Monday, July 30, 2012

Coming Soon to an Atomic Drive-In Near You

The name Mike Bogue is familiar primarily to readers of G-Fan magazine and, in that venue, mainly as a writer of nonfiction articles about daikaiju movies and the associated joys of being a diehard fan. Since Mike and I grew up about the same time, evidently in the same small town but several states apart, I have frequently enjoyed his exuberant reminisces about his visits with giant monsters on the big screen, many of which almost eerily reflect my own. Among our shared joys was going to drive-in theaters, when multi-feature monster shows were the order of the day — or night, rather — and some of us actually did go to drive-ins watch the movies.

Recently, Mike has leaped with all eight legs into the realm of fiction-writing, with a post-apocalyptic-alternate-reality-retro novella titled Atomic Drive-In. It has not been officially released yet — it is slated to be made available soon in various file formats for a modest fee; I will certainly convey that information here when it's available — but I got a sneak preview of this mutated monstrosity and figured a few thoughts from another hardcore giant monster drive-in-movie maniac would be in order.

To be clear, Mike is not a professional writer of fiction; however, his prose is at all times competent and frequently gripping. I'd go so far as to say that, despite its inevitable rough edges, Atomic Drive-In is more engaging than the efforts of many accomplished authors that I've read in the not-so-distant past. It's good for a PG-13 rating, with a wee bit of graphic violence and explicit imagery, perhaps a bit more than the cinematic properties it seeks to emulate — though this is, for the most part, anything but a drawback.

The story opens with a pair of friends, Brent and Jerry, both aged fifty-ish, visiting a closed-down drive-in theater, having made a deal with a mysterious, unseen character named Moonman to experience something beyond their imaginations. Moonman has provided them with an antique 1957 Chevy — complete with a charred skeleton in the front seat — that will transport them to an alternate Earth where the monsters of the movies they grew up with are quite real. Anxious to put this fantastic claim to the test, the two crank up the car... and before they know it, find themselves in an open, functioning drive-in theater running a Bugs Bunny cartoon. However, the theater itself proves to be something far different than they could have expected. They have indeed arrived on a parallel earth, but this is a war-torn, radiated world populated by mutants — human and otherwise — and the drive-in theater has been turned into a fortress against the things "out there," with movies played regularly to keep the entrapped population focused on something other than their own dire circumstances. The refugees' de facto leader, a gentleman named Isaac Carpenter, explains that some of their number have attempted to escape to the "other" Earth in the quantum-powered Chevrolet, but inhabitants of their reality are reduced to cinders if they attempt to pass through the barrier between worlds — hence the skeleton in the vehicle, who turns out to be none other than Carpenter's own son.

Before they know it, Brent and Jerry experience an assault by a giant dragonfly, which indeed resembles something out of one of the monster movies they love, but the heavily armed drive-in guards manage to dispatch it. Next, a giant gila monster attacks, proving somewhat more difficult to kill than the oversize insect. Once again, however, the powerful weaponry the refugees have at their disposal proves adequate to fend off the beast — but their supplies are perilously low, and they fear it is only a matter of time before they succumb to either the monsters' attacks or the radiation itself, which is steadily, insidiously working its effects on the DNA of the survivors.

Both Brent and Jerry find themselves infatuated with Carpenter's daughter, Lori, who is pregnant with the child of her missing fiancé, whose fate is unknown. Initially, she appears reticent to speak of either her fiancé or the baby, and both men soon discover why: her distended abdomen has become transparent, like a window to her womb, revealing a mutated horror inside her, which, to their shock, she feels compelled to love and protect. This revelation sends Brent retreating from her, but Jerry is more accepting of the situation and vows to protect Lori and her child at all costs.

But then a new horror appears: none other than Sean, Lori's fiancé, only now having grown gigantic and become quite mad, resembling none other than the mutated Colonel Glenn Manning in the horror classics The Amazing Colossal Man and its sequel War of the Colossal Beast. The mutant's onslaught is ferocious and deadly, but once again, after a violent battle, the drive-in refugees prevail. Finally, however, the survivors' stronghold is attacked by the two most terrifying monsters yet: a gigantic preying mantis and a monstrous wolf spider. In the midst of the attack, the two creatures turn on each other, wreaking havoc as they fight to the death.

Unable to deal further with the hideous reality he was initially so intent on exploring, Brent decides to return once and for all to his rightful world, while Jerry opts to remain with Lori and her people — for he has himself succumbed to the mutating powers of the widespread radiation. Just as Brent is making his escape, a radio broadcast warns of an impending, horrific attack, and he knows he must leave his best friend to grapple with the consequences of his fateful decision....

Mike Bogue constructs a grotesque post-apocalyptic world, described in details more typical of contemporary genre authors, but at its heart, the story remains true to its 1950s roadshow–inspired origins. A few niggling problems do spoil the flow of the narrative, such as the characters going back and forth between worlds in the interludes between monster attacks; for the most part, they're unnecessary and feel more like padding than true development. Still, you just don't get that many knock-down-drag-out tales about giant monsters, mutants, and alternate realities, and Mike pretty capably covers all the bases. I hope the story will soon see widespread release and you can check it out for yourself. I'll be sure to post an alert when The Atomic Drive-In is open for business.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Nothing to Wine About

Kimberly on the porch at Brandon Hills
Vineyards, near Yadkinville, NC

For the nice lady and I, visiting the multitude of wineries in the region has become one of our favorite leisure activities. It's only been in the past couple of years that I've come to appreciate wine of any variety; a particular incident back in college — something about being on the newspaper staff and going to a staff party, where the sports editor and I got into a race to see who could chug the most Chardonnay — had put me off wine in general (and even now, 35 years later, I can barely stomach most white varieties). However, over time, the dry reds began to grow on me, and both Kimberly and I have enjoyed many of the different varieties produced locally, some of which rate among the most palatable wines I've had anywhere. North Carolina now ranks number ten among wine-producing states, and I suspect it's liable to rank higher as vineyards increasingly replace tobacco farms, which are — quite understandably — no longer as profitable as they used to be. Many of the wineries frequently offer discount deals through Groupon and Living Social, so it's possible to get a good sampling of their wares quite inexpensively. With most tastings, you get a glass to keep, so I doubt that Kimberly and I will need to invest in wine glasses during in this lifetime.

Yesterday, we paid visits to Brandon Hills Vineyard, near Yadkinville, NC, and Hanover Park Vineyard, a short distance away. Brandon Hills is relatively new, with its first harvest in 2007. Their selection of dry reds was limited to a Barbera, a Merlot, and a blend called Raptor Red, but all quite good, particularly the Barbera. They offer more dry and semi-dry whites, a couple of which I found quite palatable, the 2010 Pinot Gris being the best. As with most of the vineyards in the Yadkin River Valley, the setting is picturesque, and they offer plenty of outdoor seating, including an arbor-like gazebo. It was scorching hot out there yesterday, but nice lady and I persevered and enjoyed a glass on the porch. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly, and very accommodating. They are also avid supporters of the Carolina Raptor Center, which is dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey, through education, research, and the rehabilitation of injured and orphan raptors.

From there, we headed to Hanover Park, less than five miles away, and discovered one of the real treasures in the region. The winery was established in 1996, with the retail/tasting area situated in a farmhouse built in 1897, beautifully restored to retain its original character. The owners are clearly accomplished winemakers and have a small but extremely personable staff to take care of visitors. Their wines rate among some of the best I've had in the region, including a couple of reserve blends that were produced under unique conditions and will never come around again. They have several excellent dry reds and only a handful of whites. I was especially taken with their Chambourcin, Mouvedre (quite rare in these parts), and a 2006 blend called Michael's, made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Again, it was almost too hot to enjoy being outdoors, but we braved the oppressive temperatures to enjoy a glass in their very scenic front yard. For sheer character and charm, not to mention quality of product, Hanover Park is one of the best.

To get a nice overview of the wineries in North Carolina, go to

Needless to say, one of the most desirable aspects of visiting wineries is that there are almost always geocaches in the bargain — some, such as Benjamin Vineyards, in Saxapahaw, and Laurel Grey Vineyards, near Hamptonville, have caches on the premises. Grabbed a handful on the trip yesterday, to bring ye total to 4,841 and counting....

Click images to enlarge.
A pair of very happy glasses enjoying the scenery at Brandon Hills Vineyard.
Dude on the porch at Hanover Park. His glass clearly needs some TLC.
Another satisfied customer at Hanover Park Vineyard.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Nice Hat

It is a nice hat, isn't it? It's new, as I've worn out three of them already.
It's usually entertaining to meet other geocachers out in the field, mainly because most of them are far more entertaining people than I am. Today, it happened in a kind of roundabout way, and until later, I didn't even know I had encountered another cacher. This morning, I decided to head up to Danville, since a crapload of new caches have been published there in the past month or so, several of them in Angler's Park, which is one of my favorite places in the world to hike. One of the new caches was hidden in a small shelter next to the parking lot, and when I pulled up, someone was in the shelter, apparently using her phone. A bleepin' muggle, I'm thinking. Thus, I get my gear together and head out to the trail to snag the other caches I need, figuring on hunting the one in the shelter upon my return. I did this thing, but when I arrived back at my car, I found a note expressing admiration for my geocaching hat, along with a pathtag belonging to one Turtle & Hawg. Well, what do you know! The lady I'd seen was indeed a geocacher from a far off land — evidently, the "Turtle" half of the Turtle & Hawg couple. Once aware of each other's identities, we swapped pleasantries via email, and resolved to at least say "hey" should we run into each other again.

Thunderstorms threatened the entire time I was out on the trail, but they never broke, and so I managed to remain dry — other than sweating off half my body mass and losing some blood to a tick. Out on the trail, I thought I saw a sad-eyed little Chihuahua dog gallivanting my way; turns out, it was the smallest, youngest fawn I think I've ever seen. Tiny, and a little wobbly on its feet. It steered clear of me, and I attempted to get a few photos of it, but I wasn't able to get a decent shot before it disappeared in the woods.

Lunch was sushi from The Tokyo Grill. A couple of more caches, and then the rain began to pour. All in all, fine day of it, bringing my cache total to 4,823.

Click on the images to enlarge.
Can you see the fawn? It's dead center of the photo.
A nice little stair-step waterfall along the Riverside Trail.
The guardian at one of the caches along the trail. Careful... it bites! Twice.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Have You Ever Seen a Horse Flop?

Every evening after dinner, we have a case of Siamese Flopitis, which usually involves three to five minutes of Chester falling over and flopping happily back and forth on the carpet. This has been going on since the day he came round back in 2002, so it's just accepted as a family tradition.

Today, I spent a hot, muggy day at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, NC, hiking five or so miles and snagging a few geocaches. As I was passing by the stables, I saw an elderly lady leading a horse through the pasture to the trail. About the time he came up to me, he must have had a moment of inspiration, for he lay down and began to do the Siamese Flopitis thing — quite expertly, I might add. The lady with him appeared to take it in stride, as if this is as much a horse thing as it is a Siamese thing. I wouldn't know; I've never seen a horse flop before. I consider myself a little more educated than I was at this time yesterday. Unfortunately, the horse finished up having his fun before I could get a photo of him. Pity.

At the end of the excursion, I came out about nine caches richer and hit minor landmark #4,800. It was a fun little hide next to a church, hidden by a Girl Scout troop, called "A Trunk Full of Junk" (GCWEM2). Lovely stuff.

Yep, it's a Trunk Full of Junk!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Crazy as Fire

Who goes out on a five-plus-mile hike in some fairly rugged terrain on a day when the peak temperature hit 105? Yeah...a bunch of lunatic geocachers. Specifically, Mark Case, Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, and old Damned Rodan. About midday, we hit the trails at the Birkhead wilderness area, just southwest of Asheboro, to hunt a handful of caches, most specifically, one called "Mystery of the Birkhead Ghosts" (GC3C2A), which requires deciphering a code key that had daunted us for some time. A few days back, Scott and I managed to decrypt the key independently, so this was the day the bunch of us opted to make a go of it.

Holy crap. I've been hiking in some heat, and ordinarily, it doesn't really faze me. Today, however, it came damn near to doing the old man in. At least we had presence of mind to take plenty of water with us so we could keep ourselves hydrated. As all good geocachers do, we occasionally left the trail and bushwhacked to our various destinations, at which time we discovered... per usual... that the short way is all too often not the best way. Still, we managed to conquer the ghost and a couple of other caches lurking in the wilderness. We happened upon numerous very cool rock formations, and Mr. Case, science teacher extraordinaire, enlightened us with some fascinating facts about the geology of the region. Certain of the rocks indicated that we were treading on some of the oldest exposed earth on the planet, which is rather humbling, when you think about it....

Anyway, we all survived, so that young Kimberly and old Rodan could visit with our friends, Joe and Suzy Albanese, at their neighborhood pool. Never was a dip more welcome. (Do not over-think that last sentence, for it means nothing. Seriously.)

One of the intriguing rock formations we happened upon in the wilderness
Funny how some of those rock formations tend to grow, almost as if someone actually
placed them that way. Scott Hager (L) and Mark Case (R).

Thursday, July 5, 2012


This is a neat animated adaptation of "The Haunter of the Dark," which I consider one of H. P. Lovecraft's most effective and memorable horror tales. The feature is quite true to the original story, and, for the most part, the iClone animation offers some decent, even haunting visuals, particularly its representation of the Shining Trapezohedron. Overall, the music is well done, occasionally reminding me of Ingram Marshall's "Hidden Voices" — which is the perfect soundtrack for HPL's "Dreams in the Witch House." Now, this is a personal peeve, to be sure, but I am annoyed by the fact that some of the human beings involved in the production go by names such as "Fulkster," "Goof Parade," and "K4" — even Biggs Trek, for that matter —  as the whole business seems a pointless and even cheapening affectation. But, objectively, that's neither here nor there. Give this little feature a look. For the cost of — well, nothing — you'll do okay.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

And the Victims... er... Winners Are....

The winners of The Gods of Moab contest, chosen by random drawing at 12:00 midnight last night....

1) Autographed copy of Blue Devil Island: Greg Cohoon
2) Autographed copy of Legends of the Night: Jonathan Knott
3) Autographed CD of Dark Shadows: Curse of the Pharaoh: Merry Priddy Mounce

Congrats to the winners, and my sincere appreciation to everyone who participated in the contest. Hope none of the prizes, or The Gods of Moab itself, ends up driving someone off the deep end. I mean, that kind of thing has been known to happen....