The Trip - part 2
The Trip – part 2
“You must be Barbara Day,” said the lady at the motel as we walked in. At first I thought that I was special in some way – to be so picked out. But then I realised that I probably was the only person who had booked in who had not yet arrived. It was quite late, and the motel wasn't very busy.
I signed away my week's rent, and we went to explore my lodgings. “Not too bad,” said Jenny who had made several comments to the fact that I had picked the cheapest motel in town. I had a fridge and a microwave, as well as the usual bits and pieces. “I think you need this,” as she turned on the air conditioner, which was noisy but very effective. It probably was somewhere around 80 in the room, and the machine was thermostated to 70, which was a far preferable temperature for sleeping.
Jenny went out to find a top-up card for my American phone – which is a pay as you go sort – but as it was only used once a year or so – was the cheapest way of communicating. When I had been at the airport trying to find a pay phone, a year before when I had been visiting other relatives, - I had been told, “Everyone has a cellphone now, so ordinary phones are no longer needed.” And it proved to be almost true. I did find one bank of phones in a very remote part of the airport, but it took me ages, and asking dozens of people before I finally found them. So my own personal American phone seemed an essential. During her absense, my son and I sat on the bed and looked at the overwhelming feature was a print of a photograph on the wall. Not just any print- but one of scenery in black in white – featuring mountains and trees and measuring probably 8 ft by 8 ft and almost completely covering the wall behind the bed. First my son collected up his bits and pieces from my suitcase, which filled three large carrier bags. He looked pleased. Then we sat on either side of the bed to analyse my picture. “Do you know where it is?” I asked.
“No, but my guess somewhere here in the Smokeys.”
“Is that a hole in the mountainside?” I asked rather stupidly – because it was, but I was looking at it from completely the wrong angle, and the bit that I thought was the base of a cut off branch of the mountain, was in fact the sky – with various trees sticking up into it.
“Never mind,” said son, “they used a wrap around lense to create the picture, so things do look a bit different from normal.”
Jenny eventually got back, having done their weekly shopping at the same time, and produced the top up number, as well as her Kindle to try to contact the company to get them to add my modest $15 worth of time to the phone. But a problem arose. The number I had been given last year was
now saying that I was in debt to the tune of $2000 – Pay up or else. And certainly they were unwilling to let me use it again. Not daunted by this, Jenny tried to call the company to find out what was wrong, only to find that their office hours were 9 to 5, and so I had to remain phoneless for the next 12 hours or so.
They went on home, while I turned off the very efficient air conditioner, so thankful that the noise had stopped, and went to sleep without waking at all for the next 8 hours. I had feared jet lag, but since it had been almost 24 hours before I had last slept, my exhaustion could not have cared less what time my body clock thought it was.
They could have phoned my motel, which did have a conventional phone in it, but instead, the arrangement was that they would pick me up sometime about 11, and we would then go back to their house to sort out my phone – much more important (in their frame of reference) than going sight seeing. However, the plan was to visit the location of my picture, which Jenny immediately identified as Backbone Bridge near Damascus Virginia.
I had my breakfast early, in the front lobby of my motel but the waffle timer was broken so I had to guess when it had had its 3.5 minutes, and I also had cornflakes, orange juice and coffee.
By now I was on my third book, but at 9, I decided to start exploring the shopping centre next to my motel. The place I had stayed last year had no nice shops near it, so I was thrilled that this place had not only a huge supermarket, but dress shops, sort of everything shops, shoe shops, gift shops – a bit of everything – except postcards. “We don't get much call for postcards anymore, so we stopped stocking them,” they all said. Most of the shops didn't open until 10, so I had to concentrate my efforts on the department store, which I think was K Mart. Outside they had loads of summer clothes – for $5 or less. I am such a sucker for a bargain, but I also like to see everything before I make any purchases, just in case I find something better. I looked through all the clothes and then the kitchen equipment and the toys (to take back to my grandkids) and by the time I had done the grand tour, it was getting close to 11, so I decided to delay my purchasing until another day, as I really wanted to get some food to put in my refrigerator.
The suprmarket was huge and well stocked. But I was almost sensible, and contained myself to buying only what I thought I would need for the occasional snack. I got some homemade bread rolls
– some cheddar cheese, some sliced ham and some tangerines. For some reason, (I must have been thirsty) I bought 2 gallon containers of lemonade. I got back to the motel, and put it all inside my fridge. It was another lovely hot day – and there wasn't a red or yellow leaf on any of the nearby trees. Summer was still the season around here.
Jenny and her son and my son live in a rented house in a little town called Meadowview, Virginia. It has a gorgeous outlook - on a steep mountainside – with about an acre of land attached, although most of it is sublet to a farmer and his sheep. Jenny's dog feels very strongly about defending their property and when the baby lambs stick their heads through the fence to eat the greener grass on the other side, he keeps them well and truly informed of their errors of their ways.
Besides their three bedroom house, they have a full basement converted into Jenny's son's
room, and they have a double garage with two attached rooms with both a sink and a heater installed. My son has hopes of converting into a brewery, but his last batch of mead went off, as the yeast peaked too quickly and then died before it had done the job.
When I visited them last year, they still had cardboard boxes full of their stuff, not yet unpacked, filling the living room and most of both garages. This year, it was all neat and tidy with real furniture in the living room – although most of it low slung and modern and not really within my comfort zone. I chose a dining room chair as something within my capability.
Jenny got stuck into the phone business, and found out that if you have the sort of phone
that I do, and you don't top it up regularly, they take the number off you, and give it to somebody else. So the huge bill did not belong to me, and nobody thought that it did. They provided me with a new number. My $15 worth could buy me a month's worth of phone calls at the rate of 35 cents a minute for a call and 25 cents for a text. An alterative was offered, since I was only staying a week. I could have 7 days of calls and texts for $2 a day. We agreed on that, and I was again communicatable with.
The trip to Damascus took about an hour, but because we were already kind of near lunch time but the others hadn't had anything to eat we decided to stop en route at one of their favourite breakfast places. Since the gas pump computer wouldn't take my postcode as identification, we decided it would be fair if Jenny paid for the gas, and I paid for the food, for my stay.
The others started with large orange juices with two refills. Each glass was at least a pint's worth – and the required rest in accompanying jugs.
I miss American food, and it is always my plan to get in as many of my favourites as possible while I am visiting. So first on my list was hashbrowns. I know you can get them in Britain, but you know what I'm going to say, don't you. They aren't the same. So I ordered two eggs, over easy, two pork sausage links (you cannot get any as good anywhere in Britain) and hashbrowns. Jerry had almost the same, but substituted bacon, as did my son, but they both had their eggs sunnyside up. Jenny warned the waitress, “I want my hash browns really dark and crispy, and if they look at all white inside, I will send them back.”
“No problem, Darlin'” she said, not quite realising what sort of problem she was going to have.
The food arrived, and Jenny's hashbrowns went back – as did mine – on her insistence. They came again, and I said mine were fine, but hers went back. We did get on with eating the rest of our food in the meantime. Finally, nearly burned to a crisp, Jenny was willing to accept and eat her hashbrowns – although the rest of her food was long gone. “Sorry, darlin'” said the waitress, suddenly worried about her potential tip. “The cook was so busy and he couldn't just stop everythin' to put your hashbrowns back on.”
But I was the paymaster, and I figured she had earned her 15%. She didn't charge for the orange juice refills, which I thought was very generous.
It was 23.4 miles from their house to the bridge, but because these were narrow twisty roads
over the Appalacians, our trip took about an hour. We were so lucky that the sun was shining and it was a lovely hot day. If the hundreds of rought and steep steps that we climbed and climbed had been at all wet, covered as they were with falling leaves, it would have been very treacherous. But we
finally did get to the top of the hill, and had the view over the bridge, and it was well worth the climb. My son wanted to stop every few minutes to examine the rocks for fossils, and they were indeed
full of them. He stuck a few rocks in his pockets to take home.
When I had visited last year, we went on an organised fossil hunt. An area where much very early life was known to exist, a whole section had not been excavated thoroughly, due to having been covered while they built the museum which it was part of. So when they finally finished the building, they decided to let the public do some of their hard work for them, and for a fee of £30 or so, we were allowed to dig in the mud for an hour. Jenny found a beauty, but the rest of us found only mud. I had
hoped we would be doing that again this year, but only a small section was available now, and only to the professional public who really knew what they were looking for.
En route home, Jenny got a text from her son, asking if his best friend, AJ, could come over and stay for supper. She agreed, and we all made our way back to their house. A parcel had been left outside the front door. Jenny looked a bit embarrassed. I was curious and followed her into the
kitchen while she unpacked it. It contained the makings of two meals for four people – with all the ingredients carefully measured and put in plastic bags with the relevant recipe. She explained that she hated cooking, and didn't really know how to cook, so she subscribed to a company which provided her with recipes and ingredients, and then she could just about manage it. I helped her put the vegetables, fish and meat into the fridge.
Her son and AJ arrived, and disappeared downstairs. We got out the Majong set, and started a
game. My son made me some of his special red tea (Hyo Ya Keemun Po Ehr) which he gets sent from China. It comes in a ball and you pull off a pinch of it to make your pot of tea. When the tea is heated and the leavings are exposed, the leaves are huge – like crinkled bay leaves. The tea itself
which I drank black (or red) was very mild and had a lovely flavour – nothing like the tea I was used to. And it didn't have the typical tannin taste. I was thoughly impressed, and I didn't do what I so
much wanted to do, ask him how much it cost. I can imagine that it was not like the supermarket special.
When it came closer to dinner time, I felt Jenny get more and more anxious. It occurred to me that she had four pieces of fish, and four of chicken, and she had five people to feed. And she wasn't a happy cook anyway, so I did the kind thing. “I am really starting to feel this jet lag,” I said. “Do you suppose you could run me back to my motel now.” She jumped at this solution to her problem, and as we went out the door she asked AJ, who is pretty much good at everything, to cook one of the meals for them.
I arrived back at my motel, not at all ready to go to bed, and quite hungry. I eagerly opened my fridge and found that it had all frozen solid. The fridge was in effect a freezer. There might have been a way of turning it down – but no knob was visible. I ate a semi-frozen tangerine which made my teeth cringe. But with the help of the microwave, I broke off a hunk of the frozen cheese and ham and along with the bread roll it all became normal and edible. And with only having to wait an hour or two, enough of the juice had defrosted for me to have a drink. Actually to be honest, I also bought a bottle of sherry, and that didn't freeze at all, so I wasn't that unhappy while I waited.