Thursday, October 20, 2005

Road trip

"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting." - The Doctor (Jon Pertwee)

"Am I living it right?" - John Mayer

Can you guess which of these was my yearbook quote in high school? Considering that John Mayer was even younger than his current audience when I was in high school, it's an easy call.

The Doctor Who quote, incidentally, apparently inspired a fictional Star Trek ship in a role-playing game. (As opposed to a real Star Trek ship)

Mayer's perceptive question was hanging in my head Tuesday, which was Day 2 of my vacation. I've always taken an odd approach to vacations. When I was in my early 20s and had my first taste of a week without work, I tended to do seat-of-the-pants driving with vague ideas of where I was going next. "OK, I'm spending Tuesday and Wednesday with a friend in New York, then maybe I'll call someone in D.C., then I think I'll go here and drive back home."

This week's vacation is along the lines of the one Jimmy James took in NewsRadio. I'm not going anywhere. I even showed up at the office one day, though I didn't unload any water coolers. I'm doing a few things that are hard to fit into a normal workday, like doctor's appointments and shopping for clothes.

But on Tuesday, I headed for the hills. For those who don't know the geography, the D.C. suburbs are in the foothills of the Appalachians, which means you can drive there in less than an hour -- unless all the people who LIVE in the mountains are commuting home from work or all the people who live in the suburbs are heading out there for the weekend, in which case it takes a couple of days.

So I had the roads to myself, more or less, through one of the prettiest areas on the East Coast. Naturally, I did everything wrong.

First of all, I didn't check to see whether the leaves were turning. They're not. It's all green.

The scenery is still nice, of course. Every once in a while, the side of the road opens up a bit, and you can peer into an open valley. In Northern Virginia, a valley means three things -- a lot of people shot at each other there almost 150 years ago, and developers are rushing to toss up homes that don't really fit the landscape. Still breathtaking views.

I had two things in mind. I wanted to get out and walk around, and I wanted to eat. I didn't accomplish either. I decided I had to find food before I stopped to walk around, and I didn't eat until I was almost home.

Some people have a knack for going anywhere and finding a good place to eat. I don't have that knack. It was harder in this case because McDonald's and Subway apparently have some sort of duopoly over all the main roads.

I saw a place called "Doc's BBQ" around 1 p.m., and I still regret that I didn't stop. There's good barbecue and bad barbecue, but you don't know until you try. (Barbecue reviews are always sketchy. Some people like having big chunks of fat on a bun, some prefer actual food.)

This isn't entirely my fault. This area is known for certain types of restaurants -- big chains, smaller chains and pretentious places that offer $25 entrees for Tom Sietsema to rip apart with excessive snootiness in the Post magazine section. We don't do simple food, which was a staple of the North Carolina towns in which I once I lived. If something is any good, it becomes a small chain. A good example is Glory Days, a sports bar with pretty good food, and I saw one advertised. But when I pulled into the shopping center, I found that the ad was actually a "now hiring," not "now open for feeding wayward travelers." That's a hazard of driving through a fast-growing county. They build the rows and rows of townhomes first, then fill in the gaps with places to shop and eat.

Around 2:30, as I was heading toward home, I found a "British Pantry and Cafe." It looked so quaint and charming that I just had to stop. But the "reservations suggested" cafe looked like it wouldn't offer anything speedy. The little shop was intriguing, but I wasn't going to buy much. ("Look, honey, I went to the mountains I got butter!" "We already have butter." "Yeah, but this is Scottish!")

I wound up getting a "Smarties" bar, which had chocolate, smarties (basically, M&Ms) and "popping candy." The "popping candy" was a bit like the old Pop Rocks that were unfairly accused of killing Mikey. Kind of a strange sensation in my mouth. A little stranger in my empty stomach, which was breaking out in active revolt upon finding that the first solid food I'd introduced in seven hours was so explosive.

I finally found acceptable food at Boston Market, which was only slightly more exotic than going to the Chipotle at a different location than my usual Chipotle. It wasn't bad. Then I hopped back in my car and found that I was back in what could be described as "home" in about two more minutes of driving.

So am I living it right? Probably not.

But was it a fun trip. Sure.

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