Monday, October 31, 2011


Welcome to "H-Owl-O'Weenie Horror", or better yet, "The Village Idiot's Guide To Exploring The Okefenokee Swamp".

Perhaps a couple of you remember my special Halloween blog bit of a couple years back. It was a true story pertaining to the haunted or demon-possessed building I work in.

Well, this year’s special is another true story. Imagine being lost at night in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, alligators are moving in for the kill and you’re armed with nothing but a bottle of Lowenbrau beer and a flashlight. In October of 1983, I really did find myself in that predicament. But first, a dedication and the backstory . . .

I want to dedicate this blog bit to ‘Mr. Halloween’ himself, Arlee Bird of the blog ‘Tossing It Out’, who indirectly provided me with the inspiration for it.

In April of 1983, I visited New York City for the first time and stayed with my friend Eric Anderson who was attending art school there. I remember it was April because I spent Easter Sunday there and had a heck of a time finding a chocolate bunny.

During that first trip to “The Big Apple” I took a picture from the ground, looking up Eric’s nose and up at the two World Trade Center towers that later fell on 9/11/2001.

And after arranging all the elements to capture the photograph I envisioned, Eric took the picture of me guzzling Jack Daniel’s whiskey at the Statue Of Liberty [full story found HERE]. I think it’s the coolest photo ever taken of me.

Late in the Summer of ‘83, I received a couple letters from Eric. He was graduating from art school and returning to Los Angeles, and he proposed that I meet him back East and join him on a cross-country road trip, from THE BIG APPLE to THE PLACE. The return address on his letters indicated that they were from “Anderson Tours Inc.” Naturally, I signed up for the “Deluxe Tour Package” because I was young, carefree, I had a young man’s untamed adventurous streak in me and I was full of vim, vigor, verve, vitality, and alliterative synonyms.

The “Deluxe Tour Package” consisted of driving south from New York City along the East Coast to the Florida Keys and then begin working our way West. Eric wrote:

I just got your letter the other day and I must admit it’s a very creative piece of communicative journalism. Amusing as always. And the photographs, what can I say? They came out much better than I thought they would … especially the Statue of Liberty shot. Of course a good photographer helps too.

Anderson Tours Inc. has pulled out all the stops this time. Over 5,000 miles of grueling asphalt. We’ll conquer such unexplored, uncharted lands as the Epcot Center in Disney World and the casino floor of the Sands in Las Vegas. We’ll battle and overcome such woes as speed traps, maddened truckers, and engine fatigue. Above all, we’ll have all the time in the world to go as far as our minds will take us. I believe this is a memory in the making.

I have about $600 for expenses and $600 for drinks. Just kidding. … I also like your brilliant idea of the airplane (Jack Daniel’s?) bottles full of East/West ocean water. I had been trying to think of an appropriate symbol for the journey. This is perfect, especially the tying of the knot.

[I had proposed that we toast the start of the trip in New York with little airline bottles of Jack Daniel’s, then fill them with ‘Big Apple’ Atlantic Ocean water. When we arrived in Los Angeles, we’d drink another J.D. toast to the trip’s conclusion, fill the little bottles with Pacific Ocean water and then tie our two sets of airline bottles together with leather laces.]
It should be much more successful than your Mexico trip. All I can say about that one is, “UHP!! YOU’RE AN IDIOT.” Well, it’s good you moved out of that mad house on Bay Street while you still have some sanity left.
Let the good times roll . . .

Indeed, “let the good times roll, let them knock you around!”

Eric and I spent about two weeks “On The Road” in his semi-automatic tomato-red 1972 VW Bug and although the money didn’t hold out long enough for us to visit all the places we’d planned to, we did have a number of notable adventures and one location I had my heart set on seeing we made sure to visit. Goblin Valley, Utah . . .

[A bottle of wine acting "cool" in Goblin Valley.]

[Goblin Valley, Utah.]

But this Halloween story is more about ‘gators than goblins.

For two decades it was my custom to name all of my trips. Some examples: ‘The Show No Emotion In A Big Way Tour’; ‘Sniffy’s Damn German Fudge Fiasco Trailblaze’; ‘The Last Vacation We’ll Ever Take Together...Again’; ‘Where Da Ghosts Finnin’ To Be? Search’; and ‘The Blistering Bicker Brothers Tour’.

I was blessed to have been able to make a number of memorable road trips in my life and to see so much of my country. But I would have to say that ‘The Jack Daniel’s Cross-Country Tour’ of 1983 - the one time I went from coast to coast on the road – would top my list of favorite trips.

A good portion of ‘The Jack Daniel’s Tour’ was of the hard-core “young men roughing it” variety; we’d usually get designated camping spots but we had no tent, nothing to really establish a campsite with. We’d just lay our sleeping bags on the ground next to the car. In the mornings it was a contest to see which of us had acquired more mosquito bites on our face during the night. About every third or fourth night we’d splurge for a motel room because we needed to recuperate a little from the poor sleep and grunge.

The VW Bug was a "trip" in itself. Along with our sleeping bags, tape player, music cassettes, sets of clothing and an ice chest for “road soda” (a.k.a. “beer”) Eric was toting his mountain bike and whatever personal belongings he most desired to keep after two years of living in New York. So, literally every nook and cranny of that car was jammed with something. Packing the car was a science that we quickly mastered out of necessity; a spot for everything and everything in its spot.

I remember that one time in the Deep South we had made some minor mistake in repacking things and as a result I found myself in the passenger seat with one tennis shoe resting in my lap (no, seriously!) And that’s where it stayed until I took over behind the wheel and Eric rode “shotgun with the shoe”. Ha! One of the small but great details of that trip I remember so fondly.

[Eric with Bug in South Carolina.]

["Road Soda" on driver's side floorboard.]

[Eric mountain biking in Arches National Park, Utah.]

Alright, alright, I hear ya! You wanna know about the alligators and the Okefenokee Swamp. OK, I’ll tell it, but don’t poop your pants (like we did). Here’s what happened . . .

In October ‘83, I flew into New York and met up with Eric. We spent a few days in the city, then we drank our first “Trip Toast” from the Jack Daniel’s airline bottles, filled them with Atlantic seawater, and headed south along the coast.

[A J.D. toast before leaving New York City.]

[Me at Madam Marie's in Bruce Springsteenland.]

As I stated, originally we planned to drive along the Eastern Seaboard and out onto the Florida Keys. Although we did drive down into Florida, ultimately we didn’t make it to the Keys because earlier we decided to spend time making a detour into the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia.

We hadn’t even considered visiting the Okefenokee Swamp because we didn’t realize how near we’d be to it, but when we suddenly discovered our close proximity to it on our road atlas we agreed that a side trip to the Swamp would be worthwhile, even if it caused us to cut something else from the trip’s tentative plan that we’d previously formulated.

Back when Eric and I were teenagers in high school together in the 1970s, Eric owned #6 in the ‘Environments’ record album series which featured an hour of sound recordings made in the Okefenokee Swamp. He and I used to listen to that LP together and we thought it was just “ultra-cool ‘n’ creepy”. We never could have dreamed that someday we’d find ourselves exploring the Okefenokee Swamp together.

So, we drove into the Swamp, rented a campsite, and stretched our sleeping bags out beside the Bug. Eric hopped on his bicycle, each of us grabbed a Lowenbrau beer, and we started off exploring.

[Lowenbrau beer: not exactly an effective survival tool.]

I was walking ahead while Eric was behind me on the mountain bike, jumping logs and such. Then suddenly I heard him make this terrifying sound and I heard the sort of commotion one might expect from a person on a bicycle who had just had a head-on collision with a gigantic spider web. Which, of course, is exactly what had happened.

Eric hadn’t seen the spider web and rode through it, taking it full in the face. Then, looking down, he saw a single thread of web hanging from the right end of the handlebars and scurrying up that thread of web toward Eric’s hand was a massive black spider! I’m tellin’ you people, the creepy crawlies ‘n’ stuffs that live in the Okefenokee Swamp are mind-boggling big, like bugs that have survived an atomic holocaust in a 1950s Horror movie or something. So, this spider that was probably five times the size of the humongous cockroaches that could be found in a Mexican jail (don’t ask!) was practically flying up to Eric’s hand, and I looked back just in time to see him go airborne backwards while, with his legs, shoving the bike as far forward as he could.

There’s the bike lying on the ground, the front wheel still spinning futilely, and one thing was certain: it didn’t belong to Eric anymore. The Swamp spider had taken sole possession of it and we weren’t about to argue the point. So we went on foot toward the edge of the Okefenokee.

At one point we found a path through the foliage and followed it in. This wasn’t an official, designated National Wildlife Refuge trail, but just some trampled plants and vines; a path semi-established by previous visitors. And then eventually the path just came to a dead end, so Eric and I began to blaze our own trail and before too long we found ourselves deep in green and at the edge of the Swamp; we could go no further because we’d hit water.

So, we’re just looking around, taking it all in and thinking how cool this place is. But it was late in the day, and let me tell you, night comes FAST in the Okefenokee Swamp; the Sun doesn’t really “set” there, it “falls”. One moment you’re thinking, ‘Gee, the shadows are getting kind of long', and seemingly the next moment you hear “the insufferable thunderous thump” of the Sun falling into the Swamp and you’re thinking, ‘What happened? I can't see! I once could see but now I'm blind!'

And that’s what happened to Eric and me. The Sun suddenly fell with a “thunderous thump” and it seemed as if we found ourselves in an instant... in the dark... in the Swamp. ...UHP! WE WERE IDIOTS!

And make no mistake about it, despite some peeping moonlight, it gets quite dark in the Okefenokee. It gets darker than an Edgar Allen Poe story; it gets darker than AC/DC when they’re “Back In Black”; hell, it gets almost as dark as a pint of Guinness at midnight during a power outage in the pub!

[A pint of Guinness at midnight during a power outage in the pub.]

Surprisingly, however, Eric had brought a flashlight in his pocket. Evidently he had a fine intuitive sense. Foresight: flashlight. Ahh, good thinking. I guess Eric just had better survival instincts than I had. So, there we are, our only survival tools being Eric’s flashlight and the empty Lowenbrau bottle in my hand, and we’re wandering around a bit and discussing our situation, when we hear some odd noise off to our left. My friend shines the light in that direction and in the water, between the foliage, we can see a slowly advancing alligator. #%&@!

Eric and I waste no time in moving a good distance to the right. But we hesitate to put a great deal of space between us and the ‘gator because we don’t want to stray too far from the general area, knowing that the path we used to reach this point is somewhere in the vicinity. We didn't want to go from "lost" to "hopelessly lost".

We’re standing there in the dark, wracking our brains and flashing the light around the area, hoping to see something that looks familiar. And that’s when we hear the rippling of water. Eric points the beam toward the Swamp and - #%&@ AGAIN! – we can see another alligator, a second one, eyes above the surface, his webbed front claws sort of dog-paddling in the water and bringing him toward us. The alligators were apparently attracted to the light.

‘Gator to the left of me
‘Gator to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with Eric

Now believe me, under normal circumstances, I’m the last one to litter; I absolutely despise littering. But we’re talking life and death here, and I think to myself: I wonder if it would scare the ‘gator off if I threw this Lowenbrau bottle in his direction?

I sure as hell wasn’t going to try to hit him with it, because I wasn’t aiming to piss him off, but maybe a splash in the water nearby would make him rethink his advance. So, I toss my empty beer bottle in his direction. *SPLASH!*

Nuttin’. No reaction whatsoever. He didn’t even blink. His glowing reddish-orange eyes remained trained on us. (And, no, I’m not kidding, in the flashlight’s beam, the alligator’s eyes seemed to glow an eerie reddish-orange.)

Eric shut off the flashlight and we headed a little ways away from the water’s edge. Now there we are, leaning up against a tree and discussing the very real possibility that we might need to spend the night in the Swamp and wait for daylight. And we’re thinking that we’d have to climb a tree because to remain on the ground meant we might become midnight snacks for ‘gators.

To be fully truthful, at no point did Eric or I really panic during our ordeal. Although neither of us ever said it, I think that this kind of trouble was exactly the sort of adventure we were secretly hoping to encounter on ‘The Jack Daniel’s Cross-Country Tour’; we didn’t want to have some completely safe and utterly forgettable trip. We wanted excitement, and, boy, we had it now.

As we’re standing there in the dark, discussing our predicament and creeped out by the thought of nearby alligators and by how many massive black spiders might be all around us, suddenly an unseen owl in the very tree we’re leaning against starts crying out, “Who? Who? Who?”

Oh, come on! Now that was just too much, and I was all set to yell out, “Am I on Candid Camera?” Here we are, Eric and I, lost at night in the Okefenokee Swamp and this potential real-life tragedy was starting to seem cliché. I mean, at this point I’m beginning to feel like I’ve somehow wandered into a really bad Disney movie from the 1960s or ‘70s. With that owl “Who"-ing above our heads, I half expected Dean Jones, Don Knotts, or Hayley Mills to come trudging through the foliage to meet us. Either them or Gilligan and The Skipper.

Honestly, I think it was at that moment I calmly realized we were going to find our way out of the Swamp because the entire scenario had just become too preposterous, and to die in the Okefenokee under those circumstances would have made jokes of our lives and deaths.

And that’s when Eric came up with his A-List idea. (Like I said, he had the better survival instincts in this comedy duo.) He suggested that I remain by the tree so we wouldn’t lose our bearings to an even greater degree, while he tramped through the area with his flashlight. In other words, we would search the area in a kind of spider web pattern with me representing the center point from which the lines of search emanated. The moment his light completely disappeared from my view I was to shout out and he would move back closer to me again, so we wouldn’t become permanently separated, and then he’d try again from a slightly different angle.

So, I stood under that tree with the cliché owl above me, and Eric, flashlight in hand, began to systematically cover the ground, trying to find that thin path of trampled foliage. A couple times his beam became just a small pinpoint of light and then disappeared and I hollered out to him and he’d retrace his steps, readjust his direction and head out again. And it wasn’t more than about fifteen minutes before I heard Eric yell, “I’ve found it!”

Adios, cliché owl; adios, alligators. We’re . . .  OUTTA HERE!

When we got back to the abandoned mountain bike, we looked it over carefully. No sign of spiders. So Eric got on and we headed back to camp (a.k.a. two sleeping bags on the ground).

The next morning, with daylight on our side, my buddy and I again walked down that little path, cut through the foliage where it ended and took some pictures in the area where we had been lost only about 12 hours earlier.

[Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia.]

[Me @ tree.]

[A 'gator skims the water's surface.]

Although Eric and I made many memories on ‘The 1983 Jack Daniel’s Cross-Country Tour’ and had a number of adventures on our way from New York to Los Angeles, the one that I recall most fondly, the experience that was the most fun was also the one most harrowing: a night in the Okefenokee Swamp.

Lowenbrau? Uh . . . no, thanks. Got Milk?

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.


Eve said...

Love the pic of the towers...they must've been absolutley astonishing in person. Person? lol! New York would be a great place to name your journeys!! That's awesome. It reminds me of something I saw on tv years ago and I can't remember what show it may have been Kids in the Hall...but, anyways, there were these two guys dancing up a set of stairs that lead nowhere..and they were singing, "We're starting our journey, our journey called Bernie" was so funny..

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Howdy, EVE ~

>> . . . Love the pic of the towers...they must've been absolutley astonishing in person. Person? lol!

Ha! Yeah, how does one say that? “In steel and glass”?

Unfortunately I have no scanner so the photos I post are just cell phone pictures of pictures and therefore the quality goes all to hell and all the detail is lost (even in the Statue Of Liberty shot).

In the original photo, Eric isn’t just a shadowy blob under the Towers, but you can see his face.

And, yeah, the Towers. I didn’t see it on TV as it was happening; I was out and about. And when I got back to my apartment I received a phone call from my Mom telling me that airplanes had hit the Towers and one of them fell.

Having seen the Towers “in person” or “in steel and glass”, I immediately thought: Oh, she doesn’t mean it really “fell”; she means it was badly damaged.

My Ma was a bit elderly at that point and I figured she was just mixing up her wording.

So, I immediately turned on the TV and when I saw the replay of the first Tower falling into its own footprint, my mouth fell open. What I was seeing seemed literally impossible to me.

>> . . . New York would be a great place to visit.

Yeah, it’s definitely something to see, but for me, it’s almost the ideal example of that sorta proverbial saying: “It’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Do you know Bruce Springsteen’s song “New York City Serenade”? I’m no longer a Springsteen fan but I still think that is one fabulous piece of music and my favorite thing he ever recorded. I love the way it opens slowly and new instruments are gradually added. That is such a SOULFUL song that, in my opinion, is probably even better’n New York City itself.

Here’s a LINK to it if you’re interested.

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

Missed Periods said...

All that was missing was a sudden downpour following the owl's whooing.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

M'sP. ~
Yeah, a good downpour, maybe some lightning flashes to go with that.

I'm sure they would have been next had we not found our way out of there fairly soon after that.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Kelly Robinson said...

I took an epic Jack Daniel's tour once, but I never left the house. Funny I've forgotten most of it, too. This is a great travel piece, BTW. Keep 'em comin.'

Eve said...

Hey Stephen! I remember watching the towers fall on tv..and I'm way over here in western Canada. It's one of those days that is etched in my memory, as it is for thousands of people..I woke up in the morning and turned on my radio...we're 3 hours behind NYC here...the first report I heard was that a small plane had accidentally hit one of the WTC towers...then, a few minutes later they said that it wasn't a small plane, it was a jet airliner...I turned off the radio and turned on CNN and couldn't pry myself away from the tv for the rest of the was a crazy day..and like I said, we're thousands of miles from NYC, but still a lot of people were did seem unreal, for sure.
I would love to see NYC...but I agree with you, I wouldn't want to live there.
I'm not much into Bruce Springsteen...never have been really..but I will listen to the song.
Have a great day Stephen!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Ha!-Ha! Thanks!

Yeah, I'm afraid I've taken a few of those "80-Proof Stay-At-Home" Tours as well.
...Got lost there, too.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Thanks, EVE! ~
Even before that day was over, major questions were occurring to me and many other folks. Questions that have still not been adequately answered.

I have since looked into that event fairly diligently, done some good reading on it. If you have not yet seen them, but have the chance, I highly recommend you watch the documentaries “LOOSE CHANGE: AN AMERICAN COUP” and “9/11: PRESS FOR TRUTH”.

Both of them are very well made and will cetainly give any objective thinker some seriously uncomfortable things to ponder. Both are available on DVD and you might even be able to find them posted somewhere at YouTube for free viewing. Very much worth the time to watch and contemplate.

There was much, much more to that event than what met our eyes.

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

Jessica Bell said...

That photo of you in the pub during the blackout drinking Guinness, is just fab! Ever considered having a photography exhibit? ;o)

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

AlliAllo ~
You'd better see your optometrist! That is clearly a picture of MY SISTER having a Guinness at midnight in the pub during a power outage. (I'm the second guy to the right of her with a martini glass in his hand.)

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

YeamieWaffles said...

Hey Stephen. I never realised but I wasn't actually following your blog despite intending on doing so. I only worked out I wasn't until I went to your blog in order to reply to your comment on mine.

Basically I'm mainly referring to the war fought over in Ireland, based on religion and constitutional arguments that derive from our differing religions, although I believe the concept of being religious and having some kind of worshipped deity can in the long scale be traced to other wars but that's just my opinion. I certainly sound like I'm trying to be intelligent here which isn't my intentions!

I'm glad I checked out here anyway man, you have some great stuff going on. Keep up with the good work!

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Thanks! Glad ya dig it.

Ahh, well, with the long-term battles in Ireland in mind, then I do retract my possible objection.

And yes, indeed, there is no doubt whatsoever that religious wars have been fought. No argument from me.

Heck, they're still being fought and they will continue to be so long as anyone remains who adheres to a literal interpretation of the Qur'an, or who claims to follow Christianity while acting like a devil, etc.

But, as I wrote, if it's a contest of death and destruction between the theistic societies and the non-theistic societies, the latter win in a massive blowout. Just the killing and murdering by the Communists alone in the 20th Century tips the balance in favor of the atheists, and that's without even bringing in the Nazis or ancient history.

Thanks for visiting and commenting, Brother!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

Now that my crazy week of last is past and the new crazy is just starting, I'm finally getting to this story which was well-told in the manner you always manage. Thanks for the mention of my inspiration. Now if I can only inspire myself.

I'm glad you took so many pictures of your trips and shenanigans. They always provide some great illustrations. I rarely took photos of my adventures because I forgot, I had a crappy camera, or I had no camera.

Your story reminded me of some of my own times with my buddies back in the 70s. I kind of recall one trip to the Everglades where we took a night hike. We were mostly concerned about mosquitoes and not falling off the boardwalk trail into the swamp water. I don't recall whether or not we were drinking anything, but we definitely not uninfluenced minds. They were great times that thankfully we survived.

Do they still make Lowenbrau? I'd forgotten all about that brand and it used to be one of my favorites.

Tossing It Out

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

>> . . . We were mostly concerned about mosquitoes...

Well, I un'erstan' they got some massive, man-eating mosquitoes in the Florida Everglades, so I can dig that!

>> . . . and not falling off the boardwalk trail into the swamp water.

Boardwalk trail?

To quote Sigfried from KAOS:
Trails are for... "SISSIES!"

>> . . . Do they still make Lowenbrau? I'd forgotten all about that brand...

That's a good (bordering on "great") question, McBuddy. I got to wondering the same thing right after posting this blog bit. In fact, to be honest, I began CRAVING a Lowenbrau (even though I've forgotten what it tasted like and probably wouldn't enjoy it anyway, now that my beer palate is so much more educated).

For a few days I couldn't get my mind off Lowenbrau - I needed to drink one "for old time's sake". But I hadn't seen it on the shelves in, like, forever.

So I checked with the local 'BevMo' and 'Total Wines And More' and they both said that it is no longer distributed in Airheadzona. I asked if it was still available back East and was told it was. I don't know if it's no longer available in the Western U.S. or just not here in No Man's Land. Maybe you can still get it in California, but I'm guessing you cain't.

So I did the next best thing: I picked up a sixer of Dixie beer, brewed in NawLins, Lou-zi-anna. There are still a couple bottles of Dixie sitting in my fridge, and they'll probably be there for some time. (Which tells ya all ya needs to know 'bout Dixie beer.)

[Two previously unknown things to me that I discovered on that 1983 Cross-Country Tour were Dixie beer and Piggly Wiggly grocery stores. "Piggly Wiggly" - that still makes me smile!]

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

julie fedderson said...

That is definitely the type of trip memories are made of. I love that you went to a swamp all because of a record--I've done that before, might explain why I ended up in Omaha. Or maybe not.

Perhaps if you'd have thrown a pint of Guinness at the alligators they would have been sated?

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Feel free to expound on the "Omaha" reference; I'd be interested in learning more about that.

Well, those were "Southern" 'gators, so maybe an even better choice than either Lowenbrau or Guinness would have been Dixie, which is brewed in New Orleans. Maybe Southern 'gators prefer Southern beer?

But... don't reckon I'll find myself in those conditions again in order to learn mo' 'bout 'gators 'n' beer. Some mysteries are better left... uh... "mysterious". I feel pretty fortunate just to have gotten outta there with all my limbs intact.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'