Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Heat (Stupid) Storm

A mass of hot humid air positioned itself over the Southeast as we set off on our 1,200 mile roadtrip. Maybe a vacation in August wasn't the wisest of plans. Our route was meticulously plotted via Google maps; avoiding all major highways, it included passages such as "travel 644 ft on Sycamore Road." This was to be a trip through the rural South with the dual goals of seeing friends in Chapel Hill and visiting Asheville. This was also our first major trip with our '66 Caravel Airstream.         

Our first day of travel brought us to our halfway point, Barnwell State Park in South Carolina.  A pleasant, but incredibly hot place to sleep.

Our next day of travel included a stop at Pearl Friar's Topiary, a 3 acre psychedelic Max Ernst-meets-Dr.Seuss lawn in Bishopsville, SC. He began his topiary using discarded shrubs with the intention of winning "Yard of the Month" to combat racial stereotypes concerning African-Americans and lawns. His topiary is now an international destination for lawn enthusiasts. It attracts a diverse crowd and while we were visiting the topiary we met a woman on her way to visit "Mr.Button." Apparently, Mr.Button lives nearby. With temperatures near 100 we had a quick stroll and picnic. In my great first act of Airstream towing bravado, I maneuvered between highly sculpted bushes in Pearl's driveway much to everyone's horror.   

We arrived at our campground on Lake Jordan (near Chapel Hill) after a long hot day of travel. We managed to find the best campsite on a small pond and Moss and Giles went crazy with their new freedom. Rocks were determined to be non-food items. Moss woke early everyday which allowed him to watch beavers swim leisurely in the pond.
Our campsite at Lake Jordan was about 15 minutes from downtown Carborro. This allowed easy access to civilization for the culturally challenged. The only problem with our arrangement was the 9pm curfew.

Moss bathes while Giles watches.

Our vacation plans were adjusted to avoid the sweltering daytime heat. We found refuge in the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at UNC.  Moss pointed at the constellations and Giles slept. Above, Cymande and the boys hanging out with James Polk in the rotunda.

Giles and Moss at the Ackland Art Museum store where our friend Ron Liberti is showing his posters and prints. The boys enjoyed the show but they equally enjoyed the bus stop outside. 

Soleil really bought into my short story, "The Heat Storm," which is loosely based upon the book/film "The Ice Storm".  Instead of dysfunctional 70's family life and a cathartic winter storm, the heat-generated malaise is the antagonist in a small college town where ennui, stupidity, lethargy, sweat, thirst, political gridlock, body odor and mystery take over as air conditioners fail and people are forced to find comfort in unusual places.  Strangers meet in the shade, the mall, the planetarium and Neal's deli (why didn't I buy that t-shirt? damn it!) 
Moss at the Biltmore Estate. We stayed at a private campground in Asheville...the only thing that separated it from an internment camp was the fee. The river was nice, the resident alcoholics were a bit scary and a bit ruddy, but the bathroom...oh the bathroom. If you ever take a shower and there is a sign proclaiming 'Do not remove the shower head. Direct questions to management," you might want to question whether proceeding with the shower is the best option. Reminder to self: State or National Park campgrounds only.  

Clearly, the boys were excited to see the Vanderbilt mansion in Asheville. They already had a great time eating sweet potato pancakes at the Tupelo Honey Cafe and though the mountains brought some cooler temperatures, the Vanderbilts cut corners and never installed the god-damned central air as they promised. 

On the way out of North Carolina we took a side-trip to Judaculla Rock.  This is a sacred Cherokee religious site and the rock is covered with amazing and beautiful petroglyphs dating up to 2000 BC.  It is also a sacred Airstream-3-point-turn-on-the-side-of-a-mountain site. 

Giles and Cymande enjoy the mystery of Judaculla Rock.  Then, the excitement really began: three hours semi-lost on switchbacks up and down mountains until we finally reached Route US 441 South. 441 brought us home.  The Heat Storm Road Trip seemed pleasant enough at the time, but in retrospect and in keeping with the short story idea: nothing was what it seemed. I'm glad to be home...and the weather has been improving.

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