Guest Blogger – The Discerning Dog
I’m getting up in years. Going to be 77 in a few months. I love to spend as much time with my family as I can. Though my ears still perk up and head still swivels when I hear the words “go for a walk outside,” I don’t go nearly as far as I used to when I was a young pup. Even after a quickie around the block I get to limping.
That said, I am always up for a new adventure, some new smells and the potential to meet new friends and, if I am lucky, try some new food. While I have a nice fenced-in backyard and can still muster the energy to chase a yard rat – also known as a squirrel – I like to get away. I am always up for a road trip.
The signals that indicate an imminent trip are easy to recognize. My humans gather things like jackets, gloves and other warm clothes. Apparently they are going somewhere chilly, because they are packing extra fur. Then, they pick up my bowl for water and the big white towels and put everything in the backseat of the car. Ears are at attention. My special water bottle is filled. I know it’s mine because it never comes out of the drawer below the cat food storage unless we are going somewhere good.
But the real indication is when they open the drawer with the bags and the leash and start tying newspaper sleeves to the handle (why they like to pick up where I left off, I’ll never know). Even if I am a bit sore, I leap onto the chair and stretch my neck out and stay still so they can put it on and kiss my face. Then the words come. “Do you want to go for a ride in the car?” Yes! Yes! Of course I do! What are you, an idiot? Haven’t I trained you? Let’s go. Let’s go!
Off we go, out the door. My nemesis and best friend the cat will be home alone. Just the thought of getting in the car makes him throw up. This seems to be something new because he was fine when he rode from San Francisco to Charlotte many years ago. Now he just yells and pukes anytime we all go somewhere with the humans (usually to the place where people probe, poke and stab me with things called shots.)
Fine with me if we leave him at home. I get some alone time with Mike & Jill while he just tucks himself under the bed covers and sleeps the day away. Doesn’t even yell when somebody comes to the door or walks by on the street. Cats. What good are they, really? On the other hand, he always cleans my ears really well so I guess he’s O.K.
We are going for a ride in the car to the mountains for a fun afternoon. A dog can tell even subtle changes in elevation. We pant a little more. Even though I only see black and white, it’s a black and white with so many subtleties humans can’t even imagine. No brag. Just fact. Anyway, the leaves are changing color and this might be the peak weekend to see them in their full, fall glory.
It’s a perfect day. The drive is smooth and lasts about two hours. The air is crisp and the back window is cracked open for me. My nose delights in all of the different smells. Our destination is Asheville, North Carolina.
There are a few ways to get there from Charlotte but since the gas gauge is on empty, they decide to go south on I-85 into South Carolina where gas is much cheaper. We’ll pick up the back roads in Gaffney and hook up with I-26 and head north. Gaffney is known for the water tower that looks like a giant peach, or to me, a giant butt with a hemorrhoid that is aptly located on Peachoid Road. Dogs notice these things.
The humans have a craving for sushi (whatever that is). It smells like fish, which, in a pinch, I would eat. I listen in as they use something called an iPhone and look for someplace that will satisfy them. One of the reviews that pops out is for a place called Umi in Hendersonville, about 25 miles south of Ashville.
We’re all skeptical about the reviews comparing it to NOBU and other fine Japanese restaurants of the world. One review even accuses the folks at the restaurant of planting the reviews. So now we are now on a fact-finding mission.
Jill tries to coax cousins to join us but their schedule doesn’t permit so it’s just us. They have cats and birds in their house so it’s always good to see them and give them a thorough sniff down. Too bad I won’t get a chance this trip. As a poodle would say, “C’est la vie!”
On first approach, Mike and Jill growl at each other because we are in the right lane but the restaurant is on the left so we have to go around in a big circle because of the one-way streets. We pull into the parking lot and the windows are opened. Darn. That means I have to wait in the car and miss out on the food. It’s okay. I like the scents that are carried in on the breeze so I will be quite happy out here.
When they return, Mike & Jill can’t stop talking about how incredible the food is. One sniff of their hands tells me that it must be wonderful. The online reviews must be by real people! Mike & Jill are already talking about how they need to come back soon.
The way they tell it, the building is pretty cool inside and out with lots of wood and stone. Mike & Jill choose to sit at the sushi bar where John is busy making rolls.
As soon as they order, John hands them a bowl of something delicious. It isn’t something that is on the menu that’s included with the meal so they are puzzled. And they don’t really understand John when he tells them what it is. Let me tell you something. If I went to Japan and met up with an Akita, we could bark and growl and sniff and nip each other and understand exactly what we saying. Humans! Go figure.
I catch wind of it and find that it has what seems to be a very high-grade of imitation crab. Jill can be very snobby and doesn’t like imitation crab but this is the exception. I love my vegetables so I quickly pick up on the smell of lettuce, carrots and shredded cabbage. But there is something else in there that I can’t put my nose on, little bits of fried somethings. What ever it is, it sets my schnoz a quivering. I wish they got some to bring home, enough to live on for at least the next few days! Yes, it is that good!
The ginger dressing on the green salad has hints of mango but I can’t be sure because I don’t have that very often. I’m surprised that I can even get a whiff because that and the order of pork gyoza (not on the lunch menu $5) must have been inhaled. The miniscule lingering scent is heavenly.
They obviously maximized their experience, and decided to graze by splitting a couple of entrees. I can tell because of a thorough inspection of all 20 fingers. The layered scents tell me that they started with the lunch special of 2 sushi rolls for $8.50. They chose the Spicy Tuna and Spicy Scallop rolls. They prefer ponzu sauce over soy because it’s a bit lighter, with a hint of citrus. All delicious but I would prefer them to use a little less wasabi in their ponzu sauce. Although it makes them laugh when I keep sneezing.
Next is an order of the Thai Green Curry Chicken ($7.95). It has a nice kick to it and reminds them of a Thai restaurant they used to go to in Denver (Taste of Thailand) where what is cooked is determined by what is coming out of the garden. Umi is just as fabulous, though, and it’s a 2-hour drive away rather than a 2-hour flight.
From what they say, the atmosphere is very nice, lots of wood and stone. The total tab for their gluttony of memorable morsels is a mere $23. They can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time they’ll bring me a doggie bag.
Sitting at the sushi bar next to them was a couple from Asheville. After swapping some tips on restaurants and places to stay in Charlotte and Asheville, the wife races out to the car to meet me. I guess Mike & Jill told her how much I love attention because she gives me a good scratching and lots of love. I could smell her tiny dog all over her clothes, but the aroma of the bento box she had with shrimp tempura, California roll and bean sprout salad is more enticing. I can tell that it was delicious.
After a total sniff-down I am excited that Mike is touching the leash. Yay! We’re going for a walk outside! I don’t care how much these old bones ache, I can’t wait to get out and explore. I’m told the trees are covered with leaves that are orange and red. I’ll take their word for it.
It looks like there is grass to sniff if we walk away from the downtown shops. We pass a couple of little B&Bs that look cute. The grass in front of one of them is luscious so I give it my seal of approval with a good roll. It’s so soft and comfy, I’m tempted stay for a while but I want to explore.
I’m not even limping so we decide to walk down Main Street through the quaint downtown area. We pass the Mast General Store, although Jill stops for a moment to check out the sale racks outside. At the end of the fist block, I enjoy some fresh, clean water that’s cooled by a large ice-cube in a blue bowl. The ice is a nice touch. This place is so civilized.
On the next block, I sample a few sips from another bowl. This one is clean but no ice so only a few slurps are necessary. Mike walks past people sitting outside, drinking coffee and reading. I really want to go over and see if they might have dropped a morsel of food but my pack leader is on the move. Jill makes it across the street before the light changes but we don’t. Happily, this gives me a chance to see who’s been hanging out by the garbage can.
Another bowl of water but this one has sediment on the bottom. I’m more interested in what’s going on across the street. I think someone over there might have some food they want to give me. It takes a couple of gentle pulls on my leash to refocus my attention.
We get to the corner and there’s on of those Arrrf Arrrf doggies. You know the ones with a Scottish brogue. He’s all up in my face acting like William Wallace (Braveheart) or something. And I’m just, “Oh brother, please.”
The last bowl of water had leaves in it. Obviously this one had not been refreshed in a while. I can be as snobby as Jill when is comes to things not being up to snuff. There’s no way I’m drinking that sludge.
Jill & I wait outside while Mike gets a cup of coffee. I lie down – all the way down-good dog – in the sun for some prime people and canine watching. All dogs must know that I am the calm, alpha dog because, other than the little dust-up with the Scottish Dust Mop, no one tries to pick a fight.
It’s time to head home but instead of taking the fast way, we take the back roads of Highway 64 and Business 74 through apple country.
Since it’s apple season, there are many roadside stands that dot the highway. I love apples. Especially fall when the Honeycrisp apples are in season. I get to eat the cores (but not the seeds because they contain arsenic and can be dangerous for dogs.)
We stop at one that is kitschy to the point of creepy. The humans can’t stop singing the song Signs by the Five Man Electrical Band. You know the one, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin’ out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”
Several signs say “No Pets” so I’m not allowed out of the car. Yup, we get the message. The barrage of signs doesn’t stop. There’s a farmer with a plow pulled by a horse made of corn. The sign tells people not to climb, stand or sit on the horse display. Okay.
Signs tell us how to pay for products (please wait to be served; sorry no checks; pay before loading into your vehicle; pay in the apple area, etc.), don’t stand, climb or sit on the carved apple. I guess apple-buying humans must be pretty stupid and need all of these directions. If I could get out of the car, I would find the sign making machine and bury it!
Back on the road we go through a town called Bat Cave and make a quick stop to take pictures of leaves. We drive by Chimney Rock but there’s no way I would be able to hike to the top so we keep driving.
At Lake Lure, I get to stretch my stiff legs. We thought we could take a walk on the beach but it’s gated and locked up for the winter. I show my dissatisfaction by marking the grass.
A few more miles of winding, twisting road and then we hook up with Highway 74 in Forest City and it’s freeway all the way home.
I’m not even limping when we get home. The cat must have missed us because he greets us at the door. I give him a quick lick to say hi.