Trip 1/ Day 4: Roanoke to Charlotte to Los Angeles

BBQ-Carolina-Crockpot-lrgThe driving was starting to wear on us.  The lack of sleep and nutrition also began taking its toll.  We had been having an experience of a lifetime, but starting with no sleep on Wednesday night and waking up after 6 hours in a roadside motel did not fit what had become my “Hollywood” lifestyle – heads were aching and stomachs were churning.  Nevertheless, we grabbed more coffee and charged on.

We were headed to Charlotte to see the Carolina Panthers play against the Cleveland Browns.  If I were a pro football fan, the Browns would be my team and Ronnie had grown up going to their games, so we were excited to see them play.  Given that we were back in North Carolina though, we had to stop for some BBQ.  We went to the legendary LEXINGTON BARBEQUE.  You can learn all you need to know about Lexington BBQ by checking out their Yelp reviews http://www.yelp.com/biz/lexington-barbecue-lexington-2.  It is the capital of BBQ in the capital of Carolina BBQ.  Slaw on the sandwich is a good choice.

After finding the stadium we bought tickets for less than face value on the 45-yard line.  Better than their position on the field though was their location under cover.  The Trip was faced with its first inclement weather.  Not to worry.  The Magic of The Trip would make it so our seats randomly purchased were the first row under cover.  The Panthers won what ended up being a somewhat uneventful game.  Jake Delhomme, quietly, had an efficient day passing, but for not a lot of yards.  http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/recap?gameId=261008029 We were disappointed by the Browns loss, but The Trip had been a lot of fun and it was time to get to the airport.

We had driven 1800 miles, flown across the country twice, one of which was a redeye, seen 4 football games, and eaten a ton of BBQ, drank our share of beer, gallons of coffee and played a round of golf.  This was the way to kick off the tradition.  There was price however.  I landed in Los Angeles after exactly 96 hours away and drove right to the emergency room at UCLA.   My chest was pounding and I didn’t want to mess around.  15 minutes later we had determined that I had a case of too much coffee, beer, driving, golf, football, flying and BBQ.  A good night’s rest would cure all and I would be ready to tell the story.

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Trip 1/ Day 3: Nashville to Columbus to Roanoke

day3nashvillecolumbusroanokeWe were crunched for time and headed out early, as Saturday would begin with a 6-hour drive. The goal was to make it to Columbus not only in time for the traditional pre-game festivities, but also to see my sister who was in the hospital at Ohio State.  If we were pressed for time and thought we would miss kick-off then we would try to see my sister after the game or when I was back in Ohio another time.  Another time would surely present itself as we were young and there was no reason to think otherwise, so we drove and would make a game time decision.

Originally our plan was to see Ohio State play Bowling Green in the afternoon and then race to Athens to see Ohio University play that night.  Ohio University changed the start time of their game – dashing our hopes for what would become known as the “elusive double.”  For now, we would settle on seeing our Buckeyes play and head back south.

We made it to Columbus in time to see my sister.  We walked into the hospital at the Ohio State University in full scarlet and gray regalia – when you are seeing your hometown team, you do not mess around and have one guy wear the other team’s hat as at neutral games – and the woman at the front desk without a hint of irony asked us who we were rooting for.  I smiled at Ronnie and we chalked it up to her being another Character we would meet on The Trip.

I didn’t know it, but it was going to be the last time I saw my sister (she died from a brain aneurism a week later).  There are times in your life when you wish you could hold on for just a bit longer.  I hugged her and it seemed like the right amount of time, but maybe holding on one more second may have been more right.  You never know.  She was done holding on though.  She had held on and fought with every ounce of her being for 18 years and a week after this visit, she couldn’t hold on any longer.  (For insight on a life not fully lived, check out my eulogy for her below.)

What I have learned in the time since Melissa died is that time is all we have.  Every moment is precious.  If I had not come up with this crazy Trip or the idea to see all of these teams, I would not have seen her before she died.  It is easy to sit on the couch and watch football on a Saturday.  It is more fun and more rewarding however to get off the couch, and feel the rush of energy when you are truly pursuing something worthwhile.  These trips not only occupy 4 days during the fall, but also year-round when conversations, stories and planning happen.  Having a passion or hobby and the pursuit thereof, makes the living worthwhile.  College football sounds meaningless to some, but to me it brings energy and excitement.

The last time Ohio State lost to another team from Ohio was 1921 when they lost to Oberlin College.  We did not think that this game was going to break an 85 year-old streak, but there is nothing that compares to game day at Ohio Stadium.  We made it over to the parking lot to meet some friends and see the line at the Varsity Club.  They do more business on 6 home Saturdays than the rest of the year combined.  http://www.myvarsityclub.com/.  As one would expect, Ohio State made efficient, quick-work out of the Falcons.  I always enjoy a Buckeye win no matter the opponent so it was a good day. (http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/recap?gameId=262800194)  I like to think that Kyle (day-2-winston-salem-to-nashville) had a good day too.  As the crowd turned into a frenzied mass cheering on the band as they entered the stadium, I dialed Kyle’s number and held up the phone so he cold hear the noise of a Big Ten stadium.  Kyle, if you are out there, I hope you got what you needed from that brief bit of white noise at the other end of the line.  Keep dreaming big and keep painting yourself blue.

That game also started an incredible run for us on The Trip.  We didn’t know it, but we saw a Heisman Trophy winner and BCS Championship game participant that day.  On our 5 The Trips, we have seen 3 Heisman winners and 4 BCS Championship game participants (3 winners).  IN addition we have seen 4 other BCS Bowl participants and tons of individual player award winners.

After the game we got in the car and hit BW3.  This is an Ohio staple that has grown into a national chain.  In college I lived equidistant to their two campus locations and frequented them both often.  On Tuesdays they always had a 10 cent Wing promotion and sometimes, wings were my lunch and dinner on Tuesday nights. We were just getting started on laying the groundwork for lots of eating on future travels.  After some tasty wings and flavors and smells that reminded of more carefree days, we headed back south.

We were disappointed that the Ohio University game was moved to earlier un the day, our one game per day pace was too slow.  We needed more football, but we would have to wait.  Our next game was tomorrow in North Carolina and we were in Ohio.  (I think we should get a map and a compass before planning another adventure like this.)  It got dark quickly and we were on long stretches of highway with no lights other than our own headlights.  Given the desolation, we thought it would be a no-brainer to find a motel for the night.  After several hours of driving and being turned away from at least 5 roadside hotels I was starting to feel like Ronnie and I were a young black couple in the Jim Crow south.  Every time I walked up to a hotel, I could see the sign change from “Vacancy” to “No Vacancy.”

At some point after midnight we arrived at a Holiday Inn Express near Roanoke, VA.  Did we really start the day in Nashville, drive to Columbus watch some football then end up in Roanoke, VA?  Yep.  Had to, more BBQ and football was on tap for Sunday.  Sleep sounded good.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

My Eulogy for Melissa:

Melissa and I were 11 months apart.  Once, we were asked by an adult how old were.  On cue, without looking at each other, we responded in unison with a sing-songy tone “12.

Every August, we were the same age.  During that month each year, I looked forward to getting on the phone with Melissa and reliving that moment with our current age inserted.    No matter her state of mind, I could see her huge toothy smile through the phone.  Her laughter, although it wasn’t heard enough, was infectious and came from such a genuine place inside of her.

When Melissa was on my mind a lot for one reason or another, I would have dreams where we missed the call, but I would wake up feeling relieved that it was only a dream and Melissa and I would laugh about it.

This year, for the first time in 25 years, we didn’t have that conversation.  I have felt somewhat empty ever since.

I saw her last Saturday in the hospital, she was both feeling and looking great, and we laughed about missing the call.  Without saying so we gave each other a look like we both knew that we wouldn’t let it happen again.  Sadly, now it won’t.

That somewhat empty feeling I had will stay with me forever, but luckily so will the laugh and smile we shared about it last week.

Great memories from our youth are plentiful: from coloring on the walls in our blue basement to playing on the same little league team to our walks together in more recently.  This time of year brings strong recollections of going apple picking, one of our favorite family activities and we spoke of it often.

At summer camp we would take care of each other and as counselors, sometimes spent our nights off together.  As an athlete she was without peer, excelling at a variety of sports but never focusing on one enough to play at a higher level.  This didn’t bother her at all.  Her very last game as a little leaguer she took the mound for the Braves and pitched.  She didn’t think it was odd that a girl was pitching, she just went out and pitched.   Last Thursday, she even played my dad in Basketball and whipped him in HORSE.

Occasionally in high school, I would go and watch her basketball practice and even referee their scrimmages.  No one hustled more than she did.  I don’t think the varsity won more than 6 games in all 4 years she was on the team but she never complained and the camaraderie that she shared on these teams was something that meant a great deal to her.  A favorite memory of mine was the walk with my family through the Academy after my baseball games down to the track to see Melissa grind out another run.

Her varied interests included all of these sports, plus animals, yoga, piano and a ridiculous ability to learn languages.  This skill made her a tough scrabble foe and the word scrambles in the paper were no match for her.

Few people in this world are capable of handling a situation like this.  The emotional and physical strain that this has caused my family has been tremendous.

Mom, how you managed to keep it together for so long is both unimaginable and inspiring at the same time.  Your dedication to Melissas care and lifestyle while wrangling dad, being a successful professional, mother to me and loving grandmother; sets an example that others should emulate.

When traveling to see Melissa you even learned how to stay in crappy hotels – you brought your own sheets, but you were a trooper.

I cannot think of a time over the past 37 years with whatever chaos was occurring that the dinner plates didn’t hit the table at the appropriate hour.  I hope that even in the face of Melissa’s death you will celebrate her life by now taking care of yourself.  No one deserves it more.

Dad – I hope that you, too, are able to regain that twinkle in your eyes that you used to have.  I know that Melissa’s situation has forced you to internalize a lot and I look forward to walking into the house again and hearing you humming or singing.  It has been far too long.  You have always managed to find the bright side of things and I hope that you can retain that perspective in spite of this.

Grandma, Since I remember you giving us baths together as kids, you have been so supportive of Melissa You were her rock and provided a true sense of consistency in her world.  She got such pleasure from her time with you and cherished the weeks she spent with you this spring.

Our extended family has been so helpful and supportive over the years.  My parents and I feel blessed and loved.  The community in Columbus has been remarkable and we are appreciative of all you have done and continue to do for us.

Missy, as she was known then was a good friend to have and she was universally liked.  However, in the past several years she lacked the confidence and ability to maintain or make new friendships.

It is a shame that someone with so much to give was forced by her illness to take so much more than she could offer.  Rest assured that this was not something that she would have chosen for herself.  Proof of her giving until the very end; some of Melissa’s organs were donated.

We take great solace and pride in the fact that she was able to save other lives and give others experiences that she might not have been able to have herself.

Some of life’s simplest pleasures like picking up the phone and hearing an old friend’s voice, sharing a good meal or memorable experience were things that she appreciated, but were not part of her everyday life.  It is a tragedy that she missed out on these things.

In my opinion, tragedy does not come in her death at such a young age, but rather that the world never got a chance to see her warmth, charm and intellect contribute to a society so in need of those qualities.

Thankfully, after so many years of internal struggle and torture, I am confident that Melissa has finally found peace.

 

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Trip 1/ Day 2: Winston Salem to Nashville

Day2.WinstonSalem.NashvilleThe Friday of the first The Trip was all about the drive.  We had to get from Winston-Salem, NC to Nashville, TN in time to see University of Louisville and Middles Tennessee State University play in LP Field the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

It is a 7-hour drive and while on the road we also went to look for the “World’s Largest Milk Carton.” This was supposed to be a roadside attraction that was supposed to be along the way.  It was not where it was supposed to be.  I cannot begin to tell you my disappointment…

When we finally arrived in Nashville, we ran to the ticket window bought great tickets from a woman in line who had extra seats.  Further supporting our position that good tickets are always waiting for us on The Trip.  In addition to the good vantage point from which to watch the game, these tickets also provided us with Kyle.

Kyle would become the stuff of legend and when The Trip has a “People We Meet Along The Way” Hall of Fame, he will be our first inductee.  He started talking to us right when we walked in.  Ronnie was wearing a Middle Tennessee State hat and since we arrived seconds after kick-off. Kyle, an MTSU senior, immediately started talking to Ronnie about what “we” did on the kick-off.  Ronnie explained that we were there for The Trip and he wasn’t really “we” and Kyle instantly became a The Trip fan.  He called his girlfriend (soon to be fiancée) and insisted that he be allowed to do trips like ours when he was older.  At half time we bought Kyle and his other not-yet-legal-and covered in blue body paint buddies a beer.   Adding to the list of scalping tickets, and speeding as our illegal acts on The Trip.  Not much, but pretty crazy for a couple suburban Jews in the south. Later in the game he got on the phone with my wife and commend her for allowing such a thing to occur on her watch.

Toward the end of the game, Kyle told us about his grand vision for Middle Tennessee State – how their school was going to improve so much athletically and academically that within five years they would replace Vanderbilt in the Southeast Conference.  Here we are five years later and while I admire Kyle’s pluck, I don’t see MTSU changing their Facebook Status anytime soon.

Louisville beat Middle Tennessee State http://www.cardchronicle.com/2006/10/8/164440/190 in what ultimately became a one-sided game.  Louisville was an unexpected surprise. They had talent and speed and ultimately finished a very impressive 12 and 1 ended the season with a number 6 ranking.

We were unable to escape to our hotel before Kyle gave us his cell phone number.  He had never been to a game in as big of a stadium as we would see tomorrow and asked that we call him so he could hear the sounds of the stadium.  He was the first of many characters we will meet on our The Trip, but he got “it” right away.  This is something special and Kyle helped us see that.

Next stop: Columbus, OH – a “home game.”

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Trip 1/ Day 1: “The Trip” starts here…Los Angeles to Raleigh to Winston Salem

Day One- Los Angeles to Raleigh to Winston SalemOctober 2006 would represent the first of what is now become known as The Trip.  On Wednesday night (Thursday Morning) I took a redeye to Chicago from LA and Ronnie – not yet, living in LA – joined me for the last leg of the flight to Raleigh.

First stop was Ole Time BBQ. Where we learned that North Carolina BBQ is all about the pork and their sauce is vinegar based.  There are also two distinct styles.  Eastern Carolina with vinegar, salt and pepper being the staples and Western Carolina with a ketchup type sauce added to the Eastern style.  Also, the western style really only uses the shoulder, not the whole hog.  Ole Time was a strong introduction.

We then hit Tobacco Road for a round of golf.  The course is totally tricked out.  Our twosome went through 3-dozen balls.  One hole is has such a big blind spot that you had to ring a bell when it was safe for the group behind you to hit.  On the way back into town for our pre-game – we  tried the regional staple Brunswick stew, historically made with any kind of meet you can find, squirrel, possum, etc.  Not sure what was in ours but it was good. (for Paula Dean’s recipe click here)

Upon arriving at the stadium, we parked and made the mistake of leaving our pre-printed Stadium map.  One would think this is not a huge deal – in most stadiums it wouldn’t be.  It is an aid that gives us an idea of where the good seats are for talking to ticket scalpers, but once you figure out what sections are in the middle of the stadium, you can figure out where you want to be for the game.  Well for Carter-Finley Stadium at North Carolina State University, it is an essential tool as for some illogical reason their sections are not in numbered order.  This hampered our ability in the early stages of the ticket search to figure out where we wanted to be.  However, we did make a transaction and it set the tone for ticket purchases on subsequent trips.

We ended up on the 40-yard line for less than face value and saw some really good football.  The Florida State Seminoles were in town.  In addition to learning about some southern college football traditions, we were able to observe Bobby Bowden, the legendary coach.  He had someone following him the entire time holding his headset.  When he had a thought that he wanted to share with another coach he would ask for the headset yell something then take it off, neither waiting for an answer nor realizing that there was an easier way to do it.  The handwriting was on the wall then that Bobby B had lost it.  Was separate from most of the team and coaches, did not seem like he was involved.

This was not our first experience of football in the south – a year prior, we had been to Jacksonville for what has became known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” the Florida/Georgia game – but this was first on campus experience.  We have come to learn that each school has its own quirky cheers and traditions.  At NC State whenever the Wolfpack get a first down, the fans yell.  Every school in the south loves when their band plays “Sweet Caroline” and screaming “Bah, Bah, Bah” after the words “Sweet Caroline” is a rite of passage for college students throughout the sunbelt.

The game was back and forth with the speed of the players impressing the most. http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/recap?gameId=262780152.  NC State wan and since I was assigned Florida State to cheer for, it was my first of many defeats on The Trip.

After the game we drove to Winston-Salem to get a jump on our next day of driving.  We were in the heart of ACC basketball country.  I wanted to figure out a way to get into Cameron Indoor Arena for a look around or to check out the Dean Dome, but we still had 1500 mile to cover and lots of BBQ to eat.

24 hours after departing Los Angeles, we were at our hotel, not knowing we had completed the first day of what was to become many memorable trips.

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Trip 5/ Day 4: Auburn, AL to Atlanta to Los Angeles

Day Four- Auburn, AL to Atlanta to LAThe last day of The Trip usually provides for some exhausted reflection.  In the first few years, we used to attend an NFL game in the area.  Now we generally forgo the game for one more glutenous meal before the flight home.  This year, we stopped at Waffle House (MY ALL TIME FAVORITE…I like it because the enjoyabilty of the food is in inverse relationship to the cleanliness.) and then headed for the Atlanta Airport.

The Trip #5 started with me seeing Greg Raymer a pseudo-poker celebrity at O’Hare and ended on a flight home with me sitting in front of Jared a pseudo-sandwich celebrity. I smiled to myself thinking that Raymer could go on Jared’s diet and then realized that I had probably consumed 20,000 calories the previous 3.5 days and that I best keep my thoughts to myself.  We had driven nearly 1500 miles, met some interesting characters and eaten some amazing food; the early mishap of missing our flight felt as though it was years ago…

77 teams down / 43 to go!

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Trip 5/ Day 3: Nashville to Auburn, AL (Part 2)

NashvilletoAuburn2.post52 hours later we pulled in to Auburn, AL.  This being The Trip, we naturally found parking within sight of the stadium.  Also in view, was Momma Goldberg’s Deli.  What?  Really?  A place named after my mother in the middle of Auburn, Alabama? We would definitely have to hit that place later, but there was business to tend to.

The people that we meet along the way turn into a legendary of characters that we talk about for weeks, even years after The Trip.  We think, because there are three of us rather than four or two, there is always an odd man out that is talking to someone outside of our trio that affords us the chance to introduce a new player into our stories.  Our next new acquaintances were no exception.

We were struggling to find tickets at a fair price (a common occurrence on our big game Saturdays, but patience always prevails).  After searching and trying all of the tricks we have learned over the years, we met John and Dean.  Of course, the only reason I remember their names is because I think of John Dean the former White House Counsel and Watergate player.  John was a big Auburn donor and Dean was his sidekick.  They were reminiscent of Lenny and George from “Of Mice and Men.”  John was big and aloof and Dean was there to be his straight man.

They were stuck with 3 extra tickets at the last minute and had employed the services of a ticket scalping pro.  We met the pro lingering outside the stadium earlier and he approached us with his new merchandise.  John and Dean were desperate and we once again secured seats on the 50-yard line for less than face value.  John was so drunk that he was thrilled with the transaction.  During the game after we got to know them, John said, “Well if I had known you were in town for a trip like this, I only would have only charged you face value for the tickets.”  I didn’t dare tell him that he had given me a better deal than that already and quickly changed the subject.

The game did not disappoint.  It featured the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, several first round draft picks and the best two teams in the SEC.  The final score was 65-43 and was a thrill ride (http://scores.espn.go.com/ncf/recap?gameId=302890002).  The pageantry of the stadium, fans and band were exactly what one expects form big time football in the south – palpable passion and perspective on the game that is borderline ”life or death”! A treat was “Dreamland” nachos a favorite stop of ours from a previous trip to Alabama.  Their BBQ sauce and meat covering some chips…

After the game I headed over to Momma Goldberg’s Deli.  I was in there a while as they were amazed that my name was Goldberg and I had to meet a few people after showing my driver’s license.  It wasn’t clear if they were surprised that my name was Goldberg or if they had never seen a Jew before.  I returned to the parking lot where Ronnie and Lee were tailgating with John and Dean to find that John had bartered a bottle of Maker’s Mark for a satellite signal.  He thought it was important since Ohio State was number one that we all watch the Ohio State v. Wisconsin game together.  We watched the first half with John, Dean and their borrowed satellite signal.

At halftime, we were ready to explore more of the area surrounding the stadium.  We asked our new friends which way to go.  We were told to go up the street we were on and then “take a left at the toilet paper.”  After heading up the road we looked at each other and wondered why we didn’t question that last comment.  I have heard many a strange thing, but never have been told to turn left at the toilet paper, but we forged on…

Toomer’s Corner is a grove of trees that after an Auburn football win gets covered in massive amounts of toilet paper.  It is a spectacle – I now know why there is never any toilet paper in a public rest room when you need it.  It is not the most environmentally friendly tradition, but it is fun to see people young and old hurling the stuff.  http://toomerscorner.com/

We found a bar watched the end of the Wisconsin game in disgust and drowned our sorrows in some burgers from Five Guys – a place we don’t have out west.  They were outstanding and the perfect punctuation to a good day of eating and football.

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Trip 5/ Day 3: Nashville to Auburn, AL (Part 1)

Pig Stand

We got in our car and realized our hotel was in the shadows of Vanderbilt Stadium, Dudley Field.  A perfect location had that been the game we were going to see.  Instead of a 3-minute walk to the stadium that was staring us in the face, we had a 300-mile drive ahead of us to Auburn, Alabama.  We wanted to get there in time for the full game day experience so we had to leave at 7:30 in order to have time to stop for some BBQ.  Armed with coffee and our appetites restored we hit the road.

About 2 hours from Nashville is Decatur, AL and Big Bob Gibson’s.  We arrived just as they were opening and quickly realized that we were in Alabama country. They did not take kindly to two of us wearing the colors of the hated Auburn Tigers.  We explained the story of The Trip and that Auburn was merely a stop on the journey.  Realizing that we were not who they thought we were, but rather people masquerading as people who they thought we were, we received excellent service.

Sidebar: Why the hats??

In addition to helping me get to the goal of all 120 schools, the trips serve many purposes.  There is the football, bbq, cultural experiences and …the wagering.  It is not your typical Vegas style wagering, but rather the kinds of bets governors make during a superbowl. (http://tinyurl.com/4n8wc23).

In the weeks leading up to The Trip, I order hats.  Two hats representing the home team and one representing the visiting team and they indicate which team one of us is required to cheer for during the game and are chosen at random.  After many years of this I have acquired and given many payoffs in these wagers including, a bale of cotton from Mississippi, Osmond Family 8 Track Cassettes from Utah and rack of baby back ribs from Alabama.  The wagers serve not only as another thing to debate throughout the weekend’s car rides but the mementos also provide lasting tangible memories of a great time.

This The Trip, Lee won the Louisville/Cincinnati game representing the University of Cincinnati.  His prize was a customized mini Louisville Slugger with his name etched into it.  The annual award presentation generally happens at Thanksgiving.  This year, I lost every game so I did all of the giving and none of the receiving.  Not sure it is true that it is better to give than receive, but I was thankful anyway.

We were not hungry at all when less than half a mile after pulling out of Big Bob Gibson’s, The Pig Stand caught our eye. So that called for an impromptu stop. Neither the ribs nor the chicken were worth the trip.  The sauce was too sweet for my taste – I also think we were really full… This was all an appetizer for the weekend’s big game, Arkansas @ Auburn, where we were headed next.

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The Best BBQ?

TheBestBBQI would like to take a break from the break I have been taking and write about a subject near and dear to my heart – BBQ.  As I crisscross the country experiencing college football, one of the many great pleasures is finding good BBQ.

The Internet makes it very easy to research tasty destinations and there are many sources.  I do not think The Trip would do so well on the local fare if when rolling into a town we had to find a yellow pages and hope for the best.  As our friends at www.feedthemonster.com do, I think it is important to express yourself in an entertaining manner and irreverently comment on places that you have eaten.  I also think that just because someone famous has been there, it does not mean that you are in need of seeking it out as a culinary institution.  As I have said before in these pages – shows like “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives,” visit restaurants that make good TV, not necessary good food.  I have experienced enough Triple D spots to know that this is very much the case.

Also, I find top ten lists difficult to gauge and they are inconsistent due to multiple opinions of multiple writers.  A perfect example of this is a recent BBQ list put together by www.localeats.com.  Their list (http://tinyurl.com/cv38whf) of top BBQ joints has many errors/omissions and lapses in judgment that never would have been had they been with us on any of The Trips.  Having eaten in over a dozen on their list, I thought it was within my purview to comment.

First though, a little background: We only go to BBQ shacks on The Trip that have two or fewer locations.  If a place has too slick of a website, then they spend too much time on that, and not enough rubbing the meat or smoking it.  If a place has a screen door, then it for sure warrants a visit.  If it is coming off of its hinges, then even better.  Plates are also optional.  The best places in Texas serve their meats on white or brown butcher paper.  Now that you have context, some thoughts:

I was already pretty worked up when I received Ronnie’s response to the LocalEats list: “I have no use for a list that has Dreamland and Lexington BBQ as honorable mention.”   I must say that I could not agree more.  I like that they were observant enough to specify that you have to go to Dreamland’s original location, but both it and Lexington have to be near the top of in any comprehensive list of BBQ spots.  Lee was quick to point out that Pappy’s Smokehouse did not belong on the list and I am right there with him on that point.  Another one that should be stricken from the record is Blue Smoke.  It is given honorable mention credit on this list and I do not believe it even deserves to be on this second tier.  It is in New York City, so it should not lose points for having a solid front door, but it was one of the most disappointing BBQ experiences I have had – probably due to the anticipation.  It was like meeting a super model you have dreamed of your whole life then kissing her only to find that she has terrible breath.  I am also not discrediting it for being so far north.  The Pittsburgh BBQ Company is further north than you would expect to fine good BBQ and they do an outstanding job on both their meats and their sides.

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas is one of those places visited by Guy Fieri that does not deserve to be mentioned among the better BBQ joints.  The meat required sauce (it should taste good with out) and was not as moist as it should be – they get a 10 for ambience though.  In its place, I would put The Smoking Pig, a family run joint in Pendleton, South Carolina.  I will write more about this when I get to posting about The Trip we took to Clemson last fall, but suffice to say, it is outstanding and they couldn’t be friendlier.

Many props to the guys at LocalEats though as I would imagine they had some pretty full stomachs and satisfied taste buds after making these rounds.  Good job, too, for making sure Snow’s made it on the list.  It is a tough one to hit, as they are only open on Saturday and they close when they run out of meat – which could be as early as lunchtime.

I hope this saves you some time on your next BBQ jaunt.   Thanks for listening…

 

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Trip 5/ Day 2: Charleston, WV to Louisville to Nashville (Part 2)

kentucky-folk-artAn hour later, we were in Louisville.  We headed towards Papa John’s Stadium and the University of Louisville Cardinals vs. the University of Cincinnati Bearcats game.  A rivalry of two Big East schools that has its roots firmly planted in Basketball.  The proximity of the two schools to one another made this well attended by both home and visitors and their colors being the same, you could not tell from far away who most of the supporters were rooting for.  Parking was also difficult.  It was getting to be game time and we circled the stadium with no luck.  We found a spot at a lot just as the attendant was closing up to go to the game himself.  We told him our story about The Trip.  The story got us a spot for free right by his car and we walked towards the lights of the stadium – the magic of The Trip still intact.  It was about to be kick off and we were hitting the intersection of “get your tickets now AND I’m giving these things away because the game is about to start.”  We bought good seats for less than face value and headed in.

Our image of Louisville as a “basketball School” was turned on its ear a bit when we walked in and were reminded that Johnny Unitas was a Louisville Cardinal.  Tom Jackson and a few others have their jerseys retired there, but at the end of the day, this was a stop on the way to Saturday’s SEC game.  The stadium lacked charm and there is no real tradition to speak of.  The game itself (http://tinyurl.com/6yhpgrw) was actually exciting and we were surprised by the passion of the fans from both schools.  Cincinnati pulled it out and we were about to leave, but not before trying some Papa John’s Pizza – it’s the name of the stadium after all.  Pizza was average, but at least I can say I have tried it.

We hit the road toward Nashville our stop for the night.  Nashville is in the central time zone allowing us an extra hour to get to our destination before it closed.  The time change also allowed Lee and I to wish Ronnie “Happy Birthday” twice as our trip produced two separate midnights.  Like 8 year olds at the bowling alley we sang and instead of cake, we were about to get Ronnie’s version – more fried chicken.

Prince’s Hot Chicken (http://tinyurl.com/5uwvyj) in Nashville closes at 2am on Friday nights so our 1am arrival was not a problem.  We joined the post bar crowd there and placed an order for one piece of mild and one piece of hot.  It was either too late or we were completely full from the countless other meals of the day, but that little order packed a punch.  The mild would be considered spicy at any other place I have ever been.  The hot was VERY spicy, but not so much that it overwhelmed the chicken.  They have it all figured out at Prince’s.  It was an outstanding way to end an extremely long day.  Two recommendations: 1. It is safest to go during daylight hours if you can. And 2. Order lemonade – it works better with the spice than something carbonated.

We arrived at the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University at 2am to first hiccup of “the trip.”  There were no rooms available with enough beds for the three of us.  It was too late for any arguments.  We paid for an extra room and moved on.  In 5 hours we would be on the road…again.

 

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Trip 5/ Day 2: Charleston, WV to Louisville to Nashville (Part 1)

timezoneWe got going early to head to Kentucky.  On the way though, we had to stop at Hillbilly Hotdogs (http://www.hillbillyhotdogs.com) not because any of us were hungry for hot dogs at our body clock time of 8 am, but rather to prove my theory.  My theory that the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives picks restaurants that makes good TV not good food.  Unfortunately, my theory continues to be true.  Hillbilly Hotdogs is very over-rated.  The hot dogs were nothing special nor were the toppings.  More importantly though, it disappoints from an authenticity standpoint – everything seemed as though they were trying a bit too hard to be Hillbilly instead of just being Hillbilly.  Being from Ohio, I know a thing or two about Hillbilly and this seemed like combination of PT Barnum and Walt Disney’s vision of Appalachia.  Not only that, but considering our country’s obesity problem, seeing your average American couple sharing a meal called a “homewrecker” is not the best way to start a long day.  I can honestly say, on the road of life, skip the Hillbilly Hotdogs detour.

The drive out of West Virginia and into Eastern Kentucky is a picturesque one through rolling hills.  We wound our way to Morehead, KY, the home of Morehead State University and the Kentucky Folk Art Center – our next stop.  (http://www2.moreheadstate.edu/kfac/)  Why?  Good question.  Ronnie has something going on with his friends from Chicago about stick chickens.  It is some inexplicable inside joke; that is better left just that, unexplained.  However, this seemed the perfect spot to pick up some stick chickens, which I later learned became a wedding present.  I can only imagine the bride’s glowing face we she opened the box, “look honey, a stick chicken!”  They had some cool looking things and my cousin collects folk art so I picked up some small items in the gift shop for her and my kids.  My daughter now has a nightlight that illuminates a small painted piece of folk art from Kentucky.  I don’t think she cares, nor does she have much need for a nightlight anymore, but each time I see the glowing light in her room, I remember a great road trip.

From there it was off to Keeneland and some horse racing.  Keeneland is a charming place in Kentucky horse country that has a three-week racing schedule every fall and we happen to be driving through right in the middle. (www.keeneland.com).  Imagine SEC football type passion applied to horses.  We arrived to a ton of traffic and started to panic about the time.  Remembering that we were in this for the experience and that time didn’t matter on “the trip,” I relaxed.  We made our way in, got a great parking spot and walked to the track.  It was college day at Keeneland and the place was filled with Southern debs in sundresses and future good ole boys.  Beer was flowing, backs were being slapped and girls were whispering.  I felt like I was at a rush party – may have been.  Our attention turned to the horses that were being trotted out to the post.  They looked strong and well cared for.  We placed our wagers and made our way back to a vantage point right on the rail.  After two races and coming up empty-handed both times, it was time to hit the road for some more football.  First though, the BBQ…

It had been an entire 4 hours since our last real meal (snacks at the races didn’t count) so when debating a slight detour to Wholly Smokers (http://www.whollysmokerscookingsauce.com/) in Georgetown, KY we had no problem deciding it was worth it.  So despite being a bit delayed by traffic we headed north. I posted this on Facebook after our stop there: “Wholly Smoker’s BBQ in Georgetown, KY: the meat should taste good before you even put the sauce on. It didn’t. Sauce was really good though. Sides = not good. On to the next.” Enough said.

An Hour later, we cruised into Shelbyville, KY and Claudia Sanders Dinner House. (www.claudiasanders.com) Yes, we were in Kentucky and yes, the Sanders in Claudia Sanders Dinner House is THAT Sanders.  It was time for some fried chicken and our first of two famed Chicken spots for the day.  We had called in our order so we could just grab it and go.  When I ran inside to pick it up, I saw (to my utmost delight) a huge portrait of The Colonel at the top of the stairs.  I was completely thrown off my game and forgot about my mission of running in getting the goods and getting back on the road.  I ran outside and insisted that Ronnie come in and get a picture with the picture.  He has an unhealthy obsession with fried chicken (Note: 2nd crazy chicken/Ronnie story of the day.) and I knew this was as close as he was going to get to Colonel Sanders.  It was as if a lifelong Beatles fan was meeting Paul McCartney on the street.  I could feel the love Colonel Sanders was giving him from the painting as he practically whispered “thank you for your loyalty” through the canvas.  We walked back downstairs to the hostess stand to pick up our order and noticed a beautiful thing.  Instead of having mints for departing guests, there was a bowl of Buckeyes with a sign saying “for good luck.”  Here we were, three die-hard Buckeye fans in the middle of Kentucky being wished well by a bowl of Buckeyes.  The trip was just over 36 hours old and already epic.

We took the food to the car and continued the ride in to Louisville.  The Chicken was good, but our expectations were higher.  The biscuits on the other hand were an absurd combination of texture and taste that I will not soon forget.  We had ordered as though each one of us was headed to the electric chair and this was our last meal, so there were enough biscuits for us each to enjoy a few.  At this rate, I was going to end up back at Hillbilly Hotdogs eating a “Homewrecker” and earning a nickname like Bubba.  However, food intake is an essential part of The Trip experience and I enjoyed it all.

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