Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lunch at Pope's Cafe - Shelbyville TN

A friend's recent blog entry about a cool little hot dog joint in Massachusetts reminded me of the following story I wrote in 2005 and submitted to our local BMW club newsletter.  Real life in a small town world!

Some characters just can’t be invented, and this would certainly be true of the old and
grizzled chain-smoking “regular” sitting at the back of this dining anachronism. But in
the play of real life, staged at a smoke-hazed town-square diner complete with swiveling
counter stools and clear plastic domes covering a sinful assortment of home-made pies,
he certainly fit the part. The diner is Pope’s CafĂ©, famous for its “meat and three sides”
lunch specials, and a group of us rode into town to have lunch here and mingle with the
locals while in Shelbyville TN for the BMW RA rally last month [June, 2005].

This trip was a circuitous route that took me on a national parks stamp hunt through OK,
KS, MO, and eventually brought me into AR to meet up with a distant cousin and his
wife, who have been riding two-up for decades. I’ve corresponded with this cousin for 20
years, but we’d never met until this trip to Hot Springs. Mike joined me in Hot Springs
mid-week, in time to head east toward TN and the rally. We hopped off the interstate as
soon as we were able, and took scenic SR-64 across the southern tier of TN, through
some pretty wooded and rolling country.

As we got closer to our destination, the size and quality of the farms and outbuildings
changed noticeably for the better, and we realized we were now in the heart of Tennessee
Walking Horse country. Horses and colts were corralled in immaculate paddocks next to
opulent horse barns, and Mike commented on how the horses here lived better than do
many people.

We spent all day Friday at the rally site, visiting and shopping the vendors, checking out
the bikes, meeting new friends, and catching up with old ones. The rally was held at
Celebration Horse Park, a perfect venue for the event. Campers were set up on grassy,
shaded fields adjacent to the enclosed arena where the vendors and biergarten were
located. BMW Motorrad had their demo fleet there, but all rides were quickly booked
and I missed my chance at a new K1200R. My friend Kathy and her husband and son
were there, a family of BMW riders from nearby Murfreesboro. Her son on his R1100S
won “youngest rider” award at the rally. At 18 years of age, he’s already a responsible
and accomplished rider.

At noon, it was time for us to meet Mike’s three friends Bob, Larry, and Gary, members
of the Alabama State BMW Club, for lunch at Pope’s. The waitress was sassy and the
guys flirted shamelessly with her, which made my lunch enormously entertaining. The
food didn’t disappoint, either, being plentiful and hearty.

But those pies kept tempting us from under their see-through covers. We learned that
they were homemade by local Amish folk who come into town one day every two weeks
to sell them to the local restaurants. We happened to hit Pope’s on that one day in
fourteen, and I can personally vouch for the chocolate cream pie.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One More Time....With Feeling.

Back in early December, some bad news reached me, news that shook me more than I realized it would.   The news gave me pause, dimming the flame of passion for a pastime I'd participated in for the last 10 years:  Motorcycling.  My motorcycles took me all over the country, through every state in our United States, brought me to hundreds of our great national parks and through our mountains, our plains, and our great deserts.

For the next couple of weeks this news weighed heavily on me.  Still in shock, I had a dream, one which I wrote about in my blog entry back in December.  This dream and a long run I took a couple of mornings later told me what I needed to do.  It resulted in my setting up a fundraiser in Mid-December to help the husband and wife who were the subjects of this bad news.  My plan?  To raise pledges for every one of the miles I'd be running in my next five half-marathons.  I had some stickers printed and some coffee mugs made to use as gifts for the donors.

I signed up for a half marathon in Jackson MS in early January and another one, in Baton Rouge LA later that month.  I signed up for a half marathon in Birmingham AL in mid-February.  And I signed up for a half marathon in Columbia SC in early March and another one in Atlanta GA in mid-March, actually on St. Patrick's Day. 

I bought five bandanas, each in a different color and using iron-transfers, customized each bandana with a photo of the couple along with the name and date of the race.  My plan?  To wear the bandana in the race and then mail it and a photo of the finisher's medal to the couple after the race.

I was blown away by the immediate response I received to my fund-raising.  Folks jumped in and donated dollars per mile for not one but for every one of these five races!

Each race day morning, as I tied that bandana around my neck, my thoughts were with my friends.  The husband was not only a motorcyclist but an avid runner.   I would be running each of those five races for him.   Removing the bandana, still damp with sweat, and tucking it into my suitcase after the race was over, I gained another small bit of solace and comfort as one more race was complete, one more run for them. And at the end of each race I had one more chance to e-mail the donors, letting them know that the race was successfully completed and thanking them once more for their generosity.

Putting each of these bandanas along with a small note and a photo or two into the mail at the end of each race, I hoped that I was also sending along my love and a little bit of positive energy to the healing couple.

It was as if each step I took while running those races was one more step forward in their healing process.  I clung to the rare and brief, but oh-so-precious reports on their progress, posted occasionally at a blogsite set up specifically to keep us all informed.  When news came that the husband had finally been released from the hospital, all of us knew that he'd truly come a long way on his path to recovery.

Then a gathering of motorcyclists from the Long-Distance riding community in mid-March in Flagler Beach FL brought what everyone was hoping for:  News that the husband would be joining the group for lunch.  Sadly for me, I was in Atlanta getting ready to run the last of these five races in their honor, so I was unable to atttend.  The Ride To Eat in Flagler Beach on March 15, a RTE that became so much more:  Watch the Video.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Publix Georgia Half Marathon is Done!

The Georgia Half hilly could it be?   These now infamous words have passed my lips before.  In fact, I said it ahead of each of the last four races.  First, before running the Jackson MS race in early January.  Hills?  In Jackson MS?  Who knew?!   Even the race organizers apologized for all of those hills. 

Then I said it again before the race in Baton Rouge LA.  There are no hills in Baton Rouge.  It's on the Mississippi River flood plain.  But I didn't know that the race organizers had a surprise up their sleeves. 

And I expected some hills in Birmingham AL, but what I didn't expect was for the route to purposely seek out the hilliest part of the city and send us there.  I declared this my hilliest race ever - and my stats at RunKeeper confirmed this with a "greatest elevation climb on record" attaboy - and I naively thought that nothing could top this for hill climb. 

I was wrong.  I hadn't run the Columbia SC race yet.  It was relentless.  There were no flat stretches on the Columbia race course at all!  Worse, the steepest climbs were in the last 4 miles of the race.  My RunKeeper account confirmed this, sending me a message that essentially said, "Forget that last attaboy we send you.  This race is now your hilliest." Well, not in those words, but it did declare the Columbia race my "greatest elevation climb" so far.

Then there was Atlanta.  I lived and worked in the Atlanta area for a year.  I know what the city looks like.  And in fact, I expected this one to be hilly.  I expected it to be the hilliest of all the races I'd done so far.  I was correct.  RunKeeper agreed:
RunKeeper "attaboy" for the Atlanta Half Marathon
On race day morning I walked out of my hotel and down Luckie Street to Olympic Centennial Park in the pre-dawn darkness.  The park was a sea of runners, milling about, stretching, chatting.  The floodlights overhead were dazzling and disorienting as I tried to get my bearings.  Barricades blocked what I thought was my egress from the park toward the street, where I needed to make my way to my corral.  I kept walking, skirting the barricades and eventually made it to Baker Street and then turned left toward Marietta Street, where the corrals were lined up.

I had only a short time to wait before our corral started moving forward.  But we were corral N, with 13 corrals ahead of us and O and P behind us, so we had a slow shuffle toward the start line and then eventually we were passing under the green and white balloon arch and on our way! 

The first mile or so is a blur.  The mass of runners, negotiating the city streets in the dark, kept my focus on my immediate surroundings and my footing, making sure I didn't stumble or jostle anyone.  The skies lightened finally and everything around me came into focus.  A long gentle downhill stretch with an uphill ahead provided a stunning view of the runners, filling the street curb to curb and ahead as far as I could see, disappearing over the crest of that hill ahead of me.  It's a scene not always afforded the runners in a race.  It's one that I witness every year that I do the Houston Marathon, as the first three miles take us up the Elysian Viaduct and then down the other side, with 20,000+ runners filling the 6-lane wide roadway from curb to curb and snaking up and over and down the long causeway.

As I ran along, I had no idea where I was, relative to the downtown area.   But then I realized we were running past the Martin Luther King National Park and I suddenly knew exactly where I was.  I'd visited this park on my motorcycle a couple of years ago, getting the national park stamp for my 5th IBA National Park Tour.

A couple of miles later we faced our first major uphill climb, heading toward an area called Little Five Points.  At the top of the hill, a raucous group of folks manning the water station really helped get us up the hill.  We had a short respite before the torture began again, as we turned left and headed up another long steep hill toward the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum.  We were rewarded with a long gentle and gradual downhill.

But before the route led us back to downtown Atlanta, it took us up another hill to the Georgia Tech campus.  Finally we had the skyline in sight and I could see the CNN building off in the distance.  One more mile to go!  Unfortunately, all of that one mile was uphill.   At this point I was doing a lot of walking, but every little depression or flat spot, I broke into a run.  I was perilously close to not bringing this in under my self-imposed finish time goal and I desperately didn't want to do that.  I had a pitiful finish time for the Columbia SC race the previous weekend and didn't want a repeat pitiful performance. 

Then we were on the final stretch...I could hear the announcer, I could hear the crowds, and I could see the CNN building directly ahead of me.  I knew there'd be one last turn just before the Olympic Centennial Park, so I couldn't actually see the finish line.  Just a couple of tenths of a mile to go, and then I was at the turn...and then I could see the finish line ahead.  The hill leveled out and I broke into a run again, heading for the finish.  A quick look at my Garmin watch and I knew that I'd pulled it off. I was under my mental cut-off time, the line that demarcates a "pleased with my time" and "not pleased with my time" finish.  But just barely. 

As I crossed the finish line my thoughts were, "This old girl did it!  She ran two half marathons - hilly ones at that - on back to back weekends."   The young man putting the medal around my neck was genuine in his words of congratulations and I thanked him profusely for being there and volunteering to make the race such a great event.

The Atlanta hills:

1094 foot total climb!  The greatest elevation climb for me to-date.

The medal:

What the 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:

Next up for half-marathons:  Carmel IN and Louisville KY, both in late April.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Moving West to Atlanta

My stay in Charleston has ended and on Friday I moved west to Atlanta GA, where I'll be running in the Publix Georgia Marathon/Half Marathon on Sunday.  I got into Atlanta early Friday afternoon and with little difficulty managed to find my hotel for the next two days:  Holiday Inn Express on Cone St., just two blocks from the Olympic Centennial Park and the marathon start line.

I walked over to the Congress Center where the fitness expo was being held and picked up my race packet.  Publix is the top-end grocery store chain in the Southeast and they are the corporate sponsor for this race.  They had a fabulous and very large display at the entrance to the exhibit hall, highlighting their private-label organic products and with a dozen or more taste stations manned by Publix employees, giving away samples of everything from wonderful whole grain breads topped with infused olive oils, pita chips and salsa, spreads and whole-grain crackers.  I could have eaten my way throught their very large exhibit area and not needed lunch!

I made my way to the back of the hall where race packet were being distributed and then shopped the official logo store, picking up a short-sleeve t-shirt as a souvenir.  I browsed the aisles, picking up a few samples and giveaways but then left the exhibit hall and headed back to the hotel.  On the way I passed a Subway Sandwich shop, so I stopped in and bought a footlong sub - half for dinner tonight, half for dinner tomorrow night.

One of several Irish dance
troupes in the parade.
Starbucks with a view
When I checked the news and weather Saturday morning, I learned that the Atlanta St. Patrick's Day parade was today and the route will pass within 2 blocks of my hotel!!  I checked Google Maps and also discovered a Starbucks right on the corner of Luckie and Peachtree Streets.  On the parade route!!  Two blocks from my hotel!!

Cappucino in hand, I sat at one of their outdoor tables and waited for the parade to reach us on the parade route.  I chatted with a couple who joined me...they have two daughters in the parade, with an Irish Dance troupe.  Fun! 

Here are a few of the many photos I took.  More photos are in my Smug-mug album. (click on link)

One of at least 4 pipes groups

another pipes group


Irish alpacas and llamas...who knew?!

County Sheriff's crew...looking very sharp!

I watched the parade for over an hour and a half and it was still coming, but I was getting hungry!  I picked up a gyro at a nearby deli and brought it to my room.  Time to put my feet up and relax, stay hydrated and get ready for the Publix Half Marathon race tomorrow morning!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Outside is Nice...What Does the Inside Look Like?

I was dying to know....all these gorgeous, stately homes, worth millions today, worth the equivalent "millions" in 1800's dollars.  Wealth purchased with money made from indigo, rice, cotton, slave trade.  And so much of it!!  Blocks and blocks of mansions, cheek-by-jowl on the narrow streets. 

So what do these look like on the inside?  I figured the best way to find out was to take a tour of one of the half dozen that are now museums.  One of the best of the bunch is the Heyward-Washington House on Church Street, built by Daniel Heyward in the 1770's. 

I walked the few blocks to get there, paid my $10, and took the private tour.  What makes this house remarkable is the fact that the city of Charleston rented it from its owner for the use of George Washington in 1791.  He stayed there for two weeks and thereafter the house was referred to as the Heyward-Washington House.  It is a beautiful 3-story brick house with outbuildings in the rear, a couple of which are still standing today.  And a large garden in the rear, too, planted with species similar to what might have been planted there more than 200 years ago. 

The kitchen and laundry were housed in a fairly large brick outbuilding, and they've been restored to appear similar to how they would have in the 1770's. 

The interior is decorated and furnished in period pieces, though none are original to the house.  It was exquisite!  The home is part of the Charleston Historic Society and they've taken pains to match the paint as nearly as possible to the original colors.

Nearly all of the furnishings that have been assembled for this museum were made in Charleston SC in the 1700's and early 1800's.  The docent told us that there were over 80 fine cabinet-makers in Charleston in its heyday. 
A triple chest, one of only three known to still be in
its original set.  Gorgeous!!

Fine furniture overload!!  These two large pieces have
been together since they were originally made, and have resided in only
two other houses, still under the same ownership.  They were
purchased by the Charleston Museum and moved to the
Heyward-Washington House

Gorgeous chest-on-chest

This is the Holmes Bookcase, generally considered to be the finest piece of American cabinetry ever  made:

Before visiting this house I stopped at the Old Slave Mart Museum on Chalmers Street.  It's in the original structure, the only structure of its kind still standing.  It was interesting to be standing in the actual room where slaves were sold and bartered.  The exhibits are simple, just some murals and photos.  But the most interesting item was the voice recording of a slave who actually passed through this mart in the 1860's.  He was 93 years old when his story was recorded. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Busy Day in Charleston

Another run this morning!!  There's nothing like a runner-friendly, fresh venue to put a spring in a runner's step and get her out the door two days in a row!   With no difficulty whatsoever, I got up, pulled on running clothes, and headed out the door again for another run this morning! 

This time, my running plan was to explore the historic streets in a little more detail.

I went in and out of alleys and small side streets and explored the architecture and tiny gardens that are tucked away on these less-traveled streets.

And of course....I stopped at Starbucks again and brought home a Vente cappucino to enjoy with my post-run breakfast.  While noshing, I went ahead and booked the 1:30 PM harbor tour, logging in online at the Charleston Harbor Tours website and purchasing my ticket. 

So with only an hour to eat, shower and then walk the mile or so to the docks near the Maritime Center, I quickly finished up my breakfast and got moving!

Thinking it would be fun to see where I'd been, I wore my GPS watch and logged my walk to and from the marina as well as the boat tour itself.

The tour was relaxing and very pleasant!  It couldn't have been a more perfect day, with clear sunny skies and moderate temperatures.

Ft. Sumter

USS Yorktown - my dad was stationed briefly aboard this ship during WWII.

Arthur Ravenel Bridge, connecting Charleston
and Mount Pleasant 

Seagulls drafting off the back of the boat

Ft. Moultrie

An early dinner at AW Shuck's afterward:  A Steamer Bucket containing shrimp, oysters, mussels, and crab legs, washed down with a Palmetto Amber Ale.

Tomorrow it's going to  be very cold, with a cold front moving through over night.  Today was definitely the best day to do the boat tour.  I'll see how I feel in the morning, but another short run may be in the plans for Thursday!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Up and At 'Em in Charleston

Once again, a good sleep-in!  Such a comfortable bed!

I realized how late it was - 8:30 AM - and jumped out of bed and pulled on some running clothes.  I really wanted to get a run in this morning, my first since the half marathon in Columbia SC.  I already knew where I was going to run:  Along Church Street, down Bay Street to the bottom of the peninsula, then back up Meeting Street.  Lots of beautiful historic homes and buildings along this route.  I saw it all from the horse-drawn carriage yesterday but wanted to see it up close and personal...and on foot.

So I tucked my room key and a five dollar bill into the little pocket in my shorts and got out the door.  65 degrees, cloudy, and humid but there was a stiff breeze which kept things comfortable.

What a perfect running city!!  I saw a number of runners yesterday, and was eager for my turn. 

I ran down Church Street to Broad Street then turned east toward Bay Street, the old Custom House anchoring the intersection at the Battery.  Then down the Battery, running directly into the stiff wind.  At the bottom of Bay Street there's a very pretty park, lined with old cannon and I ran along the edge of this park, then turned north and ran right through the center of the park to get onto Meeting Street.

I slowed down a little bit along Meeting Street to take a closer look at some of the Charleston single-houses that line this street.  Single room wide, with all rooms in the house facing a veranda that runs the length of the house, oriented to catch the prevailing breeze.  A 'privacy door' faces the street and when the door is open, the master of the house is accepting guests.  The privacy door gains access to the first floor veranda where the actual front door is located, facing the drive. 

I'm intrigued by the lifestyle that these home evoke.  Our carriage tour guide the day before had directed our attention to some of the addresses along here - addresses with half numbers.  He told us that the dwellings that bear these addresses - much smaller than their neighbors - were originally what are referred to as "dependency" homes...slave dwellings or kitchens or stables.   It's so interesting that these structures still exist and are now independent properties.

Back up Meeting Street to Market Street to King Street, then up King Street to - you guessed it - Starbucks.  Why else would I tuck a $5 bill into my pocket??  A hot latte in hand, I walked the 1/4 mile back to the Church Street Inn, where I made breakfast and then enjoyed it and my latte while planning the rest of my day.   

The "itchy, burning eyes" culprit:
Serious pollen, visible in a puddle and coating the edges.

What were those "rest of the day" plans?  To get cleaned up after my run and head back out, camera in hand, to retrace my running steps earlier in the morning.  I couldn't run with a camera but really wanted to capture what I saw.

"Pastel Row," overlooking the bay

Pretty antique home on Tradd Street

Home exhibiting the earthquake bolts installed
in many homes after the major earthquake in
the 1880's.

Fine example of the Charleston Single-house

Street with original "ballast stone" paving.  Ships from England
came over mostly empty, but laden with ballast stone, which
was replaced with full loads of goods to return to England.
Charleston used these ballast stone to pave their roads.

Original Custom House, or Exchange Building
St. Philips Church on Church Street