The critic I always wanted to be

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

When best friend Denise and I hit the road, misadventure is sure to follow.
Now that 500 miles separate us, those road trips are rarer but they’re still something to bank on.
These days, the misadventures tend to be more with my husband and though I am loathe to admit it, it seems the common denominator is none other than me.
Our recent weeklong trip–about 1,800 miles–through Georgia, South Carolina,  North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and at last, Kentucky was again fraught with misadventure, albeit minor ones.
From watching a play in a downpour in an amphitheater  (because they refused rainchecks IF the play had started when it began to rain) to discovering a hotel did not have our reservation, we weathered it all (no pun intended) and had a nice time.
Afterward though as I critiqued each point of the trip, I was reminded of one of my misadventures with Denise almost 10 years ago when I was still living in Georgia.
We had cajoled our boss to allow us to drive to Ft. Lauderdale to the National Writers’ Conference. That’s about 725 miles one way from where we worked. We planned to parlay the work conference with one day of fun and sun for us somewhere around St. Augustine.
With that plan in mind, we set out.
The only bad thing was it was May and everyone knows what happens in May–lovebugs.
That in itself can be bad, but what Denise failed to tell me until we were on the road was her AC was out in the van, so we had to drive the entire  distance with the windows down, in 90 degree heat and the lovebugs slapping us in the face the entire time.
Ten years later Denise still tells people about the ones that were stuck in my front teeth and in my hairspray-covered bangs.
Needless to say, the 7-11 became our best friend on the trip. We were stopping every hour for a Slurpee and we truly lost count how many we consumed just to stay hydrated.
We finally got to St. Augustine and enjoyed a day on Vilano Beach. By day’s end, we were starving. We didn’t have a hotel reservation because we’d planned to stay somewhere around Daytona so we used the outdoor shower at the beach and threw on our swimsuit covers since they both looked like sundresses.
We headed out for dinner, stopping at a family-style chain where we both were sure to get the turkey and dressing (have you guessed where yet?).
Upon arrival, the hostess seriously gave us the once over and scowled as I asked for seating for two. She disappeared and we sat on the faux leather bench waiting. And we waited. And we waited.
An hour later, we were still waiting and I asked how long it would be. The hostess disappeared and we could see her  conferring with the wait staff,  who, in turn, gave us the stink eye. We watched as each one of them, in turn, shook their heads and whispered to the hostess.
“What’s going on?” Denise asked. “Do we look that bad?’
Welllll, we did. We went to the restroom and looked in a mirror. Sunburned, with hair tousled about our heads and swimsuits peaking out from too short covers, we looked like floozies, cheap floozies.  No one on the wait staff wanted to serve us.
Another 15 minutes lapsed before we finally got a seat near the kitchen,  far removed from “respectable” diners.
We had our turkey and dressing, we drank buckets of tea and as we were leaving, I pulled out my business card, wrote on the back of it–“I’m also the newspaper’s restaurant critic. How do you think you did?”  and left it with a $2 tip–more than the waitress deserved.
I lamented to Denise that I wish I were a restaurant critic. That place would have been ripped to shreds.
Fast forward a few years and with the popularity of websites, I am now a restaurant, hotel and attraction critic.
With TripAdvisor, Yelp and Hotels.com, after every one of my misadventures, oops, adventures, I go online and give honest-to-goodness reviews of the food I eat, the places I stay and the things I do. I’ve even done a few on local places.
I’ve also eaten at many places on the road and stayed in almost every hotel in the last five years because of reviews I’ve read, written by real people–not paid professionals. I’ve  never been disappointed.
I consider myself the average traveler…not rich, not too picky and in search of the good in everything.
It’s also gratifying when you see that thousands, yes thousands, are reading what you wrote as they make their travel plans.
After a recent stay in Daytona Shores, I reviewed a hotel there only to discover that it was featured the next week on the Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible.
Not knowing what would happen on that show, which turns dumps into stayable places, I wrote my review.
Six weeks later, TripAdvisor notified me that over 2,200 people have read my review and encouraged me to keep advising.
Now I’m wondering if maybe there is a career for me in all this.  
And it would be a wonderful thing if it paid too. Any takers?
Contact Carolyn Ten Broeck at editor@willistonpioneer.com.