Paoli, PA

Claudia with Alexandra Claudia Hampe

Cook Shack, Union Grove, NC

Mayberry, NC

Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, NC

Larry and Claudia, Asheville, NC

Larry, Claudia, Billy Edd Wheeler, in Swannanoa, NC

View from the MacLeod's patio in Mooresville, NC

Dave Shipp and Larry, Richmond, VA

Cheap gas prices down South


Wednesday, June 19th: Instead of getting into the van and driving east (like we did in previous years), to begin Road Trip 2013 Claudia and I took the red-eye flight from SFO to Philadelphia on the night of the 18th and landed at PHL at 6:05 a.m. on the morning of the 19th, sleep-deprived and weary. (Note to self for future travels -- do not fly on a plane soon after seeing movies like Contagion!) My brother Terry met us at the curb, and he drove us to King of Prussia to hopefully get our rental car from an old friend of mine at the Hertz location. We were too early to get a car, as none had been returned overnight, so instead we were given a two-ton Dodge Ram pickup truck to use for a few hours. While we would have fit in with the locals on our upcoming trip to North Carolina, this kind of truck is not very fuel efficient. So after going to my brother's place in Paoli, PA, to rest up a bit, we went back to Hertz and traded in our truck for a Toyota Camry. But just one block from the rental agency I realized that a small crack in the windshield -- right at eye level -- would vex me to no end for the next week, so back we went to Hertz to get the only other car available, a 2013 Ford Focus. It was tough to make the trade, but the Focus only has 2,200 miles on it, and it gets 30 mpg, so it will do. After a traditional Philly dinner of cheese hoagies, C and I went over to my sister Donna's for a bit for dessert while watching the Phillies blow a lead in the 9th and then lose in extra innings to the Mets (some things never change!). We got back to the house by 10 p.m., and after the lack of shuteye on the plane, the warmer climate and the long day getting settled into EST, falling asleep was not a problem.


Thursday, June 20th: The first wake-up alarm went off at 6:30 a.m., which was really 3:30 a.m. according to my body clock, but with a big day ahead of us C and I were up and out the door from Paoli by 8:30 and on our way headed south. We drove down Route 202 to I-95 into Delaware, then continued on through Maryland into Virginia by 11:30, where we went to the home of friends Jim and Carol Riehl in Alexandria. They have a very nice house about a half an hour from D.C., and we had a delicious lunch and visit with our friends, who we normally only see once a year up in State College, PA, during the Arts Festival. We left there by 2:30 and drove another 20 miles down I-95 to the town of Lake Ridge, to the home of Claudia's cousin Greg Hampe and his wife Melissa. They have four beautiful young girls from the age of 8 on down --Elizabeth, Catherine and Isabella, and the three-month-old Alexandra Claudia. Greg's parents (and Claudia's aunt and uncle) Sylvie and Barry Hampe were babysitting when we arrived, and when the Greg and Melissa got home we all had a sumptuous Southern barbecue dinner in the house, followed by an evening of chatting and playing with the delightful little girls.


Friday, June 21st: Claudia rose early and went to the gym with Melissa, while I slept a bit later and hung out at the house with Greg, Sylvie and Barry. After the the two women arrived back from the gym, we said goodbye to our gracious hosts and got back on I-95 South by noon, figuring that we'd have a leisurely five-hour drive to Greensboro, NC. Those that know the I-95 corridor south of D.C. probably already have an idea as to what happened next. It was bumper to bumper traffic on the three-lane highway the 35 miles to Fredericksburg and well beyond. With the cell phone road assistance help of friend Claude Arthur, we got off of 95 and took Route 1 for about 15 miles, saving a little time. But it took us three hours to drive the first 90 miles of our 300-mile journey. To make matters worse, we saw the electronic warning signs that said there was an accident in Richmond that had a lane of the freeway closed, so with navigator Claudia scrutinizing the old-fashioned analog AAA map, we got off of I-95 again and made our way around some back roads to I-495 around Richmond, thereby avoiding another messy backup. By the time we did this we got onto I-85 South, and shortly after, into North Carolina, we were relieved to finally have clear sailing traffic all the way to Jamestown, outside of Greensboro, where our CA friend Bill Norman is living temporarily while working on a job. We arrived almost two hours later than planned, and we were happy just to kick back in his apartment while eating a very tasty homemade Chinese dinner prepared by Bill that tasted like some of the best meals that we have eaten in Chinatown in San Francisco. After seven hours in the car, it was great to just to kick back and relax in Bill's living room for the night.


Saturday, June 22nd: With a busy day ahead, we rose at 6:30 a.m. at Bill's apartment in Jamestown and headed out by 7:45 for Union Grove, a 30-mile drive west, to the Cook Shack, a small restaurant and grocery store (where you can also buy guns, ammo, and a hunting license)(talk about one-stop shopping!) where people come from miles around to have breakfast while picking or listening to bluegrass music. The owners of the Cook Shack start off the music by singing a few songs, and then those that want to do so can join in and play some songs. There were banjos, fiddles, mandolins, guitars and basses, as a group of about 15 players took turns calling out songs. There was a young 16-year-old girl named Aubry whose singing was simply stunning, and veteran bluegrass singer Maynard Holbrook also stood out while sitting in the center of the pickers. Bill is a semi-regular at the jam now, and he introduced Claudia and me at one point, and we sang a duet of "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies" that was simply magical, as Maynard and many of the others sang along. From there we drove about 30 miles with Bill to Mount Airy, otherwise known as Mayberry, the town where the late Andy Griffith was from and which now dedicates part of its downtown to the memory of his TV show from the '60s. There is Floyd's Barber Shop, Barney's Cafe, and countless other Mayberry references. We spent some time in the Earle Theatre, where live bluegrass bands played while being broadcast on the radio, we jammed with some bluegrass pickers on the street, and we had an old-fashioned lunch at Barney's. We said goodbye to Bill around 2:30, and then drove west on I-40 for 2.5 hours to the town of Asheville, where Claudia's Aunt Barbara Hempleman lives. We checked into the Ramada Inn, and then drove over to Barbara's house and had a lovely dinner on the porch with her and her sons (and Claudia's cousins) Terry and Wick. It was a very enjoyable evening just sitting outside among the trees at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and catching up. We got back to the motel around 11, after a very busy and long, but enjoyable, Saturday in Carolina.


Sunday, June 23rd: Up at 9 a.m. in the Ramada, we had breakfast in the lounge and then headed over to Barbara's by 10:30, where Claudia, Barbara, Terry and Wick went to church on the Warren Wilson College campus. Barbara worked at Warren Wilson for a long time as a teacher and librarian. I stayed on the porch and read on this beautiful Sunday morning. After the got back, we all, along with Barbara's 90-year-old friend Julia, took a scenic drive about 25 miles up the historic Blue Ridge Parkway, high above Asheville, to a lovely picnic area called Craggy Gardens. After decades of singing bluegrass songs that mention the Blue Ridge Mountains, we had a real nice cookout lunch while dodging intermittent rain drops and it was fascinating talking with Julia, who is a native North Carolinian, and someone who has seen and done a lot in her 9+ decades. Before heading back down the hill we stopped at the ranger's station and took some breathtaking photos of the mountains. To paraphrase an erstwhile songwriter from many years ago, the Blue Ridge Mountains, as you can see from the photos, are indeed "almost heaven." Back at the house we once again sat out on the porch until we were all exhausted, and then C and I went back to the motel room by 10:30.


Monday, June 25th: We finally got to sleep in some for the first time on our journey, and we rose at 9:30, only to find an email from our friends Tom and Kathy Hart saying that they could not meet us for lunch in Asheville today because Kathy had experienced a bout of food poisoning overnight, and had spent some hours in a hospital emergency room. This was really unfortunate, because this was the only time available to meet with them while we were here. Instead, Claudia and I went to downtown Asheville anyway and had lunch at the Green Sage, while also walking around town. We had been there before, on our trip down here three years ago, and it was nice to take in some of the local color. After a brief return to the motel, C and I went back to Barbara's by 5:30 p.m., where we then went with her and the cousins to the home of songwriting legend Billy Edd Wheeler and his lovely wife Mary in nearby Swannanoa. Besides being an incredibly successful songwriter -- Billy Edd wrote the songs "Jackson," "Coward of the County," "Coal Tattoo," "The Coming of the Roads," and "High Flying Bird," just to name a few (one of my favorite, yet lesser known titles, is "I Still Write Your Name in the Snow") -- he is also an accomplished poet, painter and playwright. It was great to hear the stories behind some of the songs. The Wheelers were very gracious hosts (Mary even prepared a non-meat pasta sauce for me!), and it was a most memorable occasion, one that I will forever cherish.


Tuesday, June 26th: We were up in the motel room by 8:30, had breakfast in the lounge, then we packed up and checked out of the Ramada. We drove over to Barbara's by 11 for lunch on the porch before Claudia spent some time with her aunt going through Barbara's photo albums. She is in her late 80s, and she will be moving from Asheville to Minneapolis this fall to live near her son Terry. Barbara has lived in Asheville for close to 60 years, and the two sons were there to help her get ready for the move. Barbara is Claudia's late father Warren's younger sister, so there were lots of treasured memories to look through. Needing to get on the road, we said goodbye to Barbara, Terry and Wick around 2:30 p.m., and we made our way onto I-40 East to make our slow return back to PA. We drove 120 miles to the town of Mooresville, NC, where we spent a wonderful evening visiting and dining at the home of Ellen Kay and Larry MacLeod. Ellen Kay is my first cousin. She is originally from PA, but she and Larry lived in the state of NJ for 40 years before relocating to NC three years ago. They have a beautiful home on Lake Norman. It was really nice catching up on Carlin family lore.


Wednesday, June 27th: After a late morning breakfast with our hosts in Mooresville we regrettably had to be on our way by noon for the 275 mile drive to Richmond, VA. We would have loved to have stayed longer, but time was slipping away. Eventually we got back on I-40 East, making our way through the Carolina countryside, listening to some classic country singers on CDs that we borrowed for the trip. We connected onto to I-85 North into Virginia, and heavy rains began to fall just outside of Richmond. We landed at my college friend Dave Shipp's house on the southwest side of town around 6:15 p.m., and then we all went out for a tasty pizza meal at a place called Bottoms Up in the historic Shockoe Bottom area of town before then sitting and talking with Dave in his living room for quite a while. The temperature was close to 90 degrees, about the warmest we had experienced in our week of traveling. By the time my head hit the pillow for the night, for reasons unknown, the Michael Martin Murphey song "Carolina in the Pines" -- which I have been singing for many years -- was going through my brain until sleep took over...


Thursday, June 28th: When morning arrived the rains had ceased and we had a delicious breakfast of Dave's homemade gruel before we packed up the car and began the final 250-mile leg of our journey back to PA. I have known Dave for 36 years, and it was great to get to visit with him on the trek back, as he was off on a bicycle trip when we came down this way a week ago. The worst part of our journey lay ahead -- having to navigate the infamous and dreaded I-95 Beltway around D.C. Lucky for us, we had an easier time than we did on the way south, even though there was still a heck of a lot of traffic for early in the afternoon. That is, until we got past Baltimore and well into Maryland. An electronic traffic warning side warned us that an accident lay ahead, with miles of projected delays. We got off of I-95 for a bit and managed to get around the mess, but not without losing about an hour of time. Since at this point there was no great rush to get back to Philly, this was no big deal. By the time the trip ended in Paoli at 7 p.m., all was right in the world, and Road Trip 2013 was deemed a huge success by the participants!



10 hints that we were in North Carolina/Virginia for a week and not in Marin County, CA:


1. the low price of gas (and there is a huge Chevron refinery about 10 miles from Sausalito!)

2. did not see a Starbucks on seemingly every corner

3. heard bluegrass being played on AM radio

4. only saw six Priuses on I-95/I-40 in 1500 miles of driving (there are this many at a Starbucks in CA)

5. chiggers and mosquitoes!

6. lots of gun and religion ads on the radio and on billboards

7. Coffeemate instead of milk or cream at coffee shops

8. cars and trucks driving slow in the fast lane

9. the letters N.A.S.C.A.R. everywhere

10. all of the politicians have R's instead of D's next to their names, whatever this means...


Bonus: hearing songs by Marin County musicians being played on the street ("Midnight Moonlight" by Peter Rowan) and on the sound system at a gas station (Bonnie Raitt).







This page updated 7/1/13