Thursday, December 31, 2009

What I did on Christmas

Christmas morning. The year had been heck for wallets, but our area survived the worst of the storm, and we had a respectful amount of consumerism under the tree hand beside the creche. I forgot that word that would have described the situation of the model railroad train. It was a fancy word. There was moderate traffic as we left south towards North Carolina. However, unlike most times of day and night, speeds were close to the speed limit. On the clock, we passed through the Richmond Viaduct 2 hours after crossing the Potomac. Then, we merged off from the venerated I-95 to the more southernly I-85, the direct route to Atlanta. Soon after the significant town of Petersburg, VA, the scenery was distinctly out-of-this-world; there were pines; big tall pines, and forests and fields. There was a drizzle; whether it was snowing in Washington or not I do not know. We pulled over at a ramp and the driver's seat was handed to me. I relied on the flow of traffic to judge an appropriate pace- the speed limit was an astonishing 70mph; the nervous point was when I found it necessary to pass. Not being faster or more aggressive than the other car, but all the places behind bridges and in the cut-thrus that troopers could hide behind. Based on how well an predictable and open the traffic was, I could predict the time of arrival in North Carolina to the minute. I felt like a pilot, free to move about. The rest stop in Virginia was barricaded as part of an effort by the State to be fiscally responsible. I remember how prodding the man behind the counter in Maryland was for me to sign the registry tis past June. I measured from the 21 miles marker; I estimated 19 minutes, or 12:20pm. I wondered what was waiting in Durham for lunch. BBQ? I watched as the numbers slipped down; we crossed the line at 12:21PM, and slowed up for the lower speed limit. At the rest stop, set up in a manner to emphasize hospitality, we picked up maps and a hotel guide. The actual visitor center was closed. There was no guest registry to sign in on. The rain poured harder now; I settled in the back seat with Roger Frock and his account of Federal Express.

Upon arriving in Durham, we found few choices; a Hispanic pub, or, as we drove further, a sandwich shop named International Delights. Indeed, there were what appeared to be international students working on laptops in their booths. The menu was Mediterranean; there was a sign regarding the lack of ketchup. An aberration! Now what was that word that I forgot this morning? I shared a gyro platter for two. Sage tea was presented; the only appropriate thing would be to have a little dessert to go with it: crispy honey rolls. That was delicious. The campuses of the colleges in the Triangle were deserted; we had only buildings and maps to comprehend these universities; Duke, UNC. I'd say more, but the soul of the campuses- were away. The college papers were paused at exams, the grass void of students. As we passed by the numerous research institutes as we headed to the Outer Banks, I quipped that this was a copy-off of Washington's Tech Corridors in Rockville,MD and Reston,VA. No, father replied, this was the original research center with the first internet connections to the government. Past Raleigh and the RDU airport, the environs became increasingly rural and swampy, an appropriate fade-out with the sunset and coming of dark. Dinner was had at a nondescript Chinese takeout place in a nondescript strip mall near a military base; indeed, there would be military bases in every town, or so it seems, from here to the ferry. Past the restaurant, the road was still a freeway; torrents of rain threatened a sudden stop to this day's travels. But we needed to be closer to the ferry. Eventually, past a closed exit, the rain slowed and tapered to a drizzle. It was miles untl we arrived at Morehead City, a mostly summertime place, but with multiple marine bases to bring life in the off season. We passed the nicer hotels and delved across the bridges: there was nothing open. We returned to the Holiday Inn Express, a reliable place that serves breakfast and gives free papers in the morning. I retired early, missing the fact that thre was a computer for free use in the lobby.

Morning comes with the ringing of the alarm clock. We must pack before breakfast to make the ferry. After a hearty breakfast, compliments of the hotel, I threw in a blog post and we left, ever eastward, to the ferry. The increasingly marshy environment was quite genial; there were Kangaroo fuel stops and Piggly Wiggly Groceries and Bojangles, which we don't have up north. There were small inns, fishers and oyster shuckers, and at the end of the road, a queue for the ferry.

This ferry, Cedar Island-Ocracoke,would take 2 hours and some chane, amking it my longest ferry ride. There was not much to do but everything to do: many vistas from the two decks, an enclosed space for private activities. Within a while the ferry from Swanquarter ran paralel for the final hour. Again, there was not much on the island this season save a lighthouse. Photo ops with the local cat and buying groceries from the she-she market were available, though. The next ferry was smaller, and the passenger area was no larger than an intimate dining room: we assembled the sandwiches, and ate them. The ride was compressed to 40 minutes: just enough time for a 'picnic' lunch and a walk around deck. The wind was blowing, and the hallowed beaches of the outer banks were for private enjoyment. Pea Island provided a vista for viewing pelicans and cranes. Evening bore down as we passed the Kitty Hawk site, and its adjacent town of Kill Devil Hills. With bitersweetness, we crossed the bridge back to mainland and drove into Virginia and Hampton Roads. We quickly settled for The Oceanfront Inn in Ocean City, having 'frequent visitor' enticements in the waiting. Dinner was spent in a mediocre sub shop, Zero's, that harked to the sub shop college experience that I don't think I'll have. I was tired, so much so that I fell asleep before the Jurassic Christmas drive-thru lights show on the boardwalk. Granted, the line to enter was long and the automotive pace slower than ideal.

Checkout time was 11am. A quick bike up and down the beach as well as a swim in the warm pool finished our stay. A small petit dejeuner from McD's in anticipation of a buffet lunch. Indeed, the buffet was unimpressive, so we drove off. We saw another buffet, Japanese. It was $12.95 a place, more than our average meal. We took the splurge, and I ate sushi and desserts to my content.

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