This trip is just about over. It’s Thursday and I’m at a Comfort Inn in North East, Md. I’m about 10 miles from Delaware and 25 from New Jersey.
That puts me on the edge of the old neighborhood. Everything from here on in is familiar, so I guess this last stretch doesn’t count as travel any more.
Dinner will be at Woody’s Crab Shack or Steak & Main, down the highway from here in the old town of North East.
I have driven more than 1,500 miles so far, but didn’t get to the far end of Highway 15. The road through South Carolina has a lot less to see than Virginia and North Carolina do.
There are a lot of abandoned buildings and store fronts.
When I stayed in Sumter, S.C., Tuesday night, there didn’t seem to be much to do in the area. I picked it because a selection of motels shows up in a Google search, and it was a short jump from there to I-95 to begin the return trip.
My fortunes changed at the Quality Inn. The hand towel and washcloth had been folded together to resemble a swan.
Above it was a card that told the story:
“This swan, made with your towel and face cloth, represents Sumter’s Swan Lake Iris Gardens, the only public park in America that is home to all eight known swan species.”
According to the story, the iris gardens got their start when a frustrated gardener threw his iris bulbs into the swamp. They wouldn’t grow in his yard, but they bloomed in the swamp.
I got directions during dinner at the Cajun bar. A man stood thinking about ways to get there. Then it struck him. We were already in the neighborhood.
Turn right out of the parking lot, go to the first light, make another right, and take Alice Drive to the end. I tried it Wednesday morning. It worked.
You drive through the gate that says “buses only” to park next to the other cars in the lot.
I walked past one curious tree, covered with evergreen needles and Brussels sprouts. I had no idea what it was.
More of them were growing in the middle of the lake, rooted under the water. A sign told me they are cypress.
The park also has little pillars with a button to push. When you do, you hear what’s supposed to be the tree’s voice. “I’m a sweet gum,” one says in a very folksy accent, and then goes on to explain how the seed balls are a nuisance in your lawn but cardinals love to eat the seeds.
As advertised, there were indeed eight species of swans, including a black strain native to Australia.
It was a morning of stop-and-start light rain. Dampness brings out aroma, especially from the pines, and even one lady’s perfume.
And also the roses blooming in a garden patch designed for the blind. Plants chosen for aroma or texture range from lilac to pussy willow.
There is also a chocolate garden, which has not only a little bush labeled chocolate, but also a wide variety of plants that smell like it or resemble it.
I was using the Rand-McNally U.S. Road Atlas for South Carolina. It covers the broad strokes, but lacks detail.
It did show one site worth a detour, several miles south of a town called Manning: “F. Marion Burial S.H.S.”
Wow, that’s the Swamp Fox. I read a biography about him when I was a kid. I think Disney treated him in Davy Crockett style—televised adventures and a theme song—but of course he wasn’t played by Fess Parker so it didn’t catch on.
Many roads on the map were unidentified, just faint lines connecting heavier lines.
This looks hopeless, so I have to try it.
Wandering led me to state highway, 260. According to the map, it goes vaguely in my direction.
Actually it goes nowhere. It splits at the end.
The right goes into the parking lot of a run-down motel. A sign says they will prosecute you for trespassing.
I risked prosecution only long enough to turn the car around.
The left fork takes you to a boat landing.
I stopped at a gas station for directions. The man behind the counter was from the other side of the world. Literally. East Asian with heavy accent, he had no idea what I was talking about.
One of everything down here is named Marion: Lake Marion, Marion University, Marion County.
First he thought I was asking about a motorcycle dealer.
No, the Revolutionary War hero. Francis Marion. He’s buried near here.
Then he suggested that I look in Florence, where the university is.
It was raining at a good clip. I wandered a bit more before I gave up.
On the way north I made a brief stop at a place everybody on the East Coast has heard about, South of the Border.
I had been on this section of I-95 twice before, the trip down and back when Matt graduated from boot camp at Parris Island. We didn’t stop at South of the Border.
It has the same comic feel that Wall Drug has. It even has dinosaurs. Only this theme park is a lot bigger. It includes two gift shops, east and west, each of them about the size of Wall Drug’s main building.
Billboards tout the place all the way up the highway. One shows a matador with a long curling mustache: “Pedro no shoot ze bull.”
God, how can they get away with that? I remember the colossal outcry over the Frito Bandito.
Everything at South of the Border seems to be red and yellow, even the car repair shop. There is an amusement park. Something that looks like an old parachute drop is topped by a bright sombrero.
Next came a serious decision: Wilber’s or Ralph’s for barbecue?
I’ve been to Ralph’s several times in the past few years, but it may be 15 since I’ve been to Wilber’s in Goldsboro. Not since Matt left Camp Lejeune.
I had plenty of time to make the detour from I-95 to Goldsboro, so I chose Wilber’s.
A lot can change in 15 years. I remembered a small brick building on U.S. 70, on the right if you’re heading east.
What I hadn’t counted on is how much the town has grown, and how confusing they have made it. You know how often the old U.S. route through a town becomes the business route when it’s replaced by a high-speed bypass.
Goldsboro does that one better. It has a Business 70, a Bypass 70, and a Highway 70. That makes three highways with the same number.
And the Goldsboro inset on the official North Carolina road map doesn’t show them all.
I started looking for a Holiday Inn that had been advertised on a billboard outside town. It took me an hour of trying this 70 and that 70 to find it.
Once I was there, though, they told me that Wilber’s was not only still in business, but was just up the road.
Two things to eat in North Carolina that I really like are Brunswick stew, usually made with chicken, corn, lima beans, and a few other interesting ingredients. I also enjoy pulled pork barbecue.
Wilber’s has a platter with both of them. Along with hush puppies. As usual in Q joints, the strongest drink was iced tea.
No collards or black-eyed peas on the menu. Dinner came with green cole slaw and yellow potato salad.
The potatoes were very soft and had mustard in the mix, so it tasted like the filling for deviled eggs. Very nice.
I hadn’t eaten since morning.
After I polished everything off, I stopped at a convenience store for some local beer, an IPA from Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem. It was a good American IPA. Six were enough.
I drove from Goldsboro to Fredericksburg on Wednesday. It took me about four hours, a little longer than Google Maps predicted. I stopped for a while at the Virginia Welcome Center.
I checked into a Quality Inn right next to I-95, then drove downtown to take a walk.
Historic Fredericksburg is a charming town of 18th and 19th century buildings—eateries, clothing stores, antiques shops, a few art galleries—and red brick sidewalks. Hugh Mercer’s apothecary shop is there.
I stopped at the Welcome Center and got a town map. The lady showed me where the Capital Ale House is, a couple of blocks away.
Capital had run out of its red IPA, but had another IPA called Expedition, made byAdventure Brewing Co., right in Fredericksburg.
One of the better IPAs, with a very good floral fragrance, something I’ve been missing in IPAs lately. It had the IPA piney flavor, too.
I had only one, because it was going into an empty stomach.
I turned where a sign pointed the way to I-95. Then there were no more signs. So of course I turned the wrong way and wound up in another town.
It wasn’t a waste of time, really, because I got to see Hugh Mercer’s statue and the Kenmore Plantation house. A few log cabins, too, including an old schoolhouse.
Eventually I found Route 1 south, and got into the old town again, and made my way back to Hugh Mercer’s statue. I turned around and went the other way to the end of the road, and there was another sign pointing to I-95.
Dinner was at a place new to me, Cowboy Jack’s Saloon. It’s next to the motel. It was also a mistake.
The bar has 14 or 16 taps and no local brews on draft. They have bottles, but no beer list.
I had the house ale, a Goose Island IPA, and a bottle of an OK IPA whose name I forgot.
It was $2 burger night, and the ground beef was good. They serve it “pink” or “well.”
Lucky for me I had a six-pack, a West Coast style IPA called Graffiti House from Old Bust Head Brewing in Vint Hill, Va.
This was a pretty good one, too. Not as good as Expedition, but to my taste better than, say, Lagunitas, which has a slightly sweet edge.
Thursday brought me north to Maryland. I-95 is busy everywhere all the time, but the stretch from Fredericksburg to Baltimore becomes intense. It also periodically becomes a parking lot.
So getting this far was work enough for one day.
I’m starting to get hungry. Thirsty too.
The beer drinking will commence shortly.
Love to all and best wishes. And I can’t think of anything wise-ass to add.