When we left off, I was in the early stages (still) of a family road trip while simultaneously composing a tourism brochure for Accomack County Virginia. So I’m going to pick it up right where we ended. I was driving through the stretch between Maryland and the bridge tunnel in my perpetual; “notice things that most people would never even see and find humor in them” mode, and my own omnipresent psychosis did not disappoint. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a pretty big news story from just a few years ago as I took in the sights of this region.

Many of you may recall the story from just a couple of years ago. There was a couple on a rampage deliberately starting fires all over this region. When I say ‘couple’, I mean they were a pair consisting of a male and female. They may have been married, brother and sister, boyfriend and girlfriend, Mother and son, or quite possibly all of the above. I’m pretty sure they were engaged though.

Anyway, they were responsible for over 70 arson fires in the span of about 6 months. To the best of my knowledge, every structure the pair set fire to was abandoned. They were calling it a heinous crime spree, but as I look around driving through the county, I can’t help but think it may have been better described as a restoration spree. I’m also kind of wondering just how much effort really was put into their capture. Obviously I say this part with tongue in cheek. I kind of envisioned the task force being one guy who bears a striking resemblance to Barney Fife driving an ’85 Chevette. He sits alone in his classic vehicle now remembered only by retired members of the Joey Chitwood stunt team. Next to him for nourishment on his stakeout are a thermos of coffee, and another full of soup. He is equipped only with a pair of binoculars (with one lens cracked), and a walkie-talkie, both of which he purchased from the discount bin at a military surplus store.

The more I look around as I drive through this portion of my trip, the more I think that there had to secretly be a large contingency of people (though they may have never said it aloud) who were in the “just let it happen” camp. Granted, I’ve never done any professional insurance assessments, but in my laymen’s observation, it seems like if they had looked away for another few months, the couple would have done roughly a quarter of a billion dollars worth of improvements. What, too soon?

So eventually we broke through to the other side and exited Accomack County. However, looking back, it was by no means a bad experience. First, I got almost two full week’s worth of material just based on my observations from a small portion of our trip. And second, I now possess at least a cursory knowledge of where the insertion point would be if the East Coast were ever in need of an enima.

Having traversed the bridge/tunnel we would now enter the intestinal portion of the trip that is known to most as the mazes that are Virginia Beach and Norfolk. This is the stretch where Madge (if you’re just joining us, Madge is the name I assigned to the voice of my GPS) whom I hadn’t heard a peep out of for about a hundred miles, suddenly sounded like an auctioneer. She couldn’t even keep up with all of the twists and turns through this stretch, and quite frankly, I quickly tired of her smug, condescending cyber voice.

This was the first time that I was ever allowing something digital and satellite to dictate my travel plans, and I was uncomfortable with it from start to finish. I’m usually an old fashioned, map and Atlas type of guy but I reticently succumbed to the technological advances and resources available to me. I’m not sure what criterion the GPS folks used to plot our course, but multiple times I couldn’t help but think that somebody somewhere was laughing at us. I would spend roughly the next twelve hours of my life thinking this as I endured hundreds of abrupt and dramatic changes in speed limit.

We traveled a seemingly never ending rain soaked corridor lined on both sides with abandoned buildings. There were stretches where it seemed that the only inhabited structures were the churches, which were every eighth of a mile, and the occasional farm supply stores. There was also a smattering of volunteer fire houses along the way. Each of which (despite the pouring rain) had a young man in front of, washing and waxing his truck.

I did enjoy pointing out the various different crops we passed along the way to my kids. They seemed to enjoy both the rural topography and the agriculture lesson. Before too long, I started noticing that train tracks kept popping up, sometimes on the left side of us, and sometimes on the right. This didn’t seem to make any sense as we drove through a perpetual maze of one stop light towns and 15 mile per hour stretches.

True to form, I began to hyper analyze the situation. I came to the conclusion that it had to be one of three possibilities. Option one is that this deeply rural area has a ridiculous number of different railroads. Option two would dictate that Madge had either completely lost her mind, or she was just messing with us. Or option three which would imply that we had unwittingly morphed into another dimension and were now characters in either the movie or the video game Tron. I thought that each was a perfectly viable option, so I asked Renee to look at a map to see just how many railways were in the area. According to the map there was only one, so Madge had us repeatedly crossing the same train tracks and driving for short spells on either side of it.

With a pending election just weeks away, there was no shortage of the ‘vote for’ signs lining these back roads. And the further into the south we traveled, the more fabulous the names got. These names alone provided the pair of us seated in the front row with childlike hysterical laughter, and entertainment for the next several hours. I had originally intended to list some of the more memorable names here, but I opted not too after further thought. Just in case one of these scarlet throated folk wind up in the White House someday, I didn’t want to pop up on the vendetta list just from writing a smart ass column. But some of these names were priceless, and I could not have made them up on my best day, let alone imagined them on a political sign by the roadside. We’re still calling each other some of these names a month later just for laughs.

We spent the entire day laughing at nothing, enjoying life, and each other’s company in a 6 year old minivan. None of us seemed to care about the torrential downpour that had now been with us through 3 states. It was a blast, and so far reasonably successful given the distance for our first real family road trip.

The deeper we got into North Carolina, the more vertical our path became. The higher we got into the mountains, the thicker the fog became. Our two youngest girls, having both spent their entire lives at sea level didn’t understand what was happening as their ears popped, and they both cried in agony. There was a point when we had climbed so high and the fog was so thick that I honestly thought we may be about to drive off the end of the Earth…

When suddenly, after 14 hours on the road in driving rain, and through about 493 miles of crap, in an almost ethereal manner, out of the fog appeared the lovely and quaint town of Asheville, North Carolina.

Thanks for playing along.

Until next week, Syd Nichols