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Tag: south

Out of the mansion: Leaving Barkley behind

Ace and I have fully moved out of the mansion basement we spent more than a month living in — and while he’s not missing the stairs, and I’m not missing living underground, we are both missing Lord Barkley, the rescued sheltie who quietly watches over the manor.

Lord Barkley and Ace hit it off from the beginning — not in a jumping all over each other kind of way. From the moment they met, you could tell there was something similar to a quiet, mutual respect. They’re both mellow dogs; both can be a little aloof. And maybe something about the stately mansion setting evoked in them a sense that reserved and civilized behavior was to be followed.

Given Ace’s back problems, and the fact that Lord Barkley, according to his mistress, had never hung out with another dog since she rescued him, their co-existence was pretty low key. Only once or twice did they actually run around and play; more often they took turns following each other slowly around the yard, like a mini-pack.

Lord Barkley, when he was let out for his morning constitutional, and his afternoon and evening ones, would bark — though he’s normally not much of a barker — until I let Ace out of our subterranean quarters. Then they’d wander the yard, one behind the other.

When Barkley was called back in, Ace went as well — for our host, Miss Caroline, made it a practice to give Ace a treat everyday.

They’d both go into the kitchen and watch intently as Miss Caroline went to the dog treat jar.

“Manners!” she’d say. “Manners!”

Both dogs would lay down and wait for the treats.

Miss Caroline says, based on the information she received when she adopted him, Lord Barkley spent much of his early life in a crate and possibly was mistreated. Now, in addition to having run of the 22-room mansion, he follows her everywhere — grocery store, drug store, wherever she’s running errands.

In her late 80s, Miss Caroline has lived the kind of life of which books are written. She was a model, an actress, a writer, sculptor and painter, even a race car driver. She worked extensively in the Middle East, and was the star of several commercials made long ago for R.J. Reynolds cigarettes, produced in Arabic. She was a friend of shahs, sheiks and dictators.

She didn’t just tolerate having Ace at her home, she delighted in it, and Ace took an instant liking to her, even before the first treat was dispensed. As he does with those he deems friends for life, he took to sitting on her foot, which always made her smile. Or, with Ace being 130 pounds, was it a pained grimace? Either way, she let him get away with it.

Miss Caroline, who’s now working on a children’s book, has put the mansion up for sale several times. Unable to get her price, she has taken in guests, who live in the basement, the carriage house, or in some of the upstairs rooms, which she has decorated in themes. One of two men’s rooms, for instance, has a nautical theme. There are two rooms for women, too.

I enjoyed our month at the mansion; Ace, though he never seemed keen on the basement, or the stairs leading to it, preferred to spend his time in the yard, chilling with Barkley in the grass, or, better yet, upstairs in Miss Caroline’s house.

When Ace was diagnosed with a herniated disc last month, moving somewhere that didn’t have stairs was necessary. So we bid farewell to Lord Barkely and Miss Caroline, with the promise that we’d come back and visit often.

But, after reclaiming my stored stuff after 11 months on the road, and hauling it to North Carolina, almost all my time has been taken up by the seemingly endless task of unpacking.

With what appears to be a light at the end of that tunnel, next week we will pay a visit, renewing our ties with Miss Caroline, and our bond with Lord Barkley, all, of course, while observing the decorum that befits a stately southern mansion.

“Manners!”

I can’t drive 2.5

It’s one of the things you do when you’re in Winston-Salem. You see the giant coffee pot. You eat some Krispy Kreme Donuts. You take a picture of the big downtown building that looks like a penis. And you stroll around Old Salem, or in our case – given a mom that doesn’t get around like she used to and a still gimpy dog – you drive.

Since we were at the Moravian Graveyard, or God’s Acre, anyway — to place some flowers on the grave of a great aunt — Ace, mom and I decided to cruise around Old Salem, a restored Moravian settlement that, like a smaller scale Williamsburg, features old-time craftsmen and shops staffed by people in period garb.

Before Winston and Salem became one (in 1913), there was Salem to the south and Winston to the north. After the merger Winston-Salem became, for a while, the most populous city in the state, and enjoyed a major boom powered by tobacco and textiles.

In some ways, it’s still bustling; in some ways it’s sleepy. Its tobacco-based economy has given way, ironically enough, to a health-care based one. Hospitals, it sometime seems, are taking over the town. There’s a thriving arts scene. Still, overall, the pace is slow.

Even though I knew that, even though Old Salem is a pedestrian experience — and I mean that in terms of people walking — I was surprised to see the speed limit that was posted in Old Salem: 2.5 miles per hour.

I’d never seen a speed limit that low, and when I tried to drive 2.5, it was nearly impossible. It’s just a smidge, or a skosh, above being motionless. But, laws being laws, I did my best, creeping along like a snail in my red jeep, traffic gathering behind me, mother beside me and Ace in the back seat wondering, I’d guess, “What is this? Are we stopping or not?”

As we crept along, my mother showed me the house my sister born in, and, nearby, the building at Salem College where she worked in the public relations department. As we left, I insisted on pulling over to take a picture of the speed limit sign, for by then – even though I’m all for playing it safe and slowing down in life — I’d concluded that the the 2.5 mile speed limit was one of the most ridiculous things ever.

It was only then, through the lens of my camera, that I realized the speed limit wasn’t 2.5; it was 25, the dot between the 2 and the 5 being the bolt that affixed the sign to its post.

By that time, I needed a strong cup of coffee, for driving 2.5 makes one sleepy at an amazing speed.

I settled for the coffee pot, just a couple of blocks away and one of  Winston-Salem’s best-known landmarks.

The coffee pot is 12 feet high, 16 feet in circumference and was made by tinsmith Julius Mickey in 1858. In the town then known as Salem, Mickey opened a grocery store and, in its loft, a tinsmith shop.

The tin shop turned out to fare far better than the grocery. It was the source of cups, plates, pots, pans, coffee and tea pots, buckets and lanterns and more — items in such demand that a second tinsmith opened just down the street.

To distinguish his shop from it, Mickey built, of tin, an enormous coffee pot, large enough, it is said, to hold 740 gallons of coffee. He placed it on a wooden post in front of his shop on the side of the street -– in a way that it actually extended into the street. Over time it became banged up by horse-drawn buggies that bumped it.

By the time Mickey sold his shop to another tinsmith, L. B. Brickenstein, the pot was considered both a town symbol and a nuisance.

In 1920, a horse and buggy driver struck the pot, knocking it off its wooden post. According to a 1966 article on the coffee pot’s history, published in the Winston-Salem Journal, the pot landed across the sidewalk, and just missed hitting a woman and child who were walking by.

The Winston-Salem board of alderman – the two towns having become one by then — ruled that the pot was a traffic hazard and a violation of a town ordinance regulating advertising signs. The board ordered it taken down. It was stored, but only briefly. After an outcry from those who saw it as an important landmark, it was put back up — just a little further away from the street.

In 1924, the Vogler family bought the old shop, and decided to leave the coffee pot standing, even if it didn’t exactly go with their expanding business – a funeral home.

In the 1950′s progress dictated — and progress does have a way of dictating —  that the pot must go. Interstate 40 was coming through town, and the route went right through where the coffee pot stood.  Suggestions that the highway be rerouted to skirt the pot were overruled.

Instead, the coffee pot was removed from its location at Belews and Main Street and, early in 1959, relocated to an expanse of grass at the point where the Old Salem bypass enters Main Street.

Coffee pot lore is abundant, some of it possibly even true. One legend has it that the pot served as a mail drop for spies during the Revolutionary War – a little hard to swallow considering it wasn’t built until 1858.

Still percolating as well are accounts that, during the Civil War, the coffee pot, which does have a trap door built into it, once hid a Yankee soldier (caffeinated version), or a Confederate soldier (decaffeinated version).

People do move slower in the south, and I think that’s a good thing.

In my travels with Ace, I’ve found that decreasing one’s pace, avoiding a schedule, allows one to see more, hear more, experience more, meet people more, and make fewer misteaks. (If you didn’t catch that, you’re reading too fast.)

Maybe I’m getting old, or maybe I’m getting southern, but I think we’d all be well served by not trying to do everything so fast — even if it does cut into the profit margin. We’d be better off — and I’d bet the average tinsmith agrees –  to do our jobs more slowly and carefully, not to mention walk a little slower, talk a little slower, eat our Krispy Kreme donuts a little slower, even drive a little slower.

I’d highly recommend it — just not 2.5 mph.

Dwelling in the cellar of an old mansion

It was a dark and stormy night. Really. The pouring rain had subsided, but a steady drizzle fell and the old trees swayed in the wind as I pulled my car around the circular driveway and parked in front of the mansion.

I left Ace in the car and walked up to the front door. As soon I knocked — as if the scene was being scripted by a horror movie director — a crack of thunder rattled the night sky.

Slowly, the door creaked open.

The lady of the manor greeted me warmly, invited me in and introduced me to the lord.

“This,” she said, “is Lord Barkley.”

Lord Barkley is short in stature, with stubby legs and a proud stance. He eyed me warily, keeping his distance — standing still but ever so slightly pushing his nose in my direction, as if to get a tiny whiff of me, but not my total essence.

Clearly, he was the cautious type. Slowly he approached me, his thick and fluffy, well-groomed hair – black, white and brown – flouncing as, stepping gingerly, he advanced. I held out my hand, and he gave me a fuller sniffing, seeming particularly interested in my left shoe.

He opted to stay upstairs as his lady showed me to what will be home base for Ace and me for a few months during this latest leg of our travels: the basement — or as the homeowner calls it, the wine cellar – of a stately old mansion in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

It’s a large room, with kitchen and living area, the centerpiece of which is big wood-burning stove, with a bedroom and bathroom and wine cellar off to the side. A fire was burning in the stove and a plate of brownies sat atop the extra-wide kitchen counter, which was built with wood salvaged from a burned-down house.

The TV doesn’t work, or the refrigerator, but those are minor details which, I’m assured, will be rectified in due time.

Details about our host, for now, shall remain vague – at least until I set up some ground rules with her. Just because I’m exposing my life, and Ace’s, as I recount our continuing travels doesn’t give me the right to, without some permissions, expose hers. Etiquette – we are in the south now, after all – demands I show some restraint, that I have some manners in the manor. I’m sure ya’ll understand.

Back upstairs – no, please, after you, I insist – the lady of the manor gave me a quick tour, showing me some of her most prized possessions. Then she encouraged me to bring Ace inside to meet Lord Barkley, something I had hoped to put off until the next day given the possibility of him tracking mud onto carpets, especially after learning at least one of them was a gift from Middle Eastern royalty.

Ace was eager to enter, and I attempted to keep him on a short leash. Lord Barkley gazed at him long and hard, a slightly surprised look on his face. He cautiously approached and, as he had done with me, gave him a slight sniff at first – as if at a wine tasting — followed by deeper sniffing.

His lordship — and 8-year-old Sheltie — remained totally calm about it all, his tail wagging rhythmically. He seemed unbothered by a strange dog entering a domain in which he has been the sole canine inhabitant, and where he, on the days the maid comes, enjoys breakfast in bed with his master.

Ace, who is used to smaller dogs excitedly jumping all over him, seemed to appreciate Lord Barkley’s sedate nature, and while I think he was eager to explore every nook and cranny of the mansion, Ace sat mostly still and behaved well.

In the weeks ahead we’ll be telling you more about Lord Barkley, his owner, and our cellar-dwelling lifestyle. For now though, the first thing we need to shine a light on is our living space, which, being underground, stays fairly dim. As a result, Ace and I – both normally early risers – are finding ourselves sleeping in. An alarm clock might be a good investment.

Still, those are minor details. As for the most major one – whether Ace and Lord Barkley would hit it off – I think they have. Both being calm and gentle types, I think they’re destined to become good friends during our days in the mansion.

My only worry is that Ace might start expecting breakfast in bed, too

Live nude kudzu, and other thoughts

 

Sweeping back through the south, we’ve crossed Tennessee and made it to North Carolina, this time without the benefit of what, back in the summer, was our favorite form of highway entertainment — looking for dogs in the kudzu.

The Vine That Ate the South is naked now, having lost its leaves for winter, leaving behind only long strands of clumped-together, spindly, bare vines. I can no longer see big green animals in the leaves, only stick figures, spider webs, spaghetti and road maps.

The kudzu will be back, though, in spring — and ready to spread as quickly as “adult superstores” have through Tennessee. There are a lot of “adult superstores” in the Volunteer State. Going down I-40, it seems like every other billboard is either touting an “adult superstore” or the fact that Jesus Saves.

After crossing the Mississippi River, we stopped outside of Memphis for a quick visit with my son, checking into a Best Western, where I had reserved a room online, after seeing it touted itself as dog-friendly.

Not until I arrived did I see that there were pet fees, according to a posting at the front desk  – $15 for a dog between 5 and 20 pounds, $25 for dogs 20 to 40 pounds, and $35 for dogs 40 pounds and up.

I immediately squawked — I’ve become a bit more of a squawker in recent months – pointing out that I’d be paying almost as much for the dog as for me.

“How much does your dog weigh?” asked the desk clerk.

I thought about lying, but, having seen too many God billboards, couldn’t. Over 100 pounds, I said, adding that he’s much better behaved than a lot of 10 pound dogs, and pointing out that the whole charging by weight concept was ludicrous.

The desk clerk made a face like he’d swallowed something yukky and excused himself. Ten minutes later he was back, with a room assignment and news that they’d only charge me $25 for the dog.

Too tired to have any principles, and wanting to get off the road on New Year’s Eve, I accepted the discount and took the room. Then I seethed about the whole thing — especially the weight part — for a couple more hours.

Charging fees for dogs is not dog-friendly; its dog-greedy. I wonder how much damage dogs do to motel rooms across America, compared to that done by people.

Rather than pet fees, maybe motels should be looking at rock star fees — for they, if we’re going to stereotype, are famous for trashing rooms. Why not a fraternity boy fee? A student on spring break fee? A crying baby fee? A loud sex fee?

Only twice in our travels have we experienced loud sex — both times from the room next door. Ace and I did the only thing we could. We tilted our heads and looked at the wall the sounds were coming from, then turned up the TV.

This particular Best Western — where we neither experienced loud sex nor managed to stay awake until midnight — had another sign at the front desk that bothered me: “No Visitors.”

Is that constitutional? Even prisons allow visitors.

Depite all the control being exercised in motels, or at least the one we stayed at, Tennessee, as a state, seems less successful at reigning in kudzu, or adult superstores. (Not that I have anything against adult superstores; it’s a free country, except at the particular Best Western we stayed in.)

As we passed through Tennessee, I stopped at several huge thickets of kudzu (and at no adult superstores, though I was wondering what exactly made them “super”).

I searched the bare vines for dog shapes, which some some of you may recall became a bit of an obsession for me over the summer, but I could find none.

Instead, all I could see in the withered and weepy vines were hunched over old witches, overworked peasants and evil motel desk clerks who charged exorbitant pet fees.

Florida dog fatally shocked by lake

A walk in a park turned fatal for a Florida man’s dog, which was apparently electrocuted last week when he jumped in a lake while playing fetch.

Victor Garcia was walking with his 6-month old Labrador retriever, Ruger, Wednesday afternoon at the Perrine Wayside Dog Park in south Miami-Dade when he threw an object into the park’s man-made lake for the dog to fetch,  CBS4 reported

After the dog jumped in, Garcia said, he began acting strangely.

“All of a sudden, as he got closer to the center of the fountain, he started screaming, yelping, bloody murder,” said Garcia.

Garcia said when he ran into the lake to rescue he too was zapped by what felt like electric shocks.

“I just couldn’t pass this wall of electricity and I had to watch my best friend drown right in front of my face, essentially, I mean that dog is my whole entire world to me, he’s the reason I wake up in the morning.”

Garcia didn’t require hospitalization, but his dog was killed.

Park officials say the fountain in the center of the lake was turned off, but apparently it was still sending an electric current into the water. Electricians have removed the fountain to inspect it.

That Waffle House ambience

Being on the road with a dog, there aren’t that many opportunities for a sit down meal, or at least a leisurely sit down inside a restaurant meal — meaning I, in my travels below the Mason-Dixon Line, have been missing out on that southern culinary and cultural delight: The Waffle House.

The Waffle House is one of my favorite places on earth. I love to sit on a stool at the counter and watch the short order cook in action. I love the way the waitresses shout out the orders. I love to watch the waffle iron overflow, see the eggs sizzle on the grill, and eavesdrop on conversations about the days events, spoken in southern accents thick as maple syrup.

On this trip with Ace, in the middle of the summer, the chances to savor a Waffle House experience have been non-existent. It has been way to hot to leave a dog in a car for any length of time.

But the other morning, the coolest one in a long time, I pulled into a Waffle House — they are, after all, at nearly every exit down south, still more prevalent than Starbucks. I found a parking space in partial shade, popped the back window open, and let Ace watch me (and I him) as I sat at a stool and downed a waffle and some orange juice.

I needed my Waffle House fix. It only took 15 minutes. Don’t hate me.

It’s not just the food, which comes fast, costs little and tastes good; it’s the Waffle House ambience. It’s knowing, soon as you walk in, four or five employees are going to shout out a hello. Your waitress is going to call you hon’, or perhaps darlin’. And chances are there will be a good conversation going on at the counter. Something about sitting at a counter, even if there’s not a bartender on the other side, sparks open discussion, group conversations. Counters — and they’ve been declining since the demise of the drug store soda shop — have a way of making us realize, as we sit elbow to elbow, that we’re all in this together.

So I always choose the counter.

At this particular Waffle House in Virginia, the conversation was about daytime TV talk show host Wendy Williams. It began when someone said “How you doin’?” Then everybody started saying “How you doin’?” Apparently it is Wendy Williams signature phrase, though some thought she stole it from Joey on “Friends.” Others thought Wendy Williams looked a lot like a man, which of course led to giggles and more debate.

(I didn’t say that discussions were of vital importance, just that they occur.)

(Tip to young reporters: Waffle Houses are a great place to get, in addition to waffles, quotes — better than bars because people are generally sober, unless you’re there late at night; better, too, than the “man on the street,” because the man on the street is generally headed somewhere and doesn’t have time for you. It’s easy to walk in, take a seat — at the counter of course — and get a conversation started on the subject you’re reporting on. I long ago opened a story on a proposal in South Carolina to castrate convicted rapists with a Waffle House exchange.)

The Waffle House got its start in the mid-1950′s when neighbors Joe Rogers, who worked for the Toddle House, and Tom Forkner, in the real estate business, decided to start a business of their own. On Labor Day 1955, they opened the first Waffle House in Avondale Estates, an Atlanta suburb. The chain grew to 401 restaurants by the end of the 1970′s, 672 by the end of the 1980′s, 1,228 by the end of the 1990′s. By 2006, Waffle House Inc., operated more than 1,500 restaurants in 25 states.

At the Waffle House you can get your grits. You can get your hash brown potatoes “Scattered, Smothered and Covered.” You can get “Cheese n’ Egg”s or “Egg and Cheese,” which are two different things, I learned a few years back.

Seeking scrambled eggs with cheese, I placed my order: “I’ll have the cheese and eggs,”

“The Cheese n’ Eggs, or the Egg and Cheese?” the waitress asked. As I was silently pondering what the difference might be — trying to figure out just what I was missing – she explained that the Egg and Cheese is a sandwich.

Waffle Houses –  they’re all always open and they all have individual jukeboxes in the booths, but not so loud as to drown out the conversation — are not exclusive to the south, but, like kudzu, that’s where they’ve spread the most.

If you’ve never experienced one, you should. Sit at the counter. Join the conversation. Have a waffle, and maybe some eggs and cheese. Or was that cheese and eggs?

Sit, kudzu dog, sit

I came across Sitting Kudzu Dog as I approached Oxford, Mississippi.

Tell me you see him, too.

Otherwise, I might start thinking I’m crazy — for all the things I see in kudzu … and clouds. Nature’s ink blot tests, that’s what they are.

I’ve been seeing things in kudzu for many years now– ever since I harvested kudzu with a woman in Georgia (for a newspaper story), who was putting the south’s evil and fast-spreading weed to good use, making baskets and other crafts out of it.

It was not long after that when I came up with Retirement Plan 11 — opening “The Kud-Zoo.”

I’d buy some large, kudzu-contaminated parcel of land in the south, just off an interstate highway, and get one of those trucks with the hydraulic man-lifting buckets, like the phone and cable companies use, and begin trimming all the unwieldy growth into the shapes of animals. Actually, I would see the animal within first, then, through trimming, free it, so to speak.

Also, along with my staff, we’d train young kudzu, using clothesline and wooden forms, to grow into the shape of animals. The Kud-Zoo would also serve as a commune for kudzu artists and craftsmen, and kudzu artisans who’d make kudzu wine, kudzu tea and kudzu cigarettes on the premises.

We would have an old school bus, painted as if it were covered with kudzu, which — when we weren’t busy running the roadside attraction (i.e. the non-summer months) — we’d drive to schools to give presentations about kudzu, and how the more things we can figure out to do with it, the better of we’d be.

I put the Kud-Zoo right up there with my all time great ideas, and share it now only because I don’t think I’m going to get around to it. If you want it, it’s your’s.