Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Destination: Heroes! - Day One

Wilmington, North Carolina has been my home away from home since I was born. My parents both grew up there and it is where the bulk of my surviving relatives reside to this day. Despite the fact that I have never actually lived there, Wilmington will always seem more like home than anywhere here in Georgia.

Not only does Wilmington benefit from a wonderful lack of any major metropolitan area, it is also proximal to the Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure beaches; each of which have an abundance of diversions to offer. It is a great place to visit and – aside from a slightly elevated cost of living – would be a tremendous place to live.

So anyway, my parents moved back to Wilmington a few years ago. They now live in a nice little condo that is three doors down from my mom’s mom and a few streets over from my sister and her husband. I suppose some people would consider it great that they are all so close together. Personally, I think they’re all nuts. But I love them anyway, which is why I packed the wife, Lil’ Troublemaker and four days worth of supplies into the Mountaineer last Thursday to pay them a visit. Was it an adventure worthy of relating to you, my loyal readers? Probably not, but I’ve got twelve hours to kill here. Judge for yourself… NEXT!

Day One: Going

Playlist – AC/DC, Zombie, Gargantua, Less Than Jake, Horton Heat

I’ve got to say, I was pretty proud of myself Thursday morning. My plan had been to get up at 7:00, shower and hit the road. This usually results in me waking up around nine and a departure time closer to eleven. I was up at 7:30 on Thursday and ready to pack the truck by 8:00. Mrs. Troublemaker, however, hadn’t even fallen asleep until five or so. This was due to the fact that she had been up all night packing three weeks’ worth of clothes for a four day trip, as well as making whatever other preparations women have to make to go anywhere for more than a couple of hours (this is a subject that will appear later on in my narrative as well). Surely I must have waited until sometime Wednesday evening to tell my lovely wife about this trip, right? Of course not. We had known for months that we were going to North Carolina. The only last-minute part of it was the new plan to drive to Charlotte for the Heroes Convention on Sunday, and that didn’t really alter much except for a few hours difference getting back home.

Regardless, Mrs. Troublemaker spent all of Wednesday night frantically getting everything together. To be fair, she did pack for herself and Lil’ Troublemaker while I was hanging out with him. It has to be tough to pack six weeks’ worth of clothes all by yourself. Especially when you add in the necessity of making absolutely, positively certain you pack only clothes that you hate and would never, ever want to wear.

So I presented myself to my lovely wife shortly after eight A.M., who was passed out on the couch with our two-and-a-half year old son. She was not terribly interested in hopping up and running out the door. My only real reason for leaving so early was to be sure we could make it to McDonald’s before they stopped serving breakfast, so I went back to our room and watched Burn Notice. We could wait another hour or so.

I should explain this McDonald’s thing. Normally, I do not schedule any activities around the serving schedules of fast-food establishments. Normally I do not even eat fast food. Ever since my epiphany last year that I was a giant fat-ass and the subsequent change of diet and loss of weight, I dropped fast-food and junk food almost entirely. Except when I am on vacation. Eating healthier sucks horribly, and I do not subject myself to that particular torture when I am supposed to be relaxing. I quit smoking a little over three years ago and stopped craving cigarettes within a few months. I have never, even for one second, stopped craving McDonald’s, potato chips and pie and it has been over a year since I cut those things almost entirely out of my diet. Somebody please kill me. HA! Just kidding! Sort of!

McDonald’s delicious breakfast was one of the things that contributed to my disgusting fat-assery (my general laziness and the most sedentary job on the planet helped, too) and is also one of my favorite things ever. I could eat a chicken biscuit, bacon egg and cheese biscuit, two hash browns and a large Diet Coke (yeah, I’m one of those idiots) every single day for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. Instead I have a bowl of delicious oat-oriented cereal. So you see, it was very important to me to get on the road by 10:00 to beat McDonald’s absurd 10:30 breakfast-serving cutoff.

And we did.

We actually left at about 9:30, only an hour-and-a-half or so behind my prime departure goal. We got McDonald’s to go and our adventure began.

It takes between seven and eight hours to get from Atlanta to Wilmington if you are not a lunatic, and it’s a fairly uneventful drive. I have commented before on how I-20 is the most tortuously boring highway I’ve ever been on and the only thing that has changed since then is that the construction that was there for the last three or so years is finally complete, so now it is even more dull.

Once you leave I-20 and get on 74 things change. At this point you start to see signs for the most exciting Mexican-themed roadside attraction this side of Texas: South of the Border!

South of the Border’s excitement level comes not so much from the place itself as from the ludicrous billboards promoting it, which feature the location’s congenial and slightly racist mascot – Pedro, the Lazy Mexican! When Pedro isn’t busy offering potential guests giant sausages or rides on his tower, he is often depicted napping or just generally loafing about. Apparently immigrant indignation has not made it to South Carolina yet. As soon as you hit 74 the craziness starts:

Stopping at South of the Border has become something of a Troublemaker family tradition, and this trip was no exception. I was initially a bit resistant to stopping since we were making such good time, but Mrs. Troublemaker reasoned that we all needed to get out and walk around a bit. Not everybody is used to being trapped in a chair for twelve hours at a time, I guess. Once we got there I was glad we had stopped. We got the pleasure of witnessing an all-too-rare occurrence for this legendary tourist trap roadside attraction: repainting! As a toy enthusiast, I am all too aware of the fantastic and inexpensive process of making that which is old new again, but I have never witnessed it on such a grand scale. Many of the animals and all of the Pedros had been redecorated as new, variant editions of their old selves. I had some sort of temporary lapse while we were here. Usually, I have an eye towards capturing the absurd or potentially entertaining with a camera in order to share it with my loyal readers. Sadly, on this day I was just too impatient and ready for us to be on our way. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. We didn’t even visit the new “Reptile Pond” that Pedro had pointed out on billboard 3,462. I promise I’ll do better next time. My loyal readers can expect no less than a full article about nothing but South of the Border.

Wilmington is only a couple of hours away from the legendary roadside stop, and soon enough we were crossing the drawbridge over the Cape Fear river (yes, that Cape Fear). That bridge has always had a special meaning for me. It is a symbol of happiness and youth and all of the wonderful times I had with my grandparents. It was so important to me as a child that the one time that Dad mapped out a more efficient route that didn’t involve entering the city by way of 74, I pitched a big enough fit (or pouted well enough) that he never drove that way again. Lil’ Troublemaker is only two years and seven months old, and not prone to care much about the emotional impact of civil engineering, but I excitedly pointed the drawbridge out as we crossed it. I think he sort of got it.

My parents – or Moomah and Pappy as Lil’ Troublemaker has designated them – live a short distance away from the bridge, equidistant from Carolina and Wrightsville Beaches. We arrived just after five o’clock. Lil’ Troublemaker ran up to the door and opened it just as my dad was getting there. He had just seen Moomah and Pappy a few weeks ago and was excited to be seeing them again. Mrs. Troublemaker went inside to make sure he didn’t immediately destroy their home. I was left to bring in my one bag and her entire three-month supply of clothes she can’t stand.

After lugging ninety-plus pounds of luggage into my parents’ home, I saw that they had really gone all-out for Lil’ Troublemaker. There was a Cars play mat on the floor with a bunch of Cars on it, some Disney DVDs, a Woody towel and even a potty seat and a stool. Naturally, being a completist like his father before him, my son played with the Cars for a minute, then looked at the mat and said, “Mater?” I totally understood. Since Lil’ Troublemaker has the mutant ability to instantly turn anybody related to him into a huge sucker, it was decided that we would stop at Toys R Us on the way to dinner so Moomah and Pappy could buy him a Mater.

This was a huge score for me as well. The opportunity to visit a Toys R Us in an unfamiliar city is not to be passed up. It is amazing the difference in inventory from city to city. While I can’t find a single figure from the current Star Wars series here in Atlanta, Wilmington’s sole Toys R Us boasted four figures from the exclusive line (sadly, none of the ones I want; but I haven’t seen any). I also have yet to see either of the Masters of the Universe/DC Universe sets at home. Wilmington had both of them in plentiful quantities. The North Carolina store also had several GI Joe vehicles I haven’t come across in Georgia and various and sundry other items that were somewhat of a surprise. All of that and they even had a clearance section, something I haven’t seen in a dedicated toy store since the last Kaybee closed.

Lil’ Troublemaker tracked down a suitable Mater (naturally the perfect Mater came packaged with two other Cars) and I picked up the He-Man/Superman set. I passed on Skeletor and Lex Luthor because I already have both of those characters. I missed out on Eternia’s defender and just haven’t bothered to pick up a figure of the Last Son of Krypton because I kind of hate Superman. Now that my DCUC collection has grown to the point where I have a sizable Justice League assembled (or is that trademarked by Marvel? Maybe the Justice League should be “gathered”) I feel like I should have a Superman. And now I do.

I learned something interesting on this visit to Toys R Us: My parents have finally accepted my admittedly peculiar hobby. To the point where my dad pointed out the Star Trek figures that were on clearance in an awkward but touching attempt to relate. I never collected any of the new movie figures because I resented Playmates’ scheme of forcing you to buy all of them to get a complete bridge. Looking back, I should have picked a couple up just to show Dad some love. Dammit. Sometimes I can be pretty fucking obtuse.

After our toy stop, we went to the home of the very best food I have ever had in my life. The name of the restaurant is Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn and the name of the food is the Shrimp Po’boy Burrito.

Flaming Amy’s is a local establishment that serves an enormous assortment of burritos and other sorts of hipster food. Everything is made in-house and is an original recipe or, at the very least, an original interpretation of an existing dish. There is a salsa bar with something like eight different types of salsa – each of which is delicious and amazing. I like the pineapple the best. The place has a good atmosphere, kind of like a more rocker-oriented Mellow Mushroom. Punker chicks in tank tops take your order. Normally this might not seem appealing, but these girls are friendly and hygienic for the most part. All orders are made fresh and then delivered to your table. I’m not sure what the beer scene is because this was the first time I got beer and I just ordered a pitcher of Miller Lite (this might actually have been the first time I drank around my parents – not that they’re teetotalers or anything, the occasion just hasn’t presented itself before). I am not a fancy-pants beer guy like my brother-in-law who ordered some kind of gay microbrew with fucking orange slices on top. It took every bit of self control I possess not to give him heaping mountains of shit for that.

And now for the very best food I have ever eaten. The Shrimp Po’boy Burrito is a masterpiece of deliciousness. A flour tortilla gently encloses a magical cornucopia of the freshest and most wonderful ingredients known to man. I don’t know everything that is in this gift from God, but I do know it contains lettuce, black beans, tomatoes, and gigantic fried shrimp. These are all crucial parts of Flaming Amy’s Po’boy, but the real magic is the Hasselhoff Spicy Tartar Sauce. You’ve never tasted anything like it. It’s one of those things that you just want to keep on eating forever. The burritos at Amy’s are all of the large variety that tend to inhabit these sorts of places, but I can polish one of these off in no time and want more. I just don’t have the words to describe how awesome this thing is. I am literally sitting here salivating just thinking about it. I feel a little sad and empty inside because I can’t have one right now.

We had a pleasant dinner with my parents, my sister and her husband; despite his fruity beer. It was probably one of the most normal and comfortable times I have ever had with my family. I attribute it to the beer.

After Flaming Amy’s we went back to my parents’ house and my sister and her husband went to get their giant dog, Tanook. Tanook is an Alaskan Malamute that looks like a horse wearing a wolf costume. He is also a very gentle and well-trained pooch that Lil’ Troublemaker loves now.

I went back to our bedroom with the intention of laying down and relaxing for a few minutes. The drive and what I like to refer to as “Relative Fatigue” hit me all at once and I didn’t wake up until the next morning.

Which will apparently be in another post. I can’t believe I’ve gone on for five pages now. Every time I think I don’t have much to say about something I end up going on forever. It is now 4:30 A.M. and I’ll be getting out of here soon. If you’ve stuck with this through now, I appreciate it and hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve put out there so far. Come on back tomorrow for adventures at the beach, donuts and my very first out-of-state con; which – like South of the Border – I just didn’t take enough pictures of.

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