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For fun check out this site: www.TheMostInterestingWomanInTheWorld.com
Though I live in perhaps one of the most enticing areas of the country, the idea of a “staycation” in keeping with a meager summer budget just didn’t seem intriguing enough. And while the option of flying to California or New York seemed fairly reasonable, there were all those residual costs of which to be mindful.
And so came the idea of "buzzword modification": I would go for “a SORT of staycation”, staying in my general geographic zone and exploring areas I had not yet personally encountered, at least to my recollection, a sometimes challenge since I am not only the author of the book “Headfirst Into America” about my journeys across America, but have in fact traveled all 50 states of America three times in my life during three different years.
The target area? Small towns in Georgia and North Carolina, more specifically the Blairsville, Georgia, and the Boone, North Carolina regions, honed in on through VERY scientific selection; meaning my boyfriend Don McGahey happened to have the keys to cabins in each of these areas, courtesy of family members.
BINGO! Vacation-city, here we come!
WHAT TO DO?
Generally when you go on vacation you have a sense of what you plan to do at your ultimate destination. With the Boone/Banner Elk area of North Carolina long serving as vacation central for the McGahey family, Don knew already all about the hiking, waterfall viewing, white water rafting with the Edge of the World group (http://www.edgeoworld.com/summer/rafting.htm ), and historic dining in our immediate future. But first there was Blairsville, Georgia; a mystery to both of us even after an internet search, a call to the Blairsville tourism center, and in chatting by phone with a Visitor Center volunteer atop Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in Georgia. (In fairness he was new to the area).
But that was okay with us. We'd figure things out as we went along. If nothing else, we’d be experiencing the highest peak in Georgia and taking in some “cabin-style” relaxation.
Okay. Don’t laugh.
As you might expect, this was not on our initial itinerary. And when I started cheerleading for the stop after seeing a sign along the interstate announcing its existence, Don’s response was: “You are kidding right?’
Ah … nope. I wouldn’t kid about a National Peanut Museum.
But the truth is: That’s when I felt a silent panic. Was my nine-day adventure going to be less of an adventure and more of a point A to point B journey? With little traveling history as a couple, I was now concerned that our respective travel styles would be way out of sync.
As a journalist and travel writer when I can be, I see travel as an art; an expression of humanity.
Don on the other hand -- a portfolio manager for a private bank -- is more status quo, to the point, and as with most people, not reared to be quite so adventurous. But, thankfully, I have seen a latent curiosity seeker in there when the opportunity to replace the Brooks Brothers suit with khaki shorts and a tee arises. And though Don does initially protest some of my crazy stops, I’ve learned to not take it personally. Or at least try not to.
His knee jerk reaction is understandably force of habit; and for my part, I have to work hard at reining in the desire to see every darn thing along the road. But I have to admit, I do try to slip in as much as I can. I guess it’s my own version of “The Bucket List.” And to Don’s credit, he is not only starting to understand this part of me; but once the protest is over, he has made more than one semi-frustrated U-turn back toward the destination he had initially considered bypassing.
And sure it ultimately turned out that the National Peanut Museum was worth exactly the entry price of FREE; but two things happened. One, I got to not wonder about it anymore. And two, Don seemed to enjoy stop, though it was very Seinfeldian at best. Just a big "nothing" barn-like building with peanut displays around the gift shop area, peanut planting and harvesting equipment spaced throughout its two levels, and a field of peanuts growing out back.
As I buzzed through the entire place in about two minutes, quickly ready to go, I was surprised to find Don suddenly in extrication mode. The building’s upper level had given him ideas on what could be done with the barn his family owns in North Carolina which led to conversation with the gentleman volunteer, a fellow who had grown up on a peanut farm.
Yep. This first road trip together would turn out just fine after all.
ONTO THE REST OF GEORGIA
With this slight slide off the road in Georgia becoming our first official sightseeing stop (not counting the previous night’s drive from Naples to Don’s alma mater, the University of Florida in Gainesville where we saw his son Michael play in a summer high school basketball camp prior to which we ate some great pizza in a place called Leonardo’s), we decided to expand the Tifton experience a bit. Our Peanut Museum "psuedo-docent" told us about a place called the Agrirama which as you now know, by virtue of him mentioning it, was now on my “Bucket List.”
Pizza at Leonardo's
But that’s not to say I wasn’t planning to be judicious with time. Our intentions were to get to the Blairsville cabin by nightfall meaning I could only take a cursory glance. But that was okay by me. Actually I should probably throw in taking "a cursory smell" as well since the smoky aromas coming from the blacksmith shop and the saw mill were equally illustrative.
Emulating a 19th century farm, Georgia’s Museum of Agriculture, known succinctly as the Agrirama (www.agrirama.com) could theoretically be a training ground to learn how to plow, handwash clothes, cure meat, and harvest crops. At least that’s what I read in the official Georgia Travel Guide. (www.georgia.org), but truthfully that sounded like no kind of a vacation to me and so I just sauntered around the grounds taking a quick glance at the city founder’s original home, the blacksmith shop and the saw mill as mentioned earlier, one of two working homesteads and the train depot.
Then we headed for downtown Tifton to take a quick drive by its historic square. Tifton, was founded in the mid-1800s by Captain Henry Harding Tift of Mystic, CT, who thought this piney woods area would be a great place to harvest wood for his family’s shipbuilding business. That of course led to the railroad and the beginnings of the soon to be grand Tifts Town, which later became Tifton, Georgia; and bore an uncanny resemblance to Mystic.
But all the grandeur, even the spectacular Myon Hotel, eventually became nothing more than a great roosting area for pigeons in the years after the interstate came to town and bypassed it. One by one businesses began to close and by the 1970s and early 1980s, there was even a movement to erase the town, so to speak. But ultimately city leaders and “old timers” fought the trend and began a revitalization project starting with the hotel which in 1986 evicted the pigeons in place of city administration offices, retail shops, apartments, and professional office space. That led to other business partnerships and the research of federal and state grants. www.tifton.net/tiftonhistory.html
As we took a quick spin through the downtown area on this Saturday morning, we gave a once-over to the buildings that now bring such pride to the community and stopped briefly at the farmer’s market in progress at the old train depot.
Then it was onward and northward on that dastardly interstate!
"OLDE TOWN" WOODSTOCK
With my reading glasses in place, I was doing my best to diligently scan information regarding the various towns that we might be able to exit toward. Despite Don’s willingness to delve into Tifton, he was undoubtedly a bit nervous about the prospect of multiple off-highway journeys. But, the truth is, he was safer than he thought.
So early in this journey I wasn’t going to push my luck.
As it happened I could only come up with one point of interest in this time frame and it melded well with lunch. As we pulled into the town of Woodstock, we were actually looking for "Olde Town" Woodstock and figured out quickly the “olde” was not so easy to find as the “new.” At least not for us. Before we knew it, we had buzzed past gas stations, convenience stores and all the other normal accoutrements of modern-day suburbia. Realizing we were headed for the hills, we spun around, utilized a gas station as an information center, and then took the right-hand divergence we had somehow missed which was now a left-hand divergence.
As we entered “Olde Woodstock,” Don insisted the first order of business should be lunch and when he saw the signage of a Mexican restaurant, our car was suddenly parked in the lot as if magnetized. Just one little problem though. When we got out, we realized we had overlooked the smaller letters of the sign which read: “Coming soon.” Not good.
To understand the semi-panic that suddenly enveloped me, keep in mind the fact that Don is one of these people who absolutely, positively MUST eat once his body tells him it is time. Nothing can interfere. A blood sugar thing.
Knowing from experience how quickly good nature can deteriorate in such a circumstance, I dashed over to an adjacent “obviously historic” train depot -- assuming it to be a Visitor Center -- where I hoped to quickly ascertain directions to the nearest restaurant that was open.
Imagine my pleasant surprise as I pushed through the doors of this 1912 depot with no signage, a mission of food in mind, and found myself standing in front of a hostess station, a RESTAURANT hostess station. I was so relieved that in one movement, I whirled around on heel and raced back into the parking lot.
“Don. Don. Come here. You’ve got to see this.”
In no mood for a visitor center, Don protested immediately, but followed anyway; I meanwhile held my breath resisting the urge to reveal our destination. The anticipation of watching his face do a supersonic emotional shift was worth the risk. And right on cue, that is exactly what happened. A Grand Canyon of a smile broke out as one foot passed the threshold. Best of all, from my perspective, we hadn’t wandered into just any run-of-the-mill restaurant. Nope. We were in The Right Wing Tavern; and that it certainly was. The ENTIRE depot – bathrooms included – was a shrine to the Republican Party with political paraphernalia, posters, photographs, and appropriately named menu items clearly connoting a sense of humor. Its slogan is "American food politically incorrect." www.rightwingtavern.com
Appetizers, for example, are "preliminaries" and sandwiches are named after noted Republicans, living and not, presidential, senatorial, actorial and otherwise. You can find "Reagan Atomic Wings", "Condoleeza Pilaf," The McCain (Maryland Crab Cakes), The Guiliani Sandwich (shaved corned beef), a Heston something-or-other ... you get the idea.
As we waited for our food -- I order "The Perdue", a chicken sandwich Minnesota style (mushroom and onions) and Don had a half a "Taft", a half-pound hamburger -- we asked two different bartenders about this tavern's origin, and came up with two different stories. The best we could figure out was that it was owned by a professor who thought this would make an interesting restaurant theme since this is a largely Republican community. So now I’m thinking: A conservative professor. Hmmm. Isn’t that an oxymoron?
I did some research after the fact, and found a story about the tavern which indicated that its owner is more capitalistic than one might think. He was quoted as saying if he had opened the establishment in Denver, he might have called it the Left Wing Tavern. But, alas, I never did establish if the owner was a professor or a teacher or anything close to that. Makes a good story though.
The food was not spectacular, but it was good and served its purpose. I suppose the greatest testament to its palatability was than once Don was finished with his hamburger, he picked up a squared off semi-thick layer of something and held it toward me asking: “What do you suppose this is?”
I couldn’t resist laughing upon realizing he had in his hands a piece of unsquared wax paper. Unsquared because he had actually eaten a portion of it, presuming it to be tasteless cheese. We actually came to this conclusion with the help of our server who ultimately asked the manager to take the sandwich off our bill. Truthfully we thought that more than generous since Don had eaten EVERY bite of the sandwich, except for the paper. And then some of that.
As I said earlier, when Don is ready to eat not much gets in his way.