Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ten clicks

Remember this picture below?

 I posted it with my blog about a year ago when my car was making a distressing metallic noise from one of its wheels.

I was afraid to drive the car to the dealership in Winston-Salem because I thought I might do further damage to the vehicle. So we called a towing service and had it carried to the garage.

The repair lasted all of 15 minutes as a paving stone from my then-gravel driveway got caught in the brake calipers was removed. I was told, however, that if I had not had the car carried, there could have been considerable damage done to the wheel. So we made a good call there.

Still, it was a sad sight to see. I hate being without my car for any length of time. Being carless creates a serious void in my auto psyche. Getting my car back from the garage is kind of like a rebirth in spirit and it opens possibilities: I got my wheels back, man.

Well, here's a picture below from about two weeks ago. Deja vu all over again:

This is my wife's 1994 Mustang. It's been a pretty good car to her for two decades, and, in fact, we'd just taken it to North Myrtle Beach for a three-day weekend. We drove more than 500 miles, including a brief run up to Southport to do a little antiquing and to grab a bite to eat at the Provision Company, one of our favorite waterfront dives.

We got home Sunday. Kim went to work on Monday. On Tuesday evening, when I got home from work, Kim greeted me with "I've got a problem."

Oh, good. I was hoping she would say something like that because I was running low on my quota of problems. "What's the matter? I asked, my heart sinking.

"My car won't start," she said. "It won't do anything. Here, you try," she said, handing me the keys. "Maybe it'll start for you." This is the mystical Kim speaking. If it doesn't work for her, maybe it'll magically work for somebody else. I do see the logic in it.

Anyway, I got in. I put the key in the ignition and turned it. Nothing.  Not even dead battery clicks. My mind raced. What could it be? The battery wasn't that old, and we'd just put a new alternator in the car in the past year. Since the extent of my auto engineering skills is pretty much related to adjusting the driver's seat, I clearly wasn't the answer.

So, on Wednesday morning, we had the car carried to the Ford dealership.

While that was happening, the thought occurred to me that this mini-disaster could have happened while we were at the beach. I counted back the number of ignition turns (or clicks, as Kim and I call them, as opposed to cranks) we had left before the car died: Kim started the car six times on Monday, and four times on Tuesday. Ten clicks. Oh, my. We were that close to being stranded in Southport. Or Calabash. Or somewhere, which would have exponentially (no doubt) added to our quota of problems.

After we got the car to the garage, we later learned that it needed a new battery harness. I never heard of that before. A battery harness? Apparently, it's the connection between the battery and the fuse box, or something like that. I don't know. Because the car is 20 years old, there's not that many places in the country where you can get a harness for that model.

But it all worked out. Several days later, the car was repaired and Kim was back on the road, her spirits revitalized.

She got her wheels back, man.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

That was fun

I gave my wife a rose, once.

That was about 35 years ago. We'd just met and this was our first date, and I wanted to impress her.

So I brought her a rose. A single, red, long-stemmed rose. And I knew the moment when I gave it to her that I had indeed impressed her.

"I really thought it was sweet," said Kim as we reminisced. "I thought, 'At last, I found a man who brings me flowers. If I could have kept it forever, I would have.'"

We went on to get married, happily, despite the fact that I haven't given her a rose in the 34 years since then. It was never my intention to withhold roses from her through the passage of time, it's just the way things shaked out. We ended up buying cars and houses and cats instead.

In fact, we do a lot of things together, and our most recent passion has been the music of Underhill Rose, a trio of talented singers from Asheville (Eleanor Underhill on banjo, Molly Rose Reed on guitar and Salley Williamson on upright bass) who return semi-regularly to perform their brand of Americana at High Rock Outfitters in Uptown Lexington. They were in town for a show Friday night, in fact, and Kim and I wanted to do something nice for them just to show our joy and appreciation for what they do. This was about the 10th time we've seen them perform and we consider them to be our friends.

Where'd those (Underhill) roses come from? (Photo by Donnie Roberts)
"We ought to get them each a rose, since they're Underhill Rose," said Kim, with more than a little irrefutable logic. Yes, truth be told, it was her idea. I thought it was great. So we went to the florist that morning, bought three long-stemmed red roses, and waited for evening to fall.

As the crowd formed before showtime, I was pleased to see a couple of new faces in the seats. Both were there, they said, because of previous blogs I'd written about Underhill Rose and they wanted to see what all the fuss was about. That was nice.

Then the girls came on stage — we were sitting on the front row — and started singing through their playlist. They pretty much had the undivided attention of the HRO audience of about 70 or so folks, who answered each heartfelt song with heartfelt applause. It was great. We've seen them perform in several venues the past two years, and HRO is by far the best listening room and with the most artist-respectful audiences that we've seen. The girls deserve that, and it's no wonder why they keep returning to Lexington. (See here for a blog about HRO)

But Kim and I still weren't sure when to give them the roses. During the set break? How about when they sing "Love is a Rose," which is usually their finale? How about after the show was over?

During the set break, I peered with squinted eyes at their playlist on the stage floor. "Love is a Rose" was not on the list. That settled it.

"We'll give them the roses when they return from their break," I told Kim.

When the girls reassembled on the stage and stepped up to the mics, I got up from my seat. Kim handed me a rose, one by one. I gave the first one to Salley, and wished her a happy birthday, which is on Monday. Then I gave one to Molly. I wanted to tell her "A rose for a Rose," but my mouth wouldn't work. I hope I smiled, at least. At this point, the audience was going "Awwww" as the flowers were offered. Then I gave one to Eleanor, and I think I said "Thank you," meaning thanks for all you do. She somehow attached the rose to her mic stand for all to see. Sweet.

I returned to my seat as people clapped. Maybe they were just glad I was finally out of the way, I guess, and the show continued.

The shows, by the way, are lots of fun. The girls have great stage presence and they sometimes offer humorous off-the-cuff banter. Some songs, like "Unused to You," give us amazing harmonies. At the end of "Bare Little Rooms," Salley comes off the stage to do some impressive flat-foot dancing as Molly and Eleanor play on. It's ear-pleasing, eye-pleasing entertainment at its very best.

Then came the finale. Instead of "Love is a Rose," Salley, well-booted herself, sang the 1966 Nancy Sinatra tune "These Boots Are Made for Walking" as a solo. It was the perfect finishing touch that had everybody smiling. Kim and I flicked Bic lighters above our heads in salute to a wonderful evening. Again.

(Below is a sample from a different venue):

The next time Kim wants some roses, I think I have the answer. It's easy. It's Underhill roses.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Just our luck

In the world of why-does-this-happen-to-me, this one ranks right up there.

I mean, I know there's stuff out there that people deal with that's much more important, much more intrusive, maybe even much more life changing than this petty concern I'm about to air.

So please bear with me.

It seems like whenever Kim and I decided to take an extended weekend at the beach — Cherry Grove, to be exact — we try to plan to avoid crowds.

Already, there's two problems here. First, we don't really plan. We guess. We assume. And we should know better. But that's how we roll.

The second is that there are always crowds at the beach, no matter how much you plan. I've been told there's maybe a three-month window from January to Easter where the traffic is manageable, when there's no waiting at restaurants — and that might be true — but I haven't seen it yet. Or if I did, it happened 30 years ago before the area underwent a commercial development boom.

Anyway, we left this past Friday for a brief three-day weekend. In the past, we've usually taken our beach vacations in May, because that's when the weather usually changes for the better. But you have to work around Bike Week. If you go the first week in May, the motorcyclists are arriving. If you go the third week, the bikers are leaving.

Then it's Memorial Day and the start-of-the-summer crowds. It's never just Bike Week. It's Bike Month.

On a side note, we sometimes took/take a beach vacation the first week in October, because that's our anniversary week. It's also the week of the Fall Rally. Are you kidding me? Really, as far as we're concerned, it's Bike Year.

Anyway, we decided we'd head to the beach this past weekend. No Bike Week yet. But when we arrived, there were people everywhere — and especially at neighboring Ocean Drive, where favorite eateries like Golden Griddle and Hoskins are located. The canyon of beach-side hotels were fairly bursting. What the heck?

"Oh," we were told. "It's SOS weekend."

That thudding sound you're hearing is me banging my head against the wall. It actually feels good.

Shaggers were everywhere, including some leakage into Cherry Grove. Loafers. Gold chains. Cigarettes. Adult beverages. It's a lifestyle.

And it wasn't just shaggers. There were students taking over beach houses. Oh-oh. Spring break. Flip-flops. Cigarettes. Adult beverages. These are the folks who think they're bullet-proof. Remember those days? It's another lifestyle.

We thought we'd make a quick getaway to quiet, unassuming Southport and do a little antiquing and maybe eat lunch at the Provision Company. Except, of course, it was Spring Festival. People everywhere. Artists, shoppers, tourists. Sigh.

By Sunday morning, we were headed back home. To quiet, unbusy, restful Lexington. No complaints.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How many trips?

By my count, my latest excursion to Gettysburg was about my 35th.

I made this trip this past weekend when about 16 of us from the Davidson County Civil War Round Table, starting on different days and in different cars, and some of us from as far away as Wilmington and Blowing Rock, converged on the battlefield on Friday in a manner similar to Robert E. Lee's army 150 years ago.

I've attended 23 Civil War Institutes (the CWI being an annual week-long collection of field trips, lectures and seminars), so that takes care of 23 visits right there. My wife and I once made a winter excursion with another couple. Plus, I was on the field 41 years ago with a friend during a cross-country trip, and at least once before that when I was child.

Throw in a few trips I've made with my wife when we used Gettysburg as a stopover on some of our New England vacations and, well, there you have it — at least 35 visits to Gettysburg.

I should have the battle figured out by now, right?

Looking north from the cupola of the Lutheran Theological Seminary.
Actually, the face, the culture and the scholarship of the battle are in constant change. The battlefield, for example, is undergoing a remarkable facelift in which a decade-long tree-clearing project is bringing the field back to its 1863 appearance. Telephone lines and electric wires are now underground. Fence lines are popping up in their proper historical locations (now it's easier to understand the difficulty of Pickett's Charge when you see how the Confederate troops had to scale a post-and-five-rail fence in front of the Union guns). Buildings that were not on the field then (like the old Cyclorama building and the old visitors' center on Cemetery Ridge) have been razed to the ground, all evidence of their intruding existence swept away, and thus opening new and revealing vistas of what I think is one of America's truly seminal moments.

It's wonderful. It's illuminating.

One of the few things I hadn't done in all those years visiting Gettysburg was to climb the cupola on the Lutheran Theological Seminary. (See here for museum slide show and other information). For the longest time, you simply couldn't get to the cupola unless it was through special invitation. Later, there was a restrictive $150 to $200 fee. Now, in its current manifestation, you can climb the cupola for about $30. Done. No-brainer.

A view of Herbst Woods from the Lutheran Theological Seminary cupola
The cupola is an iconic structure on the field. It was used as an observation platform by Union cavalry general John Buford during the opening phase of the three-day battle. It is said that Lee himself may have climbed the tower for a look-see later in the struggle after Seminary Ridge fell to the Confederates.

So despite the fact that the April weather was unseasonably cold, wet and blustery, our club trooped to the top and was treated to a spectacular view of the first day of the battle. It was, perhaps, as close to a time machine as you can get.

The day wasn't over. Another highlight was a two-hour afternoon tour of the battlefield — and specifically, by request, the Sickles-Meade controversy —by Licensed Battlefield Guide Charlie Fennell.

I've talked about Charlie before. He's an exceptional guide, as guides go, and there was no letdown this time around, either. He peppered us with tidbits of minutiae, humor and cold, hard history. We came away, I think, more than satisfied.

I feel myself slowing down as I get older. The seven-hour trip from Lexington to Gettysburg can be taxing, at times, and I wonder how long I want to keep doing this.

Right now, at least, I'm still up for the next call for a road trip.