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Category Archives: Travel

Just a short note to express my excitement this morning at my very good fortune to be heading to Dallas, TX, this afternoon to attend the annual OCF Heartland Retreat.  The idea is that I’m going so I can cover it for the OCF Podcast.  And, I mean, I am.  But, I’m reminded of something Mr. Woodall, my beloved high school band director, once told us as we were practicing a piece we would be performing at a band festival in Orlando, FL.  He said, “You’re going to do well on this, folks.  You’ve put a lot of work into this, and the other things you’ve done this year.  That’s why I’m taking you on a vacation to Disney World.  And, it is a vacation.  The only reason we’re going to festival is because that’s the only way the school board would approve the trip. [grins widely].”

No, seriously…this is going to be part vacation, part assignment, part mini-SAB planning meeting.  Along the way, I imagine I’ll learn a thing or two about the Church’s view of love, dating, and marriage (it’s the theme of the retreat).  Of course, I’ll make new friends, stay up waaay too late, and hopefully find a guitar to borrow for the talent show.  Don’t know what I’m gong to sing yet, though…I’m trying to avoid the typical Switchfoot song…lol

When I was a kid, my mom went to Dallas.  I was about, oh, six, I think.  Dallas was a popular show, thought I didn’t really understand it.  All I know was that J.R. Ewing was a bad guy and he treated people like dirt.  Well, I was scared to death that my mom was going to go to Dallas, go on her little tour of the Southfork Ranch (where the show was filmed), and J.R. was going to snatch her up and make her work for him and she wasn’t coming home.  lol  (Unfortunately, a much more tragic thing happened while she was gone: my dad lost his old bandmate Darryl to a helicopter crash when he was testing a new Med Chopper for UT Hospital, and my parents lost a good friend.) But, no fears of that happening this time.  🙂

Well, I’m off.  Wish me well, keep me in your prayers, and pray that I don’t find a phone booth, lest my fellow OCFers be embarrassed…

Hey, True Believers.  It’s a New Year and I’m thankful to be at a friend’s house in Nicholasville, KY, recovering from a long drive yesterday after the College Conference before I head home.  I have so much to say (as always 😉 ), but it will have to wait.  So much excitement….

But, for now, you can check out the first three sessions of the conference if you’d like, with more to come in the next day or two.  Click here.

In my last post, I began the tale of my trip to West Virginia and Virginia with my girlfriend on a day off from all things school. When we left off, I was heading west on I-64 toward Fredericksburg from Blacksburg, all according to the directions my GPS was giving me.

Part II:

The drive down the Interstate was a very lonely one. The night sky was very dark and was seldom illuminated by anything, even lights at the exits we passed. It was nearing 1:30 a.m. when I got off at the exit we had been directed to. I had already made one mistake and had to turn around, but it was really the device’s fault….stupid thing told me to get back on the road when I had exited at the right one, then it told me to go 9 miles down to the next exit so I could turn around and go back to the one I was just at. *sigh*

Anyhow, back at the proper turn-off, we followed the directions into a dark wooded area. “Where are we going?” Tiffany asked. “I mean, yeah, Fredericksburg is kind of in the boonies, but it isn’t this bad.” At first, though, I didn’t see much wrong with it, since I’ve made similar trips involving back road entrances to towns. However…the lack of a city’s glow as I looked toward the sky ahead unnerved me a bit.

Continuing to trust the GPS, we went down some winding roads, all the time getting farther and farther from well-lit areas (if you can call them well-lit). More than lacking light, the road we were on started lacking civilization. Rickety, abandoned houses, rusted-out tractors and farm equipment, and dense woods began to swallow us. There was no “Welcome to…” sign anywhere. There wasn’t even the feeling of welcome.

But, we pressed on in hope. We finally came to the road that led to our destination of Fredericksburg. It was called Farm House Road, and, as we approached it, our eyes followed its path into a mass of black, empty forested area.

We drove past as panic started to set in.

Honestly, I didn’t panic at first. And I’m not just saying that to sound macho. Was I scared? Yeah. But panicked? Not really. Not…yet…at least. However, Tiffany—having watched her fair share of horror movies—was becoming frightened like I’ve never seen anyone become in my life. As she hyperventilated and shook from terror, I calmly said that we were okay, that nothing bad had happened, and that we were going to find our way back.

There was one big problem, though.

Since we were going to a specific destination and trying to get there quickly, and since I had enough fuel to tide me over until I got to town, I didn’t stop to fill up with gas. Even when we got off at the exit, I was still sitting above E. Besides, we were in a later model car, and I knew it had a gas light. And that wasn’t on yet, so I trudged on.

That was 45 minutes before this point.

Plus, this was our first trip in this car, having only gotten it a day before. So, I had no idea when the light would turn on. Yet, I grew more and more uneasy as the needle began to drop past the last tick on the gauge and settle upon that foreboding letter.

I found a place to turn around as quickly as I could. I traced our way back toward the main road as best I could. However, we began to see street names that we hadn’t before, and this only punctuated our growing fear. We had passed them on the way in, but we began to read the names of streets like Alone Mill Road and Belle Mead. The latter, Tiffany later said, was basically it for her, as she grew up in Nashville where there exists an old plantation of the same name that is said to be very famously haunted.

The crumbling mountain homes began to jump out at us even more, mainly because we were on the outer side of the road we had been traveling and the houses were all on that side, so they were right next to us as we drove by each one. My car stopped once, but only because we had come to a hill and I had let my clutch out too far. Still…the silence clawed at our windows for those 10 seconds. I was terrified. The woods started to remind me of the Blair Witch Project. And the needle only continued to get lower.

We saw a car coming from the opposite direction and breathed slightly easier. I did all I could to flag it down and, upon his stopping, I said to the man driving the truck, “I’m lost and I need to get to the Interstate…and I need to get there now.” He told me to stay straight and that it would spit me out at the main road where the onramp was. As I thanked him, I looked at the back window of his truck to see it being lowered by someone who, no doubt, wanted to see who was speaking in the shuttering tone of voice begging for a way out of the woods. I must have been a sight.

We continued along and came upon a fork. I followed the advice of Yogi Berra and I took it. I just picked a direction. At the same time, I was trying to find close gas stations and call them to see who was open at that time of night. But, no luck there. So, we drove and drove along the crooked way of Turkey Mill, hoping for a sign of relief.

That sign came when I looked up and saw that friendly glow from a nearby town with lights in it. Thank God. But, we still didn’t have clear directions. So, I went on my best judgement. Also, I figured that if I followed the GPS to any gas station, we would at least get out of the forest. So, that’s what I rested on.

And we eventually entered the town of Lexington, VA. Right after passing the city limits, we were flanked n both sides by the ominous granite buildings of Virginia Military Institute. They weren’t as scary as being lost in Blair Witch territory, but they weren’t that friendly-looking, either.

I pulled over and waited for cars to drive by so I could flag them down to ask for the nearest open gas station, which I figured was better than driving around and running out of gas. Two cars approached, and those same two drove right on by. But, I guess I can’t blame them. It’s 2:30 in the morning, I’m a skinny guy with long hair and a leather jacket trying to get someone’s attention in the middle of a dark city street…I guess it’s good that they follow the advice they hear on the evening news. All the same, I was still out of luck.

And, then, an angel approached.

Tiffany pointed out that a girl was walking down the opposite sidewalk. Rolling my window down, I shouted, “ALL I NEED is to find the nearest open gas station.”

“It’s right around that corner,” she said very kindly as she pointed over her right shoulder.

“God bless you. Thank you!” I said as I drove off.

Once we got there, Tiffany handed me her bank card and said, “Put 30, put 50, I don’t care. Just get us out of here.” I walked in to find out how to get to Fredericksburg…or anywhere, really…and the guy greeted me with, “Hey, man, how are you tonight?”

What I said isn’t repeatable here. But I will say it included the words “lost as.”

I talked to one of them and found out we were 2 1/2 hours away from the REAL Fredericksburg. I thanked him, pumped the fuel, and told Tiffany the sorry state of things.

“Well, how far are we from Knoxville?” she asked, offering the only alternative at this point.

“Hmmm…about 5 1/2 hours, I guess.”

“Well, it’s up to you. I just want to get somewhere safe.”

So, we called her friend and we went on to Fredericksburg. The REAL one. We got there about 5:30 or 6 in the morning. She stayed up and talked to her friend Beth for a while, and I found a place to crash. I finally woke up about 12 noon. Then we sat around and chatted, and I got to meet one of Tiff’s best friends and gain approval. I played with her pet snakes and her Nintendo Wii. Then we printed off MapQuest directions, took some silly pictures, and headed home to Knoxville.

Of course, after stopping at Sheetz to get some food…and gas.

Sheetz

So, here I am facing a blank entry page. And why? Do I have something to say, do I have hope or ideas to impart? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I will speak wisdom today. Or maybe I’ll make a fool of myself. I guess we’ll have to read on and see for ourselves.

That’s right. I’m on this journey of discovery along with you. I have no idea what I’m going to say in this moment of procrastination from signing up for next semester’s classes and completing a Web Design assignment. In all honesty, I wasn’t planning on saying anything at all. But, as it happened, I was checking my blog stats and dealing with some spam comments and, voilà, I end up hitting the “Write” tab in my dashboard. So, as I said before, here I am…

I guess I’ll tell a story.

Friday, with our day off from classes and finals (and studying 🙂 ), my girlfriend Tiffany and I made the trek up to West Virginia where I attended school last year. It was fun. I gave her the three minute tour of Mountain State University an introduced her to the priest of the local Orthodox parish up there. Then we all sat around enjoying food and conversation with one another. While she took a call from a friend in need, I gave Fr. Samuel a brief rundown of where I am in life and how I’m doing this semester, etc. He was pleased to hear that I’m doing well on all fronts, and I was pleased to be able to tell him that.

Afterward, we headed back home the long way, deciding to breeze through Blacksburg, VA, to stop at a Sheetz to grab some awesome Sheetz food. (If you don’t know what I’m raving about, stop by a Sheetz convenience store sometime and order something to eat from their touchscreens, eat, enjoy, and repeat if necessary.) While there, she decides to get a Jolt Cola. God, help me. 😀 And, while hyped up on said Jolt, we both decide it’d be fun to go to Fredericksburg where she used to live. After checking the GPS and figuring out we were only 90 minutes away, we decided to go for it.

Now, there are some of you reading this who are saying, “Wait…it’s about four hours from Blacksburg to Fredericksburg…” or something of the sort. And, you’re right. However, I was ignorant of this and the GPS gave me three options, two with ZIPs and one without. I chose the one without because a) Tiff couldn’t answer my question about it soon enough for me to decide…being zippy on Jolt myself… and b) I mean…there’s only ONE Fredericksburg, right?

So we drove. And, at one point, we got on I-64…WEST…and, somehow, this failed to register, as B-town is in Southern Va, and Fredericksburg is just South of DC. But, hey…GPS is right…right?

You’ll have to find out later…my laptop’s going dead and the charger isn’t right here. But, I’ll post what I have so far anyway. So tune in when I post part 2. And, trust me…this doesn’t wrap up very smoothly. Leatherface may or may not make an appearance.

Indiana Corn

The other day, when I actually had free time, I made a list of some random things I cnoticed or came across while on our journey from Nicholasville, KY, to Darien, Ill.

Random observations made while riding to Chicago:

–It’s relatively fun to turn on your laptop (if you’re a passenger) and search for WiFi connections while you’re going down the Interstate in a large city like Indianapolis. I tried this at the suggestion of Kevin and was impressed to see somewhere around twelve different networks listed at one point.

–People like McDonald’s, Flying J, and Starbucks (yes…Starbucks) inhale vigorously when it comes to WiFi access. It drives me mad that these stalwarts of corporate America and beyond feel the need to charge for access to the Internet. Bah.

–Gary Indiana doesn’t offer many WiFi access points for those stuck in rainy Chicago-bound traffic. Which, incidentally, doesn’t move much, especially when construction zones are involved.

–Upon reflection, it is possibly just as boring to not go to Iowa and say that you have, as it is to actually go.

–Indiana has some beautiful farms with clear views that go on for miles and miles. Based on the brief research I’ve conducted while on this trip, 95% of those views are of nothing but corn.

–Thanks to the mobile web access my phone provides me, I was very pleasantly reminded that, indeed, it’s a small world after all. 🙂

On the first evening of our trip, we visited St. Athanasius in Nicholasville, KY. It was good to see the priest, who used to serve at our home parish. We were also blessed by the kindness of strangers when the subdeacon offered to take us in for the night so that we wouldn’t have to spring for a hotel room.After vespers, we were hanging out in the parish hall talking to some of the parishioners. One of the members we spoke to that really impressed us was the 8 year-old son of a military chaplain. His name was Ethan.

This kid was sharp. He not only built a submarine out of Legos, but he explained what different parts were and how important they were to the function of the ship. When I asked what he wanted to be when he grows up, he said a paleontologist. He then starting talking about his love of dinosaurs, that he loves them more than any other subject in the world.

As Ethan’s dad and my friend Kevin continued to talk have discussions about military chaplainry and the faculty at St. Vladimir Seminary, Ethan very confidently explained to me that he could build a brachiosaurus out of the Legos. So, I asked to see it.

As he built, I filmed him with my digital camera. Afterward, I sped it up and added some original music. The YouTube video appears below. If you watch it, pay attention to how he’ll stop and describe different things. Also notice his mannerisms when he takes a break from building to discuss something with Kevin.

He’s a very bright and self-assured intelligent boy. He made me wish I was that cool when I was 8 years old. (Or that I was that cool now. 😉 )

I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had to press on to Chicago. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon and be able to meet some of the newer parishioners I didn’t get a chance to talk to, as well as catch up with the ones I’ve seen on other visits.

In just under 11 hours, my friend Kevin and I will be embarking on a journey to Chicago to attend the 14th annual Ancient Christianity and African-American Conference. From what I hear, it’s a can’t-miss event. It will feature Fr. Moses Berry, Fr. Patrick Reardon, Fr. Paisius Altschul, and a small host of others. I’ve also heard a rumor that an Orthodox celebrity might be in attendance. We’ll see.

On the way, we’ll stop by our sister OCA parish in Nicholasville, KY, to see some old friends and probably make some new ones. Also, this will allow us to split the driving up into two chunks. We really didn’t relish the idea of driving for 9-plus hours only to run into Chicago-area traffic at the end of the long journey. Yuck.

As a result, I’m going to try and follow the suggestion of a friend and blog about the journey. I imagine I’ll mainly do it here. But, I’ll also going upload to flickr as much as possible, and perhaps post a few random things on YouTube. We’ll be coming back on the 4th, so that should provide plenty of stuff to note, observe, or generally ponder in the interim.

I’m really excited about this trip. Not only is it pretty college student-friendly (read: inexpensive), but it will allow some networking and a chance to simply meet new people. Also, I’ve never been to Chicago or anywhere in the Northern Midwest. (The closest has been Cincinnati, which is barely outside Kentucky, so it basically doesn’t count.) More than that, though, I’m excited to attend the workshops and lectures. Which, it looks like this year’s conference will focus on repentance and its different aspects as revealed in the story of the Prodigal Son.

I’m not sure what I’ll post here. But, stay tuned and see. As Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel would say, “The next song I’m going to play is *insert title*. I hope you like it. I can’t wait to hear it myself.”

Oh…and if any of you will be at the conference, let me know. I love meeting new people. 🙂

 I came across a great story yesterday but I didn’t have time to write anything in response until now. Check it out at The First Word Blog.

What’s interesting is the fact that I’m in a somewhat similar situation right now. Though, mine is a little more personal.

There’s a girl whom I’ve run into recently while on visits to Virginia. She works at a place where I’ll often stop and get something to eat. The first time I saw her, she gave me part of my order at no charge, asserting her kind intentions with little more than a stare that seemed to say, “I’ll take care of this.”

I’ve only seen her one other time since then. It took place one week after the first time. I walked up to the counter as she was counting a stack of bills from her register. She looked up and made eye contact to indicate that she’d be with me in just a second and she then continued counting. However, she soon stopped and said, “Oh, I’ll do it later. I lost count.” As I paid for my things, I gave her a short note of thanks for what she had done during my last visit and invited her to call me sometime if she ever wanted.

We haven’t really exchanged any significant communication beyond that. I know her name, but only because of the badge she wears with her uniform. She only knows mine because of the note. Oh…and she still hasn’t called. Not that I really expect her to, though. And, if she never does, that’s cool.

The interpersonal relationship we have is fairly superficial at this point. Yet, there lies under the surface an intrigue that goes beyond my exchanging glances and minimal words with a cute girl who seems to hold the same opinion of me. Do I daydream of her and hope that we can work something out? No. However, I cannot stop my curiosity. Will we ever talk beyond “will that be all” and “have a nice day”? Will we ever get around discussing which schools we attend or what our majors are…or even our ages? Or will we be content to keep things where they are?

David (the author of the above story) speaks of his encounter with his window friend in the park. He had the perfect opportunity to actually speak to her, but he did not take it. And I can understand why. When you get comfortable in your relationship with another person, you sometimes fear anything that would change it in the least. And, if he had begun speaking to her, I think it would have changed drastically.

Even before reading this story, I wondered about if I truly want to get to know to this girl. Not that I think it would be unpleasant. Though, there’s always a chance that things won’t be as good as they may have seemed…

As I drove to school last night, I considered this a great deal. Ultimately, I believe it’s not so much the thought that one of us might be disappointed. Rather, at this point, it would change the way the story is going, and it’s going pretty well so far. It’s very interesting to be in a situation like this.

And, for many people, the kind of question that pervades this scenario is often a great dilemma of life. “Do I change or keep on with what I know works?” “Do I take a risk or play it safe?” “Do I go an a nicely laid-out and well-planned trip, or do I go on an adventure?”

I tend to be more of an adventurer myself.

We’ll see what happens.