Sunday, July 10, 2011

Boogying down to our rendezvous

King Kong is the place to eat when you're on the road through Lincoln, Neb.

Our tractor-pulling adventures over, Mary and I drove the Hyundai rental car from Bertrand to Omaha to catch a plane to Washington, D.C. and then to Manchester, N.H. On the way, we stopped in Lincoln for gyro salad at King Kong Burger -- forever known to me, after many trips back to Mary's alma mater, as "Gorillas." We haven't quite figured out why there is a Greek restaurant named after a 1930s movie character next to I-80 in Lincoln, but we have learned to split one order -- not to order two. Good eats and lots of gorillas, inside and out.

Assuming y'all know how to get from Omaha, which was almost under water thanks to all the rain in North Dakota, to Manchester, N.H., we'll jump ahead to the Avis rental car counter where we found ourselves at 11:30 p.m. The agent told a story about a woman who showed up one day to rent a car. There was no car reserved but she insisted there was. The clerk ran a computer search and found a reservation in the woman's name in Manchester, England.

"I wondered why the flight was only one hour," the bewildered customer said.

Mary and I stayed at the camp on Branch Lake, which always reminds of of the Fonda movie "On Golden Pond."

We visited Mom, who is 90 years old but doing well, every day while we were in Ellsworth. Nephew Joey helped me change the oil on the V-Strom, Stanley at Gardner Racing Concepts installed new sprockets and chain and sisters Jane and Betsy made sure we were fed and well-oiled. After a lobster dinner, putting the dock out, running lots of last-minute errands and enjoying some lake-side serenity, it was time for Mary to head back to Honolulu and for me to meet David in Seneca Castle, N.Y. to begin our cross-country ride.

No Maine stay is complete without fresh strawberries from a road-side stand.

Mom is 90 years old, but doing well.

After an oil change, new sprockets and chain, Flanman was ready to go.

It's 253 miles from Ellsworth to Manchester. I took US 202 from Bangor to Augusta. I love the old highways that were relentlessly straight, but ignored the ups and downs. On 202, particularly near Dixmont, you'll top a crest and see straight across the valley to the next one, three miles away.

I left Bangor about 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 6, taking the old roads as far as Augusta. But, when the GPS indicated I wouldn't reach the hotel until 10:45 p.m., I got on the Maine Turnpike and the ETA dropped by one hour.

I met Mary at the Marriott suites next to the airport and we headed out to the Airport Diner for a late dinner. Next morning, Mary was up at 4 to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Dallas and then to Honolulu. I slept in until 8, enjoyed the eggs and sausage at the "free continental breakfast" buffet, packed up and headed towards Vermont, determined to avoid the Massachusetts Turnpike.

I spent the rest of the morning investigating the rural byways of southern maple sugar country and eventually found myself in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Clouds were threatening from the west and I stopped to put on my waterproof pants and zip up the vents in my jacket. A few miles further down the road, the sky opened and dumped solid water for about 15 minutes. In the rain, I discovered I could see through my helmet visor or through the windshield, but not both at the same time. After the deluge, I adjusted the windshield lower.

During the storm, I pulled over into a barnyard and stopped under a big tree. The rain did its thing and I began to feel trickles where zippers weren't totally shut and down my neck. My "waterproof" boots started to get soggy and my gloves were sopping. Eventually, it let up and I continued west on US 20, which joins NY 5 and meanders west from Utica toward Buffalo.

I stopped at a restaurant south of Syracuse and ordered a beer and a small pepperoni pizza, which turned out to be 14 inches in diameter. It was delicious, but I could barely eat half. From there, I soldiered on through a gorgeous sunset until about 9 p.m., when the sun was finally down, and stopped at the Madison Motor Court, a place built in the 50s before the Thruway went in, when the "5 and 20" was the main road across the state.

The Madison Motor Court offered free color TV, free soap and fluffy towels but no wi-fi for $45.

The "5 and 20" is a pleasant road for a motorcycle cruise through beautiful farmland and historic towns.

Next morning, I hit the road for Seneca Castle, a tiny town just outside Geneva, N.Y., where David grew up. David was staying there with his cousin Bob who runs an auto repair business, volunteers as a firefighter and builds hot rods in his home garage there. I arrived about 1 p.m. and David wasted no time showing me the sites, including the mall in Victor, where he wanted to visit the Apple Store.

It was 358 miles from Manchester, N.H. to Seneca Castle, N.Y.

Cousin Bob's driveway is a temporary home for this custom car. Bob says that color is "cantaloupe."

On the way back from the mall, we stopped at the Church of Latter Day Saints' Hill Cumorah, where, according to the web site: "It all began in the early 1920's when a small group of missionaries from New York City gathered for the Cumorah Conference at the Joseph Smith Farm to celebrate Pioneer Day, the day when Brigham Young first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In July of 1934, the conference was moved from the Farm to the Hill Cumorah."

The crowd begins to gather at the Hill Cumorah pageant site near Palmyrah, N.Y.

According to the publicity, at the Hill visitors can "experience one of the world's great outdoor theatrical productions. Each July, seven evening performances are presented on the beautiful Cumorah hillside next to the Visitors' Center. A beautiful story on an enormous 10-level stage, twelve-tower lighting, state-of-the-art sound system, Hollywood special effects, and a costumed cast of over 650 provide a truly spectacular show."

David chats with one of the ushers at Hill Cumorah before the performance began. We didn't stay, preferring to meet Bob for wings and beer at the Yankee Clipper, a nearby watering hole.

Next day, we mounted up and rode west to Geneseo, N.Y. for a big antique airplane fly-in and air show. We were early again, as we were at the Hill Cumorah, but most of the World War II planes and air show participants were there, or arrived while we roamed around the big, grass airstrip. David loves these old birds and works as a volunteer restoring vintage planes at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.

Here are the Memphis Belle's twin tail guns, "Pete" and "Repete." The plane is a storied WWII B-17 heavy bomber that is still flying, albeit covered with engine oil. "Radial engines," says David, "if they don't leak oil, they aren't running right. They have huge oil tanks on those planes."

Memphis Belle retired after 25 daylight bombing missions over German territory and returned to the States to help raise morale and sell war bonds.

Among the war birds was a Navy Corsair F4U.When the first of these planes arrived in Hawaii, they were a classified secret weapon, protected by armed guards, David says. They went on to decimate the Japanese air force in the Pacific.

A powerful Corsair FU4 was a featured attraction at the Geneseo Air Show.

The show included parachute jumps out of a vintage C-47 by veterans ranging up to 70 years of age.

The surprisingly large Grumman Avenger at the show was an example of the U.S. Navy's best dive bomber during World War II.

Framed by the tail of a P-51 Mustang, David and a fellow war bird enthusiast talk antique airplane renovation.

The show's shark-toothed P-40 elicited a hail of gunfire from tykes in attendance.

After the air show, we visited David's cousin John to catch him and his wife up on his side of the family with photos on his iPad.

That evening, we stopped by Bob's personal garage to check out the cars he's building, including an original Corvette Stingray -- the one with the split rear window. David also got to take Bob's '94 Harley Wide Glide out for a spin.

The Wide Glide, with David at the controls, looking good in pastoral western New York.

A veritable Peter Fonda in a crash helmet, David was thoroughly a Harley guy, until he burned a hole in his pants leg on the exhaust pipe while putting the kickstand down.

We dined out on Bob's deck on take-out from Wegman's grocery store in Geneva and a bottle of Australian Cabernet that had gone a little bad. In the morning, our adventure would begin.

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