Robert Forto

East Coast Road Trip: Get your motor runnin’ heading out on the highway

After we left my mom, Mark and Ryan in Wilmington we headed south toward Myrtle Beach. It was Saturday night and sure to be a good time. I got lost and ended up taking us more than a hour out of our way before our trusty Google Maps got us back on track and in the right direction.

We arrived at Myrtle Beach at about 5 pm and decided to look for a hotel. Little did we know there was a huge event going on. Black Biker Week. That’s what they called it. It was like Daytona’s Bike Week and Strugis all in one. I have never seen so many bikers in my life. There were at least 20,000 of them. And at least that many cops. We saw a convoy of cops driving down the main drag in pickup trucks in tactical gear.

Myrtle Beach, bikers and the Gay Dolphin

We used Priceline and this was the only time in our trip we didn’t get a good deal. Well, that’s relative. We got one of the only rooms left in Myrtle Beach. It was at the Sheraton on the top floor with an amazing view of the beach and the city and all of it’s chaos below. It cost us 249 bucks for the night.

We checked in, parked the car and walked down to the boardwalk. We used to go to Myrtle Beach all the time when I was a kid. We used to stay at a hotel right on the beach, hangout at the amusement parks, water slides, and miniature golf. We would eat orange sherbet in cones that had spots for double scoops and we would always buy sharks teeth necklaces at the Gay Dolphin gift shop.

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

The place has changed a lot in 30 years, hasn’t everything? Gone were all the things we used to do. I didn’t see the corkscrew roller coaster, the first coaster I ever rode that went upside down. Gone were the water slides. But the Gay Dolphin was still there. Michele and I weaved and bobbed through the throng of people on the sidewalks. The place was packed. They had the streets barricaded off for cruising and it was one way in and one way out. Like I said I have never seen so many motorcycles in my life. Most of them were the fancy speed bikes. Many of them had their girlfriends on the back in WAY too little clothes. And of course there were the cars. Lots and lots of souped up fancy cars with big rims, loud music and fancy paint jobs. We were practically the only white folks walking down the street. It was way too crowded but I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I made sure Michele held my hand, watched my wallet, and we worked our way sixteen blocks to the Gay Dolphin.

If you have been to Myrtle Beach you know about the Gay Dolphin if you haven’t, it is a huge gift shop that I think has been around for more than a half of a century. They have every trinket imaginable in there. Things that are knock offs from China to very expensive nautical themed gifts. Like I said each year when we would come here as a kid, buying a shark tooth necklace was the highlight of my trip. I would wear it proudly all year until the next summer rolled around. A couple years ago Michele even surprised me with a sharks tooth necklace that she bought from the Gay Dolphin by calling them on the phone! This is the very thing that got this whole trip set in motion. I had it in my mind we had to travel down the east coast, see my family and visit some of the places I have talked about to Michele and the kids over the years.

We picked out a cool cave diver crystal gift for Nicole and a couple touristy type t-shirts for all of us and headed back into the crowded streets. It was close to 9 pm and every place we saw to eat was packed or looked like they were about to close so we decided to walk about 4 miles. Yes, four miles to Boardwalk on the Beach to grab dinner.

After a very long walk we arrived at the Boardwalk on the Beach. This place is huge and is an entertainment megalopolis! It is a couple hundred acres of restaurants, shops, bars, an amusement park, movie theater, lake and boardwalk. It looks like they moved everything off the strip by the beach and moved it here. We walked around for a while and it was getting late so we decided on the Hard Rock Cafe. It was decent, with a lot of cool rock memorabilia. We had burgers and Michele had a Hurricane so she could get the collectors glass. It was almost 11 pm by the time we were finished with dinner and knew we had a long walk back to the hotel.

By midnight we were back in the room and fast asleep in a few minutes. We paid 250 bucks for a comfortable bed and I don’t think we even turned on the TV.

Saltwater Taffy, Dunkin’ Donuts and the beach

We woke up early and checked out of the swanky hotel and hit the road. We wanted to head back to the Boardwalk on the Beach to get some salt water taffy. We stopped in and picked out a pound or so of the many flavors available. They use an old machine to make their taffy that has been around since the late 1800’s.

Neither of us have had Dunkin’ Donuts since we were kids so we decided to stop. Michele grabbed an apple fritter and I grabbed eight doughnut holes and a couple fancy coffee drinks. I watched a show on the plane about how Dunkin’ was reinventing itself and trying out new things to compete with the other big guy in the coffee world. You know, those folks from Seattle. The coffee was excellent and the holes were a nice treat as we headed over to the beach.

We found a spot that was away from the strip. It was still very early and I am sure all of the bikers were still in bed because the streets were practically empty. We kicked off our shoes and made our way down to the ocean. There were a few people on the beach. I remember when I was a kid this is were you would find my grandmother. She would be sitting in a little chair right by the water and would sit there all day reading a book. Back in those days nobody cared about sunscreen. She would move her little chair up the beach as the tide came in. After we were done playing on the rides and seeing the sights we would come and hang out with her for a couple hours before we went back to the room to get ready to go out to eat.

Michele and I searched for shells and wrote our names in the sand. We stayed about half an hour and hit the road.

Headed for the highway

The road to the highway was almost four hours of back roads, two lanes, farms, garage sales, confederate flags and yard parkers. If you don’t know what a yard parker is, it is people that decide that their driveway is not a good enough place to park their car and they decide to park it on their front lawn. Sometimes its there with a tire or two off, others its parked sideways, and if you are lucky it might even be for sale. Sometimes the car has been there for so long that there is grass growing up into the engine, while the rest of the lawn is perfectly manicured.

We made it to Interstate 95 at Fayetteville. Fort Bragg is here. I think it is one of the largest Army posts in the world. This is where they train the specialized troops, maybe the green berets and the airborne guys.

We put the pedal to the metal on the go-cart and tried to keep up with the truckers that were flying past us at 90. I was scanning the radio and came across a Southern Baptist sermon and listened in. If you are in the south you have to listen to church on the radio. The guy was good!

We stopped for a quick lunch and a fill up of about six gallons. Our next stop was a hundred miles or so to the north at the welcome center for Virginia.

If you don’t know, Virginia is for Lover’s. they let you know that when you enter the state and the whole time you are there, aside from those aircraft patrolling state troopers and illegal fuzz busters. We stopped at a perfectly manicured rest stop that looked like a southern plantation. We took a selfie in front of the lover’s sign and walked along the path, through the woods to stretch our legs. Who would have thought there would be a park-like setting like this a stone’s throw from the highway. As I said before, these rest areas are very popular on the east coast and every one takes advantage of them. Up here in Alaska they are a pull out and a fancy outhouse that you have to hold your nose to enter, if they are even unlocked.

Newport News, need I say more…

On our way north we knew we would have to hang a left and head back southeast toward Williamsburg. Our next destination was Sunday morning at Busch Gardens. Michele searched for a room as we drove and found that a lot of places were booked. Remember this is Memorial Day weekend. One of the busiest travel weekend’s of the year when every family in America hits the road in the family truckster. Now a days it is more likely a mini van or a cross-over, whatever the heck that is, rather than a station wagon. When we traveled these roads as a kid my family traveled in style in a brand new cream colored Oldsmobile wagon with three seats and plush, vinyl (looked like leather) seats. My mom would always pack everything we took on the trip at her feet and my dad would drive way too long and blast golden oldies on the radio way to loud with the window down. He would drive to whatever destination we had already pre-planned months before using AAA and their Trip Tik program. He didn’t care if we arrived at midnight, we had a reservation, dang it and thats where we are going. Us kids would be in the back seat out of hands reach from the reach-around slap from mom when we started fighting. If we were real clever we would jump over the seat to the third row and practice our Wrestlemania moves way in the back.

If you haven’t realized by now, this story is a mix of nostalgia and re-tracing the steps of my childhood. For the past six days we have done just that and now we were entering the part of our journey that would define our trip.

Michele finally found us a hotel in Newport News, VA. It was only about 12 miles from Busch Gardens it was a Days Inn. When you think of a Days Inn when traveling you think of a place with a clean room, possibly a swimming pool and cable TV right? Well, this one had all of that but this particular hotel looked like it would be featured on an episode of COPS. Every undesirable member of society looked like they not only stayed here, but LIVED here. There was not another vacant hotel room within 50 miles so we had to suck it up and stay the night.

We checked in and cringed. Remember how I said we traveled loose? Well we also traveled light. We knew about half way in we would have to do laundry. We hoped to do it at my moms but we didn’t stay long enough. We found a laundromat, Soap N Suds, which just so happens to be one of the top 10 in the country for people that are traveling, according to USA Today. It cost us almost ten bucks to wash and dry a load and took us almost and hour.

We found a pizza place on Google and headed there for dinner. It was almost a half hour drive to the Brickhouse Tavern and it was excellent. They have awesome pizza and wings and they had the Stanley Cup playoffs on. We lingered in the pizza joint for as long as we could before heading back to the hotel.

Staying the night in the Days Inn was, I don’t know if you could call it a highlight or lowest point on the trip. It was awful. Michele and I each slept in our clothes on top of all the blankets on the bed and covered up with the little 3 foot by 3 foot throw she brought with her. The same one we laid on the floor in the airport in Seattle on our first night of the trip which now seems like a decade ago.

We got up as early as we could, showered in a shower that didn’t work too well and were off to the theme park!

Tomorrow: Roller Coaster Tour Day 1

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