A week ago Thursday Chris and I left on a road trip, headed for Maryland so that we could play music for some friends. These days we’re out of the business of pursuing music professionally, or even semi-professionally, so you couldn’t have paid us to do it. But our ability to play music and the opportunities we’ve had to perform it have been true blessings to us, and we’re always pleased when we can pass the blessings on by adding music when friends are celebrating.
The drive from here to Maryland is scenic and peaceful, particularly across hilly West Virginia. The first night we stayed in Laurel, just outside the Washington, D.C. beltway, and made our way to nearby Silver Spring to eat seafood at Crisfield. The restaurant being right downtown, parking was horrible. We drove around for a bit, then ended up pulling into a shopping center parking lot not too far away, with signs everywhere informing us that parking was for customers only, violators would be towed, etc. We parked on the fringes of the lot, put some oil into the engine, then began walking through the center toward Crisfield’s. But before we could get out I had a conscience attack, and decided we should go back and park instead in one of the paid parking garages we’d driven by. We returned to the car and headed out, managing to get slightly lost even before we left the lot, coming out differently then we came in—where we stumbled onto a side street with free street parking, even closer to the restaurant than the shopping center. As Jiminy Cricket says, always let your conscience be your guide.
The seafood was expensive, but most excellent. I never liked seafood of any kind until Debbie and I spent a couple of years in the Boston area, where we learned to love it. At least the fresh stuff; since leaving I haven’t eaten it much, except when fresh catfish is available. This was as fresh as could be. Chris ate broiled flounder, while I had a crab/lobster/shrimp combination served Norfolk style, i.e. sauteed in a pool of butter. Very nice.
We had chosen our Laurel motel because it was very close to the end of the Metro green line into D.C. Friday morning we were up early so we could spend a half-day in the city before heading off to see our friends. Chris and I have eaten at enough of the usual fast food places for several lifetimes, so when we’re on the road I try to plan ahead so we can avoid them. At the motel I had looked through the phone book and found that Laurel had one of my favorite breakfast places, Einstein’s Bagels, so we ate there before heading into town. Austin, Texas is well-known as a town where every new food idea is test marketed, and since we lived there when the bagel craze started in the mid-90s we instantly had the chance to try the offerings of six or seven different chains. Einstein’s was always my favorite, and I still like the balance of chewiness, softness, and yeastiness of their bagels. They’re still as good as I remembered.
We drove to the metro station and caught the train into town. I can’t imagine how many taxpayer dollars must go to subsidizing the DC Metro system, but it must be a exorbitant amount because the trains are clean, fast, and frequent, and the automated ticketing system actually works. We bought our tickets at vending machines that took my credit card, passed them through automated turnstiles that deducted the right amount for each trip, were shooting through tunnels just a few minutes later, and looking for the way out of L’Enfant Plaza station just a half hour later. We didn’t see Joshua Bell, but we surely would have stopped for any street muscian, no matter how miserable, after reading that article. But there weren’t any.
One downside to our visit was that Washington doesn’t really open to tourists until 10am. We arrived at 7:30am anyway, figuring we would do our looking around first and maybe catch a Capitol tour at 9. So we walked up and down the mall, and by the time we made it to the capitol our desire to spend an hour walking around it had weakened. It didn’t help that we passed by a couple of tour groups and watched the guide point to object after object, noting e.g. that this particular statue was 17 feet tall and had been installed in 1853 and represented the beauty of the law … or some such. We buckled altogether when we approached the kiosk where you would get your ticket for a free tour, and saw that the line was a few hundred tourists long already. So we walked on and parked ourselves on a bench in front of the Air and Space Museum, and enjoyed an hour chatting in the shade on a beautiful summer morning.
As it came time for the museum to open, we saw that suddenly huge lines had formed, and so we waited. We saw the doors open, and then saw that the people were proceeding in very slowly (later we found out that there was a security check), so we decided to let the crowd abate and headed to the other side of the mall to spend thirty minutes or so in the National Gallery, where there was no crowd at all. It turned out to be a place we could probably have spent the day in, not because we are such art lovers but because many of the scenes depicted were of rural life; we got up close to some Dutch masters and tried to imagine what life might really have been like three or four hundred years ago.
The Air and Space Museum was fine, and we saw some things that were worth studying, particularly a room devoted to the Wright Brothers which centered around a lifesize model of their plane. But by this point it occurred to me that there was a major drawback to concentrating so many marvels and making them freely accessible—I was hardly able to appreciate any one of them properly. I probably could have spent a day or more learning about the Wright Brothers, studying that lifesize model, and thinking about their accomplishment. But with the Spirit of St. Louis and space capsules and the rest beckoning, and other museums crammed with art and history and technology just steps away along the mall, it was hard to stop and be still for very long.
Around noon we were done, so we caught the metro back to Maryland. In a way the train trip was the tourist highlight for Chris, who had never been on such a thing. And then it was lunchtime, and I remembered from the phone book that there was a Vietnamese soup place not too far from us, so we headed there for lunch. Perhaps it’s odd to have a huge bowl of boiling water in the middle of a hot summer day, but the place was filled with Vietnamese folk who saw nothing weird about it. The soup was some of the best we’ve had, and we’ve had quite a few bowls of it.
Then off to northern Maryland, about a ninety minute drive. We checked into the hotel room that Cindy arranged for us, and got ready to provide music for the wedding rehearsal dinner that night. I’ll leave the story of that for her to tell, saying only that it was a delight for us to play there, to meet Nicholas and Hannah (the bride and groom), and to see the rest of the Rollinses again. We’re already looking forward to doing it again at the next Rollins rehearsal dinner, in Alabama in a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stay for the wedding itself. Three days away from home is a lot when your wife is eight months pregnant, and so it seemed best not to add a fourth day. We got up early and headed back to Kentucky, stopping in Morehead to spend a few hours at a free bluegrass festival there where our friends Pete and Joan Wernick were performing. We made it in time for their second performance, then spend awhile chatting with them afterwards as they manned their merchandise table. Then it was on home, stopping in Lexington at 9pm for a late supper of California-style burritos at Qdoba, another favorite chain operation.
One of the reasons we wanted to stop by Morehead and see the Wernicks was to tell them that we would also be seeing them Monday in Lexington when they performed on the Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour; I had thought it would be fun to bring Maggie and Elizabeth along as well, since they don’t get to see live music too often. So on Monday Chris and I got up fairly early, so that he could spend the day helping Jerome Lange plant and harvest while I drove up to Frankfort to buy an attachment for the BCS tractor. I got home just in time to collect Maggie and Elizabeth, then drive over to Jerome’s to get Chris, and then drive us all up to Lexington for an early supper at Planet Thai.
After supper we spent a few anxious minutes searching up and down Main Street in downtown Lexington, trying to find the Kentucky theater while I wondered if I had misremembered the address. But we eventually found it, parked, went in, and enjoyed the fact that the Wernicks had put us on their guest list and saved us $40 for tickets. It was interesting to see how the show is done, but it wasn’t really the best venue for Pete and Joan. Still, we enjoyed it, and close to a million people will be exposed to the Wernicks’s music through radio and the internet. Afterwards we chatted with them in between fan questions and autograph requests, and then said goodbye until next year’s MerleFest.
Surely our travels are done by now? Not quite. Wednesday afternoon Chris and I drove to far eastern Kentucky to play at the (decommisioned) Old Indian Bottom church in Blackey (sorry, no good meals to describe). This was for a community sing which kicks off the annual Seedtime on the Cumberland festival that Appalshop puts on. We’ve played at this former Old Regular Baptist church many times in the past few years, and one of the mild disappointments is that even though the room is usually filled with Old Regulars, it is difficult to get them to line out a hymn or two. But this time Ron Short had planned to center the evening’s music around the old way of singing, and so that’s what most of the time was spent on, making it a very special treat for us. We didn’t leave until after 10pm, but being only three hours from home we toughed it out and pulled in around 1:15am.
And that’s about it for travel for the next couple of weeks.