Thursday, April 24, 2014

A toast to May 3 in Mount Airy

How's this for a a spring road trip? Just add warm temperatures and a sunny sky and you're ready to relax. ...

May 3 -- a Saturday -- the Budbreak Wine Festival will be staged on Main Street in downtown Mount Airy. It's an easy reach: 90 minutes straight up I-77 from Charlotte.

Awaiting you are 17 area wineries: Childress Vineyards, Duplin Winery, Fiddlers Vineyard, Ginger Creek Vineyards, Herrara Vineyards, Lake James Cellars, Morgan Ridge Vineyard  & Brewing Co., Native Vines, Old North State, Olde Mill, Round Peak, Slightly Askew, Southern Charm, Stony Knoll, Surry Cellars, Thistle Meadow and Waldensian Heritage Vineyards.

New this year -- this will be the fifth annual Budbreak -- is a beer garden with ales from four N.C. craft brewers, including Mount Airy's Skull Camp Brewing.

Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tickets for the event are $15/advance; $20 at the gate. (You can also get $5 tickets that don't include tastings.)

Live music? You can listen to the Mediocre Bad Guys, followed by Eric and the Chill Tones.

Here's the thing: The Mediocre Bad Guys band features famed rock 'n' roll sax player Bobby Keys,  who started out long ago as a Texas teen playing with Buddy Holly and went on to be a sideman with the Rolling Stones.

That's him doing the wailing sax solo on "Brown Sugar."

Keys' tenure with the Stones included cuts on  "Let It Bleed," "Sticky Fingers," Exile on Main St., "Goats Head Soup," "Emotional Rescue," Stripped" and "Shine a Light."

You've probably him play live on various artists' live albums, notably Joe Cocker's famous  "Mad Dogs & Englishmen"

May 3, you can hear him live. Outdoors. As you kick back with a glass of wine or beer. Not far from home.

Maybe we can fix the weather forecast with Mount Airy native Eric Chilton.

He will be playing there that day with the Chill Tones. Chilton is also the  weatherman for  WFMY-TV in Greensboro.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Itching for vacation? We hope not

Rankings don't always bring bragging rights. Consider annual Orkin's Top Bed Bug City list, released this winter. Chicago won for the second year in a row.

Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville took top honors in the Carolinas -- moving up three places to the No. 12 position.

While Charlotte barely made it into the top 25, our competitive burg may have its eyes on besting Raleigh even in this -- rising a whopping 18 places in just one year!

If you're itching to know, the Greenville, S.C., /Spartanburg/Asheville area rose an impressive (?) 11 places, coming in at No. 36.

Here's the top 25:

Los Angeles (+1)
Columbus, Ohio (+3)
Detroit (-2)
Cleveland/Akron/Canton (+2)
Dayton, Ohio (+4)
Washington D.C. (-1)
Denver (-5)
Indianapolis (+6)
Richmond/Petersburg, Va. (+1)
Raleigh/Durham/Fayetteville, N.C. (+3)
Dallas/Ft. Worth (-4)
Syracuse, N.Y. (+7)
Atlanta (+14)
Houston (+2)
New York (-7)
Seattle/Tacoma (-5)
San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose (-5)
Boston (+2)
Milwaukee (-2)
Miami/Fort. Lauderdale (+3)
Nashville, Tenn.  (+17)
Pittsburgh (+12)
Charlotte (+18)

The Orkin list ranks the cities by the number of bed bug treatments Orkin performed from January to December 2013, along with any shift in ranking compared to January-December 2012.

With a nod toward tourist season, the  National Pest Management Association's site published bed bug data this month. 

It noted that 59 percent of all U.S. adults take some kind of precaution against bed bug infestations:

34 percent inspect sheets, mattress pads and mattresses for signs of bed bugs upon checking into a hotel.
33 percent wash all clothes in hot water after returning home from a vacation.
29 percent avoid visiting homes or locations that have had a bed bug infestation.
28 percent remain vigilant of where they place their belongings when in public places.
12 percent vacuum suitcases after returning home from vacation.
8 percent keep their suitcases in a plastic trash bag or protective cover for the duration of their hotel stays.

These tips -- and others at -- may help you avoid encountering the little biters on your vacation, as well as bringing them home as accidental souvenirs.

Oh, yes. The NPMA press release noted that April 20-26 is national Bed Bug Awareness Week. And that's their photo of one of the dinky critters at the top of this page.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Recurring events to get you through spring and summer

When it comes to popular events, is there ever too much of a good thing?  Several seasonal events in the Southeast are again stretching over an entire season -- or longer.

 And a major festival in Savannah, Ga., seems to be converting from once-a-year  to through-the-year status.

Music in Morehead City

Down on the coast, Morehead City's Alive at Five free outdoor concerts will resume in May and continue through summer at a new location -- Jaycee Park, on the waterfront.

The lineup: Dependable Taxi (May 2), Emily Minor (June 6), Spare Change (June 19) Liquid Pleasure (July 3), Mikele Buck Band (July 17), Band of Oz (Aug. 1) and Jupiter Jones (Aug. 29).

Outdoor art in Blowing Rock

The mountain town's popular Art in the Park series resumes its summer/fall run, showcasing crafters and artisans from the Southeast. The location is the same: It's staged on the top level of the American Legion parking facility; as before, there will be free shuttles to the site from the Tanger Shoppes on the Blue Ridge Parkway and from the Food Lion on U.S. 321.

The dates this year: May 17, June 14, July 19, Aug. 16, Sept. 6 and Oct. 4.

Items range from handcrafted jewelry, pottery, fiber and glass to  photography and painting. Shown at the top of this page: a wood piece by Chris Boone of Matthews; he's featured artist at the May incarnation. 

Also returning: There will be free Sunday afternoon Concerts in the Park, May through September. For dates and information:

Big names play at Atlanta Botanical Garden series

The Concerts in the Garden outdoor series on the Great Lawns return for a 12th summer. Performers this year: Creedence Clearwater Revisited (June 6), Indigo Girls (July 18-19), Gavin DeGraw & Matt Nathanson (Aug. 1), Lyle Lovett & His Large Band (Aug. 29), Keb'Mo & Mavis Staples (Sept. 19) and Chris Isaak (Sept. 21).

Savannah Book Festival

Sure, it is held in February. But now  its official engagements have taken on a calendar life of their own.

International bestselling author Tami Hoag will headline the Savannah Book Festival’s Spring 2014 event,  May 8 at The Landings Plantation Club on Skidaway Island. Hoag’s luncheon and signing is the first of the 2014-15 festival’s expanded slate of author events that will continue throughout the year.

Hoag has written more than 30 New York Times bestsellers, including the crime thrillers "Deeper Than the Dead" and "Secrets to the Grave."  A $50 ticket includes lunch and a hardback copy of her latest, "The 9th Girl."  Details:

June 3, the festival and the Andaz Hotel in Ellis Square will host the national book launch for "Save the Date," Mary Kay Andrews’ latest release. This event is free and open to the public. 

Sept. 11, the festival will host "a top-shelf mystery-thriller author, whose name will be announced at the luncheon with Tami Hoag."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Not your typical, everyday city maps

What does familiarity with a city breed? Often it's a dicey, odd mix of insight and stereotype -- factors that play into what Trent Gillaspie is up to.

Besides a day job, Gillaspie, 28, is a comedian who bases his routine around stereotypes. In early 2013, he expanded his act into geography side project: an annotated map of Denver  calculated to get residents howling.

Some thought it was hysterical. Others found it offensive. The map has probably caused recurring heartburn among boosters of the Mile-High City. (A portion of his map is at the top of this page.)

To be sure, Gillaspie (photo below)  has an insider's knowledge of the city. He's originally from Lincoln, Neb., and had been in Denver since 1995.

He felt he had comedic-stereotype license to overlay tags on a conventional map, pinpointing areas like "Stinky Town" and "Cougar Town" and identifying what he perceived as neighborhood' characteristics: "Struggling Artsy Entrepreneurs," "Ex-Frat Boys," "People With Diseases Because of the Power Plants," Stroller Pushers, "Bum-uda Triangle," "Wealthy Democrats," "Every Cop in Denver" and so on.

There was something to demonize or amuse everyone.

And the map and the concept behind it went viral: Judgmental Maps ( is now a website where people try to get their own souped-up maps posted. To date, there are renditions of Knoxville, Tenn.;  Albany, N.Y.;  London; Orange County, Calif.;  Dayton, Ohio; Jacksonville, Fla.;  two of Albuquerque, N.M.;  Los Angeles;  Northern Virginia; Richmond, Va.; Memphis, Tenn.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Nashville, Tenn.;  and San Antonio.

Warning: All are offensive, to a degree, to someone. Ethnic, racial, socio-economic and religious slurs are common.

The map-to-map link is at the bottom of each page, below pro and con viewer comments.

The creators own the rights to their maps; the only one for sale on the site is Gillaspie's.

And which Denver neighborhood was Gillaspie's?

"I lived in the area labeled 'Taco Cart HQ.' Every day around 10 in the morning and 6 at night, we had taco carts going through the street ringing bells. It's a cultural distinction of the neighborhood."

Gillaspie said he's now getting 15 to 20 maps submitted each week.

But for an online atlas that doesn't aim for conventional accuracy, not all aspiring humorists/cartographers make the cut.

"I had one for Seattle that was marked 'Hipsters' over the whole city. It was funny and accurate," Gillaspie said. "I couldn't stop laughing. But it didn't fit in with a level of familiarity."

He looks for a geographic familiarity that takes 20 or so years to accumulate. He also nixes statewide maps because they don't allow the required level of details, like in the southeast corner of the Nashville map where you can place "Weird Religious College," "Poor People in Apartments," "Southern Pride," "Kurdish Pride," "NASCAR Fans," "Weird Mall" and "Strangely Normal" in close proximity.

Reactions to the maps differ from city to city. Reviewers in L.A. were positive; critics in Minneapolis/St. Paul were not.

The biggest criticism he said Judgmental Maps receives is about the spelling of the project/website: There's an "e" missing that should follow the "g."

Gillaspie also receives a lot of requests for maps of cities that are, so far, uncharted.

"But no requests from Charlotte," he said. "In fact, none from either of the Carolinas."

I only recently came across A friend who has lived and worked in exotic locales -- Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bulgaria, Nigeria and even my Charlotte ZIP code -- put up a link on Facebook to the map of his hometown of Knoxville, where he has returned.

I called Terry in Knoxville after talking with Gillaspie. What did he think of the map?

"Oh, that 'crazy map?' It was great. It was spot on."

Terry drew my attention to an area southwest of downtown Knoxville labeled "Setting of a Horror Movie."

Terry said it was a joke only locals would get: It's at a University of Tennessee property where cadavers are buried and later exhumed for forensic research.

Terry, by the way, lives near the bottom of the Knoxville map -- south of "The Crumbling Hubris of the 1970s," just north of "Desperate Car Dealerships."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gasoline? I'll never reach empty again!

I have a same-name cousin living in Huntley, Ill., and I just might call him to let him know that gas in his area is expected tomorrow  go down a bit. But if he needs to refuel right now, the lowest price -- $3.63 per gallon -- is at the 7-Eleven at 4500 W. Algonquin Road, between Wentworth Road and Lakewood Drive.

No, I didn't get a call about this. In fact, I've never been to his house, which is somewhere in the Elgin area west of Chicago.

All I did was punch his ZIP code into Fuelcaster -- -- an incredibly handy new website. It tells you whether the price-per-gallon of gas is expected to rise or fall in the next day. It also tells you what the going price is at up to 10 gas stations in the area.

When you click either the "cheapest" or "closest" link once you've input the ZIP code, a Google map opens up, pinpointing where the desired gas pump is.

 The website debuted in February.

While this is great for at-home use, think of what it can do when you're running low in an unfamiliar area if you have a palmtop computer or a smartphone in your car.

If you don't, call someone you know who is glued to the home computer and get your information that way.

First, identify what ZIP code you're in ( works for me).

Enter that ZIP code and enter it into

When you've decided where to go for fuel, click that link to open up the map; just zoom out until you see where your exit is.

Move the map around, zooming as needed; write the directions to the gas station. If you have a passenger, that's even better: He or she can give you "turn here" verbal directions.

Or punch the "here" and the "there" locations and get exact directions.

If you're getting close to "empty" you'll know exactly how close you are to a refill.

And by the way, Cousin John, that best-price Seven-11 gas is 12 minutes away (6.28 miles), according to Mapquest, based on current traffic conditions.

I think you know how to get there.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Hair-raising adventure book has N.C. ties

Some believe a downside to modern living is the ease with which almost anything is possible.

Searching for crocodiles is as simple as buying a spot on a safari tour. Or just heading down to Alligator Adventure in Myrtle Beach. Or just turning on the TV.

But turning the pages in "Jungleland" makes it clear that edgy adventures -- and true-life adventure writing -- survives in our high-tech times.

The subtitle of Christopher S. Stewart's book, now out in paperback (Harper Perennial, $15.99) is "A Mysterious Lost City and a True Story of Deadly Adventure."

While that makes it sound like a riff on  an Indiana Jones caper, Stewart's travel book hearkens to the age of great explorers as well as the days when National Geographic was black-and-white and treks into the unknown often involved danger.

Stewart, a New York-based journalist, is trying to pick up where adventurer Theodore Morde's quest led in the 1940s -- to Honduras, where Morde reported discovering an ancient "White City of the Monkey God" in the jungle. Morde returned to the States and was feted as a derring-do trailblazer. But Morde was loathe to offer too many details about the lost city's whereabouts, and was soon swept up in World War II. He never got the chance to return to Cemtral America  and -- like his discovery -- became a largely  forgotten footnote.

But his experience intrigued Stewart, whose research led him to North Carolina and to a nephew -- David Morde of Cary -- who had come to possess the late explorer's diary and other artifacts.

The diary helps  set in motion Stewart's journey and is a key to powering this book. Chapters of "Jungleland" deftly switch between Theodore Morde's  experience and that of his 21st-century successor.

Non-spoiler alert: You'll have to read just about to the end to learn whether Stewart located Morde's lost city.

The parallels between the twinned tales strikingly show how some things haven't changed in the seven intervening decades. Then as now, the swampy wilderness is vast and the national bird of Honduras is still the mosquito; its official animal may be the bandit. Political instability was rife for both -- a coup was in progress when Stewart was there in 2009.

And there are intriguing differences. The paraphrased story of Morde's experience is a pretty much a diary-based chronicle. Stewart's account of his own trip points up his eye for irony and the absurd. More important, his writing  is always pulling you to the next page.

Stewart's first-person story is straight-forward. (One early chapter begins, "We came across the dead body a few hours into our road trip.")

Adding credibility are the author's periodic
self-doubts about why he's risking live and limb while his wife and little daughter are back in New York.

"You don't have to do this," he occasionally remembers her telling him.

But as a reader, I'm glad Stewart went.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Planning your vacation? Talk to these pros who are coming to Charlotte

Articles and ads for vacations are fine for tickling your fancy, but nothing beats the opportunity to get face-to-face with the people who can make it happen.

That's why this time of year brings travel shows -- your opportunity to get answers, suggestions and tips from those in the know.

Coming up fast:

Jan. 31: Meet Arthur and Pauline Frommer (above), the creators of  Frommer's Travel Guides, at 7 p.m. at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road. They'll  discuss their new line of Easy Guides and offer some top travel destinations for 2014. 

Feb. 1: Mann Travels’ annual travel and cruise show will be 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St. Mann specialists from nine area locations will be there to help consumers sort out vacation deals. There will be reps from the major cruise lines, resorts and tourism boards; interactive exhibits; Hawaiian dancers and entertainment from Radio Disney. Seminars will be offered in four theaters. Admission: free. Details:

Feb. 6-9: The Mid-Atlantic Boat Show returns to Charlotte for its 42nd year. Exhibitors at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St., will be displaying a variety of pleasure boats, as well as equipment for water skiing and fishing, swimwear, docks and lifts and real estate. Hours: noon-9 p.m. Feb. 6-9 (Thursday and Friday) 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Feb. 8 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 9. Admission: $9; $8 for military and for 60 and older; $5 for ages 6-12. Details: