Wednesday, September 9, 2009

- Crazy Country: Going a little farther west

We left Williamsburg, Virginia for Texas on a Thursday morning in late July. I had planned the journey down to the last detail with Trip Advisor and Google Map. We each had cell phones and Garmin Nuvis (GPS). And we had two cars. Knowing how different our driving styles are (mine is “jack rabbit up to speed and hit cruise control,” whereas Don’s is “keep your foot on the accelerator at all times and adjust to the conditions”), I proclaimed that we should not try to stay together.

It was a pretty good plan as far as it went, which was about 40 miles. Then I hit the turn-off for the I-295 bypass around Richmond and realized that Google Map and the GPS both wanted me to stay on I-64 West. What would Don do? I called to ask, but he didn’t answer. So much for well-laid plans.

We did eventually rendezvous at a rest area on the west side of Richmond, decided that it might be better to stay in sight of, if not rigidly one behind the other, and headed on ... only to encounter traffic at a standstill on I-81 South. Hours later, we arrived at the planned lunch stop in Lewisburg, West Virginia where the GPS dropped us four blocks east of our destination. By the time we staggered into the Stardust Cafe it was 3:15 and they had stopped serving lunch. So had everyone else in the area it turned out.

Taking pity on us, a kind waitress delayed her own meal long enough to bring us some fantastic home-made tomato soup and bread, the best she could do under the circumstances. As we ate, I bemoaned the traffic delay that had prevented us from enjoying a fuller meal. Don, ever on the lookout for the positive, noted how beautiful the mountains had been on the drive in.

“You look at them?” I squeaked in amazement, “I just try to get through them without totally freaking out!” Not to worry, Don reassured me, we’d be through them in no time at all.

“Are you kidding?” I shot back, “We have 150 miles left to go through West Virginia, and West Virginia is nothing BUT mountains.”

And so began my odyssey in the Odyssey: the endless climbs and hair-raising descents through “almost heaven, West Virginia.” (Note to John Denver: what were you on when you wrote that one?) I fairly flew, not daring to slow down as the grills of monster trucks loomed in my rearview mirror, hitting the radio search button on the rare straight-aways, finding nothing but gospel and country to get me through.

As I drove I recalled the last time I had ridden a roller coaster ... a very long time ago, before Busch Gardens had even built the Loch Ness Monster. Back then I had chanted a mild four-letter expletive (starts with “c” and rhymes with trap) over and over, while promising God I would never again go on a roller coaster if I could just survive the ride. So what was I doing piloting 4600 pounds of metal down 45 degree inclines at 80 miles per hour while muttering the same old incantation? In the words of Dierks Bentley, “I know what I was feeling, but what was I thinking?” We should have shipped the cars to Texas and flown Southwest, that’s what.

Obviously I lived to tell the tale and never was I happier then crossing the state line into Kentucky. Beautiful Kentucky, with its rolling hills and blue grass. Gentle Kentucky. I loved Kentucky, yes I did. Of course, by the time we limped into Lexington, the carefully chosen restaurant had already closed for the evening. We opted instead for Ricardo's sports bar in Versailles (pronounced ver-sale … go figure), which turned out to be a high-class honky tonk with a mean pinot noir (MacMurray) and some surprisingly good seafood. My nerves slowly stopped jangling, soothed by the riffs of a two-man combo strumming Keith Urban in the background. 551 miles down, only 1177 to go.

It would nice if I could say I left West Virginia behind that day. Nice, but not true. Fate may not be kind, but she does have a wicked sense of humor. You see, the song at the top of the country hit parade, the one that played over and over as I drove through the West Virginia mountains, left its chorus indelibly recorded on my mind's internal soundtrack. So when it comes on the radio and Don calls out, “They’re playing your song,” I’m already gone, barreling down the West Virginia highways once again, singing,“God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy."

Leaving the Burg Leftovers

Good cheese ravioli (fresh if possible)
Chopped fresh tomato
Chopped parsley
Garlic butter
Mascarpone cheese
Toasted pine nuts
Thin shreds of Prosciutto or Speck (smoked prosciutto)
Grated Fontinella cheese
Chopped Kalamata olives

You’ll notice there are no quantities here. That would be because I was literally emptying out the refrigerator and pantry in anticipation of our impending departure. Just cook up some ravioli, warm a little mascarpone, melt some garlic butter, throw the whole thing together and enjoy. If you have different stuff hanging out in your fridge, follow your muse. A glass of red wine would do nicely, too.

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