NextGen Johnsons, checking in at 34,000 feet on our way to Las Vegas, Nevada. Phew – it’s been a crazy few months.  It feels like as soon as we arrived in Boston we left again!  Let me explain.

In July 2012, our first month in Boston, we had a wonderful welcoming party that took place in the form of a boat ride on the 4th of July with cousins and friends. It happened to be a special 4th (some sort of decade-year, or an alignment with another historic event – there’s always something historically special going on in Boston) and so there were boats and planes and people galore!  We spent the morning driving around the Hahbah (Harbor) watching the boats and admiring the show that the Blue Angels were putting on.  There must have been hundreds of boats, from tiny sail boats to giant yachts, and every size in-between.  There was also quite a military / navel presence there, which we found out when we got too close to a Navy destroyer that was docked in the harbor.

It was a hot day, but mostly cloudy, providing a nice layer of “shade” for everyone below. We kept cool by drinking plenty of “juice” and munching on chips and all the junk food you can think of.

After the hahbah tour, we drove through the water-lock into the Charles River where we anchored for the rest of the day right by the Hatch Shell, where the Boston Pops play their traditional 4th of July celebration concert.

… I don’t know how this turned into a recap of every moment of that day. I don’t have time for that, and who cares?!   Suffice it to say, the day was “fine.”

July turned to August.  August turned to September, where the first chill of fall hit exactly on Labor Day.  The Rose found a paralegal job in the city and I continued to work on the little app project of mine.

Normalcy was slowly forming as we continued to settle into our little Southie apartment… until one day in November we got the notice from TechStars that we were accepted into the program.  That changed everything.

From that point on, we were essentially packing our bags for San Antonio, TX.  We knew we’d be there for 3 solid months, and so the idea of doing much of anything here in Boston seemed a bit useless.  Sure, we did the holidays and purchased some warm clothes to keep the Rose from freezing in the brisk Fall / Winter air. But for the most part, our eyes were now set on Texas.

After TechStars (see previous entries about that) we immediately were accepted to another startup accelerator, but this time in Los Angeles, California.  Yup, for the next 3 months we’d be spending most of our time in our old home, which we left only months before.

To clarify, here’s the timeline:

July 4th:  Arrive in Boston

Jan 14th:   Arrive in Texas

May 1st: Arrive back in Boston

May 14th: Arrive in Los Angeles

August 14th:  Arrive back in Boston

Unlike Texas, we’re not staying in LA for the full 3 months.  Rather, we have chosen to commute 4 or 5 times throughout the 3 months, with the final trip being the longest  — basically the entire month of July.

I don’t know about the Rose, but I’m looking forward to being done with “accelerators” for a while.  Too much accelerant and not enough life-wood means the fire burns too quickly and doesn’t last.   Eh. Not the best analogy, but you get the idea.

 

San Antonio is not Texas

Since January 14th, the Rose and I have been living on the 14th floor of the Majestic Theater in the heart of Downtown San Antonio. And while we’ve been working pretty much non-stop, our 6 minute walks to and from work have over time combined to paint a picture of life in San Antonio – the people, the places, the personal of the city.  And while we have more to learn, it’s already quite obvious that San Antonio is not Texas.

The Texas I know is a land filled with oil rigs and cattle farms.  Where everything is “big’, from the trucks to the highways to the iconic Texas skies.  It’s where the deer and the Antelope play, right?

San Antonio (SA, for short) has none of those things, dispute being the 7th largest city in the nation (way ahead of little Boston at #13).  The climate feels like LA, the food is basically mexican / tex-mex (just like LA), and unlike LA, the people are super friendly. Sure, they say “Y’all” all the time, but that’s the most you’ll hear of the stereotypical southern accent, and I’m convinced they only say “Y’all” because it’s a way to just be more friendly.

The Downtown area of SA is quite walkable. And it’s second-most noteworthy attraction, the River Walk, provides a peaceful, cool place to grab lunch or dinner, or even to take a run — being 30 feet down and away from the hustle and bussle of downtown helps a lot. It’s no wonder why I’ve heard the locals call San Antonio the vacation land of Texas — it’s where the Texans come for some good ol’ fashioned R&R.

The downtown area actually has a Disneyland feel, with it’s horse driven carriages all lit up with sparkly LED lighting to resemble a lady’s fairytale dream, and with the abundance of people everywhere, walking from restaurant to bar to theater to hotel, laughing and screaming with drunken joy as the night goes on. There is even a team of Disney-Like city employees who dress in yellow colored shirts, dark pants, and a cowboy hat, who walk the streets picking up trash, cleaning public spaces, and handing out maps and directions to anyone who looks lost.  Because the street team works 7 days a week, the city sidewalks, bus stops, and public spaces are kept very clean.

And so, while the city is clearly in the heart of Texas, the physical appearance and “vibe” of San Antonio is anything but what you’d expect of a Texas town.

Perhaps the most noteworthy reminder of the lone star state, besides the giant Texas flags flying atop of every Downtown building, and beyond the Alamo, the national historical landmark signifying what put Texas on the map, is the Train.

At 1:30 am every single night, a freight train makes an appearance for all of San Antonio to bare witness to.  This train doesn’t just pass silently during the night.  Noooo.   It honks it’s horn once, twice, three times…and more… as if the conductor was taking great pleasure in  waking up the entire sleeping town with his billowing horn that ochos off of every down town highrise, including the Majestic theater on the 14th floor.  Sometimes there are two trains, and they take turns seeing who can make the louder, longer sound.  Just when you think you’re not in Texas, the train somehow brings you back to where you actually are.

A local explained something after hearing us gripe about the train:

Ahh the train. First you hate it as it keeps you up at night. Then you learn how to deal with it, as it comes every day at the same time.  And at some point, you find that you can’t live without it.  Hopefully we never get to step 3.

 

 

It Snowed Today

All of the news stations were a buzz — The snow is coming… The snow is coming!   And sure enough, at about 10pm last night a silent shower of cold whiteness came down upon Boston.

My wife, although sick with a cold, was giddy at the prospect.  “It’s Snowing! Yeaaa!” She exclaimed as she turned off the lights in the house to see outside the window into the nighttime snow scene.

Within an hour, everything was covered in a cozy layer of white. And the the non-stop news coverage seemed to indicate the end of the world was coming…by snow storm!  There were reporters standing by the major highways and in vast parking lots, covered in wet snow, hoping to deliver their live report in perfect sync with the snowplows that occasionally passed by (for without that, the scene was pretty calm and desolate).

I particularly enjoyed watching each of them (all 5 I saw) bend over to pick up a snow ball while doing their routine walk and talk towards the camera, as if to prove to the audience that the snow was there.  “See? I can hold it – it’s real snow!”

And in part because of their overzealous reporting my hopes were lifted.  Was this the first major snow of the year?  Would I wake up to a good 6-12″ of white fluffy goodness?  Would my wife be able to make her first snow angel ever ever?

The harsh reality began at 6am the following morning.  I was suddenly awoken by a harsh scraping sound coming from outside my 1st floor window.  My attempts to sleep through it were thwarted as more frequent and louder scrapes echoed through the otherwise peaceful snowy nighttime scene.

I sat up in bed and for a moment, it was quiet.  The air was cold and the only light was coming from the streetlamps — the sun was still about an hour away from rising.

“SCRAAAAAAAPE — Scrape–Scrape”  — there it was again.  Who could be shoveling at this time of night??!   I looked out the window and to my dismay found my landlord, an 85 year old woman who can best be described as “stubbornly feisty” shoveling the front sidewalk at 6 in the morning.

It should be mentioned that I made a verbal agreement with my aging landlord to shovel when a snow storm hit. But the terms of when and how much shoveling should occur were never set.  Nevertheless, I knew I had to go out there.

After suiting up in full winter gear, I trudged out into the darkness and greeted my landlord, who greeted me with, “I suppose I’m waking everyone up here, huh?”

After a lengthy debate I managed to convince her to go inside but not after learning a pearl of wisdom I’ll never forget when I explained, “it’s only 6 in the morning, we don’t need to shovel this early.”

She replied, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, if it snows, you don’t sleep.”

 

Thanksgiving Time

Hello, my name is Montego, and it’s been 5 months since my last blog.

Audience: “Hi, Montego.”

Over the course of these last 150 some-odd days, there have been plenty of blog-worthy events to share. I’ve been keeping a list and hope to find the time. But tonight, as I lay in the guest bedroom at my parents house with nothing but the glow of the monitor and the clickety clack of the keys to break the dark, silent winter nighttime atmosphere, I can’t help but ponder about Thanksgiving time.

There are only a handful of universally respected dates on the calendar.  New Years, and Christmas (or your preferred equivalents), and your birthday represent probably the top 3, with Thanksgiving a strong 4th place winner.  What about Easter?  Too denominational to be universal.  Vetrans Day?  Important, but not nearly as impactful as the top 4.  Even Memorial day is lower on the Totem pole than Thanksgiving.

Yeah, Turkey day is a pretty big deal for everyone. And what’s not to love?  You get to cook and eat and drink, you get a 4 day weekend (sometimes more), and there’s some great TV to watch like the Macy’s day parade and a few football games.  Oh – and you get to spend time with family and think about what you’re thankful for too.  Right.  Between the glasses of champagne and the pie and ice cream overindulgence  I almost forgot to mention what this day is REALLY all about.  Being thankful, being together, being thankful you are together.

My parents, and to some extent my extended family did a marvelous job teaching me the “true meaning” of various holidays. Teachings that were always taught by example, not by instruction.  Each year at Thanksgiving we would all somehow get together, usually at Nana’s place, but occasionally elsewhere.  We’d each have our own “thing” we’d bring.  My Aunt, a baker at the time, would bring her famous Swedish bread.  Nana would cook Swedish meatballs if she felt like it, and others would just bring themselves, which ment a lot given how far (and sometimes treacherous) the trip was for them.

After a few glasses of wine, everyone would be taking up a storm and building up their appetites.  And when it came time to eat, we would carefully file into the dining room that had been transformed to be 90% table and chairs, 10% floor space.  But nobody seemed to mind, as the spread looked amazing.  The nine plates circled the table — with most of them matching– were framed with polished forks, knifes, and thanksgiving-themed paper napkins.  Everyone had their water glass and wine glass, and the salt, pepper, butter, and bread were all within reach.  Add a few candles and the table was full, forcing the food dishes to be placed on surfaces around the table — anywhere would due.

We quickly past around each dish and loaded our plate with a serving.  And before you knew it, you had green beans, mashed potatoes  butternut squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, and one of two types of gravy drizzled over everything. What a masterpiece of meal!  Oh – and there was plenty of Turkey to be had as well, if you could fit it on your plate.

When everyone was finally served we took time to say a few words, usually focused around how happy we all were to be together, and how thankful we were for such an amazing spread.  We could hardly get the words out of our mouths though without drooling over the steamy plate of goodness in front of us.   Nana, we decided, was the only one entitled to start eating even before this quick “grace” of a moment. She was the guiding light of our family and so had every right to dig in.

The meal portion of Thanksgiving usually lasted only 30 minutes or so. People filled their plate as often as they’d like, and the wine seemed endless.  And after a short break to wash some of the silverware, it was time to reconviene in the cozy room for Thanksgiving part 2: the attack of the killer deserts.  Pecan Pie was Nana’s favorite, but there was also Apple, pumpkin, and chocolate cream pie — my Mother’s signature offering.  Cool Whip and Brigham’s Ice Cream rounded out the belt buster meal, and when everyone had tried everything, we retired to the living room to rest.

Aside from some small talk here and there, the tryptophan induced food coma hit quickly, encouraging most to hit the road before it took full effect.

And this is how it was for Thanksgiving at the Johnson Family for year upon year upon year.  And when I think of the 4th most universally accepted and important day of the year, I conjure up the great memories of past Turkey Days.

But as time passes, things change, and Thanksgiving is different now.  Much different.  I wouldn’t say it’s any better or worse.  But the days of 9 people at the table have given way to a smaller meal and a more intimate audience.   However, the spirit of Thanksgiving is still alive and well.

I’m starting to think of this current “decade” of Thanksgiving as a transition period. A transition from Father to Son, from one family to another, from old friends to new friends, and from current gen Johnsons to the next gen. Works for me.

 

Four Thousand, Six Hundred and Thirteen Miles!

When you ask Google how far it is from 90034 to 02562, it shows you a 3065 mile route stretching diagonally between LA and Boston.

TheRose and I traversed the alternative route over the course of 12 days — totaling 4613.13 miles!

We walked along the Grand Canyon,
river rafted in New Mexico,
ate amazing BBQ in Texas,
pet and fed gators in Louisiana,
admired the history and cuisine of the Carolinas,
toured the national monuments of DC,
said “hi” to Lady Liberty in NYC,
and spent some quality time with friends and family along the way.

We hope you enjoyed the documentation of our journey to Boston, representing not the end of our LA lives, but a course change — one of many we’ll likely need to take as we define the N E X T   G E N E R A T I O N.

 

This is worse than LA!

I found myself saying that after we left Lady Liberty to grab dinner in NYC. We figured pizza at Grimaldi’s, right by the Brooklyn Bridge, would be the perfect way to end our visit. To do that, however, required us to travel from the Liberty State Park in Jersey to the Holland Tunnel, wind our way across the heart of the New York City, then cross the Brooklyn Bridge. After about an hour, we got as far as the on ramp to the Holland Tunnel.

By then, it was past 8, and we were nowhere near food. When we saw an opportunity to get out of the mess. We took a left and, with the use of our sometimes-spotty GPS in our phone, we managed to get to Harlem by 9:30.

We found a well-reviewed pizza place on Yelp, found parking, then walked to the pizza place. Now, Harlem seems like a very friendly community. There were people hanging out by their front steps, chatting. There were families playing basketball at the park across the street. We drove through parts that seemed gritty, where the streets weren’t as well-maintained, and there were more vagrants with alcohol problems. But, where this pizza place was located, the vibe was vibrant, communal, friendly. It dawned on me later that Harlem is where Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant is located. Eating there would have made it all come full circle: attending his shrimp and grits demo, shaking his hand, getting his autograph, and then eating at his restaurant.

The pizza place was the best alternative, though. The pizza was awesome. As it should be, I guess. After all, Harlem is not that far away.

 

 

I had spaghetti and meatballs. Because having a cheese pizza for dinner would just make the night even worse. It was good, I just wish there was more sauce. Too thick. I like my meatballs to swim in sauce! Ok, not that much, but you catch my drift.

 

After dinner, off to the freeway again! By the way, I’m not sure what East Coast people call freeways out here. Is it expressways? Anyway, we found ourselves wishing we were “home” already. You get sick of long drives after a while. I used to think an hour’s drive to Camarillo was a pain in the ass and barely worth it. Now, we consider a 4-hour drive to Vegas a piece of cake. It’s true what the phrase says, “it could be worse.” Instead of complaining that it’s taking you forever to get to Santa Monica, think of the fact you are not driving across Texas. That takes forever and a day.

At some point, it’s usually common sense to stop driving when you are yawning every other minute on the road. So, we found a Motel 6 somewhere in Connecticut and called it a day. It must have been past midnight.

Our last hotel/motel stop before Massachusetts!

Lady Liberty was HOT

While trekking north up the coast in our little versa we were trying to decide whether to Bee-line it home to Massachusetts, or to make use of the last full day of our cross country adventure.  Should we stop in Philadelphia for a cheese steak and to take our picture on the “Rocky Steps”? While Capecci would be proud, no, too hot and not enough to see.  How about Atlantic City? It’s by the ocean, we’ve never been, and it’s where Boardwalk Empire takes place!  Naw — too casino-like.  (Casinos are no fun unless you’re prepared to spend money, which we were not).

And then there was New York City.  On one hand, it’s close enough to do a day trip or spend a weekend there from Boston.  But on the other hand, it’s New York! The splendor! The excitement! And when you talk about the “last” of anything, TheRose and I are always inspired to make it meaningful — to go out with a bang.  And so on this sunny Friday afternoon we decided to visit the Statue of Liberty.

After a few wrong turns resulting in very “scenic” tours through the great state of New Jersey, we arrived at the Jersey-side Liberty Island ferry. We paid 7 bucks to park, and a whopping 19.00 a person to get on the boat (much more than the website indicated).

The trip to the island provided a nice break from the blistering summer heat; the river breezes were quite warm, but still much cooler than the still humid air.

But when we got off the boat, the heat returned, making it pretty difficult to enjoy the splendor of Lady Liberty. TheRose and I hopped from shady spot to shady spot, avoiding the Sun at all costs.  This indirect island navigation made it difficult to follow the audio tour, but was a fair trade off for preventing sunburn and dehydration.

After we had our fill of pictures and tour audio, we made our way back to the boat, and eventually back to the car (the trip back is always MUCH longer than the trip there).

We were hungry, and when Google told us that it was only 30 minutes “with traffic” to the lower east side of Manhattan for some pizza, we instantly hit the road!

Maybe on any other normal day it would have been 30 minutes. But after an hour or so of waiting on a ramp to enter the Holland Tunnel, we decided to bail and find another place to eat.  That place ended up being “Patsy’s” in the upper east side — Harlem.   It was pretty good, and the service was excellent!  We left feeling uber-full and ready to find a place to sleep.

The Motel 6 in New Haven CT is supposedly “newly renovated.”  But it ended up being the worst hotel of our entire trip.  It smelled like smoke, the tub didn’t drain, and the room had an overall “creepy” feeling that even I couldn’t shake.  The “darkness” of this hotel inspired one of the highly infrequently disputes between TheRose and I — that’s how bad this hotel was!

But after some discussion and half a glazed doughnut, we fought off the creep, and were happily on our way to Rhode Island to visit Major Ryan Lynch and his family at a summer cookout they were hosting.  The food, folks, and fun were plentiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing visit!

 

“But, I’m a dork and wanted my SCOTUS swag!”

RAL was very kind to lend us his house for the night. In order to get there, though, we had to provide our California DLs and wait while they ran our numbers in the military system. We are definitely in the system now. No easy way to get off the grid now!

This morning, we woke up to traffic. If it wasn’t for all the lush greenery on the side of the road, I could have sworn we were back in L.A. SO MUCH TRAFFIC to get to DC. So, by the time we got to the city, it was lunch time. So, we had to eat where Bill Cosby eats for free: Ben’s Chili Bowl. The chili is a no-beans chili seasoned with a secret mix of Trinidad spices. But, I thought the chili was meh on its own. It really shines when paired with their half-smoke (a sausage, served like a hot dog). We ordered three chili half-smokes with everything on it (as in, with mustard and onions). I also ordered chili fries so I could isolate the chili by itself.

It was good, but like all things unhealthy, you feel disgusting after. It might be psychological, but I swear I still smell like chili and onions. By our friend, Tom’s, recommendation, we ordered a vanilla milkshake with the food. That was a good idea because the chili packed some heat in it. Overall, good place to grab a quick lunch with, and I see why Mr. Jell-O Puddin’ likes it, but I won’t personally be craving it. Then again, we’ve had an abundance of all-meat-and-no-veggies for the past week and a half.

Next, to the Hill! Actually, we drove to the Union Station and parked our car indoors, for once. The heat in the city was unbearable! And, it wasn’t even 100 degrees outside! Montego tolerated it quite well. I felt like a True Blood vampire ready to explode into disgustingly bloddy pieces. The Union Station was a short walk to Capitol Hill. I languidly trotted next to Robin, jumping from one shady tree to the next. Once we arrived there, we encountered news reporters camped along one shady corner of the grass area. We took a couple of shots from the safety of some trees.

After a few minutes, we decided to walk over to the Supreme Court building. At that point, any protesters that picketed that morning were gone. What was left were more reporters camped along the sidewalk doing something, I dunno what. There weren’t any talking heads that looked familiar to us, so we went inside. The information booth said there was a Courtroom Lecture in 20 minutes, so we walked up and took some shots in front of the door of the actual courtroom, then fell in line behind people waiting to attend the lecture. The 2nd floor, where the courtroom was located, was lined with busts of past Chief Justices who have served. It was kind of weird to see. It was almost like walking down the Stations of the Cross art depictions you see in Catholic churches.

The lecture itself broadly discussed the flow of the Supreme Court: what happens during oral arguments, what happens when decisions are read, and how long it takes for Justices to announce their decisions. The lecturer also touched on the historic decision made today, Affordable Healthcare Act, and why people knew the announcement was going to be made today (today was their last day to announce decisions for the October-to-October term). At this point, I was just dorkifying over the whole thing and nodding my head to everything she said, like I was greeting a long assembly line of Japanese people. (Sorry if that was offensive.) The lecturer did say that we could obtain a free copy of decisions announced today downstairs. So, after the lecture, off we went! I felt like an uber Trekkie in a Star Trek convention.

The decision today was, obviously, so popular that they ran out of copies of Justice Robert’s majority opinion. But, luckily, while we loitered around, Robin spotted a copy room dude who was wheeling one Xerox box towards the Public Information Office (where they provide free copies of that day’s opinions). So, we bee-lined behind him and got ourselves a copy of the Healthcare Act opinion. Yay!

Next, we walked back to Capitol Hill, where we saw a crowd gathered around the West Entrance/Exit of the building. We got there just in time as Democratic House of Representatives started walking down the stairs. People got real excited (half of the people there were interns, by the way) when House Speaker Pelosi, in her cream-colored pantsuit, walked out with a couple of her aides. Since I’m small, I wiggled my way to the front of the crowd and was ready to snap a picture of her with my phone–then my phone slipped out of my hand and missed my shot. Of course. Because, only I would get a primo view and then not capture it for proof.

We later found out that most of the Democrats had walked out when the Republic members of the House of Representatives were voting on whether to censure (hold in contempt) Eric Holder for his gun-running probe. We had fortuitously witnessed Pelosi (and a bunch of Democrats) walk-out as a show of her refusal to vote on the issue.

As soon as she reached the sidewalk, she was swarmed by reporters. So, we watched the whole theatrics play out from the comforts of a shady spot by the trees. Once we were over it, we decided to seek out the Natural History Museum. It was a long walk, and I was seriously lagging behind Montego at this point. My 1L of water was warm, so it was no longer providing temporary respite from the heat. We came across a large water fountain by the National Art Gallery, so we stopped for an iced lemonade break under a bench with some shade. There were a lot of people there wading in the fountain, and the guards didn’t care that they were wading (there were signs all around the area saying wading was prohibited). We caught these girl scouts who decided to screw the sign and dip their little feet into what I assume was cool water. One of them was clearly an over-achiever:

After, I felt like I was going to live again, we prodded on to the Natural History Museum. Once on its steps, we saw a sign for “TitanoBoa,” purportedly the largest snake ever found in the world. Obviously, I had to see it. I mean, how else am I ever going to get over snakes, right? It turns out, the exhibit was a showcase of vertebras of the snake, found in Colombia. The pièce de résistance was a life-like reconstruction of what the boa constrictor would have looked like when it was alive. It was massive. I froze in fear, then I had to keep saying out loud that it was fake. Why did they have recreate the gross, scaly, skin of the snake too? Couldn’t they just make some clay reconstruction? Geez! But, Montego thought I did well, all things considered. We stood there for a good minute, minute and a half before walking away, and I didn’t hyperventilate or pass out. Yeah! One small step for TheRose-kind!

The Natural History Museum ended being our last stop. At that point, we had walked so much in sweltering heat, that we said “fuck it” to the rest of the city. We decided to head out. There was still traffic, but it was starting to ease up. Thank goodness!

We decided to stop in Baltimore, MD for a late dinner. We found this mom and pop crab shack place via Yelp. They are apparently known for their steamed crabs and shrimp. Since Maryland is known for their crabs, Montego ordered two of ’em. I contented myself with some shrimp. I don’t know why I don’t have an intolerance for shrimp, whereas, its other shelled counterparts give me near-death. Anyway, I felt bad for Montego because extracting morsels of those crabs took forever. The meat was cold by the time he got any substantial portion out. Overall, we would have enjoyed it more if the food had been peeled and de-shelled already. Too much damn work for such little reward. It was affordable, though, so we didn’t mind. I thought the seasoning on the shrimp was a little too salty, but Montego loved what little meat he got out of it. He said the crabmeat was sweet. I ordered a side of curly fries to supplant for the absence of abundance of meat. We loved the vibe, though. We got in just as they were about to close, they let us in anyway. They are local, family-owned, and welcoming. We recommend it–just, next time, order more crabs.

Overall, I call today a day of great timing.

Po-To-Mac

TheRose says things like I spell things— she sounds it out.  And so when she announced while driving that we had crossed the Po-to-mac River on our way from Raleigh to Washington DC, I paused to translate, then smiled — she’ll have lots of fun trying to sound out all the wacky names we have for things here in the North East! For those of you who don’t know about the mighty Potomac, here’s a link for you.

Before we started the 5ish hour drive, we made sure to stop at The Roast Grill in downtown Raleigh, right near the North Carolina State University campus.  Like almost all of our other food stops, this one was Man V.S. Food inspired…and once again, it proved to be well worth it.

While the name might make you think of roasted chicken on the grill, or perhaps a grilled pot roast, this place served up nothing but hot dogs. I got two “all the way” which means chili, mustard, and onions, and I must say, they were extremely good!  The 8oz glass bottle of Coke was a perfect compliment.

This place was a true hole-in-the-wall, with a faded, broken exterior and a well worn old fashion diner interior.  The creaky aluminum screen door gave entrance to a narrow single-file walk way with an eight seat bar on the right and two miniature round tables on the left — with all seats occupied and standing room only (of course).  Behind the counter were the owners, one making the dogs and the other serving up drinks and conversation. They did things the old fashioned way as that was their shtick. From the “NO KATCHUP” signs to the fixed price poster (manually modified several times over) for dogs and drinks, they had a specific way of doing things that hasn’t changed for a long long time.

For TheRose and I, eating there was 50% about the food, and 50% about the old school real feel experience. Both combined to make a very memorable meal.

The 5-ish hour drive north was uneventful. It seemed to go very quickly, in part because we took the country roads to get there (quite literally). I think April’s map app is stuck on “scenic route” or something….

We arrived in DC around 6:30 PM and our first stop was to meet Mr. and Mrs. Tom and Tracy at their place in Georgetown.  It was awesome seeing them — first time since our wedding 1.5 years ago!  We all went to a trendy DC place and the conversation and food were excellent.

We didn’t leave T&Ts until late — 11 or so — and TheRose and I were extremely tired. But on the way out of DC we took a wrong turn and ended up by the National Monument. And when we saw it towering above us, glowing ominously in the night sky, we just couldn’t resist going to take a closer look.  And so with our last bit of energy we parked the Versa with all of our stuff in it on Constitution Drive, grabbed the camera and tripod, and set out to get a closer peak at the national monuments.

It was a beautiful night for walking around DC; just the right temperature for shorts and a t-shirt, and just the right sky for long exposure picture taking.  We walked past the National Monument, checked out the new-ish (2004) World War 2 memorial (all lit up with fountains galore), and then ended our evening stroll at the Lincoln Memorial.  For those of you who weren’t aware, it’s open (and guarded by police) 24/7! Tax dollars hard at work.

After plenty of picture taking, the fatigue of the day began to set back in. We said goodbye to Lincoln and set a course for our home-of-the-day, warp factor 9.  Well, TheRose drove because I was too tired, so it was more like warp factor 2.

Carolina Comforts

We made it to the Atlantic Ocean today, and practiced the time-honored Johnson rule: if you reach a new body of water, you must swim in it touch it.   I somehow convinced TheRose to do the same, and before we knew it, we were both standing in the stormy Atlantic water off the coast of South Carolina.

It had rained the night before and for most of the day. But it was that warm, humid rain — the kind of rain that feels good even when standing in shorts and a t-shirt with the ocean up to your knees. The water was particularly warm too, and so it was quite enjoyable, all things considered. The beach was a stormy wreck though, as you can see here:

We arrived in Charleston, SC after our last “marathon drive” of our voyage — about 10 hours — all the way from Mobile, Alabama, though Montgomery AL, around Atlanta GA, just past Augusta, GA, and into Charleston by about 11pm. Along the way we selected another “Hotwire Hotel” to make sure we didn’t have to roam around Charleston looking for a good price/performance place.

We ended up staying at the Fulton Lane Inn, a historic Inn located in the heart of the “downtown area” of Charleston.  It was a neat place, with complementary sherry (both dry and sweet) in the reception area, free wifi, and free Continental breakfast.  The place creaked and squeaked like the 100+ year old structure that it was,

with 8 foot wide hallways and huge doors with big handles and traditional brass key locks. The room was beautiful, with all traditional furniture, super clean, modern bathroom, and a bed adorned with a white cotton lace canopy. I thought it was nice. TheRose LOVED it.

The next morning it was raining, which prevented us from exploring the streets. But from the brief glimpse I got, here’s what I can tell you:

1) Charleston is like Martha’s Vineyard, MA (for you East Coasters), or like Laguna Beach, CA (for the west-siiiideeE!) — small shops, historic, trendy, and expensive. It’s not quite the Cape Cod of the South, but it certainly leans in that direction.

2) I paid almost 8 dollars for a breakfast sandwich at a local deli, and it still tasted like something I might get at Burger King.

3) Public transportation is free, but parking certainly isn’t. We paid 14 bucks on top of our Hotwired hotel fare.

4) If you’re in to antiques, art, knick-knacks, or women’s clothing, the shopping in Charleston is irresistible!

After a great lunch (TheRose will elaborate), we wound our way through the back roads, past the famous Myrtle Beach to Raleigh, North Carolina.  It was only a 4 hour drive which was a cake walk after our last few drives.  And it was nothing but trees and bridges and water and more trees and sleepy hills and more trees and water and trees.  Very beautiful, rich, and lush.

The “tree theme” continued right up to the very last moment before we hit Raleigh. We were looking around for the city, as usually we could see the buildings poking through on the horizon. Or perhaps some billboards would aid the transition from trees to concrete.  But Raleigh was different.  We took an exit, turned a corner, and POOF – like magic, a beautiful city revealed itself above the nearest treeline.  The presentation was unlike any city we’ve encountered so far — just a modern skyscraper skyline juxtaposed against endless greenery. Nice!   Raleigh’s slogan is “City of Oaks”  and it seems as though it’s aptly named.

We quickly found “The Pit” where we had an amazing BBQ dinner, and then retired to our latest Hotwired-room to digest.

So to recap: Charleston is beautiful, but a bit upscale  / trendy for my taste.  Good place to vacation once I own my own Mercedes SUV.  Raleigh is beautiful…or at least the parts we visited.  And today’s food selections by TheRose were nothing short of… amazing!

Next stop, Washington DC.