Annapolis, MDSeptember 11-13, 2009

It has been many, many, many months since my last entry, and I’m sure that of the six or seven regular readers I once had, there may be two of you who have been waiting anxiously in anticipation of the end of my self imposed hiatus from travelers’ musings.  Well I thank the both of you, mom & dad, for your patience.  It has been a hectic yet fruitful end of the summer and start of autumn and then winter and then spring and then summer, and I can only make up my tardiness to you, the reader, with the promise that this delay has been caused in part by my participation in a gaggle of fruitful trips to & fro across this country’s grand landscapes.  As the summer of 2009 wound down, I was lucky enough to find myself playing the role of the best man in a wedding that took place in Annapolis, MD.  As the September month waned, I was able to convince another living human being to travel with me to my hinterland, St. Louis, MO, for a weekend of beer, BBQ, and baseball.  I rounded out my fall/winter travels with a 4-day swing in Los Angeles, CA; a holiday weekend in Williamsburg, VA; and then opened 2010 with a trip up to Boston, MA.  At the end of this week I’ll be spending a weekend in the city of brotherly love…Chicago.  I mean Philadelphia!  In my efforts to return to the craft inspired by my hero, Traveling Matt, I will begin anew where last I left off:  Annapolis, MD

If only I could grow such manly facial hair...

And therefore, my first task is to regale you all with the story of the Princess and the Penguin, a wedding tale that unfolded way back in the year twenty-aught-nine, within the friendly boundaries of Maryland’s capital.  This particular story features Molly, who was your typical fairytale princess, having lived a princess’s life in the faraway lands of DotComlandia, and Will, a young erect-crested penguin with an eye for adventure and for the young princess.  Throughout the courting process, the brave penguin was able to win the favor of the princess and her sigma court, thrice over.  Following much of the same plot structure of the movie Happy Feet, the couple was at last engaged.  Due to Molly’s fondness of family roots in Annapolis, and Will’s fondness of crabs, the two converged on Annapolis with friends, family, and waddles where they prepared to be married, with the entire event to be narrated by Morgan Freeman. 

Many of you who are East Coasters probably know a fair amount about Annapolis.  It is a city seated on the Chesapeake Bay, easily reachable from both Baltimore and Washington, DC.  The one time capital of the United States, it is most famously known (by most people) for being the home of the United States Naval Academy, where I once attended a summer wrestling camp and was subsequently forbidden from enlisting in the armed services by the armed services.  A lesser known fact about Annapolis is that it is also Maryland’s state capital of roundabouts.  Evil roundabouts, the likes of which cause those of us who at the time did not own a GPS to be late to wedding rehearsals. 

The city of Annapolis has not one but two roundabouts directly in the center of town, one near the State House, and another less than a half mile away near the Historic Inns of Annapolis, where the wedding party was staying.  I’m sure most of you are saying, “It’s a roundabout, you go around and if you don’t see what you’re looking for, you drive elsewhere.”  Well I, nor my traveling compatriot Rick, said such a thing.  And around and around we drove, admiring the State House and lamenting the fact that our hotel had seemingly vanished.  Not until over 30 minutes of weaving in and out of the inner and outer lanes of Roundabout #1 (State Circle) did we discover the short route to Roundabout #2 (Church Circle).  Realizing the fallacy of our circling ways, Rick and I made it to the hotel and over to the rehearsal at the William Paca House.  Successfully navigating the wedding rehearsal, only having sent the bride’s sister into a stray roundabout once, the wedding party then made its way into town for dinner festivities at OB’s Prime.  As the groomsmen vied for the attention of the questionably aged bartender, the bridesmaids took pictures, and the bride’s father brandished his taser, we dined on hearty cuts of steak and delicately seasoned tuna, complimented with vegetables, potatoes, and a healthy flow of fresh wine.  All the while,  speeches and limericks were read to the soon-to-be newlyweds. 

Where's the turf?

Satiated by wedding sentiments and OB’s fare (topped off with Nostalgia black & white cupcakes), the team made its way out for a night of spirits & toasting, ribaldry & merriment, and thanks to Will’s cousins, oyster shooters.  Nothing says holy matrimony like downing a shot glass full of a raw oyster, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, and vodka.  I suppose you can’t get married in Annapolis without a fair share of seafood being involved, and in the groom’s case, it would be involved twice.  In fact, Will was so excited by the thought of oysters (and getting married, of course) that he managed to lose one of his contacts in all the pomp and circumstance.  Being the pragmatic penguin that he is, we of course did not realize until the following morning that there was no backup pair of contacts.  A mad dash was made in search of appropriate eyewear for the soon to be husband, asking a group of wedding guests to pick up a spare set on their way to town, and making an emergency trip to the local optometrist, for the traditional wedding day complimentary pair of temporary lenses.   Crisis averted, Will and I met his family at The Big Cheese, a local delicatessen near the Annapolis waterfront and the Kunta Kinta Memorial. 

Continuing an early eating frenzy, we soon met up with the other groomsman and some of the hungrier wedding guests.  Making our way through the Naval Academy game day crowd of Midshipmen fans and a surprising number of individuals turned out for Louisiana Tech (yes, a real school), we found ourselves seated inside of Chick & Ruth’s Delly (est. 1965).  Recently seen on Man v. Food, this staple of Annapolis features not one but FOUR “Colossal” food challenges, including a 3-lb. deli sandwich, a 3-lb. cheeseburger, a 6-lb. milkshake, and the “Man v. Food Challenge,” which subjects the foodie to a 1.5-lb. sandwich and a 6-lb. milkshake.  Needless to say all of the groomsmen needed to be refit for their tuxes (actually, just Mike). 

No, not Ruth's Chris, stop asking.

Appetites whetted, it was finally time to begin getting ready for the big event.  Preparations went as one would expect, considering the groom was left to get ready with only the support of his groomsmen.  Cufflinks were lost, pants didn’t fit, boutonnieres were broken, toasts were made, shots were taken, and two groomsmen disappeared to a local bar only to be found shortly before the start of the wedding by the wedding planner.  When it came time for the ceremony, the wedding party and guests could not have asked for a more picturesque backdrop for an outdoor ceremony.  Held within the two-acre expanse of the William Paca Garden, the bride & groom gathered just past the bridge over the garden’s pond.  In front of the two-story summer house, with the sun shining high above, the couple shared their vows, and most importantly, I did not lose the rings.  As the crowd celebrated and the happy couple was announced for the first time, a string quartet ushered us into the evening and on to the night’s festivities.   Thanks to the self-styled musings of our string songsters, the wedding party was treated to a traditional farewell song of “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a local trolley gathered us up and took us to the Annapolis Yacht Club. 

Where's Thurston Howell III!?

Dinner and the reception were held at the Annapolis Yacht Club, founded in 1886, and located at the tip of Annapolis where the cove opens up to the Chesapeake.  As the sun began to set over the Bay, the waterfront clubhouse was a serene location for the wedding party to be introduced and for the celebration to continue.  As the night gave way to speeches and dancing, we were treated to a delightful meal of perfectly paired filet and crabcake with whipped potatoes and veggies, washed down with Pengarini Punch.  As the party moved dockside, champagne toasts, cutting of the rug (as the kids say) and the cutting of the cake were all illuminated by the bright lights of the ships settled in the harbor. 

There's my turf...and more surf!Pengarini Punch...and not against a tree or locker.

 Once the newlyweds had been nabbed by pirates and taken far away from all of the partygoers, the rest of us made our way into downtown Annapolis and to Pusser’s Caribbean Grille.  In a bar featuring the best that the wedding party had to offer mixed with the players and fans of the victorious Midshipmen football team, what you would to expect to happen happened:  Dave broke his camera, Rick left the bar with bottles of beer stuffed into his jacket, Jon went to bed, and I suggested we get pizza.  And as best man, I won, so off we went to the home of the finest late night Italian cuisine that side of the Bay:  Mangia Italian Grille.  As we sauntered through the line, waiting in tuxes and gowns for our turn to order a hot slice of pie, Rick once again proved his mantra of “go big or go home” by buying an entire pepperoni pizza.  Delicious New York style, greasy pizza for all!  Except, ironically, for Rick. 

We're still eating all the pizza that Rick bought.

As the night waned, we celebrated the day’s festivities with toasts of Mountain Dew and vodka and spent the early hours of the following day regaling each other with tales of Annapolis folklore and penguin facts.  Sunday morning, we packed, met for brunch, and then made our way back home.  One could only look back in amazement at the history of one of America’s most famed cities, and the wonder of the event we were there to experience.  And as I was serenaded by the dulcet tones of passing car horns, responding to the message of “That’s right ladies, I’m single,” that had been sprawled across my rear window with window paint as party guests decorated the bride’s car, I thought to myself, “I could go for an oyster shooter.”  And that’s what Annapolis, and weddings, are all about.  Oyster shooters.    

A view from the William Paca Garden. 
Congratulations Will & Molly (8 months later).  Now let’s go to Cantler’s for BBQ crabs! 
Margate, NJ – August 22-23, 2009

What themes come to mind when you think of New Jersey?  Gardens?  Tolls?  Zach Braff <rowr>?  Truckling to NY?  Well you’d be wrong to think of any of those things.  When I think of New Jersey, I think of the East Coast’s forgotten shores.  I think of breakfast’s own bologna, pork roll.  I think of the dichotomy of the lights of Atlantic City casinos shining over the masses as a lighthouse beacon on the shore line beams out to sea.  Most importantly, I absolutely in no way think of whitefish spread…but I digress.  I rarely spent time in the Garden State when I was growing up, but when I did, it was on the Jersey shore in Ocean City.  My parents chose to make trips to Ocean City, NJ on occasion as these trips harkoned back to a time when my parents were still dating.  This was a time when the beach was more about sand & mist than boardwalks & beers.  A time when the restaurants were small, locally owned dives hiding a treasure trove of flavorful morsels versus the Orange Julius stand inside the Big Dogs outlet.  Don’t get me wrong, my love for the Grotto Pizza’s of the Delaware & Maryland beaches is known far and wide, but as my most recent trip to Rehoboth Beach illustrated, these venues can be distracting.  Thus I was filled with great delectation that my friend Jon invited a bunch of us up to his parents’ beach house in Margate along…say it with me…that’s right boys & girls:  the Jersey shore!  Pointless rants aside, we were set for a weekend of fun in the sun, and against the odds (no irony intended) the team had committed to not venturing into Atlantic City, the Jersey Shore’s equivalent to Rehoboth’s Funland.  This trip, we were focused on the beach and the beach alone.  Plus drinking heavy amounts of alcohol.  Adam, Dave, Rick and Jon made the trek through the phantom tollbooths lining the NJ Turnpike on Friday night after work, razing a path for Will, Scott, and myself to follow on Saturday morning.  I was filled with saturine feelings as I thought of the beach themed adventures I would miss while the other guys settled in that night, and was truly saddened to have missed the Friday escapades that resulted in the following: 

  • Receiving this text message at 12:50 AM = “Are you up right now?  We have a question for you about midget penis sizes.” 
  • Rick commenting on the fine wine selection stocked in the beach house and then shortly after almost choking to death on a sour gummy worm. 

Despite having missed these Chauceresque adventures, I was in no way chary of a drive with my compadre Will and his GPS system (codenamed Ted Turner).  We were off to a rousing start, as having met at 7 AM on Saturday morning, we realized that neither of us had heard from our third passenger, Scott.  Luckily, as we have so often in the past, we found Scott wandering the streets of Arlington aimlessly bouncing from Starbucks to Starbucks in search of his next caffeinated trip.  All packed up, we began the journey to Jon’s house in Margate, and as Will and I have done so often in the past, we…got…lost.  What made this aimless peregrination so memorable was that we did so despite having a GPS, and we managed to get lost on the George Washington Parkway, circling the Pentagon as if we had not spent the majority of our adult lives mere miles away from this area.  We eventually made our way back en route, and along the way shared such memorable conversations as “where can you place the SmarTrip sensor in the car and still have it read by the tolls” (sorry about that $50 fine, Will).  In good time, we made our arrival and despite a rather chthonic canopy of dark clouds and sporadic drizzles during the journey, the sun peaked out to welcome us amidst threats of a hurricane encroaching from out at sea.  Jon was prepared to greet us, explaining that the rest of the gang had gone out for supplies and breakfast fare.  The four of us toured the house and sipped Firefly & water as we unwound from the drive and regaled Jon with tales of what each corner of the Pentagon looked like after the 3rd pass.  The rest of the group joined us shortly, bringing with them NY style bagels, Philly cream cheese and the freshest whitefish (bleh) spread in all the land. 

Having built up a fine carbo-loaded defense to fight the sun’s rays, we walked a few short blocks to the nearest beach entrance.  The salty air and the sea’s mist lapped at us as we set our blankets down and set up for a traditional game of whiffle ball (Dirty Jerz rules)…right in front of the life guard sign reading “No ball playing.”  We followed our 9-inning scorcher by tossing a frisbee to & fro, and just as the group got into a rhythm, Will backhanded the disc into the temple of a poor, middle aged woman’s forehead.  Luckily we had well known wordsmith Rick to smooth over the situation, and we turned back to the beach house with no further incident.  Returning from our adventure on the sands, we began to wind down from our wavy ways.  As the entourage began to transfer from salt water to fresh water, we came to the realization that we had bustled up quite the collective appetite creating a whiffle ball & frisbee montage on the beach, not unlike the vaunted volleyball scene from Top Gun.  More importantly, we came to face the fact that we were severely understocked in adult beverages, having only the bottle of Firefly in-house, when we knew deep down that this group of men would settle for only the finest mead in all the land.  Thusly, we made way into the depths of Margate in search of both sustenance and libations.  Jon recommended a local sub shop called Dino’s and that is where we set figurative sail for.  Located only a few miles from home, we were able to caravan into Margate City quickly.  Margate is the epitome of a Jersey shore beach town, with all of the expected small restaurants and local shops, and replete with community staples like the JCA and Will’s arch nemesis, the Youth League.  Dino’s fit in accordingly with my rant in the opening paragraph; it was a walk-in sandwich shop with wooden booths lining the left wall, an assembly line of sandwich craftsman behind the counter on the right, and contained a collection of sports memorabilia and patron photos that hovered all around us. 

Ushered into line quickly by the establishment’s matron, we made our orders, focusing our attention on two of Dino’s specialties:  the Italian sub and the cheesesteak.  The Italian was a monument to its class, featuring freshly sliced capicola, salami, and pepperoni along with thick cuts of cheese and fresh veggies, all topped with a mild yet tangy oil & vinegar compliment.  The cheesesteak was no slouch either, and was prepared with thinly sliced sirloin similar to what you would get in a box of Steak-umm’s; rather than chopped, the meat was prepared intact and served deli style with meat & fixings not unlike its Italian counterpart.  Both sandwiches were laden heavily with all ingredients and adding extra meat (as yours truly did) for a nominal fee made more than a few of us fall prey to a case of eyes being larger than our stomachs.  The true highlight of the subs was the sub rolls they were prepared on.  Like torpedos, the rolls were long and airy rather than short and thick (come on people, let’s act like adults) and provided a lengthy canvas on which to stretch these delicatessen delights over.  We were fed well with the one exception being Adam’s friend Andrea, who had joined the boys late Friday evening and was suffering from an unfortunate case of lockjaw – a gastro-teetotalitarian purgatory the likes of which makes me crumple to the floor in whimpers when I think of suffering from such a pox.  My heart went out to her as she was forced to sustain herself on vanilla yogurt while the rest of us sampled the finest sammiches in all of the Jersey shore line.  Her unfortunate situation made the sandwiches seem that much tastier, as for the first time in long time, I realized that the culinary delights of a budding foodie such as myself could be snatched away in an instant, and however temporary that may be, losing my ability to dine would be like Picasso losing his ability to paint or Carrot Top losing his ability to create ironic props from otherwise uninteresting phrases & situations.  I tipped my cheesesteak sub to Andrea, and she nodded approvingly, willing myself and the group onwards to savor this meal for her and for all the others across the land who could not enjoy it with us.  A mighty weight was shouldered by us all that day, and Dino’s would survive onwards. 

Cherubic with food coma, we purchased a bevy of beverages at the local package shop and headed back for home base.  We continued the day’s footloose and fancy free affairs with a rousing cornhole tournament in Jon’s back yard.  Despite my having mastered the “bounce pass” of cornhole, I was not able to lead my team to victory and was knocked out in the early going.  Many oohs & aahs later, a team of victors was crowned and we all moved back indoors to escape the heat and prepare for the evening’s events.  We took some quality time to relax, with many of us choosing to nap away the sun’s waning light.  In the ways of their ancestors before them, Jon, Rick, Will, and Dave played Scrabble as a heavy form of meditation, and were close to reaching a tier of inner calm & reflection that most could only dream of until Dave destroyed the game by playing the word “xylophone”.  The ensuing pandemonium caused such a stir that the house was roused and we were ready to continue the weekend anew.  Now I know what you’re saying.  Whiffle ball on the beach.  Attack frisbee-thon.  Cornhole tournament.  SCRABBLE ™.  How could this day get more intense and mind-blowing than it already has!?  Well continue on, fair reader, and I will continue to open your mind. 

Dressed and ready to hit the town, we followed Jon a few blocks into the seedy underbelly of the Margate beach area.  And by seedy underbelly, I mean that one corner that had a street lamp out.  We quickly came upon a row of streets lining the waterfront, filled with condos, shops, and restaurants.  The youthful exuberance of the crowds and establishments around us gave us all jitters as we looked to & fro, attempting to choose the ever important location that would set the tone for the evening, the location at which we would eat:  dinner.  Despite encouragement from Rick and myself to eat at Junior’s Doughnuts & Dogs, the group settled on a joint known as Maynard’s. 

The real dynamic duo. The real dynamic duo.

Maynard’s may best be known for its endorsement of fine, live music, which we were treated to this evening first hand.  While I will only know our dinnertime maestro as “The One-Armed Bandman,” he will forever haunt my dreams with his rhythmic tones and his mastery of the pre-loaded background synthesizer.  More importantly, Maynard’s offered an eclectic menu featuring items such as Buffalo chicken wings, lobster bisque, and the pork roll sandwich.  The defining menu item was the Maynard Burger, which was a normal cheeseburger topped with a slice of pork roll.  For anyone who has not had the pleasure of trying pork roll, it is a must and you should go out and try it now.  Traditionally a breakfast meat, pork roll is also commonly referred to as Taylor Ham and can be found both in roll form or pre-sliced in your neighborhood grocer’s store.  I realize that you will most likely be salivating uncontrollably now, so as I said, go try pork roll now and stifle that salivation.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait. 

The other white meat. The other white meat.

Safely finishing our meal under the watchful eyes of 43 bouncers (I believe Maynard’s employees over half of the indigenous population of Margate), we left the restaurant and made our way down to Ventura’s to sample a few spirits while overlooking the water.  On the way, we passed America’s Trojan Horse, Lucy the elephant.  Lucy is a 6 story wooden & tin elephant that resides in Margate City, and is one of the few remaining examples of zoomorphic architecture.  Constructed in 1882, it is now essentially a museum after having served as a restaurant, office, and home over its lifetime. 

Lucy, I'm home! Lucy, I’m home!

Later finding ourselves on the deck of Ventura’s Greenhouse Grill, we were pleased to learn that it was Jack Daniels give away night; buy a Jack drink, get some appropriately tagged swag.  Sipping on Jack & gingers, we found ourselves doused in JD bandanas and t-shirts while we and a Ventura’s bouncer vigorously debated the merits of various JCVD (Jean Claude Van Damme) movies including but not limited to Lionheart, Bloodsport, Time Cop, and even JCVD (the movie, not the actor).  The lively conversation had given us all a sudden appetite, so on our way back to the house we stopped at a local Wawa.  I will save my Wawa rant for a future post, but I will say right now that Wawa is a far superior convenience store than any other, and its freshly prepared food items rival even the greatest of fast food restaurants.  Wawa has a myriad of fresh food options made to order, and I settled on a Buffalo Blue chicken sandwich, featuring Buffalo sauce, blue cheese, and a breaded chicken breast, while Jon dined on chicken tenders with honey mustard dipping sauce, and Rick had Andy Capp Hot Fries along with a vintage 2009 Sunkist orange soda.  Appetites sustained, we finally made our way back home and settled in the for the evening. 

As the dulcet tones of Rick’s snoring drowned out the sound of Jon’s malfunctioning air bed inflator, we chose our beds and Dave tipped his plaid fedora to each of us in turn before we began to drift off to dreams of JCVD kickboxing the guitar away from the One Armed Bandman.  We awoke the next morning and found that any lingering clounds had set sail for sea, leaving a wide open sky to mock us as we left the beach and made our way back to Virginia.  Packing up, the group divided into two cars and began the trek home.  And in just the way our weekend began, Will’s GPS managed to narrowly have us miss the first four exits to the Turnpike before we had even left Margate’s friendly confines.  We eventually made our way home, and it would be many weeks later until Will was able to clean all of the sand from his car.  It was wonderful to experience the other side of East Coast beaches, and fun was had by all (except for Jon as he tried mightily yet failed to inflate the airbed).  And the true lesson learned from my summer’s second beach adventure :  triple word score trumps all

Red Means Eat:  Dino’s, everything with pork roll, Wawa, nothing with whitefish

RMG Homeland Trip Advisory level:  Coral Red (in honor of the unfettered sea and the frsibee we almost lost to it)

Radford, VAAugust 15-16, 2009

The state of Virginia has a multitude of defining features.  These include notable landmarks (eg, George Wasthington’s estate at Mt. Vernon), geographical wonders (eg, the Natural Bridge), and historic preservations (eg, Vienna Inn).  One of the most interesting aspects of the state, in my opinion, is the vast number and striking history of the many colleges & universities scattered throughout its borders.  There are a number of states that contain a myriad of these institutions, but the sheer number and the history of the schools in Virginia is strikingly impressive.  For example: 

  • College of William & Maryfounded in 1693, 2nd oldest school in the nation
  • University of Virginiafounded by Thomas Jefferson (W& M alum) in 1819
  • Virginia Techfounded in 1872, still referred to by my father simply as VPI
  • Washington & Lee Universityfounded in 1749 by Denzel Washington & Lee Majors, I think

These are only a few of the 35+ colleges in the state, and each one has a rich history anda letter of rejection with yours truly’s name on it.  What propitious conditions make the state of Virginia so attractive to institutions of higher education?  Is it the proximity to an open trade route by way of the Atlantic Ocean?  Perhaps its the vast expanses of open fields and fertile land.  Perhaps it is the ghost of John Smith, always stirring up trouble.  The important thing to take from this is that one could spend an exorbitant amount of time visiting these schools, learning about their campuses and their histories.  I had the fortune of attending William & Mary myself, and was able to learn a great deal about how to catch malaria and how to churn rich, creamy butter in the most draconian of ways.  In addition, I have recently been afforded the luxury of spending time and learning about one of the state’s other schools, Radford University.  My little brother has attended Radford for the past 4 years, about to finish his degree in Sports Administration & Marketing.  I feel a special kinship to Radford, so try to bear withme as I share a personal anecdote.  When I first went away to college, I found myself at the University of Rhode Island.  After 2 years there, I made the journey back to Virginia, completing a transfer to William & Mary.  To this day, when some of my old URI friends ask me how things are going, they inquire as to whether or not I ever make it back to UVA…  Now while I was known to visit UVA a time or two (hundred) during my years at W&M, this question is always asked assuming I attended UVA; it’s a larger and more well known school due in part to it’s illustrious (cough) sports programs, andI understandthat those not familiar with the state of VA would think of this school before William & Mary.  I suppose it’s better than being asked if I ever see the nice couple that home schooled me back on the farm in VA, but in the endI understand what it’s like to have a school at times in the shadow of another institution.  Radford is another school that at times has to compete out of the shadow of a nearby neighbor, Virginia Tech, which lies 15 miles away in Blacksburg.  With VT’s sheer volume of enrollment and the nationally recognized military doctrine known as “BeamerBall,” it can be easy to forget about what others schools can be found in Southern Virginia. 

Radford University was founded in 1910 and began as a women’s college (give it to my bro, always the ladies man), beginning to accept men in 1972.  It has a Scots-Irish heritage, which has lead to its team logo, the Highlanders.  The school competes in the Big South Conference, recently winning titles in softball, tennis, basketball, anda National Championship in men’s rugby in 2008.  The campus is located in the New River Valley, with direct access to the New River and a scenic Blue Ridge Mountains backdrop in the near distance.  Whether or not I was invited first, I have had the fortune of visiting my brother on numerous occasions during his time at school.  For a budding foodiesuch as I, the school’s surrounding town offers a bevy of tasty dining experiences.  Within a fairly small radius, you can find yourself enjoying a buttery, flaky blueberry biscuit for breakfast at Bojangles; from there you may want to check out the happy hour at Sonic, taking in a Rte 44 sized cranberry limeade; having quenched your thirst, a slice at Little Caesar’s (pizza, pizza!) may tide you over until supper at Hardee’s, where a nourishing meal of bacon cheese fries and an angus Thickburger await.  I am not always apt to gorge myself on fast food, but for anyone who mocks any part of the last excerpt, I dare you not to fall in love withthe hospitality at Bojangles or the roller girl at Sonic (sorry, Jon).  I dare you.  For cheap eats, you can’t beat this kindof selection.  Beyond the maze of restaurants that college kids can afford to eat at, there is also a restaurant called Macado’s that has a list of sandwiches that stands taller than even a tower made up of every single Cardinals hat that I own placed one on top of another.  You can find a Macado’s in most college towns in or near Southern VA, andthe vast number of uniquely named menu items will draw you back again & again as you try to sample them all.  I personally recommendthe Titanic, which is essentially a French dip sandwich offered with a choice of A1 or au jous.  You’re going to want the A1…trust me.  Moving into an even higher echelon of dining bliss, I must also recommend the view from the Château Morrisette Winery.  Nestled a short distance from Radford in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the winery overlooks a vast range of foliage, vineyards, and mountains.  The Château offers a wide wine selection and has a restaurant located on the property, where my brother’s graudationwas celebrated.  If you’re in the mood for a white, I recommend the Our Dog Blue, which recently won a gold medal at the Camp Good Days Wine Competition in the Finger Lakes.  Probably outside the price range of most attending collegiates, the location is a great getaway when the rigors of school get you down, and it gives you an excuse to listen to Alanis Morrissette (as if you needed one). 

If you can’t tell, based on the school’s surrounding area and it’s overflowing selection of delicious eats, I love getting a chance to make it down there for a visit.  And it’s nice to see my brother as well.  From the DC area, it’s roughly a four hour drive from Point A to Point B in Highlander country, most of which is spent on the nation’s blandest highway, I-81.  But it’s a simple drive andis easily made after rush hour on a Friday or on a Saturday morning with little to no traffic experienced.  My most recent experience at Radford was made for a number of reasons.  My folks had been invited to take in a baseball game down in sunny Pulaski, VA where my brother works for a minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, the aptly named Pulaski Mariners.  My folks were also meeting family friends to celebrate a birthday.  And most importantly, I was tasked with the opportunity to deliver my brother’s 1984 Chevy Camaro to him at school.  Jumping at the opportunity to whisk such a sleek machine onto the roads, I eased into the bucket seat under the steering wheel, and seated a mere 4 inches from the road, made my way south.  Like a streaking furbelow on the lanes of 81, I weaved in out of loping trucks like a red bullet, men cheering behind me and women weeping in despair as they could not catch me.  Feeling frisky, I took out one part of the chariot’s T-top and soaked in the rays as I finished the last leg towards my destination.  The first stop on my journey took me to historic Rockwood Manor.  Located in Dublin, VA near both Radford & Blacksburg, this 130 year old property features a Civil War era mansion that has been restored and refurnished into a comfortable B&B.  Take a moment to realize that I’m not 50, and then I’ll tell you more.  Meeting up with my folks and their friends, I was impressed at the state the manor had been kept in, as modern amenities such as air conditioning and running water were now featured in the rooms, yet the feel of Dixieland were apparent as the spiral staircases and ornately designed crown moldings remained intact.  Sitting on the porch, sipping sweet Firefly and playing in a vigorous game of jackstraws, we enjoyed the summer evening along with Mr. Beauregard and the manor’s proprietors. 

Mercy me, I may have caught a case of the vapors!  Mercy me!

As day turned to evening, it came time for us to make our way to the Mariners stadium in Pulaski.  Less than 15 minutes away from the B&B, we arrived shortly at the stadium grounds, nestled deep in the hills and surrounded by green mountains anda large forest known to gobble up foul balls with greedy tree branches.  Making our way into Calfee Park, where the Mariners were preparing to take on the Greeneville Astros, we took in the sights of batting practice and looked for my brother.  The park itself was built in 1935 andis listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Inside the stadium, you can imagine what it would have been like to take in a game during the days of Abner Doubleday, especially looking towards left field where the visitors’ grandstandis covered by a wooden & tin roof.  My brother, in his second season interning for the team, met us andshowed us to our seats, one row behind home plate.  From this vantage point, we had a field level view of the action; we were so close, I had the urge to pandiculate my arms out, grab a bat, and take a swing.  Assuming this were to happen, my next urge would have been to sit back down after I inevitably struck out.  The cabal spent its evening enjoying a very close game (the Mariners starter held a shutout through 7 innings), sipping on $3 pints of beer, and generally harassing my brother as he attempted to do his job.  If you do make it to a game at Calfee, you must try the cheeseburger, the chicken poppers (mini chicken tenders), and the Mariners fries (sliced, fried potatoes); you can dine like a gourmand and drink like a fish for under $20.  While the crowd, the game, and the balmy summer atmosphere all made for a great evening, the highlight of the crowd’s evening occurred in the middle of the 6th inning.  During the intermission, I was asked to compete in the vaunted “adult tricycle race.”  My guess is that you never imagined seeing the words “adult” and “tricycle” in the same sentence, so I apologize for rocking your world there.  I was pitted against a family friend who is still in college; we spent much of the prior innings berating one another andI thought that I had succeeded at getting into her head (yes, I was facing off witha lady) with such taunts as “I still ride my tricycle every day” and “You should feel bad that I live with my parents, so let me win.”  Entering the field through the 1st base gate, we placed ourselves atop the torn, black seats and were off at the soundof the horn.  The stadium was abuzz, as the crowd flouted me with every twist and turn of the handlebars.  Streamers flew by my sides from the handles as my red stallion carried me down the 1st base line towards home plate.  I looked up to see where my competitor was, planning a coy laugh as she was undoubtedlyyards behind me.  Then it hit me…I couldn’t pedal the bike forward.  I hadn’t moved.  At all.  Pondering my situation, I realized a few things about my trusty trikey: 

  1. The tricycle was built for a 5-year old, not a 27-year old 190 pounder. 
  2. The tricycle’s seat was not parallel to the ground, but instead pointed upwards at a 45° angle, so all of my mass was held at the back of the bike as I hung on by the handles in front. 
  3. Someone had let the air out of my rear-left tire. 

Realizing that I was in dire need of some quick thinking, I lifted the trike up and began to waddle down field, knowing that the only official rule was that the seat must rest firmly planted on your posterior at all times.  My opponent had already rounded the stadium employee that marked her half way point at home plate and was preparing her trek back up towards 1st.  As I neared my brother, who was waiting by home to signify that I could turn back, I realized that he was in cahoots with the nefarious person responsible for the decimation of my ride.  He began to steadily back up towards the backstop, ever increasing the distance I needed to cover in order to meet my half way requirement.  Finally running out of room to retreat, I caught him and made a mad dash back to the finish.  To this day, the events leading up to the end of the race are blurry.  It was a photo finish, and rather than argue the results I rested on my laurels and let my query know the taste of victory.  It was a hard fought battle, and I was content knowing that I had persevered even through such tireless persecution at the hands of my brother and his legion of doom, the Boo Crew.  As the game’s end drew near, the party bid adieu to the stadium, and while the remainder took the drive back to Rockwood Manor, I joined my brother for a night out in the mean streets of downtown Radford. 

Another sellout crowd!

That's a neck!

After stopping to change clothes at my brother’s humble abode outside of campus, we made our way to BT’s, located off of Tyler Ave., one of the main roads by the Radford campus.  My brother, his girlfriend Amy, and I settled in with hopes of whetting our appetites with a plethora of appetizers andquenching our thirsts with the finest mead in all the land.  Splitting pitchers of cold brewed Coors Light, we dined on such “Appeteasers” as the grilled chicken fingers (half marinated with Italian seasoning, half basted in BBQ sauce), the nachos for two (’nuff said), and the BT’s wings, which were succulent, jumbo wings with a light breading and served with hot sauce & ranch.  Needless to say that we dined heartily and were able to relax after the rigors of the game.  A number of Amy’s friends joined us later in the evening, and I beheld an alcoholic beverage similar to a strawberry margarita on the rocks, topped with a garnish of strawberry seeds.  My actual quote upon seeing this drink was “Why did you put pepper in your drink?” andI could tell instantly that I had outed myself as the lone old dude at the bar.  The night ended when one of my brother’s coworkers joined us, proclaiming that it was his birthday.  As I was able to understand every word that he spoke, I decided that it was my right to purchase a shot for the occasion, so I presented unto him a Prairie Fire.  Needless to say the combination of Tabasco & tequila was not his favorite, and the night ended for him as you would have expected it. 

The next morning, my brother was back at the stadium helping to organize things for that evening’s game.  When he returned, we along with Amy met my folks for lunch at another campus favorite, Sharkey’s (off of Main St.).  This is a newer establishment, featuring a sports bar and a wide array of incredible specials, including buy-one-get-one free burgers and both breakfast and wing & pizza buffets.  The table decided to split a $5 pitcher of cold Bud Heavy and a bowl of finely prepared homemade spinach & artichoke dip; then 3 of 5 ordered the Crabbie Pattie Burger.  Known all throughout Prince William, VA for my love of Sponge Bob, it was an obvious choice.  I give it my SquarePants seal of approval, as the burger was smothered in cajun crab dip (with just a hint of red pepper), topped with Jack & cheddar cheeses, and it was served with a choice of one heaping side.  Well fed, the group said its goodbyes as my folks and I made the journey back to NoVA.  Having left the Camaro with my brother, I in turn was granted the opportunity to drive the family’s GMC Savana conversion van.  It was as if I had traded Ichiro Suzuki for Prince Fielder, but the drive was a comfortable one as I made the journey north, with a VHS tape playing on the tv in the back.  Circle of life. 

Red Means Eat:  Calfee Park (home of the Mariners), Château Morrissette, Sharkey’s

RMG Homeland Trip Advisory level:  Red & White (go Highlanders!)

Pittsburgh, PAAugust 7-9, 2009

What can I say to begin this post other than that I never thought I’d be writing about Pittsburgh unless it would be to say something like “I just got rolled by a guy in a Steelers jersey” or “It’s about time the Pirates & Nationals combined to form one Voltron-like crappy major league team” or “They just replaced the William in ‘William & Mary’…it’s now the College of Mike Tomlin & Mary.”  You hear various things about the city of Pittsburgh, and I think it’s fair to say that as far as cities in Pennsylvania go, Pittsburgh and its steel get far less press than Philadelphia and its love of brothers.  That being said, I happen to know at least two lovely individuals who hail from Steel City, as well as one gentleman who may or may not have at one time played slow-pitch softball for a team called the Pirates, all of whom speak very highly of Pittsburgh.  Growing up a WVU fan, I had been somewhat hesitant to visit knowing that memories of years and years of Backyard Brawls  may well come surging back to me at once like some sort of  crippling sports-seizure if I willingly entered Panther territory.  But when a couple of the aforementioned fine individuals brought up the idea of spending a weekend in the aforementioned city, I didn’t hesitate to agree.  It also didn’t hurt that my St. Louis Cardinals were playing a weekend series against the Pirates during the agreed upon weekend. 

Joking aside, I was excited to have a chance to visit PA’s other well known city.  I’ve been to Philly more than a few times throughout my young life and was ready to get a feel for what else PA had to offer.   In addition,  my sister went to school in Shippensburg, PA; many of the bars & shops in this town abound with Steeler-friendly influences.  It’s been said (mostly by my friend Janelle) that you can’t visit a city in the US of A without finding a Steelers bar, and in my traveling experience I tend to agree.  Being a Redskins fan and growing up with the team’s vaunted season ticket waiting list, I hate to admit that another football team might have more die hard fans, but there are Steelers fans everywhere (as witnessed during last season’s MNF match up/debacle at Fedex Field).  Whether due to a diaspora of steel industry workers, a legendary franchise getting national recognition, or a love of ketchup, passion for the Steelers is everywhere and it had invoked my curiosity to visit the hinterland spawning such black & gold reverie. 

Agreeing to leave work early on Friday afternoon, Janelle and I, along with our steel Sherpas for the weekend, Rick & Jon, hit the road early hoping to avoid weekend traffic.  Handling her car with great celerity, Janelle adeptly maneuvered through various bouts of traffic and Rick’s snoring to get us near the city in about 4 hours.  This was made all the more impressive as she steered her car while rolling her eyes an unexaggerated 147 times throughout the drive; apparently the sound of my voice causes a nervous tick in the poor lass, but we still arrived safely despite my best efforts.  You can be certain beyond peradventure that our first stop this weekend focused solely on food…and not just any food, but a food that is tantamount (t-word!) to the gods’ ambrosia:  I am of course referring to buffalo wings.  Arriving around 7:30 (local time), we found ourselves seated outside of the Quaker Steak & Lube in Cranberry Township.  I had read about this restaurant when looking into notable dining establishments in Pitt, and bore witness to its inclusion on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food.  For anyone who fancies themselves a budding traveler/foodie, this show features insouciant insight into various dishes that major US cities are known for.  Particular to this series is the host’s ability to find a dining establishment that offers up a special brand of culinary challenge, eating competitions that are defined sometimes by quantity, sometimes by spice, but always by toothsomeness.  Specific to the Pittsburgh episode was the Atomic Hot Wing Challenge at, of all places, Quaker Steak & Lube.  The host deigned to eat 6 of the establishment’s Atomic Wings, marked by 150k Scoville units and a waiver of rights to be signed prior to embarking on the challenge.  I won’t ruin the outcome for those who have yet to see this episode, but needless to say these mighty wings had caught my eye (and I don’t mean in the way the Flatliner at the Buffalo Wing Factory caught Jon’s eye).  I had decided well in advance of our trip that I was going to at least try an Atomic Wing, and I made my intentions clear to those around me so that they could hold me to my word when the time came…and so that they could appropriately distance themselves from me the morning after. 

The dining experience was off to a resounding start as the group shared a tray of your favorite and mine, bacon cheese fries.  Enjoying a round of beers fresh from the tap and working up an appetite with some outdoor table tennis, we moseyed inside for the real adventure.  Wooed by the dulcet tones of the Pirates TV announcers calling a game versus Los Cardinales, we spun the wheel of fate and chose from the myriad of wing flavors, finally deciding upon Hot, Arizona Ranch, Parmesan Pepper, and Salt & Vinegar (a must try); Jon had the ribs & tenders combo.  Enjoying these succulent, meaty wings, the group’s approval of the selected flavors could be seen simply by witnessing each person licking their fingers clean after every wing.  I may also have licked Rick’s fingers clean on one occasion, but as his fingers have been described as tiny drumsticks, I may simply have lost my way en route to another wing.  At the culmination of the meal, a sample of Atomic Wings was ordered.  With much pomp & circumstance waivers were signed, bumper stickers signifying the endeavour were procured, and 6 angry red wings were placed before us in an empty egg carton. 

Cameras at the ready, I dove in for my first fateful bite.  The peppery aroma cleared my sinuses instantly, and the flavor was overwhelming.  A combination of chipotle, jalapeno, and pepper flooded my senses, leaving a small tingle on my tongue, similar to the feeling of having to sneeze but not quite being able to.  I knew I had to act fast if I wanted to enjoy this mighty drumstick so I did what any rational being would have done:  I finished the first wing and tore into a second.  And then it happened.  I had tumbled into the fire pits of Mordor’s Mt. Doom.  Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” rang in my ears as my tongue was lashed with searing heat.  Mere moments into my second wing, my tongue turned Titanic as my taste buds were forced to abandon ship.  I stood immediately, sweat running down my face.  As my cohorts snapped photos and laughed merrily at my demise, I swigged water and beer in vain.  Resorting to ice cubes and a lemon wedge, I was able to smother the remains of my tongue as the rest of the group took turns down the same lava canal.  I dare say the heat was so strong, it melted the fork & knife Jon used to obtain his sample.  In the end, all agreed that the effort was worthwhile and I walked out a man. 

And that, in a 1200 word nutshell, was my trip to Pittsburgh.  Mmm…wait…that was just the first 2 hours.  Bellies gravid with Quaker goodness, we made our way to The Clubhouse, which featured a mix of biker bar hospitality, Dave & Buster’s style distractions, and a “PAID” stamp that lingers on my hand to this day.  The remainder of the evening was spent watching in awe as Rick smote souless caribou in Big Buck Hunter, and all shared a mighty chortle as Jon did not cock his hunting rifle once.  We ended the evening with a leisurely drive through the countryside outside of the city, and spent the night at Janelle’s, where her folks were kind enough to put us up for the weekend.  The following morning we awoke to what one would imagine being woken by in Pittsburgh:  heavy construction.  After putting our faces on, Janelle took us into the city for a tour of her childhood backyard.  The city introduced itself to us by emerging out from behind forested hills lining the highway into the city.  The city’s various skyscrapers began to emerge, but even more apparent were the many bridges weaving in and out of the cityscape.  Wikipedia notes that as of 2006, Pittsburgh had over 455 bridges, making it the city with the most bridges in the world (ahead of Venice, Italy).  While we never made it to Teribithia, the bridges we did traverse made for a fine architectural gateway into our destination.  Our first stop took us into the Strip District.  With a number of local markets, restaurants, and street vendors, these busy streets seemed to reflect the heart of the city.  This was obvious not by any keen insight of my own but due to the number of Steelers jerseys worn per city block.  Our main focus during this part of the tour was to find and eat at Primanti Bros.  Founded in 1933 and known for its sammiches (layered with french fries & cole slaw), cold Iron City brews, and surprising hospitality to defenseless Cardinals fans, this was a line worth waiting in and a hearty meal in the making. 

The platter, now with wax paper!

The platter, now with wax paper!

After feasting on a sandwich that even Rick was able to gather the hunger to finish, we made our way to one of the waterfronts, settling ourselves at Station Square.  Framed by restaurants, shops, and a masterfully built Sheraton that to behold will bring tears to your eyes, we stopped at Bar Louie for drinks.  Sipping on Firefly vodka, Bloody Mary’s with garnishes of cheese & celery, and the wrong kind of Dos Equis, we took in the city skyline from across the Monongahela River.  Most notable about this stop was that this represented the longest duration of time during which Janelle did not need to roll her eyes at the boys.  This expanse may or may not have occurred around the time when a cargo train passed by mere feet away, and during which we could not hear ourselves speak.  Thirst quenched, we abandoned our dalliance at the bar and made our way to the foot of Mt. Washington for more sightseeing.  Following in the footsteps of the miners before us, we took the “Mon Incline” (built in 1870!) up the mountainside to get a top level view of the city and its three rivers, taking in sites like Heinz Field and the Sheraton at Station Square.  The sight made the $2 fare well worth the hit to the wallet, and we took in all we could from our perch atop the mountain.  As Rick posted photos of the view to Facebook from his iPhone and incorrectly tagged everyone in the group, we toured the town above.  Smitten with saloon’s featuring ginger beards and eateries offering what may have been the most divinely, hand-crafted dumplings you have ever seen, the group sampled local ice cream while Jon discussed the Pirates shirt that he was wearing with the local proprietor, refusing to reveal the local vendor from whom the shirt was purchased in order to hold up the integrity of his uniquely individual style. 

Making our way down the mountain, our next stop was PNC Park, home of the 1979 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates.  Walking across the Clemente Bridge, we entered the park and found our seats amongst a bustling crowd and what turned out to be the first home sellout in 3 years (for lil’ ol’ me?…more likely for Janelle’s homecoming).  Watching on the stadium’s big screen as golem after golem came to life and attacked the sovereign nation of the CGI-Cardinals, the game began amidst a beautiful sunset that reflected off of the city skyline.  During the game, we once again feasted like kings (myself, Rick) and queens (Janelle, Jon).  I had ventured into another timeless Pitt classic, cheese pierogies served hot with onions & sour cream.  The group also shared chicken tenders, chicken wings, seasoned fries, and a heaping helping of chili cheese fries with all the fixin’s.  Washing such a smörgåsbord down with local micro brews and watching a Cardinals victory, I couldn’t have asked for a more serene summer evening.  Minus the guy in the bathroom who told me I was lucky it wasn’t football season and then threatened to pee on me.  As if Pittsburgh had not already done it’s part to convince me of its merits (see:  guy who wanted to pee on me), the stadium offered a free O.A.R. concert and fireworks after the game; I assumed this was to celebrate the Cardinals victory.  Much to Rick’s chagrin, the lead singer of O.A.R. lost his voice after the first song, but with an effective combination of ad libbing by the band’s saxophonist and fireworks set off around the park, the head man was able to get his vocals going again and the experience was, in the end, a rolling success.  I must admit that the fireworks were especially noteworthy, set off in colors and streams of all kinds from inside the park, across the bridge, and even from the top of the castle-like PPG building that loomed over the stadium that night. 

Exiting the park to rendez-vous with our missing compadre, Jon (editor’s note:  hotel lobby restrooms may require a room key to procure use), we made our way to Pittsburgh’s South Side to meet a few of Janelle’s old friends at Fat Head’s Saloon.  Featuring 42 craft-brewed beers on tap, we settled into the corner of the bar to catch up with old friends, construct a playlist never to be heard, and set up the premise for what inevitably will wind up on Craiglist’s “missed connections.”  Later preparing to make our exit, I was stopped from taking one final photo of my group by a friendly young lady sitting alone at the bar.  Enveloping me in conversation, this young siren was able to convince me to delve into detail about my Irish background and my love for the Cardinals.  Before finishing our discussion, I entreated my suitor to part ways with not one but two hugs.  Hugs completed, she turned to leave; doing so, my new friend must have slipped on a wet spot of floor (surprising us all, sober as she was) as she took a hard fall forward, luckily stopping her momentum with her face.  She was able to right herself and eventually found the exit with no more fanfare.  Methinks she was fleeing rather than leaving, but all in all I enjoyed the conversation and I will assume that she enjoyed the hugs.  Also worth mentioning as we departed the bar was that once again, I was told that I was “lucky it wasn’t football season” and Jon’s peculiars were accosted by a strange gentleman.  Heading out after last call, we made our way back to Janelle’s car, but not before I could dole out one more hug, this time to a stranger dressed in red who requested my embrace.  No pleasantries were had and no names were exchanged, only an embrace the likes of which only those who share a passion for the color red could possibly understand.  Hugs finished for the night, we made our way back to Janelle’s abode and settled in before making our way home the following day. 

Before departing the next morning, we were treated with one more fine meal back at Station Square, this time at the Grand Concourse  restaurant nestled inside the old Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Station.  With a view of the Mon River and a restaurant with the layout of an antiquated rail station, we enjoyed a brunch of traditional breakfast fare, peel & eat shrimp, bananas foster, and Sour Patch Kids.   Making our way out of the city, we bid adieu to our weekend with bumper-to-bumper traffic once again maneuvered adeptly by Janelle.  Traffic gave us the time to reminisce about all of the reciprocation that took place over the weekend and mourn the cow that was shot on Saturday night.  And as if the city wanted one more chance to show me its merit, we pulled into a rest stop not far from our weekend adventure to find our friend Will, clad in a suit of mesh and Under Armour, waiting for the very same gas that we sought.  With a quick recap of the weekend’s happenings and a few photos snapped to record the chance encounter, we all made our goodbyes and finally ventured back to NoVA.  After what was close to a 6 hour drive due to traffic (though it felt like half that as we bemused ourselves with loop upon loop of Steelers Polka), our foursome parted ways after more than a few thanks for our generous tour guide, chauffeur, and hostess of the weekend, Janelle (still hoping she didn’t suffer permanent eye damage from all the rolls).  In the end, it was a fantastic weekend in Steel City, and I was more than impressed with not only how well the Cardinals played, but with the city itself.  I ate well, learned about a new place, snapped some photos, and caught up with good friends.  If I learned one thing from my time there, it was this:  I’m lucky I wasn’t wearing a St. Louis Cardinals jersey at a Pirates game during football season.  Thank yinz very much fer a great time, Picksburg!

Red Means Eat:  Quaker Steak & Lube, Primanti Bros., Fat Head’s Saloon (liquid dieters only)

RMG Homeland Trip Advisory level:  Orange-Red (what you’d get when combining the world’s two most powerful franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers…just not during the same season)

 Rehoboth Beach, DE – August 1, 2009

I can’t think of a better real first post to get this blog rolling than by recounting a trip that focused almost entirely on food.  As I mentioned in my now infamous first first post, my waist and I are budding foodies.  When I travel, I very much enjoy experiencing the flavors that come with travel.  Growing up in rural Virginia, one time of year I always relished was summer (and I realize how cliché that may sound).  Unlike the months leading up to it that brought with them backbreaking, yeoman-like labor around the house and strict, draconian-style prep school exercises, the summer months were luminary, bringing with them hope and a chance to escape everyday rigors.  My summers in particular always included the following: 

  1. A trip to Wolf Trap, during which my parents hoped to salvage the fruitlessness of most summer endeavors by enlightening me to something of a musical nature. 
  2. A trip to Deep Creek Lake in Western MD.  This location will be further dissected in a future post (hold your excitement). 
  3. And finally the annual family trip to Rehoboth. 

Family trips to Rehoboth eventually waned as summers gave way to college and internships, but infrequent trips were to be had, primarily when a craving for the East Coast’s best pizza outside of NYC grabbed a hold of us.  Not to drift too far off on a tangent here, but I highly recommend that you seek out the nearest Grotto Pizza.  What makes the pizza so good?  Glad you asked.  It’s a combination of the very thin yet flaky crust, the blend of light cheeses, and the fact that when a pizza is made, they swirl the sweet tasting tomato sauce around the pie (rather than covering the entire area) and put it on LAST, after all of the other toppings.  This combination leads to what can be confirmed by your humble narrator as a legendary taste; don’t get fancy, order the cheese, you’ll be happy you did. 

The title's in know it's good.




The title’s in red…you know it’s good.

Back to the main subject of this post:  reverse sub-prime mortgages.  No, wait, we were discussing the beach.  Anyway, as a young adult with access to an automobile, I’ve rediscovered my love for Rehoboth.  A few years back, my friend Susan and I began making a point to make one day-trip per year to Rehoboth.  We’ve missed a few of these peregrinations from year to year, mostly due to my having overslept (setting an alarm for 7 AM on a Saturday and waking up at 2:30…it happens, right?), but this year we made a point to make it work.  With the encouragement of our mutual friend Kim, Susan and I were day trippers redivivus, ready to make the journey across the Chesapeake Bay. 

 Loading up my trusty steed (see:  1997 Olds) with SPF 170 sun block and making sure we had a full tank of the finest petroleum distillate, Susan, Kim, their better halves, and myself took off on a Saturday morning for RB.  For any of you making the trek, I recommend leaving as early as possible as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge gets very backed up, and once entering Rehoboth (thru Rehoboth Ave.) the same occurs.  What can I say, a lot of chubby white folk love them some boardwalk food, myself included.  One of the best parts about making your way to the Eastern Shore and Rehoboth is traveling across the bridge.  The view of the bay is beautiful and the bridge itself is something to admire ,with both the east & west spans standing over traffic like some giant, surfer goliaths making their way to the beach.  The drive itself went flawlessly, and even included a trip to one of the few Wawa’s in the vicinity of Northern VA.  Traffic on Rehoboth Ave. was miserable, and my inability to realize that my passengers would have preferred AC over child-safety height open windows was palpable. 

We were able to make the drive in just over 4.5 hours, slower than normal but still reasonable for a day trip.  The noon hour brought with it a table at Grotto and the first sip of cold beer (and my band thanked me for my driving skills by allowing the first pitcher to be topped off with frothy Bud Heavy) and the warm aroma of freshly cooked fried broccoli-cheese bites, whetting our appetites for the main course.  Between the five of us, we then polished off all but one slice of a large cheese pizza and a medium meat lover’s (shocker) pizza.  Three pitchers, 2 pies, and a plate of b-c bites later, we made our way to the boardwalk arena.  In my opinion, the Rehoboth boardwalk is sui generis, setting the standard for other Eastern Shore walkways made of creased planks of old wood.  Beyond the nail stamped lanes and the seagull engulfed benches, there lies a forum of opportunity.  Anyone need a Big Johnson shirt?  Looking for a new pet, maybe a hermit crab?  How about an old timey black & white photo!  Seriously though, the boardwalk is fantastic.  You have arcades stocked with the latest 1997 video games, claw machines, basketball challenges, and one even has carnival rides, including a haunted house that doesn’t open until after 6 PM and still causes me to wake up screaming during random nights over the summer.  Yes, I’m single. 

Most importantly to the boardwalk adventure are two things:  Thrasher’s and the horse race game.  Thrasher’s has been serving up french fries since 1929, and the largest order comes in a bucket.  Diet be damned!  The fries are fresh cut, crispy, and seasoned with a little salt; vinegar is provided (but optional).  Canadian or not, I recommend the vinegar.  You truly have not fully feasted on french fries until fetchingly fondling fresh Thrashers.  To burn off some of these calories (and assuming you haven’t overloaded your fries with vinegar to the point that the bottom comes out of the bucket…it’s happened), I recommend finding the horse race game.  A dollar will get you a turn and a 2D plastic horse, racing a field of 10 other plastic thoroughbreds.  Object:  roll a ball up an inclined path and try to get it to fall through various holes numbered 1-3; the higher the number, the farther your horse moves.  It’s kind of like skeeball, except if you lose, children from all around will mock you ceaselessly and potential steal your date if she has an eye for the prize they choose.  Win once, you take your own stuffed horsey home.  Win twice, you trade up for a stallion.  Win a third time…and you probably need to get a life.  All things considered, still a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon between eating pizza & fries. 

The weather was beautiful, and between walking the boardwalk and swatting seagulls from buckets of fries, we made our way up and down Rehoboth Ave., which is chock full of shops, inexpensive trinket stores (Penny Lane), and bars, including a Dogfish Head Brewery and the Purple Parrot, a personal favorite of my boy Jon.  One other must stop on the Ave. is Louie’s Pizza.  I know, I know, I’ve already committed 350+ words regaling you with tales of Grotto’s pizza, but I’m about to throw you for a loop, so grab onto you f-ing chair and hold tight.  You go to Louie’s and get the cheesesteak grinder, not the pizza.  Now compose yourself.  The meat is seasoned and sliced thin, and Louie himself offers up a plethora of toppings free of charge to garnish the sub.  It’s hot, it’s long, and I swear I’m straight but I love it. 

Between Grotto, Thrasher’s, Louie’s, a stop at a fried chicken place called Gus & Gus, and a few peaks into Candy Kitchen (can’t forget that sweet tooth), the day was a success.  Kim and I were able to combine wins at the horse races into a jumbo steed for her niece, and I managed to pick up a par-baked pie from Grotto as a souvenir for the folks back home.  Well fed, we sauntered back to my car and made the surprisingly fast trip back to NoVA in under 4 hours.  My one regret was perhaps not making it to the outlet stores, as there’s no sales tax in Delaware, but that’s simply an excuse for another day trip over yonder weekend.  What’s that?  What about the beach?  Oh…well…yeah, there’s a beach just beyond the boardwalk.  It’s actually very serene, one of the cleaner beaches on the East Coast.  But making it onto the beach, well, that never crossed my mind.  They don’t serve Grotto on the beach, after all.  Abbondanza!

Red Means Eat:  Grotto Pizza, Thrasher’s Fries, Louie’s Pizza (but get the grinder!).  Editor’s note: the Rehoboth locations are seasonal so get there before Labor Day. 

RMG Homeland Trip Advisory level:  Fire Engine Red (get there while it’s hot!)

Welcome to my new blog!  For those of you who get tired listening to me speak in person, I hope that this blog provides an entirely new venue through which you will grow tiresome of my innocuous diatribes and fanciful, idiosyncratic musings.  For anyone who doesn’t know me and somehow stumbles upon this blog, may the gods have mercy on your soul.  Either way, thanks for coming! 

To provide some perspective about what I hope to achieve with this work, I’d like to create a travel blog to chronicle the various trips I take throughout the year.  Since leaving school, I’ve developed something akin to wanderlust, constantly trying to get out of town to experience new places and more importantly, new menus.  That’s right, I said menus, not venues; that was no typo.  I enjoy eating a lot (both in frequency and amount) and rarely find a new dish not colored green that I will turn down.  This desire to take in and consume both the sights and flavors of foreign locations, as well as having lucked into having friends in various cities who remember just little enough about me to believe having me in town for a weekend will be an enjoyable experience, has lead to me taking frequent trips out of town over the past few years.  With a 4GB memory card inside my digital camera and various compadres willing for a short time to join me in these escapades, I have traveled far & wide.  By far & wide I mean primarily on the East Coast of the United States of America; these colors don’t run…they travel at fairly competitive fares during off-peak travel times.  I digress, as I do make it to Midwest, West Coast, and rarely yet sometimes International destinations too, so I hope to provide detail about a wide array of buttermilk enriched, Oxnardesque, passport-rarely-required (and typically rejected to the disparity in my current svelt photo taken while I was in high school and the rather large jowls I have developed since) adventures for my readers.  And in reality, outside of my parents who will feel obligated to read this manifesto in order to bolster my self esteem, it will be a good way to keep a running log of where I go, who I see, and of course, what I consume. 

What’s that you say?  No, no, it’s not a diary; it’s a blog!  No, they’re not the same at all.  Well yes, my login/password is similar to a lock & key.  Yes, yes, I will be providing personal anecdotes and words of self reflection.  What?  No, no, those things don’t have anything to do with diaries, and you’re getting me off track. 

Back to the main subject at hand, why, you might ask, do I travel so much?  I’ve lived in the Northern Virginia area outside of Washington, DC for most of my life.  During that time, I’ve come to know the area and all that is has to offer fairly well.  I’ve built a solid network of friends and cohorts of all shapes and sizes during this time, and I couldn’t ask for a better band of merry men & women with whom to unfurl various capers like driving to the Sonic in Fredericksburg (you can’t tell me you’ve never driven an hour for loaded tots) and explore exciting locales like Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern in Herndon or Okra’s Louisiana Bistro in Manassas.  In addition to all of this, I have a great living situation.  My humble abode is equipped with a big screen tv, satellite cable, a ping pong table IN MY ROOM, leather couches, etc., etc., etc.  And my roommates are wicked awesome; they pay the vast majority of my rent, cook dinner every night, and if I ask nicely, even make my lunch.  So with all that fabulousness surrounding me 24/7 (still love that term), you’d think I’d be content to stay in town and take in all that there is around here.  Call it a desire to learn about what the world has to offer.  Call it my selfless nature and willingness to share all the powdery goodness that is the man at one time known as Ronnie Chilly with all of you.  Call it the need to take my shiny, beige 1997 Oldsmobile Eight Eight up & down this nation’s amalgamation of highways and byways.  Call it being single.  Well make the reason what you will, but whatever you decide is the cause of my travels, know that in the end I simply love to travel and I hope to share that passion with you, my diligent readers (hi Mom & Dad!). 

And finally, to answer the question about the name of the blog…and I’m sure someone asked…  Read Means Go is a play on what was quite possibly the most ingenious marketing campaign a sports team in any era in any country has unleashed.  Red Means Go was the 20-aught-4 slogan of the greatest stickball team on one side of the Mississippi with a player first name Albert, last name Pujols, middle name “el Hombre in a can.”  Since that time, I have carried this slogan as my own personal mission statement; with the breadth and scope of classic lines like “Carpe Diem,” “Give me liberty or give me death,” and Fat Albert’s timeless “Hey hey hey,” Red Means Go represents all this man’s mantle stands for, and highlights my desire to keep going to new places and experiencing new things.  Further, “Read Means Go” was a fitting way to tie this chronicle of my adventures to those that will read it (thanks again for your loyal readership, Mom & Dad) and my personal mantra.  Plus, it was an available domain name.  And thus, you have my blog. 

I thank you for joining me here and applaud and pity you for making it this far through my first inane post, a post that offered little relevance to the point of this blog and absolutely no information whatsoever about an interesting trip or destination.  I hope you enjoy the trips, photos, and anecdotes that will follow as I explore the blogosphere and other places not found on the internet.  And I hope that my roommates made my lunch for tomorrow, because that crust won’t cut itself off my PB&J sandwich.  First trip: coming soon (bated breath).  End scene!

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