Disclaimer alert….I will be writing about the minutiae of the trip with the hopes that I find a rhythm and voice. My challenge will be to diary things and share some of my observations. Feel free to skim or mull things over.
I rang out 2018 by finishing packing for the trip and was in bed by 12:15am. How do you quantify over-packing when it will be a 30+ day trip? I started with all new t-shirts (the old ones were 50 shades of white in comparison). For pants, I decided on 2 jeans, 1 corduroy, 2 khakis, & 1 dressier pant (Bononos that fit perfectly but haven’t been worn yet). I threw in 2 pair of shorts, just in case. Alongside those I chose 6 button-up shirts, 5 sweaters, a rain jacket, a vintage Izod/Lacoste windbreaker, and a packable down puffer jacket. Add to that, 1 sneaker choice, a waterproof hiking shoes, and a comfy pair of chukkas. I think that I am prepared for virtually anything.
As a dutiful gay Buddhist in the South, I thought it fitting to start the new year at Charlotte’s SGI-USA Buddhist community center. A little positive karma is just what this trip needs. I am a member of the lay Nichiren Buddhist organization named Soka Gakkai. The name literally translates to value creating society. This group was formed by a Japanese educator in the 1920’s and is based on the Lotus Sutra. The center’s location just west of uptown Charlotte has a peek-a-boo view of the skyline from the parking lot. Feel free to ask me if you have any questions about how the practice relates to my daily life. I’m likely to touch on it more as the trip progresses.
After the service, I headed a few blocks away to check out one of the best coffee shops in Charlotte. My friend Tony started Enderly Coffee Company in 2012. Initially, they focused on wholesale accounts but recently opened a phenomenal cafe. Tony was one of the first people we contacted when we opened Twin City HIve. It was a pleasure to get to know him and watch his growth over the years. I highly recommend the Ethiopian light roast as it’s full of bright berry notes. It has always been my favorite. If you prefer dark roasts, then go for their State Street blend.
With a large Americano in hand, I set off for West Virginia. The 4 hour trip from Charlotte to Charleston is simple and surprisingly scenic. Word to the wise for those who travel north on Interstate 77, the tolls will double on January 15th. The WV Turnpike Commission has extended the option to purchase an EZ Pass to January 11th. Act fast and you can get a transponder and have unlimited toll road use for 3 years for only $37. Otherwise, it will be $4 per toll. With 3 tolls, you could recoup that money in one season.
You’ve got to have the right equipment for a proper journey. Therefore, upgraded my phone to a Pixel 3 a couple of days before the trip. I got a chance to use it in the car because of it’s phenomenal Google Assistant features. I have always been a Samsung fan until I purchased the Galaxy 9 earlier this year. The talk to text feature didn’t understand a word that I said. Regularly ordering coffee it would spell Uganda as “you Gonda” and espresso as “ess Press oh”. I’m not kidding you when I say that it is possessed. Come to think of it, I purchased a Ouija board from a thrift store when I was in junior high…it spelled out gibberish too. Maybe I’m harboring some kind of confused universal message that needs to get out. LOL.
Back to the Pixel 3. I bought it because it supposedly has the best phone camera on the market which should help juje up my photos. I can happily report that the talk to text completely gets me. It hasn’t spelled out any gibberish at all. What the phone really excels with is understanding commands. I purchased a phone mount for the dash so that I could have a better view of Google maps. I tend to ask pertinent questions on Google such as “Shania Twain net worth” followed by “Mutt Lange net worth” (I’m happy to report she came out of the marriage better off than him). The Pixel 3 kept up with my random questions without a hitch. That led me to saying, “OK google, take a selfie.” The camera does a quick countdown and snaps a good one. I was also able to snap several vista photos. This feature will come in handy along the trip.
I made it to mom & dads house just in time for dinner. My mom had cooked a traditional NY day meal of cabbage rolls in tomato sauce. They are filled with beef and rice and completely delicious. The recipe is a family tradition that turns out to have Scots-Irish roots, the red sauce is my family’s Italian spin on things. Mon started off by boiling a few quarters to sterilize them, wrapped them in tin foil, and placed them inside some cabbage rolls. Whoever finds a coin will have good fortune for the year. It also symbolizes wealth for the coming year. If you hold on to the quarter for the year you will literally not run out of money. Mom placed 8 quarters in a batch….and I found 4! I can’t recall the last time that I found one, but am pleased to receive the blessings.
After dinner mom made sure that I went out to enjoy her Christmas lights. She made dad leave them up so that I could see the house still decorated. The Pixel’s night mode takes amazing photos. My Facebook post of the lights clued friends in on my surprise visit. One of the first to reach out was my high school friend Melody. It has been at least a decade (or more) since we last saw each other. We immediately made plans to meet up and go for a hike the next day.
One of my favorite things about my hometown are the river and skyline. Anyone familiar with Charleston has seen the Sunrise mansion. The Georgian home was built in 1905 by the 9th governor of WV. For us locals, we knew it as a museum. I was always fascinated by the architecture (Doric columns & fabulous pediment) and also by its worldly antiquities. I remember that one of the fireplaces had a brick that was brought back from the Great Wall of China. I’m sure that decorating a home with pilfered antiquities is now frowned upon but was common practice when the home was built. The building is now home to a large law firm. The grounds include a .65 mile carriage trail that leads from the riverbank up to the home’s perch on a ridge looking over the city. It’s a gentle grade that provided a beautiful backdrop for my reunion with Melody.
The hike was fun and we wanted the conversation to continue so we meandered down the hill and through downtown to Taylor Books. They are a fabulous independent bookstore, art gallery, gift shop, coffee shop, & general hub of downtown. My Americano was on point and Melody reported that her Milky Way latte was delicious. Melody invited me to lunch at Tidewater Grill where she was going to eat with Sara another high school friend. It’s been at least 15 years since I saw her. I couldn’t stay for lunch but I also couldn’t pass up the chance to stop in for a quick hug. It was brief but really brightened my day. She asked about my poodle Helen by name! Now that’s a committed FB friend.
Next up my mom, sister, nieces and I visited the Clay Center to check out their exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci inventions. The is museum is kind of amazing. It’s got a planetarium, children’s science museum, performance hall, & fine art museum all rolled into one. The admission was only $9 for adults and $7.50 for kids. It costs a little extra for a movie or planetarium show. We were thoroughly impressed with all of da Vinci’s creations. The girls especially enjoyed being able to use some of the geared machines. Fun fact, he invented the predecessor to the modern ball bearing made from wooden balls between two wooden plates (think lazy susan).
My overall impression continues to be that Charleston, WV is a cool place. If you’ve not been here, you should seriously consider a short visit. The scenery can’t be beat (although the winter is a bit gray). The things to do are cheap and/or free. And who doesn’t like to do something unique for a quick trip. Think about it, you could be the only one of your friends talking up Charleston…and not the one in South Carolina.