10 Things I’ve Learned – April 2012

Apologies for the delay, but here is another list of things that I’ve learned from life on the road. As always, knowledge is power.

1. Lightning can be red.

As detailed previously, the rain in New Orleans is no joke. Not only in quantity, but also with the addition of wind, thunder, and lightning. As we were fleeing the Crescent City during an especially brutal thunderstorm, the skyline ahead of us was filled with glowing lightning strikes all along the horizon. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, as the lightning would branch off in a circle of 12 or so different arms, rendering headlights irrelevant and looking like a scene out of a science fiction movie. But maybe the most interesting thing of all, was that some of the lightning was red in color, like an angry laser beam from the gods.

So what is red lightning? Well, it’s just regular lightning apparently. According to science: “Lightning traveling through open air emits white light, but can appear in different colors depending on local atmospheric conditions. Distant lightning can appear red or orange the same way the setting sun does, due to moisture, haze, or dust in the lower levels of the atmosphere.” Yet another simple explanation for one of life’s oddities.

2. Go to your car dealership for the best oil change prices.

On this trip we’ve needed somewhere in the realm of 10 oil changes over the last 10 months. At first we called nearly every standard oil change place in the area’s phone book, asking if their garage could handle the size of the Highland Flinger. After being denied time and time again, we searched the RV blogs and found out that Camping World stores specialize in RV oil changes. The problem is that they can be pretty expensive at Camping World, probably because they’ve nearly cornered the RV oil change market. We were usually able to find coupons for the oil changes, but they wanted to originally charge over $80 for an oil change!

After using Camping Worlds, random lube stations, and even an oil change place for big rig trucks, we’ve finally stumbled upon the best place to get an oil change for an RV. While in Augusta, GA, the Highland Flinger was making its usual growls signaling a need for an oil change. After searching around for a while we stumbled upon a Ford dealership in town and decided to ask them for advice. Turns out that not only do they do oil changes, but they told us that Ford dealers all over the country will do oil changes for RVs and other cars. And the best part? It was $35.

3. Charleston is stuck in the past.

Charleston has tons of old homes.

The city of Charleston really has a thing for history preservation. Sometimes that’s a good thing. The Charleston Preservation Society runs the city with an iron fist, keeping the city’s buildings, facades, and even its attitude the same as it has been for hundreds of years. This has led to tons of beautiful old homes, parks, and seawalls that haven’t been changed since shortly after the Civil War. It has also created one of the city’s main economic sources, as most people traveling to Charleston are there to be immersed in its history. There are walking, biking, boat, bus, and carriage tours throughout the city, which each offer their own unique historical facts while still carrying an over-arching level of Charleston knowledge.

But the Charleston Preservation Society also has its down side. The big rule around town is that anything that it is over 75 years old CANNOT be changed. It can be maintained, but not changed. This has led to either a rush for home/building owners to change things before their 75th birthday, or some severely high costs to maintain things that are severely past their prime. Lastly, the question lingering in my mind as we walked through the beautifully old streets of Charleston, was just how the city can possibly move on? Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that there is literally no fast food restaurants in the main part of downtown Charleston. But when an entire city seemingly revolves around events of the past, how can it possibly make any progress?

4. Jackie and I have a (un)healthy obsession with cupcakes.

Cupcakes for lunch? Yes please!

Throughout the country, Jackie and I have sampled hundreds of cupcakes in dozens of cities. Some have been great, while others have been less so. During our stay in Charleston, we stopped into a store downtown that was easily identifiable: Cupcake. After reviewing their daily-changing specials, punch card program, and taste quality, we easily decided that we would be back there each and every day that we were in Charleston. So yes, we may have eaten cupcakes for lunch more than one day during that week (the Bourbon Pecan Pie cupcake was especially delectable), but our lack of nutritional values was rewarded when that 10th cupcake was free!

5. I don’t often get seasick, but when I do, I prefer ginger cubes.

While covering the Charleston Race Week, we were graciously given media passes which included rides on various media vessels during the event, as well as 4 nights of dinner and open bar at the after party. After a full night of researching this “open bar” phenomenon, we ventured out bright and early the next morning on a high speed yacht headed for the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoying the view from the front of the boat, we were quickly and unceremoniously baptized by the ocean as the boat crashed through the growing waves, leaving us both drenched. As if that wasn’t enough fun, the rollicking boat idling near the starting lines mixed with our already queasy stomachs and made for a rough few hours.

We posted up on the bowl of ginger cubes (supposed to help with seasickness), staying seated most of the time but getting up periodically to snap a few pictures. “This feels like the Deadliest Catch,” Jackie said as she looked at the choppy waves. “The waves on that show are like 20-30 feet high,” I told her. “These are more like 10 feet,” I said, trying to comfort her while still pretending to know what I’m  talking about. After thankfully surviving the morning without incident, we asked a seasoned veteran how big the waves were out on the Atlantic that we had just experienced. “Oh about 3 feet,” he said. Well then.

6. The bugs in the South are NO JOKE.

I hate bugs. I hate the buzzing around my face. I hate the crawling on my skin. But what I hate the most, is the biting.

We had heard about bugs in the South, but hadn’t really experienced them during our first week there. We saw bugs, but there didn’t seem to be any more than any other state that we had been to so far. It was only after a few days in downtown Charleston that I figured out that the bugs around here are silent ninjas. I can usually feel mosquitos on me, lecherously sucking my blood. But I woke up one morning to find that all four of my limbs had been ravaged by bugs the previous day. There were so many bites that I had to count them to see if I had broken some kind of record. Between my arms, legs, hands, and feet, I counted 54 bites. 54! One even on the bottom of my foot, a perfect place for one of course. Next time, I’m just going to shower in bug spray.

7. Grass can be used as a building material. 

Sweetgrass baskets in Charleston.

All around Charleston you see people selling baskets made out of sweetgrass. They are a uniquely Southern entity that is steeped in history. Nearly 400 years ago, Lowcountry slaves brought their craft of weaving baskets from the local grass. Originally used for the practical purpose of collecting rice and cotton in plantation fields, the skill has been passed down from generation to generation. There are limited instructional books on sweetgrass basket making, so being a part of the oral tradition is a big deal. Sweetgrass basketry is even protected under South Carolina Law, and because of the scarcity of knowledge, some baskets can go for hundreds of dollars.

8. The SEC is getting out of control.

SEC bread.

The Southeastern Conference, known for its sports prowess, coaching scandals, and magnanimous fanbase, has taken things a little too far. Now, I’m not talking about anything on the field or court this time, I’m talking about its other business ventures. I’ve heard of “official credit cards”, “official TV/radio station”, and just plain old “official sponsor” for college sports conferences, but that’s about it. But in North Carolina, I found out that Merita Bread is the “Official Bread of the SEC”. Official bread? Really? Does this make fans want to buy Merita bread over the competition? And it’s not even buns either, which I guess could contain a sliver of connection to sporting events. Sometimes I think that I’ve seen everything, and then the “Official Bread” of a college sports conference comes along.

9. The Chapel Hill “Old Well” is not as lucky as advertised.

College campuses often have something that is supposed to bring students good luck. At UNC in Chapel Hill it’s the “Old Well”, which is essentially a drinking fountain under a Carolina Blue dome supported by white columns. Drink from it and receive good luck, according to legend. Every UNC student, including Michael Jordan, has drank from this drinking fountain during their time in Chapel Hill. I had even drank from it previously, during a visit in high school while I was looking at which colleges I’d like to attend.

The Old Well is not so lucky.

On this occasion, the Old Well did not live up to its legend. When we made our way back to the Highland Flinger, we had received a parking ticket (Only the second ticket of the trip). Unbeknownst to us, we had parked in a “permit only” section and couldn’t see the sign that was covered by a tree branch. Nope, no luck from the Old Well.

10. I have found my new favorite sandwich.

Chapel Hill did make up for the parking ticket by hosting quite possibly my new favorite sandwich. Time Out restaurant has been featured on nearly every traveling food show because of their signature sandwich: the Chicken Cheddar Biscuit. The name of the sandwich says it all, because those are the only three components. They pull a fried chicken breast right off of the bone, place it between a large, buttery square biscuit, and then melt cheese on top of it. Simple and delicious. Try not to salivate too much from the picture.

Chicken Cheddar Biscuit. So delicious!




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2 Responses to “10 Things I’ve Learned – April 2012”

  1. On July 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm Alyssa responded with... #

    Oh Mark, I had 200 bites at one time in Mali – no joke I had the spare time to count – so buck up! ;) I also have had my fair share of cupcake fun on my mini US tour, best so far Billy’s in NY. Also, I wonder if the grass baskets are woven tight enough for water carrying if they can hold rice!? Nice post :)

  2. On November 7, 2012 at 11:18 am Luigi Wadkins responded with... #

    Every once in a while you will need some oil change in your car.

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