Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Goodbye, 2014, Hello 2015!

At Shady Lane RV Park, Plainview, Texas...

What are we doing on the high plains of Texas, sitting in Phannie with snow on the ground outside? Attending Jeff's and Leah's wedding, that's what. Jeff is the son of longtime friends and fellow RVers Bubba and LouAnn, and we think Jeff has snagged himself a real jewel in Leah Ford, a lovely west Texas girl who will undoubtedly make him very happy.

Jeff and Leah
I provided some piano music during some of the festivities, something I was honored to do.

Below are a couple of photos to authenticate the cold weather in which we find ourselves, a situation so averse to us that it would only occur at the behest of friends and family.


Since we don't find ourselves in frozen tundra like this very often, I had sort of forgotten that, in cold weather, we have a bit of a water supply problem due to the exposed water hose connecting to Phannie. Frozen hoses can usually be overcome by dripping water during the night, something the park management here warned us not to do due to the limitations of their septic system.  Soooo, that meant we had to disconnect the water while the temperature is below freezing outside. Finding that a bit annoying, I decided to order a heated hose in the event we find ourselves again in some Siberia-like land which, I promise you, won't be very often.

We had a very enjoyable Christmas vacation with our kids in Houston, which we had to abbreviate somewhat in order to make it out to west Texas for the wedding. Below is a photo of yours truly in Houston, sitting in Phannie with younger grandson Pryce. Note the inscription on my t-shirt, which I think is entirely appropriate:

Below: Older grandson Mason is dying to drive Phannie, but he's content for the moment with blowing the air horn. Neighbors are not all that amused.

For times like these, being retired is such a blessing in allowing us to roam wherever and whenever we like. I guess I'll get used to my new freedom someday, but that day hasn't come yet. Since we were en route to Plainview on Christmas day, we took advantage of FaceTime to watch the grandkids open their gifts from Santa. Isn't today's technology amazing?

As 2014 draws to a close, I feel a need to reflect on the year and consider how this time may have contributed to any new insights and learning experiences from which I can benefit in the future. With this in mind, here are a few things that immediately come to mind:

1. Faith and family have become increasingly important. This is probably to be expected in a person's latter years, but it is indeed affirming to know that the evidence for the Creator is actually being strengthened instead of diminished as scientific knowledge expands. You may recall, for example, the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) project begun in the 1950s, consisting of powerful radio telescopes located worldwide that have never produced a single crackle, pop or any other kind of signal deemed possibly to have emanated from anything with a brain. With untold millions spent on the project, it was declared unproductive and was defunded by Congress 20 years ago. With continued private funding, the project continues to live but remains as silent as ever. E. T. seems not to be calling home or anywhere else. 

There may be a reason for the failing interest in SETI: 
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, it is also becoming more evident among the scientific community that the profound uniqueness of the complex circumstances that allow life on Earth is likely not duplicated elsewhere after all, even among billions of planets in the universe. And there has been zero progress in explaining how the writer of this blog, for example, evolved from swamp slime. (Frankly, knowing him as I do, I could personally believe that he came from swamp slime, but science, unfortunately, is at a loss to prove it.) 

So what's the takeaway from this? Well, having a greater assurance of a God in heaven gives great comfort and peace, something I wish for everyone.

Our family is not a large one, but we treasure every year's memories. We think about the birth of our children and of Mindy's growth through the years. (Our son Jordan passed away from cancer at age two). Mindy is now a beautiful and loving wife and mother of our grandsons, whom we plan to do our best to spoil, something with which we think we've had some success. Mindy and Tyler and their kids always seem solicitous of our visits and are remarkably tolerant of my hijinks, luckily for me.

2. With each passing year, I see an increasing importance in maintaining a positive outlook and disassociating with negative things and negative people. I immediately think of RV blogger friend Ed, who closes each daily blog post with an affirmation that "life is good." I will strive in 2015 to be more like Ed in that regard.

3. Retirement is turning out to be a far better gig than I even imagined. I think of my hometown good friend John, who was smart enough to retire when he was a relatively young man. Having always resented him for that--mostly, but not fully, in jest--I take a little consolation in my belief that he didn't actually work long enough to really enjoy being retired. I think that's why I'm still speaking to him.

4. What have I learned in the last year about our retirement budget? Well, I had heard that people tend to maintain their lifestyles after retirement if they can, and that has turned out to be true for us. Frankly, we haven't wanted to give up much of what we were doing while we were working and, fortunately, it doesn't appear we'll need to do that. Had Sandy and I not worked all those years and made provisions for retirement, we would certainly not have a choice but to diminish our lifestyle now. I hope to be able to influence young people--especially in our family--about the importance of preparing early for retirement; it will be here before they know it!

5. Like everyone as they get older, we sense time passing more and more quickly each year. We feel compelled, therefore, to strive to actualize our dreams sooner rather than later. We notice that physical limitations are beginning to creep into our lives, and we have so much left to do and so many places to go. We need to keep moving forward with those dreams; it's not gonna happen when we're in the rest home.

By the time you read this, we will be on our way back to Houston with a few days' layover at home on our way there. After that, we're tentatively planning to make our way back to the Rio Grande Valley in February. We had a really good time there last winter, and we're eager to get as far away from the cold as possible.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Holiday Downtime

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

Since this is mainly a travel blog, I don't post very often during downtime at home, mainly because we don't do all that much that we think would be of interest to anyone. 

Part of our current hiatus has been spent with both of us snorting and sniffling with colds, so that took up a good bit of time when I didn't feel like doing anything, much less blogging. I think it was from Sandy's side of the family I heard the old bromide that says a cold is "three days coming, three days here and three days going." That has proven to be about right, I think.

The other distraction--and one much more pleasant--was a visit by daughter Mindy and her husband, Tyler and grandsons Mason and Pryce and Sandy's sister, Brenda, over Thanksgiving. Sorry, but you will be forced to view these family photos; we are, after all, grandparents, and that is our right and privilege. So there.

Sandy, Pryce, Brenda, Mason and Mindy

Tyler finally got in the photo. A good guy; you'd like him.

Mason and Pryce; easily the smartest and best looking grandkids on the planet. Dissent will not be tolerated.
We treated the kids and their parents to three nights at the Great Wolf Lodge and its indoor water park in Grapevine, and did they ever have a great time! Mason declared his experience there as the "best time of my entire (five-year) life." I must say, this place was a wonder to behold. Brenda characterized it best, calling it Las Vegas for kids, an entirely apt description.

Since the Great Wolf experience occupied much of Mindy's family's time, she suggested that we do something radical this year and eat Thanksgiving dinner out! In our family--especially in earlier years when so many more of our extended family members were still living--this would have been the equivalent of blasphemy! But the more we thought about it, we decided it was really a good idea to suspend the many days and hours of preparation and cleanup, leaving those chores to someone else while we just enjoyed each other's company. And so we did. We had a nice dinner with all the trimmings at a local restaurant, where they did all the work and we did all the laughing and carrying on. Afterward, while the restaurant help did the dishes, we were taking a nap! While we love traditions, we must admit that this was a nice diversion that we will keep in mind for possible future use.

Pryce discovered sweet potato casserole. Not much question about whether he likes it or not!

We are usually not idle during downtime between travels. In fact, we had always heard retired people wonder aloud how they ever had time to work, and the same is true for us! There are always chores that involve the upkeep of the house and vehicles, as well as church-related activities when we're in town. We just finished three performances of "Believe Again," a Christmas special featuring Stephen Curtis Chapman, a popular Christian recording artist, at the First Baptist Church of Dallas. As members of the 250-voice choir, supported by a 40-piece orchestra, we got an extra helping of real Christmas spirit, along with the nearly sold-out crowds.

First Baptist Dallas Worship Center
Downtime is also an opportunity to take care of any motorhome issues that may have cropped up. For some time, I have wanted to upgrade Phannie's dashboard radio, an old Pioneer model that is now dinosaur-like in technology years, plus it recently developed an annoying loose connection somewhere that would cause it to operate only intermittently. Now I have the good fortune of having at my beckon call Russ Clark of Clark's Mobile Installation Service, who is a friendly genius in all things related to tv, radio, satellites and the like. He's the kind of smart guy who doesn't make the technology-challenged among us feel bad about being dumb. I had him install a fancy new Kenwood system, and I am very pleased with it. He also cured the loose connection, so he is my new hero. If you are ever in the DFW area and need help with this kind of issue, Russ is your guy. You can call him at 817-336-8329.

This is Russ Clark, local entertainment system genius.

We will be loading Phannie over the next couple of days for a trip to Houston and Christmas with Tyler and Mindy and their kids. More later; merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Done: The Annual Pilgrimage to Canton

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

I'm not sure when it happened. We were taught that in ancient times, the menfolk were hunter-gatherers, leaving the home--or cave, as it were--every morning while the womenfolk stayed behind to cook food and sew animal skins together to stay warm.

At some point, women decided they needed a break from all that cooking and sewing. They decided that they, too, would become hunter-gatherers, at least for a few days now and then.  

The question then was, what would they hunt? The answer: Stuff they didn't know they needed! Hence was the birth of First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas. Fortunately, around this time, someone invented money and, to get ready access to their husbands' wallets, the ladies began to make their clothes out of skimpier and skimpier animal skins. Not much has changed since then.

In keeping with this tradition, we began our annual pilgrimage to Canton where, on the first weekend of every month preceding the first Monday, more than a hundred thousand shoppers converge. It is in this melee of electric four-wheel scooters and shopping carts that my lady and the others in her entourage dive in and engage in a frenzy of hunting and gathering--bargains. Their hunting ground is the massive 400-acre labyrinth of buildings, sheds, pavilions and lean-tos that occupy much of the land along highway 19 between I-20 and downtown Canton. The complex is so vast that it would take several days to see it in its entirety. Here is an aerial view:

We always take Phannie to Canton and park at Mill Creek Ranch Resort, which is near the market area and provides a free shuttle. And it is in Phannie that I subsequently take my refuge, along with any other cavemen who may have been roped into this adventure with me. I try to stay as far away from the market as possible while the shopping orgy is in progress, my role mercifully reduced to that of a cash repository from which Sandy does not hesitate to draw as the need arises. I also provide chauffeur services if there is a need. Mill Creek Ranch is easily the nicest RV park in the area, but any First Monday reservations need to be scheduled a year in advance.

On this trip, Sandy's shopping team consisted of Sandy's sister, Brenda, and our daughter, Mindy. Since we arrived a day early, I decided to go out and walk around the market grounds when it wasn't very crowded. I didn't have much interest in the kitschy things that appeal to the ladies, but I did enjoy some of the characters and unusual things I saw, some of which I will catalog in the photos below:

Here are the girls in their "blue team" shopping shirts:

Sandy, Mindy and Brenda, ready for bargains

There are literally hundreds of these electric rental scooters all over the place; this one has a trailer, and I'm not sure the gross combined vehicle weight limitations are being observed here:

This woman is pulling a shopping cart behind her scooter, but I was mesmerized by the elephant hat she was wearing; I wonder if she was getting ready for the upcoming election?

We saw quite a few pets accompanying the shoppers. Here are a couple of dogs shopping from their red wagon:

Here's another cute dog dressed up in his papal vestments. His name?  Wait for it...Pope John Pup. (I'm not making this up.):

Does anyone need any neon signs for a game room? You can get them here!

How about a nice pair of brass knuckles? Yep...they're here!

Now who doesn't need a jackass in the living room? Oh already have one?

You can find every imaginable food in this place; I have a weakness for corn dogs and roasted corn; here I am buying an ear of fresh roasted corn; it was really good!:

Hundreds of RVs belonging to vendors are set up in various RV parking areas. Here is a small group of vendors' motorhomes:

All in all, the girls had a great time at First Monday in Canton, and I got all caught up on my napping. Almost all of Sandy's purchases were for the grandsons, but I'm pretty sure that's the way it's supposed to be.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Tire Pressure Monitoring System - Third Time the Charm?

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

During our trip outbound to Tennessee a few weeks ago, our Tire Tracker pressure monitor had a spasm and began to show tire pressure warnings that were clearly bogus, setting off the alarm when there was no problem. Changing the sensor batteries didn't help, and I refused to call the company for assistance since I had been treated poorly by them in the past. The owner's manual was very poorly written back then, so I gave them a call. I got the impression that the outfit was being run from a cranky old couple's kitchen table, as they answered the phone with "hello" instead of the name of the company, and they had been quite condescending when I started explaining the difficulties I was having--acting almost as though some dimwit had interrupted their dinner.

Now I won't deny that I may be slow at some things, but I can point to a few achievements that might indicate at least modest brain activity. However, I was obviously not able to summon enough intellectual acumen to figure out, for example, how to add more sensors and program them correctly. The instructions they gave over the phone only confused me more. So, with this background, I had a decision to make there in Tennessee: Call Ma and Pa Kettle and wake them up or toss the system. I chose the latter.

I had been quite complimentary of the Tire Tracker in a previous post, thinking that I had found a good system at a price lower than most of its competitors. And, to its credit, it gave good service for about three years. But there was still the problem with a faulty owner's manual and poor support (I never was able to add more sensors successfully). Now, with this unexplained failure, I just decided to give up.

I also might mention that this was the second tire pressure monitoring system that I have had to throw away. The first was a Pressure Pro that didn't work properly from the beginning. I didn't like the monitor, either, so it got the heave-ho without having made a single trip.

The latest system is from Truck System Technologies and, so far, I'm very pleased.

You may notice that I use this to monitor only the toad's tires. This is because Phannie's powerful engine could drag poor little Mae halfway across the country before I would know of a low or flat tire. (The toad's tires, of course, are not visible in the rearview TV monitor.)

I know quite a few RVers who don't use a monitor of any kind and, if that works for them, it's fine with me. However, this arrangement gives me an adequate comfort level for now, and I suppose I will stick with it unless something happens to change my mind in the future. Perhaps because I'm very careful about tire upkeep and replacement, I haven't had a single tire problem in almost ten years of RVing, and I hope it stays that way.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Home Again

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

Our stay in Red Bay was amazingly brief, by Tiffin standards. After having arrived on Friday, we got the call early Monday morning to drive over to bay 32. This was an express bay, and we were allowed three techs for three hours, deemed by Tiffin's ubiquitous service writer Norris to be adequate for our short squawk list. The main necessity, of course, was the replacement of the living room window that the thieves had broken when we were in Pigeon Forge. The techs made short work of that, then moved on to the driver's side cockpit window, which was not draining rain water properly through the weep holes at the low point in the track of the sliding window. The tech who was cleaning out the weep holes accidentally cracked the glass, which resulted in Tiffin's replacing the entire window at no cost to us. Thanks, Bob Tiffin, for doing the right thing. The whole window assembly in this photo was the one Tiffin replaced on their dime:

After a few other issues were addressed by the techs and the bill had been paid, we backed Phannie out of the bay and returned to our campground spot for one more night before starting out for home. The next morning, we launched for Little Rock by way of Memphis, some 340 miles. That's a bit more than we like to travel in one day, but we were ready to get back home and take care of some personal business before going in for some routine medical and dental appointments. The older we get, the more of those we seem to have, don't we?

We decided to overnight at the COE park in Maumelle, just outside Little Rock; we had heard some good things about this park but had not stayed there, and we wanted to check it out. Arriving late in the afternoon, we found a nice spot right on the bank of the Arkansas River. Here is our view from Phannie's door:

Wow, what's not to like about this? Like most COE parks, this one is very nice with wide spaces, large concrete pads and paved roads throughout. No sewer, wi-fi or cable, of course, and the park is heavily treed, so we didn't even try to deploy the Direct TV dish on Phannie's roof. Here's another view from our location, looking out on the interior of the park:

We hated to leave this bucolic setting, but Texas was beckoning. We didn't exactly hurry in leaving, however; it was about noon when we finally pulled away from our picturesque parking spot. Another 340-mile leg lay in front of us, and Phannie finally pulled into her familiar home berth in Fort Worth well after dark. 

She seemed to sigh in relief after a very busy summer and fall and many thousands of miles from Utah in the west to North Carolina in the east. And what a reliable old girl she has been, especially considering the challenging driving out west in the Rocky Mountains.

I still get excited at every day's departure when all of Phannie's utilities are disconnected, the slides are in and the big diesel comes to life at the rear of the coach. The engine sound at its 700 RPM idle is almost inaudible in the cockpit some 40 feet away--it is more of a slight rumble that is more sensed than heard. As the coach accelerates through the six gears, the engine speaks louder, of course, until cruise speed is reached. Once in sixth gear, the engine noise once again is suppressed at a normal cruise RPM of around 1700. All you really hear then is a bit of road and wind noise. I also like the billowy ride of the air suspension and the comfortable captain's chairs that allow you to recline, if you like, (not the driver, of course; I've tried it, and it doesn't work too well) as if you are in a theater, watching the scenery go by through the huge Imax-like windshield. Add to that some treats served by the stewardess (Sandy is a good one), and the lavatory on the go, and it's a lot like being in one of the airliners I used to fly. I'm offering this little aside for the benefit of readers who may be trying to decide between a motorhome and a towable RV. We loved our fifth wheel, but we've found the motor home even more to our liking. Much more, in fact.
Home again!

I couldn't be more pleased that Phannie seems more like a member of the family all the time. Rest well, old friend, until the next adventure.

Monday, October 13, 2014

More Curiosities

At the Tiffin campground, Red Bay, Alabama...

As usual, the Tiffin campground at Red Bay was full, so we decided this time to wait in Muscle Shoals for a vacancy. After arriving at the Heritage Acres RV Park, we drove the 40 miles to Red Bay in Mae and checked in at the Tiffin office to leave our squawk list and get our service number.

We spent a couple of days wandering around Muscle Shoals, and then Tiffin called us to "come on down." After our arrival amidst the other hundred or so Tiffin coaches, Norris met us and looked at our service list, advising us that we would probably be in an express bay in a couple of days. This was good news; if you're not judged to be an express bay candidate, the wait here can be weeks long!

As we drive around this part of Alabama, we find it a rich source of observations that may seem odd or curious to us, but probably don't seem so at all by the local folks. We find them "precious" (a term you hear often here in the deep south) and wonderfully revealing of a genteel rural culture that we just don't see in the big city.

I did a previous blog post on this subject during our last visit, so I thought I would reprise a few of my favorite photos from that post:

This is one of my favorites--a single metal building on the side of the road and a sign stating, well, the obvious. I can't help but scratch my head about this one...

This dummy sits in a lawn chair outside a dilapidated house. Not sure why.

Fall vignettes are popular on the roadsides around here; we loved the old Chevy truck decked out in a pink metallic paint that would make Mary Kay proud. 

Now for a some more selections from our current trip:

Speaking of vignettes, here's one in front of a Red Bay bank that extolls the variety of 'things to do' in the area. Sandy and I were amazed that pieces like the golf clubs and telescope were left there obviously with no consideration of the possibility of their being stolen. But they are quite safe; the postmaster told us she couldn't remember the last time there was any crime here. 

Stopping at a rest stop on our way to Red Bay, I couldn't help but notice that the size of the truck carrying this piece of earth-moving equipment may have been a bit of overkill.

Stopping for a snack in Scottsboro, Alabama, we spotted this advertisement for a true southern delicacy, I guess. I confess that I never thought of this combination before seeing this sign. I (almost) wished I had tried it.

These horses grace the front lawn of a Mexican restaurant in Muscle Shoals. If the rationale was to entice passersby to take a second look, I can testify that it worked!

More statuary from the same restaurant. I was a little uneasy about the meaning of the neck chain on the left statue, but the elephant...well, I'm afraid I'm at a loss, unless it's a political statement (of which I would approve). 

How about this from Littleville, Alabama: A used auto lot that sells only monster trucks. Talk about specializing!

This may be my favorite restaurant name of all time. We tried it, but weren't very impressed, unfortunately. (We are incredibly picky, however.) 

We think we may have been able to come up with a more positive name for our church, even though we might live in Burnout, Alabama.

I think this yard sale gets our nod for displaying the most overly ambitious sign we have seen anywhere.

Well, there you go. Aren't these wonderful? Somehow it all seems fitting here among these warm and friendly people who just don't take themselves all that seriously. We like that a lot.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Weather Hold in Chattanooga

At Best Trav-L-Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee...

We had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast for our next leg to Red Bay and, sure enough, the skies opened up right on schedule at about three o'clock on the morning of departure. The forecast called for two more days of rain, so we simply turned over and went back to sleep, electing to wait it out. I don't like driving Phannie in the rain for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that other drivers become crazier on wet roads. It's sort of like pouring water on cats--you never can tell what they're going to do!  At 32,000 pounds, Phannie is a pretty heavy old girl, and she doesn't react very quickly when you want her to do something like stop hurriedly to avoid hitting some lamebrain who cuts you off. For some reason, a rain shower is like a cloaking device, and other drivers are even less likely to see large objects like a motorhome. Besides, we don't mind hanging back a little longer, as we have no  requirement--like a job (shudder)--forcing us to return home by a certain date. (This is another blessing of retirement that still causes me to pinch myself from time to time.)

We used the extra downtime to visit Wally World to restock a number of household items that were running short. I also updated yesterday's blog post with some more restaurant reviews. We also boxed up some things we had accumulated for the kids and sent them off via FedEx.

It was good to have this little respite, and we slept and napped fitfully listening to the rain on Phannie's roof.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chattanooga: Moon Pies, Yo Yo Ma and Fried Chicken

At Best Holiday Trav-L-Park, Chattanooga, Tennessee...

As I wrote the title to this post, I thought to myself that those three terms probably never before appeared together in any form of communication. Until now.

Frankly, I have no idea if Yo Yo Ma, the classical cellist of worldwide fame, has ever tasted a Moon Pie--or fried chicken, for that matter. I grouped them in the title because I have something to write about each as I close out our visit here. The mere fact that they coexist here in Chattanooga is a testament to the rich diversity of the culture. Yo Yo Ma was performing with the Chattanooga Symphony last week in the Tivoli Theater, a wonderful old movie house built in 1920. Seating 1700 persons, the theater was one of the first air conditioned buildings in the United States and, now fully restored, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its mighty Wurlitzer theater organ still plays. 

Before the concert with Yo (as the folksy denizens of Chattanooga might wish to address him), you could have stopped in the Moon Pie store nearby and had one of the tasty little cakes that have called Chattanooga home since 1919, a year before the Tivoli opened.

The Moon Pie was conceived by a Chattanooga bakery at the behest of one of its salesmen who had been approached by coal miners to provide them with a small but filling cake that could be carried in a pocket and provide them a lunch when inside the mines. When asked how big the cake should be, a miner supposedly used his thumbs and forefingers to encircle a rising moon and said, "this big," hence the name Moon Pie. During the great depression, one could buy a Moon Pie and an RC Cola for a nickel, and this constituted lunch for countless people during that era.  

If Yo had had a craving for fried chicken, he could have meandered a little farther west of downtown to Champy's, a shanty-like structure that began life as a gas station. This place has won several awards for the best fried chicken in Chattanooga, and it is well deserved. I have eaten quite a lot of fried chicken in my time, and if this is not the best I've ever had, it's pretty darned close. They also make some killer hot tamales from scratch. We had both, and they were outstanding. I advise you to go hungry; you will not be disappointed.

Another worthwhile foodie adventure can be had at Taco Mamacita, downtown near the riverfront. This joint caters mostly to a younger crowd (I was only grayhair there), but they serve some really tasty tacos. I had a blackened chicken taco and a panko-breaded shrimp taco, along with a fresh ear of roasted Mexican street corn. It was all delicious; don't pass up this one.

We must have been hungry for tacos (we've been away from Texas for a long time), so we made an initial stab at Taqueria Jalisco, also downtown, but it could not hold a candle to Taco Mamacita. 

If you've read this blog for a while, you won't be surprised at the somewhat questionable appearance of some of the dives I seek out for a real food find. Taqueria Jalisco is one of those dives but, although it got great reviews, it came up a bit short, in my opinion. 

Perhaps I was distracted by the appearance of the single waitperson, whose gender I truly was unable to discern, and another customer sitting a few feet away from us. The latter was a heavily tattooed young woman with a nose ring and lip ring and whose armpits were quite heavily forested with hair. Frankly, I was so jolted by her visage that I'm not sure that my review of the food can be fully relied upon. I think I had tacos.

Now lest you think this joint caters only to offbeat types, there were other customers nearby who were wearing suits and talking about multi-million dollar real estate deals. This, in my view, was yet another indication of the diversity that can be found here. It is a college town, after all and, for many students, the college years are where they begin to find themselves. The young lady with the rings, however, needs first to find a razor. 

My take on this place is that you should probably skip it unless I have piqued your curiosity as to whom you might find there.

Next is my second favorite restaurant of the ones we tried: Zarzours. This tiny dive is an institution in downtown Chattanooga, serving breakfast and lunch mostly to locals, all of whom seem to know each other, judging from the lively conversations among the tables of mostly menfolk. Mary, the owner, knows most of her customers not merely by their name but by what they like to eat, which she often plops onto the flattop griddle when they walk in the door. Since Sandy and I were obviously strangers to her, she made a point to inquire, in her friendly, downhome manner, just what in the heck we were doing there. When she found out, she asked us to write in her guest book. Hopefully, her request was not merely intended to provide her with a handwriting sample. But, I digress...back to the food: We had a hamburger and fries--one of the best burgers we've had in a very long time. It was cooked as if in her own home, except better, because there's just something about a very old flattop that sears a hamburger patty better than anything else. I only wish we had another week to eat here; the blue plate specials looked superb. We will be back.

Thai Garden (in Rossville) - Good food, very fresh, and they will tailor dishes any way you like. Oddities: They don't serve nam pla prik, a very common Thai condiment made with fish sauce, garlic, lime juice and bird peppers. They also didn't have any chili garlic sauce, a staple in most Thai restaurants. I was able to add enough heat via some hot chili oil, but it just wasn't the same. The yum nuea (grilled beef salad) was a little sweet for my taste.

Here are some other places we tried, along with my comments:

Lupi's Pizza Pies - Better than the chains, in my view, with a crispy outer crust that is unusually good.

Sweet Basil Thai - Pretty good, but I would not recommend anything with chicken, which was rubbery and tasteless. The mango sticky rice also didn't impress.

Ankar's Hoagies - Don't bother.

Portofino (Italian/Greek restaurant in East Ridge) - Lots of cars in the parking lot fool you into thinking it's a good place to eat. It's not. Even Olive Garden is better.

Well, that's it for Chattanooga; Red Bay, here we come.