Trip to Florida and Tennessee
Thursday, July 19, 2001 (Day 1)
Time to leave. The shuttle picked us up at just after 9 AM. Oddly, there was almost no traffic, and we got to the San Francisco airport just after 9:30. We checked in, ate breakfast, and killed time, waiting for our 11:30 flight. We were in row 25. They announced boarding of rows 41-45 and then 36-45. Then, after a few minutes, they announced the final boarding call for the flight. Whatever.
The flight itself was fine, although Mike did suddenly remember that part of the reason he didn't like Delta was that they have some of the tightest seating in the industry. Mike mostly convinced the man sitting in front of him to not lean his seat back (which would have crushed his legs), but Meredith was less fortunate; the woman in front of her kept bouncing her seat back into poor Meredith. They should just lock the seats in the upright position. The benefit for the person who gets to lean back is far outweighed by the cost to the person who suddenly has a seat in his/her face.
Unfortunately, once we arrived in Atlanta, they announced that there would be a slight delay in the departure to Fort Walton Beach. This was followed by another 'slight' delay and another. Each new announcement was accompanied by a warning to not leave the gate area, as they might begin boarding earlier than their estimate. We think they always say this, despite the fact that neither of us has ever seen any airline board an aircraft sooner than the estimate. This stretched on for literally two hours. One of the explanations was that they had had to change aircrafts, and that they were then transferring luggage from the old plane to the new. Interestingly, 45 minutes later, as we finally sat on the plane, we were told that we couldn't taxi yet because they were just then transferring luggage from the old plane to the new one. It seems like one of those had to have been a lie. Another favorite explanation for part of the delay was that they were "waiting for one of the crew members to get back." How come the passengers can't leave, but the crew can? Oh well. Airport delays would be far more tolerable if they were approached honestly.
There was one funny sight in Atlanta; Mike went into the men's room and saw a man using a urinal while simultaneously drinking from a Budweiser bottle. Well, there's something to be said for efficiency.
We did eventually land in FL, retrieved our luggage, and drove off to find our motel. The area is full of tacky (and huge) tourist souvenir shops and country music stations. Meredith says the latter is because we are in The South. Mike steadfastly refuses to accept that any part of Florida can be considered The South. He views FL as an extension of New York, albeit one that seems more confused about how to vote for President. Meredith maintains that there is a distinct cultural separation between North Florida (the South) and South Florida (New York/The Caribbean). Mike is wrong.
It is really hot and humid here. A bank sign at 10:45 PM said that was 87 degrees (30 deg C), and the humidity makes it feel like you're in a sauna.
The desk clerk was kind enough to point us towards a TGI Friday's location that still served dinner, even after 11 PM, so that we could finally eat. The waiter explained to Mike that they had 'all kinds' of beer, which meant, of course, all kids of Budweiser & Coors ('Oh, we got both kinds. We got regular and light!'). The waiter also insisted on carding Mike, then expressed shock at his age ("Oh, God, you're like ten years older than I am.") Yeah, well.
On returning to our motel, we found that the loud, vaguely drunk sounding people that had been conversing right above our room and moved to the pool, taking their beer with them. At least there was only about five feet of water in the pool.
Friday, July 20, 2001 (Day 2)
We got up in the morning and decided to eat at yummy Waffle House. OK, so it wasn't actually very yummy. It was actually greasy and nasty. The menu / placemat had several hidden eggs and asked you to "See if you can find all the eggs." Meredith decided to play, "See if you can find all of the brand names." Even the waffles had the brand name of the flour mentioned. Interestingly, only the eggs didn't have a brand name; the eggs also were by far the worst food item we had. Clearly the solution is to get some brand-name eggs. The sign on the outside of the building listed all the great things about working at Waffle House. Meredith's favorite was "get paid weekly in cash." Hmm.
We went shopping for a bit at the Outlet Mall across the street from our hotel in the afternoon. Malls are big here. The telephone book includes listings of community events and detailed maps of local malls. Amazing.
We met up with Texas in the afternoon. Texas had shown up earlier in the morning, but couldn't check in until much later, so had spent the morning on the beach. Texas pointed out that there were gift bags available for us at the front desk, so Meredith went to grab them. They gave her two, careful to instruct her that the blue bag was for the man and the pink bag was for the woman. The contents weren't actually different, just the colors of the bags themselves.
We went back to our hotel for a few minutes, and then went to the other hotel where people were staying for the bachelor party. The groomsmen decided that Meredith could be an honorary boy so that she could attend. In addition to the traditional drinking and debauchery, Dave introduced us to a new candy called "Edo," which was a lot like edible Plasticine. Cool.
Saturday, July 21, 2001 (Day 3)
We met with six of Meredith's Yale friends for breakfast. Not having any desire to visit Waffle House again anytime soon, Meredith suggested that we eat at a place she saw on the way in called 'Another Broken Egg'. It was a bit further than recollection suggested, but we did eventually make it. It was kind of like Hobee's, one of our favorite restaurants back home.
We went swimming in the ocean after brunch with Peter, Allison, and Just Sarah. The ocean in Florida is much warmer than the ocean where we live. It was really nice, but really windy. Mike swallowed way too much salt water from being hit by surprise by large waves. But it was a lot of fun.
It was a lot of fun. It was a Jewish wedding, which Mike hadn't been to before. The Rabbi explained that no one really knew the reason behind the traditional breaking of the glass. He said that his belief was that it was because in days of old, glass was very precious and expensive, and the breaking signified that material concerns were to be left behind. It was a nice explanation. Meredith had the time of her life dancing the night away, as did Gary Altman, Father of the Groom (FOTG). She especially enjoyed Dave's choice of "Pensylvannia 6-5000," during which we all formed a train and pretended to dance with trombones. We also got to see Dave and Leigh up in the air on chairs, until somebody dropped the bride, usually looked on in Jewish tradition as extremely poor form. Anyhow, we partied down until almost 1 AM.
Sunday, July 22, 2001 (Day 4)
Mike called Hertz to change the rental on the Knoxville car, asking to pre-extend the rental from Thursday, when we originally thought we would need the car, to Monday. The woman said, "OK, that's picking up on Monday, dropping off on Sunday, August 5, for a total of one week plus five extra days." Mike contemplated the lack of sleep he had had for the last two nights in a row, but decided that he thought he still remembered the number of days in a week, so asked, "How many days?" "Thirteen days." "So, that's one week and ..." "Thirteen days; one week plus five days." she answered impatiently. Mike gave up and just said OK at that point, muttering something about "Not to leave the room, even if you come and get him."
Allison's shuttle had left without her, so we loaded her into the car with the two of us and Peter and drove her to the airport. After dropping her off, we went back into town and found some lunch before going back to the airport to swap cars. We dropped off our car, and Peter picked up a one day one-way rental to take us to Knoxville.
To Mike's chagrin, the only good way to get to Knoxville involved driving through Alabama. Mike was pretty sure that this violated some oath he must have taken while at UT (that's the University of Tennessee, not that other UT), but Meredith just rolled her eyes and insisted that there was no way around it.
The best sight in Alabama was at a gas station we stopped at. It had a sign on the window that read, "In case of emergency, call," followed by several names and phone numbers. The first was 'Martha'. That was followed by a few other names (Jim, Bill, a couple of others). Fifth on the list was 'Sheriff'. Mike believes this indicates that Martha is either (a) a better shot than, or (b) better armed than the sheriff's deputies. Or both.
The only good part about the drive through Alabama was when we stopped for dinner outside Birmingham. We ate at an Italian restaurant that was actually really quite good. While we were waiting outside for our seat, Meredith was singing one of the tunes from the wedding reception the night before. An older woman came over and commented that she hadn't heard that tune in years. She said a couple of other things, then very quietly whispered to Meredith, "Are you Jewish?" The whisper was a little strange.
We decided to go a bit up the road before stopping for the night, only to discover that there is almost nothing up the road. We finally found a motel about an hour later, though, and crashed.
Monday, July 23, 2001 (Day 5)
We got up and headed north, eager to leave Alabama. Or at least Mike was. We were fortunate enough to be able to get together with Mike Taylor for lunch near his work at the bank in northern Georgia, just a few miles south of Chattanooga. Meredith was very excited to learn that among Mike's responsibilities was the running of the bank's outside sign. How often do you meet the guy who runs the bank sign? And to think that this man was in our wedding. .
We drove up to the Knoxville airport to swap cars one last time -- Peter dropped his car off and we picked up our second rental, which would keep until going back to California. We drove back down the highway, eventually managing to find Tellico Village. We got there after 5:00, so we picked up our key from the outside drop and found the townhouse we would be staying in. It was pretty nice -- it had a big living / dining room, a decent kitchen, and two fairly large bedrooms, one upstairs.
Wanting to eat, and tired of eating out, Mike called what he thought might be the nearest grocery store. Its address in the phone book was simply 'Highway 72, Loudon', so it was a little difficult to know for sure. Mike asked the woman who answered the phone for directions. "Well, come down by the middle school, and then...
" "I'm from out of town. I don't know where that is."
"Oh, OK, well, you know where the big sign for the dam is?"
"Umm ... well, I'm not sure how to tell you how to get here."
Sigh. Fortunately, it wasn't that hard, and we found it OK. This was starting to sound like something from a Jeff Foxworthy special.
Groceries in hand (all of Peter and Meredith's favorite foods, with some beer for Mike), we returned home to make chicken stir-fry on top of spaghetti noodles, since we forgot to get rice. Peter found a 'business trivia' card set in the house. He read one question, which had something to do with which manufacturing company in Sweden increased its production by some amount in some year. We decided that we should just give up quickly. The house also had dozens of golf and business magazines, all about ten years old. How exciting.
Mike wanted to check his email, so tried connecting to the Pacific Bell remote dialup. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember his password. At home, we never need the password for the DSL connection, so there was no reason to remember it. He called PacBell's customer service. "Oh, sorry, our tools are down, so we can't reset the password." Mike vows to eventually change their password to 'pacbellsucks' -- just as soon as it's possible to do so.
Tuesday, July 24, 2001 (Day 6)
We started our morning by showing up for our obligated tour of Tellico Village. We get to stay here for free in exchange for letting them try to talk us into buying a house or townhouse here. Fortunately for us, the woman giving the tour quickly realized that they weren't likely to sell us anything (perhaps because it's essentially a retirement center), and so let us go after only about twenty minutes. We drove around the place for a while anyway, just to look around.
We went to a nearby market and got sandwiches from a deli to take to the Smoky Mountains. We drove to Cades Cove, and ate our lunch at the picnic area by the stream there.Peter gave us some great insights into the rocks and geology of the area, reminding us why a good traveler always knows where her paleontologist is. Driving in, Meredith had the idea to rent a tube and go drifting down one of the streams or creeks, but it turns out that it hadn't rained in quite a long time, so the creeks were mostly rocks.
We drove around Cades Cove Loop, stopping the John Oliver Place and the Primitive Baptist Church before hiking out to Abrams Falls. It was a 2 1/2 mile hike each way, but despite that, there were a surprising number of people that braved the trip to the waterfall. We ran into some pretty cute tadpole-catchers out at the waterfall, and Meredith was reminded of why they don't sell Birkenstocks as hiking boots. Last year, our experience was that once you got more than 100 yards off the parking lot, 95% of the people disappeared. It was really pretty, so it was worth hiking out to.
After the falls, we went to the store at the Mill stop and got some souvenirs, including a CD of folk songs that was really good, at the gift store there.Somebody had compiled a CD as a sort of soundtrack to Charles Frazier's book, Cold Mountain. Very cool.
Tired out from the hike, we left the Cove and drove back. On the drive in, Meredith and Peter had seen a sign at some store that promised 'free fudge'. We didn't find any free fudge, but we did find some really good not-free fudge. Later, we had dinner (spaghetti) at the house and worked on a jigsaw puzzle.
Mike called PacBell again; they still couldn't change the password.
Wednesday, July 25, 2001 (Day 7)
We left the Lost Sea, found nothing but fast food to eat, so drove all the way up into Knoxville to eat at Spicys. Spicys, home of really good chicken wings, was Mike's favorite hangout while in college, and he hadn't been since we went right before our wedding two years ago. Peter and Mike played foozball and pool while Meredith noted the variety of the jukebox.
We drove back through a monsoon. Maybe now the creeks in the Smokies will rise. Too bad we won't see them on this trip again.
PacBell was finally able to change the password. They changed it to '123456', but gave Mike the URL of the web page where he could change it to something slightly more secure. Only there was no way to change the password from that page. 123456 it is, then.
Thursday, July 26, 2001 (Day 8)
We had some ice cream at the dairy after the tour. They were serving huge ice cream cones for just 75 cents. It sure beat prices that we're used to. When we shared this price with Mike's great-uncle, he commented, "It's really a shame what inflation has done to this country." It's all about perspective. . .
With that, completely high on sugar, we set off for the Knoxville airport, where Peter rented a car for his drive back to Michigan. After leaving him, we drove into Oak Ridge to visit Grandma & Grandpa. We visited for a little bit, then ran out to eat lunch.
We drove back over to Knoxville to Gayla's sewing machine store, where we met Gayla & Dave (Mike's dad). We were pretty tired, due to staying up too late for too many nights in a row, so we didn't stay long before driving over to Dave & Gayla's house to crash for a nap.
After they got home from the store, we drove out to pick up a pizza and got good and lost trying to find our way back ('Look, Mike -- the duck pond.' 'There's the duck pond again.' 'Hey, look at the duck pond.' 'Look, kids, Big Ben!') We did eventually find it, and will probably never again forget how to get there.
Gayla's granddaughter Bailey (just five weeks old!) was in town. Gayla was babysitting Bailey for the weekend.
Friday, July 27, 2001 (Day 9)
Having spent so little time with the grandparents the day before, we spent almost all of today visiting with them. We ate dinner with them at Shoney's, then went back over to Knoxville to visit with Dave & Gayla some more. They were at Gayla's store really late, so we got a good workout walking through the Knoxville hills. After so much fast food, we needed the exercise.
Saturday, July 28, 2001 (Day 10)
We went out and had lunch at 'China Buffet #1'. It's a weird name, but mostly good food, even if the buffet does include such interesting Chinese selections as hamburger, hot dogs, chicken wings, and vegetable tempura. We stuck with a somewhat more traditional definition of Chinese food.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out with Aunt Jane & family. Uncle Tom was headed out of town on a trip to upstate New York to check out the state of the clean up of the St. Lawrence River. We told them the story of our parasailing, only to be told that the new Jurassic Park movie opens with two parasailers who get in trouble when dinosaurs eat the people on the boat. Fortunately, we weren't eaten by dinosaurs. Nor were we parasailing near an island with dinosaurs. Thank goodness for that. We worked on a jigsaw puzzle for a while, inspiring the reading of Mike's mom's jigsaw puzzle essay, and eventually retired back to North Knoxville to have dinner with Dave & Gayla. The plan had been to cook out, but the rainstorms discouraged that. They wound up grilling indoors while we took turns holding Bailey.
Sunday, July 29, 2001 (Day 11)
We spent the day talking with Mike & Julie, and they drove us out to see their plot of land where they're building ('huge ... tracts of land'). We left shortly after dinner, and drove back up to Knoxville, checking into the Extended Stay America off Cedar Bluff for the week.
Monday, July 30, 2001 (Day 12)
We toured some more around the Homesteads, stopping at an old restored Homestead home and the Cumberland tower museum before heading back home.
Meredith went over and visited with Erin (Levi's fiancée, not sister) for a while, then we went to Krogers to get some groceries to cook in our motel room. Mike was deeply impressed by the magazine selection at Krogers, which included more gun magazines than he would have guessed existed. His personal favorite was 'Shotgun News'. You just don't find magazines like that where we live.
Tuesday, July 31, 2001 (Day 13)
Fortunately for all, Hannah, wisely recognizing the improbability of the two-year-old cake blowing us away, had baked her own layered and frosted cake, which tasted delicious. It definitely beat the two-year-old cake.
We eventually left, after much talking, and drove into Oak Ridge to meet Uncle Mark & Aunt Debbie. They showed us their brand new house, some really cute pictures of their new grandson, and then we drove to Big Ed's for dinner. Big Ed's is an Oak Ridge institution, one that Mike hadn't visited in probably fifteen years and one that Meredith had never visited. It was a lot of fun, and the staff even gave us Big Ed's t-shirts. That probably has something to do with the fact that Mark & Debbie have been going at least once a week for about the last twenty years. The owner (Big Ed's son) came over and gave Meredith a Big Ed's sleep shirt. The sleep shirt says 'I Sleep With Big Ed' on the back. Mike told Meredith that she really had to wear that to school some day.
Wednesday, August 1, 2001 (Day 14)
Mike got together with Levi in the afternoon and talked with him for a few hours, then Levi and Meredith went out to eat dinner together while Mike ate left-over pizza from Sunday. It was the first time either of us had talked to Levi in a while, so that was really good. It also seemed unlikely that we would get a lot of time at the wedding itself.
We went out to see a movie after dinner and wound up watching Jurassic Park III. Mike summed up the entire storyline as: "Roar!" That was it. At least the first one pretended to have a plot, flimsy though it was. This one just skipped straight to the dinosaurs chasing people around.
We were reminded of our cousin Ethan telling us about people who were upset a few years ago after visiting the Knoxville Zoo's 'Dinosaurs Alive!' exhibit. The exhibit had a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs. Many people were upset because they had expected real dinosaurs. If ever there was a group of people who deserved to be swindled...
Thursday, August 2, 2001 (Day 15)
We next drove to the Arboretum and walked on one of the trails there. We didn't stay for long; Tennessee in August is considerably more hot and humid than the Bay Area is.
We ate out (at one of Ruby Tuesday's, AppleBees, Grady's, or Chilis ... as Hannah says, they're all the same restaurant), then went over to the Machanoffs' to visit with them for a while. It was Emily's 17th birthday, so we brought her a little bonsai tree. She even pretended to like it, and they fed us yummy cake. Good family, there.
Friday, August 3, 2001 (Day 16)
We drove out to West Town to find some last-minute stuff we needed, including a gift box to wrap our present for Levi and Erin in. We stopped by the sewing machine store on the way out, but Dave & Dylan had already left for the rehearsal. Gayla was trying to finish sewing some seat covers for the chairs that the happy couple would be sitting in during the reception.
We got to the rehearsal, which had started late, but seemed to be going OK. Dinner was fun, and pretty tasty (ribs and BBQ chicken). It was fun getting to see everyone -- it was our first time getting to see the sisters on this trip.
After the rehearsal, the sisters and boyfriends, Dylan, and we went out to watch Rush Hour 2 with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. It was really funny -- well worth seeing. More of a plot than Jurassic Park III! Meredith's favorite part was the outtakes, where Chris Tucker tries to explain to his friend that calling on his cell phone in the middle of filming is just not cool. She especially liked this, after sitting in front of some teenagers who had had at least four phone conversations during the movie.
Saturday, August 4, 2001 (Day 17)
The wedding started a couple of minutes early -- perhaps the first wedding we've ever been to in our lives to do so. They started with a slide show of pictures from Erin's and Levi's childhood. Levi got a bunch of baby pictures from Grandma & Grandpa, since our family's pictures from that period seem to have disappeared into the abyss.
The wedding was nice. Everyone looked very happy, and Levi sang a neat song right before Erin walked in, also a wedding first for us. After the ceremony, they took a few more pictures while everyone else ducked into the reception hall. Levi and Erin weren't long before coming back to cut the cake and jam it into each other's mouths.
After the wedding, we helped load the presents into Uncle Mark's truck so he could take them over to Grandma & Grandpa's. We went over there with Jane, Ethan, Hannah and the sisters for a bit, then Erin & Amy left to go over to Dave & Gayla's for dinner. We went out to eat with the grandparents and Aunt Jane's family, promising to join the sisters later.
Dinner was nice, and it was nice to get to sit down and talk to everyone one last time. We eventually said our goodbyes, then drove over to join up with the rest of the family. We sat around half watching Castaway (boring) and talked with Dylan until we left.
Sunday, August 5, 2001 (Day 18)
Finally, it was time to go home. As we were walking from the rental car counter into the airport, Meredith warned Mike that she had slept only about four hours, so was feeling pretty grumpy. Three minutes later, the friendly Delta employee was explaining that our flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco had been cancelled. Sigh. Mike almost fell over inside the airport. The inside has been completely remodeled since we were last in it. It's hard to believe it's the same airport. A nice touch was the rocking chairs against the window overlooking the runway in the center of the terminal.
We made it back into San Francisco and waited for the shuttle to take us home. We were the first ones on, then a really grumpy couple got on who complained the entire time about how absurd it was that the shuttle should be picking up any other passengers, and couldn't the other passengers sit somewhere else, and isn't it stupid to not drive to their house first. They evidently confused the shuttle with a personal limo. After the grumpy couple, though, the Stingers, parents of one of Meredith's high-school friends, boarded, so there was something to do other than listen to Grumpy Man and Grumpy Woman for the ride home.