Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Only Way to Travel

Road tripping is like a poetry slam. You never know what soul-searching self-loathing mixed-metaphor run-on howling poet you’ll see next.

You hear me and you push. You push me! Then you touch me. You touch me but I push back. I pushed back! Hard! I shoved my pole into the murky waters and hit the muddy bottom, and I pushed. Hard like Huck. Gentle like Jim. Until I was floating, softly spinning into your liquid brown eyes. Your eyes! I looked over the waterfall and into your eyes. Your eyes! And I jumped!

Which is the poetry slam way to say that a road trip well traveled is a thing of both careful planning and carefree spontaneity. Sometimes we have a destination and sometimes we just float around accidental-like on a breeze. Maybe we play it both ways at the same time. Maybe we have to. Maybe this is the only way to travel.

After our heroics at Cape Canaveral, for no particular reason we drove northward and lingered in the great little seaside tourist town of St. Augustine, FL.

The famed conquistador Ponce de Leon rolled ashore here a few generations back (in the year 1513), looking for the fabled Fountain of Youth. These days, $6 buys you admission to the fabled fountain, a Dixie cup, and all the sulphurous spring water you can guzzle.

The waters must work because Ponce is still with us, forever young. Believe It or Not!

Since the curative waters of The Fountain of Youth didn’t kill us, we tempted fate again by venturing upstream and inland into the dreaded Okefenokee Swamp.

After a danger-filled morning, it so happened that our day was far from over! Just as we gained the high ground of Savannah, GA, a ripping thunderstorm blew into town (with 60mph winds. True!). We had intended to camp at a nearby state park, but the flooded roads, downed power lines, and snarled traffic said otherwise. So we changed plans and directions and rambled into town. It turned out to be a fun-filled and beautiful evening…

… that ended with a poetry slam...

... and a noisy night's sleep on the streets around Chippewa Square.

Though you probably won't recognize the house in the background, you might recognize the square itself from the movies.

In the morning, we talked microbuses with the locals and rode our bikes to most of the 20 or so town squares. Like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you’ll like best.

But like a poet going on too long in front of an open-mic, the day didn’t end there. We consulted the map, changed our minds, changed then again, then, for no particular reason, we headed inland again to wander Georgia and South Carolina's farm roads...

... and small towns.

When we were hungry, we ate. When where tired, we slept.

Today, the trail ends in the olde-tyme resort town of Asheville, N.C.. It is, without doubt, the grooviest burg east of Eugene, OR.

From here, it’s on to the Smokey Mountains. Then we’ll be on to somewhere else. We love our road trip. Love it like a pair of fire-sky eyes that pierce the smoke on the water. The waterfall. I looked into the waterfall …

Sunday, June 22, 2008

From Miami to Jupiter and Beyond

If you think that Miami is the most out of sight place in America (which, by extension, makes the most out of this world place in the world, which, by extension, makes it the most way out place in the solar system, which, by extension, makes it the most stellar place in the known universe), you’d be wrong. As it turns out, another place just up the road holds that distinction.

North out of Miami, we rocketed up Highway A1A (not to be confused with Highway 1, though they sometimes share the same roadway). We shot through the Boca Raton Nebula…

.. swung through the Coconut Grove Cluster…

.. and finally touched down in Jupiter, FL. After some rest and refueling, we took aim for the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral--the most out of this world site on the planet. Soon enough we were walking in the space where only astronauts dare trod.

Suffice it to say, there is no greater confluence on earth to the glories of funny math, hardcore science and wild adventure. And you get to see it all, at least from a near-distance.

The hangar where the Space Shuttle is readied for launch…

… and get a close-up look at an actual launch pad.

Or, if you prefer, you can fine-tune a retired rocket engine.

Or, if you're not in a working mood, you can inspect the artifacts from The Saturn and Apollo programs, from the very largest…

to the very smallest*…

*actual piece of actual moon rock

… to Skylab and beyond.

Also, there’s a much less talked about phenomena that occurs only at the Kennedy Space Center. The scientific term is Ethay Isneyday Effectway, more commonly known as “The Disney Effect.” Call it what you will, it's all good.

Wait patiently before the blast doors. Keep calm.

Then step through the doors and back in time. You are in the actual (really!) mission control room when Apollo 8 counts down to lift off. Make no mistake, you are there!

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that this brought an unfounded tear of accomplishment to my eye.)

Then thrill to the moon landing of Apollo 11 where The Eagle lands on the hour, before your very eyes!

Strap in to a seat on the Space Shuttle*, hold on tight, and ride the rocket to your place in the cosmos.

*This ride purports to be the most authentic Space Shuttle launch simulation as is possible on earth. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t care. I loved it.

Real astronauts, ever humble, downplay their role in this endeavor. They say that they are little more than high-flying mechanics and construction workers. This is true.

Which means, like any good construction worker, you can make your own fun on the Kennedy Space Center jobsite, too. Why not self guide yourself through a Space Shuttle. It’s not as roomy inside as it looks on the outside, but what work truck really is?

Afterwards, go down to the local watering hole and hang out with some spacey new friends...

... then come back home a little lit up and a bonefide Gemini hero.

Best of all, the adventure continued after we left the Kennedy Space Center. Inspired by my astronaut brethren, I too got the chance to work as a high-flying mechanic.

It's the adventure of a lifetime, my fellow space travellers. The adventure of a lifetime.

Golden Dreams

“I want the security standing right over there!” the short and hairy fat man bellowed from the center of the dining room. Everyone turned to stare—the diners, the waiters, the busboys. It was just the effect he wanted. But no one recognized him. Likewise, no one recognized any of the three unassuming middle-aged women who stood around his small square table. The hairy fat man puffed up in his pleated four-pocket shirt, yanked a gargantuan stogie from the crook of his maw and jabbed it at the humbled maitre d'. “No autographs, either. Understand? And no pictures!”

The fat man rocked back on his heels and jammed the stogie back into his loud mouth. The three unassuming middle-aged women shrugged off their purses and waited for someone to pull back their chairs. I, of course, immediately took out our camera and snapped a flash picture. But not of the fat man. He would have wanted that.

Either Miami Beach is a strange place or Diane and I had become bumpkins from the Florida Keys. It was difficult to say. But sitting in Joe’s Stone Crab, an intimate but sprawling little restaurant, the very flavor of South Beach revealed itself to me. In my hands was a focused but confused ala carte menu; serving us was a cadre of aggressive professional male waiters with dour smiles; and sitting beside us was a loudmouth commoner with a celebrity attitude. No one looked like they were actually enjoying themselves. But everyone was making the scene. I should also say that the fabled stone crab, while fabulous looking and perfectly textured, was just okay.

Luckily, no meal is meant to last and soon enough we were out the door, stuffed to the gills with crab, and looking to make the next scene. And what a scene it is. All you have to do is pick one. Might I suggest:

The movie set on Ocean Drive

… where any hack can stand-in for a director.

Or perhaps you’d rather dine on some upscale deep fried tourist fare. You’ll pay extra for a table on the sidewalk, but it’s worth it. You might even be in a Hollywood movie, because on this walk of fame you are the star!

If fame is not to your liking, might I suggest glamour. This dish is no pan and all flash. Dress the part and take a stroll up Collins Street, a block and a world away from Ocean Drive. You’ll find one deco-era hotel-bar after another. Take your time. Linger. Make as many scenes as you desire.

The names are as simple to remember as are the hotels fabulous to be in.

The President, St. Moritz, Algiers, Paris, Royal, Cadet, Blue Moon, Avalon, Ritz-Carlton; Nobu, Rosiella, Aura, Spris, Poraku, Puerto Sagua, Vix, Wish …

… and the fabulousness goes on and on and on. Which is also to say it was a very long night.

In the harsh light of morning, though no less trendy South Beach changes into something a bit more reasonable, if not brutally honest.

After a stint on the famed (and worthy) Miami Beach, we dined in a deco diner and perused the exhibitions at the Wolfsonian museum, a showcase dedicated to the study of—what else?—the modern era (1885-1945).

Of course Miami is more than the deco dazzle of South Beach. It is also a never-ending tangle of fast-moving traffic on like-sounding street names. The result is guaranteed to confuse and confound any outsider. Just ask me. (1st Ave. crosses 1st St., which then becomes 11th Dr., which then leads to 1st Rd. … good luck to you.) Nonetheless, we somehow managed to find Little Havana

… and the Biltmore Hotel…

… and our way out of town.