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Asheville, North Carolina Travel Guide

Imagine waking up in a cabin to views of hazy blue mountains stretching before you. Cup of coffee or tea in hand, you stroll out to the porch and settle lazily into one of the rocking chairs and soak in the views. A gentle breeze wafts the scent of freshly-made biscuits towards you, which makes you wonder: Do we have any more of the blueberry preserves that we bought at the Mast General Store? Your day in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains stretches before you filled with potential. Perhaps you’ll hike to see a waterfall–you are, after all, in the Land of Waterfalls. Or maybe your day will include a more rigorous adventure to see Shining Rock or take your turn down Sliding Rock. Whatever you choose, you know you’ll enjoy more farm-to-table Southern food than you thought possible. You sigh contentedly and sip your coffee, knowing that the day’s adventures can wait five more minutes.asheville-mountains-man-dog-worldvia
Welcome to the North Carolina mountains, where settling into vacation mode is easy to do. From high-end shopping and arts in town to outdoorsy day-trips in Pisgah National Forest, a trip to the Asheville and the neighboring Blue Ridge Mountains holds promise for all types of travelers. Read on for our beginner’s guide to Asheville and the surrounding area.

Asheville

Located two hours from Charlotte, nestled next to the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville is a beloved haven for foodies and artists alike. The downtown features public art at nearly every turn of the steep and twisty streets. Stroll the self-guided, 1.7 mile Asheville Urban Trail to find the Flat Iron Statue, Cat Walk, and other architectural wonders and sculptures. This map takes you through some of downtown’s best stores, including Malaprops Bookstore and Cafe, an independent bookstore that invites readers to go on a “blind date” with a book. The knowledgeable staff take their favorite latest reads, wrap the cover in brown paper, and provide keywords to help you choose.
Be sure to stop by the Mast General Store to find a locally-made souvenir and ply your pockets with old-timey candy from yesteryear before continuing on the walking tour. If you’re starting to get hungry, no worries: Asheville is home to dozens of award-winning restaurants, including Chai Pani, led by James Beard nominated chef Meherwan Irani. Try the okra fries for a Southern and Indian fusion take on French fries; the masala chaat is another crowd-pleasing appetizer. Don’t miss out on the chai–it’s perfectly sweetened and creamy–but grab it to go because there is still so much to do!
The tour continues to meander through town–and through Asheville’s history. Established in the late 1700’s, the town eventually became known as a vacation destination, in no small part due to the Biltmore Estate. The French Broad River flows near town, attracting outdoorsmen to fish its waters and swim the currents; the fresh mountain air was sought as a remedy for those suffering from long illnesses, bringing the wealthy who needed to convalesce to the area. The various stages of Asheville’s development can be seen in the architecture found around town, with Art Deco buildings neighboring soaring Neoclassical designs.

“America’s Castle”: The Biltmore Estate

Those who want to see history come to life will enjoy visiting “America’s Castle,” the Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbilt built the estate as a getaway retreat, and he opened it to friends and family in 1895. The ornately-decorated castle includes a library with 10,000 books, a 70-foot-tall ceilinged banquet hall, and original art by Renoir and Sargent. Winter visitors will want to see the property decorated for the holidays; the Biltmore staff stay true to the era’s styles, ushering you into Christmas holidays of years gone by. The grounds and winery are in stunning full-bloom starting in the spring and through the summer. Autumn’s burst of fall colors are stunning. The gardens, designed by the same landscape architect as New York’s Central Park Frederick Law Olmstead, are a delight for gardeners and photographers alike. Lastly, wine lovers will want to visit the winery for a complimentary tasting and enjoyable afternoon at the outdoor wine bar.

Hike in Pisgah National Forest

After town strolls and Biltmore tours, the outdoors beckons. Asheville is a quick drive to Pisgah National Forest, which covers 500,000 acres of land in Western North Carolina. While there are many options for how to spend a day in Pisgah, a perennial favorite is hiking Shining Rock. This ten-mile hike takes travelers along the Art Loeb trail towards a beacon of bright light: Shining Rock. The quartz-encrusted summit stands out amongst the lush green mountains surrounding it. Be sure to bring layers and be prepared to turn back in case of afternoon thunderstorms.

Brevard: The Land of Waterfallsasheville-waterfall-girl-worldvia

Nearby Brevard is an excellent hub for a day trip spent chasing waterfalls. Looking Glass Falls is a perennial favorite due to the many viewing areas and easy access to the base of the falls. Bring a picnic and enjoy the sound of the gushing water and views of the verdant landscapes. To escape the summer heat, consider a fun ride down the natural slip and slide: Sliding Rock. The waterfall cascades 50-60 degree water down a sloping boulder and into a natural pool.

Asheville’s Food Scene

After all the touring, hiking, and waterfall searching, it is time to dive into Asheville’s food scene. If you’re looking for Southern cuisine, try Tupelo Honey Cafe, Early Girl Eatery, or Biscuit Head. Breweries abound, with Highland Mountain Brewing, Wicked Weed, Green Man Brewing, and New Belgium Brewing just a few of the ones in town. Those looking for high-end restaurants might enjoy Curate, a tapas restaurant, or The Admiral for “eclectic, American fare.” Asheville is known for being vegetarian-friendly, and Rosetta’s Kitchen, Laughing Seed Cafe, and Plant prove the reputation true. Wherever you decide to dine, be sure to stop by French Broad Chocolate Lounge afterward for their award-winning truffles and chocolates.
Asheville is a year-round destination, with stunning spring blooms, long summer days, popping autumn colors, and cozy winter nights. Stay downtown at the Grove Park Inn for a classy stay, or consider renting a cabin in nearby Pisgah National Forest. Once you visit, you’ll want to return again and again.

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6 Spectacular American Cities to Spend the Holidays

The enchanting sights, sounds, and aromatic smells of the holiday season come alive at these six cities across the United States that provide you with a fun and fabulous wintertime adventure that you’re sure to remember for a lifetime. Take a look at the breathtaking displays, spectacular shopping, and unique cultural events that make these locations a mecca for those who love to experience the season’s best celebrations.

‘Christmas town USA’: Best City for Holiday Lights

McAdenville, North Carolina epitomizes the giving spirit of the holidays with its spectacular month-long holiday lights display that showcases 160 festive homes, a fabulous downtown commons display, 265 evergreens featuring 500,000 lights, and spectacular lakeside scenery surrounded by beautifully-brightened spruce trees. The entire month-long extravaganza is free to the public, and the official lighting ceremony takes place on November 30th. The town is lit up every Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and weekends from 5:30 to 11:00 p.m. through December 26th.
This small village just outside of Charlotte doesn’t stop there. Townsfolk also gifts the first 1,000 visitors to the Annual Christmas Town Festival with free cider and kettle corn to help usher in some holiday cheer. This fun family event takes place on December 13th and features a charming holiday parade, a stopover by Santa, a traditional yule log ceremony, and musical entertainment that captures the magic of the season.

New York City, New York: Best Center for Magical Ice Skating

New York’s Rockefeller Square is a cultural icon that stays true to its reputation for excellence with a whole host of holiday activities for yuletide-lovers who are both young and young-at-heart. The lighting of the iconic 75-foot tree takes place on the evening of November 28th and brightens the square every evening through January 7th with its 30,000 lights and Swarovski crystal star. The gigantic live spruce overlooks an intimate ice rink that gives skaters the impression of sliding through a mythical urban landscape dotted with giant forests, celebrated artwork, and twinkling lights. Visitors can also enjoy magical horse and buggy rides that take you on a tour of the area’s most famous attractions, such as Radio City Music Hall. Here you can enjoy all the pomp and spectacle of the Radio City Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular. 

Branson, Missouri: Best Place to Catch the Polar Express Train

Best known as the Live Music Capital of the World, this quaint mountain town of about 10,000 people sits against the spectacular backdrop of the pine-covered Ozark Mountains. Every holiday season it lights up the region with a wide array of events that have collectively come to be known as the Ozark Mountain Christmas Festival. By far the unique and eagerly anticipated of these experiences is the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Ride that showcases the natural wonders along the area’s snow-capped peaks. Just outside the train’s windows visitors can witness amazing scenes recreated from the enchanting film ‘The Polar Express.’
For more great seasonal entertainment, check out the city’s world-renowned live holiday shows featuring many talented musical legends. You can also enjoy some antique and holiday gift shopping in the historic downtown district, or take a driving tour of the holiday lights at the Promised Land Zoo and Gift of Lights Trail. The fun-filled Silver Dollar City Amusement Park’s Old Time Christmas festival runs from November 3rd through December 30th. It has an astounding 6.5 million sparkling lights–and some of the season’s best children’s plays and sing-a-longs.

Frankenmuth, Michigan: Best Town for an Authentic European Christkindlmarkt

Popularly known as “Little Bavaria” because of its historic German heritage, this town of 5,000 residents in central Michigan boasts 2 million annual visitors, a breathtaking Christmas Lane filled with 100,000 lights, and the quaint Old Christmas Station Restaurant that sits on sight of a former 1920’s train station. Perhaps its most beloved tradition is the European-style ‘Christkindlmarkt‘ featuring mouthwatering delights such as their fresh, locally sourced apple cider, open-fire roasted chestnuts, and delectable holiday pastries.
This enticing European-style market isn’t the only big draw for holiday lovers. Frankenmuth holds bragging rights to the world’s largest store dedicated exclusively to all things Christmas. The family owned and operated Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland was opened in 1945 and features 100,000 twinkling lights, 2.2 acres of indoor displays, 27 acres of outdoor landscapes, and 50,000 unique gifts and trims. It even has a replica of Salzburg, Austria’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel complete with a breathtaking walking path and quaint educational signposts. For dedicated Christmas fans who like to start the season early and extend the holiday spirit into the warmer months, you’re in luck. The store is open 365 days a year!

Taos, New Mexico: Best Locale to Experience Cultural Unity

This vibrant desert city offers a unique holiday experience that blends different cultural practices to showcase a beautiful pageantry of unity. On Christmas Eve, the Christian and Native American communities come together at the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblos adobe settlement for the Procession of the Virgin. This unique event is open to the public and includes the lighting of ‘farolitos’ or paper lanterns, massive bonfires that are part of a blended Catholic and Native ceremony, and celebratory gunfire salutes along the parade route at this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Within the architecturally unique city limits, you’ll find a vibrant artistic community that plays host to the annual Yuletide Arts and Crafts Fair from November 23rd through the 25th. There is also a one-of-a-kind ‘pop-up, pop-down’ Taos Folk Store which appears at the Stables Gallery every November 25th through December 24th, and includes an incredible array of locally crafted items, from jewelry and journals to tea sets and totem poles. Here you’ll find unforgettable gifts for even the most discerning people on your holiday list, and beautiful items for yourself as well!

Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii: Best City for an Eco-Holiday in Paradise

The small island hamlet of Lihue hosts an awe-inspiring December-long Festival of Lights that takes place at the Historic 1913 County Building located on Hawaii’s ‘Garden Isle.’ Its grand scope belies its humble beginnings as a recycling project by a local artist who decided to turn other people’s trash into gifted treasures at her home, which came to be known as ‘The Christmas House.’
In 1997 her treasured creations came into the hands of her niece, also an artist, who chose to donate them to the county. The mayor asked her to create a fun-filled holiday display from them that has since transformed into a colorful celebration which draws international visitors and community members alike. Here you’ll find magical indoor and outdoor light displays, interactive installations featuring out-of-this-world artist-designed recyclables, and fun photos with Santa set against a panorama of eco-inspired design.
If you’re ready to raise a glass of cheer to a new adventure filled with time-honored traditions, head on out to one of these lively yuletide destinations this holiday season!
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Best Road Trips to View Fall Leaves

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from an autumn tree.”— Emily Bronte
Brilliant fall foliage, winding country roads, cider and donuts, antique stores, and little mom and pop shops. What’s not to love about a scenic autumn road trip? We’ve gathered information about some of the routes to use so you can have the best fall road trip yet, full of trees bursting with color.

Maine, The Bold Coast Scenic Byway, 125 miles

This scenic drive follows the rocky coast and offers stunning views of the restless sea. On the other side, trees display their riotous autumn colors. The experience begins (or ends) at Lubec, the easternmost village in the United States. Visit Lubec’s lighthouse. Attractions along the way include little museums that showcase maritime, agricultural, and Native American History. Famous local tastes are blueberries and seafood. This is one of America’s less traveled roads for fall foliage, and the landscape is pristine. Stay in a quaint inn like West Quoddy Station on the water and be one of the first Americans to greet the rising sun.

Vermont, Scenic Route 100 Byway, 217 miles

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Vermont

This drive that runs along the center of the state is recognized by Yankee magazine as the most scenic route in New England. It attracts many international visitors eager to see blazes of autumn beauty. Brilliant yellow, red, and orange boughs frame little country churches, old-fashioned stores, turn-of-the-century farms, and plenty of places to indulge in New England cuisine and everything maple syrup. Don’t miss the charming, old-fashioned cider mill and gift shop in quaint Waterbury Center and the nearby Ben and Jerry Ice Cream factory.
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Vermont

The legendary Vermont Country Store, 657 Main Street, Weston, invites a leisurely stroll through a yesterday shopping experience. This store is stocked to the rafters with a variety of goods including penny candy, local cheeses, jams and jellies, maple syrup, and even old-time products re-created. Next door, the Bryant House restaurant has an antique soda fountain and 1885 barroom. The food is homemade and of special note are the chicken pot pie and Mildred Orton’s original gingerbread. The family-friendly Swiss Farm Inn offers cozy accommodations and an acclaimed breakfast.

Oregon, Columbia River Highway, 75 miles

America’s oldest scenic highway (the early 1900s) climbs the Oregon cliffs glowing with ash, cottonwood, and maple trees. In one, eight-mile stretch, the road skirts the bases of five dramatic waterfalls including the 620 foot Multnomah, one of the nation’s tallest waterfalls. Viewing areas allow a closer look and fine showers of mist mixing with the falling leaves.
Before or after hitting the road from Troutdale, plan to visit Lewis and Clark State Park and enjoy a picnic in the flat, grassy, tree-dotted park. Stay at Cousins’ Country Inn in The Dallas in a cozy room with a gas fireplace plates of homemade cookies. The Cousins’ Restaurant offers home cooking with locally raised sirloin and local produce served with micro-brews crafted nearby. Their in-house bakery, renowned for giant cinnamon rolls, bakes pies and biscuits daily.

Virginia and North Carolina, Blue Ridge Parkway, 469 miles

Spanning the southern and central Appalachians, this legendary road climbs to great heights and crosses historic valleys. The leaf-peeping season is all of October as the trees at various elevations change at different times. Leaves of the dogwood and black gum trees turn deep red. Poplars and hickories burst into yellow, maples turn red, and sassafras turn orange. At the end of the season, oaks turn brown and deep red.

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Virginia

Roadside stands offer just-picked apples, cider, pumpkins, and pastries. It is easy to find corn mazes, hay rides, and festivals. A good starting point for your road trip is the Virginia Fall Foliage Festival that is held the first two weeks of October in Waynesboro. Its historic district gives a pioneering vibe to the lively festival filled with music, food, and crafts. Floyd, Virginia, population 500, has some quaint inns in the surrounding area and inviting down-home eateries.
Don’t miss Natural Bridge (milepost 61.6) a twenty-story, naturally-occurring, solid-rock bridge; Marbry Mill (Milepost 176.1) and its famous buckwheat pancakes, mill, and blacksmith shop; and Southern Highland Folk Art Center (milepost 382) that showcases traditional and contemporary Appalachian crafts.

Wisconsin, Great River Road, 250 miles

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Wisconsin

Wisconsin claims to be the best in the Midwest for fall foliage, and the Great River Road was voted the Prettiest Drive in America by the Huffington Post in 2012. It winds through 33 Wisconsin historic towns along the Mississippi River. Visit the Fort Crawford Museum in Prairie du Chien for a peek at life in the early 1800s, a slice of history, and a dose of old-time medical care at the Fort Crawford Military Hospital. Go “off road” in Rush Creek Park on two miles of old service roads to the top of a 400-foot high bluff.
Eleven wineries along the way offer tasting opportunities beneath the vivid leaves of America’s newest wine region. Pair your wine with famous Wisconsin cheeses. Great River B&B in Stockholm is a fine place to relax from the road and enjoy nature at its best. The inn is an 1869 renovated pioneer Swedish stone cottage. One of the largest groupings of American eagles builds nests above the 45-acre wooded grounds.
The road rolls on to the Gulf of Mexico, but leaf peepers head in another direction when the leaves turn green.

New Mexico, The Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, 85 miles

Begin and end in Taos for a journey through mountains, mesas, and valleys. Aspen trees turn shades of brilliant yellow, cottonwoods are red and gold, and purple cinquefoil adds a new color to the autumn palette. Bear and elk roam freely. Stay at The Historic Taos Inn, which has 44 individually decorated bedrooms with fireplaces, rough-hewn ceilings, and antique furnishings. It is rooted in the 1890s and is on the U.S. and the State of New Mexico’s Registrars of Historic Places. Eat at Doc Martins for southwest food sourced from local gardens. In Taos and along its byways, Native American, Spanish, and Anglo cultures are preserved through art and architecture, music and dance, and food and festivals year-round. Taos is a major center for the arts.
Make reservations well in advance if you want to stay overnight close to these scenic roads during the fall foliage season and be sure to pack your patience. The traffic usually goes slow, so just relax and enjoy the autumn’s beauty.
Where’s your favorite place to see fall leaves? 

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Southern Hospitality Rediscovered: Barbecue, Breakdowns, and the Unexpected

Southern Restaurant "Peace-N-Hominy"

Travelers well know the charms of iconic southern spots like Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans. Beyond the pages of the well photographed plantation homes and the gentile invitation of historic coastal row houses, I rediscover southern hospitality on a recent weekend getaway. In the process I realize that the south has many surprises to offer in unexpected places. Fear not, the south is living up to that famous saying, and then some.

A new baby nephew sparks the family to pile into the car and head from Atlanta to Charlotte, NC. Save a few glimpses of beautiful Lake Hartwell just across the Georgia-South Carolina border and numerous billboards promoting a burgeoning moonshine industry – yes, this is the south – the drive between Atlanta and Charlotte is largely unremarkable. The first sign that we are getting close was the Peachoid, a gigantic water tower that is both shaped and painted to look like an over-ripened peach.
We plug on, and eventually arrive to the outskirts of Charlotte where we are greeted by our family at their new home and set in to spend time with their new baby boy.
Babies are cute, and as the father of three girls I am fascinated to play with my three year old nephew (and his toys – sadly my girls aren’t into Iron Man) while my wife held the new little guy. With the new baby and all, we decide to order in. “Barbecue? I’m asked by my sister-in-law. Um, Yes, please! It isn’t a grand to do, nor a special search for the best barbecue in North Carolina. We just seek out the nearest local barbecue joint – and those are just the kind where you can discover something unexpected.

Peace N’ Hominy

My brother-in-law and I head to pick up the order from Peace N’ Hominy, where they describe their love of barbecue as “the peaceful coexistence of all bbq and corn, be it hominy, maize or grits,” a clear tout to their corn bread, creamed corn and cheesy grits. Here I discover the first great surprise of the overnight trip. Barbecue, generally speaking, is a culinary conundrum. Styles and variations pervade this great country from east to west and each has their own signatures that should not only be appreciated, but outright honored. North Carolina’s take on southern barbecue, has two predominant styles: Eastern style and Lexington style. True to their name, Peace N’ Hominy throws the rule book in the smoker, and pursues fantastic flavor, the rules be damned.
In the world of southern barbecue, preparation, cooking style, and serving are each, on their own, relatively straight-forward (although not easy to execute). Taken together though, they present a challenge that can only be conquered by someone who’s earned the pitmaster title through years of blood, sweat and smoke. The quality of the ingredients used is paramount to good southern barbecue and their absence can be detected, even by a novice, more so than almost any other style of cooking. Fortunately, Peace N’ Hominy has us covered.
We arrive to Peace N’ Hominy, an unassuming little building with patrons buzzing about (a good sign to be sure). We walk in the rear entrance, a little back porch offering a spot in the shade with a few small tables. Maybe on my next visit during the fall, I think. Making our way inside, the small interior is full and we saunter up to the counter to secure our order. After the usual pleasantries, payment, and a brief exchange inquiring about an extra side of hot barbecue sauce, we thank them and are stopped by a young man as we turn for the car.
Nevermind that we’re two capable, grown men, he informs us that he will carry our takeout box to the car, no, he insists. While walking to the car we explain that we really can carry the box, that it is an unnecessary jesture. We are quickly informed that their policy is both clear and strict – customers with large take out orders are to be helped to car. There is no room for interpretation. We thank him again and I can’t help but wonder if this would happen back home in Atlanta. Sure, Atlanta is still most certainly the south, but it is increasingly an international city (mostly for the good). While there are pockets of old southern charm, it isn’t something you encounter everywhere you go. This experience at Peace N’ Hominy is the south – and I like it.
We make the quick drive home, the smell from the backseat taunts us to press the pedal a little faster. Into the house and a quick impromptu buffet setup later, it is time. The amazing spread is anchored by pulled pork and carved brisket (that’s beef for those of you in Bar Harbor), smoked in a blend of apple and hickory wood. The mains are surrounded by a heart-stopping assortment of side dishes: creamed corn, 6 cheese mac & cheese (um, for the kids, just for the kids), an additional style of chili-mac, because in the south one mac & cheese just won’t do, bourbon beans, and crowned with a pan of corn bread and rolls.

The Peace

The pulled pork is well prepared and very good. Though, in a head-to-head battle, the carved brisket delivers a knock out and takes home the title. The flavor of the bourbon beans oozes with brown sugar molasses and pork. The contents of my plate begin to intermingle as the meal moves on and the brisket, beans and the sauce unite in an exceptional song of southern barbecue goodness.

The Hominy

I like corn bread, sure. It isn’t a food that I would normally write about though. This cornbread, however, makes we wonder if Aunt Bea from Mayberry might have been squirreled away in that kitchen (interesting note: the real town of “Mayberry” made famous by the Andy Griffith Show is located a little more than an hour up the road in nearby Mount Airy, NC). Sweet, not overly dense, and full of real corn flavor, it is a great execution of an old favorite. So skip the rolls and go straight for the corn bread.

The Southern Barbecue Surprise

The big surprise of the meal is the chili mac & cheese. My brother-in-law insists we try it and I oblige. I’ve had chili mac before mind you, and it has never been my cup of tea. Like Jack Nicholson’s show-stealing performance over lead actor Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, this side dish, turn superstar, takes the spotlight. No kidney beans or thick tomato sauce here, this is more aptly titled Beef Mac. The ground beef is beautifully minced with a wonderful blend of spices, and just a hint of heat, then chunks are slightly layered into the mac & cheese. Enough to get a good bite of the beef, but not enough to overpower the penne-style noodle. It is simply fantastic.
To a purist, the spread from Peace N’Hominy isn’t traditional carolina southern barbecue, but I am never one to get caught up in rules and formality, and besides, this sure is darn good barbecue.
One evening in, a few great southern barbecue surprises, delightful southern hospitality, and a sleeping baby. This is shaping up to be a great weekend.

The Peachoid

We wake to a nice breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls, bacon and Davis Special (a simple traditional family recipe from my wife’s side of the family consisting of pan-friend sausage and scrambled eggs that undoubtedly goes by a thousand different names in a thousand different families, but is nevertheless tasty). We spend the morning with the kids at the pool, sit and talk some more, then pack into the ol’ family truckster around noon to head back to Atlanta for work on Monday.
Remember the big Peach-looking water tower?
Apparently the kids didn’t get enough to eat at breakfast, and okay, I am hungry again too, so we stop about an hour into our drive back for lunch at a chain restaurant that sat underneath the Peachoid. We put the car into park, and well, it doesn’t park. The car is stuck in gear and the gear shifter just flops around (if this is happening to you right now, it is a broken shifter cable, yes, that’s a thing). Making this doubly frustrating, we had this exact problem repaired in Atlanta just three days earlier. On the verge of a hangry group, we decide to put the parking break on, turn off  the engine and head in for lunch. We’ll sort it out while we grab a bite.

Gaffney, SC

The small town of Gaffney, SC sits about half way between Charlotte, NC and Greenville, SC. Not to be the condescending city folk type, but there isn’t a lot going on in Gaffney, especially on Sunday. We walk into the restaurant with limited expectations, just glad to be in the air conditioning, and inform them of our car trouble. The manager greets us genuinely, and warmly, assuring us it is no problem, that we should come on in and sit down. Our minds race with worries of rescheduled appointments, canceled kids’ activities, and figuring out how to get our car fixed and it and us both back home. The manager’s gentleness helps to diffuse the stress of the situation.
We sit down and our server picks up where the manager left off, bringing us some cool drinks with a warm smile. We order and begin to make phone calls. First, the repair shop in Atlanta explains that they can’t do anything about their shoddy work unless we get the car back to them. Unfortunately, that is 180 miles away. We quickly discover that in Gaffney, SC very little is open on Sunday.

Meet Warren, Southern Hospitality Personified

My wife connects with the owner of a local repair shop, Warren, who can’t help us at the moment (because it is Sunday, and they are closed, and he is about to into a movie with his family – and we remember why all businesses used to be closed on Sunday). Warren gives us the name of a towing service that can take the vehicle to his shop and promises to check back in with us in a few hours to make sure everything is worked out. We aren’t interested in a local tow, we need to get the car to Atlanta (so the local mechanic can fix his errors). We call the towing service, who again, is very kind, but unable to tow it that far. They give us another name and we call. They’re open, but it sounds pretty clear that they don’t have full staff on Sunday. A 180 mile tow job would be a stretch. They kindly ask if they can check with their staff to find a driver and call us back. Pinned down like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, but resigned to get home, we have little choice but to agree and hope that we fare better than Davy.

Edward To The Rescue

A short while later we receive a call back. Edward, the owner of the tow service would make the trip and get us home, personally. Relief, we’d be late, but we’d get home tonight, much to the childrens’ disappointment who thought that a night in a hotel sounded like a great adventure. Note: To be fair, my 13 year old daughter wanted absolutely nothing to do with us or another night away from home and her laptop.
We enjoy our lunch and the great service and conclude just as Edward pulls into the lot with his honking big F-450 flat bed tow truck. The rescue is here. Introductions complete, Edward positions the truck as we explain that the car is stuck in gear. After a few head scratches he simply says “well… they didn’t tell me that.” Uh oh. Long story short, this throwback to a time when men were men puts his body on the line to manually disengage the gear under the car while I stand on the brakes. He states without emotion, “the worst that will happen is that it will roll over my arm.” This is insanity. My wife is near panicked at the thought of him being crushed. We all pray the car doesn’t roll down the slope of the parking lot, crushing Edward, once the gear is released.
The breaks hold. Once he is free from the undercarriage, I slowly guide the car, rolling backwards to line it up with the tow truck bed.

We all cram into Edward’s hulk of a truck and say goodbye to the Peachoid, the odd peach water tower landmark that many have passed, but few have actually sat underneath (for several hours). Wanting a bit more space for the family to make the drive home, we plan to stop at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport about 35 miles down the road where a rental car is hopefully waiting for us (again, nothing open on Sunday in Gaffney). Barreling down I-85 in Edward’s black beast, the smell of Marlboro 100’s is thickly fused into the upholstery. While brave, and courteous, Edward wasn’t much for conversation, simply responding to my wife’s curiosities with a polite Yes, Ma’am or No, Ma’am.

The Wizarding World of Car Rentals?

Normally, the prospect of going to the airport to pick up a rental car ranks somewhere between a root canal and watching your wife try on clothes. You have to do it, but you aren’t going to like it. I’m sure this will be an hour long exercise in frustration. Yet another surprise – this airport isn’t a nightmare – at all. A lovely tree-lined drive that easily, and without fanfare, brings you to the terminal building marks the approach to Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. We approach the terminal and I jump down (literally) from the massive truck and head into the parking garage to find the rental car counters while my wife settles up some payment details with Edward. The distance from where I launch myself from Edward’s truck to the rental car counter is about a 40 second walk. Wow, that was easy.
I approach the Enterprise Car Rental counter and Drew, the Manager, offers a friendly welcome.  Drew pulls up my reservation as I share some of our misfortunes, thankful a vehicle is available on such short notice. As if a graduate from a some mysterious school of wizardry and manners, Drew couldn’t be nicer or more engaging. Sometimes, plain old friendliness, is the hallmark of southern hospitality. He lists a few vehicle choices that he can make available to me for the same rate, and one sparks my interest. Yet another surprise. He happily and efficiently completes the rental and directs us to our vehicle – a Ford F-150. Awesome, I’ve always wanted a pick up truck, but have never bought one. The day is finally looking up. Our car is being towed home and I’m sitting in big, bad, slightly jacked up pick-up!

Southern Hospitality In Action

We cruise down I-85 in our sweet pickup (that is surprisingly smooth) and meander through town towards home. The phone rings, uh oh. Phew, it’s one of my daughter’s friends asking if our car is on a tow truck. Good, Edward still has it! Just as we turn onto our street the phone rings again and my stomach sinks a touch. My wife answers and it is Warren, his trip to the movies with his family no finished. He wants to check back in to make sure everything is under control. We thank him for the follow-up and assure him all is now well.
We make it. The family piles out of the Ford and into the house, the welcoming sound of barking dogs signal the road trip is complete. Just as we begin to settle in, Edward pulls up to the house. As he lowers the car into the drive, we offer thanks for the bad day that turned into one full of good surprises .
Southern barbecue, southern hospitality and two kick-butt trucks. I do love the south. If you are ever rolling down I-85 between Charlotte and Atlanta, I recommend a visit to Gaffney, SC, even for a quick bite, to enjoy what southern hospitality looks like in the real world.