Teeny, tiny towns and horseshoe pitchers

So, we’re on a South-North road trip. As is often the case, we discover so many cool things…randomly.

For example, we stumbled on the National Horseshoe Pitcher Association World Championship. Whaaat?

Bart walked around the site where “ringers” (?) were practicing for the next day’s competition. Very cool.

After leaving South Carolina, we headed to and through North Carolina. Imagine our surprise when we found the iconic little town called Micro (population 498). As they say about some places, “there’s no there there” in Micro.

It’s truly a tiny town.

Continuing our sojourn North, we found refuge in a very comfortable Maryland hostelry located in the small community of Middle River.

After driving through areas with challenging weather (lightning and torrential rain), it was a real pleasure to arrive to a place with beautiful calm skies.

TOMORROW: New England… here we come!

200,000 “small town America” miles behind us…

..and, lots more on the road(s) ahead.

Our 2010 tour-mobile just hit the 200,000 mile mark. We celebrated the moment by stopping at one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path places: The Good Earth Peanut Company in Skippers, VA (pop. 634).

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It was lunch time and we were hungry. Bart got his favorite, low carb treat: roasted sea salt and cracked pepper peanuts.

Rorie, well…let’s just say she deluded herself (again). She insisted her choice was the healthiest: double dipped milk chocolate peanuts, which she said packed a big wallop of dairy and protein. And, hey, “0% trans fat” (Sigh).

There you have it: today’s road food report. Stay tuned for news about our continuing adventures, spotlighting nice folks doing awesome things in really cool countryside places.

NEXT STOP: “The 2 Ks” (Kentucky and Kansas)

James Taylor:”Gone to Carolina…in my mind”. Rorie & Bart: “Went there…in the flesh”.

Singer James Taylor hails from North Carolina and his experiences there have been the inspiration for some of his songs, most notably “Gone to Carolina”.

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Though some may think Mr. Taylor inspired our visit, the Discover Small Town America Tour was actually invited to sample some of North Carolina’s amazing and unusual small towns this summer by our local “lookout”, AKA our daughter Sara. After doing our research, we headed out to spotlight some interesting, and definitely unusual, places in the Wake County region of the State.

First stop…the town of Lizard Lick

Lizard Lick is an off-the-beaten-path location within the small town of Wendell, NC (pop. 6,745). It appealed to us not only because of its weird name, but also because one of its businesses was featured on truTV as a television series called Lizard Lick Towing. We stopped in to meet the “repo agents” and stars of the show, but sadly they had just left. The co-owners of the company have interesting backgrounds. Amy Shirley is a power lifter AND mortician. Ron Shirley is a pastor.

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Lizards are everywhere in Lizard Lick, even on top of banks

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Lizard Lick Towing was established 10 years ago with one truck. Today the repo biz has 20 trucks. Its office is very modest!

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According to a local historian, the town got its name from a “passing observer who saw many lizards sunning and licking themselves on a rail fence.” Really?

Our next stop, randomly, was Garner, NC (pop. 27,342).

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Like many small towns do, Garner “welcomes” folks with a huge water tower.

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Garner’s historic downtown feels like a classic version of “Main Street USA”

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Garner was “put on the map” in 1847 when the railroad began service through the area. This car marks the place where trains went right through the middle of town.

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Fuquay-Varina (population 18,644) was the next place we decided to explore. Why was it on our list? You guessed it…because of its weird name, pronounced “Few quay-Va reen uh”.

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Your fearless tour guides Sara and Rorie were excited to explore F-V. They left Bart/Dad in the dust.

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Honor system “lending libraries” like this one in F-V are one of the really cool aspects of small town living.

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Wall murals abound in this town. What a great way to create community buzz and make otherwise boring buildings interesting and attractive.

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For those who know Rorie, this sidewalk sign gets to the heart of the matter.

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And this sign tells all about Rorie’s true addiction – chocolate!

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Our last stop of the day was the picturesque town of Wake Forest (pop. 31,000), which I thought was the home of Wake Forest University. WRONG! WFU was originally located here but moved to Winston-Salem many years ago. Oh well.

We located the main drag, parked our car and took in all the warm and welcoming sights of downtown WF on South White Street.

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Large, antique-style clocks like this add “flavor” to the downtown experience

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Bart loves hot dogs. His big regret was not stopping into Shorty’s (established 1916) to try out one of its “famous” tube steaks, as Bart’s father often called them.

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Here’s a truck from a local brewery that knows the value of “small town soul”.

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As we walked around the downtown neighborhood, we were surprised to learn that ol’ Willie was running for President.

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Leaving town we saw an old southern, cracker-style house.

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But what really got our attention were the Caddys in the driveway. Didn’t see any caskets in them, so we’re guessing they are out-of-service hearses.

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We had a great Tar Heel State experience this day and – maybe best of all – were welcomed “home” by our DSTA Tour mascot Lady Jane (“LJ”). Don’t let her soulful eyes kid you. All LJ wanted to know was 1). Did we bring her treats? and 2). Would we be spending the next several hours giving her attention and affection?

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Stay tuned for more road reports from Rorie and Bart’s next big Discover Small Town America adventure.

 

Question: When is a sandwich not a sandwich?

Answer: When you’re in a town called Sandwich (Massachusetts) as the Discover Small Town America Tour was earlier in the Summer. More on this later…


We set off to explore the Upper Cape towns of Bourne, Falmouth and – of course – Sandwich. Our tour guide for the day was our wonderful friend Alice, a native “Cape Codder” living in North Falmouth (pronounced “Fal-muth”). The town (population approximately 30,000) is a picturesque place that combines bucolic countryside views and vistas with a vibrant and very walkable village center.

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The weather was spectacular and Alice took us on a walk near her beautiful home to a local marina called Fiddler’s Cove. This place is a classic New England boating venue.

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Having worked up a good appetite, we decided it was time for lunch. Alice had a special place in mind and drove us on some gorgeous backroads (only a local would know) to a seafood lover’s nirvana – The Lobster Trap. Located in the Town of Bourne (population 19,754), The Lobster Trap is a fish market and fried seafood joint located on the Pocasset River in Monument Beach.

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From a healthy choice standpoint, some of us chose our meals wisely. Others (Rorie, Rorie, Rorie), not so much. “Anybody here order the fried clam roll with a massive side of fries?” She insisted it was just the perfect balance of protein and vegetables.

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The Lobster Trap has plenty of indoor searing but limited, and prized, outside tables. We scored one with a direct view of the water.

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After a great visit with our buddy Alice, and a scrumptious lunch, we headed off to another iconic Cape Cod town: Sandwich (population 20,675).

Sandwich is the oldest town on the Cape. It was first settled by Europeans in 1637 and named for the seaport of Sandwich, Kent, England. It is home to a historic grist mill, and boasts an amazing collection of architecturally significant homes.

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Even its town hall is stunning.

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The Hoxie House – a classic saltbox style – is one of the oldest houses on the Cape (Circa 1637)

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Dexter’s Mill is located on the historic town square of Sandwich. It’s one of the oldest water mill sites existing in the US and has Plymouth Colony Records dating back to 1640.

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The architecture that can be seen in the area around the mill is just beautiful.

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We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these charming, Upper Cape towns. It was truly a “secret sauce” kind of day: visiting a great friend, eating great food and seeing great sights! As we were leaving the Cape we drove by a “show stopper” view. Bart slammed on his brakes and Rorie took this spectacular shot of a massive cumulous cloud floating over a lake. Looked like a Dali-style painting. An amazing end to a wonderful day.

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Stay tuned for the Tour’s next road report from the Lower Cape towns of Brewster, Chatham and Orleans.

Shhh. Can you keep a secret?

We can’t. Well, maybe we can just whisper it in YOUR ear…

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The small town of Los Alamos, NM (population 12,019) was the ultimate travel secret for many years.  If you worked and lived there, it was a “zip your lips” place.

“Imagine you work in a city that isn’t on any map, in a house that has no postal address. You go to work each day not really knowing the purpose of what you are doing or how it fits into the jobs of the thousands of other people going to work each day around you. You don’t talk about where you live or what you do with anyone on the outside—and even on the inside the work conversations are kept within your own department. You always erase the blackboard after a meeting.” That was the Secret City of Los Alamos during the early 1940s. (http://bit.ly/2vabtRx)

Small town America is home to lots of “secret” places

The Tour has traveled tens of thousands of off-the-beaten-path road miles. Our favorite experiences are discovering secret little “hideaway” places that most people have never been to or seen…like Secret City. Here’s a quick roundup of several. Can you name them? We’ll give you a few hints.

This is the scene inside Russell’s Travel Center (NO, we don’t own it)

Actually, this is NOT a tiny town…

All we’ll tell you is that this gentleman owns an establishment named in honor of his mother. His restaurant is located in an area known for citrus farming.

Mermaids, apparently, need suds to quench their thirst in Longbeach Village.

Sgt. Pepper is featured at this iconic gallery.

Wine and classic cars featured in the bucolic Northwest Connecticut town.

And when those cotton balls get rotten…Located in the small town that hosts The Big Pig Jig (think BBQ).

Sam’s tree house has a connection to President Jimmy Carter.

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The Tour found harmony in Harmony…and some wonderful wine.

Bart made a new friend in a place called Old Town. Frank Lloyd Wright would have approved.

Rorie was always fascinated with super hero movies. Can you say rusty “Transformer”? Only a short drive from Music City to this small town. 

Shy pie? No. Shy server? Yes. Wonderful establishment just outside the city limits of Ft. Smith, AR.

Chile capital of the world.

The abbreviation for this small town is HdG. This is a water’s edge view of the Chesapeake Bay.

Bart, meet Bert, Bert, meet Bart. Iconic local waterside grill.

Sidewalk art from the grounds of the Gibtown Showmen’s Club.

Discovering small towns makes you work up an appetite – or makes you vulnerable to snack attacks. Salty, crunchy goodness found here, down the road apiece just over the railroad tracks.

Stay tuned for road reports about lots more “secret towns” in small town America.

We discovered a small town gem of a place…right in our own backyard

Editor’s notes: Rorie and Bart love #smalltowns. That’s obvious. But they especially love discovering awesome places when they’re only a stone’s throw (well maybe a 1 or 2 hour drive) from their home. They’ve reported on “Backyard Gems” before, spotlighting places like Micanopy, FL (http://bit.ly/2tCji5o) and Collinsville, CT (http://bit.ly/2tF06DO).

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We recently navigated our way to the town of Dunedin (pronounced DONE-EE-DIN) in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. Bart’s father “Buddy” often mentioned the place when reminiscing about his time in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He trained near Dunedin as a rear tail gunner on a night fighter before being deployed to the Philippines.

Today the town is said to offer some of the best dining in the Tampa Bay area, hosts the minor league Dunedin Blue Jays baseball team, and has art, culture and – according to some locals – the #1 Beach in America!  Your DSTA Tour guides focused on Dunedin’s quaint downtown village. What fun!

A patriotic archway “announces” the town’s retail district – The Shops on Broadway.  

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Colorful signs and sidewalk “ornaments” put a smile on our faces.

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The sweet tooth among us made a beeline for this charming sugar mecca. Check out some of its old school confections.

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To Rorie’s defense, she did take a pass on Sweet Treats’ Sky Bars, Charleston Chews, ice cream and other goodies that were calling her. But, that’s only because she knew what was waiting for her just a few blocks down the street…lunch.

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View from our counter seat

The Olde Bay Cafe is attached to the Dunedin Fish Market. Their seafood is fresh and just plain good. The views from our bar stools were spectacular. It was a hot day so we ate inside. In cooler weather the outside deck is where you want to be.

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Our Dunedin explorations – and chow down lunch – were terrific. But the day wasn’t over….Here’s where things got even more fun.

Normally we start our #smalltown “tours” with a specific destination in mind. But, invariably, we discover random, really cool places that weren’t on our radar. And that’s what happened in nearby Largo, Florida.

Thanks to some good road signage, we noticed a sign that caught our attention.

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The screeching sound you may have heard was Bart making a sudden U-turn to get back to the entrance of The Florida Botanical Gardens. Oh my, what  wonderful discovery.

After parking (the place was deserted because of the heat), we headed out to explore the park. The first thing we noticed was this rather amusing sign.

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Needless to say, we had no intention of either feeding or molesting a gator. Whaaaat?

The Gardens are a maze of beautiful walkways.

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It’s also an extraordinary venue for weddings.

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There are plantings of every kind imaginable around the grounds. They’re stunning.

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Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but our ability to capture the amazing beauty of the Gardens was extremely limited. All we can say is, if you’re ever in this area, put The Florida Botanical Gardens on your bucket list!

And while you’re there you MUST take in Heritage Village. It’s literally right next door to The Gardens. This 21-acre living history museum features 31 structures, some from the mid-to-late 19th century. It averages 4 1/2 stars on #TripAdvisor for a good reason.

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This wonderful recreation of a #smalltown village includes a school, church, railroad depot, sponge warehouse and general store as well as a variety of historic homes.

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We will be back to spend more time exploring the sights and smells of the village of Dunedin, The Florida Botanical Gardens and Heritage Village. Maybe we’ll see you there!

 

The Tour discovers “real-deal” Greek food, found and eaten in a small MD town where the Army tested the bullets that killed JFK.

After experiencing hellacious traffic getting through Atlanta, we had a quiet night’s stay in Norcross, GA (The Peach State)The Tour continued through South Carolina (Home of The Gamecocks) on our way to Durham, NC (The Tarheel State), where we stopped to see our daughter Sara and meet the newest member of the family.

Say “hi” to our new grand dog, rescued Lady Jane, LJ for short, who Sara (right) recently adopted.

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Sara made us THE BEST EVER slow cooked pork loin dinner. Her recipe was from a web site called Gonna Want Seconds. Bart wanted (and had) thirds. OMG. Here’s a link to the recipe. DO NOT MISS THIS ONE: http://bit.ly/2gufusr

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The next morning we made tracks through VA (Virginia is for Lovers), the Nation’s Capital and on to the small town of Aberdeen, MD (Maryland is for Crabs). The town is home to baseball legends Billy and Cal Ripken, and former resident and musician Frank Zappa. 

Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. holds the record for consecutive games played (2,632), surpassing Lou Gehrig’s 56 year run of 2,130 that many believed was unbreakable.

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Aberdeen (pop. 15,130) is also notable for the presence of the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, where Bart’s career Army Uncle Joe Harrington was stationed for several years. It’s also where ballistics tests were carried out on the bullets that killed President Kennedy.

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Our hotel for the night was located in a most unusual – and cool – location…attached to Ripken Stadium. The Stadium is home to the Aberdeen IronBirds, Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The team has sold out every home game since it began playing there in 2002.

This is the view from our room.

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After checking into our hotel, we dropped our luggage and then immediately headed out again to explore the nearby town of Havre De Grace, MD (pop. 12,952). Positioned on the Susquehanna River and at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, the city was named one of America’s 20 best small towns to visit in 2014 by Smithsonian Magazine. If Smithsonian says to visit…we go.

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There is so much history here, ranging from the British invasion during the War of 1812 to the town’s role as a primary stop for escaped slaves on the Eastern Route of the Underground Railroad.

Walking along the waterfront boardwalk (or as they call it…a promenade) we passed what was once the stately brick Bayou Hotel, now condos.

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Continuing on, we passed the Decoy Museum, (duck hunting and artisan carved decoys are still big business here) and the historic Concord Point Lighthouse, which marks the mouth of the river.

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The Chesapeake Bay views along the Promenade Walkway were spectacular. It was dusk, there was nearly a full moon and this kayaker had “the joint” all to himself. Very serene.

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What a great spot to sit and take a load off.

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We can’t think of single boat lover who wouldn’t want this gig – Havre de Grace Harbor Patrol.

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Driving out of the waterfront downtown area, we passed gracious inns decked out for Christmas, and restaurants and shops overlooking the bay. Havre De Grace is a very cool, old-fashioned town where the surrounding river and bay draw folks to enjoy coastal living.

The Vandiver Inn, a charming Victorian-style B&B near the banks of the Susquehanna River.

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After our waterfront walk in the brisk (okay cold) air, we definitely worked up an appetite and knew just the place to go…Georgia’s Carry Out, a local mom and pop Greek restaurant we read about.

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The minute we walked in we knew we made a great choice. Nick, who owns the restaurant with his beautiful wife, greeted us, asked us if we’ve had his home made soups, and when we said no, he immediately brought each of us 3 samples of the best soup ever.

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A couple at a neighboring table, Tim and Sandy Brooks, really helped us decide what to order. Thanks for the great suggestions.

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This is a small Greek Salad which could have fed at least 3 people. The stuffed grape leaf melted in our mouths. The feta cheese was fresh and creamy, and all the veggies were perfectly ripe and crisp. But wait, there’s more.

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Owner Nick ladled our “sample” soups. Bart loved the homemade pea soup so much he ordered what they call “a bowl”. Had to be a quart of that liquid deliciousness in his “trough”.

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Rorie got a gyro (pronounced “YEE-roh” Nick insisted). As the old saying goes, “It takes two hands to handle a whopper”. This was a whopper and it was delicious!

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Tim and Sandy told us about another small town eatery they thought we should take a look at, even if only for the kitschy decorations. It’s called Mamie’s Cafe (http://www.mamiescafewithlove.com). This is what ABC News had to say about the place: “The hand written sign spells out Mamie’s…and underneath you see, ‘With Love.’ When you go inside, its like your family album came to life…While waiting for your pot roast, shrimp salad, or free desert, take a look up on the wall and you will see a history of East Baltimore.” Did someone say free dessert?

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Mamie’s walls are covered with old pots, pans, washboards and nostalgic photos from years gone by…

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Full beyond words, we headed back to our place of rest for what we hoped would be a great night’s sleep.

This was the reading on our odometer when we left Georgia. We’ve put quite a few miles on our buggy, under our belts and on our buns, with 2,000 more to go.

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The next stop on the second to last leg of our coast-to-coast, round trip Tour: Connecticut. Time to bundle up.