6:30am: At Gene’s driveway in Connecticut, we loaded our bikes into the bed |
of Gene’s pickup truck to begin the first phase of our motorcycling trip through the
Blue Ridge mountains. The weather – damp, gray, 67 degrees.
After checking the contents of our travel bags and securing them to our bike
racks, we arranged our other travel gear and personal belongings inside the cab.
Everything looks about right, so at 7:05am we depart on the first leg of our
journey for Arlington Virginia.
I recall that it has been two weeks to the day, at Gene’s end-of-summer party,
that I listened with more than passing interest to his plan to ride the Blue Ridge
Mountains. We had first talked about making such a trip together two years earlier,
but now the opportunity was here, and I wanted to be a part of it. The thought
had occurred to me, that a trip of this type and duration would not be as
easy as fueling up the tank, and strapping a bag to the fender. There was the
weather, on the road accommodations, and the of course travel gear to consider;
most important for me, which of my two motorcycles would I choose for this ad-
venture. With an exchange of phone calls, and a Saturday morning sit down session
the weekend before, Gene and I were able to smooth out most of the details, and
with a few compromises, we would make it happen.
So, here we are on the road, no more than ten minutes from our departure on
route 6 in Connecticut, and we hear and feel an intermittent vibration through the
cab; Gene thinks it is coming from the truck’s transmission. After trying some
things, we conclude it is related to the overdrive mode; regardless of the exact
cause, we don’t consider this to be a deal breaker. In the spirit of adventure,
we live with it, and in the words of Eddie Kendricks,
"Keep On Truckin"! *
The ride is uneventfull for the first hour out of New England. We are enclosed in
an air-conditioned cab, and feel quite comfortable. We fill the time by
catching up on the recent happenings in our lives. In spite of mechanical
uncertainties, Gene sets a steady, and brisk, but basically legal pace. At this
time we are traveling on I95 under a hazy sun as we cross the George Washington
Bridge from Manhattan. As we pass through the New Jersey meadowlands, I recall
hearing stories of some underworld crime figures, reputed to be buried amongst
the reeds and grasses covering the low lying soil.
I look to my left and view Manhattan Island across the water. My eyes scan
along the length of the shore, and pause at the empty place where the twin towers
of the World Trade Center once rose so dramatically from the urban landscape. We
continue on the New Jersey turnpike out of the state, through a corner of Delaware,
and on into Maryland. As we approach the Chesapeake Bay tunnel, we are unsure
of which entrance to take. We follow a congested though freely flowing line of
vehicles through the darkened tunnel, to emerge at the other end into dazzling
sunlit traffic. Just outside of Baltimore Maryland, we hit our only serious
traffic tie up - road construction - and for 20 minutes, it is all stop and slow
going. I lower my window a bit, and extend my arm outside of the cab into
a bath of warm air with the consistency of tomato soup .
At 2:30pm we reach the interstate exit ramp for Arlington Virginia. Gene has
little difficulty finding our pre-arranged place to stay, which is a short distance
from the exit. It is here that we will meet Gene’s niece Amber, and her step-
father Billy. Amber is working at this time, so we don’t expect to see her
until later in the evening.
Arlington, Billy, and Amber
We pull into the driveway and exit the cab; it is at this time that I experience a
taste of the hot and oppressively damp weather that Washington DC is noted for
this time of year. The temperature is 90 degrees but it feels more like 120.
Our lodging is a modest size bungalow, single story, with a cape roof. We
find the key Billy had left for us, and step into a very cool and dry environment.
The inside confirms my original 1950’s era construction; it is meticulously clean.
The rooms are modest in size, and nicely proportioned to the house, and has been
retrofitted with central air-conditioning. The flooring is a light stained
narrow oak board throughout.
Within minutes of our arrival, our host Billy knocked on the door. Gene had given
me a little background of his life. A semi retired government employee and
entrepreneur as well, he is a relation of Gene, and the owner of the house; Billy
appears to have just left his office for the day. He is about our age, and not too
surprising wears glasses. Billy uses this house, which is conveniently located right
next door to his personal residence, as an art studio, as well as a place for
From Gene and Billy’s greeting, It is clear that they share a close and respectful
relationship; after their re-acquaintance, Gene introduces me. Billy asks of our
immediate plans, and we ask him if it is not too late, is it possible to visit the
museums of the Smithsonian Institute. Billy assures us the museums are open,
and offers to drive us to the Metro subway entrance at Ballston Station; from there,
he explains, we can travel to our first stop on our list of "must see" in Washington
DC. I find this first meeting with Billy to be very enjoyable and I look
forward to our next get togther.
From the sidewalk at Ballston station, we descend the stairs leading to the
subway entrance. Once below we are confused about how to access the subway
platform; we have quite a time figuring out how the subway fare ticket dis-
pensing machines work. After several failed attempts, we ask an attendant posted
at a nearby kiosk for help. A small uniformed Asian man speaks to us very
quickly. Whether due to his accent, or our comprehension, we are unsure of
his instructions. I suppose he has to perform his 'help-the-tourist-thing'
every day to people from all over the world. He abruptly leaves his post,
takes us to the fare dispensing machines, and shows us how to purchase the
fare cards needed to pass through to the subway ramp. After inserting our
cards, we walk down an additional flight of stairs. The subway platform is
spotless and airconditioned. By the time our train arrives, thirty or more people
have gathered with us. We board and travel through seven or so 'stops' to
the exit for the Smithsonian Museums and shops.
We climb the subway stairs and I am surprised to find we are in the middle of the
Washington Mall. On this afternoon, I see people of all ages; many are
walking in groups, including young school children. Government or profes-
sional types, I would guess walk about in every corner of the mall, most but not
all seem sensibly dressed for the humid summer weather, which I learn is typical
for this time of year.
I look about to get some bearings, and hear a voice offering help. I see a stocky,
and a bit unkempt looking man a few steps ahead of me; I approach and ask where
the Star Trek display is located. He produces a small tour map and points
in the direction of the Air and Space Museum. As I thank him, he solicits me
for a dollar donation to his church! I discover later that the map is outdated
and the Star Trek display has been gone for weeks. No big deal. I see the
halls of congress perhaps a half mile ahead of me. As a point of reference,
Gene points out the Washington Monument in the opposite end of the mall walkway.
From 3:30pm to 6:00pm, we enjoy a walk through the mall, and Smithsonian
area, including the Air and Space Museum. The air conditioning feels great
inside the museum. Though Gene had visited here years before, both he and I are
impressed with the number and variety of original vintage machines and associated
pieces of aviation history. In an area devoted to 30's and 40's era technology,
I spot the Howard Hughes plane recently depicted in the movie Aviator, and Gene
and I quickly move closer to examine every square inch of it. We are mes-
merized by this beautiful flying machine! To see the precision fit, gleeming finish and
overall preservation of this aircraft inches away is truly breathtaking. We
finish our visit, and take a leisure return to the subway entrance to travel
back to Arlington.
At 7:30pm, Gene’s niece Amber arrives; Gene and Amber embrace warmly. She
reminds me a lot of her Aunt Pat - Gene’s wife. Amber asked us what we might like
to eat for dinner, suggesting Lebanese, Indian, and Italian; I quickly respond that I
am Lebanese! To my delight, we all agree on Lebanese; Amber takes us in her
car to the "Lebanese Taverna" *
deli and restaurant, which is a short drive away.
On the way, we stop for supplies at a nearby CVS store. I remember my sister
Marie’s suggestion the evening before departure, to buy disposable cameras.
Neither Gene nor I had wanted to distract ourselves with the burden of photographic
equipment during this odyssey, but a compact disposable camera seemed like a
good alternative. By now, the evening temperature is a much more comfortable
75 degrees. After a short drive, we enter the parking lot of the restaurant. Inside
is a cool and tastefully decorated space; to our left we survey a spotless glass
deli display. Within the brightly lit space are four shelves every suare inch of which
is filled with dozens of prepared appetisers and entre's.
The counter staff is busy with customers ahead of us, so in order to be served we must
take a number and wait our turn. Amber is obviously familiar with the food;
when her number is called, she promptly asks for a Falafel sandwich from the uniformed
deli associate. Gene asks for a mix of items, with salad and pita bread; I want to
sample everything in site, but limit my order to Kibbie, Tabooleh, Stuffed Eggplant,
Lebneh, and Stuffed Grape Leaves - well sort of limit! I then amble over to a
self-serve beverage stand to pour myself a decaf coffee. We found a small
table near a window to enjoy our dinner. I am happy to find that my food has
been prepared in a manner I am familiar with, and is totally delicious. Gene and
Amber are equally pleased with their selections.
After finishing my meal, and while Gene and Amber are bringing each other up to
date with their lives, I brows the Deli's many shelves along the outside walls, neatly
filled with packaged food items of American and Mideast origin. A display cooler
contains a wide assortment of perishable prepared dairy items, sauces and breads, and
various beverages. I walk to the entranceway and chat with the cashier about
the owners of the restaurant, and the history of their business. She tells me
they own eight restaurants in the greater Washington area; the first was opened for
business in 1979. The recipes are their own, mixed with other basically traditional
Middle East dishes; all of their restaurants are still family owned and operated. I
meet Gene and Amber at the register. This evening meal with Gene and Amber has
been an extra special event. We return directly to Billy’s Studio and say goodnight to Amber.
Gene and I are surprised to hear a knock on the front door around 10:00pm, and find
Billy has returned to visit. He shares his current schedule with us, and some
details of his recent job working at our nation's capital. He asks us if we could
move some original sculpture (French) from his residence next door over to his studio-
house, and to move a table in the studio kitchen into the basement.
We walk across the yard to his residence and I am unprepared for what comes next!
Inside his home, Billy shows us an eclectic assortment of furnishings, which
he has dispersed, throughout every room in the house. The overall interior could be
described as neatly cluttered with a wide range of knick-knacks and antiques from
virtually every corner of the globe.
I spot a polished cast metal model of some kind of race-car perched atop a cabinet.
Billy has given special attention to this collectable item, which he explains, is a
"Spindizzy"! This, we will later learn, is a 1/16th-scale Dooling Brother's
highly collectible "Indy" style race car from the Nineteen Thirties. Billy's model is
a fully functioning liquid fuel powered car. After moving all of the furniture
and pieces of sculpture, Billy lifted the Spindizzie from its place and we all returned
to his studio work area where he showed us some of his photographic art. The
conversation turns to his up-start Internet-based Communication Company (doing well).
We move into the dining room where Billy had placed the Spindizzie on the dining
room table. Billy seeing our interest - I am especially eager to know more about
it - removes the polished cast body from the chassis, to reveal the inner workings
of this quite sophisticated "toy". A miniature internal combustion engine has been
coupled to a drive shaft via a centrifugal clutch, and transferred to a differential which
powers both of the rear wheels. The precision and fit of the machined components
inside is top notch. We enjoyed hearing his story about this special acquisition,
and his presentation from a large format book on the subject that he managed to locate.
This book chronicled with superb rare photos and highly detailed sketches and text, the
culture and the history surrounding this unique slice of American sport/hobby of the time.
My attention turns to what I believe is a "Segway" (Kaman Corp.) standing in the
corner of the dining area. A Segway is a one-person electric motorized transporter.
When I ask Billy about it, he confirms my guess. We then enjoy Billy’s enthusiastic
demonstration, right on the hardwood floor of his living room! He then invites us to
give it a try. I’m very reluctant at first, not wanting to crash into the furniture or
any one of a dozen prize knick-knacks in the tight confines of the room, but after watch-
ing him smoothly in control, I can’t resist! I get the hang of it quickly, attesting
to the sound engineering design. Gene takes a turn after me, and is equally
adept; happily, nothing gets destroyed.
We spend the next hour or so listening to Billy share his most recent projects
and plans. Gene and I take turns talking about our individual interests, and of
course, our basic itinerary for the upcoming days, all while snacking and enjoying
a few "legal" beverages. Billy listens carefully; he seems genuinely interested in
what we have to say, an endearing and invaluable trait no doubt, in his successful
career. This evening has been a real treat. We finally say good night to Billy
and retire at around 1:00pm.
Table Of Contents
In what would become a regular routine, I awake at 6:30am. Despite the good time
we have had here, I feel an excitement, mixed with uncertainty, as I think about leaving
for the motorcycling portion of our trip. I enter the small kitchen at the rear of the
house and hunt down some bowls and silverware, which I find inside of the original 1950’s
era, painted wooden cabinets. Gene joins me in the kitchen, and we enjoy a breakfast
together of cereal, fresh fruit, and some green tea, which Gene had packed with him from
home. After eating, we checked our bikes’ security tie downs and the rest of our gear,
in the bed of the truck. The morning weather: a sunny 90 degrees with 80% humidity.
With all necessary preparations complete, at 8:00am we leave Arlington for our next
destination - Roanoke Virginia.
Before leaving Connecticut, we had agreed to skip the Sky Line Drive portion of
the Blue Ridge Mountains. We reasoned we would make better use of travel time and
riding energy, south of Roanoke; this would leave us with more time to explore in
lower Virginia and North Carolina. We take the interstate all the way to Roanoke,
with one stop for fuel, and to stretch our limbs. We can see the Blue
Ridge Mountains in the distance beyond the farmland and meadows to our left. They are
impressive in their blue green tint against the afternoon sun, extending unbroken mile
after mile as we cruise along the Interstate.
Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Parkway
At 11:30am we arrive in Roanoke Virginia. In oppressive heat, we search for a
place to unload our bikes and park the truck for the four days we will tour the
south. We pull out the ramps and carefully back the bikes out of the truck and
on to the black top surface near a Wal-Mart Super Center. Accepting WalMart’s open
invitation to travelers, Gene parks his pickup truck in WalMart’s lot.
Man oh man it’s hot and humid. I am feeling clammy after a minute on the tar
parking lot Gene and I enter the WalMart to look for any last minute items we may need.
I bought a pack of bungee cords to help secure some of my gear to the bike, and a towel
which I fold over my bike seat – the idea being to provide some additional cushioning.
This will likely be the longest continuous ride my backside has endured to date.
Before starting off, we change our footgear and clothing for the ride. A Taco Bell
is conveniently located across the street a hundred yards from where we unloaded
our bikes, so we decide to eat lunch. Gene has a full lunch, while I order a
small bowl of Chile and a soda. I set my trip Odometer to read zero miles. As soon
as we finish our meal the real journey, the part that we have been most
waiting for will begin.
At 1:30pm, with no special ceremony, but a mild rush of adrenaline, we mount up
and prepare to start our bikes. Considering I did practically zero pre-trip
maintenance on my machine, at that instant the thought does occur to me, what if my bike
doesn’t start? To my genuine relief, both of our bikes start without so much as
a hick-up, mine with a push of a button, Gene with a single kick. Satisfied that
both of our engines are running smoothly, we nod a ready sign to each other and ride the
two miles or so directly to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway. As we approach
the entrance ramp, I see a car followed by a motorcyclist close behind leaving the parkway.
I contemplate what these two individuals, each with their own modes of travel, may have
experienced, and their thoughts as they continue in their travels.
Check the weather on the parkway.
Our entry to the parkway begins with a steady climb through a succession of
sweeping turns; the roadway is lined with dense trees on both sides; we continue
for about one mile, after which we more or less level off. Whether due to the
elevation, or simply because we are moving steady, it feels cooler on the parkway;
traffic is nearly non-existent. I find myself looking left and right while
simultaneously keeping a reasonable distance from Gene, who is in the lead at this time.
It isn’t long before we begin to see some beautiful views into the valleys below us.
Only yards away from the roadway, there are numerous over-looks, where travelers may
safely pull over to take in the sights, some spectacular, below and beyond.
On this first day on the parkway, we make three stops along the way. I am
surprised to see we are sharing the parkway with joggers and bicyclists, hardy and
ambitious types I'm certain. After 30 minutes on the road, we make our first
stop at one of the many pullovers designed into the parkway. We check our
machines and gear briefly, and continue. My CX500 Honda "standard" does not
provide the comfort seating of my longer and heavier 'cruiser', but it's nimble and
responsive character makes it a good choice for this type of riding.
What strikes us both about this scenic road, is the near total absence of signs
and cross roads. The road surface, though obviously repaired in in some areas,
is in very good condition, with no significant potholes, contributing to a very smooth
and safe surface. In addition, we see no telephone poles, wires of any kind, or
mailboxes to distract from our enjoyment of the beauty that surrounds us. We motor
along at the posted speed limit of 45 miles an hour! In truth, it would be unwise
for most drivers to attempt speeds beyond the posted limit anyway, due to the winding,
and up and down character of the road. It is these characteristics, which make
it such a treat for traveling by motorcycle.
At our second pull-over, we meet a bike rider on a 2001 BMW touring machine,
who as he explained, took the parkway as an alternate route on a business trip.
We share details about the bike each of us rides, the conditions and experiences
enjoyed thus far, and then ask him to take pictures of us with our bikes. At about
3:15pm we are riding under a partly graying sky with signs of approaching rain, and
so pull over. We decide to check our route for a town to stop in at the end of
our days travel.
We arrived in Galax Virginia at 5:30pm, and fuel up outside of town, paying
$2.27 per gallon of regular gas; we then begin a search for a place to settle for
the night. The road we are on turns into Galax’s Main Street; we see few
obvious options for lodging. Then, as we enter a busier section of town, we
find a Super8 motel and book a room at $47.00 a night; our room is the last unit
on the street end of the building. As we approach our unit, we notice a charcoal
grill at curbside in front of the room next to ours. We enter a spacious enough
room and open the curtains wide.
Inside we discover the rug is stained, and our cable fed TV gets two channels
at the same time! The door gasket of our mini refrigerator is broken – the lower
compartment is warm - and the bedding, I don’t know and don’t want to look too
close, but the air conditioner seems to work well! I put some fruit and water in the
freezer compartment of our "frig". We step outside and meet our next-door
neighbors from West Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. They work for
a builder of log homes. We find them cooking their supper on the charcoal
grill that we had seen out in front of their unit earlier.
Good Ol’ boys they are, what with their faded 'genes' and tee shirts, and
voices defining their roots unmistakably! We chatted with them while they
grilled steaks and sipped on cold 'brews'. They are fascinated with Gene’s
motorcycle. When he tells them it is an original 1954 model they are most
impressed! My 1980 bike stirs little interest; probably due to the fine
original condition of the paint and chrome on my bike, which belies it’s age.
Gene’s bike, on the other hand, actually looks like a 51-year-old motorcycle,
with little shine in the chrome parts, and dull faded paint everywhere.
Mechanically however, this is as road worthy as most newer era bikes. Our
bikes do make a very interesting contrast!
As much as we enjoyed this impromptu visit, watching our neighbors enjoying
their beverages inspires us; a quick trip to a commercial center at the end of town
provides us with our own beer. It looks like it might rain. We decide
to cover our bikes with a tarp Gene removed from his bike rack. After more
small talk with our friendly neighbors, we enter our room to clean up and relax.
We are happy to note that we have plenty of hot water!
By now we are thinking of food. Before we leave however, Gene explains he wishes
to meditate. He finds a small grassy area at the end of the parking lot,
and for the next ten minutes or so moves his body and limbs through the graceful
and fluid motions of Tai Chi. I step outside into the warm summer evening about
the time Gene has finished. The narrow street which leads to downtown is
nearly deserted of people and cars, as most businesses have closed. The street is
bathed in a warm late afternoon sun, and a peacefull air surrounds us.
We wanted to see more of the town of Galax, and so take a short walk down Main
Street, which runs right in front of our motel room. On the return, we decide
to eat at "Macadoo’s", this is a privately owned chain of eight restaurants; the restaurant
happens to be across the street from our room. Our young waitress is enthusiastic,
but apologizes for being new on the job. It is obvious that she is inexperienced – or
not well trained. We find the food, which is excellent, to be just what we need
to replenish our energy banks.
After eating, we took another walk through town. On the return, we stopped
in again at "MaCadoo’s" for a beer at the bar. One of our contractor neighbors from
the motel is present; we take a seat at the end of the bar with a polite hello. Our
first day of riding catches up with us. After a single beverage, we leave wearing a
pleasantly comfortable fatigue, induced by our full bellies, and a very full day
of activity. And this is how we would complete our first day of riding through the
Blue Ridge Mountains; back at our room the lights went out at 9:30pm.
Table Of Contents
At 6:30am I awoke to find the fruit, and the bottled water I’d placed into the
freezer the evening before, frozen solid! The weather: 72 degrees with 75% humidity.
An hour later, Gene and I walked uptown to find some breakfast. The air is still,
and there is little vehicle or pedestrian activity anywhere along the way this time
of the morning. We try a couple of places; the first place we walk in has a long
narrow counter along one side, and serves basically newspapers and bagels, no decaf.
The owner suggests we continue another 2 blocks or so. The second stop serves fresh
baked donuts and tea, and has a spacious two-rooms filled with tables. After talking
to the manager we learn they offer music, including an Open-Mike night, where guests
are welcome to entertain the rest of the crowd with their unique talents; we talked
about stopping here on the return leg of our trip back north to Roanoke Virginia.
Since we were looking for a full breakfast, we continue walking uptown and end
up 1.5 miles further at "Hardees". It’s not busy. I ordered an egg sandwich, and
decaf coffee, Gene something similar with tea. There is little here to hold our
interest beyond nourishment, so we eat up quickly. We are both ready, despite
the uncertain weather, to get started on the next leg of our trip. We returned to our
motel to check out under partly cloudy skies. By 10:30am the temperature has begun to
rise. As we finish packing our bags and tie them down on the the bikes, a heavy set
grounds staffer aproaches us with a wheel barrel full of lanscaping tools and sod;
when he reaches us, we recognize the motel desk clerk, a two hatted employee of our
fine establishment! We talk a bit about our travel plans, and wish each other well.
We departed Galax under graying skies for Boone, North Carolina, and by 11:00am
encountered rain at the town line; we stop to pull out our rain gear. We re-entered
the Blue Ridge Parkway, and rode on continuously to our first stop for fuel about 3:00pm.
After a quick fuel-up it's back on the parkway to continue on until we pull over and
check our maps and assess the weather situation; we decide to change our destination to
Maggie Valley North Carolina. At 5:30pm, our first exit off the parkway leads us
into Waynsville NC, a small town nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains, surrounded by
farmland and forest; after a damp short tour and scouting drive about the immediate
area, we spot – of all things – a "Super8" motel! Despite our previously less than
enthusiastic experience, we ascend a very steep access road to the covered
entrance and lobby.
Waynesville, Maggie Valley, and The Opry House
This "Super8" turns out to be a great improvement over the first one. The clerk tells
us he is giving us a special rate of $69.00 a night. Set atop a hillside, it was built one
year ago with all the amenities, including a swimming pool, and a grand view of the Blue
Ridge Mountains off of our second floor balcony! Now the first priority here is finding
a place where we can find some local music and events. We searched the news flyers
found in our lobby. Gene made a few calls and discovered that there is live music in
the nearby town of Maggie Valley. It sounds like a plan.
Raymond Fairchild &
The Opry House in Maggie Valley, NC
At 6:05pm wearing rain gear, we head out for the Maggie Valley "Opry House"!
Discover Maggie Valley
The weather is a damp 75 degrees. The ride along our travel route takes us past a
densely developed business and tourist area, with brightly-lit signs and billboards
along both sides of the street. unlike what you might find in a touristy section of
some other town - this is the deep south, in the Blue Ridge Mountains kinda' country!
Buildings were original single and two story wood clad frontier-like structures. We
spot the Opry House on our left, do a quick U-turn, and find a place to park next to a
fully accessorized Honda Goldwing.
As the evening entertainment does not begin until 8:00pm, we have plenty of time
to eat dinner. we find a restaurant, aptly named "Country Vittles", which is right next
door to the Opry House. As we lock down our bikes, an older couple leaving the res-
taurant spot us and come over to talk, they own the Goldwing. They tell us that they are
both retired, and have traveled by motorcycle, all the way from Indiana. They ask about
Gene’s BMW, and surprisingly, my Honda as well. We wish each other well and go in
to eat. Around ten minutes to 8:00 we finish eating and leave. as we enter the Opry
House, a scruffy looking guy sporting a 2 day beard, in faded jeans, and shirt and cap,
calls out a friendly hello to us.
The outside of the hall is an unimpressive structure to my eyes; of modest size, with
dull blue-gray siding, though looking solidly constructed. The interior walls are lined
with countless posters, framed newspaper clippings, and photos of Country and Blue
Grass artists spanning many years, all brightly illuminated by rows of fluorescent
ceiling fixtures. Seating consists of metal folding chairs. This hall reminds me
of our local town hall inside, we could just as easily have been attending a board
of education meeting. At the entrance end were snacks and beverages, including
a full size popcorn machine, and plain folding library type meeting tables – no
alcohol. The stage was at the opposite end of the 40 by 60-foot hall. We seated
ourselves about a quarter way back and waited for the show to begin.
At 8:00pm the show which consisted of a country and blue grass band with
dancers began. The musicians were Raymond Fairchild (the leader) – banjo and
guitar, The Little Indian Princess (Abigail Moore) – fiddle and guitar, an acoustic
standup bass player whose name escapes me, Mr. Spoons - Self-explanatory, Rufus
(the scruffy looking guy we met outside the hall earlier) – on guitar, and The Apache
Kid doing song and dance!
Raymond and company - A short Biography
Raymond Fairchild on banjo and the acoustic standup bass player started the night
with a couple of instrumental songs; then Raymond introduced the Little Indian Princess
– Abigail Moore. After a few lively tunes, Mr. Spoons and Rufus joined the three;
watching Rufus play was a spectacle in itself, what with his enthusiastic one foot stomping
and flailing about from side to side in time to the beat! Rufus would return to dance
a blue grass jig solo, and then with The Apache Kid.
Just before the intermission, Raymond Fairchild gave us a history of the Opry
House that he and wife Shirley started 14 years earlier. He spoke in a slow, deep,
thoughtfully delivered manner, which unmistakably identified his roots. We learn
that Raymond, who plays nightly when not touring, is informally retired and is an
inductee of the Grand Ol’ Opry with two Platinum records. Raymond also explains
that his wife Shirley is also his manager, accountant and sound crew! Raymond and
his band leave the stage to our applause, as the house lights come up.
At intermission, I talked to a middle-aged couple at the back of the hall for a bit, while
Gene browsed the tables with CD’s spread out for sale. I walk over to the table where
Abigail Moore sat. Gene learns Abigail has been filling in for a recently deceased
member of the band. Gene and I say hello to this sweet and charming, thoroughly
homespun young lady, and each buy CD’s from her; to our surprise she gave us
signed photographs of herself.
I spotted Raymond Fairchild’s wife Shirley, who was in a booth at the back of
the hall, and went over to talk to her; an attractive woman with shoulder length curly
dark hair, with an utterly sweet demeanor, and who speaks in a barely audible voice!
Always the music and sound critic, I offered Shirley an unsolicited critique of the hall
sound system. She listened to my observations thoughtfully and then responded that the
high pitch dynamics of Abigail Moore’s voice made it difficult to set the level and balance
well. I understood. I asked her of the whereabouts of a post office from which we could
mail out our photos, and Shirley surprised me by offering to mail them back home for us.
I asked if she was sure it would be no trouble – she insisted it was no problem at all.
Talk about southern hospitality!
The second half of the show began, and we were again entertained with more
of the same lively song and dance. It was a great night to remember in Maggie Valley.
Everyone reluctantly exited the hall at the conclusion of the show. At 11:00pm the
air is damp and still as we mount our bikes for the return to our 'deluxe' Super8 for
the night. With the glare of oncoming lights reflecting off of the rain damped
roadway, we ride with extra care.
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I awoke at 6:30am and begin to prepare to check out of our room. I feel I should
report to the desk clerk a refrigerator noise, which woke me up every hour after 3:00am;
she apologized sincerely and offered to change our room. We ate a continental breakfast
of juice, donuts, and decaf coffee, which I find to be a perfect mix for traveling.
The Cherokee reservation and "Wheels Through Time" motorcycle museum
The weather: Gray skies, 75 degrees, 75% humidity. We leave our motel at 9:30am
for Cherokee North Carolina, the Indian reservation; this is a great ride along a narrow
tree and rock ledge lined road. The road consists of a series of nearly constant hard
left to right turns, along a rising then falling roadway! Though the traffic is light,
the road demands total concentration to avoid , or risk leaving the travel portion of the
road - a definite no-no – this is a real test, lose it and end up over the edge or against
the rocks. Or have a blast keeping up with Gene! The handling characteristics provid-
ed by the short wheel-base, and light weight of my Honda, makes it better suited to the
roadway and conditions than my bigger, heavier "Cruiser" would have been. Based
on his speed and riding style, Gene seems to be at ease on his BMW.
Within a mile of the museum, we pass a Casino on our right, which is run by a
Las Vegas organization; the large marquee says "Harras". We continue directly to
the Cherokee museum.
The Museum of the Cherokee Nation
This museum is modest in size, with far fewer and less elaborate displays than seen
at the museum of the New England Mashantucket Pequot tribe. Nevertheless, after a
two-hour visit, we feel the museum has been helpful in giving us a better understanding
of the Native Americans of this region. We agree it is artfully done and a fine presentation
of the history of the Cherokee people. Before leaving, we signed in to the museum guest
book, and added our comments. I bought three postcards as souvenirs in the attached
gift shop. Gene and I take a short walk around to browse some nearby shops in the
business section of downtown. At 11:30am we left the reservation for our next must
do and see in the area - the "Wheels Through Time" museum.
The "Wheels Through Time" motorcycle museum in Maggie Valley, NC
This museum is a dream world for anyone with a love of riding in the wind, and an
appreciation of the history behind two wheeled motorized machines. One can see display
after display of original (some very rare) condition antique iron, and expertly restored
machines as well. Included are one of a kind motorcycles representing all categories
of motorcycling, from sedate early touring machines to high performance racing models.
In addition to the motorcycles, a wide range of applicable memorabilia including ac-
cessories, clothing, signs, and vintage consumer products were interspersed thoughout the
Especially well done, I thought, was a reconstructed circa 1920’s motorcycle dealer
and repair shop, complete with tools and fixtures of the era. Parts on the walls and
work area, were arranged as they would typically have been at the time. Very cool.
In addition to motorcycles, the operators of the museum also included a small number of
exceptionally well preserved vintage automobiles, all unrestored.
Read about the "Fastest Indian"
Many of the displayed pieces were fully operational as we found out. We had walked
up to a second display level when, from the far corner of the building, a cacophony
of sound caught our attention. From the distance could be heard the unique sound
of an old V-twin. A Harley Davidson circa 1929 powered by a flat head engine,
harmoniously reverberating, came into view. The driver with precision and confidence
rode down a long line of displayed machines beyond our overhead position, then turned
back, finally coming to rest directly below us, with that iconic exhaust note ending quickly.
The "Wheels Through Time" motorcycle museum
At 2:00pm from the main lobby I saw rain falling; Gene and I ran outside the
museum to move our bikes under a long protective shed at the side of theparking
area. We had not noticed this area when we first arrived; several bikes had parked
before us. We reentered the museum and browsed about the entrance mall
area, eventually buying tee shirts, coasters embossed with the wheels of time Logo
(kick stand supports). This completed our museum visit. We returned to our
parked bikes under the shed. While there, we met some other riders preparing to leave;
once again, we saw that our bikes were the source of attention.
The rains come again; it is time to pull on the rain gear while riding to our
next destination - Boone North Carolina. On the road I am having difficulty
keeping up with Gene. We stopped to eat 1 mile down the road, and find that other
riders have the same plan.
While eating, we put together our riding plan. We will ride on the parkway to
Marion North Carolina; at that point we rest and fuel up. However, because the
Blue Ridge Parkway is under repairs, we will have to exit the Parkway early, and
continue on the interstate to get to Marion. At 2:30pm we left the restaurant.
Twenty minutes after entering the interstate, we run smack-dab into severe rain, wind
and lightening! Despite my windshield, I must look around it in order to see
anything at all! The rain is a torrential, at times blowing sideways, and
pelting against my rain suit. Inspite of this, except for some dampness around my neck,
and my foot soaked through the non-waterproof shell, I feel dry. The wind blown rain
pushes me from side to side, then slams me head on; I didn't sign on for this!.
My speed becomes erratic, and I am fearful of being back-ended by an oncomming
vehicle onto the pavement. Gene is ahead of me but I keep losing sight of him;
on top of that my bike is running sluggish. I know he is having it worse
than me, with no windshield, but I can only wait for him to pull over. Gray-out
conditions finally forces Gene to stop under an overpass. We make an assessment
of our situation, should we try waiting it out? It could be an hour or more;
neither of us likes that option. We talk about it and rest for 10 minutes or so,
and decide to go for the last stretch of interstate to Marion NC. I notice a
high-pressure column of water streaming from a broken gutter downspout 25 feet over
head, and make a mental note not to pull out under it when leaving.
When I follow Gene out from the underpass, I miscalculate my position and pass
directly under this high volume water column! Thirty seconds on the interstate I
begin to feel water dripping down my front. My boots and socks are soaked
through to the skin. Gene had pulled plastic bags over his boots! My bike
continues to run really bad - low power – and I am trying to figure out what might be
causing it, as I struggle to keep up to Gene. A few miles down the road just
outside of Marion, NC., we pull into a truck stop for a break and fuel up. We
dried off inside the store the best we could, then depart again under continuing rain.
Boone North Carolina and Ms Vickie
The next stretch of travel is along a country road through farmland, to connect us
to the Parkway, but I’m beginning to think the unthinkable possibility that my machine
may fail me. I struggle on, shifting constantly, in an effort to keep up to Gene.
I can only guess what must be going through Gene's mind. We finally arrive soggy
in Boone North Carolina at 5:30pm. We find a motel about half way through town
on our right, and signal to each other to check it out. The decision comes easy and
we sign in to "Greens Motel". After settling in, I know the first thing I must do is to
look for the cause of my bikes running problem. I had already checked the
cylinders for even combustion while riding, by feeling the cylinder heads, so I decided
to next check the air intake for obstructions. With Gene’s tools I removed the
air cleaner assembly located beneath the seat. I pulled the cover away, looked
inside and found that a mouse had built a really fine home for itself.
For the next ten minutes I pull out a tangled mass of thread, paper, sand, and in-
sulation. I tapped out a tablespoon full of sand from the air filter element out onto the
ground. Of course I’m relieved it’s nothing more serious, but really, this all could
have been avoided with a good pre-trip service effort! Gene and I get a good chuckle out
of this. Our next priority now is to walk to the local convenience store for supplies.
It is here that we experience one of the highlights of our trip. We meet Ms Vickie,
an effervescent and personable thirties something gal, bursting with a hundred watt smile!
While Gene asks Ms Vickie about local events and eateries, I got her coffee machine to make
coffee; she went out of her way offering Gene her cordless phone to help us find restaurants
and entertainment nearby. We must have talked and joked with her for an hour, all the
while being entertained by an interesting and amusing cast of characters called customers,
who meandered in and out while we chatted. A friend of Ms Vickie suggested we try an
all-you-can-eat buffet just down the street, it sounded like just the ticket for our
appetites, so we thanked them and reluctantly said good evening.
We walked half a mile to "Applebee’s" to eat, as in spite of a good effort, we could not
find the buffet recommended. We sat ourselves at the bar and made small talk with
the bartender while waiting for our beverages. Sitting next to us at the bar is a
friendly sort of guy, with whom we exchange hellos; we learn is from upstate andin town
on a business conference. He says he is originally from the Midwest; hearing of
our New England roots the conversation quickly turns to sports, and of course, the in-
credible 2004 sports year in football - New England Patriots, history making baseball -
Boston Redsox, and the incredible UCONN Mens and Womens NCAA championship
basketball double win! In the middle of this, the Applebee’s staff interrupts us with
a rousing birthday song for a nearby table of young ladies.
After finishing a couple of brews we say good evening to our friend, and our barmaid,
and walk back to our room. We talk and watch TV for an hour or so. By 11:30pm we
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We slept later than usual this morning. At 8:30am we ate a continental Breakfast of
fruit, juice, tea and donuts, which we found arranged on a counter in the downstairs lobby.
On the way to the lobby, in the inside stairwell I detect a strong smell of mold; looking
up, I find a blackened water stain in the ceiling corner, sure evidence of a roof leak.
Fortunately for us, our room is free of any such problem.
The outside deck off of our room overlooks an abandoned courtyard below - and that
is another story; in major disrepair, with rusted deck fixtures and furniture, a dilapidated
cabana, and in the middle a swimming pool tarped over and covered with leaves. This
area obviously has not been used in years. I can only guess, that at one time this was,
an attractive outdoor feature of the motel. It’s clear that this place would benefit
greatly from some tender loving care.
Gene focuses on his Tai Chi on the outside balcony after eating, while I check my gear
for our morning ride. We prepare to leave for a trip back into the mountains to explore a
special trail. I ponder what to bring - rain gear or no rain gear? I step out of our
room to mount up, where I find Gene examining his bike. He finds gas leaking on to the
ground from the right side carburetor. A closer look reveals a loose screw on the top
flange cover. Gene remarks that though easy to fix, if not discovered and repaired then,
would have led to a very major breakdown. Disaster averted! I’m beginning to think
we have someone looking over us!
At 9:30am we left the parking lot to ride back along the Blue Ridge Parkway south to
mile marker number 203. We dismount in the pullover lot to take a hiking trail for a
2.8-mile walk up to an Overlook site. Along the way we take our cameras out of our
packs for a photo opportunity, snapping quick pictures of each other; the views along
the trail are spectacular.
We met several parties of hikers along the way, and chatted briefly with one of them
who told us we were not far from the top. Up Ahead of us faint voices could be heard, and
another group, consisting of 10 or so grade school girls escorted by an adult leader, sang
out cheerfully as they descended the trail towards us; they quieted when they came upon us,
but Gene encouraged them to continue their hiking song.
Near the top we stopped to view the mountains opposite us, and the vast valley below.
A fog began to settle in all around us obscuring our view, so we began our hike back down
the trail. When we had reached the parking area, we found several groups of
travelers; a pair of motorcyclists had parked across from us. Gene did a double take.
I followed his eyes to the source of his wonderment. Before us was the longest motorcycle
and trailer combination rig (over 11˝ feet long) I have ever seen. additionally,
the husband and wife couple who road this had fitted their six cylinder Honda Goldwing
with a special compartment beside the passenger seat, within which a Jack Russell
Terrier proudly sat!
We rode in clearer though cloudy conditions back to our motel. About half-way
back to Boone, we spotted a sign for some sort of rest and craft center. We made
a quick U-turn and entered the parking area of an elaborate multi-story house. A
sign and brochure describes this as a converted estate, which was now the Highlands
Craft Center and scenic stop. We did a walk around the inside where we met other
travelers; inside we find a wide assortment of original fine quality items for sale, including
pottery, paintings, fabric, jewelry and wooden crafts. We walked through to the rear
porch entrance and looked across the valley and beyond. The view is awesome! We
re-enter and buy some souvenirs. I bought a primitive wooden Appalachian
Folk Art toy, and find a safe place to stow it on the bike.
We head back aprox. 3:30pm, and hit light rains (me without rain gear) at the Boone
city line. My Bike is definitely running better! When we reached our room I
kidded Gene about his putting rain gear on before leaving the Highlands Craft center,
delaying us just long enough for us to catch the rain before we reached our motel;
he chuckled over that! After relaxing a bit we made plans for the evening. Food
was first and foremost, and one which we looked forward to with extreme
relish (pun intended).
We chose to walk up the street in the direction we knew to offer the best
choice and chance of finding a restaurant to our liking. We looked again, un-
successfully, for that all-you-can eat buffet Ms Vickie and her friend had mentioned
the evening before, but ended up at a place called "Wishbone’s" to eat.
At Wishbones we chatted at length with our cordial hostess and waitress; she was
quite the enthusiastic promoter of the virtues of selecting their fine cuisine.
Having been won over, we were escorted to a booth. The food and service were
good, and we chatted once again with our hostess on leaving. I mentioned to her
that the menu had an offer to purchase a franchise; she said that there was only one
restaurant currently, but that the owner, and a former Applebee’s manager, was looking
to expand. Neither Gene nor I were looking to expand into Boone just yet, so
we said good evening and started the walk back to our room.
As we walked along the roadway we got a chance to see more of the densely packed
businesses on both sides of the street. I managed to spot the all-you-can-eat buffet
restaurant that we were looking for the last two evenings; it was nestled back from
the other businesses, between "Applebee’s" and "Wishbone’s"!
We note that no one else is walking along the road! Unfortunately, we also note
that there are no designated pedestrian walkways to cross the road along our route back to
Green’s Motel; we planned our trek across the street with utmost speed and precision!
We arrived at our motel room safe, appeased and made small talk with a few cold 'brews'.
At 11:30pm, we pulled the toothpicks out of our eyelids and retired .
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I Awoke at 7:30am and ate another continental breakfast of juice, fruit, donuts,
and decaf coffee. The weather is 72 degrees with 75% humidity – Gray.
Donning our rain gear, we took a small tour of the downtown area – including stops
in some local shops. I bought a small around-the-waist leather pack at a print shop, with the
proceeds going to the Highland Conservancy – a Blue Ridge Mountain land and trust
preservation group. Across the street, an interesting store front catches Gene’s
attention – Masts General Store. I follow him inside what I would describe as an
old time general store, complete with vintage style fixtures, and the nostalgic sound of
creaky wooden flooring. An open wooden stairway leads to a second floor, with
more of the same. The shelves and racks are filled with an assortment of clothing,
for work and dress, camping/hiking gear, candy / snacks, as well as souvenirs. This
place has the distinctive character of a WT Grant Department store, not unlike
our own in Willimantic as I remenber it in the nineteen fifties.
The Return to Roanoke and Arlington Virginia
After leaving the general store, we headed back toward the Blue Ridge Parkway
with our eyes keenly scanning for a fuel stop. With our tanks full, we departed the
town of Boone, North Carolina at 9:30am, and entered the Blue Ridge Parkway headed
for our next destination - Roanoke, Virginia.
I again experience a feeling of renewed energy getting underway. By late morning
we stopped at one of the few rest, gas and eating places on the parkway. We
decide to replenish ourselves when we smell hot cakes, grits and bacon cooking on
the grill. This would be our only planned stop as we continue on the 180 miles to Roanoke.
Inside, while waiting for our food, we talk to a fellow rider sitting at the table next to us.
He is also wearing rain gear. We share our weather report south, and he to the north
of this location, rain is in store for us. As we step outside two more bikes, full-dress
touring machines, turn into the parking lot and park. Gene and I agree we might as
well top off our bike's fuel tanks at the three pump island to the right of the restaurant.
I went inside a small office which was staffed by an older gentleman taking
payment at the cash register; he looked to be enjoying his retirement years in this 'other' job.
I asked him if it rained yesterday. Without looking up, his brisk reply was delivered
in the manner of someone who’d been asked this question more times than a
lifetime could endure: "It rains everyday". I took my change and thanked
him. Gene was already mounted up and waiting for me. We both checked
the fit of our rain-suits, especially the leg bottoms over the boot tops, and off we went.
This time our ride conditions along the parkway might best be described as
'extreme challenge' style. A fog thick as a Wendy’s Dairy Desert invaded the
parkway, with visibility at times less than five feet! I try to dog tail Gene
as best as I can to keep from losing him. At one point, emerging from an up hill
turn, I see Gene uncharacteristically shake his fist at a car attempting to turn
into a pullover directly in his path, a close call, which reminds us both of the
hazards of travel under these conditions. We survive that near collision and
continue on without missing a beat.
Many miles later, Gene spots a scenic farm and mill, and pulls aside waiting
for me to pull up along side of him. We decide to turn around and park to take a better
look; we take a walk about the grounds for a better appreciation of this site.
A wooden sign announces this to be the "Mabry Mill". We end up taking an hour or
so to examine the inner workings of the mill, which was designed for grinding
farm produce, and to watch a working blacksmith demonstrate his craft in a nearby shed.
The Mabry Mill
Plaques and brochures describe this as an original working homestead and mill,
which dated back around 150 years. A small sign described the original
owner’s name and a brief history of the farm. The series of elevated water
ducts feeding the mill, and the substantial water wheel are impressive to behold.
We take a few pictures after talking to a skilled and informative practicing
blacksmith. The day is passing, so we must return to our bikes and continue on if
we expect to arrive in Roanoke before 2:00pm.
Our concerns about the security of our means of travel back to Connecticut were
relieved when we arrived in Roanoke. We found Gene’s pickup truck untouched
where we had left it in the Wal-Mart parking lot. A quick survey of the area led
us around the back of the WalMart building. There we loaded our bikes and gear
into the bed of Gene’s truck. We made a quick comfort change of clothing,
and switched from riding boots to sneakers.
We Arrive in Arlington
At 2:00pm without further delay, under sunny skies we departed for our drive
back to the lodging and studio of our host Billy in Arlington Virginia.
Traveling this interstate, though more scenic than many around the country, is
nonetheless no match for the Blue Ridge Parkway. The best I can say is that
the drive is uneventful, and our arrival in Arlington can’t come too soon.
I’m curious to know what the weather will be like on this visit. I find out
soon enough as we open the doors of our cab in Arlington at Billy’s driveway and
step out; it’s the same hot damp weather that we left four days before.
The first thing we must do after parking and unloading the essentials was tend
to our stomachs; we take the truck a mile down the road to the Metro 29 Diner.
This immaculate place has been designed in the classic Art Deco style of the 50’s,
with a beautiful chrome and neon front - very impressively detailed, very expensive,
and very crowded. Our stomachs can’t wait. We drive no more than two blocks
and on our right in a small drab looking business strip spot a sign for a Thai restaurant.
This place is nearly empty. We enter a compact two-room interior, and pick a
table in the left side of the restaurant. Gene refreshes his memory of the
language, partly successful, with our most cordial waitress. We both order soup
and stir-fried vegetables. We remember a time many years before when we met
in a Thai restaurant ten thousand miles away in the city of Bangkok Thailand – though
the events and circumstances which led to our being there were far different - the food
and the service were memorable then, and as we would discover, this evening as well.
We decide to head directly back to our lodging after eating.
Billy stopped over to visit with us late that night. I am fairly beat and lie down,
while Billy and Gene visit for some time. I hear their voices sometime later and wake up.
We wrap up the evening at around 12:30pm.
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I got up at 8:30am and ate a light breakfast, and took a walk around the
block. The neighborhood is very quiet, I suppose most residents have already
left for work by this time. When I returned Gene was almost ready for the day.
We prepared to return to the Smithsonian Museums. The weather is a predictable
75 degrees with 85% humidity.
We set off on foot to the nearest bus stop. Gene stopped along the way
to talk to some private contractors doing a residential water hookup to the city
mains. To the worker crouched in the sidewalk access hole, Gene suggests a
better tool to penetrate the concrete.
It’s hot as hell and I sympathize with the sweat drenched guy whose job it
is to hammer away at a concrete ridge inside a hole that he has wedged himself
into. Considering the job at hand, he seems genuinely interested in what
Gene is descibing. He thanks Gene, we wish him luck and continue down
the street. We haven't walked two blocks and are already breaking a sweat.
We pass the first bus stop and continue rather than just stand there motionless on
the un-shaded sidewalk.
At the second bus stop we find a Guatemalan woman, and a young man with a
backpack. Gene starts a conversation with the Guatemalan. And I chat with the
back packer, a student from the mid-west looking for a reasonably priced
apartment for himself and his family. We all board the fifteen minute late bus and
get off at the Ballston subway station.
We arrive at the Washington Mall approximately 10:30pm and tour three museums.
After we had seen all we could, we walked back to the subway and returned to
Ballston station – the rains begin as we step to the bus kiosk; in a matter
of minutes it is pouring the proverbial felines and canines! We get off the
bus near our street under the torrential rain! Should we walk or run?
Some physical theorist has the answer to this question, we do not! But we decide
to run the last hundred yards anyway.
An Evening with Amber
By the time we reach Billy’s house at 5:30pm we are soaked to the gills!
At Billy’s studio we feel immediately chilled in the dry air-conditioned house.
We got out of our drenched clothes and took turns in the shower to warm up.
I had noticed a washer and dryer in the basement and suggest to Gene that we
might use them to dry our clothes.
About 6:00pm Amber came over to meet us for dinner, and to invite us to a local
cable TV studio where she interns as a production staffer. We decide to eat
Indian food at the Delhi Dhaba restaurant and deli. After ordering, we find a
table in a rear seating area and wait for our numbers to be called. Two wall-mounted
televisions playing Indian music videos catch our attention. We get a real kick
out of the slick productions done in the style of the American VH1 music channel.
The food is delicious. After eating, Amber drove us to the production studio
where a program would be taped for later broadcast. Amber would be operating
one of two cameras. We arrive at the "ComCast" cable TV production studio nearby,
and Amber introduces us to her fellow crew and production members; the atmosphere
here is very casual and friendly; we discover later that some of these same associates
will be the evening panelists for the taped program. Gene and I enter the studio
taping area while the crew and panelists discuss the show.
Gene settles into one of the lounge chairs with one of the panelists – an older
distinguished looking black man wearing an impeccable pearl-green suit. Gene calls
me over and introduces me to Charles Stevens - a former member of the "Clovers"
a quite successful doo-wop group from the "50’s"; Charles and I have
much in common owing to our mutual love and respect for that music genre'
of the time. We talk for a good hour about the early days of Rock ’n Roll, and
of touring in the 50’s and 60’s. He said he retired from the Clovers in 1990,
and is now involved with family and church.
This was a great exchange with Charles and myself and Gene. It was especially
fascinating to hear of his touring trips around the country; I had to ask if his path
had crossed the likes of BB King, Bo Diddly and others, to which he enthusiastically
responded with recounts of those and other great artists of that time. I mentioned
I had just seen "Ray" the movie with Jamie Fox in the lead, and he confirmed the
touring style and overall atmosphere prevalent at the time. If any anger or
resentment he may have felt during his touring and performing around the country
in that period remained, it did not emerge in our talk, or he had simply come to
peace from within. Meanwhie, in the background, cameras were being adjusted
and sound levels were fine tuned.
At some point along the way, Amber stepped from behind her camera and an-
nounced that one of the panelists for the evening taping had not yet arrived. She
asked Gene and I if either of us would like to participate in the evenings’ program;
I am caught off balance and explain my reluctance but not unwilling to participate
( not having seen the outline of the program ) . My answer is left in the air at that
time. Ten minutes later the missing panelist shows up. I had to wonder what
might have happened had the other panelist not arrived? I could only imagine my
presence on the broadcast across the ComCast network; and what is the expression,
fifteen minutes of fame!
With everyone present and seated, the taping began at 8:14pm. After watching
for about half an hour, we leave a note with the production crew for Amber;
Gene and I leave to get a drink two doors down the street. We meet Amber about
10:00pm and from there go to her friend’s "CD" release party, which was being
held at a nearby Irish Pub; there we met more of Amber’s friends, and the members
of the band, and listen to them play their original music. The evening ends for
us after the bands second music set; both Gene and I were fading fast; we leave about
12:00am. Back at Billy’s studio, we say our final good-byes to Amber.
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I awoke at 6:30pm, Gene slept later. I had a light breakfast of dry nuts, cereal,
and green tea, as there is not much else left to eat. I took a walk around the block,
returned to shower, and then packed my bags for the return trip to Connecticut.
The weather: 75 degrees, 85% humidity. I notice the de-humidifier in the basement
needs to be emptied and do so. Gene was finished with his packing, so we brought
our backpacks out to Gene’s truck.
We realize we need to stop at the nearby convenience store – we bought a twelve-
pack of Heineken beer for Billy. When we returned to Billy’s studio, Gene laundered
our bedding and towels while I did some house cleaning. I reflect on the last couple
of days visiting in Arlington; to say it has been special would be an understatement.
Heading North to Connecticut
After doing a last check around the house, we depart, for real this time, into
very heavy traffic right out of the Arlington / Washington area; early on we hit
heavy rains, our very familiar companion by now. The traffic and the rains begin
to thin out as we move through New Jersey; we talk little.
Under partly sunny skies, as we near New York, the traffic becomes congested,
and stays that way right on through to the George Washington Bridge. We need a rest
and a whatever-break as we cross into Connecticut. At around 4:15pm we pull
into a rest stop on the interstate. It is sunny and
humid. As we walk to the main entrance we encounter a side walk market
with several vendors hawking colorful trinkets, tee shirts, cameras and such. After
fueling up at $2.39 per gallon, we continue on directly to our final destination.
At 6:00pm we arrive at the familiar surroundings of Gene’s home. As we exit
the truck, it is now warm and damp in the early evening sunlight. Gene’s son Mitch
comes out of the house to greet us. We stretch as Mitch gives Gene a brief update
on local matters, and then unload our bikes from the back of Gene’s pickup.
I ask Gene and Mitch what their plans for the evening are and Gene says he’s
hungry; we all agree to meet for dinner. After I drop my bags off at my house, do a
light unpack, and grab my mail, I returned to Gene’s home. Gene asks what vehicle
are we going in, I offer to drive my van; after a brief discussion, we decide to eat at
the Olympic Restaurant at the East End of Main Street in Willimantic.
On this Saturday evening the restaurant isn’t busy. We make our menu choices
quickly and give them to our waitress. I order Eggplant Parmesan,
my favorite here, with pasta and garden salad, Gene has a Chicken dish with a
garden salad, and Mitch orders Surf and Turf. I am finished after half of my dinner
and the rest is to go; I can't depart from my more recently improved eating style!
Ending our Journey
After eating, Gene asks me to return home by way of Main Street; it is still a
warm muggy evening and there are few cars or people out along the way. The late
sun casts a warm orange hue to the buildings and sidewalks. It reminds me of some
of the small southern towns we had passed through on our trip. I dropped off Gene
and Mitch at 8:30pm.
We part in Gene’s driveway and for 3.5 seconds, as I begin to pull out onto
the highway, I ponder going some place for a beverage; the decision comes quickly,
and I head straight home. It seems fitting that we had ended this day together,
enjoying a quiet and peaceful meal. attempting any other activity would have
been anti climatic. Inside, I turn on the television with the volume set low, and
settle on my couch. No programs can hold my attention. It was lights out at 11:00pm.
From the varying accommodations in the small towns along our bike route,
and the locals we met and chatted with, to the expanded visit in the Washington DC
area, so rich in ethnic and cultural diversity, we found our senses filled.
We enjoyed our visits with the inn-keepers, shop owners, with their gracious
hospitality, and what seemed to me, less stressed and less complicated lives.
As I reflect on the last three weeks, and all that has been a part of this trip,
it is clear that what began as primarily a motorcycling vacation, evolved into
something more diverse than Gene and I had originally planned. Despite
our quite thorough planning and preperations, we found that once under way,
remaining fluid and responsive to surroundings and people provided the most
enriching experiences. From our discovery of mechanical problems with
Gene’s truck at the very start of the trip, and the wildly variable weather,
(some luck involved here!), to the fully engaging experiences with friends and
new friends along the way, every segment of our journey provided something
unique or unexpected, which only added to our overall enjoyment. Would
two healthy near 60’s bikers set out again, to meld with the blacktop, towns-
folk and their homes and towns well I would hope so. We shall see; the
life journey continues.