Ryan Welton

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California Thinkin’: my takeaways from a trip to the Golden State


A vacation to end the summer symbolizes the start of autumn, on the calendar if not the thermometer. It won’t start to feel autumnal in Oklahoma until November. To escape the last bit of heat in the Sooner State, we went to San Diego and Los Angeles for some sun, sand, surf, baseball, football and general adventures.

Last year, Kristi and I went to Albuquerque for our Labor Day trip.

This year, we went all the way West.

Some quick observations about southern California:

1 — They don’t have the big, sprawling convenience stores we have in Oklahoma and Texas. There’s no Buccee’s not to mention a big OnCue, QuikTrip or Love’s — not in the heart of Los Angeles or San Diego at least. The cost per square foot is too high, Kristi tells me.

Kristi was born in Los Angeles. She knows these parts.

2 — The difficulty of traffic in Los Angeles is probably overstated, based on my small sample size. There was a lot of it, but Dallas drivers go a lot faster. I remember when I first moved to DFW in 1996 and folks raced up Preston and Hillcrest — side streets — at 60 mph.

That was culture shock.

Los Angeles provided more of what I’d call a constant state of heavy traffic. Constant.

Kristi has since corrected me on this.

“Oh, honey, this was a holiday weekend. We didn’t see nothin'” in terms of real L.A. traffic.

As I said, she knows these parts.

3 — Folks are friendly in California, drivers and otherwise. Not sure that they’ll ever be as friendly as they are in our part of the world but I’ll posit this:

— the service at Petco Park in San Diego was best I’ve ever had at an MLB game

— the staff at Hotel Z in San Diego (the Pineapple) was as friendly if not friendlier than any staff we’ve had at any hotel

— I had my usual “random people talk to me in public” experience, which usually only happens down South but to which I’ve often attributed to my winning personality and approachability.

I have this “please come start a conversation” look on my face.

4 — Cell service is poor in California. I don’t know if “poor” is the best word for it, or rather if it should be “not as strong as you’d expect considering it’s California.” I just imagined Cali to be a haven of technical wonder and connectivity. I was left with ‘No Service’ and 4G in a lot of places.

5 — Much of Los Angeles is stuck in another era architecturally, and this isn’t a bad thing if you’re into all-things mid-mod. If the late 50s and early 60s are your stylistic jam, L.A. is your place.

What’s old becomes new again.

As I settle back into routine, I reflect on every new place I’ve visited this year. We spent a weekend at Beavers Bend in southeastern Oklahoma, a few days in north-central Virginia for a wedding, a trek across the South from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach to Asheville to Nashville and then our trip to Los Angeles and San Diego.

The place I could see myself retiring to? Asheville for sure, but with enough money for a decent beach house, Myrtle Beach or Santa Monica — either one — seem pretty appealing.

The entire state of Tennessee is gorgeous. North Carolina, too, I’d imagine. We only traveled through part of it. As for Tennessee, we covered it all along Interstate 40.

I’m refreshed and rejuvenated, as you should be after time away from home. Ready to get to work – the day job, my side interests and personal projects, all of it. I’ll post a few more stories from the road over the next few weeks, too.

And I’ll ponder future vacations.

Kristi and I are talking about London. I’d have to attend a couple football matches, Tottenham Hotspur and maybe some club in a lower flight. QPR? Sheffield Wednesday? Nottingham Forest?

We’re considering a football trip to West Point to watch Army play. They play the Sooners next year, but I think I’d rather be free to root for the Black Knights.

I’d still love to go to Montana and Idaho, catch a Montana Grizzlies football game.

I’d also love to trek through Canada — from Vancouver to Halifax — and maybe catch some hockey or a CFL game.

Dreams for 2019 and beyond.

For now, it’s time to reconvene the hustle.

Paco’s Tacos might have the best tortillas in America


It’s Labor Day weekend 2018, and for the second straight year, Kristi and I are taking a little vacation.

Last year, it was Albuquerque.

This year, it’s Southern California.

And it’s my first time in Los Angeles. My first impression is that it’s a city deeply rooted in the 1950s and 60s. A lot of the architecture hasn’t been updated at all since then – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

This was also my first time to land at LAX. Kristi and I rented a car through Budget, which is an awful company (all rent-a-car companies are poor, and I can’t wait until there’s an Uber-of-that-world).

But we survived.

And then we asked the Budget attendant about places nearby to eat.

She had a list. On that list was a Mexican joint I had never heard of: Paco’s Tacos. It could turn out that this place is a total chain, but on their website, I’m only seeing two locations, both in California.

Including one location right near the airport.

The first thing I noticed when we walked into the place was that it didn’t smell very good. The door is situated near the bathrooms, and they had some kind of plumbing issue.

Don’t let your nose fool you though. Have patience.

The host led us to a back room that was virtually empty. We got there well before lunch rush.

And then a waiter brought us homemade chips and a salsa that would rip paint off of metal. It was glorious and hot. For a mainstream type of restaurant, this was the hottest salsa I’d ever eaten.

They also had a station where two women were making homemade flour tortillas from scratch. Kristi and I devoured a stack of them with the help of some sweet cream butter.

And now I’ll stop.

The rest of the experience was good but ordinary. Tamales were good. Enchiladas were a-ok.

But for the chips and salsa and tortillas alone, I’d rate Paco’s Tacos as pretty much the best Mexican place I’ve been to in a long while.

You just have to get past the bathroom smell.

Toes in the sand: Life is good in Myrtle Beach


We got to Myrtle Beach super late Wednesday night, post-midnight Thursday morning. We might have arrived sooner if I hadn’t suggested we take a not-so-quick detour to Athens, Georgia.

There had been a bad accident along Interstate 20, so we might as well have. The jaunt from Atlanta to Athens adds an hour.

It was worth it.

My aim was to see Sanford Stadium and the University of Georgia campus. Just a drive-by. I came away super under-impressed, especially with Sanford Stadium. Mind you, I only got to see the outside. By every account, the field itself is gorgeous from what I’ve seen on TV.

Anyway, we drove straight through to the eastern side of South Carolina. We checked in to the Coral Beach Resort & Suites. The best way I can describe this place is “perfect for the beach,” much the same way hotels in Vegas are perfect for Vegas.

It’s utilitarian. Not fancy. Lots of security given that we’re in a vacation town with a fairly decent crime rate. The beds aren’t awful, and the rooms get ice cold. The floors in the halls get slippery as heck because we’re all basically staying in a giant beach dorm.

Speaking of which, there’s a hotel bar with grub on the beach, an establishment that is just for us hotel guests. Both Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, which we visited tonight, remind me some of Vegas. Lots of food, a billion tourists and lights everywhere.

By one account, Myrtle Beach is the 12th most dangerous city in America, and by another it attracts more new residents per capita than anywhere else in our union.

The median age is 45.8. Lots of retirees.

By the end of the second night, it reminded me mostly of Galveston, but smaller. And, also, by the end of night No. 2, we were spent.

After a three-mile run from 12th to 21st, down to King’s Highway all the way to 6th and back, I hit the beach with Kristi and Olivia. We rented an umbrella and some chairs, and I got a Yuengling and, later, a rum drink.

Kristi and I inhaled deeply as Olivia frantically started playing in the ocean and plotting her sand castle. She collected shells.

We soaked in moments.

You could smell the salt in the air, and the sand worked like a magical agent of exfoliation, washed away in 85-degree sunshine by cool waves from the Atlantic Ocean on our toes.

The sound of the wind and the waves erased temporarily the constant ringing in my head. It was delightful!

Kristi and I soon joined the young castle builder to help. Olivia and I later emptied our pockets and rode as many waves as we could, too.

The castle was complete but with little help from me.

And then we cleaned up and headed to the hotel pool, doing laps in their “lazy river” section.

I took the first trip back to the room for a shower, and I was zapped. In the best possible way.

I’m certain I could never be a ski bum — but a beach bum? In an instant.

Running trail between Alexandria and Mount Vernon is fantastic


Before I visited Lake Anna and the swamps of north-central Virginia over the Memorial Day weekend in 2018, I visited Old Dominion in March 2017 when it was considerably colder.

As long as wind isn’t involved, I’ll take colder over hotter any time.

The reason I’m posting this blog is because in my previous blog about Lake Anna, I referred to an awesome running trail in the Alexandria area. It brings to mind something that was announced in my home metro of Oklahoma City. Leaders recently announced that they would connect the entire city via bicycle and pedestrian trail, which I think is highly commendable.

Oklahoma City is improving, step by step and day by day. Underrated li’l city we have.

But Alexandria is an incredible area. It’s where affluent D.C. pros live. There are lots of government careerists, military lifers, politicians and communicators alike and the people who love and support them. To me, it feels like a city of high achievers.

Slackers not wanted.

And near the house where we planned to stay but eventually didn’t because a kiddo had the flu, there was a trail. It was a paved trail that went for miles and miles between Alexandria and Mount Vernon. I don’t know how many miles it went, but I ran four miles worth — and as usual, I took photos.


And recorded a couple videos.

It was 39-40 degrees that day, which at that point was the coldest weather in which I had ever run. I really, really enjoyed this run, and it makes me look forward to what OKC is doing relative to pedestrian trails. It’s a big deal, and it should be a priority. It encourages exercise and wellness, and it could lessen our dependence on cars and ultimately reduce health care costs as we get older.

Total win-win, even if it costs us a few dollars in taxes.

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Lake Anna getaway my latest Virginia adventure


It’s like Virginia is becoming my second home.

This is at least my third trip to Old Dominion in the past three years although there might have been a fourth adjacent to a Washington D.C. visit. Two years ago, for work, we flew in to Virginia Highlands Airport near the southwest Virginia town of Abingdon, before eating a wonderful Southern lunch in town and visiting a couple work sites, in Max Meadows and Toms Brook.

Abingdon is a little more than 8,000 people, and I distinctly remember the restaurant where we ate. I couldn’t remember what it was called, but they served the best grits dish I’ve ever had. Fantastic restaurant. I’m searching my phone for photos right now. Hold on. Surely, I took photos. That’s why one does so: to preserve memories of magnificent meals. How does one ever remember what they ate otherwise?

And here’s what I found: We ate at the Bone Fire Smokehouse, and the dish to which I referred was the White’s Mill Grit Cake: “fried jalapeno cheese grits from locally ground grits from the Historic White’s Mill. Served three on a plate with our famous Grit Sauce and topped with goat cheese and scallions.”

One of the best eats ever.

I’m highly disappointed in myself that I didn’t take a photo of the dish. But here’s one of the empty restaurant at noontime. What was I thinking?


I remember thinking: what a neat little joint and quaint small town.

On to Toms Brook and Max Meadows. Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores have locations there, and that was the business reason for the venture. The traveler in me couldn’t help but notice the beauty of our scenery, however.

Tall trees, greenery everywhere and mountains were the backdrop. The mountains were so tall that they rose beyond some low-sitting clouds. I believe the area is geographically known as the Tennessee River Watershed, and the greenery of what I am seeing appears to be the far-southwestern edge of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

I remember thinking: the people who live here get to look at this every day. So lucky.

Other Virginia trips before this most recent:
I’ve been to suburban D.C. several times. When I visit our nation’s capital, I often spend time in Alexandria. Super nice. Super affluent. Colonial yuppie might be the best way to describe it. Smart people, military careerists, political operatives and high-achievers.

I went for a trail run in 2017, probably the coldest run I’ve ever done. It might have been 38 degrees. However, I remember that the city had designated quite a long stretch of blacktop to those who enjoyed running. Was hyper-impressed.

And now I’m on my second trip to Lake Anna in north-central Virginia, just southwest of Fredericksburg and northwest of Richmond. It’s a beautiful getaway for folks who want a leisurely weekend or who like water activities. I’m not a swimmer, boater or any of the sort. I enjoy looking at the water, but that’s about it. Here are some photos from the beautiful lake house and lake front.

But I am a runner. So, my first quest was to find somewhere I could run, and there is not much available best I can tell. You sure can’t run along the winding roads near Lake Anna and Spotsylvania, not unless you want to get hit by a car. During my first visit to Lake Anna in 2016, I was able to run near the lake house where we stayed, mostly because it wasn’t traveled and there was a shoulder, albeit slight.

Our lake house for this visit is on top of a tall hill (the Stubbs Cove overlook), and the road up to the house is quite treacherous.

Kristi suggested I try Lake Anna State Park, so that’s what I did. She always has good ideas. Being that it was Memorial Day weekend, I was expecting a big crowd at the park. That was not the case. It cost $7 to utilize trail parking, and the ranger informed that the only trails were on dirt.

I needed to run. Dirt it was.

The first path was called ‘Sawtooth Trail,’ and I quickly figured out that if I didn’t want to break an ankle, I needed to plant my feet carefully. There was nobody out here aside from a father and two kiddos bicycling and a solitary deer trying to escape my view. I needed to pay attention to where I was going lest I be the subject of a future news story.

The man’s vehicle was found outside the trail. His body was found only 50 feet from its exit.

“Oh, he almost made it, Marge,” Joe said.

“Too bad. If only he had taken lots of photos along the path,” Marge replied.

I was paying attention, not only to my surroundings but to my feet. Ended up running and hiking close to five miles on the afternoon. And I took a handful of photos to boot. The humidity was set to “swamp,” so I had sweated a pound off my fightin’ weight.




Like a dingbat, I didn’t wear any insect repellent either, so I wasted no time getting into a shower and washing the bugs and dirt away. The more that I run, and the more that I run when I travel, the more I realize the need for a running list of things to take with me when I go.

Speaking of lists, I then had a grocery list of items to get for the night’s festivities, which included a rehearsal dinner for a wedding. Kristi’s sister was getting married, and that’s why we were here. We had visited here for her birthday a couple years ago, and we had a great time.

I also needed to get some copies made on a Memorial Day weekend in a part of the world unfamiliar to me — so I did what I always do when I need to find my way. I looked for a Walmart or a Target. There are usually all sorts of businesses near either, and in this case I found a FedEx Office nearby the local big box.

Mission accomplished, although I was a bit disappointed by this particular Walmart’s selection of sports apparel. That’s how I make any trip to the big box stores interesting; I look for sports gear. I figured I might be able to find a Washington Capitals t-shirt on the cheap (since they’re in the Stanley Cup Finals) or a Virginia Cavaliers or Virginia Tech Hokies shirt. Nope, the only thing they had was for the Washington Nationals. Blech.

On this getaway, I’ve even found some time to read and write, which I count as a big win. I’m currently reading “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon.

And this doesn’t at all feel like this is the last time I’ll be at Lake Anna either. In fact, the whole Virginia-Washington D.C.-Baltimore area is feeling awfully familiar to me these days.

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