NORFOLK- As we eased away from the dock, my sailing instructor, Kelsey, stood to start raising the mainsail as I held the bow into the wind.
“So is this your day job?”
“For a few more days, it is,” she replied.
“I’ll be a mama.” Turns out, Kelsey was due in about 10 days. “By the way, that’s the Navy hospital over there. If I start having contractions, that’s where we’re headed.”
A couple months ago, I wandered around Norfolk on a long overnight stay and happened across Sail Nauticus behind Norfolk’s maritime museum. There I met Ryan Newland, the program manager, who nearly sold me on a membership, until I remembered a key point: I don’t live in Norfolk. Membership in a boating club this far from home made no sense at all.
“What if I just wanted to book a boat and an instructor, could I do that?”
Two months later, I signed a waiver and buckled up my loaner life jacket. There was a front not far away, and the gray skies yielded a good eight knots or more. There’d be no sunburns today. It looked like a great day for sailing.
A Decade of Rust
My love of sailing is deep-rooted. A few of my friends had small sailboats I when I was a kid, and in my sabbatical from flying, I fell in cahoots with a fairly relaxed racing league on Lake Hartwell. Kelsey asked right away about what I meant by a relaxed league.
“Saturday morning pre-race breakfast was a Natural Light and a country ham biscuit,” I said.
“I’m surprised y’all bothered with the biscuits,” she said.
Maybe she’d raced with them at some point, too.
As we got the sails up and the electric outboard stowed, I noticed the old habits coming back into play. A gust would hit and we’d heel heavily, but I was generally on it and pointing back into the wind as we clawed our way up the Elizabeth River. Close hauled, we were angled just as far into the breeze as possible. I popped the main sheet and juggled it with the right hand while the left held the tiller. With each gust I’d give a little line on the main and dig in a little with the tiller.
Sailing is a lot of give and take, a forced relaxation that demands a keen eye on the weather and the world around. A matte patch of water on a glossy sea is a gust, and if you read its approach, you’ll seamlessly harness its energy with a minimum of fuss. The wake from a boat can be mitigated if you see it coming and nose into it instead of taking it beam-on.
In other words, it’s no wonder most sane folks prefer pontoon boats for their weekend party activities.
As we neared the point where we’d glimpse the golf course at Old Dominion, a K-Line container ship neared. “I know sailboats generally have right of way, but I’m pretty sure that fellow is a little less maneuverable than I am,” I said. Kelsey agreed. We laid off the wind and floated by. I’d never sailed in the vicinity of anything bigger than a 40-foot boat. “The wake isn’t too bad,” Kelsey said. “The tugboats are doing most all the work, and they spread the wake widely.”
We passed through the wake in the flattest water I’d seen all morning. In fact, as we neared the University campus, the waves started picking up. “Let’s turn downwind and find a better ride,” I said. Kelsey didn’t seem to mind that idea one bit.
Running with the wind and waves, the ride smoothed out and we talked about life around Virginia, travel, nomadic life (her husband is in the Coast Guard), and she asked a few questions about my day job with the airline.
I found myself working a lot less to manage the boat as my two hours wrapped up. I did ask her to dock the thing, though. “There are folks watching, and I never was too graceful about it anyhow.”
As we got to our hotel in Baton Rouge, I spied a dirt bike parked out front. It was laden with extra fuel tanks, bags all over and a patina of dust that indicated it’d covered several miles.
Its license plate read Nova Scotia.
I told Andy, the captain I’m paired with for this trip, that I hoped the owner would come down for the manager’s reception.
“He’ll stand out like a sore thumb, either pale or burned to a crisp, and speaking much better English than we do,” I said.
I was right. He showed up for the free beer and he did stick out a tad. This is how I met Dave, who was on quite a ride. He’d just ridden down the continental divide from Canada to the Mexican border. He’s a retired Royal Navy officer who rides around the world… He told plenty of stories, some hair-raising, others heart-warming. Check out his blog at Potted Roads and Bumpy Tracks
Add this character in with the WWII vet I met earlier today, who landed on Omaha Beach with a rifle in his hands, and I’ve certainly had a great day of work!
I should know better than to seek out southern food in the Pacific Northwest. At Amy’s insistence, we laced up our walking shoes and hiked more than four miles from our downtown Portland hotel to the Alberta neighborhood, turning down public transit in favor of burning calories. Where we were headed, we’d need all the calorie surplus we could get.
A couple of years ago, three North Carolinians headed west with a kick-ass biscuit recipe, and a dream to establish a center of southern food and hospitality in the northwest. Welcome, friends, to Pine State Biscuits. Step in, place your order and grab a seat at the end of the bar, where you can gaze down the grill and assembly lines. What your eyes feast upon, your mouth will quickly also enjoy.
At Pine State, you’ll find the same kind of biscuits I fell in love with at Tupelo Honey Cafe, in Asheville, and I’ve made a decent copy of them at home. There is no shortening-the fat comes from frozen, grated butter, and I think their biscuit cutter was fashioned from a cafeteria sized soup can.
But even though these biscuits are pretty big around, they’re disproportionately tall.
Think edible skyscraper. Start with a Sabre-toothed cat-head biscuit, split it and put a goodly-sized fried chicken breast on it, about what you’d get on a Chick-fil-a sandwich. In the spirit of remembering that this is breakfast, two strips of bacon go on that. Wait, the girl is still throwing stuff on top! Here comes a fried egg and a slice of cheese, before she throws it under the broiler. Once the cheese melts, out comes this tower of southern breakfast goodness. Honestly, I can’t remember the total order of operations here, but if my geology class taught me about how to tell which sedimentary layers came first, the gravy went on my biscuit before it went in the broiler as well.
Meanwhile, Amy ordered a much more reasonable breakfast: two eggs, bacon, toast, a biscuit with apple butter, and hash browns. The hash browns covered a plate the size of a cafeteria tray. As is our custom, we both ordered something the other liked, ate a bit and swapped plates at halftime. I cut my biscuit in half and laid my half its side, trying to decide how to eat it. A fork and knife seemed proper, but without a pitchfork, there was no way to shoehorn all the elements into a single bite.
So, in a very Man-Versus-Food moment, I cowboy’ed up and grabbed my half in a death grip, determined to get a bite with everything included. I found myself quite like a dog who caught the car he chased-I didn’t know what to do with my catch, so rather than put it down and have to regroup, I kept eating on it.
This biscuit looked like the object of a you-can’t-eat-all-that challenge, but it was great! I ploughed through my half and came out with a grin.
The girl behind the counter latched onto Amy’s accent. “I grew up in Charlotte,” she said once we identified ourselves at Atlantans. I wanted to march behind the counter and give Miss Charlotte a hug before we left. Amy’s half of the meal was great, and we walked out full as ticks, grateful for the long walk before we ate.
The location downtown is closed for a move; soon we will have to walk past one location to justify our gluttony at the other location when we come back to Portland.
Oh yeah, we will do this one again.
In case you haven’t heard a good romance story lately, here you go.
In 1996, my high school band hosted a marching band contest. I was a band guide for Cleburne County High School. I spent the day hanging with their band, and several of their girls exchanged contact information with me. We stayed in touch, the old fashioned way. We wrote letters. You see, in rural West Georgia and East Alabama, technology was slow to descend on us. This was pre-internet. There was no social media. Dial-up access to America Online was just beyond the horizon for us, and long distance phone calls were still pricey for a family like mine.
To rattle off a few names, there was Amy and Pamela, both with red hair and freckles (still the most dangerous combination EVER), Ashley, Evette, Lisa and Paula. I exchanged sweet thoughts with a few of them; Amy and I actually went out on a few dates. Then, college graduation came along, and we scattered to the wind. Ashley ended up at the same university as me, we saw each other from time to time there.
Fast forward a decade. Social media pervades, and it seems like each week the “people you may know” window has another face from your past gazing your way. Amy found me on Facebook. Such-and-Such commented on Jeremy’s picture.
People have recently started copying and pasting a thing on Facebook, asking folks to hide their likes and comments from view. Don’t! That’s exactly how I got a second try with a high school sweetheart.
You see, Amy lived less than 10 minutes down the road from the apartment I was in. We got together for barbecue one night. She was coming out of a failing marriage; and it had really rattled her. I invited her to my Pampered Chef party that was coming up soon… she needed an excuse to smile.
She smiles pretty often, now.
Don’t get me wrong, this has been a lot of work. There was a lot of emotional scarring she had to deal with from the failed marriage, and we started slow. But, there was just so much in common. We’d escaped the vacuum of our hometowns. We chased ambitions, saw the world, and settled in civilization. Our hearts and values, though, were still very much from the hometown. That’s something that’s just hard to find when you’re sitting in a bar hoping some great girl will just fall into your lap.
She helped me become the person I wanted to be, as well. When we re-united, I was at least 250 pounds. Probably 265. I drank too much. Most anything I cooked was heavily processed, bacon-wrapped, or cheese-stuffed. My roommate, Eric, was a pretty big guy, as well. We kept the thermostat on 62, or lower. Skinny guests wore sweaters. I sweated. There were massive problems in my future, if something didn’t change.
Things did change.
Amy volunteers with Crop Mob-Atlanta, and she eats all organic vegetables that are washed in hippie tears. She taught me how to eat. Last July, I started running. Then, I started logging my food consumption on a fitness app. Now, I’m not obese anymore. I’m not overweight anymore, either. I’m down to 180 pounds, about what someone my size should weigh. I haven’t been this size since middle school.
We decided to waste no time with a long engagement, either. December 1 – just a tad over two months from kneeling in dew-soaked grass with a ring, to married. We’re gonna have fun.