand bird from the Chik-Fil-A at the mall down the block. If so, it would have been perfectly fine with me, as I have nothing but love for the chicken one comes across at Chik-Fil-A.

By the way, I ate the chicken first.

Then it was back onto the interstate and off to Hillsboro, NC. It lies just outside of Durham and contains a number of antique stores and historical bed and breakfasts. I had been through there once before and remembered it as the sort of place Mrs. Camino might want to wander through.

We arrived just as the farmer’s market was winding down in a parking lot adjacent to the town square. Most of the folding tables had already been vacated, but there were still a few people milling about. A woman was singing Billie Holiday covers with the accompaniment of electric piano, bass, and a small PA system underneath a funeral home tent. There were still a few farmers, an Amishly dressed woman with sweet potato and pumpkin pies, and another woman, perhaps a Wiccan representative or Renaissance fair runaway, in thick eyeshadow and a black cape standing behind an empty white table and greeting each passer-by with, “And how are you this day?”

A lifestyle that allows one to confidently don a cape is certainly tempting, but I know that I couldn’t give up the comfort and convenience of the word “today”.

An hour later we were rolling into Durham along the road that separates Duke University from a vast forest that it owns. Trails were cut all along it, but we had to pass them to keep on our loose schedule and make it to my sister’s place a little before sundown. Still, there was time enough to show Mrs. Camino the original home of the Durham Bulls and the very same field where the best film about minor league baseball was shot some fifteen years ago.

They say that if you go out there really late at night you can sometimes see the ghost of Kevin Costner’s career floating just behind home plate.

Still, it was no Irrational Icedancing Festival.

The closest I ever got to that was the Virginia Wine Festival. Day one of that celebration was letting out just as we made it to Norfolk, and we may have very well been the only sober people in town at that point. Though I certainly have nothing but love for adult beverages of every form and fashion, I was quickly reminded of why my days of binge drinking were few and far behind me. There was laughing, stumbling, yelling, dry humping, vomiting, arguing, singing, the gnashing of teeth, the spilling of wine, animated conversations with cell phones, scattered young professional curled into the fetal position, euphoria, depression, and a confused handful of Japanese tourists documenting it all on the latest of digital cameras, and for some it was not unlike traipsing across a sheet of ice.

I therefore cannot accurately judge Norfolk. It is certainly a beautiful city with miles of wide waterfront along the Elizabeth River, but we seemed to have caught it just after hurricane Katrina doubled back to deposit the most annoying of Mardi-Gras revelers along its shore.

This is the view of the business end of the USS Wisconsin. It just sat there in the harbor doing nothing to help the stumbling an inebriated all around it, and I think we can infer from this that George Bush hates drunk people.

Sister Camino lives in the Ghent district. She has an apartment in the basement of a building constructed over a hundred years ago to house foreign dockworkers. It has since served as a hospital and a number of other things before being renovated and divided into modern apartment. She is convinced that her part once served as the morgue, though she has no historical proof and has had no problems with the paranormal.

We ate that night at Freemason Abbey, a former church along Freemason Road that has spent nearly two decades as a steak and seafood restaurant. It is reported to be one of the most haunted places in Virginia. I didn’t get many details on the dark history or have any otherworldly experiences in my short time there, but we were certainly visited by the dual specters of high prices and poor service.

The next night was better. Sister Camino took us to Rudee's in Virginia Beach for our sixth wedding anniversary, and we feasted on a mountain of steamed crab, oysters, and shrimp. We left painfully full and covered in crab shrapnel, and that is the only way that a man in a Hawaiian shirt should leave such an establishment.
COMING SOON: Williamsburg and Jamestown (provided that I get around to writing it).


Blogger HUCK said...

Gol Dang it, son! You can write.

Truly you've captured the very essence of crab shrapnel in it's purest form.

Seriously, great post. Great trip, too. Thanks for carrying us along. Can't wait for part 2.

7:45 PM  
Blogger HUCK said...

Ooops! Almost forgot...

Rollllllllllll Tiiiiide Roll!!!

7:47 PM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

By far the best travelogue I've ever read. And yes, you CAN (and do) write....!

11:06 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

Aw shucks, y'all.


...and roll tide.

11:11 PM  
Blogger H.U.T.S. said...

What did Duane & Duane think of the trip?

9:37 AM  
Blogger red molly said...

You tell quite a tale by tracking the trail of your trip. Great post...very entertaining!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

Duane and Duane seem to have slipped into a brief hibernation now that the college football season is in full swing, but that hasn't kept them from haunting my doodles when I'm supposed to be paying attention at meetings or while operating a moving vehicle.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous sethro said...

almost as good as your riotous post were the links...i particularly like the music that plays automaticly when you go to the Freemason Abbey site.
sounds like one of Bach's idiot man children wrote it.
actually a lot of church music sounds like that.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

My speakers were unplugged and I didn't realize that there was music on the Freemason Abbey site, Sethro. Gracias for the heads up.

4:29 PM  

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