Saturday, January 31


Disclaimer: If you take religion way too seriously and think unicorns don't exist because they were arrogant and refused to get on the ark, turn back now!

Think of the most ridiculous thing you've ever seen. No seriously, think of something. Got it? Now multiple that by ten. At this point you are not even close to how terrible the Holy Land Experience is. About one mile from Universal Studios sits a "re-creation" of various biblical sites and the biggest sham of religion in a country that does a remarkable job of taking religion to the extreme. My sister summed it up best: "The dumbest thing I have ever seen."

The con artists who thought up this whole enterprise must be laughing on their giant piles of money right now. Building this atrocity not only suckers money away from honestly religious people, it also gets people like me who come to laugh at the people who take it seriously.

We arrived just in time to catch a reenactment of the Passion. For those not so religiously-inclined, it's when Jesus goes to meet his maker, though technically Jesus is also his maker if you believe in the Trinity. The entire production was over the top, though my favorite part was when they flogged Jesus with a miniature version of the foam noodles we played with at the beach as kids. The Roman soldiers took turns so the one not hitting could reapply fake blood to his noodle. When they raised Jesus on the cross you could see the metal rings he was holding--obviously they wouldn't actually nail his hands to the cross--and, if you remember your bible well enough, he forgave two fellow crucifixees that weren't actually there. At one point, right when Jesus was about to expire, they were playing the theme song from Gladiator over the loudspeakers. Wasn't that a little after his time?

I almost felt bad when I started laughing and looked to my left and saw a woman crying. But when I looked to my right and saw my sister laughing, I couldn't contain myself.

When they placed the body in the tomb, smoke began rising from within and suddenly Jesus appeared on the hilltop and told everyone to chill, he was OK. Afterward I saw that Jesus' tomb not only had a smoke machine, it also had a back door. So that's how he got out! The bible leaves out many of these little details.

The rest of the park was extraordinarily lame. There was the world's "largest indoor model of Jerusalem" that looked like a classroom of 3rd graders had spent an afternoon working with papier mache and toy figurines. You could also walk into a whale's mouth and see Jonah suspended in its stomach. What is the moral of that story? That the digestive juices of a whale aren't enough to kill a man?

Also there was Moses in the midst of parting the Red Sea which you walked through as sharks and fish stared out at you from the water wondering, "WTF?!" That reminded me of when I saw a descendant of the burning bush in Egypt and I asked my sister what she thought the real story was. According to her, Moses had been doing a little too much acid with his buddies and when he wandered off into the desert they decided to mess with him. One guy got behind a bush and lit it on fire while the other guy climbed up to a cliff with a megaphone shouting "Moses! Lead your people out of Egypt!"

I personally appreciated the statue of Jesus walking on water with his hand out. There was a step so you could hold his hand and walk on water with him. Rest assured, pictures were taken and hilarity ensued. At the time I thought I had just wasted $35, but just sitting here writing this has made the whole experience worth much more than the pittance we paid.

As always more picture here.


My friends and I have been conditioned to hate Florida. Too much humidity, too many old people, and isn't Walt Disney World reason enough? Yet after months of not seeing the sun and hiding indoors to avoid freezing temperatures, the blue skies and blue water spread happiness like an infectious disease. My primary reason for visiting Florida is to see Charlie, my sister's dog. My secondary reason, to see the Holy Land Experience, which I will dedicate an entire entry to. My tertiary reason, to visit my sister. And if you have yet to figure out I'm an irreverent smart ass, well, good luck reading.

My brother may argue that California is the land of extremes, but I beg to differ. Florida is essentially one giant strip mall. In my sister's apartment complex, the top floor units are cheaper than the ground floor ones because old people can't climb stairs. Florida also contains some of the most rabidly conservative people on the planet. Rush Limbaugh is based in this state. At a party my sister recently attended, a couple told her that it's terrible the United States has elected a black president and that that day should never have come. Apparently when people reach the age where they don't care anymore about making racist comments in public and no longer need factual evidence to back up their statements (Because I said so!), it's time to move to Florida and allow the rest of the country to keep on truckin'.

free at last! free at last! thank god almighty we are free at last!

Yesterday morning I was in Atlanta with two objectives in mind. I wanted to see the Coca-Cola Experience, which people at the hostel were raving about, and Auburn Ave. where Martin Luther King Jr. was born and gave his first sermons. Quite the polar opposites right?

I began by walking down Auburn Ave. through a neighborhood I wouldn't characterize as very safe. On three occasions I ran into corner boys who were clearly selling something I wasn't interested in buying. I would not recommend this stroll to people by themselves.

When I arrived at the visitor center, a whole two blocks are run by the Park Service, the ranger recommended I watch a video about King's life before wandering through the museum. Wait, let me first give a disclaimer. For the majority of the childhood that I remember, our family lived in what could loosely be defined as the suburbs, right outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Part of the reason my parents moved to Ann Arbor was because the city was lauded as a diverse place to raise your kids. In my lifetime I have never really been a witness to racism. Sadly, I know people who are probably racist, but I have never seen the aggression and hate in person before. I don't ever remember asking why people were certain colors or not being able to play with a friend because they were Black, Asian, or whatever. It's just something that has not been a powerful driving force in my life.

The Park Service's video on King's life was moving enough to bring me to tears. From the point I walked out of the theater until I walked away from the tomb of King and his wife Coretta Scott I was a wreck. I can't even possibly begin to imagine what this place would mean to a black person who grew up in the south while King was alive. I find it so unbelievable that one group of people could be so harmful to another simply because of the color of their skin. And that King was able to affect so much change through peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience; there are no words I am capable of using to express how incredible that is. Seeing everything on Auburn Ave. really helped bring more perspective to what this nation has accomplished by electing Barack Obama as president.

Quite frankly, it's almost inappropriate to follow such an emotional experience with a trip to the Coca-Cola Experience, but caffeine is a pick-me-up. The "Experience" as it is called, is what you might think, a giant advertisement for Coke. However, it is very interesting to walk through and see how Coke started, how it has changed over the years and how it is made and bottled. Apparently a bottle of Coke cost five cents for seventy years until the company realized they could charge more and get away with it. Capitalism at its best. The best part of the whole tour is at the end when you can try over seventy Coke brands from across the world. Afterwards I was on such a sugar high I thought I was going to be sick. On to Florida!


southern hospitality

I think I'm officially too old for hostels, or at least American hostels. Let's imagine your house, a 2500 square foot home perhaps. Proceed to jam every bedroom with at least three pairs of bunk beds, add some non-matching furniture that you picked up from someone's lawn because it was being thrown away, and don't clean the bathroom for a good five years. Needless to say, I look forward to getting out west and staying in cockroach motels with mattresses that sink a foot in the middle and boast color television as their top amenity.

Actually, the hostel in Charleston was not too bad, but I say that because late January is not tourist season and I had an eight bed room to myself.

Charleston, on the other hand, was an extremely charming city. You could easily get lost downtown just wandering the streets looking at historic homes and the many parks. The finely restored antebellum architecture was fascinating in and of itself, but what caught my eye was the lushness of the landscaping. Trees, flowers and shrubbery were everywhere: on the sidewalks, in the alleys, even parking lots looked like garden paradises. Everything was a dark shade of green which was a beautiful contrast with the surrounding architecture.

Despite the foreboding skies, I thoroughly enjoyed my morning strolling the cobblestone streets. Small parks would invite you in with a sort of dark intimacy created by dense vegetation and trees whose branches weaved a roof of leaves, nearly blocking out the sky. The cemeteries were just as welcoming, small clusters of headstones surrounded on three sides by buildings whose walls would rise up only inches away from the outer graves. And if, for a minute, you thought the city couldn't be more charming, nearly every restaurant and hotel had little gas lamps adorning the walls. If there is a Utopian city, Charleston is about as close as you get. It didn't matter that I am a twenty-something from Michigan, I had a strong feeling of nostalgia for pre-war southern life.

I traveled next to Magnolia Plantation, established in 1676 by the Drayton family and said to be the oldest plantation in the south (It has remained in the Drayton family for 15 generations). The site is primarily known for its gardens, which Reverend John Drayton created after he inherited the property in 1840. Following the Confederacy's defeat and the burning of his house by freed slaves, a bankrupt Reverend was forced to open the plantation to tourists, allegedly making it the first man-made tourist attraction in the United States.

The property is beautiful and its most defining feature is the exquisite garden surrounded by Oak trees covered in Spanish Moss. Unfortunately, the dark skies and winter conspired to make all my pictures give the impression I was in a desolate place far from any civilization.

While the sheer variety of fauna in the gardens was incredible, I found the whole experience a little haunting and slightly detached from reality. Less than seventy years ago, the gardens were tended by the descendants of slaves and before that, hundreds of slaves toiled in the rice fields. Following a day standing in the footsteps of people who, despite all odds, contributed to the success of this country, I was now walking through fields once occupied by the men and women upon whose backs the country was built. Today the primary gardeners are white men with mullets and camouflage cargo pants who stand up as they ride ATVs around the plantation. A tour of the property certainly didn't add to the perception I already had that the south may never get over its' history rooted in slavery.

The plantation grounds house approximately fifty alligators, a fact pointed out nearly a dozen times by the tour guide. I was hoping to get some history of the place--because the brochures offered squat--but we must have spent thirty minutes talking about alligators and stopping to let the other tourists take pictures of alligator after alligator. How many pictures of inanimate alligators can you take before they all look the same? When you're retired with a camera and nothing else better to do the answer is a million. In any case, after a lengthy discussion of the eating habits of alligators we headed towards the cabins where the slaves used to live. We were on a tram and as we turned the corner and came into view of the cabins, the guide actually sped up and quickly said, "AndHereAreWhereSlavesLivedUntil1940...Who wants to see more alligators!" Everyone let up a cheer and we zoomed by the cabins. Not one person took a picture. And with that I left and began the short drive to Savannah.

Savannah was everything Charleston was not: boring and uninspiring. The visitor center claimed that Savannah was the first "planned" city and the past few years have been spent restoring a square-mile historic district. Granted, many of the squares containing statues to Southern Civil War heroes were nice places to sit and avoid the commotion of the city streets. However, similar squares exist in a million other cities and nothing about Savannah really endeared it in my mind as unique. Even the famed Riverfront, while better than Detroit's equal, looked out upon factories coughing up black smoke and barges moving supplies up the Savannah River. I promptly left for Atlanta.

More pictures here.

Friday, January 30


After a solid dose of colonial history, I drove south to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. From the stories my friends have told me, I was expecting the Outer Banks to be one charming little beach town after another, similar in some respects to Cape Cod. Nope. The town of Kitty Hawk was indistinguishable from any other suburban commercial zone in the middle of Anywhere except that the Atlantic Ocean was across the street. Kitchsy tourist shops and fast food joints were at every corner. There was a store that boasted the largest hammock in the world and proudly advertised itself with a billboard that read: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem! Even the houses were unsightly. They all looked like giant pre-fabs that came in only three designs, but the builders figured, "Hey, just place'em every other, paint'em pastel colors and no one will know the difference."

I came to Kitty Hawk to see where powered flight first began. The memorial site was simple, but informative and marked the start of the four powered flights with rock markers signaling where each flight terminated. There was also a large memorial on the top of Kill Devil Hill, the biggest of the sand dunes where the first gliders were launched. It's really too bad the Wright Brothers were probably Buckeye fans.

The Outer Banks reminded me of Key West only because of the endless number of bridges that are only two feet above the water and seem to drag on for miles. The wind, which drew the Wright Brothers to this location, was so strong at times I thought the car might get swept right in to the Atlantic. Fortunately the wind gave way to much worse weather.

As I was getting closer to Fayatteville, the radio stations were interrupted by an emergency broadcast. A announcer came on and said, "Be advised, there is a severe thunderstorm warning...uh, better make that a hurricane warning in effect until 6:30 in all coastal Carolina counties. Please stay away from glass, good luck!"

Just after the broadcast I drove through torrents of rain and 60 mph winds. Shortly thereafter I arrived in Fayatteville where I stopped for gas. Thank God that's all I stopped for. I knew I was in Fayatteville even before arriving because a friend texted me asking if I had found strip club row [ed.] yet, and every other billboard I passed advertised "We are bare and we don't care" and "Of course we're topless, why else would you come?" Obviously Fayatteville is the strip club capital of the world, or at least North Carolina.

Like before, all pictures can be found here.

for glory, god and gold, and the virginia company

What's worse than waking up the day before your month-long road trip and seeing three inches of snow on your car? Waking up the day of the trip and seeing your car encased in ice. Following a solid twenty minutes of breaking and scrapping ice from the windows, I finally got underway.

Thirty or so minutes later, everyone ahead of me on the freeway coordinated an attack as all of the large ice sheets on their hoods and roofs cracked off and hurtled through the air towards me. It all happened in slow motion and was like trying to fly through the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back. The smaller blocks would shatter on my windshield while I swerved to avoid the enormous blocks that threatened to pulverize the poor Vibe.

The rising temperatures and melting ice gave way to a thick fog that limited my sight range to about fifty yards. It was no problem, however, because Jill Garmin would always tell me when to turn. Around this time I had to make a decision: pay $30+ to see Colonial Williamsburg and risk being overrun by tourists, or pay $19 to see both a replica of the Jamestown settlement and the Yorktown Battlefield. I chose the later.

I arrived at the Jamestown settlement right when it opened and was the first person there. In fact, if the retired couple from California hadn't shown up at the last minute I would have had tour guide Cindy, who dressed like Pocahontas, all to myself. There were several other actors, including Cindy, who appeared to be in their early 20s and I wondered: "How did these kids get hooked up with a gig like this? Did they graduate college with a degree in 17th Century Period Acting?"

The whole experience from the museum to the replicas of Jamestown, the English ships, and a Powhatan village were well done and not too touristy--and we got to see a demonstration of a matchlock musket. The fog really helped to add an air of authenticity as well. The placement of the replicas were all based upon archaeological evidence and eye witness accounts. The one exception was the Powhatan village whose original site now lies underneath a golf course. Isn't this country great?

At first glance, the settlers appeared to have pretty good digs. The men occupied houses that were roomier and less drafty than the some of the apartments my friends live in. I thought, "Hell, I could survive a winter out here."

The Virginia Department of Education runs the replica site while the National Park Service runs the actual archaeological site. That means two entrance fees and a additional five minute drive to see the original Jamestown site. When I saw what was left of the palisades and felt the brisk wind coming off the river, my first thoughts were, "Why would anyone be crazy enough to set up shop here? There is no way I could survive a winter here!"

On the bank of the river lay a large copper statue of John Smith whose legacy has always amused me. Here's a guy who was allegedly a stubborn braggart and managed to get himself captured, wounded, arrested and almost killed on several occasions. Minor details like saving the colony from the brink of annihilation and penning the most extensive account we have of life in Jamestown are not important; what matters is that he never married Pocahontas like the revisionists at Disney would lead you to believe.

In any case, I proceeded to drive to the Yorktown Battlefield where British General Cornwallis surrendered to Washington, effectively ending the Revolutionary War. The site was very...boring. I've never been a fan of battlefields. Give me any field in the country, a few antique cannons and a couple of wood fences and I can make you a battlefield.

I looked out over the barren field trying to envision the American and French troops shelling a crumbling British force. I couldn't. A part of me wanted to see bodies still strewn across the field. It would have been a macabre display, but infinitely more exciting.

I found the most fascinating part of the battlefield to be the Moore House, the small nondescript farm house where Cornwallis and Washington met to formally end hostilities. The one major condition of British surrender was to prohibit them from leaving with battle honors. What this means is the Brits were not permitted to wave their flags and play their flutes, an honor the British deprived the Americans of following the American defeat at Charleston. There is a sense of pride and patriotism that arises in me when I see places like the Moore House as opposed to a battlefield. Independence Hall in Philadelphia is another place I feel honored to be standing where our Founding Fathers stood a few centuries ago.

The house itself was very quaint and even comfortably warm. I wondered out loud: "Has insulation improved that much since the drafty houses in Jamestown during the 17th century?" It was then that I saw the perfectly preserved 18th century radiators scattered throughout the house. But of course!

The rest of the pictures, along with captions, can be found here.

Thursday, January 29

trouble in paradise

I apologize for the lack of posts over the past day. The hostel I stayed at in Charleston last night had internet, but the computers must have built around the same time as the hostel, the turn of the 20th century. Since it took 20 minutes alone to start the computer, I moved on.

The annoyances continue, however. After a disappointing trip to Savannah, I drove to Atlanta and checked into a hostel there. The internet here is quite fast, but costs $2/minute to use. Ergo, I will have to delay any lengthy posts with pictures until tomorrow when I get to my sister's place in Daytona. I have pages and pages written, just no time to get them electronic. Be sure to check in tomorrow night. Now I'm off to find some food and booze.

Tuesday, January 27

do we have any salt trucks around here?

This morning I woke up to a blizzard. I went downstairs to run last minute errands and pack up the car and this is what I see.

It has not really snowed in DC since January 2007 and suddenly three inches appear the day before my trip? The roads were fine, but everyone was driving like the pavement was covered in three feet of ice. Schools closed early because they are lame, and apparently the only method of snow removal available for the parking lot of my apartment building is a maintenance guy with a snow shovel and a small salt cart that one simply pushes around. These are the moments you appreciate coming from a climate where snow is present five months out of the year and driving on slick roads is nerve-wracking yet perversely exciting because your teenage years were spent doing donuts in the unplowed parking lot of the local Mejier. 

Actually, Southeast Michigan doesn't get that much snow. Take a look at these shots from my recent trip to the Adirondacks (Yes, those are skis you see us carrying).

Imagine hailing from the Upper Peninsula or Up-Upstate New York. Those people are tough as nails. A great metaphor for Northerners and Virginians is the relationship between the vampires and humans in the Twilight book series. I can see someone from the Keweenaw Peninsula snowmobile up to a well-dressed, self-important lawyer from Northern Virginia, reach out to shake his hand and watch the lawyer wither away when their hands touch.

Sunday, January 25

in search of america

On Wednesday, January 28, I will embark on what will be my most ambitious adventure to date. Over the next month and a half, I will log thousands of miles as my car and I wind across the country to visit friends and see every corner of what makes the United States an amazing place to live. The trip will begin and end in Washington, DC, and include destinations such as Daytona Beach, Las Vegas, Seattle, the middle of nowhere Montana, and my hometown in Michigan. This blog will follow my travels with stories from the road, pictures, and the general musings that one has when spending days with nothing to do but think. This will be my Travels with Charley.