More photos from day 2 of the Toronto-to-Tampa road trip

Here are some more photos from Day 2 of the Tampa-to-Toronto road trip

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We had only a couple of hours to spend in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, (“The Land of More”) and the place has built up so many amusements over the years that it takes at least a weekend to properly see them. It wasn’t possible to get decent photos from the car, so the photo above and the next few are neighter mine nor Eldon’s, but internet finds to show you what we saw and missed.

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It would’ve been fun to check out Dollywood, but unfortunately, it was closed for the season when we passed through Pigeon Forge. Theme Park Review gave it four and a half stars out of five, as does TripAdvisor, while Yelp gives it a four out of five rating.

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Lest you think that everything in Pigeon Forge is country music-themed, there’s the Titanic Museum, whose slogan is “World’s largest museum attraction”. The Smoky Mountains are deep inland and a couple thousand miles from where the Titanic sank, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting.

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The Island is a new addition to Pigeon Forge, and it opened last summer. It’s an amusement park with more shopping and restaurants and marked by The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, a 200 foot tall ferris wheel.

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I’ll just let the intro paragraph on Wonderworks’ site do the talking:

WonderWorks Pigeon Forge began as a Top Secret research laboratory on a remote island in the Bermuda Triangle. As legend has it, the world’s greatest scientists – led by Professor Wonder – were given the task of creating a man-made tornado and harnessing the POWER of it. During this experiment, something went awry and the power of the tornado was unleashed throughout the laboratory. This created a swirling vortex that was strong enough to rip the laboratory from its foundation. It was carried thousands of miles away and landed upside-down on the top of a theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Remarkably, all of the experiments remained intact and functional.

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Of course we were going to check out what is purported to be the world’s largest knife store. BECAUSE KNIVES. I took the photos below as I giddily ran about the shop.

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I was disappointed that the Bear Grylls display had no gear to help you do what he’s internet famous for:

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The folks at Smoky Mountain Knife Works know that life isn’t just about survival, self-defense, and huntin’; it’s just not complete without some sweet, sweet, lovin’. But please — not in the store.

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Got a Wolverine or ninja fantasy? They can help you with that:

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If your tastes run more towards Game of Thrones, they can help you with that too:

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And hey, even Star Wars fans can find lots of stuff here:

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I was pleased to see that they had a section devoted to Cold Steel’s knives, machetes, and other sharp, pointy goodies:

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If you’ve never seen Cold Steel’s YouTube videos, you’re missing out on some over-the-top bladed fun. Here’s their latest one:

It was aisle after aisle of cool, cool stuff…

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If you ever find yourself near Pigeon Forge — Knoxville isn’t too far — do be sure to make a trip to Smoky Mountain Knife Works, which is just as much an amusement as many of those down the road, and it’s free to visit!

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And now, some additional pics from our final stop of the day, the Wicked Weed Brewing Company. The place gets its name from a declaration by King Henry VIII, who called hops “a wicked and pernicious weed” that would destroy beer. It would take a while before craft brewers would go overboard with hops, but when used with some moderation, they give beer a much-needed kick in the pants, and the folks at Wicked Weed know this. Be sure to check out what they’ve got on tap!

Here I am, enjoying the first beer after a very long drive:

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Here’s another shot of me enjoying that same beer, with bonus photobombing from one of the waitstaff:

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Here’s my dinner: greens, a very tasty pork chop, and a macaroni and cheese cake:

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After dinner, dessert: more beer, and some chocolate-covered pretzels. Eldon was quite impressed:

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Here’s a close-up of that pretzel. Even if you don’t drink beer, you need to drop by Wicked Weed for the food:

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Toronto-to-Tampa Road Trip, Day 2

In case you missed it, you might want to check out the first installment in this series: Toronto-to-Tampa road trip, day 1.

day 2

West Virgina

After killing a few hours at the Peace Bridge US Customs and Border Patrol office getting me processed for TN status in the US followed by a few more hours of driving, Eldon and I stopped in Morgantown, West Virginia for the night. Morgantown is deep in the heart of coal country, or as Hunger Games fans would call it, “District 12”. It’s a college town with a feature that most college towns don’t have: a monorail!

morgantown prt

If you’re stickler for technical accuracy, the Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit system isn’t really a monorail, but a people-mover system that uses cars that are more like miniature buses on a guided track. Built in the 1970s during a time when engineers were fascinated with personal rapid transit systems (it might’ve been the oil crisis of that era, or the cool-looking trains in Logan’s Run), it functions largely as a transportation system for the students of West Virginia University, which has campuses that are a few miles apart.

econo lodge morgantown

While the combination of March break for Canadians and March Madness meant that landing a hotel room was a little more difficult than it would typically be during the winter, there were still some rooms available if you were willing to stay in places that weren’t terribly close to the city center. Since I was in the process of moving to Tampa with a car full of stuff, I didn’t mind.

We got up on the morning of Saturday, March 8th at 7:00 a.m.. The only person stirring at that hour who wasn’t part of the hotel staff was a bedraggled young woman with in a pink hoodie, pink sweatpants, and boots that looked as they were made from the skin of a disco ball, doing slow-motion pirouettes in the open-air walkway outside the rooms, walking nowhere in particular. Sleep-deprived, possibly hung-over basketball fan? Motel lot lizard? It was hard to tell.


Charged on a free hotel breakfast (scrambled eggs, frozen sausage patties heated up in the microwave, apple, coffee from a thermos jug), it was time to hit the road again. I’d driven for all of the first day, so Eldon took the first shift:

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I brought the good accordion on this trip — a Crucianelli that I purchased in late 1999. Of all my accordions, it’s got the best set of reeds and the best bellows action, and I figured I might need it in Tampa, where I’d left my small red “travellin’ accordion”. Here it is, nestled safely inside a travel blanket:

accordion in car

We caught a number of West Virginia sights, including the Big Red Chair:

joey big red chair

…and mountain views aplenty. We accompanied the scenic vistas by tuning into local country music channels to get into the spirit of things. I’ve got to learn some of these new country tunes on the accordion:

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Where there were places to stop and catch some breathtaking views, we stopped and did just that:

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I thought that this was a good time to break out the ol’ American jacket:

joey america shirt

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We made a longer stop by the New River Gorge Bridge to get a look a beautiful river valley from high above, as well as a peek at an impressive feat of engineering:

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Part of US Route 19, the New River Gorge Bridge is one of the highest vehicular bridges in the world, rising 270 metres (880 feet) above the river and spanning a distance of nearly a kilometre (3,030 feet) across it. For years, it the world’s longest steel single-span arch bridge, and even today’s it holds the number four position for the title.

I thought it would make an excellent backdrop, so I broke out the accordion and play the chorus of what locals like to call “The West Virginia Song”, a.k.a. Take Me Home, Country Roads to an appreciative audience:


We drove into the area known as the Cumberland Plateau, home of the Hatfields and McCoys, and many other feuding families (if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, this is the area he was talking about in the section on cultural legacies and cultures of honor). The famous families and their feud, which is often used when talking about bitter long-standing rivalries, especially between families, is now the source material for musical comedy dinner theatre:

hatfields mccoys dinner show

“In the early 20th century,” goes the article on Wikipedia, “Pigeon Forge was an isolated mountain hamlet with no major roads.” That changed in 1961 when Pigeon Forge incorporated and two brothers opened an amusement called Rebel Railroad. Passengers would ride on a simulated Confederate steam train during the Civil War; the train would be attacked by Union soldiers. After the centennial of the Civil War passed, the ride got re-themed and became more of a “Wild West”/”Gold Rush” attraction, and that was the start of Pigeon Forge as tourist trap.

Pigeon Forge is now the home of Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood, its companion waterpark, Dollywood’s Splash Country, and a whole mess o’ cheese-tastic attractions and outlet shops designed to separate tourists and passers-through from their money. Eldon and I weren’t about to argue with venerable tradition, so we simply joined in the fun. First stop: the big Harley-Davidson store:

joey and harley

Someday, it will be mine.

We followed it up with a visit to Smoky Mountain Knife Works, the world’s largest knife store, and three floors of total bad-assery:

smoky mountain knife works

If you’re into huntin’, fishin’, campin’, or let’s face it, just plain ol’ cuttin’, you’ll want to make a pilgrimage to this temple of all things pointy, cutty, slice-y, and poke-y. In addition to knives of all sorts, there’s a fair bit of outdoorsy gear and clothing, as well as some of my favourite reading: military field manuals! It’s Doomsday Prepper heaven in here:

can never be too badass

They don’t just limit themselves to real bladed weapons; they’ve got a great selection of costume and LARPing weaponry as well!

joey swords

North Carolina

The sun had gone down by the time we set out from Pigeon Forge for our dinner, which was a little farther way from our destination for the evening — Asheville, North Carolina — than we had thought. We were tired, it was dark, and the roads were winding, but after much effort and with the assistance of caffeine and loud country music, we managed to get to Asheville, land a hotel room and were ready to hit the town at 10:00 p.m.

wicked weed menu

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Luckily, Eldon had been here before and knew where to go: the Wicked Weed Brewing Company, where he had enjoyed excellent brew and tasty food during an earlier visit.

wicked weed

We sat down and enjoyed our dinner with a few intriguing-sounding beers, after which the hijinks began. I had the accordion with me, and the placed was packed with revellers. It wasn’t long before we stumbled into a bachelorette party on the pub’s upstairs level:

And on the lower level, we met Imran, who was born in India but sports an accent that is unmistakably from the state of Georgia, and his friends. They kept buying us beers and throwing money at me as I played the accordion. The video below features snippets of what I was playing, with me get progressively more drunk and the pile of bills growing as the night wore on:

I woke up the next morning feeling a bit woozy. I was still earing my jeans, and the pockets feeling rather fluffy. I emptied them to find nearly fifty bucks in small bills that I didn’t start the evening with; clearly it had been a profitable night.


The Making of Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”

praise you

If you like dance music, you’ll enjoy DJ Magazine’s new-ish YouTube series, Game Changers, which takes a look at the creators and making of “the seminal tracks that changed dance music forever”. The latest installment in the series covers one Norman Cook — better known to the world as “big beat” DJ Fatboy Slim — and his 1999 hit Praise You:

Praise You is an important tune for me, as it’s one of the first songs I played on the very first day I took the accordion out onto the streets of Toronto. It’s also the song I played at the wedding where I met Julie and Amanda, who put out a call on Craigslist for witnesses at their wedding:

Word about the wedding got around, and the Toronto Star ended up covering the story, as did Mathew Ingram and MetaFilter.

I’m pleased to see Praise You — which I often slip in as an addendum to Happy Birthday when I play it — getting some love again after all these years.

Also worth watching on Game Changers: their piece on DJ Gerald “A Guy Called Gerald” Simpson and his creation, Voodoo Ray, one of my favourite tracks from the house music era:


The first day of spring!

It’s the first day of spring, so it’s time to enjoy this classic Canadian ditty: The First Day of Spring, by The Gandharvas:


The creeping horror of seat 19F

This has never happened to me on a flight, but if it ever does, I reserve the right to play “This little piggy went to market…”



Trader Joe’s opens in Tampa this Friday

trader joe's tampa - traffic and crowd

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I’ll probably wait for the initial mania to die down or go during the middle of the day — that’s the beauty of having reasonably high rank and a telecommuter in one’s organization — but if you’re in the Accordion Bay area and are dying for Two Buck Chuck, exotic chocolate at Hershey prices, and a slew of interesting sauces, you’re probably already making plans to go to the grand opening of Tampa’s first Trader Joe’s this Friday. It’s located at 3808 W Swann Ave., just west of Dale Mabry, at its regular daily hours, which are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m..

It will have all of 70 parking spaces, about two dozen of which are designated for compact cars. In anticipation of Trader Joe’s mania and some likely asshattery, the City of Tampa is dispatching a half dozen police officers to help direct traffic and keep the shenanigans to a minimum, and the store itself has hired three off-duty cops to keep the peace on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There will be gridlock, and hopefully, there wont be much more than that.

My advice: wait for the hype to die down in a couple of weeks. If you can’t do that, could you pick me up a bottle of their house port?

Find out more about the grand opening at the Tampa Bay Times.


A great day for a bike ride

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I work for GSG from my home office in Accordion Bay, an arrangement that gives me enough flex to carve out time for mid-morning or mid-afternoon exercise sessions. It was a lovely Florida spring day at 24C/75F, and there was just enough time to squeeze in a quick half-hour ride before an afternoon teleconference. My neck of the woods in Tampa offers some lovely views…

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…and as you can see, I’m always happy to break away from the desk and ride, even if only for a little bit:

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I never used a ride-tracking app until I moved here and got T-Mobile’s all-you-can-eat super-unlimited mobile data plan. I’m enjoying MapMyRide:

mapmyride app

I had to keep today’s ride down to a half-hour, but managed to cover just shy of 6 miles, averaging 12 mph, which is slow for road biking, but speedy for sidewalk biking. It’s the complete opposite of what you should be doing, but this is the near-suburbs of Tampa: biking on the road in most places is asking to be turned into chunky salsa. Luckily (?), the sidewalks here are all but deserted, and many cyclists here have adopted them as bike paths. It makes for slower going, but in this neck of the woods,it’s the only non-suicidal approach.