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.

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.

Delmarva, Lost and Found

I trust you all know that “Delmarva” is short for “Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.” It is one of the oldest settled areas in the U.S., with Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, and England settlers squabbling over the land starting as far back as 1566.

The Civil War, Slavery, and Abraham Lincoln: A Z4 Tour of Washington, DC & Maryland

My trip began on the Friday before Christmas and quickly became a vivid reminder of the gross differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” in Colonial and Civil War times in the United States. As always, my faithful and ever-willing BMW Z4 conveyed me from one destination to another in comfort and style—a far cry from the horses, wagons, and carriages that plied these roads in years gone by.

My BMW Z4 Has Driven Me To The Poorhouse

And what better way to get there? I even got a tour of the place, and I didn’t have to move in. But let’s start at the beginning. On November 10, I set off to explore the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. I was expecting interesting and challenging roads, beautiful (and hilly) scenery, and little-known historical sites, and I wasn’t let down.

Indian Hannah and the Stargazers Stone

You never know what a BMW/Z4 road trip will lead to. My latest one involved missing shadows, ringing rocks, a beautiful young Mexican cliff diver, The Blob, and a search for Indian Hannah and the Stargazer’s Stone, which sounds suspiciously like a Harry Potter novel. And, of course, the usual historic ruins and tragedy.

Mineral Springs, Sanatoriums, and Dirty Dancing: A “Then and Now” BMW Tour of Virginia

The hills of southwestern Virginia are a wonderful place to relax, enjoy the outdoors, go sightseeing, and try the mineral springs. In the late 1700s and most of the 1800s, people flocked to the resorts and spas around Roanoke for exactly these reasons. Today, however, only a handful of these places survive. What happened to the others? And where was Dirty Dancing really filmed?

Almost Heaven: The Hudson River Valley by Z4

My most recent Z4 tour started with the top of a mountain, a sudden rainstorm, and two new friends, and it ended with a world-class collection of BMW motorcycles and automobiles. In-between were some of the most interesting and beautiful sights I’ve seen on any of my GS and Z4 trips. Continue on, faithful readers, and see if you agree…