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The Candy Stick

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Apparently and allegedly, once upon a time, a friend of a friend had a blog called The Candy Stick. I have searched for this purported, supposed blog – both to give it it’s due and to make sure I had the precedent right – to no avail.

Barbara Fritchie Candy Stick

I think this is the same Candy Stick in question., now known as Barbara Fritchie's Candy Stick

Regardless, the mythical The Candy Stick blog was evidently spawned after a particularly disappointing visit to a restaurant called – you guessed it – The Candy Stick. From what I can glean, it is a diner in Frederick, Maryland that had received such glowing acclaim that the future blog writers made a special trip just to try it out.

As the story goes, not only was the meal terrible, but it gave them food poisoning.

Thus The Candy Stick blog was begun to provide a forum to bitch about things that you expect to be wonderful, but end up sucking.

Like flavored marshmallows.

And Ghostbusters II.

And George Washington.

Case in point: during my time in DC last week, my friend – who has lived there for more than a decade – was in a mood to do some touristy things she’d never done before. I wasn’t so much for riding The Duck (those amphibious sightseeing buses that seem to exist in far more towns than warranted), but when she suggested we tour the Mount Vernon Distillery outside Alexandria, Virginia, it sounded good to me. As she explained it, for a mere $4.00, we would learn about the whiskey-making process (yawn) AND GET TO TASTE THE WHISKEY!

You know how they say enthusiasm is contagious?
Clearly they are right.

This guy's lack of enthusiasm is also contagious.

The thought of drinking whiskey at noon actually made my stomach do a “Oh no, you didn’t” flip flop of protest, but I still couldn’t shake the irresistible feeling that this was a marvelous idea that was going to be all kinds of amazing fun.

Yay! George Washington!

Yay! Distillery!

Yay! Whiskey Tasting!

Yay!!!

After no less than an hour of pre-planning and enthusiastic musing the night before (technically the wee hours of the same morning), we had a firm strategy.

Thus, on a particularly wet and thus gloomy Monday afternoon, we found ourselves driving the 45 minutes out to Alexandria, Virginia and then nine miles beyond to Mount Vernon. We handed over our $4.00 in the weird gift shop, which appeared to be selling bottles of non-alcoholic cider, commemorative historical crap, and Christmas ornaments…and nothing else, and after a polite once-over of said crap, we were on our way.

Still excited at the prospect of non-existent whiskey.

I have a belief that if I bring an umbrella with me, it won’t rain, but I somehow managed to forget the umbrella on this journey and thus, it has rained on me A LOT. Yes, my post-La Paz bragging has backfired most spectacularly. To quote my dad when I arrived on an unseasonably freezing day, “I thought you brought HEAT.”

Anywho, standing outside in the rain waiting for someone to open the doors of the big barn-like structure in front of us – stop #1 on the Whiskey Trail –  double-reinforced my forgotten umbrella lament. While standing outside the corn gristmill getting drenched, I thought the wetness was the worst of it.

Once inside, the harsh reality became clear: we were the only people there, and this was a lengthy and monotonous historical tour not intended for the comfort of small audiences. Nonetheless, the show would go on with or without our rapt attention or whether or not we gave a damn. I spaced out for the great bulk of it, concentrating instead on taking super unflattering photos of the authentically dressed escort. Despite my efforts to stay uninvolved, I heard something about how the width of the space between the granite wheels determines the type of product you’re going to get – corn meal versus grits or whatever – obviously – and started laughing hysterically. After being scolded by my friend (who was fighting – with more success than me – to retain sober self-control), I mentally checked out anew.

Mount Vernon Grainmill

It's almost like you're there. No really, it's like you're there. And whether you're giving the tour or listening to it, you kind of want to put your face in your hands and have a little cry.

Eventually, we were released, and it was time for a pit stop in the bathroom, where we noted that they were really putting us through the ringer to get to the whiskey. I also stated my firm intent to drink $4.00 worth of whiskey (whatever that means), whether they liked it or not.

No pun intended, but spirits were high as we walked into the Mount Vernon Distillery, which I remarked smelled old and then learned was built in 2007.

Hmmm…

So much for my sense of smell.

The 2007 construction date was the first big clue, and it was sometime around the hot water bath that I knew.

I just knew.

There was no whiskey here.

This was a sham.

A ruse.

A double-cross.

A swindle.

No whiskey for you!

I was almost this upset when I learned The Olive Garden didn't actually have a salad bar with unlimited black olives. I mean, it's called the OLIVE Garden!!!

We were enduring a painfully long $4.00 apiece story about slave owner George Washington’s reluctance to get into the whiskey business and how he made his (probably slave) farm manager ‘prove’ to him the value of making whiskey, which was all being made by slaves anyway and obviously, in that case, for nothing. Pure profit, baby.

Meanwhile, as feared, we were eventually released from the fake whiskey distilling demonstration and sent on our own through a boring display of old whiskey bottles and quotes about George Washington’s liberal attitude toward drinking and some recreated old fashioned bedrooms, probably once for slaves, but no doubt much nicer than they actually were at the time.

My friend was hilariously (in my humble opinion) outraged as she had clearly seen photos of people imbibing and happily enjoying shots of whiskey.

“False advertising!” she bellowed.  ”False advertising!”

(I have looked for these photos on the Mount Vernon website  and would have pasted them here as proof, but I can’t find them. I’ll let that fact pass without further comment.)

Alas, there was no one to hear our complaints as the end of the tour is self-directed, no doubt on purpose to muffle the complaints of the disgruntled would-be whiskey drinkers.

At the same time, the argument could probably be made that if we really wanted whiskey, we should have just gone and bought some whiskey. With $8, we were halfway to a bottle (or all of the way into a few airplane size testers or whatever those little plastic bottles are supposed to be used for).

Ground corn Mount Vernon

I took this picture of the corn they ground as a demonstration to be polite.

But that would have been beside the point. It’s about wanting to go and have the experience and have it be all that you’ve dreamed. I remember a million years ago I saw this ad for The Olive Garden (back when those restaurants were actually something of a new phenomenon, and I’d never been to one before). From the ad, I had the impression that there was a salad bar in which you could indulge in unlimited black olives.

This sounds super insane now, I admit, but at the time, I was smitten. I wanted to get at that salad bar.

Somehow I wrangled the guy I was dating at the time into taking me there, and when the waiter came with the big bowl of salad for us to share, my date noted my disappointment. I could be wrong, but I think that when I calculated that there were only four black olives in the entire bowl, I may have even said something disillusioned or slightly bitter.

What I do remember clearly is that my fellow diner caught on that I had drug him to this sub-par Italian chain restaurant because I wanted black olives, and I remember him scolding me in exasperation, “If you’d told me that’s what you wanted, I could have just gone to Costco and bought you a giant can of them!”

But again, that wasn’t actually the point.

Thus, flash forward to May 2010, sober and disillusioned, we drove back to Alexandria with absolutely no fear of getting pulled over for a DUI, and carried on with our day, a little poorer, a little more knowledgeable, and most likely none the wiser.

Such is life sometimes.

You keep hoping the next Candy Stick is going to be the one.

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