2009 Summer vacation notes by Matthew Miranda

images-11I am anti-GPS.

Color me old-fashioned, but I don’t dig some satellite I don’t know knowing where I am at any given moment, much less every given moment. I don’t know where I am half the time; why should others know better?
I don’t know what point in history people lost faith in their ability to read little things like a map, or big things like the sun & sky, but I like getting lost. I like the possibility of getting lost. And if I didn’t, the U.S. has interstates up the wazoo. Triple-A provides highlighted maps of the entire country. You don’t exactly need a Sherpa to get around ‘Merica.

The same creeping sophistry that accompanied the spread of cell phones now justifies the spread of GPS. Remember a long time ago, in a distant galaxy, when everyone didn’t have a cell phone? One of the early “You HAVE to have a cell” was “If something happens while I’m on the road, or I get lost, I need a phone.” As if everyone who got lost in the pre-cell phone world suffered the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. 
Then, cell-phone rationale devolved from safety-based to laziness masquerading as convenience: What if I make plans with my friends to meet somewhere and then something comes up? What if someone has to change plans? How would we know? Who could adapt to such a fluid reality? Wormholes may spontaneously appear across the planet and swallow us up. Dogs living with cats. Mass hysteria.
I’ve been in a car with otherwise intelligent people who reach a one-way road and then pause, unsure where to go until the GPS tells them. I’ve heard the digital voice announce, “Turn left in two miles,” then watch the driver go into a panic because they can’t get in the left lane immediately, completely disregarding that:
A) they know the road they’re on and that they have to turn left, and
B) the turn is TWO MILES AWAY.

Tahitian Treat may be the greatest soda ever made. I haven’t seen it in year and assumed it’d died and ascended to that great supermarket in the sky, along with the other great (meaning terribly unhealthy) lost foods of my youth: Peanut Butter Twix…PB Max (which was like Reeses cups if they were on steroids, and instead of developing acne, they  grew peanuts)…O’Boises…mmm. O’Boises.
Anyway, I hadn’t seen Tahitian Treat in years. But there it was, at a convenience store in Brunswick, Georgia, of all places. Not only did the joint have Tahitian Treat, but for $5 they were selling DVDs of the Strangers with Candy movie. Huzzah! I noticed the DVDs first and waited in line to buy one. And I waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.
I was caught in a familiar scene: the customer in front of me was a smoker, the cashier was not. We’ve all been there: customer assumes cashier not only smokes, but smokes the same cigarettes they do, meaning they must share a psionic mind-link, invariably leading to variations of the following theme:

Customer: “Lemme have a pack of Marlboros.”
Cashier: “Marlboros, Marlboros, where are the…OK. Here ya go. Pack of Marlboros.”
“No, not Marlboros. Marlboro Reds.”
“Oh, OK. Let’s see…here they are. Pack of Marlboro Reds.”
“I want the King Box.”
“Umm, uhh, OK. Here we are. Marlboro Reds King Box.”
“Actually, make it Marlboro Lights.”
Cashier (exasperated): “Fine. Marlboro Lights. Here ya go.”
Customer: “I wanted Ultra Lights.”

Now in the North, this happens a lot, and it is annoying, because in the North, there is an unspoken assumption that the people in line behind you—indeed, the people of Earth as a whole—have things to do beyond waiting in line. Below the Mason-Dixon, Southern hospitality seems to assume everyone around you is hospitable to your being slow as molasses, so the above exchange, when factoring in all the silent pauses, took 3 minutes to occur.

I get back to the car and remember I forgot the soda. We’ve already driven for 10 hours, we just spent an hour stopped at this gas station because of crazy thunderstorms, we’re hours away from our destination in Florida, and the sky is dark as far as the eye can see, with no sign of clear skies anywhere. So every minute spent not driving feels like a colossal waste of time, and I just spent 5 minutes waiting to buy a DVD. Still, I dash back inside, grab the Tahitian Treat, and get back in line. And again, I’m waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
The same Speed-Racer who couldn’t figure out what cigarettes he’d wanted was now attempting to purchase lotto tickets. Given his struggle in choosing one brand of cigarettes out of 20 brands, waiting for him to pick a random series of numbers out of 100+ choices would mean forsaking the rest of the vacation, plus any future prospects at marriage or a career. I left the soda and slinked back to the car.

When I returned to NY and unpacked my luggage, the Strangers with Candy DVD had no disc inside.
Good grief.


–There’s a place in Pennsylvania called Hometown. I imagine the locals stopped thinking that joke was funny before the paint on the town sign dried.

–South Carolina has a town called Coochawhatsie. English is a versatile language, but I doubt even English can answer the question, “What do you call someone from Coochawhatsie?” Coochawhatsians? Coochawhatsits? Coochawhatsites? Cooties? What do you call people from Hometown? Homers?

–Dunn, North Carolina proclaims itself the “dump truck body capital of the world.” One wonders how such a distinction is earned.

–Virginia has the worst drivers I’ve ever seen. Florida has a well-deserved reputation for terrible drivers, but Florida drivers have evolved like Madagascar’s ecosystem: a totally foreign, frightening place to outsiders, but the isolation allowed them to develop a unique logic when it comes to driving that they all understand.
Por ejemplo: in other states, using your turn signal to switch lanes is at least a courtesy, and sometimes the law; in Florida, it’s a sign of mental weakness and an insult to everyone behind you, whose mission in life becomes  preventing you from entering their lane. It’s madness, yes, but it’s a madness they all share, which makes it non-madness.
And yet, if Florida drivers are the diversity of life in Madagascar, Virginia is a giant dog-fighting kennel.

–The Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee are breathtaking. After you have been in a car for 16 hours, though, nothing is beautiful. The first day we drove from Rochester to Asheville, NC, and it took us from 6 in the morning till 10 at night. If Megan Fox had been hitchhiking I would have run right over her. No hesitation. Nothing is beautiful after 16 hours in a car. Nothing.

–There may be no place on Earth with more Mexican restaurants than the South. I cannot overstate this: every quarter of a mile there’s another one. I recommend El Chapala in Asheville. Not only was the food terrific, but if you order a beer they bring it to you with a chilled mug. Such a simple gesture, but one that’s rarely made. God bless El Chapala.

Flashes from the various places we stayed:

ASHEVILLE—After we finished dinner and headed back to the car, a man dressed as a nun riding one of those old-time bicycles with the 10-foot high front wheel and the little back wheel rode by. He had sparkler ribbons flowing from the handlebars. He was no exhibitionist, either. Just a man in a nun suit riding an anachronism down the street.

RALEIGH—We went to Wet ‘n Wild, and after leaving there we stopped at a truck stop to use the restrooms. This was the first men’s restroom I have ever been to that did not have urinals. Just stalls. There was an impromptu discussion between several truckers and myself as to how emasculating this seemed. S’funny how close “emasculating” and “homosocial” can be…though a truck stop is a risqué forum to point this out.

WILMINGTON—The Dixie Grill. The food rocks—the French Fries are impossibly delicioso—and there may not be a sexier assemblage of legs in one place on Earth. Also, try the ribs at Stickyfingers, particularly with their Carolina sweet sauce. I don’t like eating anything other than rice & beans two days in a row, but I had no complaints about hitting up Stickyfingers for consecutive dinners. And sunset over the Cape Fear River is always a dream.

ORANGE CITY—Lelo’s Puerto Rican Restaurant. Quality mofongo. Excellent pernil. And one particularly fetching blonde.

FLORENCE, SC—Do not ever stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Florence, SC. I know that’s not on most people’s bucket list to begin with. But even an ironic stay would be a mistake.

Oh, and finally: Georgia stinks. I mean, it really really smells bad. At least down I-95 it does. First it smelled like dead fish. Then it smelled like what eggs born to dead fish that were left out in the sun for a month would smell like. Finally, it smelled like sulfur. When you find yourself grateful for the scent of sulfur, you are not in a good place. The only state I’ve ever driven through that smelled worse than Georgia was Nebraska. Nebraska is 8 hours of nonstop s#*&-stink.

And I’d rather drive through Nebraska and Georgia back to back than deal with Virginia drivers again.

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