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.

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…

In Pursuit of the Grey Ghost

Serving in the cavalry during the Civil War must have been rather like riding a motorcycle: Adventurous, challenging, the wind in your face, and a wide variety of paths to follow. The chief difference was probably the proportion of the nearby population that was actively trying to shoot you…

The Civil War led to many thousands of heroic actions by dedicated and fearless soldiers who believed passionately in their cause. They were all Americans, before and after the war, but they were bitterly divided by their beliefs. The wisdom and tenacity of President Abraham Lincoln ultimately held the nation together, despite these divisions that are virtually unimaginable today (even in view of our own current political situation). In this report, I focus on one legendary leader, Colonel John Singleton Mosby—the “Grey Ghost”— and his partisan Rangers.

A Z4 Tour of … the Last Potato House in Delaware??

Okay, if you have a fabulous BMW roadster with 215 horsepower, outstanding handling, and flowing lines, what would be its best use? That’s right, you travel in search of a Potato House! No, it’s not like a Pizza Hut, Waffle House, or even an International House o’ Pancakes. A Potato House is something altogether different. And, as best I can tell, there are only two or three remaining in the U.S. Given their questionable historical significance, naturally I had to try to locate one. 

Forts, Shrines, and Galaxy Girls

Scenic history is a wonderful thing, and my faithful BMW Z4 roadster can find it better than almost any other conveyance. But sometimes, history gets moved around. On this trip into Pennsylvania, a number of rather large, unwieldy historic structures were found in the “wrong” places. Fortunately, Yr Fthfl Srvnt is not easily befuddled. Despite what everyone says…

A Z4 Tour of Coal Country and the Occasional Fall Colors

On October 14, I set off to see what I could find in the way of Fall Colors. My route started in Harrisburg, PA and followed a large, clockwise, circular path to the north. As usual, I was also in search of scenery, history, truth, beauty, and driving pleasure—and the faithful BMW Z4 3.0i has never failed to deliver on all of the above.

A Z4 Tour of Haunted Houses—and the Devil’s Own Mercedes

Halloween reminded me of a recent trip through parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. There were plenty of good haunted houses, some with open doors as if to invite the unwary inside. And then there was the eerie black Mercedes Benz SLK that showed up, challenging me, daring me to chase it through the night, only to disappear in the fog.

Other than that, it was a normal BMW jaunt through the countryside.

A Z4 Tour of Maryland Relics

Well, yes—I suppose I do qualify as a “Maryland Relic” myself… 😮 But that’s not the point of this report. This is about a BMW trip through some lesser-known parts of Maryland and the numerous old places that are rapidly disappearing. And a few that are still thriving.