Robert Forto

East Coast Road Trip: Family Ties

For those of you keeping count, we are on day three of our trip and have been to two states and the Nations capital. Our journey today will take us into the south and it will be one of the highlights so far on our journey.

We awoke refreshed from our night in Richmond and grubbed at Waffle House. They don’t have these bastion of championship breakfasts in the Great White North and we were craving a waffle made by a guy fresh out of the joint and a waitress that certainly wasn’t named Flo. Breakfast cost us less than a Jackson and we were on the road in less than a half an hour. Our day’s journey would take us off the freeways and onto the two-lane blacktops that reminds me of the Rob Zombie song of the same name.

[Be sure to check out the photo gallery at the end of the post]

As I said in the beginning our itinerary was loose. We wanted to just roll with the flow and see where the road took us. Our plan was to try our best to eat local and visit places that were new and old to me and show Michele a part of the country that she had never seen.

We jumped off the freeway near Petersburg, paid a toll and traveled along the road seeing what the south looked like still back in the colonial days. We saw peanut farms, strawberry patches, yard parkers and road side fruit stands. We decided to stop at one and take a gander, thats a south saying in case you didn’t know, at their local offerings. While they advertised their fresh fruit every 100 yards for the past twenty miles when we started looking around everything was just too expensive. A bucket full of peaches was 13 bucks. This was one of those little buckets a kid uses to build sand castles on the beach. We passed, said thanks but no thanks and headed for the state line.

It is always a tradition to stop at the welcome centers as you enter the state. I find this much more prevalent in the south than any where else in the country. In the deeper south I remember that the welcome center in Florida used to give away free orange juice. At this one in the clutches of North Carolina it was a nice clean place with tons of brochures and friendly staff that urged us to sign their guest book, being that we were from Alaska and all.

It was our plan to have Michele drive the go-cart in every state and she did here in North Carolina and Virginia which was really just across the parking lot. Michele wasn’t technically supposed to be driving the car since we didn’t put her on the agreement and since we were supposed to stay local, as we talked about in our previous post. We were now three states and I guess three hundred miles from the Baltimore airport. But I still haven’t visited that family I said I was going to do to the rental car agent in the tight skirt and crest white smile.

We pulled into the gas station in Virginia and saw the signs promising cheap cigarettes at Virginia prices. We loaded up with six gallons of fuel in the hamster-mobile and headed inside. Michele remarked at the bacon on the counter and I mentioned thats how they do it down here. Its cured pork not the processed Kroger variety. She passed and we grabbed a cold drink and hit the road toward the Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks, Nags Head, and North Carolina Barbecue 

As we passed over the Atlantic Intercostal Waterway and the high bridges Michele was holding on to the door handle for dear life.

Traffic stacked up in the resort towns along the beaches with the cheap gift shops, miniature golf and restaurants lining the boardwalks. We passed by Kitty Hawk, the site of the famous Wright Brothers flight we learned about a couple days ago at the Air and Space museum, and we headed toward Nags Head to find a place to park near the beach.

I had never been to Nags Head. Neither had Michele. She learned about the wild horses that used to roam around here when she was a kid and had dreams of her dad taking her here and capturing a pony. The wild horses are still here but they had to be moved. You can still take Jeep tours out to see them on the Outer Banks. We wanted to do this but it was a whole day trip.

We found a spot right next to the beach and parked the go-cart. In the parking lot a girl that looked like she lived ON the beach, with her bleach-blonde hair was getting dressed in a wet suit. We jumped out of the car and headed for the ocean. Michele wanted to dip her toes in the surf. It is something she wants to do in every ocean in North America. We have plans to drive up to the Arctic Ocean this summer, that just means a trip to the gulf coast is in our future!

We hung out for about a half hour, searching for shells and playing in the waves as they crashed on shore. Remember this was not a scheduled stop. When we woke up in Richmond we looked at Google Maps and saw it was only 6 hours to my moms house in Jacksonville, North Carolina or 8 hours if we took a side trip to the Outer Banks.

One of our goals when we travel is to never eat anywhere where we can at home and avoid chain restaurants at all costs (if possible). In North Carolina you have to have real authentic BBQ don’t you? We found a spot right off the road and pulled in. It was called Pigman’s BBQ. What an appropriate name! We both ordered sandwiches. Michele didn’t like the vinegary taste of the sauce but she did like the hush puppies. I thought the sandwich was great!

After lunch we jumped back in the go-cart and headed south. We admired all of the cool houses built on stilts and decks on their roof so they could have a view of the ocean. Not five minutes out of town did the rain start. As we went over the large, extra-tall and extremely long bridge that took us off the OBX, as they are known to the locals, it started pouring and would not let up for the rest of our trip this day. We meandered through the North Carolina swamp lands with signs along the road warning us to watch for bears and alligators on the road and to be extra cautious if we stop and exit our vehicle.

About half way to moms we pulled into a gas station. It was pouring rain and I got out to pump the gas. For some reason the pump wouldn’t take my credit card so I had to run in, through a curtain of water falling off the roof, to pay. I gave my card to the clerk and told her the pump didn’t take my card she immediately said I can’t (saying it like paint) get my dang cellfone to work neeither. Don’t get me wrong, I am not making fun of the way this young lady talked. Remember I lived in this neck of the woods for more than four years. I understand southern accents but I was taken aback at how strong this one was. It had been a very long time since I heard someone talk this way. Remember I live were everyone talks like Sarah Palin. Well not everyone…

I said “much obliged, ma’am,” and carried on back to the car as she swiped my credit card to make the pump work from inside.

The rest of the drive into Jacksonville was a harrowing experience. I was holding on to the go-cart’s steering wheel as the too-fast truckers flew by at 60 miles per hour on the narrow two lane road. I swear we hydroplaned at least twice.

Right before we entered J’ville we drove by a small forest fire that surely just started, most likely from a lightening strike. There were several people huddled around but nobody looked like they were in too much of a hurry to put it out.

Jacksonville, the House that Donna Built, Piggly Wiggly and late night TV

We lived in Jacksonville from 1980 to late 1983. My dad was stationed at one of the largest Marine bases in the world, Camp LeJune and we lived off base in Sherwood Forest. That’s right. All of the streets are named after characters and places in the story of Robin Hood. We lived on Little John Avenue and my mother still lives here to this day.

As we pulled into Jacksonville, or as it’s affectionally known as J’ville or the Big J by the locals, I immediately saw how much this town has grown. The last time I was here was in the summer of 2000. Jacksonville is really a town built around servicing and providing for all of the Marines. On pay day the town is booming and the restaurants are packed with young Marines and their families out on the town having a good time.

We realized it was my mom’s birthday in a couple days so we stopped at a Piggly Wiggly. That is the name of a grocery store chain on the east coast. When we walked in it looked like we stepped in a time machine. It looked like a store from the 1970s. We quickly grabbed a card from their very limited selection and picked a bouquet of not-so-fresh flowers.

The checkout aisle still had one of those round revolving belts and it took forever for the clerk to count back my change. We were already late, I told my mom we would be there by dinner time. It was passed six and we needed to get going.

We pulled up to my mom’s house. and parked along Little John’s road and walked up to the door. My mom met me and we gave each other a hug. It had been a very long time since we had seen each other and it was nice to be “home.” Michele and mom talked for a bit in the foyer and soon we ventured into the house. I met Mark. My mom and Mark married several years ago, after my dad, passed away from cancer. I had never met Mark before, even though we text all the time talking hockey and the Giants football team.

Mom showed me around, I met her dogs and her cats. These cats would prove to cut our stay here short as I am highly allergic and so is Michele. Mom was still into antiques and the country style of decorating and the house looked great. My brother, who is a contractor in Wilmington, just an hour south of here, did a lot of work including remodeling the kitchen and building an awesome screened in porch off of the kitchen.

We sat and talked for a while and decided it was getting late and we should go grab something to eat before everything closed. Mom drove us around showing us around Jacksonville including the “Sherwood Forest” that my brother and I and a friend burned down in about ’81 by being carless with a camp fire. It was all built up with new homes now.

We ate at the Texas Roadhouse. Remember what I said about chain restaurants? This place was packed at 9 pm. We had a good meal and talked over dinner.

We headed back to the house and sat and talked long into the evening. We talked about Alaska, what shows each of us like to watch and watched some shows they had recorded that I have never even heard of. This was the first time I was ever introduced to the Dugger’s and we watched some crazy late night-type show that airs on HBO with some guy with a British accent.

We headed for bed and I started sneezing. We slept surprisingly well. It was odd to sleep in the same house that I slept in last in 1983. My parents kept this house while we moved around the country with my dad in the Marines.

Wilmington, my brother Ryan, Seafood Chowder and heading to the beach

We jumped in our cars and I followed my mom and Mark the hour or so south down the coast to Wilmington. My brother Ryan is a busy guy and he had to work with his crew on landscaping projects so we met up with him at a McDonald’s parking lot. We spent about an hour catching up. It was great to see him. I can’t believe he is 40 years old. Oh, my goodness I am getting old.

We decided to grab lunch at a seafood restaurant on Carolina Beach. Michael’s Seafood. We all ordered the seafood chowder and it was some of the best I have ever had. It was a thick white-based chowder with just about every type of seafood in it. I also ordered peel and eat shrimp. One of my favorites. We sat a long time talking to my mom and Mark and took the requiste posed pictures in the parking lot. We followed my mom over to my brother’s house. We checked out his cool old school Porsche and his chickens. I never in a million years would have thought my brother would have chickens!  And met his two dogs. We stayed awhile until Ryan had to go back to work and said our goodbyes to mom and Mark.

We knew going in to this trip that we would not be spending more than a night in any one place. We wanted to see and do as much as possible and I assured my mom that we would be back very soon for a longer trip, maybe even meeting them at a Giants/Redskins game!

We jumped in the car to head to Myrtle Beach, another place that we went to all the time when I was a kid. We were only about an hour north so why not go check it out.

Tomorrow: Get your motor runnin’ Heading out on the highway

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