Notes on a 10-Hour Drive and First Impressions of Asheville

“Arrived in Asheville without incident” is what I sent out to friends and family. Left the Jersey homestead at 8:30am, arrived at my AirBnb in Asheville at 7:40pm with three rest stops in between. I am the solo road trip master.

My first thought was that road trips are gangster and people need to do it more often. Gas is cheap these days, cars are more dependable and with GPS, your trips are using the best algorithms to get you there. Even as solo traveler, I was never fatigued because I followed my own guidelines for safety and comfort. The only discomfort I experienced was that my sunglasses were causing me a little discomfort around my left ear.

Also, my gadget guide works well. I used the Rohto drops when I left my air conditioned car and went outside. My eyes instantly became irritated. Dropped some Rohto in them and they were normal instantly. Then my Zojirushi mug still had ice in it at the end of the trip. Amazing! Big ups also to Wawa for making killer hoagies for $5 that travel well. It help me avoid any temptation to go to Bojangles.

The trip itself didn’t seem like 11-12 hours. I brought in my favorite music, listen to some podcasts and amused myself with observances like these:

— Not to be outdone by the sky-high McDonalds signs on Rt 81, the large crosses in Virginia are impressive. You don’t see 20-foot high concrete crosses in Europe or Jerusalem.

— In Pennsylvania, three billboards had lofty claims. One claimed to have the largest cigar bar and store in America. Another, the largest Lazer Tag arena in America. No word if that comes with a time machine to take you back to the early 90s when that was last popular. Finally, the largest “adult novelty selection in the area.” That’s what you need while traveling through rural Pennsylvania.

— I saw PA plates for SXY DVA and above it, large lettering that says SEXY DIVA in case you didn’t know what the license plate meant. In case you are wondering, SXY DVA rides a Nissan Pathfinder.

The best part of the trip was the last 90 minutes through the mountains of eastern North Carolina. It was all stunning scenery of green trees, rolling hills and clouds over mountains.

When I got off the my exit for Asheville, at the end of it was brewery. Now I know I’m in the right place.

So far, Asheville is just chill. Every one has been nice. It’s definitely a beer destination because the people I met were all in town for the beer. A quick look at map shows 20 breweries within a five mile radius of where I’m staying. They don’t mess around.

While I’m here, I’ll be using Lyft to get around, even though everything is tightly packed. I’m using it for bonus Delta miles you can earn, not some slight on Uber. First driver was great, second guy was a little off. He asked that I put on my safety harness (seat belt), wondered why more people don’t do hula-hoops for exercise and followed me into a brewery asking about the history of the building. He means well, he was your typical grungy-looking hippie.

That’s it for now.

 

 

The Next Destinations: Atlanta and Athens

Atlanta is hot right now — literally and figuratively. The TV show is up for a slew of Emmys and rightful so, it brings into spotlight the odd nature and social, economic and racial dynamics of the former Olympic city. It’s also home to the world’s busiest airport (depending on what list you look at), which why the Donald Glover character works there.

This is a just a quick two-day weekend drive-by where I’ll be splitting my time between there and the more eclectic Athens, which is a 90-minute drive away. I’ve never been to either, and I’m sure there’s plenty to do, but it’s one of those situations where I eventually I had to visit.

Besides the TV show, two high profile summer movies filmed on the streets and on soundstages. Baby Driver takes place in Atlanta proper while Spider-Man: Homecoming took advantage of the Georgia tax breaks to film in studios there. Add in the fact that their football team lost in the Super Bowl, and Atlanta is in the spotlight.

As for Athens, it was the home of two of the most beloved bands in indie and modern rock, R.E.M. and the B-52s. The mid-sized town has always attracted artistic types. Today, it’s a destination for those seeking a quieter, more low-key scene then Atlanta.

My list of things to do is relatively small. Atlanta has the big touristy Coke-Cola World where I’m hoping I can swim in a lake of soda. Athens has the state botanical gardens and natural history. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s big history museum is under construction until 2018. It does have a respected High Art Museum.

Beer wise I should be taken care of but Georgia has some whack laws limitin hours and beer sales on premises. Athens is home to Terrapin and Creature Comforts, while Atlanta boasts one of the nation’s largest craft breweries, Sweetwater.

Food wise, I’ve got my eyes on the small regional chain, The Varsity, The Vortex and JR Cricketts. No word if the Clermont Lounge has a decent food menu.

As for the Clermont Lounge, It’s not yet an UNESCO World Heritage site. In any event, let’s see what I discover in two days.

 

Road Trip Tips You Might Not Think About

There are ways you can avoid the above picture. If you don’t have Mad Max as your wheel man, there are certain things you go to make your road trip safe and hassle free.

Whether you’re by yourself, with your crew or your family, here’s some tips and suggestions for that six plus hour trip on the highway.

— Check your tire pressure before you leave and during. This is the most important guideline to follow.  The correct tire pressure will give you peace of mind that you can prevent a flat and will improve your gas mileage.

Take advantage of free car check-ups. Most dealerships can give your car a free and quick once over to see if you are good to go.

— Clean your car out before you leave. Get rid of the coffee cups, receipts, used tissues, hamburger wrappers and extraneous items from your trunk. Less clutter will make you organized so you can fit more things in for important stuff like camping equipment and luggage.

— Check that you have roadside assistance. While AAA has been the go-to for roadside assistance and discounts, most car manufactures and auto insurance companies offer their own. My MINI comes with an app for assistance, and my State Farm coverage covers the cost.

— Pack like you’re flying. Just because you have a lot more room to bring your stuff doesn’t mean you should. It’s all about being mobile and compact when your going to and from the car. I plan on getting some cases of beer from some Asheville breweries to bring back, so I’m using my carry-on bag and pilot case — that’s it.

— Bring a spare key. Back ups will save you the hassle in the rare case you loose them.

— Wear shoes and boots. It seems like a dumb suggestion, you want to avoid flip flops, crocs and other light footwear. You need something sturdy and supportive on your ankles for the constant gas and break use.

— Pick your music before hand. If you prefer to be your own DJ rather then letting the radio/Sirius dictate the mood, than find your old CD envelope and go nuts. You can use your phone’s Bluetooth to connect Spotify to the car’ stereo, but that will be a massive battery drain even if you’re charge and you might not always be in data range. Often the battery will drain faster than can charge.

— Turn off push notifications on your phone. It’s an unnecessary distraction to find out about some one liking your Facebook or Instagram posts. When you stop to take a break, then you catch up on texts and the like.

— If somebody is waiting for you, you can send them your location on Google maps. It’s a little stalkery, but it saves them texting you during your trip, “What’s your ETA?”

— Print out directions anyway. If you reply on the graces of Google maps for directions, the printouts are a backup in case your Samsung Galaxy Note explodes on you or you’re out of data range.

Don’t drink alcohol for 24 hours before you leave. Pilots don’t drink the night before they fly or 12 hours. It takes 10 hours for alcohol to completely leave your system. You want your body in top shape for operating heavy machinery.

— Stop every two to three hours at a rest stop. Just like when you’re at your work desk, you need to stand and stretch.

— Go to the bathroom even when you don’t have to. You never know.

— Avoid drinking soda. While being the worst thing you put in your body, the carbonation and acids can irritate your stomach when you’re in a stressful situation like a traffic jam. Water or ice tea is the safest bet.

— Don’t be afraid to cruise in the right lane. There’s no need to speed in the left lane to make up for lost time. You won’t make much of a difference. Also, cops are ticketing more those riding the left. Relax in the right, enjoy the ride.

— Bring lots of change. While EZPass is readily available, you never know if you come to a toll that doesn’t accept it.

— Text friends/family when you stop. You just want to let know that you’re good in case of alien invasion.

— Be spontaneous. If you see a great landscape, pull off at a scenic overlook. Soak it in.

Frozen Pimm’s Cup is a Thing for Wimbleton

Me and my Pimm’s, representing at the The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

The most British of all cocktails, the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, is synonymous with one of the great British sporting events, the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament.  There’s only one way to make it better, freeze it in popsicle form.

According to the official website, the original recipe as follows to serve in a highball glass:

  • 50ml PIMM’S No.1
  • 150ml of Lemonade
  • Mint, orange, strawberries
  • Cucumber to garnish and ice

You can also mix lemonade and ginger beer for a little bite.

The evil geniuses at POPS, a London-based boozy cocktail purveyors made them in push pop form to sell at the tournament this year. They rank in at a refreshing 4.3% ABV.

I made a batch myself in ice cube form and they are a delight, although I used the Pimm’s Strawberry & Mint Special Edition bottle I got at London Heathrow Duty Free shopping. I made a basic Pimms cocktail without the fruit, poured into an ice cube tray, froze and made the cocktail with fruit and cucumber. It’s like discovering fire, I was pretty amazed by the results.

In the meantime, Wimbledon continues this week. Strawberries and creme is must for at-home viewing.

 

Gadgets and Products I Travel With on Long Car Trips

As I mentioned on a previous post, I’ve got a 10 to 11 hour road trip in front of me to Asheville, NC. As the driver and lone passenger, safety and comfort are paramount.

This isn’t my first 10+ hour car trip, but some little doo-dads and inexpensive things make it tolerable and even enjoyable. Here’s what I take along:

CD Slot Smartphone Car Mount ($15-$25) — While most cars have Bluetooth, in-car navigation costs extra even in car rentals. If you have to rely on your phone for Google maps or Waze like I do, this inexpensive car mount slides right into the CD slot on older model cars.  Koomus makes a mount that fits all phones with a grip like holder that can rotate between landscape and vertical.

Available on ebay.

Zojirushi Insulated Travel Mug ($24-$35) — I have a stash of travel rotating travel mugs from commuting. Contigo is the go-to brand for most people on the go. While they are perfectly fine for people who will finish their morning coffee by the time they get to work, they do a half-way decent job of keeping your beverage warm or cold. Even though it’s a bit pricey for a travel mug, the Japanese-designed Zojirushi is the superior container. I had put coffee in it for three hours and still had steam coming from it. It fared even better with ice water, with the cubes still solid after the same time. Even better is that it’s solid construction with two levels of spill-proof designs with locks.

Available on Target.

Rohto Eye Drops ($5) — Eye strains and dry eyes can be a nuisance since you will be using air conditioning or taking in the wind if you’re driving with the top down. These eye drops are needed relief for your eyes. It’s like a little spa treatment for your eye balls. The all-in-one version takes care of redness, dry, itchy and watery eyes. It has the bases covered.

Available on Target.

Swedish Hand CremeL:A Bruket makes the big pimpin’ hand creme for those players who take their hands very seriously. It’s $26 a tube and your hands will thank you later. For those who can’t throw down for this little luxury, the Swedish Dream (which is hard to not think of something dirty) makes a Sea Salt hand creme for $12 which will allow you to feel like a Swede.

Available on Jet.

Ultimate Ears Roll 2 Bluetooth Speakers ($50-$100) — You got your favorite Spotify playlist or Pandora station ready, but your car doesn’t have Bluetooth or having trouble connecting. The simple remedy is the Roll 2 speaker which is small, but mighty enough to make your drive fun for all your passengers. These speakers pack flat and can go for 10-hours straight. The mobile app will even tell you how much charge you have going.

Available on ebay.

5-lb Bag of Gummi Bears ($13) — If you finish this bag on your own, I’m impressed, but I think your stomach might want to have a word with you.  For making a five-pound bag, we salute you Haribo.

Available on Walmart.

Armor All Car Cleaning Wipes ($3-$5) — Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. I stick a few varieties in my truck for the glass and leather interior when I spill my gummi bears all over the interiors. The glass wipes are particularly effective for those hard to reach areas on the glass.

Available on Target.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Destination — Asheville, N.C.

Time to put some miles on the speedometer, wind in the sail and ground beneath my feet. I’m heading down south on a 10+ hour drive to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the beloved small city nearby, Asheville, North Carolina.

The main reason for the trip is that it has one of the best beer scenes in America with 20+ within the city limits and well within walking distance of each other. It’s not bad for a town with a population of 87,000.

Not only local breweries like Wicked Weed, Burial and Green Man make their own name in town, major players Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Oskar Blues builts production facilities outside of town.

It’s for these facts that they earned the title Beer City USA for four years running, until Grand Rapid, MI took the title. Duly noted and will head there eventually.

While there’s so much beer and so little time and room in my stomach, there’s much more. For the non-beer drinkers, Asheville’s major draw is the Biltmore Estate. The largest house in America, it was built by the Vanderbilt family during the Industrial Revolution. It’s one of the best example of Gilded Age architecture.

Besides it being a living museum, there’s the elaborate grounds, a rotation of art exhibits, a winery and concerts. Even though it should be high humidity in the summer, I plan on wearing a vintage three-piece suit, top hat and monocle.

If there’s two things that North Carolina is known for its the Blue Ridge Mountain and BBQ. If you want to add a third, it’s that stupid bathroom law. In any event, I wouldn’t mind a quick walk if the weather permits (me and high head/humidity don’t mix).

With BBQ, sooooo much BBQ. Drool. One of the big names in the Asheville scene is 12 Bones, where the Obamas visited in 2010. A more recent entry that became an instant hit is Buxton Hall, which is housed in a former rolling skating rink. Why former? Keep the party going1 The site also has their own bakery, while the restaurant has their own cookbook.

I’ll be there for four days, three nights. I originally planned on driving on, but might have to be back at homebase for business. If I can voyage on, it will be spontaneous, which will make it more interesting.

Heading out the 17th, reports to follow.

 

Cities Are Starting to Hate Tourists in News That Shocks Nobody

Despite the fact we’re all going to die in some post-apocalyptic hell fire, tourism is on the rise in some cities. New York City is expected to gain 1 million more tourists this year, which is great timing for the “Summer of Hell” that is happening this summer with public transportation.

This jist of a New York Times story focused on how tourism is spreading to outlining neighborhoods. Tourism is no longer relegated to city centers. Due to social media and travel apps, that must have dish is just a Lyft ride away to Queens or the Bronx.

In the gentrified areas of Brooklyn, it is now common to see sightseeing buses ride by while lumberjack beardos and tattooed pixie girls drink locally brewed kombucha. Tourists buses in Brooklyn is a true first world problem.

About five years ago, I was out drinking with friends in the Carroll Gardens section and we kept on seeing the sightseeing buses. Eventually, we would wave, hoping to get a reaction and to sarcastically welcome them to outer boroughs. The tourists on the buses all looked scared, so nothing happened.

Meanwhile, other cities are trying to curb tourists while maintaining their way of life. For example, the few residents that actually live in Venice, Italy (the most touristy place on Earth) started posting signs that said, “Tourists Go Away! You Are Destroying This Area.” In parts of Spain, residents are spray painting on walls, “Tourists Are Terrorists.” I hope people put that on their Instagram feed.

The big picture is that tourists are spending big bucks in cities, sustaining local economies. The annoyance is that they are tourists in mass quantities who can be demanding and wanting a specific experience at the expense of locals. Basically, every local is there to meet their needs. It will take a big cultural leap to train people to be better travelers and not disrupt local cultures. Simple please and thank you’s from visitors are a start.