The Drummer, the Private Eye, and Me (Rush Fans Take Note)

What follows is a true story, involving Neil Peart, Michael Mosbach, and Yr Fthfl Srvnt. As most of you probably know, Neil is the drummer and lyricist for the progressive rock band Rush, and many experts consider him to be the best living drummer in the world. Michael is a private investigator from Los Angeles. He is also head of security whenever Rush is on tour, since Neil considers him to be the best P.I. in the world. As for me, well, I’m just the luckiest guy in the world. But let’s begin at the beginning…

An Aston Martin at the Battle of Cedar Creek

So what is the best way to check out a newly acquired 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage? In the immortal words of Otter from Animal House, “Road trip!” Accordingly, in early May I set off to do two of my most favorite things: go for an exciting drive, and look for historic, scenic, and otherwise-interesting places in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Everyone knows the Civil War battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, but not many know the significance of the Battle of Cedar Creek. Yet it was a critical point that almost produced a decisive victory for the South, which would have jeopardized the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. Ultimately, it proved to be a major Union victory, sufficient to end the Confederacy’s potential to win the war.

A BMW Tour of Fall Colors (and Haunted Houses)

BMWs are great for spirited riding or driving—and if you use that ability to visit scenic and historically interesting places, then you have an unbeatable combination. With that goal in mind, I set off in late October to find out whether Pennsylvania or West Virginia had the best Fall Colors. Along the way, I encountered no small number of historical haunted houses, just in time for Halloween. My path first took me through Gettysburg.

Ports—Royal and Otherwise (Rappahannock River Ride)

Having often explored the Maryland side of the Potomac River, I thought I’d try the Virginia shore for a change. And for good measure, I decided to work in the Rappahannock River, since I knew little about it. The river was originally named by Native Americans, naturally, and is said to mean “the river that rises and falls” or, possibly, “river of quick, rising water.” The Rappahannock runs roughly 195 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay.

West Virginia: Following the Footsteps of George Washington—in an Aston Martin

Recently, on another forum, I was asked what is my favorite State for touring. After reflecting a bit, I responded, “It’s tough to pick a favorite state, but it would have to be West Virginia. Awesome scenery (in several ways), tons of history, and terrific roads.” And the question prompted me to take my next Aston Martin tour there. And what better way to explore than to follow the historical footprints of George Washington?

The National Road (or, A Typical Tour of Defeat, Surrender, Scandal, and Murder)

After a long, wintertime layoff from touring, it was time to put aside the income taxes and get the valiant BMW 335i convertible back out on the road. My goal was to visit some new spots along the original National Road in western Maryland and southwestern Pennsylvania—and to break an automobile hill-climb record that has stood for 105 years. Along the way, I found a Half-King, a Half-Brother, and the usual amount of scandal, murder, and mayhem. What more could I ask for?

The Eve of Antietam: A Tale of Two Mountains and Three Cigars

On December 21, with Christmas fast approaching and much remaining to be done, I decided that it was the perfect time for another Aston Martin road trip. I was in search of the prelude to the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War. At the risk of offending Mr. Dickens, my trip would involve “A Tale of Two Mountains and Three Cigars.” Even better, I found many places bringing back memories of my childhood.

What Used To Be: A BMW Tour of the Delaware River’s Lost and Forgotten

You all know the old joke, right? “Why does New York have all the lawyers and New Jersey all the toxic waste sites? Because New Jersey got first choice.” Well, New Jersey gets a bum rap; it actually has at least several scenic or historic places that are perfect for exploration…

Okay, all joking aside, it actually has hundreds or even thousands of such places, and I managed to find quite a number of them.

An Aston Martin at the Battle of Cedar Creek

So what is the best way to check out a newly acquired 2007 Aston Martin V8 Vantage? In the immortal words of Otter from Animal House, “Road trip!” Accordingly, in early May I set off to do two of my most favorite things: go for an exciting drive, and look for historic, scenic, and otherwise-interesting places in the Mid-Atlantic area.

Everyone knows the Civil War battles of Gettysburg and Antietam, but not many know the significance of the Battle of Cedar Creek. Yet it was a critical point that almost produced a decisive victory for the South, which would have jeopardized the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. Ultimately, it proved to be a major Union victory, sufficient to end the Confederacy’s potential to win the war.

Heroes, Villains, and Cottages by the Sea: New England by BMW

Nothing eats up miles faster than a turbocharged BMW. Not everyone would agree with this statement, but, to quote Mark Twain, “The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.”

On this trip, I was looking for the “cottages” of the rich and famous. It took 3 hours to get to Haskell, New Jersey—and shortly thereafter, I was on foot and hopelessly lost in the woods.

A Tale of Vengeance (Visiting Ohio’s Indian Battlegrounds, by BMW)

“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.” In the late 1700s, neither the American Indians nor the colonial settlers paid the slightest attention to this well-known scripture. I thought of it often as my best friend Buzz and I toured Ohio, searching for the locations of once-great Native American villages and finding the many areas where brutal depredations were traded between the warring parties. Vengeance was repeatedly sought—and found—by both groups.

On the Roof of the World: West Virginia by BMW

Looking over the side of the road at the tops of trees, it was easy to imagine that I was on the very roof of the world. The absence of guardrails, and the toy-like appearance of farms and cows far below, only reinforced this impression. In reality, the elevations were only a fourth of so of the roads I’ve driven in the Alps, but the impression was no less vivid. West Virginia is still one of the most visually vertical places anywhere, and that implies that it also has some of the most interesting roads anywhere!

Mansions in the Snow, and the Darker Side of History

I know that my BMW 335i is a mechanical object, devoid of personal feelings. Yet I sensed that this extraordinary car shared my excitement at—finally—setting off on another road trip. What else would explain its over-eagerness? A slight push on the accelerator unleashed far more power than I intended, and the car urged forward at a faster pace through every corner. Such are companions in adventure.

Touring New York and New England, In Search of Lavender, Sam, and Alice

I stood on the banks of the Hudson River, just across from New York City. But I wasn’t after cities—I was searching for Lavender, Sam, and Alice. Poor, lost Lavender would be the hardest to track down: she became the protagonist of America’s most enduring ghost story back in the 1940s. Sam was one of the country’s best racing drivers in the 1960s and 1970s. And Alice was a colorful and free-spirited counterculture icon in the 1960s, immortalized in Arlo Guthrie’s magnificent song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”

Deepest West Virginia: A BMW Tour of Southern Coal Country

West Virginia is justifiably famous for its mountains, rivers, and (among driving enthusiasts) its superb mountain roads. My goal in late April was to sample more of these roads—and to see what was left of the coal mining industry that used to predominate in the southern part of the state. In addition, I was pretty sure that I could find a good story or two among the forgotten towns and beautiful rural scenery. In the process, I went far underground twice (although the BMW stayed topside and out of trouble, for once!)

Gone and Goner: The Ghost Towns of the New Jersey Pine Barrens (Part I)

I’d heard all the sensational stories about the New Jersey Pine Barrens: how the company towns had all died out, how the residents were “feeble-minded, uneducated drunkards” (to quote a 1912 heredity study), and how the infamous winged “Jersey Devil” had terrorized the area for more than 200 years. It all sounded too good to be true! Keeping in mind the cautionary advice of the Soothsayer to Julius Caeser in 44 BC (“Beware the Ides of March”), I set off on March 15 to see these things for myself. I was not disappointed…

Virginia’s Fort Valley and Fortified Houses, by BMW (Part II)

I couldn’t wait to start the second day of my search for Virginia’s “fortified houses” from the 1700s. As detailed in Part I of this report, early settlers often built stone houses designed to protect their families in case of Indian attacks, and a few of these places still exist. After a hearty breakfast at the Mimslyn Inn, I was eager to find more of them. Little did I know how very lucky I would be on this second day: a guided tour of the finest such property in the state, by a (probable) descendant of its original builder.

Virginia’s Fort Valley and Fortified Houses, by BMW (Part I)

A few weeks ago, with Christmas rapidly approaching and much yet to be done, I decided to squeeze in a BMW road trip to Virginia. Practicality be danged! On December 20, I set off in search of forts, both natural and manmade. In particular, I was looking for any remaining “fortified houses,” built in the mid-1700s as protection against raids by hostile Native Americans. The result was 2 fun-filled days of driving, exploration, and photography—the perfect antidote to the “holiday blahs.”

A BMW Tour of Fall Colors (and Haunted Houses)

BMWs are great for spirited riding or driving—and if you use that ability to visit scenic and historically interesting places, then you have an unbeatable combination. With that goal in mind, I set off in late October to find out whether Pennsylvania or West Virginia had the best Fall Colors. Along the way, I encountered no small number of historical haunted houses, just in time for Halloween. My path first took me through Gettysburg.

The Snake, the Dragon, and Phil: A BMW Tour of Tennessee and North Carolina

As I hurtled the 2013 BMW 335i through the unending corners of the “Tail of the Dragon,” I thought of my friend Phil. I pictured him in his 1957 Porsche Speedster, executing a flawless heel-and-toe downshift and sliding the beautiful black sports car through similar corners. Before riding in Phil’s Speedster, and in his father’s 1962 Austin-Healey 3000, I never knew that cars could perform like this. Those rides were an awesome revelation to a car-crazy 14-year-old. This trip to Tennessee and North Carolina was in honor of Phil—and, sadly, to attend his funeral.

The Catskills Mountains “Borscht Belt”: Here and Gone, Part II

Rodney Dangerfield: In my house I can’t relax. I told my kid, “Someday you’ll have children of your own.” He said, “So will you.”

Like George Burns, Woody Allen, and many others, Rodney Dangerfield was a regular performer throughout the Catskills “Borscht Belt” circuit. Now the resorts are closed and the stages are in ruins. But there is beauty, even in yesterday’s forgotten and deteriorating places, not to mention the mountains, lakes, and rivers for which this area is famous. The second half of my tour was every bit as exciting as the first.

The Catskills Mountains “Borscht Belt”: Here and Gone, Part I

A man is hit by a car while crossing a Beverly Hills street. A woman rushes to him and cradles his head in her lap, asking, “Are you comfortable?” The man answers, “I make a decent living.”

Milton Berle got laughs from that joke on stages throughout the Catskills Mountains in Sullivan County, New York. In 1952, the prime of the “Borscht Belt” Golden Era, Sullivan County had 538 resort hotels, 1,000 rooming houses, and 50,000 vacation bungalows. By the late 1960s, the great majority of these buildings were abandoned, burned, and/or bankrupt. But the land, the walls, and their stories remain—making for an extraordinary modern-day tour.