A Travellerspoint blog


North Carolina: Ladies in Drag

Just after tax season, I went to visit my dad for a few days in Morganton, NC. For the Saturday of my visit, Dad bought us tickets to attend the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I grew up going to drag races with my dad and then later on with my ex-husband. It has probably been about 12 years since I've been to any. And I had certainly never been to a four-wide track since Charlotte is the only one that exists. Normally drag races are conducted with two cars running side by side. But in Charlotte, they run four cars side by side. This was definitely a new concept for me and I was looking forward to it.

We got up with the roosters in order to make the drive down to Charlotte to arrive early enough to attend the pre-race activities in the pit.


If you've never been to the drag races before, this is the time when you can walk around in the pits and possibly meet the drivers, watch them get the cars ready to race and fire them up, and buy team gear. We rounded the corner in the pit and Steve Torrence was just starting his car. The smell of the nitro fumes coming out of the car are strong; they will make your eyes water like you're crying uncontrollably.


Next to him was John Force's team. John Force himself came out to sign a few autographs.


The U.S. Army even has a car, driven by Tony Schumacher.


As does the Sheikh of Qatar, whose car is getting fueled here.


After hanging out in the pits, we decided to go check out our seats. Dad had gotten us great tickets, right on the start line.


My only complaint was the chick behind me who thought it was okay to stick her foot in my face throughout the day.


At least her flamingo sandals were cute. She got pretty drunk later on in the day, went down to the snack bar and stubbed her toe. So then she stuck her bloody foot in my face throughout the day. Nice!

The races were kicked off by a couple of parachutists carrying American flags.


Another new concept for me since I last attended drag races was an influx of female racers. Also mentioned previously, one of my favorite movies when I was a little girl was about the first female drag racer, Shirley Muldowney. Shirley overcame all odds to break into a male-only sport and went on to win an unprecedented three NHRA Top Fuel titles in her career. She paved the way for the women I would see race today: Brittany Force, Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, and Erica Enders.


The Force sisters are daughters of the legendary John Force, 15-time Funny Car champion. The oldest, Ashley, raced until 2011 when she had her first child and announced her retirement. She now works behind the scenes in the family business. The second oldest, Brittany, just began her career as a driver of a Top Fuel dragster.



Unfortunately, Brittany came in last in the first round (only the top two advance) and did not advance any farther.


Her younger sister, Courtney, the 2012 NHRA Rookie of the Year, drives the Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car.



Courtney came in third in her heat so she did not advance to the next round either.


Alexis DeJoria, drives the Patron Toyota Camry Funny Car. Her father is the owner of Patron tequila and co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products. After many successes and surviving a near-death crash on her way up the ladder to Top Fuel, this is her sophomore year driving Top Fuel.





Alexis had a problem right off the line. She came in last at 10.241 seconds. It was not looking good for the ladies in drag!

And then came Erica Enders. Erica drives in the Pro Stock class of NHRA. Pro stock cars run on racing gasoline while top fuel dragsters and funny cars both run on a mixture of nitro and methanol. Another difference between the two is that pro stock cars run the full 1,320 foot distance of the track while nitromethane-fueled cars run only 1,000 feet. In 2006, Erica became the first woman to qualify #1 in pro stock and in 2012 became the first woman to win in the finals in pro stock. On this day, she had quite the successful day, placing second in the first round and first in the second round to advance to the finals. She is in the green and white Charter car.





She lost in the finals by only .026 seconds, taking second overall.

It was a fun day and I was glad to see so many women following in Shirley Muldowney's footsteps and joining the sport. I wish them luck and hope they'll stay safe.

Posted by zihuatcat 20:50 Archived in USA Tagged north dad carolina Comments (0)

San Antonio: Feliz Navidad del Rio

Since my mom and I moved to Bandera in 1985, every Friday after Thanksgiving she has mentioned wanting to go to the San Antonio River Parade. We've watched it on television most years but never been. So this year, for her 65th birthday in December, I wanted to take her and make it a special night. I reserved a hotel room with a balcony on the parade route almost a year in advance. I made dinner reservations for after the parade. For the next morning, I booked facials and foot massages at a spa on the Riverwalk as well. It would be a lovely mother-daughter event.

Mike and I and the dogs normally travel to Bandera every year for Thanksgiving. Because Mom and I had plans of our own this year, he decided to stay home and spend the day with our good friends instead. So I flew down on Thanksgiving morning and we had our traditional dinner and day of football. The next afternoon, Friday, Mom and I drove into San Antonio and checked into the Hilton Palacio del Rio on the Riverwalk. Downtown was a bit of a madhouse. Hotels had been sold out for months and everyone was trying to arrive at the same time to check in.


It took us a while to figure out how the elevators worked. I've never seen a keypad to call the elevator.


We finally made it to our room.



It had an excellent view of the river.


Since our dinner reservations were late, Mom brought along some snacks for a little pre-parade picnic. We had olives, carrots, celery, pimento cheese, Boisin cheese (the best cheese EVER), crackers, pickled okra, and deviled eggs.


It got dark and we waited for the parade to start....with our noodle hair on.


Soon the boat floats began arriving.








And the finale - Santa and Mrs. Claus, of course.


The parade lasted about an hour. Once over, we walked down the River to Boudro's Texas Bistro for dinner. Mom started with a prickly pear maragarita and I tried a strawberry caipirinha. These were paired with guacamole for two, made tableside.


My entrée was lobster tail, shrimp, and crawfish etoufee with a risotto.


Mom's entrée was shrimp and fried fish over rice.


After dinner we walked along the river for a while and then headed back to our hotel to retire for the evening.


The next day we had a relaxing time at the spa and a tasty lunch at the Mokara Hotel and Spa before I flew home. Happy Birthday Mom!

Posted by zihuatcat 14:36 Archived in USA Tagged san antonio mom riverwalk Comments (0)

FL Day 5: Sea Cow Soiree

Five a.m. arrived before we knew it and we were up and ready to snorkel with the manatees. We drove over to Bird's Underwater, one of the only tour companies to offer the early morning tour in Kings Bay at Crystal River. The West Indian manatees migrate to this protected area every winter. Some of the manatees do hang around year-round, however, so even though we were visiting in May, we still had a chance to see them. We suited up in our rented wetsuits and boarded our assigned pontoon boat. There was supposed to be donuts and coffee for breakfast for everyone but apparently they had been a little stingy with the goods this morning. I think I got a donut hole. Our first manatee sighting was actually right by the dock. We all jumped in the water and slowly made our way over to the groups. There were two different groups of manatees there. The gentle giants allowed us to hover in the water while they twisted and turned all around us. With your ears in the water you could actually hear them munching on the sea grass below. We stayed with the two groups for as long as the manatees allowed and then we headed off to try and find another group. We managed to find a few more that morning and each one of us on tour had ample time to spend with these magnificent creatures. Because we had taken the early tour, no other tour boats were crowding us and we were able to take our time. Unfortunately, the water was pretty murky so I don't have any manatee pictures but Bird's Underwater did make a DVD compilation of our manatee snorkels available for purchase.

After snorkeling with the manatees, we went to an area called Three Sisters' Springs for some additional snorkeling. This area of natural springs is completely clear. During the winter, the manatees are also in this area but not today. We were able to see some other freshwater fish as well as a turtle.









The springs were ridiculously cold and I couldn't snorkel there very long, even in a wetsuit. Brenda and I used the extra time to change into some dry clothes so we could warm up.


Once we made it back to the dive shop, we did a little manatee souvenir shopping then got on the road to Orlando to catch our flights home. We parted ways at the airport with a list of new experiences and memories that we can laugh about and reminisce about for years to come.

Posted by zihuatcat 21:20 Archived in USA Tagged keys florida brenda Comments (0)

FL Day 4: Leaving Key West...Twice

It was Sunday morning and time to leave sunny Key West. We packed up and hit the road fairly early for a leisurely but long trip to Crystal River. We took some pics of the scenery along the way.




In Islamorada, we stopped at a souvenir shop and this is where the course of the day changed. I paid for my souvenirs but when Brenda went to pay for hers, she realized she did not have her wallet. The last time she remembered having it was at dinner the night before at Alonzo's. So we gave them a call and unbelievably, our waiter had retrieved it from under the table and put it somewhere safe. This of course meant that we had to drive two hours back to Key West (four hours round trip) to pick it up. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper and didn't talk much on the way back.

After the long interruption we finally made it to Key Largo where we had reserved a boat tour through the mangroves with Captain Sterling's Eco Tours. Our ride was waiting for us.


We took some tasty beverages with us on the tour.


I thought we were taking an airboat tour but in this part of the everglades, airboats are not allowed. So we putt-putted around in our pontoon boat and made our way through the mangroves.






A couple of birds were hanging around.



And some iguanas which are not endemic to Florida. Our guide told us that the iguanas in Florida came from personal aquariums.



We made our way to the canals to see if we could find any manatees.


A couple of guys were cleaning their boat and a manatee came up to drink the clean water.




Just outside of Key Largo, we stopped for a quick dinner at Alabama Jack's. I had read about this hole-in-the-wall place on Trip Advisor. It was supposed to be a must-stop. I wasn't impressed. There was a decent band playing but the food was nothing special (and I don't usually complain about anything fried). There was one old lady out there dancing by herself in some kind of square dance outfit. She seemed to be pretty well-known. There were pictures on the wall of Kathie Lee Gifford dancing there with her husband a billion years ago. I guess that's their claim to fame. It's one of the few times Trip Advisor has let me down.


We left there after dinner with a long drive still to go to Crystal River. Almost immediately after crossing onto the mainland we got stuck in a major traffic jam on the Florida Turnpike. This delayed us another hour. By now, we're a good five hours behind schedule and I'm pretty tired of driving. And what the hell is the deal with the lack of places to go to the bathroom on the Turnpike? In Texas, there are gas stations and bathrooms every few miles in most places. But not in Florida. I had to pee on the side of the road at one point. We pulled into Crystal River about 2 a.m. and set our alarms for 5 a.m. We had to be up early to swim with the manatees.

Posted by zihuatcat 21:12 Archived in USA Tagged keys florida brenda Comments (0)

FL Day 3: Tourist Town Bar

The plan today was to spend the day walking around and exploring Key West. We started with breakfast at Camille's, a funky little pink place serving up yummy breakfasts. I had delicious crab cakes benedict and Brenda had a crab and asparagus omelet, both washed down with mimosas.



We walked down to south Key West and took the obligatory picture at the Southernmost Point. There was a long line to take your pic with no one else in it and by now it was starting to get pretty hot so we cheated and took our pics from across the street.


Our next stop was the Ernest Hemingway house. There was some kind of event going on there but we were still allowed to walk around and check things out. We passed on the guided tour.





The grounds were nicely landscaped and there was some sort of life-sized checkerboard in the yard.



Several six-toed cats still live here, apparently all descendants of Hemingway's cats. Kittens are in cages but the adults have the run of the house.




By now I am just one big sweatbucket (geez, it's so humid) and am in need of a large, cold drink. We decide to make the required appearance at Margaritaville. After all, it did start here. We drank a couple of overpriced, watered down margaritas, I bought Mike a fluorescent green t-shirt, and we watched a video on loop of Jimmy Buffett fans/parties. At least there was a/c involved. After a cool down, we did some shopping and found one of my most favorite sea-themed stores ever--Fantasea. They have some beautiful household items. I bought my mother a bowl made of sea stars. We stopped in a few other stores and decided it was time again for another cold drink. This time we made our way to Schooner Wharf Bar. Michael McCloud was performing on stage. We ordered a couple of rum and cokes and hung out for a while with the chickens.



By now we needed some food to go with all of these drinks so we walked over to the marina to find a place for dinner. We decided on Alonzo's. They have great happy hour specials. All of their appetizers are half price so we ordered up a few and watched the high society arrive on their yachts.


We shared crab and avocado salad, steamed clams, and mussels diablo.




We called it an early night and drove back to the hotel. Tonight was supposed to be the "super" moon so we walked across to Smathers Beach for a quick moonlight gaze before bedtime.


Posted by zihuatcat 21:08 Archived in USA Tagged keys florida brenda Comments (0)

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