Day 9: Jim Crow’s ghost

Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA

After some great Louisianan coffee, said a fond goodbye to Ethan and Allison.

Into Georgia – State #10! I drove to my Savannah hotel, the Hampton Inn Historic District, an old building beautifully renovated.

Lobby, Hampton Inn Savannah Historic District

Savannah seems like a much more livable city then Charleston, or is it just that the crazy heat has moderated a little today? There are more people on the streets and it just seems more lived in.

Savannah City Hall (building with gold dome)

Went to the Grey Market, a New York – Southern fusion lunch counter.

The Grey Market

My friend Dani arrived. I’ve known her since I was 22. We were close in the exciting days of New York’s underground music revolution, but in the last few decades we’d seen one another briefly or not at all. She has deep family roots in Savannah.

She caught me up on four decades which included earning a degree from the Iowa Writers Workshop, a PhD in literary criticism in Denver, published works, teaching English at college and high school and much else. I feel lucky to know her.

We went over to the Telfair Museum for a small exhibition of Rembrandt etchings, Rembrandt and the Jewish Experience.

Telfair Museum Jepson Center – 2006. Moshe Safdie, architect

To the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum. Gilbert was a pastor and president of the Savannah branch of the NAACP.

What life was like for African Americans in Savannah into the 1960s. Humiliations that extended into every aspect of life. Everything was segregated. Churches, schools, drinking fountains, restaurants, buses, train waiting rooms, movie theaters. At one prominent department store, Levy’s, they were permitted to buy things but not to eat at the lunch counter.

The exhibit continued with the civil rights struggle in Savannah, which included sit-ins, demonstrations, mass meetings and economic boycotts. It met with some success.

The museum is in what once was the heart of a thriving black commercial neighborhood, demolished in the 1960s to build Interstate 16 through Savannah. This pattern was, sadly and criminally, repeated in many US cities, where the land chosen for interstate highways was usually minority neighborhoods.

In the evening I was grateful that the temperature had gone from hot to warm. Walked to the restaurant Husk Savannah, elegant but welcoming in the southern manner. The cuisine is reinterpreted, locally sourced Southern ingredients and the food was excellent.

Day 8: Would you like to meet my bees?

Georgetown, SC to Charleston, SC

1,000 miles since leaving New York.

Paid a visit to my friend Ethan, an old colleague from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s web site. Really glad to see him. He got older. Well, it’s been 15 years.

Drove downtown to visit Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started. Fort Sumter is on a tiny artificial island. The only way to go there is to take a boat tour that allows you one hour on it.

The fort was built by slaves (assisted by some federal contractors), who among other things made seven million bricks.

Confederate forces bombarded the fort in April, 1861 because it was a federal installation that in their view now belonged to South Carolina. There were only 85 federal troops there, surrounded on all sides by Confederate troops and artillery. The Union troops surrendered after one day of heavy bombardment.

In a talk, a ranger discussed the views of some prominent Southerners in 1861. Some said the north wouldn’t fight. Others thought the war would be bloodless. At least one predicted the disaster that was coming.

At Fort Sumter

At war’s end the fort had been reduced to rubble by a two-year Union siege. It was partly rebuilt and remained an active military installation until 1947, when it was turned over to NPS. It took NPS more than 12 years to restore the fort to approximately its pre-Civil War condition. It opened in 1961 for the centennial of the battle.

On returning to the mainland I visited the Old Slave Mart Museum. It’s the site of an actual slave market, and a museum of slavery. It gave a detailed view of the slave trade and its people, sellers, buyers, and slaves.

I walked through Charleston’s Historic District. The buildings are very well preserved and cared for.

I asked Lyft to pick me up. The driver showed me the Emanuel AME Church, where a gunman killed nine people in 2015. It’s right in the middle of town.

Ethan and Allison have a tiny farm in their backyard. Vegetables, chickens, and bees.

They took me to a great southern style restaurant, The Glass Onion.

Fried green tomatoes at The Glass Onion

After dinner they took me to Folly Beach, Charleston’s oceanfront.

My dear hosts Allison and Ethan
At Folly Beach

Day 7: Carolinas on my mind

Pine Knoll Shores, NC to Georgetown, SC

Wilmington, NC

I got there around 2 pm, the temperature hovering in the high 90s. People were scarce on the streets, other than a handful of tourists like me. I went to a riverfront park and found some shade, but there were two menacing homeless people who had set up camp there.

It was really too hot to do much of anything.

Wilmington’s river walk by the Cape Fear River

On the way out of town I passed by a monument to Confederate soldiers.

I crossed the border into South Carolina! State #9 for the trip, a state I’ve never been to.

Georgetown, SC

Georgetown is a lovely town. Trees on both sides of the street whose branches meet over the road.

In Georgetown

The South likes to talk about its history. But, with some notable exceptions that I will get to later, slavery and its horrors go unmentioned. (Not that the North is blameless in matters of race relations.)

Went to a Mexican restaurant that had good Yelp reviews, Los Arrieros, and the food was terrible. Sometimes on a voyage of discovery you discover things that are not so great. And then you see birds nesting in the Hampton Inn sign. (Those are my beloved house sparrows, Mary Beth told me.)

By the way – Hampton Inns seem to have hit the sweet spot of price/quality/location for me on this trip. I’ve already stayed in several with good results.

Day 6: The big right turn

Kill Devil Hills, NC to Pine Knoll Shores, NC

I left the commercialized part of the Outer Banks for the unspoiled Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I went to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse visitor center and museum. The lighthouse itself is beautiful, with spiral black and white stripes (referred to as a “daymark” by lighthouse hipsters).

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, built from 1868-1870
Cape Hatteras

While at Cape Hatteras I wanted to walk to the extreme point (called Cape Point) because that’s what I do. It was only about a mile, but the sand made it tough going. The very end of the point is fenced off for bird nesting.

Cape Point
At Cape Point

Cape Hatteras is where the east coast of the US takes a sharp turn to the southwest. On the map, it looks like a jaw sticking out into the ocean.

I met a really nice park ranger, RJ, who was apparently there to guard the birds, and I told him about my trip. He said that the ocean and storms change the configuration of the land. The location of the point is changed from last year. Cape Hatteras is also where two major ocean currents meet – the Labrador Current from the north and the Gulf Stream from the south. I could actually see them colliding.

To continue my journey south I needed to take two ferries – the Hatteras – Ocracoke one and the Ocracoke – Cedar Island one. (Despite its name, Cedar Island is back on the mainland.)

The Ocracoke – Cedar Island ferry

Ocracoke is a skinny little island that feels like Martha’s Vineyard must have been before it was discovered. Laid back, pristine beaches, tons of restaurants.

Day 5: The first flight

Norfolk, VA to Kill Devil Hills, NC

Breakfast at Charlie’s Cafe in Norfolk. The real deal. “Season of the Witch” playing to add to the time-warp vibe. Counter with the grill right behind it.

Charlie’s Cafe

In North Carolina, State #8!

Visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

The Wright Brothers Visitor Center (built 1960), a lovely midcentury modern building

It’s windy, which is why the Wright Brothers came here. Also flat.

I walked on the actual spot where the Wrights made the first flight. The first flight started at the far boulder and ended at the foreground boulder. (The boulders are NPS monuments, and this was all sand in 1903.)

Where the first flight took place

Their story, their persistence is so inspiring.

Late afternoon light in Kill Devil Hills

Day 4: Thank you, France

Yorktown, VA to Norfolk, VA

Though I had read some of the history, I learned at the Yorktown battle site that we have France to thank for our independence. Just before the battle, France sent both naval and land forces. We love hearing the Yorktown story because we know how it ends. People did suffer, of course, in the Revolutionary War and some died, but nowhere near on the scale of the Civil War, and the denouement was much happier.

The Yorktown battlefield’s lavish visitor center

I went on a ranger-led walk and as usual, it was excellent. She had a deep knowledge of the events and personalities around the story. There isn’t that much to see on the battlefield itself, other than some earthworks that date back to the Revolutionary War (but some of them were repurposed during the Civil War.) But to be here gives you an appreciation of the geography of the battle. Yorktown was chosen by (British) General Cornwallis, who was under orders to establish a defensible port. To this point the British controlled the seas off the infant United States. That all changed with the arrival of the French. On land, American and French forces waged a successful siege, and Cornwallis surrendered to spare his men.

A mockup of a 18th-century ship includes some hammocks

I wandered over to the tiny picture postcard town of Yorktown. Do people actually live here? I found out they do.

In Yorktown
In Yorktown

Driving past Newport News and Portsmouth, I saw naval facilities and vast industrial facilities and navy ships and container ports.

Day 3: Where’s everybody in Richmond?

Fredericksburg, VA to Yorktown, VA

Cold Harbor

The Cold Harbor battle, May 31 – June 12, 1864, was part of what’s called the Overland Campaign.

The battle was a Confederate victory. But at this point in the war, Grant’s aim was to destroy the Confederate armies, not to hold territory. Grant promised to “hammer continuously” against Lee and his army until, he said, “there should be nothing left to him.” (Source: NPS Visitor Guide to Petersburg 1864/2014 Sesquicentennial Commemoration)

At Cold Harbor: a Civil War earthwork

The terrain is thickly wooded now, but a park ranger told me it wasn’t during the Civil War —it was farm fields with clear lines of sight.


Warehouses near the waterfront
The Canal Walk
The Virginia State Capitol

Richmond was eerily deserted. Oh, shit – I forgot it’s Memorial Day weekend. I hightailed out of town to the Hampton Roads peninsula.

Day 2: Dead authors, DC suits

Elkton, MD to Fredericksburg, VA

Visiting Scott and Zelda’s Grave

For a while, I’d wanted to visit Scott Fitzgerald’s grave to pay tribute to the great writer. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald are buried in Rockville, MD, in the graveyard of St. Mary’s Church (Catholic). Their only connection with Rockville is that Fitzgerald’s father was born there and their family plot is there. Today, Rockville is a busy DC suburb.

There’s no sign saying where the grave is, but I walked around and found it.

The church

There they sleep quietly, beside heavily trafficked Rockville Pike in the middle of busy Rockville.

Weird things department: there was a deer prancing around the graveyard.

A quick visit to DC

Unscheduled stop! Decided to go into DC and drive by the US Capitol.

For road geeks only: Thanks to Google Maps, I avoided a long drive through DC by taking the Beltway into Virginia, then George Washington Parkway and over the Arland D. Williams Jr Memorial Bridge into DC. (The bridge was named for a heroic Air Florida passenger who saved five others in the 1982 crash before he died.)

I entered DC on an unfamiliar route, passing a Southwest marina, the US Botanic Garden’s beautiful glass palace, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court. And actually found (metered) street parking!

Back in VA

Next stop was Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, which is four important Civil War battle sites.

An NPS film emphasized that by 1862, the Union realized that it couldn’t beat the Confederacy by military means alone, so they decided to attack the South’s economy. Then Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, to make the war about freeing slaves, not just preserving the union. Once they were in it, they went all out to win, with shocking losses of life. It all reminded me of the First World War. (Disclaimer: The parallel only goes so far, and I am not equating fighting slavery to whatever the hell the First World War was fought for.)

Lowering clouds at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center

Right after that shot an enormous thunderstorm broke out and was over in 15 minutes.

Cross-USA Road Trip Day 1: Geography geeking in Delaware

New York City to Elkton, MD

I got on the subway to go to pick up the car, and I had the feeling Paul Theroux did at the beginning of his trip to Patagonia – I am getting on the subway, but while most people here are commuting within the city, I am going to San Francisco by car (by a very circuitous route).

The rental agent at National, Shelley, was really nice. She was excited about my trip and she asked for the best car she could for me. She said lots of foreign tourists take rental cars cross country, but it’s unusual for an American to do it. And what a sweet ride, a black late model Nissan Altima.

Leaving home!

A perfect day.

12:35 PM. After zipping through states #1 and 2, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I got to the first stop on my trip – Ebright Azimuth, the highest natural point in Delaware (447.85 feet – OK, not a mountain).

Ebright Azimuth!

I drove to New Castle, Delaware to visit the courthouse museum, and was surprised to find it’s in the middle of a beautiful, and beautifully preserved, historic area. The courthouse is the center of the twelve-mile circle that partly defines the boundaries of Delaware. Wikipedia

The New Castle Courthouse Museum

It was closed for a school group visit so I couldn’t go inside.

From New Castle I drove over to White Clay Creek State Park, and took my first hike of the trip. I went to the Arc Corner, the very eastern end of the Mason-Dixon line, and where Delaware’s arc meets a straight line.

The Arc Corner and the Tripoint
A stylized map carving on top of the Arc Corner Monument, looking a lot like modern sculpture
The Pennsylvania side of the Arc Corner Monument

There’s a public trail within the park that goes to the DE-MD-PA tripoint. It crosses the PA-DE line many times, and there’s a sign each time. After about 30 minutes I got to the tripoint. It has Ps and Ms carved on the sides but no D! Delaware wuz robbed! It does say MDP on top, though.

The top of the tristate monument

Next – Maryland.