Saturday, June 22, 2013

Adventure Days: The City of Roanoke

I know. A lot of people are probably looking at that title and scratching their heads. Adventure? In Roanoke?

I grew up in Roanoke. I've heard all the complaints. Heck, I've voiced some of those complaints. "There's nothing to do in Roanoke!" "Roanoke is boring!" "I'd rather be anywhere but Roanoke!" As a teenager, I'm sure I said each of those things a dozen or more times. I probably said those things in my 20s as well.

Somewhere in the process of maturing, I've discovered that whether you have a good time or a bad one is entirely determined by your perspective. Roanoke may not be the biggest or most exciting city in America, or even Virginia for that matter. But you should always be able to find something to do when you're there. The same could probably be said for every small town from sea to shining sea. Again, it's all about perspective.

I'll admit, there are some days that come and go where you'll have to make your own fun. And you probably have to get pretty creative with your fun ideas. But that doesn't mean you have to sit at home and complain about how bored you are. Right now, I'm living in an area that's smaller than Roanoke, but I still find things to do. And I've been able to find things to do in Roanoke as well.

For two consecutive Saturdays, I've found myself driving into the Star City, looking for adventure. I wasn't expecting a Lord of the Rings style quest... though that would have been awesome. I just wanted to have a swell time with friends. And, in my opinion, swell times were had on both Saturdays.

Last week, I met up with my friends Sarah and Amanda in Blacksburg. We hopped into Half Pint and made the 45ish minute drive down I-81. Or, I guess it would be up I-81, since we were going north. Anyway... road trip. Road trips are always a good idea. Even if you don't know where you're going. Maybe especially when you don't know where you're going. That day, we thought we knew where we were going. At least, I thought I knew. I volunteered to drive us since I was from Roanoke and knew the lay of the land.

The plan for the day was to visit the Mill Mountain Zoo, grab some lunch and a cupcake, then head back to the New River Valley. Not a bad plan, right?

Finding the zoo isn't a difficult thing. If you can make your way to the right streets, there are plenty of signs that can point you in the right direction. Those signs are very helpful as long as the streets they lead you to remain unobstructed. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case last Saturday.

Only a few days before, there had been a pretty nasty storm that blew through this part of the state. I'm not sure if it was actually classified as a derecho, like the one that tore through Virginia last summer, but there was a lot of wind and there were a lot of fallen trees and power lines. Because of this, the route to the top of Mill Mountain was blocked. But there were no detour signs. We were on our own.

But it's okay... I sort of know Roanoke like the back of my hand. I mean, every once in a while I find something new there, but it never seems serious enough to get checked out. We drove around for a bit longer than I had anticipated. To Sarah's (and really everyone's) disappointment, we missed the 11am feeding time for the red pandas. But we persevered. We were determined to make it to the zoo. Eventually I got us to the top of the mountain by going the long way around and driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a fun place to drive on its own if you've never been.

We parked, made the short walk to the zoo's entrance, and saw the handwritten sign: "Mill Mountain Zoo closed until further notice due to power outtage. Check our Facebook page for further updates."

It must have been a pretty bad power outage for them to spell it with two Ts. Disappointment set in a bit. There would be no red pandas. No spider monkeys. No prairie dogs. Collectively, however, we decided not to let that dampen our spirits. Though we did discuss how we would tell the story of our road trip to our friends once we got back to Blacksburg. It was inevitable that someone would ask us how the zoo was. I thought it would be clever to say that the zoo was closed, but that I had gone to high school with one of the zookeepers, so we got to take a private tour. I thought it was a pretty good plan.

We decided not to waste the trip up to the mountain. So we strolled over to the Mill Mountain Star. Did you know that it's the world's largest man-made star? Yep. Take that, every other city on the planet!

Following that little stop on the tour, we drove down the mountain to have lunch at Fork in the Alley. If you've never eaten there, I highly recommend it. Very not bad. The kicker, though, was what was next door to the restaurant: Bubblecake. Best. Cupcakes. Ever. It was my first time. I got the Lemon Berry Whip. But I was really torn when deciding. So many tempting options. I'll need to make a return trip. Soon.

After that we headed back down the interstate. It was the kind of adventure that proved it wasn't about the destination, but the journey. Good times.

Today, I went back into Roanoke. I got a call this afternoon from Brandon. He was just calling to see what I was up to and let me know that he and the family were heading into Roanoke for the day. They'd been talking about how they hadn't seen me in a while, so he called to see if I'd meet up with them downtown. I figured, why not?

So I drove down (or up) and got a chance to see the newly remodeled Center in the Square. We took in the exhibits at the Science Museum of Western Virginia, which really isn't as cool as it was when I was a kid. When I was in elementary school, the field trips to the science museum were always a highlight. After we got our fill of how sound travels and what parasites do, we moved on to the Market Building for some lunch at the international food court. This was also recently remodeled. I think I liked it better when you walked in and felt like you'd been transported back to the mid-'80s. It's too modern now. Everything's clean and well lit. There aren't enough neon lights.

We walked around downtown a bit, took in some of the stores found in the market square, then made our way over to where some live music was happening. We weren't at the concert very long. None of us were even sure what the event was. After one song, we pretty much decided we'd had our fill.

As I was leaving the parking garage to head back home, I was asked by the attendant to pay $2.00. I whipped out my debit card and was then informed they only take cash or check. I had neither. So I write to you tonight from the bowels of a Roanoke parking garage. Please, if you happen to be driving down Church Ave. near the old fire house, could you spot me a couple bucks? I'd really appreciate it.

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