Disgusting, Deranged, and Totally Brilliant

I’m not a great filmmaker. Or a famous one. If I was, I wouldn’t have ended up drenched in a 3AM rainstorm of the roof of a dilapidated McDonalds, bailing out the small lake of water forming around my sneakers. I definitely wouldn’t have started my filmmaking career in the slums of Buffalo, or have been risking my life for trash cinema.

I felt the wet tar give under my foot.

“Watch out! That’s a weak spot!”

Weak spot. Right. Did I mention this roof was collapsing in slow motion?

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Philadelphia CheeseSteak Ice Cream

“That’s possibly the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

Michelle didn’t use these words lightly. She didn’t say this when I’d suggested we fly across the country to a park staffed by 108 dwarfs, or we hand-feed live animals to hungry tigers, or we train to become professional taxidermists.

But evidently Michelle has her limits, too.

She draws a line at Philadelphia Cheesesteak Ice Cream.

We were about to watch Rambocky X, the legendary double-feature pairing of Rocky VI and Rambo IV. (You know: “When a 60-something fighter comes out of retirement for one last bout, who knows how it’s going to end?!! Well tonight, It Ends Twice!!! That’s right: Rocky & Rambo each wage a sexagenarian battle that could be a fight to the DEATH!!!”)

To accompany this back-to-muscled-back 191 minutes of awesomeness, I’d made avocado ice cream, mango sorbet, and Thai rice ice cream. But those flavors only represented Rambo IV, Thailand and Burma. They left nothing for poor Rocky VI, Philadelphia’s favorite pug.

So I had to fix the situation. And the remedy seemed to be CheeseSteak Ice Cream.

“Why don’t you just make Rocky Road?” Michelle demanded.

“Because that’s not Philly. Philly is cheesesteaks! We need something Rocky would eat.”

I Googled, but Google insisted there was no such thing. There were no recipes, or precedents. This was uncharted territory. I was an explorer. I was a fighter. I felt like Rambocky himself!

{Cue training montage}

I sliced up blood-red chunks of tenderloin.

Sautee’d them in a splash of olive oil, then cooked them in a pool of Karo.

Shredded two-tone cheddar, and a few tablespoons of cream.

Minced candied & cooled tenderloin.

“This is going to be a disaster,” Michelle warned before she went to bed. Okay, she didn’t actually say those words, but I could feel them. Had she voiced her thought, she would have added, “A disaster of historic proportions.”

I nodded, furiously mixing and stirring. There was no way this was going wrong. It was too important.

And it went right. Oh how right it went.

Nuggets of sharp cheddar cheese mixed with crunches of sweet beef, all settled in a gorgeous Philly-style ice cream base. I took a bite, and gasped. “Spectacular,” I announced, even though Michelle had long since fallen asleep. I took another bite. “AMAZING!” She still didn’t wake up. Oh, well.

Granted, it was weird. But it was also something like the greatest weird taste sensation of all time. It was Americana. It was Sweet Jeez! It was glorious.

Except for a cheesesteak itself, I don’t think there could be anything better than this.

So here’s the recipe…. Continue reading “Philadelphia CheeseSteak Ice Cream”

Collapsing Caves, Dead Spelunkers, Corpse Robbery, and Big Mike’s Mystery House

We stopped just outside of Mammoth Cave at Cave City, a deserted row of run-down attractions. It has teepee-shaped motels, kangaroo zoos, and a hilltop theme park called Gunsmoke Mountain where a rusty chairlift rocked in the rain.

“It’s like we’ve driven back to the 50s,” Laurie laughed.

At the end of Cave City, I’d heard, was a museum devoted to Floyd Collins, the most famous spelunker who ever lived.

His career was cut short in 1925 when a sand cave fell in, crushing a leg and trapping him.

And yet Floyd Collins was still alive. Friends could pass him food, and drink. Newspapermen could interview him. But they couldn’t get him out.

Collins became a national headline. Tens of thousands of sightseers crowded around, to witness the drama. Hawkers sold souvenirs. The scene was an absolute circus. (See Billy Wilder’s amazing “Ace in the Hole” for a vision of it.)

After four days, there was a second cave-in. And the hole disappeared. Continue reading “Collapsing Caves, Dead Spelunkers, Corpse Robbery, and Big Mike’s Mystery House”

Hartleyhenge, North Carolina’s Strange Stonehenge

We found this strange spiral of stones in the middle of a North Carolina field. “Welcome to Hartleyhenge,” said Scotty.

“I’m not even sure if Hartleyhenge is the real name,” he admitted, “but that’s what we call it around here.” There’s no sign, and no information. A friend of Scotty’s, John Hartley, built it years ago. There were poems by Rumi, Wendell Berry, and Carl Sandberg printed on the rocks. “I go among trees and sit still,” reads one poem, while another urges, “Drink all your passion, and be a disgrace.

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A Tiny Roadside Village, Made From Quartz

In 1968, Henry L. Warren decided to do something special. He started building a tiny village on the side of the road, using white flint rock, concrete, and red brick. He called it “Shangri-La.”

“Wow,” said Scotty, jumping out of the Dart. “Look at all this quartz!” It was amazing. Warren had mined the rock himself using dynamite on his land, and built the town next to his own home on old highway NC86, forty minutes or so from Chapel Hill.

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