A Tour to the Tower by Mike Bozart - HTML preview
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I had been to Blowing Rock (NC) dozens of times, but I had never done the Flat Top Mountain hike in the Moses Cone Memorial Park. After doing some research online, I saw that there was an accessible fire tower atop this mountain. Now, I really wanted to go up there, and very soon. It looked very amenable to a psecret psociety pshort pstory.
Once we were hiking, I wondered what story fragments we would stumble upon. I was certain that some premium thoughts would be evoked on this hike. I knew a tale was hanging on the ledge of a cliff.
When the desk calendar showed an open March Sunday and Monday, we (Monique, Agent 32, and I, Agent 33) decided to head northwest out of Charlotte in our old Plymouth Voyager van, dubbed The Green Utot (Utot is Tagalog for fart), and give it a whirl.
It started as a foggy drizzle in the piedmont. As we climbed the Blue Ridge escarpment on US 321 North, the weather changed to a sleety rain, and the temperature dropped from 47° F in central Lenoir to 35° F at Blackberry Road.
“Wow! The temperature dropped 12 degrees in just 16 miles, Monique. [Agent 32’s code name] Some major orographic cooling.”
“Orographic cooling? You’re such a geo-nerdo, Parkaar. [my ailing alias] I take it that you have the DAR (Digital Audio Recorder) on.”
I nodded. Monique just rolled her eyes and sighed.
The LED trip odometer hit 100 miles right as we rolled past the WELCOME TO BLOWING ROCK sign. It was only noon. Check-in time at our motel was 2 PM. Thus, we had some time to mill.
We kept going north on US 321 and stopped with the rain and sleet in Boone. How nice of the precip to move eastward.
We needed some sundry supplies, so we pulled into the Super Walmart. Agent 551’s memo came to mind: Do these spandex shorts give me moose knuckles? Ah, it doesn’t matter; we’re just going to Walmart, anyway.
Then Monique looked at me. “Need to hit the kapper krapper, Parkaar?”
“No, I think I’m ok for now, 32. I can wait for the motel.”
I began to wonder as I looked at the low clouds ripping by. Kapper krapper? Spelled with k’s, I’m sure. Is Agent 563 feeding me her lines via a cell phone? Maybe I’m just a wee brillig. Brillig from the troves of joves and stoves and groves, or whatever Agent 517 said on the psecret psociety facebook page. Who died and made him Lord of the Shit Stools? That is a quote from Agent 504. Why am I rethinking such scat.
“Icy, I see,” I said as we exited the van and began a long trek across the crunchy parking lot. “Watch your step, Monique.”
“Will do with these new shoes, 33.”
We entered the mega-store. After wandering around aimlessly for about ten minutes, we found what we needed. Once in the checkout line, I noticed an interesting tabloid headline: ‘Are You Running For God?’ I did a double-take. Wow! Agent 564 posted that. Does she work for this publication?
The cashier was a white female college student. She asked us where we were from. Agent 54’s memo came to mind.
“Well, we’re not singing Arrivaderci, Roma,” I said, hoping I pronounced the Italian words sufficiently.
“Ah, so you guys are from Charlotte?” What?
“Uh, yeah,” I said. How did she know?
“That’s un-canned and wacky!” Monique exclaimed.
I slowly handed the cashier the cash, but my neural circuits were accelerating the thoughts. Wow, Monique just said Agent 400’s word! My brain is entangled in a myriad of agential stimuli. Myriad, why, that’s Agent 142’s word! Stop this machine! Let me out of this tunnel of magnificently magnified words. Oh, no; that’s Agent 441’s phrase. I’m trapped. Mind-doomed in a mined tomb. And that’s Agent 288’s terminology. Stop this circular circus!
We left the store without an arresting incident, and were soon in our motel room (11) at Alpine Village Inn. We started canoodling, just as Agent 1 suggested.
The travel stress abated. Flip. Keep. Switch. Mr. Cunnilingus had arrived right on the spot, as Agent 544 had forecast.
“Monique, what is a lick of sense?” I wilily asked.
“Not sure, Parkaar, but you can surely taste it.”
“Backwash,” I shouted. Agent 509’s word jumped right out of my mouth.
“What did you say, 33?!” Silly boy.
“Oh, it’s not important now, or even later. But, it’s time to eat food, Monique.”
“Yes, I’m hungry,” she said while getting redressed.
Soon we were at Mi Caretta Mexican Restaurant after an elevated sidewalk stroll down Main Street. The Mexican-appearing hostess seated us. Soon another sister-to-the-hostess-appearing-waitress took our order. All was moving at a tranquil 2.3 knots per hour. Loose languid knots.
The food arrived 11:11 later. Well, maybe not exactly 671 seconds later. 11:11 would look interesting in print. Such I thought as I looked at the four-tined fork.
The south-of-the-lower-48 food was in a commonly used Spanish word: delicioso. Monique devoured the Texas fajitas. I tried to be Mr. Healthy and had a vegetarian side sampler.
And, par for the curse, [sic] we left copies of previous short stories – just like the one you are reading now – in the bathrooms, in the wine list, and in the bill holder. Must keep spreading this literary virus.
The night at the inn was largely uneventful, except for a rumbling sound at 3:03 AM.
“What is that noise?” Monique asked.
“It’s not my stomach this time,” I replied.
“Well, it sure is not mellifluous to my ears.” What?
“Hey, did Agent 50 text you that word, Agent 32?”
“What in the world are you talking about?” He needs to go back to sleep. Always crazy talk when he wakes up in the middle of the night.
The noise suddenly ceased and we drifted back into a confused sleep. Our dreams started, but then stopped before any conclusion could be drawn. Or even traced.
At 8:08 AM, we rolled into a prime parking space at Cone Manor (Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 294). It was a balmy 24° F as we walked past Moses Cone’s mansion.
“Ready for a frosty 5.6-mile hike, Monique?”
“The tower is that far away?” Over eleven miles of hiking?!
“No, that’s the roundtrip distance.” Thank God!
“Ok, I guess I can do 2.8 miles before taking a break, 33.”
“Oh, we can take breaks, Agent 32. This isn’t army boot camp.” Yey.
We walked past the carriage house and then passed through a narrow tunnel under the parkway. The trail was actually wide enough, gently-sloped enough, and smooth enough for a car. It was an easy walk on the very fine gravel. So far, so good. Piece o’ frozen cake.
We passed a man and his son and exchanged friendly greetings. They looked a little tired, but were still moving ok.
Soon we were at the Cone Grave. It was one large headstone with two much smaller adjacent ones. The graves were surrounded by a green wrought iron fence with a locked gate. Why is this locked up?
“I wonder why we can’t go in there, 33.”
“They don’t want anyone to steal the flowers, Monique.”
“But, there are no flowers, Parkaar!”
“Now, did you take them, 32? If you did, I won’t tell anyone; your absconsion is safe with me.” Absconsion?
“Listen, I know that you’re just saying bizarre things because you have that damn audio recorder going.”
“Well, yeah; that’s my thing.” His thing? Oh, joy!
We recommenced our hike and soon arrived at a vast meadow. In fact, it looked like an alpine meadow.
This is an acme sledding hill, Monique.” Acme?
“Acme? What does that mean?”
“The best, the high point. Look how long this run is. And the slope is not too steep, nor too slight. It has no rocks, barbed-wire fences, roads, or creeks. And it ends with a gentle upslope to bring the sled to a safe stop. It would be a regal sled run.”
“You are almost 50! You are too old for sledding, Agent 33.” She’s probably right.
We then noticed some shortcuts that traversed the white dormant grass field like dark brown magic-marker lines.
“Should we take that goat path, Agent 32?”
“How do you know that a goat made that path?”
“Oh, it’s just slang for a shortcut across a field or lawn. I remember hearing it at UNCC.”
“Well, the sign said to stay off the shortcuts, 33.”
“Ok, let’s abide by the signage and get in the total distance for full credit.”
“Why do people want to take shortcuts on a hike? Isn’t the point to burn as many calories as possible while taking in all the sights along the trail?”
“Good point, 32. Maybe some faster hikers use it as a passing lane.”
Just then, a lone middle-age Caucasian woman with an ASU sweatshirt passed us. She was hiking at a brisk pace.
“Did you see that gun on her belt?” Monique asked. Gun?
“No, I missed that detail, 32.”
“You are probably the most unobservant agent, Parkaar. So lost in your obliviousity, [sic] you are.” I like that word.
“Now, that’s a keeper, Monique. I’ll be importing that word. I’ll elevate it to the top rung, where it will be duly dried and hung.” Hung dung.
After a series of a dozen switchbacks under leafless, hoary-barked trees, we arrived at the 44-foot metal tower. We carefully climbed up a few levels. The wind howled through the structure. The gray metal was ice-cold.
Blowing Rock could easily be seen in the valley below. It was a sunny, clear, crisp day now. We could see the snow on the northern ski runs of Sugar Mountain. We could also see the manmade ridgeline eyesore: Sugar Top.
“Hey, want to go up farther, Monique?”
“No, I think that I already have vertigo, 33.”
We descended. Very carefully. Step by step. Must not have a medical mishap up here. It could take several hours for the paramedics to get here.
I then noticed a bit of scratched-on graffiti on the lowest section: A TOWERING LIABILITY
I took the last step down to terra firma and began thinking about that graffiti. Most likely scratched by a safety guy or gal. Why, for sure.
We had a carbo-lunch on a lightning-struck fallen tree next to the tower. It was still a little chilly, but at least there were no summer insects. The wind whispered syllables in some foreign language. Feuillese?
On the way down, we passed a young, sprightly Asian couple going up.
“Well, those were the fifth and sixth persons that we’ve encountered, 32.”
“No, 33, they were six and seven. Remember the man with the dog?”
“How did you know that that was the person I forgot to count?”
“I know you better than you know you.”
Now, an aside: We never saw the blue concrete lizard. However, we did hear some commotion up ahead when we got back to the large alpine meadow. These sounds alternated between animalistic and human.
Monique turned left and started down the longer shortcut across the wide, horseless pasture. We didn’t talk until we reached the carriage house.
I left a similar short story in the men’s restroom. As I walked out, a hiker walked in. Enjoy the free krapper kaper.