Archive for May, 2010

We're not dead! We're just moving on. Photo by snofia via Flickr (Creative Commons).

We’ve been tucking into America’s nooks and crannies for 16 months but, alas, all good things must…well, you know. Both Sophia and I have a lot of other work goodies crowding our buffet trays at the moment so we’ve decided to put the kibosh on things here at Flyover America. There’s a chance we’ll do now and again posting for a little bit. We’ll alert you, lovely reader, about new stuff via Twitter.

Of course, we’ll each be up to our own hijinks and will continue to fill you all in on all that on our personal Twitter accounts: http://twitter.com/JennaSchnuer and http://twitter.com/SophiaDembling. Or, if you’re not a fan of life lived at 140 characters per, please visit our websites for updates.

See you soon and, of course, happy travels,



p.s. Don’t cry! Watch this clog dancing instead.

As Jenna said, life and work have gotten busy and something had to give. We’re mighty sad about it because it’s been a blast, and we do plan to turn up now and again, so don’t be blue. (Let’s all watch those cloggers again. There, that’s better.)

As for some of those other projects…I hope you’ll visit my Psychology Today blog, The Introvert’s Corner. Lots of interesting discussion there—even if you’re an extrovert, you can learn something about your introverted friends. I review fitness DVDs (keeps me young. ish) at Suit Up and Show Up. And look for my book, 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go, in stores spring 2011.

I don’t ever plan to stop exploring my big, beautiful country and I hope to be talking about it again with you some time in the future. Thanks for traveling with us.–Sophia

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Sometimes, you gotta do stuff. Stuff other people want to do. Stuff other people think you should do, or that you think you should do. But it’s also stuff you don’t wanna do.

Sometimes, though, the very stuff that makes you go limp and whiny like a kid in the supermarket beforehand turns out to be a whole lot better than you expected. It’s even kinda, maybe, fun. Almost cool. You actually kind of like it. A lot.

And that’s what today’s Three-fer is about.

Joining us is my buddy Jef Tingley (yes, one “f” and if that doesn’t make you tingly, nothing will). Jef is a writer and PR guy whose heart goes pitter-patter over all manner of pop culture. Jef says that little makes him happier than working a pun into a story. and if he can get it into the headline better yet.


The B-39 sub was tight quarters but big fun. Photo by Jeff Kubina via Flickr.

For traveling companions, museum going can be a divisive issue. There are the plaque readers and the non-plaque readers. I fall into the latter group.

So, when my partner and I stumbled upon the Maritime Museum of San Diego, I was suspicious. Although it was a pier filled with vessels including sailing ships and steam ferryboats, the thought of spending a day “on board” reading sans serif naval history narratives made me want to walk the plank.

Much to my surprise, it was an interactive wonderland. The standout is the B-39 Submarine. Although it’s filled with plaques a plenty, crawling through tiny portals and testing out sleeping quarters no larger than a coffin is exhilarating. Note to claustrophobics: skip this ship!–Jef

This is Tuddie Purdy. The man knows his macadamia nuts. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

Going to Hawai’i felt more like an I should get that out of the way than an I can’t wait! I had dumped it into the category of places where people with no imagination vacationed. Sure, it was going to be pretty but no way would it be interesting. I was so wrong. So very wrong. Along with the requisite (and excellent) beach sitting and snorkeling, on Moloka’i I renewed my love (and expanded my knowledge) of macadamia nuts, on Maui I drove the switchback-excellent Hana Highway, and, everywhere, I fell in love with the flowers. Oh, the plate lunches and shave ice are pretty damned amazing, too. Lucky me, I’m heading back there next week. Oahu awaits.–Jenna

Cheese curds. They look as good as they sound. Photo by Mykl Roventine via Flickr.

Cheese curds. Really, does anything sound good about that? I like cheese as well as the next cheese-liking person, but the word “curds” adds a certain blech factor. You could attach that word to anything and it would have the same effect. Chocolate curds. See what I mean?

But in Wisconsin, where people are apt to wear large Styrofoam cheese wedges on their heads, you really can’t get away without tasting cheese curds. So I ordered fried cheese curds at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim. They were crunchy, creamy, greasy, salty–damn, those curds were so good, they really should be called something else.–Sophia

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In a shameless play for page views, I give you Tim Urban, shirtless--the Patron Saint Celebrity of Duncanville, Texas.

On my way home from the grocery store, I pass a portrait studio with “Vote for Tim Urban–American Idol” on its sign.

Tim was voted off the show a few weeks ago, but he’s still the patron saint celebrity of Duncanville, Texas. (Or Dunanville, Texas, as it’s spelled on the Idol website. Bummer.)

Casey James, who’s still in competition, is from Fort Worth, which doesn’t really need another patron saint celebrity; it already has braggin’ rights to Betty Buckley, Larry Hagman, Liz Smith, and King of the Road, Roger Miller. (I kinda think of him as a patron saint of Flyover America.) Among others.

Big cities can afford to be cavalier about patron saint celebrities, but small towns take them seriously.

If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: “You know, Andy Griffith lives here.”

Andy isn’t big on making nice with fans – he’s protective of his privacy –but locals are awfully proud to have him.

“I remember the first time I saw him,” one told me. “It was at the Ace hardware store.”

Later, we drove past that hardware store. “That’s the one,” I said, in appropriate hushed tones. “Yes,” she nodded.

My pilot on a sightseeing flight pointed out Andy’s current house and the site where he was building a new home. At the Elizabethan Gardens, we paused to pay respects to a bench Andy donated. On a kayaking trip, a guide pointed out the vicinity of Andy’s home.

“You know, Andy Griffith lives here,” he said.

Assuming you don't want to see Andy Griffith shirtless, I give you instead the bench he donated to the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, NC.

Shawnee, Oklahoma lists Brad Pitt on its website, among other “Notable Residents,” though that’s stretching it a little. Brad was born in Shawnee but he grew up in Springfield, Missouri. He and Angelina Jolie etc. now live in New Orleans, which ignores them, one local boasted to me, as any self-respecting big city would.

Kentwood, Louisiana puts it right out there: “Britney Spears’ Hometown” it says on the homepage of its website, right underneath “Wonderful Water, Woodlands, and Wildife.” Dubious bragging rights at best, but you work with what you’ve got.

My hometown, Dallas, has Angie Harmon, although I’ve never really figured out what she’s famous for. We also have George Michael, for what that’s worth. And we have George and Laura Bush. But we’re a big city. We don’t have to care.

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Oil. Water. They don’t mix AND when you dump too much of either one of them anywhere, it’s a problem. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Tennessee floods are, to put it mildly, bad stuff–but there are ways we can all help ease things for the people who live in the affected areas (and have a damned fine time while doing it): we can visit them. For some ideas to get you going, a Three-fer Friday of places we think you should visit (and soon).

Joining us this week is Nashville-based writer Margaret Littman. Though she’s a close friend, I was a little hesitant to ask her to join in this week because of all that’s been going on in her newly-adopted (and beloved) home city. I didn’t want to add to her flood exhaustion. I’m so glad I asked. Between her love of Nashville and her passion for the “sugar sands” of Gulf Shores, Alabama, where she spends her “favorite month” of the year, she knows these places. She also knows how much tourism dollars mean to the people who live in both Nashville and Gulf Shores. Oh, and, Margaret’s a straight-shooter with high standards: If she says you should go somewhere, I think you should listen.


Instant relaxation. Right? A moment in time at Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photo by Margaret Littman.

The first thing that blew my mind about Gulf Shores was the fact that stuff that doesn’t seem to go together elsewhere co-exists so well in this coastal Alabama resort. There are pine trees and palm trees that grow alongside each other on the same hiking trails. There’s the combination of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay, which gives you fresh and saltwater fish in walking (er, swimming) distance of one another. Literally minutes from the high-rises and serious 24-7 Spring Breaking on the Gulf Shores public beach is the quiet, remote Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Something about these odd juxtapositions contributes to the magic of the area, an away-from-everything quality that you usually can’t get without a passport and jet lag.—Margaret

Yes, there really was a Barbara Mandrell museum. But Nashville is better than that these days. Photo by Sophia Dembling.

While I lament the passing of Barbara Mandrell Country (music fans are so fickle) and Nashville‘s super-kitschy days, I still adore the city’s serious music gestalt. I love that the waitress singing under her breath at the diner has a voice as good as any on the radio. That the pickers scratching out a living at the hotel bar would be worshiped anyplace else. That at the Bluebird Café, people you never heard of sing songs you’ve heard a million times—because they wrote ‘em.

One reason to visit now? Since Opryland is flooded, the Grand Ole Opry will take to other stages, including back home at the historic Ryman Auditorium. That’s pretty cool. (And the Opry still has kitsch-appeal.)—Sophia

Ah, Royal Reds. So good. So very good. Photo by biskuit via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

I have kvelled over Royal Reds in Gulf Shores and oysters in New Orleans and clams in Florida and lots of other stuff in between (and beyond). And, straight up, I’m worried about the fishermen and the seafood restaurants. Between the 10-day halt on fishing in the affected areas of the Gulf of Mexico and what’s sure to be (as much as I hope it won’t) public worries over the safety of the seafood, I just think you should go to a seafood restaurant in the region and eat. Eat eat eat. Even if they’re relying on some frozen goodies from the Gulf’s waters, it’ll be better than anything you’ve ever had. Guar-an-teed.—Jenna

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The New River Gorge in West Virginia is studded with the ghosts of towns build long ago by mining companies.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a meaningful topic today—what can I say in light of all the terrible things happening around the country:  Nashville under water, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a bomb in Times Square…?

Why, it’s almost enough to make you forget our last horrific event, way back in April, when 29 miners died in an explosion in a West Virginia coal mine.

I have a soft spot for West Virginia, which I have visited just twice. It is poor, and it is beautiful, and mining is woven into its past and present in ways good (it is an economy, however fraught) and terrible.

(Hm, I believe it’s time for another viewing of John Sayles’ also wonderful and terrible film, Matewan, a fictionalized tale about the very real labor wars in the West Virginia mines in the 1920s.)

On my first visit to West Virginia, I rafted the New River (and the Gauley, but that’s another story). Scattered along the New River Gorge are ghost towns, built by mining companies between 1873 and 1903 and abandoned as the mines were tapped out. By the 1950s, they were almost all empty.

I couldn’t tell you at which ghost town I took this photo. The trip was 20 years ago. But the memory of being there, wherever it was, lingers.

So, what’s my point here? I have none. I just wanted to take a moment, before we get distracted by the next disaster, to think of West Virginia.

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A fine day out on Perdido Bay in 2008. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

As President Obama traveled to Louisiana on Sunday for a first-hand briefing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, federal officials in Washington said they were putting their hopes on drilling a parallel relief well to plug the unabated gusher. Drilling such a well could take three months.–The New York Times.

Three months. Three months!

It’s tempting to rant and rave and scream and wonder aloud how we can allow the drilling and the pipes and the this and the that without a solid real just in case plan for times when things go so so wrong. But my ranting about it doesn’t get us anywhere. Besides, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand all the issues surrounding the ways we get and transport oil.

But I have had the chance to see the long-term effect of a spill. It was a small thing–just a jar, really–but it’s stayed with me. In 2004, 15 years after the Exxon Valdez crashed into Alaska’s Bligh Reef, the owner of Cordova, Alaska‘s Orca Book & Sound showed me a jar of sand he had collected from the town’s shoreline. The jar was as much oil as it was sand. It popped to mind as soon as I heard about the spill, as soon as I looked at the map that demonstrates the spreading spreading spreading of the Gulf of Mexico oil.

I also remember the sad tone that slipped into the bookstore owner’s voice as he discussed it.

Now the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida can add this oil horror to the list of disasters they’ve had to deal with in recent years.

If you have a trip planned to any of the affected areas, I’m sure it’s tempting to cancel it. Please don’t. Whether you head to the area to, eventually, help with wildlife rescues or you just go spend your dollars in ways other than you originally planned, go. You’re still going to have a great trip–guaranteed–and your dollars and your handshake and hello will, I’m fairly certain, mean more to the people in that region today than they would have just a few weeks back.

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