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BBHQ Boomer Essays:

Travels with Princess – Part 1

Our Boomer-In-Charge at BBHQ, Hershel Chicowitz, writes about boomer memories and current events... from a boomer's perspective. He is sometimes funny, sometimes provocative, some-
times a little of each. We hope you get a kick out of our Boomer Essays.

Despite the bad weather in parts of the country this year, the corn is tall and healthy in mid-America... and it seemed to go on and on... forever. One thing we learned on this trip is that Mother Nature compensates. You can’t fool Mother Nature.

For 12 days, we never watched television; we neither read nor saw a newspaper; and we never, never heard Glenn Beck or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama mentioned – not once... never. They all got along fine without us.

This essay is available in its entirety to all visitors. Enjoy!

When most of us think of vacation, we set our minds on a week at Disneyworld, a few days at Las Vegas, or maybe a trip to London or Paris. There’s nothing wrong with that; I’m a big fan of Disney; Vegas is fine; and I would like to visit London someday. But Paris... I can do without. I prefer to go where they like and appreciate American tourists, and where they speak English. That is why I also avoid Miami.

Nonetheless, these standard tourist destinations come with massive crowds; endless waiting in lines; horrible traffic jams; and fat, loud, rude people; in other words, the very things from which we are trying to escape. But that’s what the marketing people tell us we want; so that is what so many of us do. But, always the contrarian, I took the road less travelled.

The Road Less Travelled

I took off for the open road this summer with Princess, my adorable Australian Shepherd. We went to the same places we have frequented before: the Smoky Mountains; Civil War battlefields; Cleveland (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)... and several old friends and relatives.

But we made a few minor, but critical adjustments to the tour. First, we had no timetable or schedule; we got there when we got there. Second, we tried to avoid the interstate highways, except when we just wanted to get somewhere fast. We drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Asheville, North Carolina, to Roanoke, Virginia. It was beautiful, relaxing, and thoroughly enjoyable. This is what freedom is all about.

But the major difference was that instead of staying at a string of Motel 6s or Holiday Inns, we stopped at several campgrounds, truly one of America’s hidden treasures. Our first stop was at the foot of Kennesaw Mountain, not far from where General Sherman put on his Sunday best before sauntering into Atlanta a century and a half ago. Our visit was somewhat less momentous.

Princess and I have scaled Kennesaw Mountain three times in as many years. Princess seems to tackle it with ease. But for me, the challenge has been greater each year.

I note, with considerable satisfaction though, that General Sherman scaled it but once.

On the other hand, when you do it right, once is enough, I guess.

The Army Corps of Engineers runs a wonderful campground on Allatoona Lake. Now, why the Army Corps of Engineers feels the need to run a campground is beyond me. They are engineers, after all; not camp counselors. But it is surely your tax dollars at work. We paid $14 a night, nowhere near what it cost to maintain the place. It was gorgeous: water, trees, fresh air, and all the mountain trails you could ever want.

One of the first things you notice when you check into a motel is the emphasis on security. I don’t care whether it is the Four Seasons in New York or the Economy Inn in Booneville, North Carolina. Your room has three locks on it, and there are warnings all over the place about preventing theft or severe bodily harm. At the small motels, there is no room service; but there is usually a nighttime security guard.

In contrast, our tent has no lock on it; there were no security cameras or metal detectors at any of the campgrounds. And while we saw a Good Humor truck making the rounds at one of the campgrounds, there were no security guards perusing the premises. It was like we were in a different world. Perhaps we were; perhaps that is the whole idea. There is some food for thought, boomers.

Camping, Camping, and Camping

I should qualify something at this point: there is camping; there is camping; and then there is camping. At the campsite next to me in Georgia, some guy pulled up in a 40-foot, bright silver Airstream; he spent about 45 minutes leveling his camper on the flat, paved portion of the campsite. This guy was an embarrassment to the memory of General Sherman. Next he hooked up to the power supply, and the whole camper lit up like the fourth of July. It was like one of those cartoon characters in “Roger Rabbit”; the camper seemed to come to life; it breathed, it smoked, it smiled, and it shook. Then the owner came out and set up a 4-foot tall tripod about 10 feet from the camper. He carefully positioned it and set it firmly into the ground. A few minutes later he came back out with his 18-inch PrimeStar satellite dish, and carefully mounted it on the tripod. Then he quickly went back inside; I saw lights – obviously from a television set – go on in the rear of the camper. And for the four days I was there, I never saw him again. Of course, that brings to mind the obvious question I need not state here. You gotta’ wonder.

Now, that is camping; but make no mistake, it is not camping.

When I was 11 I joined the Boy Scouts; it was one of the best things I ever did. Two or three times each summer we went on camping trips in Northern Ohio. We slept on the ground in sleeping bags; we rubbed two sticks together to make a fire; we hunted squirrel and deer, stripped and cleaned our catch, and then cooked and ate it.

OK, so I made up that last part. But we didn’t order pizza from Dominoes, either! Now, that is camping.

[I should mention and give enormous credit here to Dick Abbott and Don Nelson, two of my scoutmasters who played a major role in shaping my character. Both of them are gone now, but I am proud that Mr. Nelson’s daughter, Janet, is a regular visitor to BBHQ. Now... if I could only get Janet’s brother, Larry, a fellow scout in Troop 19, to join us...]

Princess and I eagerly slept in a tent; but I afforded myself the luxury of a small cot. And we usually stopped at a Subway shop for a sandwich. But we “roughed it.” A lot of people had campers or other types of RVs. At some places, Princess and I were the only ones in a tent. But Princess thought it was a treat. Heck, you can sleep inside any old time.

All the campgrounds had nice bath houses; most had a convenience store on site. And most had trails, lakes, or mountains nearby. Don’t say you’re too old for this stuff, friends. We found it does a lot to help you stay young!

My tent is one of those new, ultra-thin, nylon-like, one-piece tents. Two flexible poles hold it up; and the whole thing originally fit into a box about the size of a loaf of bread. Of course I’ll never get it back into that box, but I’ll never fit into my old Boy Scout uniform, either.

The only problem I had was that the poles have to stick firmly into the ground to make the whole thing stand up. Often we had trouble finding three inches of solid ground. In Florida, when you dig three inches into the ground, you run into swamp water. In Atlanta, three inches below the surface... is Stone Mountain. And in New Jersey, when you dig down three inches, you run the risk of ploughing into Jimmy Hoffa. But in the heartland of America, the soil was firm and deep. That’s why they call it the heartland of America.

Despite the bad weather in parts of the country this year, the corn is tall and healthy in mid-America... and it seemed to go on and on... forever. One thing we learned on this trip is that Mother Nature compensates. You can’t fool Mother Nature.

For 12 days, we never watched television; we neither read nor saw a newspaper; and we never, never heard Glenn Beck or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama mentioned - not once... never. They all got along fine without us.

However, I did stop at several libraries along the way. I am pleased to report that the public libraries are particularly good in Orlando, Atlanta, and Cleveland. I measured quality not by the number of books in the stacks, but by the number of computers available. At each one I visited, I pointed every computer in sight to Baby Boomer Headquarters. I think of myself as the Johnny Appleseed of the Information Superhighway. I had an ulterior motive, too. I considered every stop to be a business meeting. Therefore, the entire trip is tax deductible.

The Great Smoky Mountains

One of my mother’s favorite vacation spots was that small, sleepy town at the foot of the Smoky Mountains: Gatlinburg, Tennessee. But that was fifty years ago. Today, Gatlinburg is just one endless barrage of cheap T-shirt shops and sleazy souvenir stores. The last time we went through there, the main road in Gatlinburg was much like 42nd Street in New York. I vowed we would never go back.

We were there just before Halloween. At the Gatlinburg Town Square, they had what I guess was supposed to be a witch, spread eagle, in front of a small pond filled with lip-sucking goblins:

Nope; you make up your own joke there.

A bunch of years and one dog ago, I went into the Smokies in early spring. There was snow on the mountain top, but it was sunny and warm down in the valley. This is Princess’ predecessor, RJ, near the top of the Smokies.

My sister recommended that I go up the road a few miles to Pigeon Forge. That’s where Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood, is located. But at $76.50 to get in, I told her that Dolly would have to dance topless for me before I would pay that kind of money. Rest assured, Dolly’s vanity stayed intact. Another time, perhaps.

But fortunately, there is a whole other side to the Smoky Mountains, the side that made them famous. There are hiking trails, streams, and dozens of mountain paths you can explore. The Smoky Mountains is the most popular of our national parks. But you can go for days on these trails, and never see another human being. (That is Princess disguised as Rocky Raccoon.)

OK... so we got lost... but it was worth it.

We stayed at one of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park campgrounds, fifteen miles outside of Gatlinburg. It is located deep in the woods; it is rustic, but civilized.

You can drive through the campgrounds, but they are serious about controlling the traffic. Apparently, five miles per hour is just too restrictive, but ten is considered too reckless.

And they mean business!

The National Park Service runs several public campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains. They are very inexpensive. But the campsites are all jammed together and lined up in rows. There are plenty of trees, but where I visited, the grass was sparse. It was mostly bare dirt. Frankly, it reminded me of the pictures of the squatters’ camps during the depression. But I guess some people call that camping. The parks have bathroom facilities, but no showers. Now, I am fairly hearty, but even I need a bath every few days. There is a way to describe people who spend time at these campgrounds: they stink. But... to each his own.

Well, I have run out of space, but I still have a full tank of gas. I’ll tell you about the hidden treasures of Cleveland, Ohio (really) next week.

“Film at 11.”


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