A cool little diner-y dinner at the Huddle House restaurant in Dillon, which roped me in due to constant advertising. I read the local paper while dining, and paused for a few minutes’ reflection on the Obituaries page: among others, Gertrude Cabbagestalk Stanton had been called to eternal rest. Why couldn’t MY last name be Cabbagestalk?!?!
After 475 miles, I slept… after looking at maps. When you have a destination in mind, things like great swatches of the Carolinas and Virginia seem to be standing in the way. I perused alternate routes, but most of them would take me through Utah. So I-95 it would be.
I had no complaints about the Hampton Inn in Dillon, though I DID suggest nicely– everyone was nice in Dillon– that they install a rubber mat in the bathtub. I almost fell, and I could imagine myself screaming that I’d fallen and couldn’t get up. Nobody would have heard me, but my desiccated corpse would be discovered three weeks later after someone complained about the aroma, and my descendents would receive a HELL of a hotel bill for three weeks lodging… or storage!
North Carolina seemed to blossom after the green hell of its southern sister. The interstate widened, and massed plantings of flowers and crape myrtle lined the highway for quite a few miles. Still, it was long. I’d originally had planned to stay at an abbey overnight in either NC or SC, with a visit to friends Jim and Matt in Charlotte if I had managed to secure lodging at the abbey near them… but there was no room at the inn (either of them). Those places, which in my mind exist as silent sanctuaries, actually host a lot of retreat groups; they both tried, but there wasn’t a single room available for one lone traveler wending his way north. These are generally silent visits– you eat and pray with the monks, and I think you can even help in the fields (silently), but it was not to be.
So, I stayed on I-95, with rest stops in Fayetteville and Rocky Mount, and eventually crossed over into Virginia. This is still the South, but no longer the Deep South; Dolly Madison replaces Scarlett O’Hara at the Virginia line, and you can stop imitating a Carolina twang in favor of the more discreet Tidewater drawl. (Though Dolly was born in NC, her parents were Virginians, and everybody down south knows that what your ancestors did counts for more than what you did.)
When I was talking with the people at AAA, I specified that I was hoping to avoid the traffic through and near Richmond, DC, and Baltimore, and so the lady suggested that I go east through Virginia and then take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge up into the Delmarva peninsula and through those three states to Philadelphia, the site of my next overnight stop.
I have enough trouble climbing ladders, and these people wanted me to cross a bridge that disappeared underwater at intervals? Now, I’d always heard about this huge bridge, but it didn’t seem possible that it actually existed– at least in MY fabled mind. But there it was, after a beautiful ride east along US 58 into the Norfolk area. I had hot dogs and Diet Coke at a 7-11 in tiny Franklin; I love sampling the local cuisine!
You are flung around the Norfolk area on beltways, so I didn’t pick up any sailors along the highway, and soon found myself approaching the Bridge. My hands were sweating, but the $12.00 fee was sobering. I told myself: if that carload of old women can drive this bridge, then so can I ! And it was an experience; you don’t see land while your eyes are glued to the endless road ahead of you, and disappearing into the first tunnel is freaky; when you pop out again, the world appears again for a few miles until you have to disappear into the second tunnel. It was like being on the Cyclone. I missed the first scenic overlook because I was concentrating too hard on keeping the car from leaping over the guard rail, but I did manage to pull off the road at the Virginia overlook at the end of the bridge. I think a lot of people feel the need to do that; and there we all were, catching our breath and taking pictures.
They cram three states onto the Delmarva peninsula– Delaware, Maryland,and Virginia. (Since I was driving from the south, shouldn’t it be called the Vamardel peninsula?) In any event, it’s peaceful and beautiful: lined with sleepy small towns and fishing villages, I definitely want to return one day to the storied Eastern Shore. My Philadelphia friend’s people on both sides helped settle the area, and had I known this before I made the drive, I would have looked them up and dropped in for coffee and ladyfingers.
At 868 miles I crossed the Maryland line. I decided, after reading the suggestion on a map, to go up through Maryland and Delaware via US 113, which veers east, rather than the more-northern course along US 13. You save a lot of traffic lights, and it’s much quieter. BOY was it quiet– and scenic! Lonely landscapes flashed by, with no traffic: fields of crops, isolated farmhouses, the occasional naked lady running along the road… a fast hour later I entered Delaware. Coffee and danish at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Georgetowne, because I was beginning to flag and I wanted to make Philadelphia by 6 PM– two hours to go.
You know when you HAVE to get off the road to use the facilities? I knew after a while that I wasn’t going to make it to Tyson’s in Philadelphia for 6 PM, but I still needed a rest stop and so I stopped in Chester, Pennsylvania, to gas up as well. After all the niceties and pleasant people down south, I had my first encounter with the guy who managed the filling station I stopped at. “No public restrooms,” he told me flat out after I asked– nicely– where the facilities were. I told him it was sort of an emergency, but that didn’t sway him either. I still needed fuel, so I went back outside and gassed up, and then– like an idiot– went back inside and flashed my receipt and asked if NOW I could use the restroom? “No public restrooms… we do not have the key!” he lied, because when I next asked him how the employees found relief, he spluttered at me. Smarmily, he gave me directions to a nearby McDonald’s which I never found because “”two lights down” and “two rights down” sound alike in his language. I hope the oil spill finds its way into his private executive toilet!
I found relief just a few miles later in civilized Philadelphia, and Tyson’s house was just a few minutes away. Chester notwithstanding, so far the drive had been a dream.
Next installment: Philadelphia, the New Jersey Turnpike… and Brooklyn !