Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Slow down and travel

Boiling rage. No, frantic gotta-get-there-ism. Or maybe it’s just plain impatience.

For us guys, we often find ourselves in one of those emotional states when traveling with the family. Maybe it happens to single guys, too, but I usually see it in us husbands/fathers. It’s always ugly. It’s oppressive to the other humans in the cars -- our spouses/kids.

I’m guilty. I’m partially cured. And I’m here to urge you to resist the urge.

You know the drill. There’s a nice vacation planned. Or maybe you’re visiting your family, or hers. It’s not intentional, but far in the back of your skull, a compulsion sprouts. You need to get where you’re going. Soon. As soon as possible. No stops…or as few as feasible.

Kids need a potty break? “I SIMPLY DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT! Do they HAVE to go? Can’t they hold it until we stop for lunch?”

Wife’s pregnant belly smashing the blue blazes out of her bladder? “YOU’RE AN ADULT!”, you scream. “Can’t YOU hold it?”

The disease usually includes the need to drive at least 10 or 15 miles an hour over the posted limit.

Great way to add to the interstate tension, eh?

I’ve tried to diagnose the madness, and here’s all I’ve come up with: In some respects, men feel responsible for getting the family to the destination safely. The quicker we go, with the least number of stops, accomplishes that goal in the quickest way possible. The stress ends at the destination. It’s over --at least until the return trip, when the fever starts rising all over again.

Admittedly, that may be putting the most benign face on a terrible malignancy. But like I said, it’s what I’ve come up with so far.

The good news is that I’ve found a painless cure, at least for myself.

It’s age.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve gained the great benefit of hindsight. It has shown me clearly how my teeth-gritting impatience harmed my family and sucked much of the pleasure of travel out of my family’s experiences. I remember well a return trip to North Carolina from my native Philadelphia, when an inevitable traffic jam caught us in Virginia. I escaped I-95 by driving, in reverse, up an on-ramp. In my impatience, it didn’t dawn on me that I had no idea what route would take me beyond the slowdown and eventually back to the interstate.

The result is that we got lost in Fort Lee. That was just making the trip longer – and besides that, I was feeling very guilty for having acted so impetuously. Instead of an apology, I tried to blame the situation on my incredulous wife.

I’m ashamed of that incident, burned in our family’s memory, to this day.

That and other bad traveling decisions have taught me to slow down. Traveling can be fun and a terrific bonding opportunity for your family. We don’t have to get there with all due speed. In fact, we’re more likely to get everyone there safe and sound if we take a few breaks --if we eat lunch slowly; if we laugh and joke with each other; if we risk an hour’s side trip when an interesting historic site presents itself on one of those big brown highway signs.

If, in other words, we make a trip out of our travel. We’re in it to make a memory…a good one.

There are times when we do just have to get there…in the case of a relative’s illness, for instance.

Otherwise, here’s what I’ve started doing. We leave at a sensible hour, not at 5 a.m. to beat the traffic even though everyone in the car is miserably sleepy. We stop whenever anyone needs to – which now includes two delightful little grandsons and their Dad, besides our original little nuclear family. We do stop at quilt shops and Wal-Marts and scenic overlooks. Life goes on if we arrive 30 minutes later than planned.

The disease still reasserts itself now and then. But I’m better at resisting it.

You try it. The advantage: fewer regrets – and many warm memories – when you get my age.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Travel for a train-lover's tour

Kids love trains. Lots of adults love trains. That's why the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, near Charlotte, is so popular. It's chuck full of trains, mostly (with a good sprinkling of displays and artifacts of other modes of travel from North Carolina's past.)

Before becoming a state museum, the complex at Spencer was a main working yard for a major railroad company.

One big attraction is the enormous Back Shop. For the first time in 25 years of operation, the Museum will offer a "Behind the Scenes" tour. You can stroll through the Back Shop, view the Roundhouse Restoration bays, and enjoy a tour through the private rail car of James Duke.

Spencer operators say the tour opens "new areas of the historic Spencer Shops, while providing a unique view of museum artifacts and restoration projects.

Here's more:

"A stroll through the awe-inspiring Back Shop starts the 'Behind the Scenes' tour. Visitors can marvel at how such a massive structure, three stories high and the equivalent of two football fields in length, was built in the waning years of the 1800s.

Visitors will also get an up close look at the DC-3 Potomac Pacemaker, undergoing cosmetic restoration in the Back Shop. The WWII era airplane was used for passenger travel by Piedmont Airlines and still bears the company's logo. The Potomac Pacemaker is an important piece of the history of the Winston-Salem based airline, which became a part of US Air in 1989."

Cost is $15, which includes museum admission and the tour but not a train ride. The 90-minute tours are available at 1 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and are by reservation only, at least three days in advance.

Here's how: Call 704-636-2889 ext. 258; or e-mail

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

N.C.: Winter wonderful travel land

It’s mid-January, and you can drive on more than 90 percent of the roads in North Carolina with nary a worry of slipping in snow or slush or on ice.

A trip to the North Carolina beach this weekend will welcome you with afternoon temperatures in the mid- to high 60s. Even Nags Head on the northern coast will reach the mid-50s. You won’t want to dive into the surf, but depending on your hardiness you could take a long walk on the beach wearing shorts and a sweatshirt.

Sure, that’s not typical for the state. But it’s not completely uncommon, either. My family has spent many a winter day at the coast. A few years ago, we spent an overnight 70 miles in the other direction, in Greensboro, visiting the Bog Garden and taking in an evening concert.

Of course, winter is prime travel time in far western North Carolina, where skiing and winter festivals abound in the communities tucked in the Blue Ridge and Smoky mountains.

In fact, winter is a fine time to travel, particularly if you are one of those people who slid into the doldrums during those months when the sun hugs the horizon. I think about museums that I’d like to visit in a nearby town. A one-day or long weekend visit is feasible from a pocketbook perspective -- you may be able to get a great rate at hotels that need to fill as many rooms at possible during a slow time of year. Yet it’s plenty of time to rest the soul or perhaps reconnect with your spouse. Take the family on a day-trip to the North Carolina Zoo. Most state historic sites are open, and you aren’t likely to have to elbow through crowds.
Indeed, we are fortunate to have plenty of places to visit, and enough good weather in the cold months to enjoy those places.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gotta Go: Bath, N.C.'s oldest city

A traveling preacher in the colonial era is said to have cursed Bath, North Carolina’s first incorporated town, to perpetually remain a small

town. So it has. For visitors to this historic place, turns out it is more blessing than curse.

Like its big-city cousins of Savannah, Ga., or Charleston, S.C., Bath is built on a bay, in this case the confluence of Bath and Bay creeks. That
made the historic village important to the young North Carolina colony and convenient for pirates. One of this nation’s most notorious
buccaneers, Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was a frequent visitor and by legend wed a young woman from the area not long before he was killed at Ocracoke Inlet in 1718.
There are several historic buildings to tour; details in a moment. But first, Bath is a pleasant place to spend some time. Whether as a destination or as a side trip on the drive to the Outer Banks, a stroll through town offers massive lazy trees, aged clapboard architecture, and just enough history to satisfy a curious mind.

And of course there is glistening Bath Creek, the wide bay that serves as the town’s southern border. Bonner’s Point, a city park, looks out over the bay. Dotted with picnic tables, it offers the perfect spot for lunch or a breezy afternoon nap.

English explorer John Lawson founded Bath in 1701, and it was incorporated in 1705 as the state’s first town. North Carolina’s first library was established in the town in 1701 as well, the gift of a British minister.
The state maintains the historic area’s Visitor Center, which offers a short film on Bath’s history. Guided tours of some of the history buildings in town begin in the Center.

Among the historic homes are the Palmer-Marsh House, built in 1751, and
the Bonner House, built in 1830, whose front porch offers a stunning view of the bay. Drop by nearby Van Der Veer House (built around 1790) for a self-guided exhibit on the history of Bath. There’s also St. Thomas Church, built around 1734 and still an active parish. It is open to visitors.

The Historic Bath Visitor Center, at 207 Carteret St., is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on state-recognized holidays. A ticket to tour the Bonner and Palmer-Marsh houses is affordable: $2 for adults, $1 for children. Call 252-923-3971 for more information.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Trip to Durham’s Civil War history

If you’re up for a trip to Durham next month, there are two intriguing programs focused on enslaved people. They are offered as part of North Carolina’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

On Feb. 12 at Historic Stagville, "To Free A Family" will include a free lecture and book signing by Dr. Sydney Nathans, Duke University history professor emeritus. Stagville comprises the remnants of one of the largest plantations of the pre-Civil War South. The owners, the Bennehan-Cameron family, had combined holdings totaling almost 30,000 acres of land and about 900 slaves by 1860. Stagville offers a view of the past, especially that of its African-American community, by allowing visitors to guide themselves around its extensive grounds.

On Feb. 16 at Bennett Place, Reginald Hildebrand, UNC-Chapel Hill
historian, will lecture on "The First Year of Freedom in North Carolina: Pursuing Freedom with the Hoe and the Sword, the Book and the Lord." There is an admission charge.

Bennett Place is the site of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War. A simple farmhouse, Bennett Place was situated between Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's headquarters in Greensboro, and Union Gen. William T. Sherman's headquarters in Raleigh. In April 1865, the two commanders met at the Bennett family’s home, where they signed surrender papers for Southern armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.