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Follow the Cheese



Herald columnist Jim DeFede's odyssey across the United States as he delivers the Virgin Mary cheese sandwich to Las Vegas.


Saturday, November 27, 2004

Testing the Virgin 

The Catholic Church is historically reluctant to accept sightings of the Virgin Mary as real without some proof that extraordinary or even miraculous events result from its appearance.

I figured I should be no less demanding.

Driving into Georgia Saturday, I decided to put the VMGCS through a little test. I have never driven through Valdosta, Georgia -- along Interstate 75 -- without receiving a speeding ticket. It is one of the most notorious speed traps on the East Coast.

As I approach Valdosta, I open the briefcase carrying the VMGCS, gently touch it for luck, and gun the engine to 90 mph. I fly through town without even a hint of a police officer in the area. Not satisfied, I turn around, so I can double back through town a second time.

This time I push it to 95. Still nothing.

I jump on a US 84 and head west for Alabama. I begin to think maybe there is something truly special about the VMGCS.

On the drive through Georgia, I catch a little hell fire and brimstone on the radio.

"We are involved in a culture war," the man on the radio is saying. "A lot of Christians don't realize it."

I soon discover the man speaking is the author of the book, "America at War."

"What has caused Americans to leave the Christian values that made this country great," the host of the program asks. "Is it the media? Is it the government? Is it the educational system? What has been the primary mover to move America from a Christian nation to a pagan nation?"

"Well, they have all played a part."

They then begin to discuss "the homosexual agenda."

Somehow on the radio, the word homosexual seems to have about 14 syllables.

When I stop for gas, I make a point of closing the VMGCS briefcase. Having gotten me through Valdosta, I wanted to keep her safe and secure.

Not more than ten minutes later, I cross into Alabama. And what do you suppose happens?

I see the flashing lights of a police car pulling me over.

"What year Cadillac is this," the officer says when he approaches my car.

On his baseball cap is the word "CHIEF," spelled all in caps. His gun belt is tucked under his big belly. He appears to be about 60 years old. He looks like a less-sexy version of Carroll O'Connor when he was doing the TV series, "In The Heat of the Night."

"It's a new," I say, handing him my license. "It's a rental."

"Oh, a rental," the chief says.

"What town is this?"

"Gordon, Alabama. Population 500," the chief says, with a heavy southern mumble. "Do you know how fast you were going?"

Before I can answer, he tells me.

"85."

"Well, you see chief. I'm on a mission," I explain. "A pilgrimage really."

"A what?"

"Did you hear about that woman who saw the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich and sold it for $28,000?"

"Yeah, yeah."

"I got it right here," I said pointing to the closed briefcase.

"You got what?"

"The sandwich."

"The sandwich?"

"You want to see it."

"You've got the sandwich?"

"I've got it and I am on my way to Las Vegas."

I open the briefcase and show it to him.

"Well I'll be," the chief says, breaking into a big smile. "How about that? You can really see her face."

Suddenly the smile disappears from his face and his eyes, narrow suspiciously. "Where'd you get it," he asks, clearly concerned that perhaps I have stolen this relic and am now trying to flee the country.

"I'm a reporter with the Miami Herald. I'm delivering the sandwich to the folks who bought it."

"In Las Vegas?"

"Exactly. So there is no need to give me a ticket then, is there?"

"No, you were still doing 85. But thanks for showing it to me."

"Okay, how about some T-shirts."

(Before leaving a friend told me about a job she had after college driving the Swiffer Mobile across the country. She said whenever they got stopped by the cops, they just loaded them up with free stuff and the cops let them go.)

"T-shirts?" the chief says. "What's on the T-shirt."

I take him around to the trunk. The new owners of the VMGCS, GoldenPalace.com, gave me two box loads of T-shirts they printed with an image of the VMGCS on it along with the phrase, "The Passion of the Toast."

The chief takes two. Plus, I load him up with some VMGCS key chains.

I still got the ticket. Fine: $133.

posted by Jim DeFede at 9:21 PM



Jim DeFede and Cheese


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