Travel writers Mary Herczog (Frommer's, Dummies) and Rick Garman (Frommer's, Dummies, Vegas4Visitors.com), best friends for more than 20 years, began hitting the road in 2006 for a series of adventures entitled Plucky Survivors See America.
Mary and Rick’s road trip series started as a lark when he was staring down the barrel of his 40th birthday. Trips to Greece and Italy in celebration of the momentous occurence were bandied about but concerns over cost, timing, and the lack of desire to sit for that long on an airplane led Rick to joke "Maybe I'll just go see the giant ball of twine in Branson, Missouri." "Cool!" said Mary. "Can I come, too?" That joke grew like the ball of twine itself, into the website you are now visiting.
In addition to the birthday, both needed something to distract themselves from ongoing serious health issues. Mary had been dealing with breast cancer on and off since 1997 and Rick is facing two potentially life-threatening illnesses (because he’s competitive that way) but both viewed their conditions more as inconveniences than matters of central concern. There was too much to see and too much to eat and too much to make jokes to make. Hence the at once self deprecating and self-revealing moniker Plucky Survivors.
In 2006 the first Plucky Survivors road trip covered more than 2,300 miles in 10 days across the southern part of the United States including Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. From the halls of Graceland to the Britney Spears Museum, from the Bonnie & Clyde death site to the place where four little girls were killed by a racist's bomb in 1963, from giant statues of Christ to crumbling statues of dinosaurs, from the library of a president to the library of a woman who wouldn't sit at the back of a bus, and, of course, the spiritual impetus for the trip, the Biggest Ball of Twine, Mary and Rick saw parts of the country that delighted them in ways both big and small, opening their eyes to the people, passions, and pastimes that make us uniquely American. Along the way, they ate a lot of barbeque and not enough pie.
In 2007, Mary and Rick embarked on “The Midwest Express,” covering more than 2,500 miles across Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Another eclectic itinerary included Hog Fest 2007, billed as the biggest outdoor pork barbecue in the world; the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library; the Hobo Museum; the Spam Museum; the Negro League Baseball Museum; the Museum of Funeral Customs; and the biggest ball of popcorn because they have decided every PSSA trip needs to have a stop to see the biggest ball of something. There was more barbeque consumption, more donuts and, of course, a rematch of the PSSA official road game, Cow.
They returned to the south in 2008 for "The Plucky Shall Rise Again," traveling 2,400 miles through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennesse. Oh, and then there was the part where they drove to West Virginia for a hot dog. But mostly they stayed in those other states where they visited the scene of a murder in Savannah; took a horse drawn carriage through Charleston; dreamed big at Churchill Downs; acted as judges in the South Carolina Barbecue Championships; got spicy at The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum; played a few holes at the bible themed mini-golf course; and saw the World's Largest Bats (baseball and vampire).
In 2009, "Red, White, and Plucky sent Mary and Rick across more than 1,800 miles begininng and ending in our nation's capital, Washington DC. There they saw museums both grand (The Smithsonian) and gruesome (The Crime and Punishment Museum) and hit the road to Maryland where Rick got a tattoo while Mary watched and made snarky comments; Pennsylvania where they saw the Liberty Bell and Andy Warhol and visited a garlic festival, a hamburger festival, and a chocolate world in what they coined as "Best. Day. Ever."; Ohio to find out if they were ready to Rock (the answer: maybe); and Virginia for the world's oldest edible cured ham. No, really.
Along the way they wrote about their journeys, took lots of pictures (mainly of the stuff they ate), and posted it all here on PluckySurvivors.com. Over the years tens of thousands of Plucky Readers joined them on their adventures, sent them hints and tips about cool things to do or interesting things to eat, and shared their own stories of surviving, pluckily.
On February 5, 2010, Mary and Rick started what they hoped would be the first of several Plucky-Mini trips. It was intended to go through Southern California but by that time Mary's health was failing and they were only able to do an afternoon and evening in Los Angeles before heading back home. Less than two weeks later, on February 16, 2010, Mary Herczog passed away.
The letter below was written by Rick Garman on that day. You can read more about Mary on her tribute website CancerChick.com.
PluckySurvivors.com site will stay around as a tribute to Mary, the gift of friendship, the allure of the open road, and the power of really good barbecue and donuts.
February 16, 2010
I'd like to ask you to take some time and go through the Plucky Survivors site... read our travels, look at the pictures, laugh with us, and remember our adventures and please, promise to have many, many more of your own.
But first, a note...
Mary and I often ruminated on the odd randomness of things; how one event, if it had happened differently or not at all, could change things so dramatically. If any of a billion tiny little events and coincidences and happenstances hadn't, well, happened we never would've met. When Mary ruminated on this she got scared, as if an axe wielding maniac was hiding under the bed waiting to pounce.
I just remain in awe of it.
For more than 20 years, Mary was my best friend. We saw each other through the grand events and the minutiae that happen over the course of a life. For instance I remember when she started talking about this guy named Steve (which for the record would be one of the grand events although that wouldn't become clear until sometime later when she married the guy).
I remember road trips to Vegas. In fact it was Mary that got me started writing about Vegas. We wrote our first travel guide together back in 1998 about Las Vegas and that led to more travel guides for the both of us, my Vegas website, and me looking like a dumbass on The Travel Channel.
I remember when I mentioned that for my 40th birthday, lacking anything else interesting to do, that I might go see the "Biggest Ball of Twine" in Branson, Missouri. Her response: "Cool. Can I go?" Four years later we had covered nearly 10,000 miles across the country in adventures that we called Plucky Survivors See America.
I remember when she called to tell me she had cancer and I remember when I called to tell her I was HIV positive. I remember how we kept each other alive in many ways, even before we both got sick.
To say my life would not have been the same without her is too small. I can't find words that are big enough. Perhaps there aren't any. Perhaps there are no words that can represent the bond, the love, the unbreakable solidity of a best friendship other than the knowledge that it will be there, always, even if we aren't.
Earlier today, February 16, 2010, her house was filled with family and friends, and her husband Steve, her mom, her dear friend Nettie, and myself were in her room with her, talking about how today was Fat Tuesday. New Orleans has always been one of her favorite cities and it was there that our very first Plucky Survivors trip started.
I looked over at her and said, "We're going to go get on a plane and go to Mardi Gras, right Mary?" And she raised her head slightly and then was gone.
And so, a new Plucky Adventure has begun. Safe travels my friend. I love you.
Plucky Survivors 2009 |
Plucky Survivors 2008 |
Plucky Survivors 2007 |
Plucky Survivors 2006 |
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© Rick Garman Productions 2011