So this is what our new abode looks like

We moved all the furniture over today and Melissa had the place looking like home in five hours flat. A few images:


Entry hallway.


Dining room.






Living room.




Hildy says hi.



Melissa was in here painting and cleaning every day for the past four weeks; I expect she’ll be sleeping for a week.

I’ll gab more about what’s happening in our lives later; just wanted to satisfy the curiosity of anybody who wanted to know what the inside of the place looks like.

Planting the flag here

Looks like we’ll be setting up housekeeping here in the Triad — we’re in the paperwork phase of acquiring a condo in the burbs west of Winston-Salem. Yeah, there are burbs here. This’ll be the fourth address change in 12 months; we’re hoping it’ll be the last in several years.
I’ve always liked the South, though I confess I’ve read none of Faulkner’s novels (did enjoy “All the King’s Men,” a great Southern novel if there ever was one, however). North Carolina has become so prosperous and populous (10th most people in the U.S. now) that it’s unfair to think of it as one of those Old South states like Mississippi or Alabama. The state parks have no entry fees, the recreational opportunities are just about endless, the scenery is breathtaking if you know where to look. The tallest mountain in the East is here (but you knew that if you’ve been reading my hiking blog).

Now that we’ve decided to kick back here for awhile, I’ll have to start visiting some of the locales that don’t entail walking on dirt. The triad has museums, musicians and movie houses like any other place. History’s a big deal, seeing as how the region’s most compelling stories predate the Civil War by over 100 years (when the original settlers came here from Pennsylvania and set up shop in an abandon trapper’s cabin — see my hike at Historic Bethabara if you missed it). A man credited with inspiring the beliefs of Salem’s settlers was among the world’s first Protestants; naturally the pope ordered him burned at the stake. We’re talking early 1400s here, so yeah, the stories go way back.

More to come. Here’s hoping it’s interesting in a good way.

‘Mama Tried,’ a Christmas story

(I wrote this as a Christmas gift for Melissa. It was inspired by moment when we were packing our things in California and my darling wife held a rolling pin aloft just before stowing it and said “you know where I’d like to shove this” and I knew exactly what she had in mind and where she wanted to put it. I thought I might add more chapters but if I don’t get inspired, this little ditty stands on its own).

“… And I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole…”

It was their song, Merle Haggard’s classic account of an angelic mother and her demonic son who rewarded her goodness with shame and scandal. Neighbors of a shabby studio apartment on the seedy edge of Hickory, North Carolina, knew every syllable by heart. The guy in 228-J played it at 10:13 every Thursday night for the past 13 years, four months and 21 days.

“… no one could turn me right but Mama tried…” she heard through the apartment’s thin door. A wave of warmth pushed back the Christmas Eve chill.

She was the Rolling Pin Killer, and she was on the lam. She was right where the authorities would look for her first, the filthy warren of her soulmate, a failed newspaperman who devoted his every waking hour to securing her release from the Joliet Prison for Women.

She couldn’t remember ever being this excited as she began to rap upon the door, but remembered to pause till 15 seconds after the last guitar chord faded. The time he threw the landlord’s puppy through a plate-glass window for interrupting their song became the stuff of legend once the tabloids got ahold of it.

It took two sets of hard knocks before she heard him picking his way through his personal junkyard on the way to the door. She stepped aside as a plume of dust poured from the opening apartment door. He didn’t get out much.

“Honey, it’s me!” she cried, jumping toward the doorway and crashing into his sunken chest.

Can’t be a dream, he thought. I haven’t slept in five days. CNN was running updates on her cunning jailbreak every 12 minutes. He’d watched it all. They knew about as much as he did, but unlike him they had 24 hours of airtime to fill.

“Wow, she’s really bulked up inside,” he thought as her muscled arms nearly squeezed his breath away. Reflexively, he threw a hand between their lips, knowing her reunion kiss would drain his last ounce of sanity.

“Aggie, what are you doing here?” he demanded with his first strong breath. “For God’s sake, the Supreme Court is hearing your case on Tuesday.”

Agnes Butterfly was the name on her birth certificate, but everybody knew her as Aggie. Her conviction in the diabolical slayings of 17 corporate executives (each one felled by a fatally impacted bowel) had transfixed the nation.

Two trials and four appeals could not sway the U.S. justice system from its insistence that she was the Rolling Pin Killer. As far as he was concerned, though, the case was all circumstantial and ripe for appeals. After all, the one person she did vow to violate with a rolling pin was very much alive.

He updated his blog,, 17 times a day with fresh allegations of judicial missteps and police wrongdoing. He threw all the revenue from the site’s 17 million hits a day into Aggie’s defense fund, but $314.42 a week didn’t buy much legal advice.

But in classic Hollywood style, a determined gaggle of law students took on her case and smothered the justice system with every imaginable legal ploy, and many previously unimagined. It all paid off six weeks ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take on her case. What on earth, could have pushed her to this, he wondered as his breathing returned.

“It’s Mom,” Aggie blurted. “She knows everything and we have to stop her.”

(To be continued if I get inspired… suggestions for further chapters welcome.)

Carolina musings

Six weeks ago today we arrived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

I suppose I should have a lot more to say about the place, but I’ve spent most of the past 42 days right here, tapping into my keyboard. Went on a few hikes, dutifully recounted on my hiking blog. We moved out of Melissa’s mom’s living room after a month. We like having our own four walls, even if it means having a landlord.

So what do I think of North Carolina? Liking it so far, mainly because it appears to be turning into California. It already has mountains on one end and an ocean on the other (while the mountains are smaller, the beaches are more welcoming than the bone-chilling shores of Northern California — fair trade-off, I’d say). It has a burgeoning high-tech sector and a growing population that’s getting more diverse every day.

Truth is, there’s nothing I could say about this place right now that wouldn’t come across as a caricature — either of me, the stranger in the new place, or the place itself, whose strangeness lies entirely in the eyes of the beholder. I still feel like a guest in somebody else’s state, so hatin’ on the hosts is not high on my to-do list.

Melissa and I have had 14 address changes in the past 20 years — from Tampa, to Peoria, to San Jose, to Winston-Salem. Seems like we’re always someplace new, so I’ve learned to distrust first impressions. We have all the Taco Bells and Outback Steakhouses and Targets and Office Maxes that everybody else has. The terrain here is rolling, green and generally pleasing to the eye. Are there hellholes? Sure. Is there crime, bigotry and unnecessary unpleasantness afoot? Yeah. Our suburban sprawl looks just like your suburban sprawl.

Nothing has influenced my conclusion that there is very little true diversity within our species. Biologically we’re almost identical. People in this part of the United States have digestive tracts optimized for hunting and gathering on the plains of Africa, just like folks in every other nook and cranny of our planet.

So right now my life doesn’t feel all that much different. I’m getting freelance work that requires me to move words around on a computer screen, just like my old job. I am thankful that I’m no longer obliged to chronicle the daily depravity we have come to think of as “news.” I think I earned a vacation after 20 years.

I figure no matter what zip code you live in, you’ve only got one true address: the corpus carrying your brain and bodily organs. It contains all the tools you need to survive no matter where you live, so long as you have access to water, shelter and warmth. We’ve got all that stuff.

A tribute to Bev Gibbs, my dad’s oldest sibling

My Aunt Bev, firstborn of the five children of Thomas Mangan (my grandad), died a week ago today. I spent a few days with family last week remembering what made her such a remarkable woman. My dad recalls how now and again he’d be reading a letter to the editor of the local paper “giving the politicians hell,” and then he’d see his sister had written it.

Bev should’ve been a journalist — she loved to write, loved to spout on politics, and had a human touch that would’ve invited people to tell her their stories. Well, at least one of us Mangans got into the news biz.

Speaking of stories, my Uncle Mike recounted a gem: Back in the late 1950s, he hitchhiked all over the West; I think he knew every pothole in Route 66. One time he caught a ride to Sacramento and got dropped off on Interstate 5 in a boiling stretch of the Central Valley.

After a good bake in the sun, he finally got a ride from a guy heading southbound. On the way south toward L.A. the guy asked Mike where he was from.

“Peoria, Illinois.”

“Really? I spent some time there myself. What’s your name?”

“Mike Mangan.”

“You know a Bev Mangan? I used to date her.”

“Sure I know her, she’s my sister.”

(This is my all-time favorite “small world” story).

Anyway, about a decade ago I interviewed Bev for a web project called SevenQuestions. These are her Q’s and A’s.


What happened to you as a a teen-ager in the 1940s that convinces you teens haven’t changed much in the past 50 years?

The biggest thing that hasn’t changed much is that every teen wants to be popular in school, no matter how far back you go. We would all like to be the cheerleaders, the jocks, prettiest or handsomest or popular with the other sex in the “in”crowd.

The biggest difference is in the ’40s, nobody shot you for it.


Another Tom Mangan — your father (my grandfather) — was a traveling salesman always strapped for a buck. What was something he did to economize that makes you laugh when you think about it today?

In 1937, I was seven years old and an only child. My Dad was making about $15 a week selling refrigerators. The only economy he practiced that I can remember is that whenever we ran up too many bills at one address, we would move so that the bill collectors would have to search for us, slowing them down a bit.

We always lived in apartments and many times just moved next door or around the corner. I must have driven the school record keepers crazy!


What you were doing when you heard Roosevelt had died?

It was a pretty day in April 1945. I had just gotten home from school in my freshman year and was talking to some friends. A man came by shouting “Extra, Extra” selling papers from the Journal. We bought one and read the news.

Everybody was devastated. I remembered the last newsreel in which I had seen him, he looked ill. I took the paper to my parents. My father cried.


Tell a story from your first days as a new mother with Randy, your oldest son, that made you wonder if you were cut out for the mommy business.

As Ran is now 47 years old, it has been a while.

As a lot of new mothers find out after all the embarrassing stuff is over at the hospital, they are frazzled and nervous and now must take this little package home and take care of it. Their nervous reaction is passed right on to the baby and the result is “nervous tummy” which translates into lots of screaming, which can go on for days.

I for one would have gladly returned him, but there are no exchanges! Oh, the first day I knew, about 24 hours after we brought him in the door!


What did you think of television when you saw it the first time?

It was at a neighbor’s home and I remember wondering how on earth they got those pictures to travel through the air.

I knew it would be a long time before we had one. A little later on, my husband’s uncle got one and we would go to their house after work on Wednesdays to watch “Dragnet” and have a few beers.


Who killed JFK?

I believe Oswald was a patsy, but he was there. However, he was not alone.; the mafia, the U.S. government (CIA) and the hatred of so many important people had a lot to do with it.

It was a major conspiracy. The movie “JFK” with Kevin Costner comes closest to the truth.


Describe something you learned late in life that you wish to heck you’d known all along.

For all the young people contemplating matrimony, remember this. What you see is what you get. Don’t go into marriage expecting the things you don’t like about him or her to change. They won’t.

Busta Move Chronicles Vol. 432

So the part where we move back in with the folks has been tried. Nice while it lasted, but we needed our names on a lease somewhere to remind us of the proper place for folks of our advanced years.

For those wondering about the difference in rent between the Bay Area and the middle of North Carolina, it’s about like this: twice the space for half the money. Groceries, however, are no cheaper.

I’m hoping to find more time for updates here … we’ll see.

Gettin’ hitched at Hanging Rock

“Let me guess, you’re looking for the wedding,” says the guy through my opened car window.

“No, I’m just looking for Hanging Rock State Park.”

Seems there’s a bridge out on the road to Hanging Rock, a state park highly recommended by local hikers. The guy standing by the road has been redirecting folks all morning. They’re all going to a wedding. Except me.

Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

So I take the detour, find my way to the park, get myself parked and all my gear strapped on, and set out in search of the nearest point of interest, Upper Cascades Falls. I figure the light might be good first thing in the morning and what the heck, it’s only .3 mile from the parking lot.

Then I wander down this wide gravel road, round a bend and see a large gathering of folks dressed oddly office-casual for a state park on Labor Day weekend. Of course by now I’ve completely forgotten about the guy on the road and all the folks looking for the nuptials.

So I blunder right up to the rail, look down at what everybody else is looking down at, and the first thing I hear is a male voice down there saying “now, let us pray.” On one side, a woman clad in white. On the other, a guy clad in black. Nearby, a bearded guy with a guitar.

My rule is, when the man says pray, you pray. In my case, I pray that these good folks don’t toss me down the ravine for crashing their wedding. Last I knew the preacher, bride and groom were breaking bread and getting ready for a Communion. I sorta slinked away.

As I’m making my way back up the trail, two women in heels are picking their way down the gravel trail, asking me how much further to the waterfall. “Don’t worry, it’s just around the bend,” I reassure them. They’re wishing somebody had told them to wear hiking boots.

The waterfall was lovely, by the way.

(More on the hike at Two-Heel Drive, if you’re curious).

Thoughts on driving across the United States

Map of the United StatesAmericans should have “traverse the nation by car” on their life list — the whole shebang of purple mountains majesty, amber waves of grain, obnoxious tangles of traffic (from the verse I would add to update the song for modern audiences) .

I wouldn’t recommend the method we employed last week, dashing across in five days. We went that route mainly to save money and reduce trauma for our cat, a full-voting member of the household. What I wish we could’ve done if unemployment weren’t a part of the picture:

Take two weeks

Aim for 250 to 300 miles a day rather than 600. You can do that in five or six hours, leaving time to get off the Interstates and take day trips to the really cool stuff. The only redeeming characteristic of a superhighway is its ability to get you from point A to point B. Everything worth seeing is on the state and federal highways that zigzag across the landscape.

Don’t use your own car

Driving your own car will encourage a major compromise: the drive to and from wherever you live. I think it’d be much wiser to buy plane tickets to and from the coasts of your choosing, and rent a car for your driving. Weekly rates are far more reasonable than dailies and you typically can get unlimited mileage. You save wear and tear on your own car and if it breaks down, it’s somebody else’s responsibility to get you back on the road again.

Don’t lock yourself in

Say you pull in for gas at a truck stop in Arizona and see a gift shop of alleged Indian artifacts across the street that you’d really like to check out because you’re into kitsch. A hard-and-fast itinerary leaves little chance for checking that stuff out. Some sites like the Grand Canyon simply must be seen, but if fun is the main goal of going on vacation, give yourself a chance to have some.

Time your travels around big city rush hours

The only thing worse than being stuck in your own town’s traffic jams is being stuck in somebody else’s. Left turns and lane changes that come naturally on home turf can be a white-knuckle nightmare in foreign cities.

Consider a criss-cross route

I’d love to do this in separate trips: San Diego to Portland, Maine, one year and Vancouver to Miami the next. These routes could add several hundred miles and a couple extra days of driving, but you’d get a far tastier range of terrain and weather.

I-40, I-70 or I-80?
I haven’t driven the far northern Interstates that go up into Washington state, but I can speak to the three middle routes.

I-40 runs from Wilmington, NC, to Barstow, CA, offering most of the southern United States from a single highway. It passes through must visit music towns of Memphis and Nashville and runs through Indian country through all of Oklahoma and much of New Mexico and Arizona, two states where you could spend months exploring the southern high desert.

I-80 goes from Chicago to San Francisco, crossing a thousand miles of prairie before the terrain gets interesting at the Wasatch Range dropping into Salt Lake City. The drive from Salt Lake to the Sierra is pretty dreary, but crossing the Sierra and driving down to the Bay Area is a wonderful drive (just avoid the weekends; the whole population of the Bay Area seems to head for the hills every Saturday and Sunday).

I-70 Goes from Baltimore to southwest Utah — crossing much of the Midwest farm country, which can be flat and boring, but it gets very exciting coming into the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains at Denver (the mountains loom dark and gray like a distant thunderstorm for several hours before you hit Denver; it’s one of the most impressive scenes in North America). I-70 continues through the spectacular Rocky Mountain heights and continues through the amazing canyon country of Utah.

Picking your route may be the hardest part. No matter which one you choose, you’ll give up something worth seeing.
Map of the United States

Day 5: journey’s end

We’re at Melissa’s mom’s place, getting ready to sleep for a week after driving for a week.

The drive through the Great Smoky Mountains was quite nice — there’s a ghostly charm unique to the southern Appalachians. I hoped to spot evidence of the Appalachian Trail but found out I missed the turn-off on the Tennessee side of the border.

For now my main focus is kicking back after a long drive. I’ll post some pics for now and perhaps write a longer post on the experience of driving west to east later this week (if I get inspired.)

Smoky Mountain closeup

Approaching the Smokies east of Knoxville.

Smokies wide shot

Wider shot of the same area.

Tunnel on the North Carolina side

Second of a pair of short tunnels under the range.

Wildflowers at a North Carolina rest stop

Found these wildflowers at a rest stop on the Carolina side of the border,

Almost there

Almost there. Looks a lot like Tennessee, though the right of way isn’t groomed quite as well in North Carolina.

Rest time.

Day 4: Van Buren AR to Cookeville TN

Another pleasant day of driving before we cross one last mountain range. Walking in the mountains is the essence of life itself, but driving in them is a drag after the spectacular-vista glow wears off.

I was driving into the morning sun across Arkansas so the photographic opportunities were scant. A shame because passing through the low hills of the southern Ozark Mountains as the fog burns off is a visual treat.

The countryside of Arkansas and Tennessee is downright charming, though the I-40 drive can get a little hairy if you hit Memphis or Nashville at rush hour. We timed it about perfect, hitting both before the traffic went nuts.

Let’s see the pics:

Green Arkansas

Something very green grows in an Arkansas farm field. The section from Fort Smith to Little Rock is all rolling hills, but the land flattens out east of Little Rock.

Memphis downtown

Crossing the Mississippi into Memphis, cradle of Rock ‘n’ Roll (and, to its eternal regret, the city where Martin Luther King was assassinated.) My aunt Vivian says she was born 60 miles north of here.

Bridge over the Big Muddy

Not bad for somebody trying to drive and shoot and avoid causing a 17-car pileup.


Memphis has a shiny pyramid. I can’t say why.

Off to Nashville

Off to Nashville. Later I wished I’d remembered to look for a “Highway 61” sign, the famous route down into Mississippi.

Tennessee countryside

Wonderful country along this way. Must’ve been a hundred signs pointing to stuff I wanted to check out — state parks, battlefields, Loretta Lynn’s dude ranch. A guy with a canoe could paddle his life away on all the rivers I-40 crosses.

Nashville skyline

A lame shot of Nashville’s excellent skyline. Could’ve gotten a better shot but figured I had pressed my luck too far with all the driving and picture-taking.

Tomorrow: Across the Smoky Mountains and on to point of this expedition.