Our last day in Savannah began with Richard riding the Bike Friday (finally!) through the winding streets of Savannah's historic district, while Suzanne got ready back in the room. Once the bike was put away in the truck downstairs - and the truck was confirmed to actually be where it was supposed to be - we started the long task of packing up & loading out after our 6 days in this city. No problems with the checkout, although the fact the desk clerk knew us by name meant that apparently we'd developed a little bit of notoriety with the Hyatt's staff. Then a last spin through town, a cruise over the big bridge and back so we could say we'd actually been in South Carolina, and then out again on the open road.
Lunch was discovered out on US 17 a few miles west of town when a sign for "Mammy's Kitchen - Home Cooking" looked too tasty to pass up. The Southern-style chow was satisfying, including red velvet cake (caution: may cause mild side effects in 12-24 hours). We veered off on US 84 and headed through Hinesville, home of Fort Stewart and the 3rd Infantry Division, just back from some successful out-of-town activities. The adjoining towns were also in the patriotic spirit on this Flag Day (see photo), and we were impressed by the quantity of red, white, and blue set against the south Georgia greenery. One other flag-related note: Georgia just changed their state flag yet again, and it seems there's still a bit of dissension about the decision. In the space of a few miles, we saw a few new 2003 flags, some blue 2001 flags - and a significant number of the earlier more Confed-versial flags, sometimes with a few well-chosen editorial comments. We crossed ways with US 1 in Waycross, and then continued on into Valdosta, the "azalea capital of the US".
The busy traffic of Valdosta encouraged us to keep moving just a bit further this day, and so we quit for the day in the appropriately named town of Quitman. The Georgian Motel was fine, and the downtown was picturesque, but we showed up at the local mom n' pop buffet just as they were apologetically locking the doors for the evening. Fortunately, the local chicken shack was servin' up down-home grub, and so we were full and happy to finish the day.
Flag Day at the local courthouse
South out of Quitman, we traveled calm country roads as we left Georgia and rolled into the state of Florida. A short morning's drive along US 90 had us in Tallahassee, the state capital and home of another Division 1A major conference university with colors of maroon and gold and the word "state" in its name (not that we like any university fitting that description, but we digress).
We circled Doak Campbell Stadium, the place of many Seminole events in football history, and were headed back toward downtown on Gaines St. when we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a giant flying Beetle diving toward us (see photo). We stepped into this big bug's lair and found a wacky store called Pelican Place, with all sorts of oddball objects matching our peculiar tastes. While we could have been happy with nearly any of the items in this store, we instead captured the flamingo that our backyard has always cried out for, but we hadn't quite discovered yet.
After flipping the big bird into the truck, we continued south by southwest on US 319 until reaching Crawfordville, where we lunched at the first-rate Myra Jean's Restaurant (and cake catering, too!), where we watched the "Chew-Choo" toy train roll above our heads as we munched. Then onto US 98, over the bridges and causeways, and there we were - along the clear blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Turning westward, we rolled by the white sand beaches and swaying palms (and pines). In Apalachicola, there is a museum to John Gorrie, inventor of mechanical refrigeration, and while we didn't get a chance to pay homage in person at the museum, we certainly appreciated his invention keeping us cool and dry as we traveled through the 90+ degree heat and humidity of this sweltering day. One stop in this town did have complications - Suzanne nearly broke her little piggy at the Piggly Wiggly, when the wheel of a shopping cart ended up on a collision course with her middle toe. Ouch!
Later in the day, we made our way to and through Panama City to Panama City Beach, where the resortification of the Florida Gulf Coast began in earnest. The traffic got heavy and the going got slow as we made our way through the congested crowds past the massive walls of high-rise condos and resorts that loomed between the highway and the water. While we'll be the first to appreciate private enterprise and wildly-painted beach shops, we agreed it gets a bit overdone here, after the first thousand or so. We searched for economical lodgings among the high rises and private clubs, and finally spied a small (very small) motel painted in an eye-catching shade of pink stuck in among all the resorts. While we balked at first at the asking rate, we changed our minds at once when we saw that the suite had a refrigerator, spare room - and a balcony looking right over the water. We asked the owner how business was, and he said that the mom & pop motel in Panama City Beach is nearly extinct - in fact, the very building we were in tonight was to be razed next month to make room for yet another high-rise resort.
As the sun set, we played in the white sands and crystal-clear waters. Richard began engineering the sand into wave-defying shapes, and ended up teaching the art and wonder of sandcastle building to a new generation of interested kids. They in turn shared their knowledge of catch-and-release crabbing with us, introducing us to some of their newly acquired crabby friends before releasing them back into the sea. We were then lulled to sleep by the rumble of the waves outside our window - which helped to drown out the roar of the traffic and nightlife back on the street.
Big bug lurks on the streets of Tallahassee
We made our way again into the bustle of Florida beach babes and bums and continued westward. We stopped for a while in the communities of Watercolor and Seaside, the town made famous as the setting of "The Truman Show". While the new community of Watercolor still looked a little too "overdone" with its lampshade-covered streetlights, Seaside struck us as having a much more "lived-in" look than the movie displayed. Also, while these communities are held up by some as models of "New Urbanist" design, they're still not perfect - bicycles are expected to act like two-wheeled walkers on the sidepaths, and big-box superstores are already creeping in on the wilds on the edge of town.
On and on through the endless overdeveloped resort cities of DestinFortWaltonBeachetcetc, until just past downtown Pensacola we were waved through the sentry gate onto the grounds of NAS Pensacola, home of the Naval Aviation Museum. Here our eyes and cameras flew from exhibit to exhibit, and we appreciated seeing firsthand the truly rare birds on display here, including the Grumman F3F, F4F, and one of the very few F6F Hellcats still in existence. We also flew with the Pensacola-based Blue Angels in a flight simulator ride, jumped in the cockpit of a Tomcat, and then more somberly read of the supreme sacrifice made by so many in defending our nation in the air and on the sea.
After a quick visit to the chapel where Richard's mom was married 61 years ago this month, we then blew out of Florida and into the southernmost reaches of Alabama, traveling to Fort Morgan at the eastern mouth of Mobile Bay. Here we commenced the maritime leg of our adventure, as we were transported atop the Mobile Bay Ferry, enjoying the sights of the open waters along the way. We were then dumped out at Dauphin Island, where we rolled through this picturesque community and then bridged our way back to the mainland. The fuel tank was full, the weather was fine, and we were settling in for an enjoyable evening of driving...
...and that's when, with a screech and a lurch, the right front wheel bearing seized up and disintegrated.
...and that's when, with a screech and a lurch, the right front wheel bearing seized up and disintegrated.
We ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere on a hot and sticky night. Fortunately, thanks to a booster cellphone antenna (who says those antennas aren't useful once in a while?), we were able to contact AAA - although it was interesting that due to the area code on my cell phone, we had to first make arrangements through Phoenix before finally making contact with the local Alabama folks. The tow truck driver was extraordinarily helpful, and saw that the valiant but injured Truckasaurus was delivered to a reputable place of service and that we were delivered to the bright neon glow of the Beverly Motel on US 90 in Mobile.
The nicer moments of this day
Temporarily "im-Mobile-ized", we made the best of the situation. We caught up on stuff, took a nice afternoon nap, and generally relaxed as best we could, with occasional walks out into the drizzle to forage for food. By midafternoon, the truck had new front bearings, and a new right front spindle and rotor due to collateral damage from the bearing bust, and $323.91 later, we had our trusty Truckasaurus back and ready for further vacation action.
Our trusty Truckasaurus, laid low
We finally "de-Mobile-ized", and rolled westbound on US 90 on our brand-new bearings into the stubby panhandle of Alabama. Just east of St. Elmo at the local gas station / mini mart / chicken joint, we were amazed by the sight of a giant piece of poultry embedded in a '78 El Camino. Upon inquiry, we found out that this motorized mutant might be related to the gaggle of odd vehicles we saw in Indy back in 2001 (see the '01 trip page on our website for more on that). This one still clucks around, and is very popular for weddings, parades, and of course, Mardi Gras!
Then back into Mississippi, where a brief drive brought us into the burg of Biloxi, which in recent years has become the "Vegas of the Gulf Coast". We stopped for a bit at the Grand Casino, where we appreciated the opulent restrooms (rated #1 in the US in an Internet poll!) and again did our bit for the local economy. As one would expect, the "South Park" slot machines gave us deviously mixed results, but the "Jackpot Party" was very very good for Suz.
We always enjoy the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and not just for the white sand beaches and oddly shaped casinos. This lil' stretch of Highway 90 also has one of the wackiest selections of unique and individually owned & operated little souvenir shops that can be found anywhere, and they did not disappoint. At the "S.S. Camille" gift shop in Gulfport, complete with full-size tugboat deposited onshore back in '69 by the namesake monster hurricane, we found many odd and interesting gifts for the folks back home. What we didn't find there was seen at another store in Bay St. Louis, where the shells were colorful and the prices were low.
Still on US 90, we veered into Louisiana, rolling slowly over the bayous on the old narrow bridges and concrete causeways. We drove determinedly along the Chef Menteur into downtown New Orleans, where at the end of US 61 (the official highway of the blues) we found a small place with small prices at the Le Petit Motel. After setting up shop in the roomy rooms of this tiny motel, we jumped on the Tulane Ave bus and rode into the Vieux Carre'. Bourbon Street was as wild as ever, and although we avoided the abundant alcohol, da po' boys (sandwiches) were perfect. After a few hours of fun, we threw our bead-laden bodies into a cab for the wild ride (almost worth the price of admission) back to the small motel in the Big Easy for some well-earned rest.
Fun along the Redneck Riviera
We levitated out of N'awlins on the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, 23.8 miles of structure spanning the big ol' pond north of town. On the north shore, we joined US 190 and again turned west. We was powerful hungry and huntin' some lunch, and under those circumstances, we just couldn't resist stopping at a place called "Cooter Brown's", complete with big fish on all the walls, in the small town of Robert (pronounced in that fine Louisiana tradition, as "Robert"). After this fine bayou food, we continued west on 190 through the small towns of central Louisiana til the state capitol got in our way.
Baton Rouge was "Baton Wet" as another thunderstorm snuck up from the Gulf and dumped on us as we mucked along up and over the mighty Mississippi and continued on US 190 (now known as the "Acadiana Trail") over the floodways and waterways and many other wet thangs. Somewhere between Opelousas and Eunice, we saw a standard LADOTD warning sign with the message "STOCK AT LARGE", which of course got us pondering whether we were going to see the local police chasing desperate fugitive cattle. We did see a few penned-up moos by the roadside, though, and said hi to them in the local language - "mieux". :)
Nightfall found us crossing the Sabine into Texas, where the Alamo Plaza Motel in Beaumont (yes, shaped just like the Alamo) had a Texas-size room at a modest price. Then a late dinner at a Texas landmark - one of the few remaining Pig Stand coffee shops, famous for inventing onion rings and Texas toast. We porked out on pleasant pig, and then back to the Alamo Plaza for some dozin'.
Causeway cruising, complete with crabs
We leisurely prepared for the day in our Alamo Plaza digs, until a quick visit to the Internet at about 11 or so advised us that The Orange Show in Houston, our first destination for the day, closed at 1 PM.
We were still 85 miles away. Oops.
We fireballed our way down I-10 among the trucks and other high-speed traffic, until the 2-way radio told us that there was trouble ahead on the edge of town. We exited quite a ways out of the city, skirted our way through Baytown and over the big bridge, snuck into Houston from the southeast, and made it to the Orange Show with 15 minutes to spare. Whew! What's better, the good orange folks kept it open for us so we could view it at our leisure.
So what is The Orange Show, anyway? Imagine if someone was to spend 20 years or so turning a vacant lot into a brightly colored multi-level concrete and steel shrine to the virtues of the orange. Well, Jeff McKissack did just that, completing it just before his death in 1980. No amount of verbal or pictorial description could do justice to this place, so just visit the Orange Show website.
All this orange-themed opulence had us hungry and thirsty, and so we drove around the skyscrapers of downtown and Minute Maid Park (there's that orange thing again...) to yet another Pig Stand (the one featured in the movie "The Evening Star") for some more slop. Then a quick drive from there to our second mind-bending destination - the Art Car Museum. This place, which serves Houston's role as the "art car capital of the world", features a number of motor vehicles that have been lovingly redecorated or outright recreated into absolutely amazing wheeled sculptures reflecting painstaking work and possibly a few hallucinogenics. We marveled at the detail and creativity of these varied vehicles, and started getting some really scary thoughts about what could be done with Putt-putt (our Geo) with a welding torch, some paint, a few sequins, some assorted action figures...
Then back to the stark reality of Houston's primary relationship with cars - endless traffic jams. We stayed off the clogged freeways, and took Main Street past Rice University, Reliant Stadium, the outer loop, the outer outer loop, and the outer outer outer loop, and into the suburb of Rosenberg. Here we found the 2Ms Malt 'n Burger Mart, an authentic old-style drive-in seemingly untouched by the post-modern world. After calming our traffic-frazzled nerves with some fine dairy products from this establishment, we continued westward on Alternate US 90 through the pastures of near-coastal Texas.
We noticed something interesting out here - in these fields, each cow had one or more cattle egrets assigned to them for insect control, with their white plumage contrasting vividly against the green of the vegetation and the brown of the cowitation. We pondered how the birds and moos made this happen - each morning, did a couple of egrets fly up to a cow and say "Hi, I'm Bill, and this is my partner Ed, and we'll be your egrets for the day"?
Then racing the setting sun through the countryside (was that deer really chasing that dog?) into Hallettsville for the evening, with a quick stop at the local "washouse" to clean the ol' duds and to mix with the locals. It turned out the lady that ran the place was a former Valley resident in the early 80s, and was amazed by our tall tales of shopping malls out on 83rd Avenue and freeways looping around town. Then into a nice clean room at the Hallettsville Inn to dream of our next day's exploits.
Small glimpses of the surreality of the Orange Show and Art Car Museum
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Latest Historical Revisionism 04 April 2005Scripting: Richard C. Moeur