Monday, July 16, 2018

Songwriter Showcase at The Daily Grind

As you diehard regulars here have surely deduced, scary fiction and music are among my passions, and while I work at creating the former almost daily, it's less common for me to break out the git-fiddle and make a scary racket. Still, now and again I am known to do this thing and inflict some lovely pain and suffering on an unsuspecting populace. So shall it be this coming Friday, July 20, at The Daily Grind in Martinsville, VA. From 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, The Daily Grind is hosting another Songwriters Showcase for local musicians to perform some of their original compositions. Now, I haven't written music in decades, but there was a spell back in the 1980s and early 90s where I composed a fair number of guitar-and-vocal tunes, many of them — I'm sure your shock is palpable — featuring scary themes. Come Friday, I'll be performing a few of them.

You folks in the area, please come by and feel free to hurl, heckle, and chuck things. It's all appreciated. The Daily Grind is located at 303 E Church St, Martinsville, VA 24112 (see map below).

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Friends, Wine, History, and Geocaching

Old Geocacher dude and Ms. B. at Delfosse Vineyards near Covesville, VA
Friends, wine, history, and Geocaching, all in one weekend, and for me, things don't get much more special. In the summertime, it's tradition for Ms. B. and I to get with our best friends and travel to some place of interest or another, and this time, it was Charlottesville, VA, with Joe, Suzy, Terry, & Beth, as we've all known each other pretty much since the Cretaceous Period (well, we gentlemen, at least, have known each other that long).

Friday midday, the lot of us converged on Chatham, VA, a very small town some miles north of Danville, where we discovered the Public House, which offers fine food and cordial, attentive service. I also discovered a Geocache — Pitts Bookworm (GC5GHZ8) — as well as a big honking (deceased) female Hercules beetle. Despite being dead, beetle put in an entertaining guest appearance on my dashboard after lunch, at which point Ms. B. vacated the car with heretofore unseen haste and agility. It would be fair to say I am lucky to be alive to tell this tale, and I will say I have behaved at least reasonably well since.

From Chatham, we headed to Delfosse Vineyards, located in a lovely mountain setting near Covesville, VA. To get there, one must leave US Hwy 29 and ascend a long, narrow, gravel road that is strikingly similar to the fictional location I described in my as-yet-unpublished short story, "When Jarly Calls" (which I hope will be seeing publication in the not-so-distant future).
The full crew at Sal's Caffe Italia on the
Downtown Charlottesville Mall

A handful of Geocaches later, we arrived at The English Inn, and here, I must sadly report, things took something of a nosedive. Rather than relate the tale in its entirety here, I invite you to read my review of our direful experience on here on Suffice it to say Ms. B. and I, along with Terry and Beth, successfully sought other accommodations for Saturday night. Apart from that, Friday night proved an enjoyable time as we all caught a Lyft ride to the Charlottesville Downtown Mall, which offered lots of food, drink, music, shops, and Geocaches. For dinner, we found ourselves at Sal's Caffe Italia, which we chose more or less at random, and it proved beyond satisfactory. Excellent wine, and most of us had varieties of pasta. Ms. B. and I both selected Bolognese on rigatoni, which, despite the huge portions, refused to allow us to stop eating it. Seriously. Halfway through it, I was thinking "I gotta stop eating this." Two-thirds of the way through it, I was thinking "I gotta stop eating this." Three-quarters of the way through it, I was thinking "I gotta stop eating this." When I had a few bits of rigatoni left, it finally allowed me to stop eating.

Afterward, we wandered a bit, found a little more refreshment, and went after two very satisfying Geocaches. We all retired relatively early — Ms. B. and I, unfortunately, to a most uncomfortable room (again, see above). Still, we were determined to make the best of things. Saturday morning, I was out of there at the crack of dawn so I might work in some serious Geocaching, which included not one but two underground tunnel hides (GC3AM81 and GC2YXZ2). The first was short and sweet, the second quite long and, though not too physically challenging, so deep and dark it convinced me that a deep dark culvert is not the place to be should a Deep Dark Culvert Monster go on the attack. Now, I've been in many a tunnel, and I know how sound carries and becomes distorted in those winding stone and metal passageways. But about the time I reached the cache, I heard sounds I had never heard before — some kind of groaning, grating noises, almost like an old man snoring at incredible volume, some unknown distance away. I was far enough in that when I switched off my flashlight, it was that profound void you can only experience within the bowels of the earth — which Ms. B. and I had once discovered together while caving near Johnson City, TN (for that chronicle, see "The Darkness Out of Time," Sept. 5, 2011). I dunno what I was hearing here, but when I made my way back into daylight, I was maybe just a little bit glad.

Following these adventures, I joined our group for our daylong winery tour, which included Blenheim Vineyards, owned by musician/artist Dave Matthews, where the stunning mountain scenery exceeded the wine quality — which I would call satisfying but mostly fair-to-middlin'; Cunningham Creek Winery, which I believe was our favorite of the day, due to its decent wines, exceptionally friendly and courteous staff, and relaxed atmosphere; and Jefferson Vineyards, where we found the biggest crowds and reasonably good but somewhat overpriced wine. I complain not one bit here, as the day proved enjoyable (though stifling hot) and mostly relaxing.
Ms. Beth at "the writing wall" on the Mall.
"Supper Club was here."

For the evening, we found excellent burgers at a place called Zinburger near our hotel(s). I had a thing called the El Diablo, comprising Kobe-style beef, pepper jack cheese, fire-roasted jalapeƱos, braised onions, lettuce, and chipotle mayo. I liked it, I did. Then we returned to the Downtown Mall, where in seeking a particular cache — "Number Nothing" (GC69WC1) — we heard Celtic music and stumbled upon a most wonderful little Irish pub called The Tin Whistle, where a trio called The Severed Heads of Guion Pond was performing in an appealing little courtyard outside the pub. Well, damn, this was fun. So we settled in for the evening and listened to some melodic, bawdy, rowdy, soothing Irish tunes until our aging bodies could no longer stand it, at which time we retired, again via Lyft, to our respective hotel rooms.
The Severed Heads of Guion Pond at The Tin Whistle Irish Pub
This morning, Joe & Suzy hit the road early, so Terry & Beth and Ms. B. and me decided to have breakfast somewhere, and that turned out to be The Pigeon Hole, near the University of Virginia campus. It's a quaint old house on a cobbled side street off University Avenue, and the breakfast proved superb, with eggs over medium, crisp bacon, coarse-ground grits, and plenty of good hot coffee. Afterward, we spent a bit of time wandering about The Rotunda on campus, where I found a virtual Geocache and where, in the early 1980s, I had occasionally spent time in the company of my then-girlfriend Allison Ferrill (who has since gone on to become a high-ranking official in the US Navy). Had we gotten married way back when, as we sometimes half-seriously considered, I can't help but think that today, either I would be much richer or she would much poorer.
The Rotunda at UVA
We parted ways and returned to our homes. I received reports from the cats that there wasn't much point in me coming back since they were quite taken with Hailey, the young lady who often looks after them when I am gone. Not that I feel useless, or anything.
You think Imma going in there? You dang right.
The long darkness, filled with eerie sounds
And you spent your Saturday morning... how?
Don't go into the light. Just don't.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

From York Hill and Rostau to Belews Lake

One couldn't have asked for a much nicer weekend to go Geocaching, as the murderous midsummer heat has largely subsided for a couple of days. Yesterday, Bloody Robgso (a.k.a. Robert), Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) headed down Lexington way to go after a new series of caches as well as several older ones, a journey that led me to a few of my favorite settings in the world: old, damn-near-creepy ruins, a perch high above the rest of the world, and the darkness deep beneath the earth.

The Watership Down Run, recently placed by Rick247 (a.k.a. Rick), proved pleasant enough — 16 caches along a winding, 3-mile road through a pleasant woodland neighborhood — but the day's highlight came at a place called York Hill, just outside of Lexington, near the site of the last battle of the Civil War in North Carolina. Here, along what at one time was the main highway but that's now a little-used side road, we came upon the remains of an old hotel and restaurant, which included a massive, foliage-covered sign, some fifty feet high; the concrete and brick walls of the structure itself; and a precarious parapet that overlooks US 29 and the Yadkin River (see the old fart in the image above). There were two caches here, both of which we quite enjoyed.
The old sign for the York Hill Restaurant/Supper Club. It's about 50 feet high,
and all but hidden from view by the encroaching foliage.
Ain't they cute?
Looking down from the old York Hill overlook
From there, we proceeded to "The Entrance to Rostau" (GC7NX91), a venture into the cool subterranean darkness beneath the convergence of several major highways south of Lexington. "Rostau," in ancient Egypt, referred to a hidden, mystical region, locked in darkness, where the corpse of Osiris resided. Here, we had to determine the correct path into the mystical depths, as there were several entrances to choose from. Inside each passage, as we learned from cache owner Pharaoh9500 (a.k.a. Daniel), one might find a clue indicating a right or wrong choice — if one can determine what to look for. Fortunately, we chose wisely and located the well-placed cache without undue difficulty.

For lunch, we decided, more or less at random, to try Smokey Joe's BBQ Restaurant near downtown Lexington. Now, I've had a fair sampling of Lexington barbecue over the years, and for the most part, I've always found it fair-to-middlin'. But our dead pig at Smokey Joe's turned out to be downright heavenly, as was the fried squash I had on the side. Absolute top marks go to Smokey Joe's, and I may need to revisit Lexington to snag the remaining Geocaches in town and tear into some more Smokey Joe's. What a treat!

Today, more or less on the spur of the moment, I undertook a solo run over to Belews Lake, just this side of Winston-Salem, to hunt a couple of hides that are meant to be reached by boat but that can be accessed by land, albeit with considerable difficulty. One was at an old, abandoned, overgrown marina, which proved enjoyable and relatively easy; the other was just across the lake from the huge Duke Energy plant, and required a strenuous hike up and down long, steep, rocky hills that just about did me in, even in the less-than-severe temperatures. This cache, "Celebrating Pharoah's 8,000th Find" (GC79GH4), proved difficult to find, but find it I did, and after that, I was quite done for the day.

And now... damn, I really want some more Smokey Joe's.
I'm glad people take the time to leave these public service announcements, else we would
never know what actually goes on in the world.
The image doesn't begin the convey the size and steepness of the hillside. Gods, what a monster!
Old Rodan with Belews Lake and the Duke Energy plant in the background

Sunday, July 1, 2018

On the Death of Civility

In the wake of The Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, VA, giving Sarah Huckabee Sanders the boot a week or so ago, the big question seems to be "What has happened to civility?"

So I made the graphic above. Little more needs to be said.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Memories of Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison has passed away.

He will be remembered as a masterful, influential author for years to come. His literary achievements are a matter of record, and as an outspoken advocate for working writers getting their just due, he was admired, loved, loathed, and despised, depending on which side of his legendary ire you might be standing. Just about everyone who has been around for any length of time in this business of writing for money has his or her own Harlan Ellison anecdotes, and they will be flying around like turkey buzzards for the foreseeable future. Still, I'm going to add mine to the mix because my interactions with him were memorable and personally meaningful.

In the mid 1990s, when Deathrealm magazine was going great guns under the Malicious Press label, the late, also legendary Karl Edward Wagner, who wrote a regular column for the magazine, had picked up the rights to what, by all indications, was the last and only unpublished story by celebrated North Carolina fantasy author Manly Wade Wellman. Karl felt the story, "The Finger of Halugra," was a natural fit for Deathrealm and said that if I was interested in running it, the story was mine.

Well, what do you think? This was something of a coup for a niche magazine devoted to the weirdest of weird tales, so "The Finger of Halugra" ran in issue #23 (Spring 1995), the cover of which boasted the blurb, "The last known unpublished short story by Manly Wade Wellman."

It wasn't long afterward, as I was in the shower getting ready for work around 6:30 a.m. one morning, I heard the phone ring. My (now ex-)wife, Mrs. Death, popped into the bathroom and said, "Mark, Harlan Ellison is on the phone for you."

"He is not."

"Yes, he is."

Yes, he was. He had apparently seen an advertisement about the Manly Wade Wellman story in Deathrealm, and it had more than piqued his interest because he too had in his possession an unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman — which he intended to run in the (also legendary for its non-existence) anthology The Last Dangerous Visions. He was concerned that he and I might be in possession of the same Wellman story, and California being three hours behind us on the east coast, he had stayed up all night that he might get in touch with me by phone before I left home for my daily routine. It was a cordial exchange, and, happily, we determined quickly that we both had different Wellman stories. Well, how intriguing is that?

All that seemed settled, but a couple of weeks later, Harlan called me again, having picked up a copy of Deathrealm #23, this time beyond peeved that the cover bore that blurb about the "last unpublished story by Manly Wade Wellman." Apparently, when Harlan called me the first time, he was under the impression the issue had yet to be published. He went off for a pretty good while, and all I could do was hold the phone away from my ear until he took a breath.

Finally, I said, "Harlan, that issue has been out for a month — since before you called the first time. I thought you knew that."



"Oh. Never mind."

And I figured that would be the extent of my interaction with Harlan. But no. It was probably at World Fantasy Con that year or the next that Mrs. Death and I ran into him, and I introduced myself as the editor of Deathrealm, and we got to having what turned out to be a fairly prolonged conversation about fiction in general. During this time, Peg was standing next to me, taking in the goings-on, and Harlan stopped, looked at her, and said, "And just who are you?"

"I'm Peg, Mark's wife."

"Oh." He smiled. "Then you can stay."

Over the next couple of years, I heard from Harlan on occasion, stunningly to me, usually about relatively trivial stuff. Then, somewhere along the line, I had mentioned on GEnie, the old online forum, something he had said to me personally, and he really, really didn't like that I had repeated it, although it never struck me as something said in confidence (and honest to Yog, I don't even remember what it was).

I had planned to run an interview with Harlan in an issue of Deathrealm, and I had received a draft from the interviewer, but Harlan wasn't happy with it. He promised to redo the interview to our mutual satisfaction, but sadly, before he could furnish it, Deathrealm reached the end of its run. I gave him a call to tell him not to bother finishing the interview, at least for me, as its venue was on the verge of pushing up daisies. He offered his condolences and expressed what his admiration for the magazine, which he had clearly given more than passing attention. In all my days as a writer-editor-publisher, I think that may have been one of the most meaningful and gratifying conversations I ever had.

A time or two, our paths crossed again at some convention or another, but to me, it was those calls out of the blue from him that have always been most memorable, mainly because I had to struggle so hard not to go all fanboy and such. Sure, I was one of a gazillion people in the business with whom he shared a wee bit of his time, but those wee bits meant the world to me then — even when he took to yelling at me — and they still do.

With Harlan Ellison, you got what you got. He didn't beat around the bush, he didn't mince words. He was basically honey badger. Now, he was getting up there and had some health problems, so his passing was not exactly unexpected. But because our respective worlds did collide those times in years past, the death of this particular legend hits me with unexpected force.

One thing is certain: whether you loved him or hated him, Harlan Ellison will be remembered long after most of us alive today have composed our final lines.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Down in the Boondocks

A lucky couple got hitched this weekend — no, silly, not Ms. B. and me, but our friends Bryon Nelson and Mary Miller — out in the wilds of Tennessee. For us, getting to the ceremony would have been prohibitive, but the reception in West Jefferson, NC, at Boondocks Brewhaus, was eminently doable, so yesterday afternoon, Brugger and I loaded up the wagon and set our sights on West Jefferson. On the way, we made a relatively brief stop at Laurel Gray Vineyards, an old favorite of ours, for a wee spot of wine. As you can see in the photo above, I opted for a white — their Chardonnay — which, if you've ever taken note of my wine preferences, is kind of like the Pope opting to sport a hijab. But Laurel Gray's Chardonnay is oaked and buttery and, for me, quite delicious. Ms. B. tends to prefer a crisper Chardonnay aged in stainless steel, but she also prefers boneless chicken to filet mignon, so that can just speak for itself.

Did I stop for a few geocaches? What a silly question.

This was our first visit to West Jefferson, and we both found ourselves taken with the place. Technically, there are two communities here — Jefferson and West Jefferson — but they are basically Siamese twins, and where one stops and the other begins, who the heck knows? Anyway, the setting, right smack in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, near the Blue Ridge Parkway, could hardly have been more beautiful. For such a small community... er, pair of communities... there are numerous eclectic shops, pubs, restaurants, historical sites, and geocaches. Upon our arrival, we checked ourselves in at the Days Inn (in the Jefferson that's not West Jefferson) and then made haste to the Brewhaus.

An appealing, mid-size establishment, Boondocks Brewhaus makes a wide variety of beers, a couple of which I sampled. My favorite was a barrel-oaked Belgian ale called Truth Serum, which was even oakier than Laurel Gray's Chardonnay. It was kind of like drinking a tree. A damn good tree. The reception itself was appropriately festive, with damn good vittles, an excellent DJ, and lots of rocking tunes. Bryon and Mary showed the world how to dance a romantic dance, and Bryon's dad — our good friend Terry — showed the world how to do tequila shots and cut a rug with a friend. Indeed, the spirit (or spirits) had gripped just about everyone at the place, and at the end of it all Bryon summed up the evening's exuberance with "I can't even find my keys, and they're in my pocket." Of our group, though, absolutely no one who should not have driven did drive, and I'm certain a safe and happy evening was had by all.

This morning, I rose much earlier than our sleepy Ms. B. and went out to clean up most of the caches in the Jefferson/West Jefferson area. There are some fun ones to be found there, and with that bit of business taken care of, Ms. B. and I went in search of breakfast, which we hunted down and killed at The Hillbilly Grill. I went for the stuffed French toast (with strawberries & cream) and bacon, and Ms. B. had a couple of pancakes that were bigger (and probably better) than a giant barrel jellyfish. The service was a bit slow, as Sunday morning is clearly a busy time, but the food and coffee hit the spot. The decor is kind of fun — the flatware comes in little brown paper bags, and customers often doodle on the bags and pin them to the walls. I did not.

On the way home, I found a few more nice geocaches, though the relative cool of the mountains was giving way to the scorching heat of the Piedmont, so I didn't tarry at any hides that took more than a minute or so to get out and grab.

I trust Bryon and Mary are off and running in the happiest and best relationship they've ever known, and that friend Terry managed to find a suitable hangover remedy. Bonne chance to all.
Rejects from Game of Thrones? At "Don't Let the Power Get to You" (GCMYPB)
The walls at the Hillbilly Grill, decorated by customers' doodles on the paper flatware bags
Ms. B., you shameless hussy!
"We out here doing bad shit."
Don't take this road.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Inner Workings

Several years ago, I won this nice Cuisinart coffeemaker at some company function, and it has always made pretty decent coffee. It has a Thermos-style pot that keeps coffee hot for hours without requiring a heating unit. Thing is, some time ago, the top of the pot appeared to be clogged, and coffee would no longer go into the pot but spill out all over my countertop. What a mess! I cleaned the lid, scrubbed it, threaded a pipe cleaner through it, ran it through the dishwasher... all to no avail. In frustration, I slammed the lid repeatedly against the floor, until all kinds of springs, gears, and random pieces of plastic went flying.

Ever since then, the coffeemaker has been working perfectly.

The moral of this story is... simplicity in all things? Release your inner workings, for they are superfluous shit? A good beating fixes everything? Engineers are idiots? Hell if I know. At least I still get good coffee.

It makes me wonder whether the same kind of solution would work on a few people I know.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Another Fish at Lake Higgins

Since November of last year, six geocaches have lurked out on Lake Higgins in northwest Greensboro awaiting my attention, so on a scorching hot June morning, Team COGRobgso (a.k.a. Bloody Rob, a.k.a. Old Rob, a.k.a. Old Bloody Rob), fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) — set out in kayaks to turn unfound caches into found caches.

Ms. Fish had never been in a kayak before, so when she arrived at the marina, Rob showed her the ropes by handing her a bunch of rope. She was now all good to go. She kept up, steered the craft with aplomb, and scored her 1,000th cache, so I think the young lady had a decent morning on the lake. (I'm told that Natlie's geocaching handle comes from when she was a youngster and her favorite thing to do was ride a big inflatable fish down the stairs in her house, much to her parents' displeasure.)

We old dudes had a good time as well. We found caches. Didn't lose any electronic devices, didn't fall in, didn't drown. That's a fine day.

Old Bloody Rob signs the log at "78 Michael" (GC727B6)
Ms. Fishdownthestair on her maiden kayak voyage, just after finding her 1,000th geocache
Heading to "Float Your Boat" (GC727B1)
Heading into a nice, shady cove after "73 Michael"(GC727AX)
Old Rodan resting for a few in some much-needed shade at "73 Michael"(GC727AX)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Damned Rodan's Margarita Chicken Wings

It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. I'd was drinking a margarita, and I had planned to cook chicken wing drummies for dinner. So this happened.

I bake my chicken wings in the oven on a cooking grate, which is elevated an inch or so above the bottom of my baking tray, so the wings will cook evenly all the way around.

What You Need:
8–10 chicken wing drummettes
2 oz. tequila
juice from 2 limes
tsp ghost pepper sauce (I used Melinda's)
tbsp margarita salt
tbsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp hot chili powder

What You Do:
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees
  2. Pour the tequila, lime juice, and ghost pepper sauce into a bowl and stir vigorously for a minute or so.
  3. Pour margarita salt, Old Bay, and black pepper into another bowl
  4. One at a time, dunk each chicken drummie in the tequila/lime juice/ghost pepper sauce to coat thorougly
  5. Roll each soaked drummie in the salt, Old Bay, black pepper, and chili powder
  6. Distribute drummies evenly on the cooking grate. Cook at 250 degrees for 30 minutes, then crank up the heat to 450 for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and let sit for 4–5 minutes before serving.
My wings turned out bang-on perfect. The outside seared crispy, the inside moist and tender. On the heat scale, Melinda's is relatively mild for a ghost pepper sauce. This is not to say it doesn't pack some heat, it's just a couple of levels down from something like Dave's Ghost Pepper sauce, which is not fooling around. While I love hot, hot stuff, I'm keen on Melinda's because it's got a nice burn without scalding your taste buds right out of your mouth.

I made a super-spicy Bloody Mary to accompany the wings, so I did get some bonus heat points.

Warning: As with any Damned Rodan recipe, Spontaneous Human Combustion may result from even careful and conscientious consumption. Do not smoke cigarettes or consume this product near any open flame, inflammable materials, children, most animals (including hedgehogs, pygmy goats, and llamas), and overly sensitive individuals.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Gay Devil

The statement this individual in this photo makes is to me a sad one. The sign in the window about refusing service to anyone who would violate this man's First Amendment rights indicates what I see as a fundamental misunderstanding of the first amendment — what I call a uniquely Christian misundertanding. And yes, I am picking on Christians because Christianity is still the majority religion in this country.

What I see is this: nowhere is this shop owner's freedom of religion or expression being infringed upon. No one is telling him he cannot worship or express himself as he pleases. No one is telling him he cannot read the Bible; or go to church on Sunday; or pray in the streets (or, more in keeping with Jesus's admonition, in his closet); or put up a sign that says “according to my religion, being gay is wrong”; or write a letter to the newspaper that says “Jesus hates gay people”; or put up any religious decorations he desires on his own property; or gather with a bunch of like-minded Christians so they can lament to their heart’s desires that people they dislike or disagree with might have the same rights they do.

The First Amendment says this man can rant to his little heart's desire that being gay is an abomination (I'm pretty sure that most would not care to have anything to do with him anyway). However, when he denies service to a person because of that person's sexual orientation, he is not protecting his "freedom" of anything. He is merely discriminating against other human beings because he dislikes them. And, like the Pharisees, he uses his religion to justify his prejudice.

Could this man substitute "black person" in place of "gay" and get away with it? Should he be able to? Or, like, so many Christians, does he think gays are possessed of the devil or some such and if he serves them, the devil will rub off on him? This man's Jesus ate with sinners, last I recall. Somehow, I get the feeling that if the gay devil rubbed off on him, he would be all the better for it.

I know many, many gay individuals, and to the last, their morality, their decency, their ethics, their priorities in life far and away superior to the man's in this photo.

I'm sure some of those who read this blog think like this man. It does make me sad.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Old Farts Amid the Ruins

This morning, the four original Old Farts — Robgso (a.k.a. Rob), Rtmlee (a.k.a. Yoda Rob), Diefenbaker (a.k.a Scott), and yours truly (Old Rodan) — after way too long a break from each other, hit the geocaching trail, specifically the Deep River Trail in Randleman. The young woman known as The Notorious FishDownTheStair (a.k.a. Natalie) had recently put out a half-dozen new geocaches on the trail, so we took what has become too rare an opportunity to get together and go after them. I had hiked after caches on the Deep River Trail any number of times in the past, but apparently only on a limited stretch of it, for we went farther on it today than I had gone previously, and oh, this was a treat. Much of the trail is relatively level and surfaced with gravel, but the eastern end becomes rugged and at times treacherous, with lots of rocks, near-vertical climbs, sheer-drop-offs, and veritable jungles of poison ivy. That is the fun part.
Old Farts emerging from a tunnel-like passage through
the rock. Their expressions say it all.

For at least some of us, the day's highlight was the first cache we went after — GC7Q5X7 (premium members only link), "Deep River Ruins" — where we discovered the remains of an extensive factory and what might have been a water filtration plant. There are crumbling brick and stone structures; a towering smokestack; a small retention pond; several portals to the Pit of Shoggoths; and, most peculiar of all, a brand-spanking-new electric meter attached to the facade of the crumbling main building. To the delight of all, we spent about as much time exploring the ruins as we did hiking on the mile-plus trail. The cache here proved challenging, but we managed to turn it up after a pretty good hunt. Old Rob took the honors for the find, so he was off the hook as far as finding a cache went. (We had named ourselves Team No Dead Weight, on the idea that each of us would find at least one of the caches on our route today, but as it turned out, we might have carried some dead weight with us today. I won't divulge who that was, except that name starts with Yoda and ends with Rob.)
Up we go!

We did find all six of the caches on our planned route, and we had fun with the high-rated terrain along the way. None of us fell and busted his ass, although at times things looked a little iffy in that regard, given how how plain klutzy some of us actually are. For afters, we had lunch at Compadres in Randleman, which is one of our longtime favorite cantinas.

May the Old Farts not have to keep having these long spells of being unable to coordinate a get-together!

Sadly, this afternoon, Ms. Brugger, along with our friends the Albaneses and the Nelsons, attended a memorial service for Kevin Houck, who had been an honorary member of our supper club for a couple of years, and who passed away on May 21, 2018. He was way too young — only 32 years old — but he did have a host of health problems that almost certainly contributed to his death. None of us knew him that well, but he was an intelligent and engaging young man whom we will miss. Adios, young Kevin.

Until another time.
The facade to the Pit of Shoggoths, with its mysterious brand-new electric meter
Looking down into the Pit of Shoggoths. I'm pretty sure I heard some blood-curdling
screams echoing out of the depths.
Old Rodan amid the ruins. Note the admonition to "Drop bodies here."

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Random Deathrealm Memory

True story. Years ago — back in the days of the GEnie message boards, probably 1996 or something thereabout — while I was working on an issue of Deathrealm, I decided on a whim to offer a free year's subscription to anyone who might guess whatever random music was playing on my CD player at the time. Within seconds, writer extraordinaire/good buddy/funny man/all-around-pain-in-the-ass Jeff Strand posted "ABBA." And so I owed Jeff Strand a year's subscription to Deathrealm. Life has been on a downward spiral ever since. Gee, thanks, Jeff.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

At the End of the Rainbow, There Is...a Deadpool?

Ms. Brugger was heard singing "Somewhere Over the Drive-in..."
Ms. Brugger and I had the fun night at the Eden Drive-in. Burgers! Fries! Wine! Solo! Deadpool 2! Plus a bit of water from the sky, a nice rainbow, and a gorgeous sunset. Happily, it did not rain during the movies. Sadly, the drive-in now runs 20 bloody minutes of commercials before the movie starts, which taxes my patience and makes the already late finishing time very late — as in 2:30 in the a.m. late. Regardless, going to the drive-in remains a treat, and we both really enjoyed the movies. I just don't get the hate for Solo. It's damn good fun and fits comfortably in the Star Wars canon. It is fucking entertainment, for chrissakes. Its worst moments are 10,000 times better than the best moments of The Phantom Menace, and more flat-out fun than most of the more recent Star Wars films.

Deadpool 2 was a hoot, mostly living up to its predecessor, which I also quite like. It's definitely not a kids' film, though that did not stop a score or so of the locals from bringing their young ones.

All things considered, especially considering the dearth of drive-in theaters these days, I'm mighty glad to have one reasonably nearby, and whatever its pitfalls, I'll suffer them for the overall joy of the experience.
Sunset over the drive-in

Monday, May 28, 2018

Strange Magic

I grew up going to Myrtle Beach, SC, in the summertime, and I count many of those trips among the highlights of my youth. For the most part, I still enjoy getting down there when the opportunity presents itself, although several times in recent years, the increasingly massive influx of humanity into that particular geographic space has been so freaking overwhelming that it's sucked the joy right out of any number of potentially good times. When our friends Gerry (a.k.a. BigG7777) and Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres) invited Kimberly and me to join them on a Myrtle Beach trip over Memorial Day weekend, the opportunity to go sounded thrilling, but I found myself apprehensive about facing the inevitable holiday crowd—especially since it was also time for "Black Bike Week," when several thousand bikers descend on the Grand Strand. I have no problem with bikers per se, but that additional number of human bodies seemed bound to push the beach's temporary population into my personal red zone.

What, me worry?

The trip down on Friday afternoon was certainly pleasing for the Geocachers in the vehicle (that's three out of four, ladies and gentlemen). Along the way, we stopped for several fun hides, discovered an incredible BBQ restaurant in a little town called Chadbourn, and had an all-around fun time swapping Geocaching stories (well, three out of the four of us did). As we approached the SC state line that evening, all of us expected to encounter significant traffic, even on the back roads which our host Gerry knew from his frequenting the area. But there was almost none. And for those of us who have experienced massive traffic backups getting to the beach, this felt like a godsend.

It only got better.

Gerry's place is in North Myrtle Beach, in a somewhat tucked-away resort area, so while it wasn't directly on the beach, it offered just about every amenity we could desire and proved perfect for our slightly more introverted crowd. Still, we opted to take a late-evening jaunt into the town proper, and here we did discover plenty of bike parades, rowdy revelers, and wall-to-wall human party favors, but it all proved enjoyable, especially a little foray into the more mellow Fat Harold's Beach Club, where we got to watch people who know how to shag shagging the night away.

Saturday, the lot of us started out relatively early, and the three Geocachers in the crowd made a most invigorating morning out of hunting caches—all without sending Kimberly into a murderous rage, and I know this because she did not murder any of us (she actually seemed to be enjoying herself, although I doubt she would admit any such thing). For lunch, we found surprisingly good food and drink at Margaritaville at Broadway at the Beach, with expensive but delicious margaritas all around and a bison burger that almost rivaled the fare at Ted's Montana Grill, which has historically served the best bison I've found. After that, we sampled (and purchased) some decent jerky at The Beef Jerky Outlet, sampled hot sauce at The Pepper Palace (which offered some good stuff, though it hardly singed my palate), and sampled wine (some quite excellent) at The Coastal Wine Boutique, close to Gerry's place.
"The Hurricane" at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville
Well, I kind of had to.
To top off our outing, we took helicopter rides. Gerry and Bridget went up in one, while Ms. B. and I went up in another (no, I didn't actually drive it). I had never flown in a helicopter before, so it was an all-new experience, a 20-minute excursion a thousand feet above the Grand Strand. It made me exceedingly happy to fly past Regency Towers in south Myrtle, where my dad owned a time share condo, which our family used from 1977 to 2000, during which time I don't think I missed a single summer visiting. The experience was a bit more edgy than the usual jetliner flight, especially the dives and banks, which at one point elicited from Ms. B. a rather cute scream (it really was). A treat indeed, one I should not mind experiencing again one day. The flight, I mean, not necessarily the scream.

For dinner, we sought out and found Brother Shucker's Fish House—some delicious fried grouper bites and oysters on the half shell for the old dude—and then we returned to our hosts' place for an evening of enjoyable banter and frolicking.
Regency Towers, our old time-share condo, can be seen in the center of photo
Looking down at the Grand Strand from a thousand feet
Early on Sunday, which was Gerry's birthday, the three Geocachers in our party went out Geocaching before Ms. B. even saw the light of day, though she did rise shortly after we left and spent a happy morning working on some pen and ink art—one of her favorite activities—which turned out quite beautiful. Once back at the resort, we went out to the pool to get in some swimming and bathing (and in Ms. B.'s case, some serious sunburning), then returned to the condo to share in some celebratory wine and song. And oh... was there ever wine and song. Enough song, at least, to clear the pool area of non-birthday-celebrating guests. This is as it should be.

After this, we piled into one of Gerry's golf carts and hauled ourselves down to Empire Fire Mongolian Grill for a fiery imperial Mongolian dinner, and then down to the beach, just before a significant squall came around. We managed to get back to the condo without getting totally soaked, and there we treated ourselves to Deadpool and Strange Magic, the first being an adult-oriented, occasionally raunchy superhero movie, the latter being a cute kid's musical. Both entertained us immensely, why, yes they did.
Something funny is happening here.
Happy Ms. B. on the way to Empire Fire Mongolian Grill
This morning, we had to pack ourselves up to leave—in a driving rain at that—but before hitting the road, we hunted down and killed a monster lunch at House of Blues, which proved a fine send-off. Good beef brisket, nice atmosphere, and excellent service, I've gotta say. Despite the water, we did claim another handful of caches, and arrived safely back home this evening.

A whole long weekend with minimal crowds, decent weather (at least until today), and company that can't be beat. Perfect hosts, this Mr. Birthday and Ms. Suntigres, and I hope we have another chance to share a trip together. I can at least guarantee that we'll be sharing another Geocaching outing in the nearest of futures.
Suntigres and Mr. Birthday on Friday evening at Duck's Nightclub in North Myrtle Beach
Bridget and Gerry, conched out
A cute lady getting sunburnt everywhere but on her head
Old dude in front of the House of Blues bar, a portion of which once belonged to Al Capone
BigG7777 and Suntigres, hosts extraordinaire