Whew, I'm taking a deep breath. Sorry for the lack of content over the last few weeks. I've been out guiding a quick tour from New York to Miami for my old tour company. I had planned on getting a bunch of work done as I went, but running a tour is just always so all-consuming. Even with 12 years experience and being in a region I'm really comfortable and familiar with, there's just so much to do behind the scenes to keep a tour running smoothly and keep up with all the paperwork etc. And that's not even mentioning the 5,000+ miles I've driven in the last few weeks. It was awesome to be back in the driver's seat though, and it was a really good tour all around. But it's also good to be back on my own and back with my Shadow Catcher.
I met my group in Newark on a rainy Sunday morning and we set off to historic Philadelphia. Despite the rain, they kept their spirits up as I gave them a quick tour through Independence National Historical Park, pointing out some of the more important buildings and recounting stories of our Founding Fathers and their lives. We stopped into Carpenter's Hall, site of the First Continental Congress and also in to see the Liberty Bell. From there we headed out for cheesesteaks at Reading Terminal Market and a quick run up the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphis Museum of Art before departing the City of Brotherly Love.
From there, we headed down to Washington D.C., and yes it was good to be home. We went for a great dinner at Clyde's Gallery Place, and then for a nice evening stroll downtown. We wandered around the White House, past the Washington Monument with views down the mall and all the way to the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial. It's always great to see Washington at night, and it was a nice night for it, but it had been a long day so we all headed back and got some sleep.
The next morning we did a great bike tour of the mall and monuments with Bike And Roll tours from L'Enfant Plaza. It was a really fun way to get around and see the monuments, and the mall is nice and flat and easy to ride around. Distances on the mall are always further than you think, and this was a fantastic way to see things and still come out not exhausted on the other side. From there my group was on its own to see the museums or whatever else they wanted to see in the city at their own pace. Personally, I went and saw some of the art galleries I haven't been to in a while and found some really great and thought-provoking exhibits at the Hirshhorn Museum. We all met up later for a nice meal at Busboys and Poets before calling it an early night.
The next day we set off early, making our way south through Virginia. We drove through a bit of Shenandoah National Park and stopped to do a nice hike at Crabtree Falls. It was really humid out, but it really is a great waterfall and a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. From there we headed on to our night stop in Wytheville, Virginia.
Music City was next up, and we made tracks to get into Nashville by early afternoon. We stopped in for an hour or so and a quick beer at Bobby's Idle Hour and got to enjoy a great songwriters afternoon show during Wednesday's Sam's Jams. Then we checked into our hostel, had a great dinner at Acme Feed and Seed and then headed up to an awesome songwriter's showcase at The Listening Room. After that, we headed down to Broadway for some late night fun and dancing until the wee hours. The next day was a free day for the group and I didn't really do much myself. That evening we went for dinner at Demos' and did some line-dancing at the Wildhorse Saloon.
We were off to Memphis the next day, for a city tour, a stop at Sun Studio, some amazing Memphis-style dry-rubbed ribs at Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous and some sweet Memphis music at the legendary B.B. King's on Beale Street. The following day I spent most of my time shuttling people around town and getting them to Elvis Presley's Graceland. That night we went to see a Memphis Redbirds baseball game at Autozone Park downtown. They played the Nashville Sounds and it was fun because my passengers had been to both cities so they could actually pick which team they wanted to support with some real background. I've been to more Redbirds games in the last few years than even my Washington Nationals, so I was definitely cheering them on. My Redbirds pulled it out in the 9th with two come-from-behind runs, securing a division championship and a spot in the playoffs. We celebrated with an awesome fireworks display from center field!
A long drive to New Orleans in the morning gave me just enough time to squeeze in a driving tour and walking tour of The Big Easy before sending some folks off on the Steamboat Natchez. The rest of us had a quick dinner at the Praline Connection. We met back up and headed out into the steamy French Quarter. We enjoyed a few drinks on Bourbon Street, making our way up and down and doing some serious people watching. It's always great to be back in New Orleans and even though I didn't get to catch up with any of my friends while I was there, it got me excited to get back for Mardi Gras in February. Everyone got the day to themselves the next day, and I went for a nice drive around town seeing how much the city has changed in the year since I was there last. I had a few beers and some great food (at Pascal Manale's and Coop's Place), and enjoyed a great view out over the river and downtown from my 39th floor room at the Sheraton on Canal Street .
The next day we cruised out to beautiful Destin Beach on the Gulf Coast in Florida. We had lunch by the beach and spent the whole afternoon enjoying the warm water and white sand beach. We got checked into the hotel and then headed back to the beach for sunset followed by pizza at the Mellow Mushroom. An evening dip in the pool rounded out our one day in Destin.
Another long drive brought us to Orlando where Disney and Universal Studios were the attractions of choice. I got most of the day off and got caught up on my accounts and paperwork. I hit the pool in the late afternoon and then went to scoop everyone up after the parks closed for the day.
From Orlando, we headed south to Homestead and the always interesting Everglades Alligator Farm. I hadn't been there in at least a decade, and really enjoyed being back. We took an airboat ride through the Everglades, saw an alligator show and even a feeding. From there, we made our way on to our final destination: Miami. Getting into the city on the Friday of Labor Day Weekend wasn't bad, but the traffic leaving the city was pretty snarled up. After saying goodbye to my group, I decided to stick around for a while. I had a nice Cuban sandwich and a cold beer and wandered down to the beach and around the Art Deco District for a while. Once the sun went down and the traffic quieted down I headed out to my hotel in Coral Gables for a much needed good night's sleep.
The next two days were spent on the interstate, travelling the thousand miles from Miami back to Washington D.C. I enjoyed listening to my own podcasts as I made my way through the Carolinas and remembering all the amazing times I had there last winter. Every town and city I drove past brought back great memories, as it had in Tennessee as I cruised across the state during the tour. I made it back in time on the second day to have dinner and spend some time with my folks, and also get over to see my little 4 month old buddy Mason, who is growing up way too quickly. It was nice to be home, even just for a quick overnight stop.
The following morning I had to make the final push back to New Jersey. It was Labor Day, so the roads were empty and the ride was a quick and easy one. When I arrived back at base, I was pleasantly surprised to run into my old pal Rich. Rich had been the fleet manager at our New Jersey base for many years when I started with the company. At some point, they moved him out to California, but he was back in town to help out for a week or so. It was fun to catch up and talk about our old New Jersey friends and haunts and all the people he and I have seen come and go over the years. Because of the nature of the industry, there is a pretty high turnover rate within the company, but Rich and I have hung on longer than most. Our friendship dates all the way back to the day I interviewed for the job back in February of 2000.
I finished up all my accounts and paperwork and went for a nice dinner at my favorite spot around the area: The Exchange in Rockaway. It's a great spot with a wonderful menu, live entertainment most nights and a fun crowd.
I woke the next day to find out my flight back to Cleveland had been cancelled. Thankfully, the people over at Jet Blue were really accommodating and got me on a flight out of JFK instead of Newark which made the same connection on to Cleveland. With a much appreciated ride from one of my coworkers out to the airport, I got there with enough time for a quick slice of pizza before catching my flight. I slept the whole way.
Amazingly, I arrived in Cleveland on the same flight I was originally scheduled on. My old friend Mike Vasko picked me up from the airport and we went for a fun meal over in Lakewood at the Buckeye Beer Engine. We caught up for a while over dinner and then headed back to his place for an incredible night's sleep.
This morning we had some coffee and he took me back to pick up my van which he and his church have graciously been looking after while I was away. For an old friend I haven't seen in over 15 years, he did me some pretty solid favors which I am very grateful for. It was truly wonderful to see him and catch up as well, and I am only sorry that he had to fly out for work this afternoon, cutting our visit short. Hopefully I can catch up with him again before I head south for the winter.
I haven't had much time to think about what the week ahead will hold. It's been a fun and crazy couple of weeks though, with a really great group of people in the back of my bus. It was fun to be back in the Tour Guide chair for a while, but it is also great to be back on my own and back in Ohio. I will be in Ohio for at least another week or two. I have another podcast to do and plenty more to see here in the northwest of the state. I'm also going to try and get a little bit of rest and recharge my batteries a bit, although my soul batteries are back on full charge already. It's hard to believe it's September, and I'm sure it will start getting cooler soon enough. I'm going to try and take advantage of the long days while I can and enjoy the great fall weather when it arrives. Hopefully I'll be able to make some good plans for the coming winter as well.
That's what I've been up to these last few weeks. Once again, my apologies for being absent. I am back though, and ready to get back to my travels and writing and photography. I hope y'all have had a great few weeks while I was away, and I'm looking forward to whatever Ohio has in store for me this week. Have a good week everyone!