On the Road to Florida

Ken and Mary Steinhoff 03-04-2013I had to pull out of Cape on March 4 in order to make it back to West Palm Beach by March 6. As usual, I got a late start. No departure would be complete without taking a final photo before backing out of the driveway.

I think I’m getting better at these photos. Either my arm is getting longer or Mother and I are shrinking in our old age, which makes it possible to get us both in the photo.

Headed across the bridge

Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge 03-04-2013

This is an appropriate bookend to the trip. I posted a photo when Friend Jan made me turn around to get the bridge and the moon in a picture the night we pulled into Cape.

Atlanta skyline and traffic (what else?)

Atlanta skyline and traffic 03-05-2013I left Cape in snow flurries, and woke up in Manchester, Tenn., to rain. By the time I got to Monteagle Pass, the rain had turned into a monsoon and the winds were threatening to blow me across two lanes of traffic. It was hard enough to stay on the road in my Odyssey van. I don’t know how an empty 18-wheeler could have handled it.

I hoped to get an Oink Moo Burger at Dave’s Modern Tavern, but it wasn’t open. A woman in a nearby business recommended an Italian joint just down the road. Their pizza was excellent. Just as I was switching from my eating glasses to my seeing glasses to pay the bill, the left side of the frame came apart and dropped my lens on the carpet. Fortunately, there was a CVS drugstore next door where I could buy a replacement screw. A helpful women at the checkout counter put the screw back in for me since I couldn’t see to do it.

All of this piddling around put me into Atlanta at rush hour. I hadn’t planned to take another photo of a traffic jam in my favorite city, but we were stopped and the skyline was interesting. I think all the cold weather may have caused the lube in the camera mirror mechanism to stiffen up. I had a few frames with dark tops a couple of days ago, and the gremlin struck again here. While I wouldn’t mind some kind of out-of-this-world General Sherman coming down to devour Atlanta, that was simply not happening here.

Crawfish at Bubba Jax

Crawfish at Bubba Jax in Valdosta GA 03-06-2013I get odd cravings on the road. For some reason, I had a hankering for Dairy Queen’s chicken strips with white gravy and a Blizzard for desert. A sign promised at DQ in Valdosta, but I couldn’t spot it. As luck would have it, I opted to make a U-turn into Bubba Jax Crab Shack. It was a nondescript kind of place, but there was a fair number of cars in the lot, so I decided to take a chance. A chalkboard at the entrance said they had a special on crayfish.

I love Cajun forms of crawfish, so I placed an order without asking how they were served. While waiting for my order to arrive, I saw plate after plate of lightly battered fried oysters and onion rings walk by. I was wondering if I had made a mistake.

When the server placed a bunch of red shells in front of me, I was sure I had. “This is embarrassing,” I confessed. “I’ve shucked oysters, peeled shrimp and cracked crabs, but I’ve never tackled crawdads before. How do I attack these beasts?”

She said, “I’m not exactly sure. I know you eat the tails and some folks suck out the insides from the top, but they’re not exactly my thing.”

When she came back, I suggested that she put these on the menu as the Dieter’s Special “because you burn more calories peeling them you gain in consuming the critters.” I got better and faster, but I sure wish I had ordered the oysters. I’m going to put crayfish on the list of things like crunchy rock shrimp I’m going to avoid as being too much work.

Lunch with the grandsons

Elliot Steinhoff 03-07-2013While I was out of town, Grandson Graham turned 2, and Elliot was added to the family on February 4. Parents Adam and Carly asked if I wanted to meet them for lunch at a hamburger joint on March 7. Are you kidding? This was my first glimpse of Elliot. I’d have shot more photos except that he was sound asleep. I learned with Graham that you do NOT want to have a screaming awake baby on your hands. I had forgotten they don’t come with a mute switch.

Graham’s a big boy now

Graham Steinhoff eating hamburger 03-07-2013There’s nothing like having a newborn in the family to make a two-year-old look like a big boy. It’s incredible how much more he’s talking than when I last saw him about six weeks ago. Grandson Malcolm, who is eight, is almost as tall as his grandmother, and looks like he’s going to be asking for the car keys in another week or two.

Graham, even after getting a spit-shine from his mother, is still wearing a significant portion of his lunch. (You can, as always, click on the photos to make them larger.)




Monteagle Pass Surprises

I’ve hinted that my 2000 Honda Odyssey is getting a bit long in the tooth. When I was in Cape the summer of 2011, I had to have a rebuilt transmission dropped into the van by LeGrand Bros. Transmissions for $3,498.34. This trip home, I felt an unusual vibration in the front end. Plaza Tire was enriched by $700 to replace the left front axle (I sort of like the idea of my front wheels staying on at 75 mph), new struts and an alignment. It sure made the car ride much better.

About 10 miles south of Manchester, Tenn., on the Friday I headed back to Florida, my Check Engine light came on. That didn’t scare me because my catalytic converter is overdue for replacement. Then the TCS (Traction Control System) light came on. That’s not what you want to see if you are going to have to go over the Eastern Continental Divide, but the car was running fine and I soldiered on to the peak of Monteagle Pass in Tennessee (elevation 1,923 feet).

I pulled into the parking lot of one of my favorite stores, Mountain Outfitters, and called LeGrand for advice (I have an extended warranty). They suggested I take it to one of the shops in their nationwide network. Unfortunately, they didn’t show any in my next big town, Chattanooga. They said it would be a good idea to see if anyone could read the computer error codes that turned the light on to see if the problem was serious. (You can click on the photos to make them larger.)

Monteagle Tire & Auto Service

Fortunately, right across the street was Monteagle Tire and Auto Service. I had stopped in there on an earlier trip when the van was mysteriously blowing fuses that would cause the car not to shift out of park, would keep the cruise control from working and would black out the brake lights.

I walked up to the counter and asked if somebody could read my error codes. A nice guy pulled my car into the bay, hooked up a gizmo under the dash and promptly reported that the only code showing was for the converter. He reset the warning lights and backed the car out. With some trepidation, I asked, “How much do I owe you>”

Let’s put this in perspective. If I had pulled into a Honda dealership, that three-minute process would have cost me $95 plus tax (based on experience). Here I am, on a mountain in Tennessee, miles from a big city and in a vehicle with Florida tags. If that’s not a license to steal, I don’t know what is.

Nice Guy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.” I slipped him a twenty and felt fortunate.

Looking for lunch

With the car problem out of the way (I hoped), I poked around the Mountain Outfitters. If I lived where it was cold, I’d have walked out with lots of cool stuff, but temptation was averted. I asked the cashier if there was a good place to eat other than the Smoke House, which used to be good but had been disappointing the past couple of stops.

He recommended Dave’s Modern Tavern, just east of the Interstate by about a mile. He liked their fried green tomato BLT, which would have pleased Wife Lila, but isn’t my thing. His second choice was the Oink Moo Burger, a Hereford patty topped with pulled pork, caramelized onions and Gorgonzola cheese. Huge homemade potato chips came as a side. Instead of drenching the pulled pork with BBQ sauce, it was served as a side. The sandwich was WONDERFUL. Juicy without being sloppy. When I’m hungry, I’m more interested in eating than pictures, so I made do with this semi-fuzzy shot with my cellphone.

I ordered a cup of lobster bisque for an appetizer. It’s described as having a “hint” of brandy. If I had ordered a bowl, I’d have probably blown over the legal limit if I’d have been pulled over.

Donna Smith of Monteagle Tire

On the way out of town, I stopped back at Monteagle Tire to tell owner Donna Smith how much I appreciated their great service. She said that she and her husband moved to Monteagle in 1987 and opened the service shop about 10 years ago. When he died, she stopped providing wrecker service, but the store is spotless, well-stocked and her employees are friendly and helpful.

All of the delays cut into the time I would usually have spent stopping at Larry’s Army / Navy at the next exit down. There are plenty of excuses to pull your car over to let it cool down after the long climb through the Pass.