Today we were given a choice by driver Dave. Out original plan was to visit Pensacola Beach, on Florida’s gulf coast, then to kayak through a swamp, and finally visit the French quarter of New Orleans. Unfortunately, due to the impending hurricane, the weather in Florida was pants, and were going nowhere near New Orleans. We had two options: To visit Elvis’ home, Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis Tennessee (My traveling companion would have been nine years old; the child of my first marriage), or to spend a day and a half driving westward, with a view to spending an extra night camping in the National Parks. Driver Dave assured us that the extra day would be worth it, and made the descision for us to head west. I kept singing Paul Simon’s Graceland for the next day or so in mock protest, but really I had no interest in seeing Graceland. If you have no idea what I am talking about, have a listen to this Windows Media stream.
We woke up on the outskirts of Asheville, North Carolina. After a few laps of the town looking for a suitable location to park the bus, we went for breakfast. Susie, Nick, Teresa, Iain, Kim, Jonny and probably some others went to a small coffee shop that was serving warm breakfasts. We had several mugs of piping hot tea and coffee each, what was served outside under a little veranda. Nick, Teresa and Susie spent most of breakfast trying to find out who had won the latest game in the Ashes. I had eggs benedict, served with a lime holondaise sauce, with bacon and hash browns; a quality breakfast. After I had had my fill I went in search of a payphone, and left messages for Aine and my parents, to let them know that I wasn’t going near the hurricane, and that I wasn’t dead. The phone was down hill from the café, and I continued on down the road and met back up with the gang at the post office, where I took my first group photo of the trip, the photo to the right. Our group went for a walk around Asheville, which seemed to be closed to the world on a Monday morning. Most shops seemed to open at noon or on Tuesday. There were very few places of interest, most noteably two Irish gift shops, and one antiques shop. The antiques shop was run by a middle ages man, and I was attracted inside by a cluster of 1950s Japenese tin robots that were in the window. More impressive than the robots was a very old Coke machine, that had a white, hand-written label on it, written with a black felt-tip marker. It said that the vending-machine was an original, unrestored piece, taken from the Asheville Inn. It also claimed that the machine was ‘The Best in The World’. I didn’t see any offical ‘Best Coca-Cola Vending Machine In The World’ certificate, but who am I to judge?
I had a chat with the man in the shop, telling him that I had just dropped in because of his cool robots, and he seemed pleased that people my ages were taking an interest in antiques. I was really looking for a new pair of shorts, not a Japanese robot, so I politely excused myself, and asked him were there any men’s clothing stores nearby (I had been looking for one before I went in to the shop, but saw none). He pointed me in the right direction, and told me that Dave, the owner of the store in question would sort me out. I crossed a car park, and went down an alley onto the street parrallel to the antiques shop, only to find that the clothing shop sold only the kind of suits that the middle-aged gentry would wear on a hunt in Pembrookshire. I rejoined the group on the bus 20 minutes before we were due to depart, and got myself a good seat for the journey ahead.