Sunday, November 18, 2018

Team No Dead Weight Does Dr. Evil (Almost)

Team No Dead Weight. Bloody Rob is beaming because he is bloody well bright.
The other day, Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) let it be known that there should be beaucoup trail caching this weekend. So, this morning, Ms. Fish, Bloody Rob (a.k.a. Rob), and Old Rodan (yours) joined up to form another incarnation of Team No Dead Weight (the customary moniker for whatever poor, unsuspecting geocachers we can round up for a day of forced hunting). Off we headed to a section of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail around Falls Lake, just east of Durham, NC. The day started out rather chilly and quite foggy, but by the time we hit the trail, the fog had lifted and the temperature had risen above the 40-degree mark.
Old Rob remains behind, guarding the
entrance to hell

There were an even dozen caches on the trail, and we conquered the lot of them without undue difficulty and in fairly good time. We found ammo cans, camouflaged lock & locks, bison tubes, rubber chickens, and dog chew toys, one of which I swear was an alien dildo screwed to a tree (that one wasn't actually a cache; it was just taking up space for whatever reason). Our favorite, though, was a very small human skeleton sitting in a holly tree. It was.

From there, we ventured forth to Trali Irish Pub, which has been a favorite dining destination both with Ms. Brugger and on various geocaching expeditions. I had a wunnerful, wunnerful lamb burger with fries, and a kick-ass Bloody Mary. Ms. Fish and Bloody Rob tried scotch eggs, which is one of God's most delightful concoctions: a hard-boiled egg encased in spicy Irish sausage, breaded with panko, and deep-fried. They might ought to serve it with a side of defibrillator, but my lord is it tasty.

After lunch, we decided to head after a handful more caches, the most enjoyable of which was one called "Number Two Goes for a Walk" (GC3AAMM). It's one of those "Dr. Evil"-type caches (almost, anyway) — meaning that, to get to it, you're going to want a flashlight or several, and you do NOT want to go after it during or immediately following any substantial rainfall. It rained like the devil the past couple of weeks, but we happily found the culverts reasonably dry and quite comfy. The trip underground wasn't as long or as difficult as most of those "Dr. Evil" hides, but it proved challenging enough to be memorable. What was kind of funny was that, just a short time earlier, both Ms. Fish and I were wishing we might find exactly such a hide at some point during the day. Now, Old Bloody Rob doesn't care for such underground shenanigans, so he guarded the entrance to the underworld while we explored it. Yeah, he knows what he's missing, which I guess is exactly why he is missing it.

Coming home, we drove toward a spectacular blazing sunset. It was a good day on the geocaching trail, the downside of which means it flew by, and next thing you know, it's another flippin' work day. Boogers.

Over and out.
Falls Lake out yonder
Driving into a spooktacular sunset

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Geo-Artsy-Fartsying

There is little better than dinner and wine on a chilly night at the beach with a lovely lady and a tube o' fire.
Some months ago, Ms. B. signed up for a November arts-and-crafts retreat at Myrtle Beach, SC, and asked if I'd like to come along and geocache while she was artsy-fartsying. So I figured, well, why the artsy-farts not? Not only would we both get to indulge in our favorite pastimes, there would also be ample opportunity to spend some quality time together at the beach. Thus, it all seemed a win-win proposition. Even better, it turned out that friends Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres) and Gerry (a.k.a. BigG7777) would be at their Myrtle Beach condo at the same time. Win, win, and win!

The retreat took place at the Sun & Sun Resort on S. Ocean Blvd., which pleased me intensely, as the hotel is two short blocks down from Regency Towers, where my family used to own a time-share condo, which I visited every summer for almost 25 years. I spent some of the best times of my life at that place. And the building that is now the Sun & Sand Resort used to be the Sheraton Hotel—where, sometime in the early 1990s, two nights running, my brother and I won their bar's karaoke contests (good for $25 bar tabs—not shabby in those days). Win, win, win, and win!

So this past Thursday, Ms. B. and I went to work for half a day and, at noon, set out in the Ms. B. Mobile for parts known and unknown. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Compadres Mexican Restaurant in Randleman—a favorite from many caching adventures over the years—and, yes, a handful of caches. We arrived in Myrtle Beach just after dark, checked in at the Sun & Sand Resort, and then made our way down to Russell's Seafood Grill in Murrell's Inslet, which has been a favorite of ours in years past. While enjoyed our dinners—oysters on the half shell and fried crawfish tails for the old man, broiled scallops for nice lady—I fear neither quite reached the excellent quality we have previously enjoyed. Way too much breading on the crawfish and rather fishy-flavored scallops. Perhaps on another visit....

That said, November, my friends, is the time to hit Myrtle Beach, especially on weekdays. The crowds are relatively slim, the temperature is cool but not frigid, and the geocaching is virtually muggle-free. On Friday morning, Ms. B. and I  had a light breakfast in our hotel room and then went our separate ways for the morning—she to the conference area for her artsy-fartsy thingy, and I to Myrtle Beach State Park, just a mile or so down the road to hunt the baker's dozen geocaches lying in wait there. It actually turned out to be a warm, muggy morning, and the mosquitoes attacked in merciless schwarms, leaving me itching and drained of blood. I found all but one of the caches I sought, that one by all evidence missing. Brugger and I got together again for a light lunch, and afterward, while she returned to her artsing, I plopped down to relax for a bit, as I had no more blood left in me. I spent much of the rest of the afternoon logging all the caches I had found.
Boggy Creek monster?
Mosquito heaven at Myrtle Beach State Park
Friday evening, Brugger and I met Gerry and Bridget for some liquid refreshment at Coastal Wine Boutique at 21st Avenue North. We had enjoyed visiting their other location in North Myrtle Beach on our May beach trip, and this one was equally enjoyable. The night was pleasant enough to sit outside, firepit blazing, and both spirits and service proved excellent. Once done here, we all wandered (wandered, I said, not staggered) across the street and reveled in a seafood feeding frenzy at Dirty Don's Oyster Bar. Fried shrimp for Brugger, spicy steamed shrimp for the hungry old dude. I think Gerry and Bridget also ended up with shrimp. Fantastic all around, and damn if I don't think we've found a new favorite seafood feeding frenzy establishment on the Grand Strand....

Back again to the Sun & Sand. For nice lady, more arts & crafts. For me, out into the night for more geocaches and a little roam around Regency Towers to reminisce about some of life's most wonderful moments. Done, done, and done.

Saturday morning, following a longstanding Rainey beach tradition, we sought out a pancake house for breakfast, which turned out to be the nearby Woodhaven Pancake House, where I think the Rainey family had enjoyed pancake breakfasts way back in the dawn of man. Ms. B. had a big old plate of pancakes with sausage, and I had a big old plate of... not just French toast... but Paris toast, which was a fancy first-rate bread, butter, and egg combination, accompanied by bacon, the lot of which about sent this old man to the moon. Lord have mercy, we are talking good.

From there, guess where Brugger went. Yep. Guess where I went. Yep, I joined Gerry and Bridget to reactivate Team Beach Hounds from our previous Myrtle Beach geocaching venture last May. We trucked ourselves over to a big shopping area off Highway 17, and then, once we'd cleaned it up, set off on foot after a nearby series of caches called "A Walk Around the Block," which gave us a couple of miles of opportunity to burn off a portion of breakfast. We found all but one of the 15 or so caches, that one again by all evidence missing. We hunted and killed lunch at Abuelo's Mexican Restaurant, an ostensibly upscale but pretty much standard Mexican establishment. I enjoyed the chile relleno and margaritas, but I have to tell you, the "spicy" salsa didn't even reach Tabasco on the Scoville scale, and when I asked for something in the habanero vein, they had only Cholula hot sauce to offer. That's like red-colored water. My friends, as I said, the fare here was tasty, but to me, it ain't proper Mexican unless I'm consuming molten magma. The far less expensive fare back at Compadres in Randleman more than hit that sweet spot.

No matter, this is all about the experience and the fun, and that it was. Following lunch, we made our way out to Pine Lakes International Country Club—where my dad and I had played golf back in the late 1970s—to claim a relatively new virtual geocache ("What Happened Here" [GC7B64Y]). Here, we ran into some geocachers from Illinois, which was cool. Then Team Beach Hounds split up for the day, and I returned to the Sun & Sand, after stopping for another cache along the way.

Come evening time, Ms. B. and I opted to find some Asian food, which we did at CO Sushi, in a self-contained little village built within the confines of what used to be Myrtle Beach Air Force Base (the planes from which I used watch from the balcony of Regency Towers). It was chilly outside, but they had a tube o' fire burning on their terrace (see the photo up top), and we enjoyed sushi, beef, and banh mi in reasonable comfort. An altogether pleasing experience.

Back at the hotel, while Ms. B. artsed and fartsed some more, I put on Hunting Grounds (a.k.a. Valley of the Sasquatch), a cheesy Bigfoot movie (because I've been on a cheesy Bigfoot movie kick recently). Fun enough shit. Now, lord knows why, but down at yonder retreat, Brugger participated in an ugly Christmas outfit contest, and dang... how she didn't win, I'm sure I'll never know. See for yourself, if you please....
Not the cache

And this morning, sadly, it came time to depart. Beforehand, I did get to snag a few more nearby caches, most notably a daunting bridge hide called "Trolling for Smilies" (GC124VE), which I almost ended up giving up on, but perseverance paid off. Thankfully, low temperatures had enervated the inhabitants of a wasp nest damn near as big as my noggin up under that bridge. At another nearby cache, I was blessed with the opportunity to view, remarkably close up, a vintage B-17 passing overhead at only a few hundred feet as it came into MYB—almost certainly for a Veterans Day to-do. I wish I'd had an opportunity to get a photo, but it wasn't in view long enough for me to activate my phone camera. As today is Veterans Day, I ought indeed take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank all those who have served in our armed forces. You are, from this quarter, more than appreciated.

Sadly, come noontime, Ms. B.'s retreat, and our most enjoyable stay at Sun & Sand, came to an end. We did go out with a bang by having a fine lunch at LuLu's Restaurant in North Myrtle with Gerry and Bridget. On the way home, as one might guess, we stopped for a few last caches. Then, once back home, I wrote this little chronicle for posterity's sake.

Damn, that artsy-fartsy stuff is some kinda fun. Hey, Brugger, let's do it again. Tomorrow.
That's Russians out there, it's just gotta be.
Martian heat ray narrowly misses Ms. B. in a little graveyard, where we stopped to grab a cache.
Damned Martians.
Nighttime view from our twelfth-floor lodgings
Regency Towers on S. Ocean Blvd, where my family had a time-share condo for nearly 25 years

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Game of Bones

L: Cersei and Tywin Lannister; R: Mad Moo Cow and Dr. Butcher

Party time, party people! Helluva Halloween gathering at the castle of BigG7777 (a.k.a. Gerry) and Suntigres (a.k.a. Bridget) last night. A buncha geocachers, winos, and miscreants of all stripes descended on the place, wreaked havoc, and made merry. Ms. B. and I put together a little Game of Thrones motif, while friends Terry and Beth made the most convincing Negan and Lucille from The Walking Dead since the dead ever started walking. We had BigG's frightening doppelganger, a Chick Filet Moo Cow, a menacing butcher, a vampire, Marie Antoinette (head still attached, at least as of last night), a rodeo clown with an inflated ego (and bull), Red Riding Hood with accompanying Big Bad Wolf, and other assorted creepy critters.

Thanks to Gerry & Bridget for hosting, and to everyone who came around. Here's to a hellishly happy Halloween to one and all.
Slightly Dead Lucille, Lucille, and Negan from The Walking Dead; a couple of wicked buccaneers
Urp!
Mad rodeo clown has an inflated opinion of himself
Ooeey-gooey icky delicious spider
The Lannisters always pay their debts. Poor Negan!
L:Slightly dead Lucille feeling slightly dead; R: Bovines of feather flock together
Ladies....
"Put the damned bat down, and go wash up for dinner."
Delicious fare for our Walking Dead guests

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Creature From Black Lake


For me, the Halloween season is the time of year for nightly horror/monster movies, and this year, I have gone to town. Cryptozoological thrillers always make for favorites, so I've put on several in the past couple of weeks. Since I saw it at the drive-in theater on its initial run, 1976's Creature From Black Lake has been a perennial favorite. So I'm gonna give it the quick treatment here at what we're gonna call—at least for this Halloween week—the Drive-in Where Horror Dwells,.

I haven't had many lazy Saturday mornings recently, so this a.m., I figured it was about time for one. The coffee had barely hit the mug when it struck me that that Creature From Black Lake ought to accompany breakfast. So, along with a yogurt-stuffed crepe, three strips of bacon, and my third mug of coffee, on goes the DVD. It's an old pan-&-scan, less-than-beautiful print of the film, but in its way, this sort of brings back the old air of drive-in from the mid-1970s. (A much better, letterboxed print is available on Amazon Prime.)

The Story: Two grad students from Chicago—Rives (John David Carson) and Pahoo (Dennis Fimple)—travel down to Oil City, LA, to check out reported sightings of a direful "Bigfoot Creature" for their anthropology research project. Upon their arrival, they attempt to track down an old trapper named Joe Canton (Jack Elam), whose partner was reportedly killed in the swamps by a big hairy beast. However, as the locals don't have much interest in discussing their cryptozoological neighbor, they give the young men the chilliest of receptions. In particular, Sheriff Billy Carter (Bill Thurman) takes a dislike to the fellows and tells them not to go nosing around where they don't belong, i.e., anywhere in town.

However, a young gentleman named Orville Bridges (Jim McCullough, the movie's screenwriter), having overheard their exchange with the sheriff, tells them that, when he was a wee tot, the creature killed his parents, and he invites them out to the family place on the edge of the lake so they can have an in-depth conversation. Orville's Grandpa Bridges (Dub Taylor), at first suspicious of their intentions, eventually warms up to them and invites them to family dinner. He does give them a very stern warning to avoid bringing up the creature, since this would upset Grandma Bridges (Evelyn Hindricks). But upon hearing the braying of the family mule, an overly excitable Pahoo hollers out, believing it to be the creature on the rampage.

Boom. Next thing you know, Rives and Pahoo are relegated to the barn. And after dark, guess-what comes roaming around. Rives is able to record its cry on his tape recorder. After an uncomfortable night, they return to town, where they meet a couple of young women, Michelle (Michelle Willingham) and Becky (Becky Smiser)—the latter of whom turns out to be Sheriff Carter's daughter. Smitten and not to be dissuaded, the gentlemen invite the ladies to their campsite for the evening. Not only do Becky and Michelle oblige them, so does the creature, at least briefly, as does Becky's irate, badge-wearing dad, who pulls our heroes into the jailhouse. There they meet friend Joe Canton, who has also been pulled in, drunker than hell after another Bigfoot encounter of his own.

Once let go, Rives and Pahoo, disregarding the sheriff's admonition to leave town, return to the woods for a last attempt to find our direful creature. This time, find it they do, and the ensuing meeting proves anything but pleasant for all parties involved....
#
Our protags, Pahoo (Dennis Fimple) and Rives (John David Carson)
Orville Bridges (Jim McCullough) invites Pahoo and Rives out to the family place
to discuss Bigfeet over dinner.
Crusty but lovable Grandpa Bridges (Dub Taylor)
Creature From Black Lake came out at the height of the 1970's crypto-horror era, amid such luminaries as The Legend of Boggy Creek (last night's Halloween treat); Bigfoot; The Legend of Bigfoot; Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot; Mysterious Monsters; and numerous others. Although Creature From Black Lake is not presented as a documentary in the way of The Legend of Boggy Creek, the two movies could almost be considered companion pieces, with their settings being only 50 miles apart, and their styles, tones, and pacing remarkably similar. Both movies are set and filmed in actual locations — Boggy Creek in Fouke, AK, and Black Lake in Oil City, LA, and both use actual residents of their respective towns as characters. Like most such movies of its day, Black Lake is a slow burn, focusing on character development and playing up the creepiness of the setting—two elements too often missing from their contemporary counterparts. While some might consider the slow pacing a drawback, I find it relaxed without being dull, the characters well-drawn and engaging, unlike the cardboard, stereotypical teenage clowns that have populated all too many horror flicks, both then and now.

Indeed, actors Jack Elam and Dub Taylor, known for their exaggerated features and mannerisms, turn in appealing performances, both exhibiting humor and pathos in equal measure. As Pahoo, recognizable character actor Dennis Fimple—who appeared in virtually every TV show from the 1970s and 80s, as well as movies such as King Kong (1976), Maverick, and House of 1,000 Corpses—turns out to be quirky and likeable, while pretty boy Rives, played by John David Carson (also recognizable from countless 1970s and 80s flicks), starts out too cocky and smart-mouthed for his own good. As the story progresses, though, Rives learns he is not the self-assured, capable soul he believed himself to be. At the end, consumed by grief for his missteps, Rives breaks down with remorse, and Carson delivers a poignant performance. The focus on characters one can actually care about makes the difference between life and death for this film's pacing. Happily, it does live.

No movie about a monster is complete without the monster, but sometimes the reveal can be a movie's downfall. Films such as Boggy Creek kept views of the creature sparse, with little detail shown, which, given the threadbare budget, proved a wise move. Black Lake comes perilously close to giving us too much, as the few close-ups of the critter are, unsurprisingly, not convincing. However, for most of the movie, we see our Bigfoot in silhouette, in the distance, or in the quickest of cuts. A haunting shot of the thing partially backlit on a hillside after it has had a little tangle with Rives and Pahoo's van is the standout image from my first drive-in viewing of the film in the 70s. It's a matte shot, given away by a slight jiggle just before the camera cuts away, but this hardly spoils the impressive effect. A special-effects extravaganza this movie is not, but expecting one would be unrealistic. Where the monster is concerned, we do get mostly solid cinematography and effective use of suspense.

Some "old" movies that made an impression in my youth simply don't hold up to later viewings. Creature From Black Lake, however, is not one of those. It may be somewhat cruder than my first impressions of it all those years ago, and it most assuredly plays as a product of its time. Yet its solidity as a character-driven, atmospheric piece holds its own against so many later and contemporary horror stories, and I rate it among the ranks of damn-near perfect drive-in movies from those heralded days of yore.

Especially at Halloween time, this one gets 4.5 out of 5 Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Crusty but lovable Sheriff Billy Carter (Bill Thurman) gives crusty but lovable trapper
Joe Canton (Jack Elam) a sobriety test. Epic fail.
There's trouble afoot for Rives and Pahoo!
What the HELL is that thing!?
Hey, kid! Don't put your lips on that thing!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Geocaching 101 at the Ridgeway Library

WHO DOING WHAT: Damned Rodan (that would be me), giving a presentation on geocaching, including a little bit about how it goes hand-in-hand with writing scary fiction

WHERE: At the Blue Ridge Regional Library, 900 Vista View Lane, Ridgeway, VA 24148 (N 36° 34.600 W 079° 51.339)

WHEN: Saturday, November 3, 10:00 a.m.

The presentation will include an introduction to geocaching, with an opportunity to hunt a new cache hidden on (or near) the library grounds. I'll give a brief talk about my newest novel, West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, which features geocaching as an integral plot element. The book is part of  Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series by Crossroad Press, due for release later this year or early next.

For more information, contact the Ridgeway Library at (276) 956-1828 or ridgeway@brrl.lib.va.us

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Halloween May Come Now

The prerequisite things for Halloween to come have now happened. The viewing of Night (Curse) of the Demon? Check! The viewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? Check! The trip with Ms. B. to the Blue Ridge Parkway for breakfast at Mabry Mill, roaming the countryside and grabbing any stray geocaches we can find, and having wine and a picnic at Villa Appalaccia Winery? As of today... check! Now, this is not to say other things aren't going to happen—such as picking up pumpkins for jack-o'-lanterns, maybe getting in a bit of decorating, watching some more scary flicks, and having a Halloween party. They will. But with these most necessary of necessary things now out of the way, Halloween can actually occur with our blessing.

Brugger and I went to Martinsville last night and took Mum out for a pleasant, slightly belated birthday dinner at Rania's restaurant. Then, well before dawn's early light this morning, Ms. B. and I hit the road for the Blue Ridge Parkway and arrived at the mill/restaurant a bit before 8:00 a.m., their usual opening time. But how nice—we now come to find they're open at 7:30 a.m., which is a first (a very welcome first), so we were able to walk right in and get seated. Historically, there have been some very long, very cold pre-dawn waits, as the staff would not unlock those doors till the striking of the hour, no matter the bitter elements patrons might face. An autumn trip to Mabry Mill has been tradition in my family for just about as far back as I can remember, and I love nothing better these days than keeping it going. You know, for the longest time, I've said Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I reckon it is, but the best day of the Halloween season is the one where Brugger and I make the Parkway Pilgrimage. Due to weather and other conditions, things worked out a little differently than planned today, but it still turned out to be everything we hoped it would.
A wee bit blustery on the mountaintop
Brugger talked me down from Lover's Leap.
Pretty, but not much fall color yet this year. The peak is about a week late.
Breakfast was basically my typical favorite: three pancakes—one buckwheat, one sweet potato, and one traditional—with a side of sausage and flowing rivers of hot coffee. Ms. B. enjoyed eggs, sausage, a biscuit, and hot cocoa. From there we had intended to hit the trail head at the western end of Rock Castle Gorge, which we've hiked several times, but always from the other end. Today, however, the road leading to the trail head was closed off, and the weather was looking somewhat menacing, so we opted to make other plans. There was a geocache at the nearby Floyd Fest site, adjacent to Villa Appalaccia, so we popped over there, wandered the grounds for a while, and made the cache find ("Got Wild?" GC7TA5Y). Afterward, since we had plenty of time before the winery opened at 11:00 a.m., we drove into Floyd and wandered one of the shops Ms. B. had enjoyed on a previous outing. Then, as the 11 o'clock hour struck, we hastened back to Villa Appalaccia to do those things that had to be done.

We were the first customers to arrive, so we ended up having an excellent tasting and some entertaining and educational conversation about Italian wine with our hosts. After the tasting, we carried a couple of glasses with us down to the garden terrace area, which is the best place we know to drink wine, and there... we drank wine: delicious Sangiovese and Toscanello for me, and a fine Aglianico for the nice lady. Also following tradition, we had packed a picnic lunch, which we destroyed in a fairly spectacular feeding frenzy.

After all that, we had thought to perhaps check out some wine at Chateau Morrisette winery, which we frequently include in our plans, but once we arrived there, we ran into an all-but-impassable wall of humanity (mostly engaging in sweet wines, it appeared; oh, ye poor unsnobbish souls), so we opted to forego the Morrisette experience and return to Casa de Rodan for a couple of episodes of Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, which we have been enjoying. We both love the restaurant at Chateau Morrisette, but I'm afraid we haven't had many stellar experiences at the winery. It's generally mobbed, the wines are fair at best, and the service is hit-or-miss (we've had at least as many misses as hits). So though we cut the outing a little shorter than anticipated, our alternate plan worked out much more to our liking.

And what all this means for you, ladies and gentleman, is that Halloween may now come. We accept donations via cash, Paypal, and all major credit cards as tokens of your appreciation.
Stopping for a little love on the way to the cache
Waiting for the dead to perform
Waiter! Where's my wine?!
Oh, there it is. And a nice lady in the bargain. Happy horrorween!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Completed! West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman


All righty, buckaroos, apart from a few final edits, West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman is done. It'll be zooming off to the publisher—Crossroad Press—this weekend or early next week. To celebrate, I had a spot of wine and doodled the little Mothman portrait you see here.

Here's a brief plot summary:

In the town of Broad Run, West Virginia…

Vance Archer and Marybeth Wilkins, a pair of adventurous seventh graders, have discovered an exciting activity called geocaching—a kind of scavenger hunt using GPS technology—which leads them after hidden treasures in the woods around their community. However, on one of their outings, they encounter a frightening, half-seen creature with glowing red eyes watching them from the shadows. Soon, Vance begins to receive mysterious messages on his phone from a caller named Indrid Cold. He learns that this name is associated with the legendary Mothman, a strange, unearthly being that is said to appear when some terrible event is about to occur. Believing that they—as well as their friends and loved ones—may soon face mortal danger, Vance and Marybeth try to solve the increasingly strange clues before disaster strikes.

Each Ameri-Scares novel is based on or inspired by an historical event, folktale, legend, of myth unique to that particular state.

Visit Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares Facebook page here.

Read about my recent adventures in paradise... er... Point Pleasant, WV, here.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Michael the Bitch

There's a certain appealing eeriness about the total darkness—apart from my lantern—at Casa de Rodan
with virtually the whole city devoid of electrical power.
When Hurricane Florence reared her ugly head a few weeks back, advance reports indicated she was going to be the Mother of Dragons... er... Storms, and everyone in North Carolina was advised to buy hurricane snacks and batten down the hatches. Most of us at least got as far as buying some hurricane snacks, i.e., wine and brie. Florence brought significant rain to the Piedmont Triad, and took out power in a few places, but what was supposed to be this giant gale turned out to be more of a fart. Then a few days ago, Hurricane Michael showed up south of Florida, and word was we might get fairly heavy rain for a day or two.

Michael kicked our asses. North Carolina got hit with more wind, rain, and damage than any other state in the storm's path, and the Triad—where I am—got hit worst of all. According to official reports, about 90,000 people lost power. As yet, property damage has not been fully assessed. There were downed trees literally everywhere I went. Duke Energy indicated they had to contend with 75 broken poles, 40 transformers, 150,000 feet of wire on the ground, and over 2,800 individual outage locations. Falling trees knocked out a transmission line that fed two of Duke's substations in northeast Greensboro, and massive flooding delayed the repair.
The first sign that Michael is a bitch.Start bailing,
ladies and gentlemen...

The first sign that things were going really badly on Thursday was when water began flooding our second-floor office, primarily due to the balcony having zero drainage, and water six inches deep having nowhere to go but inside the building. Not to mention non-existent seals on windows, which admitted significant quantities of water directly into the suite. And air conditioning vents taking on water and dumping it on us from the ceiling. As far as I'm concerned, it's a staggering indictment of the builder's stupidity, which I have been harping on since long before Michael. It's easily the most horrendously designed building I've ever worked in. We—the staff of The Mailbox—ended up having to take responsibility for bailing and sopping up water all Thursday afternoon. The building management finally got some pumps working sometime after business hours, so that on Friday—after the worst of the weather had passed—at least we had a mostly dry office.

Since our homes were both dark, rather than go straight home on Friday evening, Ms. Brugger and I ventured over to Rioja Wine Bar, a favorite destination of ours, and one of the few establishments in the area to retain power. So we honored them with some significant patronage on Friday night, I can tell you.

Saturday morning, after about 30 hours in the dark, Ms. B.'s power came back on. So yesterday, still with no electricity flowing at my house, I trucked over to her place and made myself productive working on West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, which is in its finishing stages. Despite my presence, Ms. B. managed to make the best of the situation. However, I knew my mom, in Martinsville, VA, was without power or working telephone. I eventually managed to contact some of her friends as well as my brother, who went up from Winston-Salem last night to make sure she was secure. And I headed there early this morning to help set things straight—ironically, just about the time my own power came back on, after almost 60 hours.

Martinsville was hit hard as well. It's a miracle my mom's power came back on when it did, as literally every power pole on the block north of her place—right up to her yard—was demolished. It was all still down when I left for home a short while ago.

I rarely have a good word to say about Duke Energy, and as a supposedly competent corporate entity, I have naught but disdain for it. However, I do give those hardworking crews who have gotten out there to clean up this horror all the credit they deserve. Given the sheer scope of the damage, I am fortunate I'm not still stumbling around in the dark. I did lose some of my refrigerated items, but I managed to get a fair amount of the most expensive edibles I had in the freezer transferred over to Ms. B.'s freezer before it was too late. Currently, my cable and internet are still out, but since I have phone service, I'm using my phone's hot spot to connect via my laptop.

This has been a matter of making the best of a bad situation and counting one's blessings under the circumstances. And quite frankly, because the storm turned out to be such a monster, dealing with it hasn't been the bitter pill it is when someone spits on the road and knocks out the power in Greensboro for hours on end—which is so commonplace that investing in a generator has become a most appealing prospect.

If you were in the storm's path, I hope you have made out no worse than I. My best to you and yours.
Damage to power lines at the lot adjacent to my mom's
Trees and poles down at Patrick Henry Mall, Martinsville, VA
Rufus Brugger cares not a whit about the inconveniences of hurricanes when it means he can lie on
Old Dude's laptop case.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lair of the Mothman


Indeed, Lair of the Mothman is the title of my upcoming novel in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series—to be released in 2019, probably early in the year—and this past weekend, I went to check out the original lair for myself. I've just returned from a couple of pleasant, if physically taxing, days in Point Pleasant, WV, where the Mothman legend originated. On this trip, I alternated between straight-up fact-finding and geocaching, though the latter actually is research, since the novel's plot involves geocaching

On Friday, 9/28, I left Greensboro right about noon, stopped for a handful of caches on the way, and passed through Charleston, WV, about 4:00 p.m. Just west of the city, I turned off on US 35, which follows the Kanawha River on a northwest course. Fifteen miles or so out from Point Pleasant, I saw massive plumes of steam rising into the sky from the James M. Gavin Power Plant, about ten miles north of Point Pleasant, across the river in Ohio. No matter where I was in the area, those massive chimneys became prominent sights.

The annual Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant took place a couple of weeks ago, and while it may be an immensely entertaining event, for my purposes, I preferred a more private, personalized sojourn. I had originally planned to leave early on Saturday and stay for one night, so I had booked a  room for that evening at the historic Lowe Hotel in downtown Point Pleasant. As it turned out, schedule-wise, I determined I could do Friday night as well, so I got myself a room at the Knight's Inn across the river in Gallipolis, OH. Not unexpectedly, the accommodations there were fairly spartan, but very comfortable and clean, and it came with more than the customary amenities for a cheap hotel room. I approve. After checking in there, I drove back across the Silver Memorial Bridge into Point Pleasant to wander about (read hunt geocaches) and procure some vittles. I was both surprised and pleased to encounter several local geocachers at the different caches I visited. Dinner happened at the Lighthouse Grill, where I ripped into a big old burger with some fabulous beer-battered fries. An enchanting spot.
One of the hundreds of clippings from the local
newspaper from the original Mothman scare

Now, I've seen The Mothman Prophecies several times, and I quite enjoy it. The movie was filmed in Kittanning, PA, and while the place looks enough like West Virginia on the screen, I was not at all surprised to find that the film's setting and the actual location bear little resemblance to each other. Point Pleasant is quaint, loaded with history (and geocaches), picturesque in the extreme, and the perfect small town for weird things to happen. Perhaps its most prominent centerpiece is the stainless steel Mothman statue, situated at Main and 4th Streets, constructed by scupltor Bob Roach in 2003. On this block, you will also find The Mothman Museum, which features Mothman memorabilia of every conceivable sort, as well as original newspaper clippings about the events that gave rise to the legend; massive amounts of information about the collapse of the Silver Bridge in December, 1967; and a multitude of original props from the film. The museum is the brainchild of Point Pleasant native Jeff Wamsley, whom I had hoped to meet, as I had become more than a little familiar with him via numerous Mothman documentaries I had watched over the past few weeks. Sadly, our paths never crossed, though I spent considerable time at the museum yesterday morning and found some enjoyable and informative conversation with the gentleman in charge of the place at the time.
Original art from The Mothman Prophecies on display at the Mothman Museum in downtown Point Pleasant
The first sightings of the Mothman occurred near the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, a.k.a. "The TNT Area," about 8 miles north of Point Pleasant. During WWII, a massive munitions plant and storage facility occupied this area, hence its explosive epithet. After the war, the place was abandoned, and much of it was simply overtaken by dense forest. There are still dozens of semi-spherical storage bunkers—known as "igloos"—to be found in that area. There are also dozens upon dozens of geocaches hidden around the TNT Area.
Informative map given to me at the Mothman Museum

And thus, Saturday morning, I headed north on Highway 62, continually drawing nearer to those massive, steaming chimneys from the Gavin power plant across the Ohio River. I stopped for a handful of caches along the way. About 11:00 a.m., I turned down Potters Creek Road, which features in my novel. And as I drove deeper into the incredibly dense forest, I began to get a sense of just how creepy this place could actually be.

For the most part, I was entirely alone out here, which I quite appreciated, although I could occasionally hear distant gunfire from a shooting range a couple of miles in. There are several night caches in the area, and I had initially thought about heading back after dark to give one or more of them a try. After learning the hard way about the sheer difficulty of navigating these woods even in daylight, I eventually decided against going out there alone at night....

I found about a dozen caches in the TNT area over four hours or so, and failed to find a couple of others. From these hunts, the thing I learned first and foremost was this: on geocaching.com's rating scale for terrain, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest, your average rating here is about an 8. At no time was this more evident than on a long hike out to a cache high up in a tree—titled "Wrong Turn"(GC5KNZV), after the movie of that name, which features a scene up in a tree. Being on a "trail" out here meant that the briers, brambles, and creepers would only swallow you in little pieces, rather than whole. Happily, I negotiated the tree-climbing challenge without issue. My egress from ground zero, however, was a whole 'nuther story. I ended up straying from the path by which I had entered—by no more than 50 feet, according to my GPS—and found myself surrounded by utterly impassable thickets in every direction. I cannot fathom how I even got into them, since I could scarcely go back the way I had come. The 200-some-foot bushwhack I ended up undertaking to get back to merely impenetrable spaces sewed up any hope of returning later, for between the tree climb and several hours of rigorous hiking, I was physically spent (or so I thought).

Despite my growing fatigue, I continued to hunt several more caches, a number of which brought me to overgrown, sealed-up igloos. At one igloo, however, I found the massive steel doors gaping wide, revealing only deep, subterranean darkness. Being occasionally foolhardy, especially when caching is involved, I went right on in to check it out, only considering—when I woke up at 5:00 a.m. in a cold sweat—that, had those doors somehow closed on me, I'd be there right now, and possibly for the rest of my abbreviated life. Ah, zut. As it turned out, the experience proved a hoot. The echo effect in that steel dome gave me an agreeable case of the chills.
A few miles out from the TNT area, the Gavin power plant chimneys across the Ohio river spewing steam
Left: Mr. Death, about 20 feet up in a tree; Right: Mr. Rodan, about 20 feet up in a tree,
holding onto Mr. Death for dear life
Old munitions storage igloo, sealed.
Old munitions storage igloo, gaping wide. You think I'm gonna go in there?
Dingy-dang right I'm going in there.
Eventually, I made my way out of the TNT area, alive and almost kicking, only to stop for a few more caches on the way back to town proper, one of which offered, but did not require, a change of elevation of the higher altitude persuasion. Naturally, I enjoyed availing myself to it.

Once ensconced in my room at the Lowe Hotel, I did a little sightseeing in the building itself. The Lowe Hotel dates back to the very early 20th century and is, without question, the most atmospheric setting in which I have ever taken lodging. The place is reputedly haunted—of course!—and while I encountered no spookiness of the ghostly variety, the decor and size of the place did bring to mind the old Broad Street Hotel in my hometown of Martinsville, where, when I was a kid, the family often went for dinner. I loved to explore those old hallways, though the dark stairwell leading upward scared the bejezus out of me. The place is, sadly, long gone, but the Lowe Hotel brought back every delicious frisson I ever experienced at the Broad Street Hotel in the early 1960s.
My home away from home, the Lowe Hotel
Come early evening, I was back out and about in the downtown area, where I went after a couple of multi/mystery caches that required considerable walking. I conquered these hides, then went roaming in search of dinner. I found it at what I had initially considered a somewhat dubious option—Two Waters, a Mexican-slash-Italian restaurant—but which proved quite, quite good. Grilled pork chop, salad, baked potato, roasted vegetables, and some of the best bread with olive oil and herbs I've ever had. Plus they had one of my favorite wines, Cantina Zacagnini Montepulciano, which complemented dinner beautifully.
My haunted hallway

After the day's rigorous activities, I found myself dead, deceased, bereft of life, and resting in peace, so I returned to my chambers at the Lowe Hotel, changed into my comfy clothes, and settled in for the evening—only to realize there were still two caches nearby, both of which required considerable walking around town to procure clues that would reveal the final coordinates. I suppose it goes without saying that I got up, threw on my boots, and went out after them. I had left in such a hurry, however, that when I reached the first of the two containers, I realized I had left my writing implement back in my room. Damnation, I had no means signing the frippin' log sheet! But yay—the container contained a pencil! However, I harbored grave doubts that the other would accommodate such an unforgivably forgetful geocacher. So I borrowed the pencil, made my way to the other cache, and used my borrowed implement to sign the log. Then, before returning to the hotel, I returned the pencil to its rightful location, as I would have felt guilty about depriving another unforgivably forgetful geocacher of such a basic benefit.

At last, I did return to my hotel room, fell over, and died.

Today, I came home. And much writing lies in wait for me.
My haunted chamber
The haunted parlor
Inside the igloo