Brand building through storytelling

Rewards and wrong turns on the road to Sarasota

Toronto, where we live, and Sarasota, where we’re spending this month, share a bond right now: in both cities the cold has everyone grousing. I headed out grocery-shopping today in a cashmere sweater, a wool jacket and leather boots (so much for sandal fantasies). But if I’d been stuck at home, I’d have reached for my longjohns, my sheepskin hat, my bear-paw gloves and a coat so heavy, it makes my shoulders ache. And then, much as I hate to join the weather wusses, I’d have vented with the best of them. Bottom line: I’m in no hurry to get home.

The drive here took us four days of unlikely discoveries and unforeseen glitches. Why so long? First of all, I stopped driving years ago, for reasons best known to those who once had to drive behind me. Second, our road trip prompted friends in South Carolina to throw a New Year’s Eve party in our honour at their home on secluded Fripp Island, which is many a meandering mile from the usual snowbird routes. So I’ve been a tad slow to fill you in on the memorable moments:

Biggest automotive annoyance Figuring out, in the dark, where the engineers at Acura had tucked the seldom-used hood release on our car. Under the left front dashboard, the manual promised. Now, I may not know much about cars but I’ve learned a thing or two about words. And having crawled around in dirty snow looking for the hood release, in the second of two locations where we’d pulled off the highway in search of light, I can assure you that said hood release is nowhere near the dashboard. Whoever wrote that manual deserves to be impaled on the pen of a sadistic editor. Have I told you it had been a filthy, windshield-smearing drive and that unless he topped up the wiper fluid, my husband couldn’t see the road? Well, now you know.

Most restorative discovery The handsome and cosseting Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where we spent our first night in a four-poster bed. Built in 1898 and recently restored to faux Romanesque glory (soaring ceilings, arches galore, a lobby worthy of a minor cathedral), the Blennerhassett was a fitting reward for a wearisome drive that brought out the worst in both of us. You should have seen how we mellowed after dinner and a bottle of wine from a list that went on for pages. We could have spent half as much at a roadside motel but if you ask me, the other half is marital therapy.

Most unexpectedly complicated stop Statesville, North Carolina, a peaceful place of broad streets, tall trees, white church spires and, as far as we could tell, not one downtown establishment to serve us lunch. Two places could have sold us a gun, but looking for a sandwich in Statesville is like shopping for a cherry-red sweater in a year when the fashion cops have decided cherry red does not exist. At last we caught sight of a promising sign: the It Don’t Matter Cafe. I could practically smell bacon fat and taste homemade corn bread! Wouldn’t you know, it was closed. Oh, well. At least Statesville had ATMs—one of which is where my husband, blindsided by traveller’s distraction, had the misfortune to leave his VISA card.

Most significant missed opportunity Statesville barbecue, apparently such a big deal that even Torontonians know the legend. At least my friend Helen does, and she was quick to set me straight, via Twitter, when I griped about the lack of lunch options in Statesville.

Friendliest sales help Sisters of tiny Camden, South Carolina, where the voluble owner (co-owner, actually; she’s got a sister) gave my husband the scoop on the town, its history and the charming B&B she just knew we’d love while I got busy in her fitting room. Sisters is one of those small-town boutiques that sell a little bit of everything from evening shoes to earrings—and just one of every size in every outfit, because you wouldn’t want to wear it to a party and see your friend dressed exactly the same, now would you, honey?

We never would have gone to Sisters—or Camden, for that matter—if not for a fellow diner the previous night in Columbia, whose smashing red satin jacket I coveted. My husband, thoughtful guy, asked her where she bought it and was smilingly directed to the sale at Sisters. Not one red satin jacket remained, but I’m still glad we stopped at Sisters for a crash course in southern hospitality. If not for some extremely pointed remarks about getting to our friends’ place in time for dinner, we might still be shooting the breeze there.

Most unforgettable southern dish My friend Annie’s signature potato casserole, an addictive and flagrantly retro melange of frozen home fries, cream of chicken soup, sour cream and grated cheese. Back home, I shun the freezer case and hand-pick my Yukon golds from the best stall at St. Lawrence Market. It’s been decades since I last cooked with Campbell’s soup. I may never cook Annie’s recipe, which she kindly shared with me, because my husband’s trying to lose weight. But I’ll treasure the memory. And as Annie mischievously points out, her dish is not entirely lacking in healthful ingredients: it’s topped with crumbled Special K.

Posted by Rona

Leave a Reply

Stay up-to-date with Rona.

To see what’s on my mind these days, friend me on Facebook.

Miss my old site?

Visit the archive to find your favorite blog posts and Chatelaine editorials or browse my published articles. Sorry, I’m not blogging anymore.