Covid Garden

Of course, this portion of the trip in May 2015 had to start with something Apple. Trina indulged me, as she is wont to do.

I entered the large store in Covent Garden, wowed as always at how the Reality Distortion Field, inspired by the ghost of Apple founder Steve Jobs, worked on me even in London. The store had all the usual Apple kit, plus a slick design including a wonderful staircase made of glass, a Stairway to Heaven, one might say if one were an Apple fanboy. I made the rounds through the store, marveling at everything, wanting one of each item, needing nothing. 

“Okay, I said, I’ve had my Apple store fix. Let’s keep going.”

We strolled through the streets full of shoppers and tourists like us, getting hungry and spying The Ivy, a place that looked busy enough, portending a nice lunch, just up the street from the juggler. We settled in at an outside table, fabulous, and indulged. Trina had a nice cauliflower and cheese soup and coffee. I tucked into the fish pie, alternating bites with sips of a Jubilee Julep with rye, sugar, fresh mint and a little maple syrup. 

The sights, smells, sounds, the whole ambience of the place, just being in London at this place at this time with this woman was so wonderful that the present-day memories of it almost make me ache with longing to go back and do it again. To do anything again, in Covent Garden, in London, at that table, with that juggler up the street and the men in gold and silver seemingly defying gravity as they bent backwards and sat on air above their boxes and shoveled and tipped their hats for gratuities. To pose by a red phone booth again. To snap a photo by a real cigar store Indian. To hear the haunting melodies of opera being sung by a blond beauty on her day off, filling the shopping space with lovely, lovely, sound. 

The sun warmed my skin, and the pleasant sweat of love-laced voluntary labor dampened my cotton t-shirt. She was watering her work, and I leaned against the fence, waiting to adjust the output from the hose as directed. The tomatoes were planted, Better Boys and Romas, the cucumbers guarded their newly constructed hills, the tiny village of a dozen pepper plants occupied the middle of the space. Free range zinnias and marigolds greeted us as we stepped from the outside world of the power line cut to the inside of the little plot of paradise we had just constructed of soil and rock and mulch and tender green plants. 

We paused for just a moment to savor this tiny moment of anticipatory joy in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. In the midst of so much organic death, there would soon be life. Bright, showy, colorful, edible life, metaphorically watered by the staggering number of tears that already watered the devastated nations of the earth. This plot of earth, this square of brown punctuated by green plants and red stakes and white stones, would soon make us smile as something new, something luminous, something sustaining, came up through the soil to delight us and entertain us and nourish us, a gift from the same earth that was bearing witness to the awful finality of death. We would say hello and smile even as many said goodbye and wept. 

“Should we name it?” I asked, suddenly.

“What should we call it?” she replied. 

I could already see the next piece of wood, the next post that we would have to place at one corner of the garden. You know the one I’m talking about. Just like the one in Key West. It would stand straight and tall, about six feet high, with brightly colored cross pieces and informative hand lettering. 

“Tower of London: 2.3 miles”

“Buckingham Palace: 1.2 miles”

“Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: 2.0 miles”

“Big Ben: 1.2 miles”

“Evans, Georgia, USA: 4132 miles.”

“The only thing we could call it,” I said.

“Covid Garden.”

She smiled. 

We remembered. 

Rosie and Me: Day 24. Honey, I’m Home!

I looked everywhere.

I looked in the suitcase, in the duffle bag that I used to transport exercise clothes, and of course I looked to see if they were hanging on the travel rack in Rosie’s back seat with all the rest of my clothes, where they should have ended up.



I was distraught.

I only have two pairs of jeans. (I’m a khaki kind of guy and have been since medical school)

One is a pair of Levis 501 button fly jeans that are okay. The other is a pair of Wranglers that are comfortable, fit me better and feel better to me for some reason. I was looking forward to wearing them both on the road and in the car while traveling.

The Wranglers were gone. Vanished. AWOL. I couldn’t find them anywhere, and I was so disappointed and angry with myself since I thought I had lost them somehow during the packing and leaving for the trip. I could not for the life of me figure out what had happened, but Levis it was for the duration of the trip and nobody died.

Fast forward three weeks to today, Day 24. I arrive home, haul everything up the stairs to my apartment, start to dump things on the bed and anticipate the (at least) six or seven huge loads of laundry I was about to tackle.

I turn around to put my hiking boots in the closet.

They’re there, forlorn and forgotten, on the floor under the blue seersuckers and the suits and the full length wool winter coat, all of whom had to stay behind and pull guard duty as the rest of us traveled the US. I guessed they had slipped off the hanger as I picked up armloads of clothes for the trip.

They were down, but not out.

I smiled. At least I hadn’t lost them.

Now, direct your attention to my desk, whereupon sits a huge pile of three weeks’ worth of mail placed nicely in a USPS box for me.

About halfway down in the geological survey that is this afternoon’s mail opening exercise, I come upon an envelope from Seattle. Not from my friend Elizabeth, who has been busy doing her own traveling in North Carolina this week. Not from anyone else that I know, at first glance. Official looking, this envelope. I figured it was not a thank you note for shopping at the Pike Place Market and buying Dungeness crabs (though they should have sent me a thank you note, as expensive as those suckers are!)

I opened it and soon realized that I had been spotted by THE MAN in Seattle and had supposedly been doing (GASP) 29 mph in a 20 mph school zone. I have no memory of this, of course, but here are two pictures of Rosie happily cruising (not at 92 mph, like in Montana, but at a child-killing, pavement scorching 29 mph in Seattle), plus a picture of my license plate.


Fine: $189.

Welcome to sunny Seattle. We’re so glad you’re here. You didn’t buy enough crabs, you jerk.


Well, nobody died, right? I’m home, the trip was grand, and I will just consider this overhead. I really, really, really thought I had traveled 6987 miles with no tickets of any kind and was feeling pretty damn smug about it.

The moral to this sad, sordid, fishy tale, my dear readers?

If you ever find yourself in a new city, life starts to go a little fast, and you get caught with your jeans down, you are just screwed.

Don’t come crying to me. Been there, done that, paid the ticket.

Good evening, my friends, from the sunny state of South Carolina, where the women are lovely, the jeans are blue, and so are the crabs we catch with our own hands, some chicken necks and a string on the coast.

It’s been real, and I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did.

Rosie and Me: Day 22. A Chevy, A Steak Sauce and a Birthday.

After our wonderful cocktails and meal last night at Mark and Becky’s house, it just made sense that Mark show me the gorgeous new exercise and fitness facility at Tulane University in downtown New Orleans this morning. Technically called the Reily Student Recreation Center, this is a wonderful place that had multiple floors of racquetball courts, basketball courts, treadmills, exercise bikes, open exercise rooms, an Olympic size pool and a ping pong table or two.

In the first storyboard draft for Pixar’s film Cars, the main character, a race car named Lightning McQueen was going to have number 57 as his racing number, in reference to director John Lasseter’s birthdate, January 12, 1957. But in the final cut, Lightning’s racing number changed to 95.

They check your ID and make you sign in as a guest with a sponsor. If you forget your ID, they won’t let you in until you catch your friend’s wife just before she leaves the house for work and have her bring your wallet from your back pants pocket. Not that I would know anything about that, of course. No.

I walked the track to warm up and then spent the rest of an hour on a kick-ass bike. Fun.

Then, it was time to bid New Orleans goodbye and head out of town towards Birmingham.

Passenger 57 was a film starring Wesley Snipes.

I met a friend from high school, Lawton Higgs, who I have talked to on Facebook for some time, for dinner at a local barbecue place in Homewood, Alabama. Saw’s BBQ is an excellent place to experience home-cooked ribs, chicken and pork, among other items. We had a great time talking and filling up on some great food.

Heinz 57 is a brand of sauce, and the number of varieties of foods claimed to be produced by the H.J. Heinz Company.

We then walked a couple of storefronts down the street to the Edgewood Creamery on Oxmoor. Cinnamon ice cream is good. Just sayin’.

57 Channels (and Nothin’ On) is a song by Bruce Springsteen, from his 1992 album Human Touch.

This was a nice day.

Carnegie Hall is on West 57th Street in New York City.

Oh, yeah, I had a birthday today too. Guess what year I was born in and which birthday this was.

Tomorrow, I will head for Athens to see family and have one more day and night to relax. Then, it’s back to Aiken to check mountains of mail, emails, turn off the away messages and get ready for the inevitable post-vacation letdown after such a long time away.

Thanks to all of you have followed along at home, seen the sights with me, sampled the food, and even had a Corpse Reviver #2 last night. You’ve been great.

Good night, friends, from Birmingham, Alabama.

Rosie and Me: Day 21. Madder Than a Hatter Eating a Beignet in Jackson Square

So today was New Orleans day! How cool is that?

My high school friend Mark told me right away that I had to buy a hat, and that my first stop was to be Meyer the Hatter, one of the biggest hatters in the south.

“Just go in, tell them that you’re visiting and that you don’t know what you want, and they’ll fix you right up.”

I walked from Tulane down Canal, then took a right on St. Charles Avenue, went in and said exactly that. After finding out what kind of hat I liked, which season I wanted it for, and if my taste ran to finer hats in the group (it did), he picked out two hats for me right away. The first was too small. The second fit perfectly. I walked out in ten minutes flat with a wonderful black wool felt hat with a brown and black leather band.


I then went all the way down Canal and hopped the Algiers ferry ( two bucks each way) and got some glorious shots of the city.



After the ferry came my usual big walk around the city, heading down towards Jackson Square. This is once again a beautiful part of New Orleans, with sun splashed water, vibrant color, the laughter of children, and the raucous sound of a jazz band on the green.




What trip to New Orleans as a tourist is complete without a trip the the Cafe Du Monde for beignets and chickory cafe au lait? Such a beehive of activity! Dozens of waitstaff and powdered sugar-coated people scarfing down trios of the just warmed pastries, washed down with smooth coffee. Divine. Yes, sadly, I ate all three.




To work off the calories from the Cafe, one must stroll the French Quarter, with its signature horse-drawn tours, pedal cabs, and balconies now decorated in style for Halloween. This city seems to love this holiday, as I’ve seen ghouls and ghosts and strings of orange lights and zombies and witches everywhere I go.





Lunch was with my friend Mark at Pesche, a restaurant open for one year in an old reclaimed warehouse. Stunning architecture, excellent seafood gumbo (yes, Knot, I took your advice and it helped, thank you), roasted pumpkin, and a fine LA-31 Pale Ale. Magnificent!

The rest of my afternoon was spent at the WWII Museum, and ever-expanding tribute to the many who sacrificed to literally save the freedoms of millions in the 1940s. The D-Day portion of the Museum is fully open, the huge new Boeing Pavilion is up and running and it houses a B17 bomber suspended from the ceiling along with five other period planes. Talk about a huge room!

Other exhibits about the European and Pacific theaters will open in the next year. Well worth a few hours of your time if you’re in New Orleans.





Then, it was home for a wonderful dinner with Mark and Becky, complete with Mark’s signature cocktails. My favorite was the Corpse Reviver #2. Suffice it to say that if you drink more than one of these I think it would have the opposite of the intended effect.

I even got a house tour last night, with stories of Katrina recovery on a very personal level and an introduction to the house ghost in the attic.

This was a wonderful day.

Tomorrow, it’s hit the gym first, as Mark wants me to see the fine facility affiliated with Tulane, then Rosie and I will cross the Mississippi River and head to Birmingham.

It’s almost time to feel South Carolina sunshine on my face again.

Oh, one traveler’s tip for you today. How do you take an excellent photo?

Look around for the area of grass or dirt or other surface near your subject that is the most worn down. This is where thousands of people before you have taken the shot.

Don’t stand there.

Change the light, the angle, the perspective, the shadow.

You will take a beautiful photo that brings back memories and that you can share with others.

Good night, friends, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rosie and Me: Day 20. Visiting Relatives

Some observations as I made my way from Little Rock to New Orleans today.

The hotel in Maumelle, Arkansas, was one of the nicest of the properties I’ve been in on this trip. It looked brand new, smelled of new construction, had nice carpeting and furnishings, and the staff was warm and welcoming. My room was large, well-appointed, was directly across from the fitness center, had modern NFC access built into the door and just seemed to be brand new. When I asked the clerk how long the hotel has been open, she said since 2011.

I have had a chance to meet several online friends on this trip, people I have come to know very well but had never met in person. I have known them for 1-5 years, and I dare say I’m closer to a couple of these friends than to most of my “real life” ones.

When I attended the dinner given by Elizabeth for my high school friends in Seattle, it was almost like we picked up right where we left off. After almost four decades, we could tell stories, joke and kid each other, and act like goofy teens again for awhile. We were in many ways the same people, but with lifetimes of experiences since our last meeting.

I drove into New Orleans today, marveling at how busy and active everything looks. When I drove down the same interstate in 2005, with a Red Cross on my rental car, we were the only people on the road except for the National Guard troops who let us into the city. I counted the number of windows blown out of the Sheraton Hotel building and heard gunfire down by the levee. Today, I heard the roar of traffic and the sound of streetcars. That visit saw New Orleans bruised and battered. This trip will see it happy and beckoning.

I have been very busy and active on this vacation, so much so that some of you have repeatedly told me to slow down! I have been following an itinerary that I set for myself. I’m doing things that I choose to do in places I want to go. Contrast this with work, when I am driven by schedules and job needs, and when I feel tired and worn down many days, not energized.

Tonight I had a wonderful New Orleans meal and great conversation with my old high school friend Mark Vanlandingham and his wife Becky at Boucherie on Jeanette Street. Tomorrow will be full of coffee, good food, walking, parks, art, military history, and just being out in the good warm southern air.

Things I’ve learned from all this?

Everything is relative.

Everything has context.

Everything is transient.

Everything has importance.

Everything will end.

As one of my regular readers often says to me, “Carpe diem!”.

I will do my best to make tomorrow one of the best days I’ve ever had.

Will you?

Good night, my friends, from New Orleans, Louisiana.

Rosie and Me: Day 19. Dr. Bates and the Secret of the Ya Ya’s Supperhood

Traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas today, with a feeling that I was getting back to my beloved south. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the sights all around this great big country of ours, meeting new friends and seeing old friends again, sampling food and coffee in more places than I can count, and seeing how beautiful America is. It is getting to be time to get back to my roots, though, back to the warm, humid climate, the slower pace and the drawl of the south. You can take the boy out of the south…

The weird sign of the day award goes to this little jewel seen somewhere in Arkansas I believe, if memory serves:

“Toad Suck Park”

I’ll just let you sit with that one for a minute. Get another drink if you need to. I’ll write the rest of this post while you’re gone.

The nice event of the evening today was dinner in Little Rock with three people I’d never met in person before. Ramona Bates, she of the scarf and baby quilt making fame, had wanted me to come through and have dinner with her and her husband Brett. She sent me a text when I got here and said that Val Jones, a blogger and physician who I had met on Twitter years ago, just happened to be working a locum tenens job at a hospital in town, and she also joined us for dinner.

We ate outside at Ya Ya’s Euro Bistro, a wonderful place in an upscale retail area. The weather was perfect in the early evening, the food was excellent and the company fine. We enjoyed getting to know a little more about each other, and it was remarkably easy to do. Funny how that happens when you have Twitter or Facebook relationships for years before actually meeting someone in real life.

Ramona had made me a Mobius scarf and some homemade bread, so I came away in good shape tonight!


As I wrote before I started this trip, seeing the people, old friends and new, has been the highlight of my travels across the land. We all need friends, people who we like and who like us, people we can share our hopes and fears with, as well as sharing a crab dinner or a drink or a story or two.

Thanks to all my friends across the USA who enrich my life and make it better in so many ways.

I love all of you guys.

Tomorrow, we travel to The Big Easy to visit with Mark and Becky and eat (really, again??), see the WWII Museum and see what else we can get into. It will be my first visit back to New Orleans for pleasure since I worked for seventeen days just after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. I’m looking forward to a much more pleasant experience this time around.

Good night, dear readers, from Little Rock, Arkansas.