If you’ve been following this miniseries up till now, you’ll know this wasn’t our best week. Between my infirmities and our frequent bouts of disappointment from half the attractions we visited, this was not Best Trip Ever. At all, in any way imaginable. Least of all from the Natural Bridge area, from their zoo to the Visitor Center.
Until we got under the Bridge.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.
Our 2007 drive down to Orlando had one personal milestone for me: my first contact with the Atlantic Ocean. My moment lasted about ten minutes before thunderstorms chased us away from the coast. As Atlantic beach experiences go, Florida gave me a lousy first impression. For 2008 we decided a second try was in order. Rather than take back-to-back trips to the same state, we researched other east-coast beach options, judged them by their nearby attractions, adjusted for our modest budget that couldn’t possibly afford upper-class oceanfront accommodations, and settled on what we hoped would be a suitable sequel.
Thus in this year of our Lord did we declare: the Goldens are going to Virginia Beach!
Access to Natural Bridge was overpriced at the time (at least $20, as I recall), but it was pretty and massive. 215 feet tall, 90 feet long — pure, solid rock carved by nature, not by man.
The grounds also include a simulated Native American village (see also: the Jamestown Settlement), a cave allegedly filled with bat guano (entrance prohibited), and free admission to “The Story of Creation”, a nightly light show performed at the bridge (hours too late for our schedule). In the park’s favor, they did offer shuttle service between the gift shop and the trail that leads to the bridge. The driver was so friendly and so right-place-right-time, I think I tipped him better than I’d tipped some of the week’s waitresses.
As we left, we found that US Highway 11 south was paved right over the Natural Bridge itself. Somehow that didn’t seem right, but I admit it would be a shame to have that nice, sturdy bridge and not give us the opportunity to traverse it at least once.
Our final hotel of the week was less than an hour away in Roanoke, lodged into a hillside. Thanks to either computer error or employee illiteracy, we were assigned to a smoking room that reeked of Mad Men and had burn scars on the bathtub. On the plus side, the room was right next door to the continental breakfast buffet room and right next to where I’d parked. Convenience outweighed nasal comfort for once. We stayed put and didn’t complain. Instead we propped the door open for an hour and turned up the A/C unit full blast while we unpacked and unwound. Our unanimous gagging sensation abated with time.
For still more convenience, the hotel offered a discount on dinner next door at the Great 611 Steak Company. It was named after a renowned train of local yore. In basic terms, it was a de facto Ponderosa buffet. The food was sufficient for our needs. The waitress was southern hospitality in the flesh, despite having to divide her attention between us and her tagalong trainee. She did manage to find time to share details about her family life with us. After happening to us so many times this week, I got the impression this sort of first-time tell-all fellowship is customary among Virginia diners.
Our last night on the road was spent uneventfully in front of the hotel TV and an edited showing of Terminator 2, which my son had never seen. The bed was the firmest and most comfortable of all the beds I’d tried out all week. I still had to be careful with my positioning, but I’d truly, deeply missed the simple pleasure to be had in just…lying down. Not sleeping in a chair. Not writhing. Not switching positions every ten minutes. Lying down, lying still, and sleeping through measurable hours.
…and that, by which I mean Parts 12 through 14 of this miniseries, is the story of how we spent our fourth wedding anniversary.
We did get one gift out of it, courtesy of my son — something we’d been failing to find all week long.
To be concluded!
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