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:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Raise a glass to poet Robert Burns -- and enjoy the haggis -- Jan. 24

Ready for another round of “Auld Lange Syne”? The lyrics were by Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, whose Jan. 25, 1759, birthday is celebrated worldwide by those who love poetry and Caledonia.

That includes Hiddenite, northwest of Statesville, where The Hiddenite Center on Jan. 24 (a Friday) will hold "Burns Night: A Scottish Feaste  in Honor of Poet Robert Burns.”

Traditional music will be provided by the duo Celtic Elk. A family-style Scottish feast will include soup, steak pie, peas and carots and a traditional dessert called Tipsy Laird. Wassail (punch) will be served and so will haggis – a traditional pudding of spiced sheep innards mixed with oatmeal and cooked in sausage casing.

Cost for the entire 7 p.m. event : $15. Reservations: 828-632-6966.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Britt's donuts of Carolina Beach high on national list

You may have come across directly if you're a foodie, or while poking around at, which reposts some of its articles. covers a wide range of  food- and drink-related subjects, from chefs and cookbooks to traditional food-related breaking news to food-related travel.

Its forte is lists: "10 Best College Football Stadium Eats," "7 Healthy Kids' Drinks," "11 Rum Cocktails for National Rum Day," etc., and one posted recently was "America's 25 Best Donuts."

No, N.C.-based Krispy Kreme didn't make this particular roster, though's "8 Decadent Donuts From Around the Country"  included KK's Key lime.

But the just-out top-donut list did have the plain glazed created at Britt's Donut Shop, in Carolina Beach, in  11th place.

It's an inspired choice, even if Britt's is open only during tourist season.

H.L. Britt's debuted in  1939. Britt sold the operation (and secret recipe) in the mid-1970s; the Nivens family has operated it since.

The glazed, airy  wonders cost 90 apiece in 2013; the shop usually opens for the season around Easter. Regular-season hours are 8 a.m. to around 10:30 p.m. Monday Saturday, with an early closing (4 p.m.) Sundays.

It's right on the Carolina Beach boardwalk, adding a  sweet and tasty morsel to North Carolina history.

The illustrious Oxford American magazine did a detailed and glowing feature on Britt's in its July 2012 issue. And on the Internet you'll find its fan club site.

You'll learn at the fan site that a book about the place , "Britt's Donuts: Forever Sweet," will be coming out in March.

And while you can't buy donuts at the site -- and the shop doesn't open until spring, remember -- you can pad your holiday gift list by ordering Britt's bumper stickers (starting at $2) or art prints (starting at $45). One of the stickers available from the fan site is shown at the top of this tale.

Of the top 25 on the "Best Donuts" list, only three are from the Southeast. Britt's is the only one from the Carolinas.

Here, by the way are the 10 ranked just above Britt's:

1              Doughnut Vault, Chicago (Plain glazed)
2              Round Rock Donuts, Round Rock, Texas (Plain glazed)
3              Dough, Brooklyn, N.Y. ( Lemon poppy)
4              Bouchon, Yountville Calif (Broiche with seasonal preserves)
5              Stan’s Doughnuts, Los Angeles (Peanut butter and banana)
6              Danny’s Donuts, Vista, Calif (Blueberry cake)
7              Verna’s Donut Shop, Cambridge, Mass. (Chocolate honey-dip)
8              Congdon’s Doughnuts, Wells, Maine (Blueberry jelly)
9              Federal Doughnuts, Philadelphia (Cookies and cream)
10           Donut Man, Glendora, Calif- (Fresh peach and strawberry)