North Carolina 27-29 Sep 2011

Day 1 (27 September)

 

We had planned tomgo camping, but were dissuaded by the rain. We are not rain campers anymore (been there done that, too many wet socks to want to repeat it). Instead, we headed south to New Bern, NC and Greenville. No, we did not leave Beau at a gas station (although the thought occurred to me once or twice).

 

While we got an amazingly early start (0715), it was only to the auto repair establishment to have the Honda’s brakes replaced. It should still count for something. I was all for deferring this again, but Pamela had some flashbacks back to when the brakes in my TR 6 failed driving down the mountain road from our marriage site and would have none of it. Beau got off to a less than perfect start needing three attempts to raise him from the dead to get dressed (one attempt from Pam caused local dogs to bark), packed, and some cereal, but he was amazingly patient (for Beau) waiting for the van to be repaired. This does not count, of course, the frantic efforts he made to get me excited because he saw the mechanic taking the van out for a spin. He was sure someone was stealing it.

 

The repairs took until 1230, after which I made the non-hungry-teenager friendly decision that we were going to get down the road on Highway 17 to New Bern some way before stopping for lunch. This may have actually been the cruel and unusual punishment that Beau termed it, but I could just see us stopping at a restaurant in Newport News and not getting on the road until the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel was congested. No way.

 

We stopped at the combination North Carolina (NC) and Great Dismal Swamp welcome center (where else in the USA can you find a Swamp “Welcome Center”?) to get a free map (we packed our atlases and I am too cheap to buy more) and evil, hungry Beau made his presence felt. He threatened to start eating the upholstery unless we stopped at the nearest KFC, but we compromised on a Wendy’s in Elizabeth City because it was closer. Beau had a cheeseburger that was bigger than my head, which helped his mood enormously. As a harbinger of the troubles upcoming, we noticed the Wendy’s sign had a message reading “We’re open” which seemed like an odd announcement for your average fast food place (aren’t they always open these days?). Little did we know ...

 

After lunch, Pam deferred to improved-mood Beau and she sat in the back seat while he got into the driver seat. This generated a cooling system calamity because Pam directed all the air off her when she was sitting in the driver seat (it makes her too cold, but I won’t let her turn it off because I get too hot) but immediately started complaining loudly about how hot it was in the back seat so Beau and I had to devote all our attention to redirecting vents toward the back seat while still driving and navigating, respectively. While we cranked up the a/c, we started to get water vapor clouds coming out of the vents so Beau started panicking because he thought the car was on fire. I am surprised we stayed on the road with a cloud forming in the interior of the van. 

 

Some families play “spot the car” or “name the state capitols” while they are driving. Pam and I played “Hurricane Names We’ll Probably Never See.” We quickly sailed through the obvious list of “untouchables” like Hurricane Griselda, Hurricane Rasputin, and Hurricane Adolf, I came up with the game winner, “Hurricane Richard” because it would be too easy to say, “I got scr**ed by Hurricane Dick.”

 

The only flirtation with death experience (we typically have at least one per day on our trips) that we encountered during the drive to New Bern happened when Beau was driving (not his fault really). I asked him to change lanes to go around a big truck and then I realized that the exit we needed to take was less than a mile away. In a near suicidal dash of bravado for anyone driving a van, I just told Beau to speed up to get ahead of the truck, which he did just fine. The trouble came when Pam realized from the back seat that the exit was just ahead so she yelled at Beau to slow down. So I am yelling to speed up and Pam is yelling to slow down and poor Beau (who does not have his license yet and is still getting comfortable driving on the highway) is trying to figure out what to do while parents are yelling like idiots and we are hazarding ourselves and the large truck now behind us (goodness knows what he thought was going on). Fortunately, Beau only drives with me and is conditioned to give priority to my directions so he sorted out the conflicting directions better than Pam and I could.

 

As a morale booster for Beau after this brush with family death, we offered to take him to “Killer Elite” in New Bern. I used my iPad to find a movie theater in New Bern where the movie was showing and even used it to navigate near the theater. Pam only objects when I try to use it while driving, but to me it is the same as using a map. I don’t think I am going to win that argument. On the way, we noted a car wash named “Washaroo” across the street from Piggly Wiggly and could only sigh in wistful envy about how much fun it must be for people in that neighborhood to give directions to their houses.

 

As we tried to quickly find a hotel room to check in before the movie (so Pam did not have to sit through a violent, super-testosterone inflamed action film), we learned the implications of the “We’re open” sign on the Wendy’s in Elizabeth City. There were no hotel rooms to be had in the city of New Bern because of all the people displaced from their homes due to Hurricane Irene. We should have guessed from the 8 DirecTV vans parked at the Hampton Inn or the way the receptionist laughed when I asked about a room for the night at the first place we stopped. We finally did find a hotel in Havelock (about 20 minutes down the road). We got the last room in the hotel, but I was a little concerned that it was a “smoking room” (I thought I would have to take up smoking to qualify for the room). I was given a waiver (and a can of Febreeze).

 

Soule family short NC trip (Day 2, 28 September)

 

Our mission this morning was to get out the door early to drive about 35 minutes from Havelock to Swansboro so we could eat breakfast at Yana’s Ye Old Drugstore Restaurant. Getting underway “early” (before 0900) when we are traveling requires me to do my best drill instruction impersonation (Pam is a willing accomplice and pushover, she just needs the plan restated several times and then still accuses me later of not keeping her in the loop, which means I am wrong no matter what). Beau (our resident space alien) is the biggest challenge, but it helps if he understands that his ability to eat depends on verbatim compliance with “the plan.”

 

One effective strategy for helping Pamela comply with “the plan” when it involves early morning departures is for me to make sure she has access to coffee early (no problem) and for me to be the first one to drive. The latter is key because then Pamela has fewer variables to juggle and I can focus on body count/roll call in the vehicle of choice (harder than it sounds when your van is big enough that your teenage son can pile way in the back bench sheet and submerge under blankets and pillows (these are important things to bring on long trips with Beau so he can “nest” when the urge strikes). If Pamela drives first, waaay to much time (my opinion of course) gets devoted to adjusting mirrors, placement of the coffee cup, climate control, purse storage, glasses cleaning, map briefings, plugging in a cell phone that was not charged the night before, etc. I am not complaining, mind you, about the necessity of these activities or that I have any problem, in general, with supporting them (since I know what is good for me). I just don’t want to deal with them when we are trying to get on the road the first thing in the morning. I admit they probably only take up five minutes (okay, 20 tops!)  before pulling out of the parking place, but it *feels* like an hour when I want to get going. This approach lowers my stress level immensely in the morning on trips. One comical feature (at least I think it is funny, which is better for my marriage than being annoyed at it) of this approach is Pam will “go with the flow” (a very nice feature of her personality as long as I am not perceived as giving too many “orders”) in this process, but then her “driven woman” instincts take over about five minutes down the road (usually when we are on the freeway) and she will ask, “Do you want me to drive?” What she does not realize is that, to a male focused on “making time” and getting down the road, this sounds like, “I know we are driving 70 mph plus down the highway and making great progress to the next destination, but would you like to pull over now, let those big trucks that you just executed dare devil NASCAR tactics to pass pass us again, let me fool around with the mirrors, adjust the seat and climate control settings, and you can become my in-car service attendant (finding things in my purse, cleaning my glasses, getting me water, etc.)?” Of course, it would be useless to complain about this (particularly because there is almost always another truck or RV ahead of me that I want to pass when she asks this), so I just say, “Okay, how about at the next rest stop/bathroom break” because stopping is inevitable then anyway. Like I noted above, I may be a Type A at times on the road, but I know what is good for me.

 

We made it to Swansboro in about 30 minutes and were seated right away at Yana’s. I was intrigued by this restaurant after reading its description in “America’s Great Loop, One Man’s Experiences,” by (Sailor) Joe Kozak. Being new to the restaurant, we decided to take in their specialty, fruit fritters. The waitress told us that one plate would be plenty for all of us so Pam and I decided to order nothing else (Beau had a short stack). I am glad we made that choice because the pear fritters came in a very large bowel covered in powdered sugar and I felt so full afterward (even though I shared the bowel with Pam and ravenous teenager) that we had to walk around historic Swansboro for about half hour to get the fried food drenched in sugar (think funnel cake times 5) queasiness to subside. For such a tiny town, Swansboro has lots of nice shops and eateries so we did not lack for places to visit.

 

Between our wandering around Swansboro and almost getting lost trying to find the highway we wanted after we got back on the road, we got back to New Bern around lunch time (I still was not very hungry). We parked the car and wandered around the historic part of town, pausing every few minutes to take pictures of the many brightly decorated bear statues and wander into and out of stores (like the drugstore where Pepsi is said to have been invented). This started driving Beau crazy (he was either coming off a sugar induced high from the fritters and short stack at Yana’s or suffering from normal teenage hunger induced irritability) so he started complaining loudly when we did this. If it were not for the “OMGs” he kept issuing, we probably could have slipped by as undercover tourist photographers with all the goofy Ralph’s arm around the bear pictures we were taking (no such luck). It got so bad after bear picture number 4 that Beau’s voluble outbursts began providing entertainment for other people in the vicinity. I debated asking them if they wanted a teenager to take home, but I thought it would be a useless exercise since they could see him in action. If I am going to do something like that, I would have to do it through e-Bay and then move right after stapling an airline ticket to Beau’s jacket.

 

Before we could go into the “birthplace of Pepsi” drugstore (not a drugstore any more, now a fountain of Pepsi marketing kitsch) where Caleb Bradham invented Pepsi (I am dubious of the whole invention myth, I think he was trying to concoct an better floor cleaning acid and just added too much syrup), we were almost run over by the lady staffing the shop as she headed out the door to use the restroom. You know you are in a small town when people have to close their shops to use the bathroom. This incident proved my long suspected concern that female trips to the bathroom are highly contagious for other females. As soon as Pam heard that this lady was headed to the bathroom, she asked, “Can I go too?” Now I know it is not just a “girlfriends-social” thing. Another mystery of life unmasked.

 

Pepsi was original called “Brad’s Drink,” probably not the smartest marketing approach so it is a good thing the name was changed some time later.

 

On the plus side, the Pepsi Store Lady did tell Pam where she could use the restroom down the street at the Four C’s store. We know that at least two of the C’s stand for Clothing and Cards. I think one of the other C’s might stand for “Commodes,” but I could be wrong about that. The fact that the lady staffing this shop was so nice about letting Pam use the restroom then required us to make a family stop in the store to browse among the cards and Camping stuff (I don’t think that was one of the C’s, just a bonus) to buy something. Pam did not need the availability of restrooms in the store to browse the amusing and off beat card selection (she does that anyway). I was lucky to escape from there spending under $20.

 

We had lunch at a place called “Captain Ratty’s,” which violated my normal rule of never eat food at a restaurant named for a rodent or some form of pestilence. Pam had a fried green tomato BLT which was about the best thing I have ever tasted between two pieces of toast (she agrees) and I could not pass up the “El Scorcho” burger. Beau had a burger with a name I did not catch, but looked like it was the size of a small car.

 

We headed from the restaurant back on the road to Greenville. We passed almost 2/3 through town looking for the Hampton Inn before I realized that the prohibition against using the iPod for navigating only applies when I am driving and Pam was at the wheel. It has a very handy features in the maps application that uses GPS to show where you are so I swiftly directly Pam to reverse directions using “Evans Rd” (how appropriate, Linda Evans was my admin assistant at Supship Newport News and always helping me find my way, in the office or on travel). We got to the hotel and unpacked our stuff just as the sky was opening up and dumping Lake Michigan on us.

 

After we first get to the hotel room, the “who gets to control the thermostat?” battles begin. I know that I am not going to have much influence in this battle (my job is to side with Pamela or at least make it appear that I am doing so), it is between Beau (who wants ice to form on the a/c ducts) and Pam, who naturally objects to having to sit in the room with a bedspread around her shoulders.

 

Something I noticed in NC hotels is they all prominently display their “Sanitation Rating” at the reception desk, a state law no doubt. I suspect this is intended to reassure customers, but I get a bit nervous when I see a hotel with a rating of 96%. What does that mean? Did the inspector find some old crumbs in the lounge area, a few too many stopped up toilets, or have 4% of the guests died from poisoning of some kind? This is a bit troubling.

 

The other favorite challenge of mine associated with hotels is the morning ritual of figuring out how the shower works, which includes which way you turn the knob to get hot water, how to make the shower head function, and trying to reverse-engineer the thought process of the twisted plumbing mind that designed the drain. This is almost too much for any sentient being at 0700 in the morning. I usually let Pam take the first shower so she does not get the “shower spray in the head” treatment (her pet peeve with hotel showers).

 

Soule family short NC Trip (Day 3)

 

(Greenville to Norfolk)

 

Pam medical update. We met with the radiological oncologist last Friday and Pam is now set up for her first radiation treatment next Thursday, 6 Oct. It will continue M-F until 21 November. She will go to the facility to set up the geometry (which is computer controlled for repeatability) 5 October. I spent some extra time with the doctor to understand how they aim the beam (at an angle through the chest, front and back, to avoid the lungs and other organs and concentrate the effects on just the breast tissue as well as how they avoid creating “hot spots”). I also got to interview the physicist to understand how they shape the beams, calibrate the machine, check the scans, and achieve repeatable results using computer controls for the beam forming apparatus. I get to see all this in action next Wednesday during the calibration. It struck me after all this questioning that in Navy Nuclear Power, the radiation produced by the nuclear reactor is an unfortunate, but manageable side effect of the heat we generate to boil water. In medical radiology, the radiation is their focus.

 

Our plan was to get back to the house in Norfolk by 1300 so I could prepare for the job interview appointment I had in Newport News at 1500. We arrived at 1320 so I had plenty of time and the interview went well (job offer resulted, now considering).

 

I dodged a near death experience the night before when I turned on the light between the two queen beds and encountered near searchlight intensity (I guess there was a sale on 1000w bulbs at the hotel supply store). Even in her semi-cocooned state (described by a person who shall remain nameless as “wrapping up in the bed covers like a burrito”), I could tell this was bothering Pamela (sensitive male that I am, I could tell because Pam twisted around like someone tapped her with an electric cattle prod). Even though I would have liked to use the light to read, I decided that discretion was the order of the day and used the iPad instead (unlike a Kindle, it does not need ambient light). None of these activities had any affect on  Beau, who was doing his impersonation of a bat (if bats laid down flat on beds), with his feet at the top of the bed and his head hanging off the bottom. The fact that he can even start sleeping in this position (which puts his head closer to the a/c vent) is an indicator that he may not be human.

 

While we were eating breakfast, Pamela saw something on TV about airline mileage clubs titled, “Marriage with Miles.” She thinks this is not a bad way to describe being married to me.

 

After we got on the road, we noticed that NC has some challenging standards (they might not have standards, but I am being charitable) for signs on its state highways. The signs are posted so close to the exit or turnoff that you have a tendency (at least we do) to pass the exit before you understand what the signage means. We encountered this first when changing from 11/13 that goes north from Greenville to 64/13 that goes east to Hwy 17 (the road we wanted to take back to Chesapeake). By the time we realized what was going on, we were over divided highway that is 64/13 and seeing the sign for Rocky Mount, NC (which I knew meant we had missed the exit). Pam and I suspected this was more than just slow thinking on our part because, just as we realized we would have to turn around, we noticed a car ahead of us also turning around. Later, when trying to merge from 64/13 on 17 North, we noticed one of those green signs that showed Business 17 and 17 South were the next exit, but no mention of 17 North. We decided to be adventurous and just keep driving. Luckily, the very next “exit” (not really an exit, the road just become 17 North) was 17 North. Pam thinks this might have been the real cause of the death defying exit maneuver Beau and I had to execute with the truck the first day of the trip (being in the wrong lane with the exit coming up fast, cutting the truck off to exit). I am not so sure, but since it puts my judgment in a much better light in her eyes, I was not going to argue.

 

One of the special treats about driving with Beau, but this is a common feature of any teenager since Bryan was afflicted with it as well, is his selective hearing when he is in the back seat. If you try to get his attention about anything cultural or associated with effort on his part, he is listening to his iPod and could not hear you if you used a megaphone to speak to him (Pam just starts yelling, which amounts to the same thing). If Pam and I whisper about stopping for food or giving him money, that is able to pierce the music signal to his ears like a hot knife through butter. We were talking off an on about when to stop for gas and a personal comfort break (you know, the kind that women seem to need five times as often as men on road trips). When we pulled into the gas station, Beau, the self-appointed trip monitor, loudly asks, “Why are we stopping here?” Speaking of Beau questions, he likes to ask the same questions over and over (usually having to do with why I don’t give him money distinct from his allowance). One recent time, I suppressed the urge to make a sarcastic comment and asked him why he does this when he should already know the answer. His honest reply was, “I hope to wear you down and possibly get a different answer.” My follow up question was, “Since you have known me for 18 years, what do you think the odds of that happening are?” To his credit, he admitted that wearing me down did not seem likely.

 

Pam has been cursed by her mother Betty with an inordinate sensitivity to cold air on the back of her neck (her mom used to complain about it all the time so no windows could be opened behind her in a car). Shortly after relieving me as driver (which is supposed to allow me to read and study maps), she started complaining loudly about this, which means I have to stop whatever I am doing to track down the source of the problem or I could either get jettisoned from the car (not good) or she might run off the road obsessing about the cause (even worse). First, she accused Beau of misdirecting the vents in the back sea of the van (poor Beau, now that Bryan is living on his own, he gets the blame for everything we think is messed up). We ruled that out. No windows were open. I put my hand behind her neck to confirm she was not hallucinating (good thing since she was driving) and I did notice a draft. I moved my hand away and I noticed that the vents from the middle console of the van were blowing in exactly the right way to bounce off her headrest so I took immediate action to fix the problem.

 

One of the things I love about Pam, and I believe she has this in common with most women, is her ability to bring up something from the past that I thought was either settled or, even if it was ambiguous, might not be a very big deal. As an example of this, we were driving down the road, not talking, and, out of the blue, she states “those were apple fritters yesterday.” Good grief, in another few hours, I would have had trouble remembering that I even ate fritters the day before (at Yana’s) and she has been thinking, probably without much pause, that my assertion that they were pear fritters was wrong. I am glad we have that settled now.