Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 30: Eye of the Storm


Don't believe the lies.
Fast Food Report: Whataburger
This name is very much a misnomer. I'd suggest a more appropriate label such as Whatadisappointment, or Whatacrappyburger. Really, with a name like Whataburger, I was expecting a reaction along the lines of "Wow! What a burger!" after taking a bite. Instead, my initial thought was "Wow...what is this, a burger?". Come on people, either bring your A game or change the name.


Thanks for all of the concerned words and comments about avoiding New Orleans until after the hurricane or all together and what have you; unfortunately I received most of them either when I was already there, or after I left. Go figure.

After my last post, I hadn't made up my mind yet whether or not to attempt New Orleans. In order to put off the decision even longer, on a whim I walked into a movie theater that happened to be next to the Starbucks I had breakfast in and watched Babylon AD. My general rule of thumb is that anything with Vin Diesel in it can't be bad. I was mostly right (it was at least a fun couple hours).

In the end I decided that I couldn't skip New Orleans, I had come far too close to just go around it. My argument was that Gustav wasn't predicted to make landfall until late Monday or early Tuesday, and it being Friday I had plenty of time to stay one night, then continue on my way west. With this in mind, I booked a motel (all the hostels were unfortunately full) and started the journey south.

As I approached the city, I began to notice an marked increase in the number of cars traveling in the opposite direction. I figured they were just being overly safe. Then I saw a couple of nursing home buses, then a couple prison buses, followed by thousands of cars. This made me slightly concerned, a feeling that intensified as the northbound traffic became a traffic jam while my southbound side contained only a handful of cars.

In the end, this concern really wasn't necessary. I found my motel easy enough, checked in and checked out what to do while in town. Since it was getting on in the afternoon, most of the outdoor activities and places to see were falling off my list of possibilities; which really just left Bourbon Street.

I was keeping a careful eye on the news the entire time I was in my room. I learned that I was situated in Jefferson parish, which hadn't evacuated yet (luckily), but was planned for the next day at 4 pm. The cars I had seen on the freeway were most likely from one of the neighboring parishes that had already ordered a voluntary evacuation, to be followed soon by mandatory evacuations. Nothing I need to worry about until tomorrow, I thought.


Something for everyone.
Armed with my camera and an appetite for decadence, I parked downtown and walked towards the French Quarter. Of the places hit by Katrina, the French Quarter actually came out alright, being set on slightly higher ground (read: not below sea level); and of course, was quickly restored afterwards as it is a large tourist attraction. For those who haven't been, the French Quarter is really only a handful of city blocks, about seven blocks from the river back and ten blocks or so long. But packed in that small area is an amazing variety of activities, restaurants, galleries, cheap shops, expensive shops, and much more.


Not pictured: the old guy dancing.
Unfortunately it seems the threat of hurricane scared off some of the possible patrons, although there was still a fair amount of people roaming the streets. I walked up and down taking it all in before I settled on a place to get some food, the Cajun Cabin (I suspect most of the places on Bourbon Street aren't particularly "authentic", but they had live music and decent prices). I ordered a Catfish Po-boy, which is really just a fried piece of catfish (which was interesting in itself as I had never had catfish) on a type of french bread common in New Orleans. It was decent, although not in anyway amazing, and the "local" beer I had was also pretty average. It wasn't all mediocre, though; the music was pretty fun and the atmosphere fairly friendly.

I finished up and headed out, camera in hand, ready to begin capturing the nightlife. By this time it was after 9 pm, so things were beginning to get slightly more enlivened, although I imagine no where near a typical Friday night. Many bars and restaurants had live bands playing and every now and then I would stop and listen for a while. As I headed down river, I entered the section of the street that hosts most of the gay bars and clubs. In addition, the street began to become more crowded and lively. It was a really fun atmosphere, and I can imagine that if I was gay and if I could dance, I would have been in heaven.


Pure Decadence.
Here's the thing I've learned about myself on this trip: I have an uncanny ability to arrive in places during scheduled events that I had no previous knowledge about. Sturgis in South Dakota, Bike night on Beale Street, and now Southern Decadence in New Orleans. For those who are unfamiliar with Southern Decadence, as I was, it is a week long gay event held annually in New Orleans culminating in a parade the Sunday before Labor Day. It seconds only Mardi Gras in size and economic impact on the area, and causes much less damage and litter.

I found out this little fact when I stopped into a jazz bar along Bourbon Street. The seating hostess sat me at the bar, and I ordered an Abita. When I received my drink, the man next to me glanced over and raised his glass; "To decadence," he said. I cheered him and took a drink, thinking we were drinking to the general philosophy of being degenerate. On the TV in the corner was a news channel with constant Gustav updates. I exchanged some words with my friend next to me about the coming hurricane, and the planned evacuations and such.


Jazzy.
"We ended up changing our flight from Monday to Sunday," he told me, as he put his arm around the man next to him.
"Yeah that's a good idea," I replied, "since this thing is supposed to really hit around Monday."
"Really unfortunate timing, with Decadence and all."
I gave him my patented slightly confused look, the one where I raise my right eyebrow just a little bit and cock my head to the side.
"Southern Decadence?"
I shrug my shoulders.
"Are you gay or straight?" he asks me.
"Straight." I reply.

He went on to explain to me about Decadence and why I probably saw a lot of men walking around shirtless on the street. I just figured it had been because it was so hot and humid.

It turns out that he and his partner were from San Jose and had just flown out for the festival. They had planned to come in 2005, but Katrina kind of put an end to that. Three years later they decided to come back, and here was Gustav barreling down on the city. Go figure, he says.


And people bring their kids here...
I stayed for a while, had a good conversation with Jim from San Jose, drank some alright beer, and listened to some seriously decent jazz. Eventually they left; I finished my own beer and hit the streets again. I walked around a little longer, snapping some more pictures, before deciding to call it a night. New Orleans is fun and has a really great atmosphere, but it really seems like the kind of place you come with a group of friends. Next bachelor party guys, forget Vegas.

In the morning I pack up and check out. Planning for the next few days, I decided it would probably be best not to head to Corpus Christi (which was next on my initial route) since it was also on the gulf coast. Instead, I booked myself a motel in Houston for the night, Houston being about five hours from New Orleans, and on the way to Austin.

I was beginning to see the effects of the imminent evacuation. I went to Wal-Mart to grab some fruit for breakfast; the place was mobbed. Businesses had begun covering their windows with ply-wood, many already closed. I finally got what I needed, filled up with gas, and promptly joined the parking lot that was I-10. Thankfully, most people were heading north, so when the intersection for I-55 came, I-10 mostly cleared up.

Here is a summary of the rest of my day: a drive that should have taken, at worst six hours, took me in excess of eleven. Eleven hours of driving (if you can call going an average of 2 mph for 20 miles driving). The worst came only 70 miles outside of Houston.

A few things of note that came from this drive:
  • I have decided to hold a press conference when I return to Oregon. The topic will be ocean temperatures, and will go something like this:
    "Hello and thank you for coming to this press conference. I have called you all here to inform you that yes, it is possible for ocean waters to NOT be frigid year round. In fact, the water at a beach can be quite pleasant, almost enjoyable. That is all, thank you for your time."
    At one point along I-10, I was only 12 miles from a gulf coast beach (thank you road signs). I had to test it out. It was awesome, definitely worth the bug bites I sustained enjoying the retreating sun while standing ankle deep in murky warm water.
  • I seem to always make the wrong decision when it comes to traffic. Change lanes at the wrong times, decide against taking this or that exit, decide in favor of taking this alternate route. Nearly without fail, every tactic I tried to employ to fight the jam just made my situation worse.
  • A sample of activities I engaged in while trying to pass the time stuck 50 miles from Houston: listening to my radio scan the AM stations...twice (I thought maybe I had missed something interesting the first time around; for those curious, I didn't), finishing off my collection of Science Friday podcasts, listening to American Idiot in its entirety, looking in the windows of cars that passed trying to make eye contact, dusting my car interior, attempting to drink a half gallon of water without messing myself, writing this blog entry in my head.
I finally arrived at my motel around 12:45 am. Thankfully they hadn't rented it out to someone else. Today I plan on heading over to Austin and staying for two nights. I have encountered a slight problem, however. My inability to plan more than one day in advance has caused me to have no where to stay tonight yet (tomorrow I'm covered). Yet again, this hurricane is foiling my plans to have an enjoyable time. I suspect this won't be my last confrontation with Gustav.

I close with an email from MoveOn.org concerning the nomination of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. It says what I'd like to say, and with references to boot. Please read it and pass it on.

Dear MoveOn member,

Yesterday was John McCain's 72nd birthday. If elected, he'd be the oldest president ever inaugurated. And after months of slamming Barack Obama for "inexperience," here's who John McCain has chosen to be one heartbeat away from the presidency: a right-wing religious conservative with no foreign policy experience, who until recently was mayor of a town of 9,000 people.

Huh?

Who is Sarah Palin? Here's some basic background:

  • She was elected Alaska's governor a little over a year and a half ago. Her previous office was mayor of Wasilla, a small town outside Anchorage. She has no foreign policy experience.1
  • Palin is strongly anti-choice, opposing abortion even in the case of rape or incest.2
  • She supported right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan for president in 2000. 3
  • Palin thinks creationism should be taught in public schools.4
  • She's doesn't think humans are the cause of climate change.5
  • She's solidly in line with John McCain's "Big Oil first" energy policy. She's pushed hard for more oil drilling and says renewables won't be ready for years. She also sued the Bush administration for listing polar bears as an endangered species—she was worried it would interfere with more oil drilling in Alaska.6
  • How closely did John McCain vet this choice? He met Sarah Palin once at a meeting. They spoke a second time, last Sunday, when he called her about being vice-president. Then he offered her the position.7

This is information the American people need to see. Please take a moment to forward this email to your friends and family.

We also asked Alaska MoveOn members what the rest of us should know about their governor. The response was striking. Here's a sample:

She is really just a mayor from a small town outside Anchorage who has been a governor for only 1.5 years, and has ZERO national and international experience. I shudder to think that she could be the person taking that 3AM call on the White House hotline, and the one who could potentially be charged with leading the US in the volatile international scene that exists today. —Rose M., Fairbanks, AK

She is VERY, VERY conservative, and far from perfect. She's a hunter and fisherwoman, but votes against the environment again and again. She ran on ethics reform, but is currently under investigation for several charges involving hiring and firing of state officials. She has NO experience beyond Alaska. —Christine B., Denali Park, AK

As an Alaskan and a feminist, I am beyond words at this announcement. Palin is not a feminist, and she is not the reformer she claims to be. —Karen L., Anchorage, AK

Alaskans, collectively, are just as stunned as the rest of the nation. She is doing well running our State, but is totally inexperienced on the national level, and very much unequipped to run the nation, if it came to that. She is as far right as one can get, which has already been communicated on the news. In our office of thirty employees (dems, republicans, and nonpartisans), not one person feels she is ready for the V.P. position.—Sherry C., Anchorage, AK

She's vehemently anti-choice and doesn't care about protecting our natural resources, even though she has worked as a fisherman. McCain chose her to pick up the Hillary voters, but Palin is no Hillary. —Marina L., Juneau, AK

I think she's far too inexperienced to be in this position. I'm all for a woman in the White House, but not one who hasn't done anything to deserve it. There are far many other women who have worked their way up and have much more experience that would have been better choices. This is a patronizing decision on John McCain's part- and insulting to females everywhere that he would assume he'll get our vote by putting "A Woman" in that position.—Jennifer M., Anchorage, AK

So Governor Palin is a staunch anti-choice religious conservative. She's a global warming denier who shares John McCain's commitment to Big Oil. And she's dramatically inexperienced.

In picking Sarah Palin, John McCain has made the religious right very happy. And he's made a very dangerous decision for our country.

In the next few days, many Americans will be wondering what McCain's vice-presidential choice means. Please pass this information along to your friends and family.

Thanks for all you do.

–Ilyse, Noah, Justin, Karin and the rest of the team

Sources:

1. "Sarah Palin," Wikipedia, Accessed August 29, 2008
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Palin

2. "McCain Selects Anti-Choice Sarah Palin as Running Mate," NARAL Pro-Choice America, August 29, 2008
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=17515&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=1

3. "Sarah Palin, Buchananite," The Nation, August 29, 2008
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=17736&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=2

4. "'Creation science' enters the race," Anchorage Daily News, October 27, 2006
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=17737&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=3

5. "Palin buys climate denial PR spin—ignores science," Huffington Post, August 29, 2008
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=17517&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=4

6. "McCain VP Pick Completes Shift to Bush Energy Policy," Sierra Club, August 29, 2008
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=17518&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=5

"Choice of Palin Promises Failed Energy Policies of the Past," League of Conservation Voters, August 29, 2008
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=17519&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=6

"Protecting polar bears gets in way of drilling for oil, says governor," The Times of London, May 23, 2008
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=17520&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=7

7 "McCain met Palin once before yesterday," MSNBC, August 29, 2008
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=21119&id=13661-8607554-nkMU6cx&t=8

Want to support our work? We're entirely funded by our 3.2 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.


Gustav annoyance level: orange.
Miles: >8000 (I was mistaken in the last post, it should have read closer to 7500).
Musics:
The Decemberists - Her Majesty and Picaresque
Green Day - American Idiot
Finch - What It Is To Burn

Friday, August 29, 2008

Day 28: Down in the Delta


Holy nation wide coverage Batman!
I awoke to a fairly decent day in Nashville; thankfully the rain I had driven through the entire length of the state so far had subsided. After breakfast I went on a driving tour around the city. There is far more to this city than I was able to really explore in one day, but the impression I had from that day was mostly positive. Even though it is the country music capital, Nashville really wasn't the city I was expecting it to be. Yes, the country and southern elements are there, but it is also quite urban. This, no doubt, is helped by the universities in the city.

I had quite a bit of ground to cover, so I fueled up and headed out on the road. Between Nashville and Memphis I completely avoided the interstate, as per usual on this trip. In doing this I was better able to see the transition in landscape from the lush and hilly forests in the east to the more flat, farm oriented lands in the west. It was, for the most part, a pleasant and enjoyable drive (apart from being stuck behind trucks on one lane highways).

I rolled into Memphis in the early evening and I checked into my motel. From what I had read about Memphis, there are a couple distinct districts just like in most other cities. Along the Mississippi river is the "downtown" area; with the skyscrapers, most of the popular bars and restaurants, etc. To the east of downtown, is "Midtown". Apparently you don't walk around in midtown day or night, and you only really want to drive through it in the day. My motel was in midtown, a fact that I had missed when booking it as it was labeled "Downtown Memphis". I dumped my stuff in my room, promptly latched and deadbolted the door, and did some work for a while until I got hungry. Upon leaving I made sure to leave the lights and TV on to give the impression that someone was still in the room (a technique I learned from my dad).

I had the address of a popular brew pub chain in the region, but had trouble finding it. Either it had closed down or my address was wrong. No worries, I thought, I'll just head to one of the bars and get some pub food there.


Beale in the morning. Not pictured: passed out patrons
between the buildings.
For those unfamiliar with Memphis, it fancies itself a blues town; in fact it is quite celebrated for its blues music. In this vein, there is a street downtown called Beale street; where every night it is closed to traffic and people wander the streets, beer in hand, going from bar to bar to watch live music. Every night. I was there on a Wednesday night, but it felt like a Friday. It was an amazing atmosphere. For about four blocks there is bar after bar, most cover charge free, offering live music; some dive-y, some upscale. Even between the buildings in the alleyways and the streets there are bands set up on makeshift stages performing.

It seems I picked an interesting night to show up; it was Bike Night, so once again on this trip I was thrust completely into the biker culture. Which was fine, it made for a lively scene. After walking up and down the street soaking it all in, I ducked into a bar at random to grab some food. The one I picked was probably the only one without a live band inside, offering karaoke instead. So there I sat, eating a BBQ sandwich, watching what turned out to be some fairly decent karaoke (at least compared to what I had witnessed the night before).

Off topic: I just read that McCain chose his running mate: Sarah Palin, the governor from Alaska. She's young and fairly inexperienced in politics other than the Alaskan executive office. Interesting choice. My first thought is that she was chosen because Hillary Clinton was not chosen to be the Democratic VP, in a play to win some of the Hillary supporters over to the McCain side. Other than that it's hard to see what she could really bring to McCain's ticket, having little or no experience in nationwide politics. Yes, when people point this out there will be the obvious comparison to Obama, saying he has little experience as well, but I feel that his experience is more relevant to the position he is running for, and his choice in running mate really complements his weaknesses rather than just pandering to political games. It'll be interesting to watch the vice president debates.

Anyway, back on topic. After eating I walked around for a couple of hours, watching various bands perform; from blues, to rock, to a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar playing covers such as Hotel California and Hendrix songs. All in all a definite must see for anyone who enjoys music, large amounts of crappy beer (they sell something like 44 ounce beers on the street), and a slightly debaucherous atmosphere. My only suggestion would be to stay at a hotel nearer (or have a DD), as I only had a single beer on account that I had to drive back to the shady side of town.


You can just make out the wreath hanging on
the railing where Dr. King was shot.
In the morning, I headed over to the South Main district and had some coffee at Bluff City Coffee, and nice local joint with decent coffee and free wifi. The main reason I was over in the area, however, was to go to the National Civil Rights Museum. This museum is actually built out of the hotel that Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed in and was subsequently shot outside of during a stay in Memphis. It only cost $10 to get in (lets hear it for student discount), and I spent the better part of four hours walking through. The exhibits start from the Civil War era, and cover everything through reconstruction, the world wars, the depression, and the rise and eventual (at least legislatively) success of the civil rights movement that culminated in the sixties. It ends with the assassination of Dr. King, with his hotel room as part of the display. Across the street the museum continues from where it is believed his killer stayed, and fired the shot from. The evidence and timeline for the case is laid out for the patron to draw their own conclusions from, as the case still has many unanswered questions (although they did catch and convict the man believed to do the actual killing). It is interesting to see everything laid out side by side, especially the government's actions in trying to spy on and discredit Dr. King. Conspiracy theorists go nuts for this kind of thing (and it does give the average person pause).

Museums seem to be the bane of my existence; I never allow myself enough to time to thoroughly enjoy them and read everything they have to offer. Regardless, I did get a chance to experience the majority of the Civil Rights Museum, and thankfully so. It was extremely powerful and educational, and quite engaging through videos, pictures, quotes, and real artifacts from each era. I cannot recommend this place highly enough to anyone visiting the Memphis area, especially for those without a deep familiarity with the subject.

By the time I left Memphis it was past six. My initial goal was to make it to New Orleans immediately after Memphis, but the distance between the cities is far greater than I originally realized, so I decided to stay in Jackson, Mississippi for the night. I started off traveling south on highway 61, hoping to get some nice views of the Mississippi River which it ran along. Unfortunately there were two problems with this:
  1. The highway actually runs about 2 or 3 miles from the river at any time.
  2. The sun promptly began to set not long after I departed from Memphis.
The drive was still pleasant, the landscape was definitely beginning to change and take on the characteristics I had in mind for the area. Eventually, when it was too dark to see anymore, I jumped over into I-55 and completed my journey into Jackson.

My plan was from here to head down to New Orleans for the night, then begin around the gulf coast to Texas. However, there seems to be talk of a little hurricane brewing off the coast which is already causing problems for some of the island nations. It's not expected to make landfall in the New Orleans area until Monday, but already there is talk of a mandatory evacuation of the area. This is quite unfortunate, but really I'm not sure what I was expecting at the height of hurricane season. I'm still evaluating the situation, but I'm leaning towards heading down and checking it out. I'm still a good few days away from the Monday target, at which time I should be in Austin anyways. We'll see how things pan out.

Weather status: Holy hell, I am now beginning to get a better understanding of what true humidity is like. Also it seems to bring out the insects in Biblical numbers at night. Gross.
Distance conquered: ~7200 miles
Recent listenings include:
I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody's Business - Self Titled
The Kooks - Inside In/Inside Out
The Starting Line - Based On a True Story
More Science Friday podcasts (I'm beginning to see why my iPod is full, I have hundreds of these things, each one upwards of 40 minutes in length)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 25: Stabbing westward

Immediately following my last post, I was ready to hit the town and see a show. I figured I had some time to grab some food and maybe a beer before hand, so to Wikitravel I went to research my options. I found what seemed to be an interesting place (boasting something like 40 beers on tap and 200 bottled), and on a whim I checked on the time and location of the show.

"Oh look at that, rather than starting at a reasonable time (for a concert) like say 8 or 9, apparently this particular show started at 6...over an hour ago."

Well, damn. Shows a no go. I'm not terribly bummed though, since this band will be in Portland in about two months, so I'll catch them then. I head out to grab food and a beer from a place called Capital Ale House. Like in Providence, the pub turned out to be a little more upscale than I was looking for, but they had a beer menu that was pages long, broken down by type and with blurbs about each one. I settled on a very tasty IPA from Williamsburg (brewing company I guess? Williamsburg being a town not far from Richmond), and the burger with Gouda. Let me tell you, I never would have thought to put Gouda on a burger. But oh yes, this particular taste combination is amazing. I even learned quite a bit about beers from reading the menu (such as many IPAs actually use mineral water instead of normal water as the base to add a drier taste to the final product).


I want something like this to adorn my grave
The next day, the first priority was to get my car in for a service. A quick Google search revealed a number of Honda dealerships in the area. I gave one a call and was able to set up an appointment for later in the afternoon. Good news for my car, but it also meant I would have to spend the entire day waiting around in Richmond. This turned out to be less of a problem than I first thought, as I had a list of attractions I could visit in the interim.

My first stop was the Confederate White House. It turns out that this piece of history is located downtown, immediately next to an extremely busy hospital and medical university. And the streets are under construction. I found a spot to park eventually and walked the half dozen blocks back to the White House. I was a little surprised to see the museum was located right in the middle of downtown, with little green space surrounding the house itself (unlike the current White House). Also, as far as historical monuments go, the Confederate White House was a little underwhelming; it is a white house with slight Victorian styling, but mostly uninteresting and unimpressive in size and design. I suppose it only served for five years or so as the capitol of the Confederates, which didn't give it much time to mature.


True man of mettle (er, metal)
I left the downtown area and began heading towards the Honda dealership to ensure that I wouldn't be late, even though I still had another couple of hours. On the way, I noticed on my GPS a large cemetery called the Hollywood Cemetery. I recalled reading that this was where Confederate president Jefferson Davis was buried. In I went. The graveyard is quite historic, and is the final resting place for many thousands of people over the last few hundred years. Two other American presidents are also buried there.

I first visited Jefferson Davis' grave site, which is marked by a slightly larger than life statue of Davis, as well as a flagpole (although no flag was flying). Sprinkled around the site (and indeed around the entire graveyard) were confederate flags of various designs. I noticed something interesting about all of the inscriptions and plaques talking about not only Davis, but the confederacy in general. None mentioned the issue of slavery as the reason for the difference between them and the Union. From grade school, I have been taught that this was THE reason for the Civil War; it was intriguing to see a different perspective on history. Obviously the winners write the history books, and each side has its own biases and view of what happened, but it makes me curious to delve deeper into this subject.

The other major point of interest in the graveyard is the confederate soldier section; kind of a scaled down confederate version of Arlington. It is always sobering to see the tangible effect war has on human life.


Leaving the cemetery, it was finally time for my appointment. I spent the next hour sitting in the waiting room, trying to ignore Dr. Phil on the TV and get some work done (I was mostly successful on both fronts).

I had about 5-6 hours of driving to do for the day, so I hit the road. I took mostly back highways between Richmond and Greensboro, NC which enabled me to see some very nice country side of Virginia. By the time I got to Greensboro it was getting dark anyway, so the interstate sufficed until I got to my motel in Asheville.

It was late, but I hadn't eaten since before my service appointment. It was time. It was time for me to experience another eastern United States institution: Waffle House. I've seen these everywhere, the sign consisting of black block letters on a yellow background. The best way I can describe the atmosphere is to imagine a local grimy diner; smoky air, dirty tables, cheesy framed slogans on the wall, but most of all really crappy, greasy food. Then, someone decided it would be an amazing idea to franchise this diner. Thus was born Waffle House. I ordered a standard breakfast (eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, and gravy covered biscuit). On the wall was a framed certificate claiming a score of 95 during a recent health inspection. I have a hard time believing this was on a scale of 100; maybe 1000. Or maybe it was a 9.5 out of 100. That's probably how I'd rate the food. Although the biscuit with sausage gravy was pretty delicious.

I awoke to some August torrential rain, which meant my plan of walking around Asheville was about to be canceled. Before I left town I ate at a local pizza joint which was quite impressive called Marcos Pizzeria. The drive from Asheville to Nashville was very rainy, but still quite beautiful as the interstate went through the Great Smoky Mountains. What I've seen so far of Tennessee has actually run quite contrary to the image I had in my head, the east half being quite forested and lush.

I got into Nashville in the early evening, checked into my motel, and started writing this blog. Once rush hour had died down I decided to head out to grab some food and hopefully check out the bar scene. I looked up a couple of places, grabbed their addresses, and headed out.

The first place I tried was closed (which is fine, it seemed to be in a shady area of town anyway); I ended up at Rotier's, an awesome hole in the wall kind of diner/restaurant near Vanderbilt University. I ordered their "grilled cheeseburger", which is basically a cheeseburger with bread instead of a bun and grilled like grilled cheese. Now I know what you're thinking, something along the lines of "holy crap that sounds so freaking amazing how can it possibly get any better?". Well, not only was it a novel idea, the ingredients themselves were quality. The burger was handmade, not just a frozen patty; you know the kind that just fall apart when you bite into them. And it was cheap. Double bonus.

I had a list of bars to try that promised some kind of live music. The first one was Springwater, the dive-y-est bar you will ever see; and it was karaoke night. As I walked in there was an elderly gentleman on the mic performing some kind of impromptu strip show between verses of his song. It only got better from there. After about half an hour, I figured I needed some actual music before going to bed, so I moved on to the Station Inn. And boy was I glad I did.

Performing at the Station Inn was a band called Mashville Brigade, a six piece acoustic bluegrass group (banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, Dobro slide guitar, and stand up bass). Now, I've seen many metal bands live, I've watched some amazing soloists tear up the stage. But let me tell you, these guys can shred...as much as you can "shred" on an acoustic instrument. The show was awesome and a lot of fun, and the venue quite packed for a Tuesday night. Definitely worth the $8 cover charge.

Tomorrow I'll explore more of Music City, then probably head on over to Memphis.

Motivation yo: Can't get enough of that southern accent...
Miles yo: >7000
Muzak yo:
Modest Mouse - Good News for People Who Love Bad News
Thrice - Vheissu
Dustin Kensrue - Please Come Home

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 23: Good evening, Virginia

Note: The only photos I have for the last few days are from DC, and I have plenty, so they won't necessarily follow the timeline of the rest of the post. Sorry for any confusion.

Note number 2: If anyone has ever wondered, no I don't re-read and edit these posts. The thought just occurred to me (after writing most of this) that it may sound like complete disjointed babble at times. Such is the nature of the roadtrip blog I guess.


More evidence that the oblivious humans
would have been devoured had we lived with
dinosaurs
On this trip, I seemed to have developed a keen ability to get myself semi-lost in the sketchiest parts of a city. On Friday I left breakfast and headed into Philadelphia via the road my hotel was on. It looked to be a fairly major road, so I hoped it would lead me to an interesting place in the city (and hopefully, a place where I could get some wifi to research sites to see in Philly). The road certainly did drop me into an interesting place, but not in the way I had hoped. For the better part of an hour, the only direction I was able to judge was correct was towards the skyscrapers in the distance.

I had always thought that when the word "dirty" was used to describe a city that it was meant figuratively or metaphorically. Experience has proved this wrong. Trash literally lined the gutters and along the sidewalks, run down and boarded up buildings accounted for a good portion of the landscape, people hung out on steps just sitting, watching the world pass. However, despite all of this I didn't necessarily feel unsafe; many people were walking around the streets, and it had the feel of a community. All in all, I could have been lost in a worse place, but it certainly wasn't what I had been looking for.

By the time I reached downtown proper, it was midday, and traffic was basically horrendous. My intention was to find a place to park and do a bit of a walk around, as there were quite a few places of historical significance nearby. This plan had two problems, however:
  1. There was no place to park, anywhere
  2. There was NO PLACE TO PARK. ANYWHERE.

I guess Friday afternoon wasn't the best of times for me to try this, so needless to say gave up looking after about an hour, plugged in the address of my next location, and hit the road.


I'm not even sure what this is
A friend of mine, Matt Chin, who I had met at Intel and lived with in Corvallis is currently in the DC area for an internship, so thankfully I was able to stay with him for a few days. The night I got there, Matt took me to an amazing BBQ place just up the road from his house; I'm a sucker for pulled pork and fries.

It seems that the area of DC Matt lives in has the highest crime rate, even though it has the highest concentration of police patrols. I can't back this up with any data, but it certainly felt that way. Also, Matt's car was broken into the first week he moved there, and they have had stuff stolen off of their porch. Needless to say I was slightly concerned, but I usually bring everything of value out of my car where ever I'm sleeping for the night (thankfully nothing happened).


The original blood diamond
Interesting thing about the house: at one time as many as seven guys were living there, so it's quite large. However, all of them are temporary interns around the DC area, so the house is mostly void of any kind of substantial furniture. This meant no couch for me to crash on. No problem, I thought, I have my sleeping mat for camping, I'll just toss that down on the carpet and be good to. In theory, at least. A word about this sleeping mat. I had purchased one the year before for camping trips, but discovered after a couple of extremely uncomfortable nights that it didn't so much stay inflated the whole night as it had at least one major leak that emptied all the air out in under 10 minutes. I had intentions of patching the hole(s) before leaving for this trip, but ran out of time and simply purchased a new one (of the same brand and model, since it was one of the cheaper ones, which in hindsight was probably an indication of its quality). It performed amazingly in Glacier luckily, however somewhere between there and here the gods of air mattresses smote me once again, tearing a small seam in the upper corner. This meant for two nights the only support under my back was two layers of plastic and the carpet.

But enough complaining (for now). The accommodations were free, which is all I can really ask for.


Not pictured: Me flipping the bird
The next day, Matt and I headed into DC proper. Our first stop was the Holocaust museum, as it tends to "sell out" very early. An awesome thing about all of the museums in DC is that they are entirely free. As in, you pay nothing to go in. Due to the popularity of some museums, however, you are required to get tickets to enter at specific times. The Holocaust museum was one of those, but luckily we arrived early enough to get tickets and go right on in.

For those who have not seen it, this museum is a definite must for anyone in the DC area. The material is extremely powerful, and it is very tastefully and respectfully put together. It begins with the rise of the Nazi party and the history of Jewish culture in Europe, and continues through the end of the war and beyond. The shear amount of information, pictures, and videos is amazing. The room of remembrance at the end is particularly moving. There really is no way to describe this experience and do it justice. Highly recommended.


Deep respect for the names on this wall
After it took us an hour to finish the first half of the first floor, we realized that we probably couldn't read everything if we planned on doing any other site seeing that day. In the end we spent the better part of 3 hours in the Holocaust museum, leaving plenty of information and exhibits unvisited.

Walking around the Mall (the blocks of DC which contain most of the memorials, museums, and important buildings), we visited:
  • The Smithsonian - more of a meta museum, covering information available in the more specific museums in the area
  • The Museum of Natural History - yay dinosaur bones!
  • The Washington Memorial - yet another obelisk on the east coast. That's two they have to our none on the West.
  • The White House - I couldn't see the snipers, but I'm sure they were there.
  • The Lincoln Memorial - probably the most impressive of the outdoor memorials we saw. The structure surrounding the statue is amazing; beautiful marble columns on the outside, transcripts of two of Lincoln's famous speeches carved into the walls inside. And then of course, the statue itself is enormous. I was surprised at how close security allows the public to get, with only an area about two or three feet from the base of the statue roped off.
  • The Vietnam Memorial - It is truly unbelievable how many people lost their lives in Vietnam. The memorial really shows you the magnitude of this conflict.
  • The Air and Space Museum - This was pretty cool, although some of it was redundant from the earlier Air Force museum I visited with Graham.
After an exhausting day of walking up and down DC, we headed back out of the city on the subway and got some delicious steak.


Nothing phallic about this whatsoever
This morning I headed out of DC and down the coast again towards Jamestown. I arrived in the early afternoon, and promptly headed west for Richmond. Call me cheap, but I really wasn't in the mood to pay $25 to see some reenactments and old wagons. Maybe if I was more of a history buff, but I figured I could read about all that stuff on Wikipedia if I was truly interested.

I'm holed up for the night at a Motel 6 next to the airport (and I just realized I can hear planes land, this should be fun tonight). Tonight I'm heading downtown to catch Eye Alaska play, and hopefully get a tasty brew somewhere. Tomorrow I think I'll check out some of the historical places around town (the Confederate White House? Sounds interesting), before continuing my journey back inland.







Stop signs ran so far: Two, but one of those was in Canada so it doesn't really count (it was in French).
Miles from home: ~6100 and definitely in need of a service now.
Music keeping me distracted recently:
Pink Floyd - The Wall (Disc 1 and 2)
Eric Clapton - Nothing But the Blues
Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope
Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory and Meteora
Kanye West - College Dropout and Late Registration
Common - Be

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day 22: The District sleeps alone tonight...because I am in Hyattsville

I was going to write a blog right now, but I'm watching the roast of Bob Saget instead. Holy god, hilarious....


I'll finish this later.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day 21: Is it time for zombies yet?

What I have learned from or about the East Coast so far:
  1. People love their Dunken Donuts. I thought this chain had all but died out, considering the only few I knew of in the Portland area either closed or changed into Sesame Donuts. But no, how wrong I was. You can't trip off a curb without turning around to look at the curb you tripped on and realizing that it was actually a Dunken Donuts (don't think too hard about that one, it seemed to make sense at the time of writing). It seems to be the Starbucks of the eastern half of the US, which leads me to my next point...
  2. You can't throw a rock from Starbucks to Starbucks across entire states like you can in the West. In fact, I spent most of the day today just trying to find one between New Jersey and my current location of just east of Maryland so I could post this damn blog. This would be fine if I knew of any other reliable source of wifi.
  3. The East Coast has (mostly) mastered the art of the roundabout, although here they call them rotaries. Whereas us on the left coast see them and think "Oh how quaint and fun, a roundabout!", rotaries make up important intersections here on the right.
  4. Carry cash, but just a few bucks. You never know when you will be innocently driving down a freeway when suddenly you have to pay to continue. Toll roads continue to be the bane of my existence; although I understand the necessity of this evil I do not necessarily agree with their implementation.
  5. Those crazy stereotypical accents do actually exist, but not really in the strength or ubiquity we're led to believe. I must say, though, that when I was served by an attractive young woman back in the midwest that her slight Minnesotan accent made her a bit more attractive. Context is important.
I'm seriously thinking about carrying a notepad around or something, as I'm constantly thinking of great things to post but subsequently forget them before I find the ever coveted wifi...


And yet I still haven't seen the Oregon capitol building
When last I posted I was heading towards Providence, Rhode Island. I arrived in the city and parked near my first attraction, the capitol building. It was very impressive in form, and parking was easy so double points there. While redressing post metal detector, the governor happened to walk in, which was a neat coincidence (side note: apparently he is trustworthy enough not to have to walk through the metal detector). The building has one of the largest free standing marble domes (according to something I read), and inside this dome is adorned with amazing murals and ornamentation.

Around the inside are various mementos from Rhode Island's past, such as the original charter for the state, a bunch of sculptures honoring each branch of the military, and some old roll call books. Of most interest, however, is an original painting of George Washington in the press conference room, by the artist who did the portrait for the one dollar bill. According to a staffer giving a tour to someone else, this painting is only one of two in which Washington is completely pictured standing up, making it worth "a whole bunch, millions probably". Fascinating, to say the least.


He saves children, but not the British children
Being a nice day I decided to tour the city on foot. Providence is a medium sized metropolis, not insanely busy like others here on the East coast, but decently bustling. I walked along the canal over to the Rhode Island Institute of Design, and then up the hill to Brown University ("Down with Brown!"). The walk was pleasant, the universities nice enough in their way (once you've seen one ivy league school you've seen 'em all, right?), and mostly served to work up a nice appetite for dinner.

I ate not far from the capitol building at the Union Station Brewery, so called because it is built out of an old railway building downtown. The food was good (probably a bit overpriced, but then again the atmosphere was a little classier than I had expected), and the Half Day IPA I had was decent but a bit weak in taste for what it claimed to be. What it lacked in taste it seemed to make up for in alcohol content because I had to walk around the mall for a few hours, reading magazines in Borders, until I was sober enough to drive.

Out of Providence I headed west into a beautiful sunset (brilliant and orange, nicely contrasted with deep blues) and drove for a few hours into Connecticut. All the excitement of the past couple days apparently made me completely forget to visit Jamestown while I was in the area. Oh well, next trip right?

I headed south west towards Bridgeport. Now, again, I must admit that I was not thinking entirely clearly. Looking at the map I thought to myself "Hey, Bridgeport! Isn't that a brewing company that makes a cheap yet very decent IPA?" Well, the answer as I later remembered was yes but no. The Bridgeport Brewing Company I had in mind is actually located only a few thousand miles to the west, in Portland. Oh well.


I like this.
I stayed for the night in what I thought was a Super 8, but I must have misread the sign because where I actually stayed was a Super Shady. My neighbor was either having heated arguments all night, or had the TV extremely loud, the bathroom door only shut with an enormous amount of force, and there were all kinds of nefarious looking people hanging around in the parking lot. In the morning, I could hear my aforementioned neighbor talking on the phone, the conversation going something like this:

"Man that was bullshit, I had the money but the stuff was crap. Then the cops showed up and we had to bolt. Blah blah blah some more nonsense probably about other illegal activities."

I knew I had a bias against Super 8 in favor of Motel 6 for some reason, this just reminded me why. They also charge more.

Knowing now that Bridgeport was not the destination for me (and actually, according to Wikitravel, is quite the hot bed of criminal activity), I continued west, with a slight northern tilt out of Connecticut and into New York. I decided that I was going to skip New York City this trip; there is far too much to see there, and I would honestly prefer to not have my car with me to worry about. However, because of where I was, this meant a long detour around what I guessed to be the busier highways. Like usual I tried to avoid the interstates as much as possible, and as a consequence had a very enjoyable drive through the country side. New York and New Jersey actually have quite beautiful landscapes outside of the cities.

My plan was to hit up Atlantic City that night, but I really wanted to book ahead some place to stay so I wouldn't get bent over again and pay far too much for a sub par room. I ended up booking a room at a Motel 6 just east of Philadelphia. I checked in there first, did some work to justify the cost, then headed back east towards the bright lights of Atlantic City.

First impression of the skyline: impressive, at least from about 5 miles out. One casino in particular used the entire building as a giant display screen, animating all kinds of scenes in color. It seems this would get pretty frustrating for those trying to actually sleep there, but I'm sure the engineers worked something out (no windows in the rooms maybe?).

When I got to what appeared to be a "main drag", I was duly unimpressed. Granted it was a Thursday night, but the streets were mostly empty. My worries about finding any kind of parking vanished as I was able to park at a metered spot on the street. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to insert coins into the meter, but luckily in 20 minutes it wouldn't be enforced anymore so I figured I was safe.

I speculated that the reason the streets were so empty was that everyone was inside gambling, so I entered one of the first casinos I came upon, The Resort. I was partially right. The casino itself (and in fact, all of the ones I went in) offered your standard sensory overload experience. I'd estimate that about a third of the machines were occupied, and maybe half the tables open for play.


Not pictured: dozens of cart pushers walking around empty,
trying to get couples to take a ride.
When I got to the back I was reminded that Atlantic City has a boardwalk! I had found the people, albeit still not an overwhelming amount. The boardwalk reminded me of an old, slightly run down year long carnival, particularly down the steel pier. Manning the rigged gaming booths were employees who looked extremely bored, most leaned against the wall, a few chatted with one another, and one girl sat on the counter, speaking to no one in particular through her loud speaker that she was looking for a winner. One man called to me, saying he'd give me a free through at his dart game. I figured he would try to charge me eventually, but I thought what the hell.

"Bored, eh?" I ask him.
"Something like that, here ya go, five bucks out of my pocket."
The first dart I throw bounces off a balloon and sticks into something behind the counter.
"Here," as he hands me a second dart, "That's ten bucks out of my pocket."
This one sticks in the board between a couple of balloons.
"Did I mention I'm crap at darts?" I say.
"I can see that, here fifteen bucks out of my pocket." He slides over a third dart.
Determined not to be outdone by a bunch of under-inflated carnival balloons, I hurl this one hard and worry less about aiming. I finally pop one.
"Alright," he says as he hands me two more darts, "pop these next two and I'll give you a prize." He mumbles something else, but I can't understand it. After politely asking him to repeat himself ("what?" I ask), I figure that whatever it is I can't understand has something to do with me paying him if I fail to complete my task. I say thanks but no thanks (what do I want with a stuffed something-or-other anyway?), and walk away.

Further down the boardwalk is more of the same; a lot of sitting about waiting for the next sucker. I pass a fortune telling store front where about six people sit around doing nothing in particular. I think to myself that they at least should have had the foresight to predict such a slow night and not bothered even coming in.


Shooting from the hip so as not to get kicked out
After walking a couple miles up and down the boardwalk, I pack it in and begin to head back. I leave without having my wallet or car stolen, so I consider it a win. All in all, I'd rank Atlantic City above Reno, but definitely below Vegas. I imagine there is some kind of official hierarchy among these cities of sin which mandates what kind of image they put off. Not so much a conspiracy as just an understanding that they will cater to different folk.

This morning, after a delicious breakfast at the local Baaahhb Ehhvaahhns, I somehow found myself nearly completely lost in north Philly...

Beard status: I have a lot more red and white hairs than I remember having last time I grew it out. Either my face is feeling two thirds patriotic or I'm getting older. I'm leaning towards the former.
Approximate miles (one of these days I'll actually get the real number): ~5800 and in need of a service soon.
Music to listen to while reading this post:
Incubus - Make Yourself
The Decemberists - Picaresque
Thrice - The Alchemy Index II & III
Something Corporate - North
Jack's Mannequin - Everything in Transit
Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 19: On my own again

Prologue: Someone needs to inform the east coast and Canada that the 90's are over. Seriously, roller blades? This plague of an activity is everywhere you look it seems, from shirtless old guys cruising the parks to trendy 20 somethings around universities. It's obvious from the popular culture media that the correct rolling trend right now is roller SKATES (following more accurately with the 20 year cycle of trends). Anyway, on with the blog.


Downtown P-town, east coast version
Portland, ME conclusion: worthy of being Portland, OR's predecessor. This city was very neat; it had the same small town city feel of its west coast cousin (probably a bit smaller actually) while still offering quite a lot to look at and do. We parked and simply walked around for a while. The architectural feel of the city is obviously a bit different since it is a real port, and quite older (brick is fairly prominent throughout, especially in the sidewalks). However, apparently the city (and indeed the state) is very craft brew friendly, something we found very agreeable. Even though we really only got a small taste of the city, we did leave with the feeling that living there may not be as entertaining as just visiting if you're not into boating.

We found a nice little brew pub (with wifi nonetheless) called Sebago. I had an excellent IPA (in fact, two of them...in 22 ounce servings! Yum), and Graham had, according to him, a delicious barely wine and a not so delicious blueberry ale. Being the middle of the afternoon the pub wasn't too busy, so we were able to chat quite extensively with our bartender who filled us in on what it was like to live in east coast Portland. It also seems that most ePortlanders don't realize that wPortland was named for their city. Go figure.


A message everyone can get behind
After a couple super pints, we were in the mood for chowdah (being in New England it was pretty much mandatory). According to our bartender pretty much any restaurant along the bay made their own chowder, and most all of them were excellent, so we couldn't really go wrong. We ended up at a place called Dewey's, a quiet pub/eatery on the south end of the walkable waterfront. The chowder was okay, not terribly impressive but I'm sure quite authentic.

Having thoroughly enjoying our stay, we left Portland behind on our way south down towards Boston. After the previous night (and in fact previous week) of bad motel luck, we smartly decided to book ahead. This meant we didn't really need to hurry (as long as we arrived before 11pm or so), so we took the scenic route along the coast.

Passing through many an affluent New England neighborhoods was very interesting, especially the coastal towns. I imagine that image is what Cannon Beach was really aiming for, had they not been pressed up against a mountain range immediately to the east. We tried unsuccessfully to touch the Atlantic at a rock beach, but luckily found a nice beach town close by with ample parking.

Our timing was excellent, the sun had just set and a full moon was just rising. As we walked out on the beach towards the water, a dark, burnt copper colored moon was just beginning to become visible. We stood there for a while, ankle deep in the not so frigid waters of the Atlantic, watching a beautiful moon rise. What a waste of a romantic moment.

I guess I taste better than Graham to the insect community, because after about 15 minutes of this I felt like one giant bug bite, so we hit the road again. For all the beauty and elegance of some of these east coast coastal towns, their road system seems to have been designed by a four year old. Needless to say, Sunday night traffic towards Boston sucked extensively for pretty much the rest of the night. We ended up at our Motel 6 on the south side of Boston (Braintree) just before 11.


I felt smarter just looking at the buildings
In the morning we ate down the road at an awesome diner called the Olympian (cheap, quick, and very delicious), and stole some internets from the library to book us a hostel for the night on the north side of Boston (Everette). Now having a base camp (and place to park my car outside of the city), we headed straight to the hostel to check in. From there, we took the subway into the city and out to Cambridge. Our first stop was the MIT museum. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame take note: this is a museum well worth the entrance fee (only $7.50 in fact). We had allotted close to two hours to walk through this place, and were still unable to finish it all before closing time. Anyone in the Boston area with any interest at all in science should definitely check this place out, there are tons of exhibits, videos, and things to read about the cool things MIT has been doing over the years.

Being in the area, we had to tour the campuses of both MIT and Harvard. The buildings were, of course, quite impressive; large, massive, and classical at MIT, and old, brick colonials at Harvard. The latter in particular definitely gave off the classic "college campus" vibe, so much so that I felt like I was almost walking through a movie set.


What the world needs more of is Science!
Dinner was provided by a hole in the wall falafel place (I think it was in fact a Falafel Palace, or something like that), and drinks were courtesy of the Miracle of Science Bar. I kid you not, there is a place near MIT called the Miracle of Science. We had to go there. And in fact, it was a neat place (they had a periodic table menu on one wall), good atmosphere and good beer.

After drinks we took the subway back to the hostel, where we watched Olympic diving (I will keep my opinion to myself about this sport). We shared a room with a couple other guys who apparently hadn't thought to air the room out before night time, so when we finally went to bed it was probably 30 degrees warmer in the room than outside. Add to that someone watching something very loudly in the room next to us, and you get a night of not much sleep.


Vote yes on monolithic statues
Our next day in Boston was spent walking around the Freedom Trail, a 3 mile walk through Boston that showcases many of the historical places and events that took place in early America there. Very interesting, I'll give it a B+. It ended at a giant obelisk marking the location of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Makes you wonder why there aren't more giant monolithic structures commemorating history throughout the states. Graham postulated that it had something to do with the decline in paganism, and I'm inclined to agree.

Tuesday marked the end of Graham's journey with me. After the Freedom Trail walk, I bid him farewell. Thanks again for coming along Graham, the company was quite refreshing after almost two weeks on my own. We drank some good brews and stayed in some shady motels. All in all good times were had.

Beginning the second solo portion of my trip, I continued down the eastern coast to historical Plymouth, MA. All I have to say is this: Plymouth Rock, very unimpressive. I've seen larger boulders in rock gardens. I guess I was expecting something more magnificent for the landmark of the first landing of the pilgrims. Maybe something along the lines of Haystack Rock off the Oregon coast, now that is a rock.

Plymouth marked the end to my mostly eastward journey, as from there I began heading west again. I passed through New Bedford, checked out Dartmouth (very strange place for a campus, there is really not much surrounding it in the way of a town; I was hoping for a neat college pub or something to stop at, but no such luck), before ending up just east of the border of Rhode Island for the night. Providence is next on the itinerary. Using Wikitravel I've found some places that may be of interest within the city. On a whim while on Wikitravel I checked out Portland, OR to see what they had to say about the city. Reading about it made me realize that I'm really beginning to miss the City of Roses. Of all the places I've been so far, very few seem to offer what Portland does. Maybe it's simply because I was raised there, and therefore am more familiar with it. Either way, I'm glad it is my destination.

Observation 3: When on the road, especially on your own, your mind tends to wander a lot. The thing is, you never think of the things you mean to ponder, at least not for long. In fact, often your mind leads itself to areas you'd prefer not to think of, and begins to repeat itself. Nothing can really show you what is on your mind more than 500 miles of interstate with nothing to do but think.

Status update: Well rested, slightly clean shaven (I decided to stop looking like a bum and give my beard a bit of a shape. Plus my neck was itching like crazy).
Miles under my belt: ~5400. I'm pretty close to my estimated half way point, although the path I have taken has deviated quite widely from my planned route. Check the map under the links section to see where I've been so far.
iPoddin':
Flaw - Endangered Species and Through the Eyes
Incubus - Morning View

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 16: It is hard to find free wifi in Canada

Cleveland was just a quick jaunt from Dayton; we arrived in the afternoon (after getting a bit of a later start than planned). Our first stop was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Two things to note about the museum:

  1. It costs $22 to get in (but you can get a military discount, thank you Graham).
  2. It will take you more than the hour and a half we allotted to see it all if you really look at everything.
  3. It's probably not worth $22 (or even the $17 that we paid).

We talked to an interesting employee who filled us in on the process for getting materials into the museum (they have to be donated by the bands), and who was quite skeptical "as a fan" of the legitimacy of the place. Curious.

The nice thing about the museum was that it was on Lake Erie, so afterwards we were able to take a nice walk around the pier, looking at the dead fish floating near the dock.

Graham introduced me to the wonderfulness of Wikitravel.org, which introduced us to our next stop: The Harbor Inn, the oldest pub in Cleveland. They only have one beer on tap (something crappy I don't remember), but dozens of domestics and imports in bottles and, according to Graham's judgment, an attractive bartender. We spent a good amount of time hanging out here, and even had pizza delivered from a local Italian restaurant so that we could continue our boozing. The atmosphere was awesome, very friendly and inviting.


Interesting buildings abound
After a bit of a walk around the piers we were good to drive, and headed out of the city. Impressions of Cleveland were positive, the only thing it really had going against it was the fact that it resided in Ohio. Transport it to the Oregon coast or anywhere on the west coast really and it would be a phenomenal place (from what we could tell, we obviously didn't get a terribly in depth feel for the city itself).

We holed up for the night just outside the city at a Motel 6 and watched some Olympians win some golds. Go Phelps.

Breakfast at Bob Evan's (a midwest institution apparently): awesome. After leaving Bahb Ehvahn's (you really have to imagine the accent), out next major stop would be Buffalo, NY. Instead of of taking the interstate, we decided to take our time and stroll up the coastal highways (is it still a coast if it's just a lake?). We passed through a bunch of little communities on the lake, some quite well off and others quite not. Erie, PA didn't really live up to the image we had in our heads, but to be honest we weren't really sure where that image came from in the first place.


Apparently "Pearl" is universal for restored old buildings
By the time we reached Buffalo it was well past beer o'clock, and we just so happened to pass something called the Pearl St. Grill and Brewery; putting two and two together got us dinner. I had the double IPA (22 ounces thank you very much) which was very hoppy and bitter, but with nice, almost citrus flavors (which gave me a definite buzz while waiting for our food to arrive). Graham had the sampler, a circular tray with miniature "pint" glasses of six or so of the beers.


After dinner we headed north (over a damn toll bridge; seriously, what the hell are taxes for up here?) to Niagra Falls. For some reason I had pictured Niagra Falls in the middle of a forested park that you had to hike down to. Reality it seems is very different. The falls themselves are pretty magnificent, the sheer amount of water that flows down those rivers every second is staggering. We tried walking over to the more famous horseshoe section of the falls when we realized why everyone over there was wearing plastic rain ponchos. To dry off we hiked around the central island for a while before crossing the river to watch the sunset over the Canadian side of the city of Niagra Falls. All in all, Niagra Falls gets an A+ for being visually stunning, and comparatively cheap (only $8 to park).


The only position from which we didn't get soaked
Departing from Niagra marked the beginning of our adventures into the great northern neighbor of ours: Canada. Crossing the border was the first challenge. The border agent grilled us for a while about what possible reason we had to visit his country, asking us the same questions multiple times trying to catch us in a lie. Not a whole lot different than passing through customs at an airport, really.

We headed around Lake Erie for a while, but as it was getting late we decided to find some place to rest our traveled bones. Grimbsy offered a decent Super 8, although all we could get once again was a smoking room. The desk lady was nice enough to give us the AAA rate, though.

In the morning we finished the journey up to our first major stop, Toronto. This city is pretty much giant, very busy, and very interesting. My initial impression of Canadian cities and towns was that they had a distinct British influence in architecture and feel; Graham thought they felt more Californian. A nice mix of both is probably the best way to describe it.

We had an address that apparently was a good place to park and walk around. Turns out the address was a park, a place to walk around. Oh well, close enough. While on our hike, the city decided to be a jerk and begin to thunderstorm. The sky opened and sent forth a torrent of Graham sized rain drops. We took refuge in a Lebanese cafe for lunch, gorging ourselves on delicious schwarma (maybe not authentic Canadian cuisine, but damn tasty none the less). Our last stop in Toronto was the Distillery district, and old warehouse and industry type place being reinvigorated a la the Pearl District of Portland. We hit up the Mill St. Pub, which served its own craft brews on tap. The bartender was extremely friendly, talking to us about the craft brew scene in Canada in general and where to find good beer in the area. We also met a man from Quebec who highly recommended that we check out Montreal (a city not on our current iternery) for beer at his ex-girlfriend's bar and smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz's.

Heading out of Toronto that evening, we discovered something amazing, something mind blowing, an indescribable phenomenon (despite my attempts to): poutine. We knew about this legend from such cultural icons as Super Troopers, but had yet to experience it first hand. This Canadian delight begins with french fries, but no it doesn't stop there. Add cheese curds on top. Add gravy over everything. Add an extra little dose of beauty and a dab of heaven, and you have poutine. Seriously, well done Canada. Well done.


Graham doesn't think Poland should beat the US in volleyball
For the next hour we were stuck in traffic (learn to merge properly people; and Canada, come on, don't close two of the three lanes on a busy express way the night of a sporting event), and then for the next couple hours we were on the road to Ottawa. An interesting thing we discovered about the GPS unit in my car: some parts of the map are just blank. Apparently the part of Canada between Toronto and Ottawa weren't important enough to include in the American database. I wonder who made that decision to just say "eh" to an entire region of the province.

We ended up rolling into Ottawa a bit late (one in the morning) only to discover that there was some sort of golf tournament going on that weekend, which meant nearly zero available rooms. We drove around from motel to motel, until we found a room for $200...which we promptly rejected. On a whim, we used the GPS to help us find a motel in the area, which led us to Webb's Motel, an awesome hole in the wall kind of place with rooms! Cheap (ish) rooms!


We found Graham sized ladies to have tea with
After a much needed nearly full nights sleep, we found a neat little diner for breakfast then headed downtown to the parliament buildings. We bit the bullet and paid for parking in a garage (with tiny little spaces), which worked out well as we were able to park quite close to parliament. The buildings themselves are brilliant; a bit gothic with intricate details, tons of bronze statues sprinkled around the grounds, and monuments to wars we didn't even realize happened (apparently America tried invading Canada, you may have heard of the war of 1812).

Out of Ottawa and back on the road towards Montreal. We decided that the promise of more delicious Canadian things was too much to pass up, plus we're doing well on our time table, needing only to get to Boston by the 19th.

It happened gradually at first; a sign here or an advert there. But when we stopped in a small town grocery store for something to drink and heard all the announcements in French, we knew we were getting close to the province of Quebec, French Canada. Passing into the providence itself, all traffic signs switched to French first, English second.

By the time we got near Montreal proper, it was approaching rush hour. Consequently it took us nearly an hour to go the last couple of miles. But we finally found our way to the recommended pub in the heart of a suburban/commercial downtown area. Not speaking a lick of French between us, we were a bit nervous, but luckily our waitress spoke English (enough to get our order at least). We drank down our brews and went for a walk to get some delicious smoked meat sandwiches (luckily the pub was in the same neighborhood as Schwartz's). And good they were. This was one of those hole in the wall shops, although it must be pretty famous because the line to sit down was out the door. If you wanted an order to go, though, you could just walk in; not a hard choice for us.

Our last major stop in Canada was to be the city of Quebec. The trip from Montreal was simple enough, and we arrived in town earlier this time (9 or 10 at night). Unfortunately, finding a motel was just as troublesome as it had been in Montreal. Every sign being in French only compounded our troubles (we did learn that "complet" means full or no vacancy). Our luck changed finally at a one star cheap motel, with a single bed in a cramped room. Oh and the TV was stuck on porn when we first turned it on (we finally figured out how to get back to regular broadcast TV).

In the morning we headed into downtown Quebec. The French/European influence was amazing; we could have easily been walking around in a city in France. Forget flying to Europe, save some money and fly to Quebec. We grabbed a sandwich for breakfast, then walked around the city for a bit. It is built on a bit of a hill, so we walked to the top to the "Citadelle", which seems to be an old military base or something. From there you can walk on the Governor's Promenade which circles around the outside of the hill through all the vegetation and offers a tremendous view of the river below. This led down to the old Governor General's palace, an enormous castle slightly reminiscent of something you would find at Disney Land.

For the rest of the day we headed south out of Canada, and through very rural Maine. Augusta was pretty much a hole in the ground, but just outside was the town of Hallowell. We stopped at an awesome (and quite busy) pub called the Liberal Cup. After a couple of pints we were back on the road again, finding a Motel 6 (after some calling around) in the town of Lewiston. There we experienced the history making winning swim for Micheal Phelps (woot), and in the morning ate at a restaurant which seemed to cater to the extremely old. From there, it was on to Portland, Maine...

Facial hair status: it's been a bit more than two weeks since I last shaved, and it's getting to the point where I can't really call it stubble anymore and need to deal with it by either shaping it into a beard or shaving it all off. Or I guess I could just keep on looking like a bum.
Mileage status (in miles since we're back in the good ol' oosuh): ~5000
Musical status:
Fiona Apple - Tidal and When the Pawn
Thrice - The Alchemy Index III & IV
The Beatles - Revolver
George Thoroughgood - Extended Versions Live
Daft Punk - Alive 2007
Norah Jones - Feels Like Home
Gnarls Barkely - The Odd Couple

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day 13: Still catching up

On Sunday I had a nice lie in (much needed I'm sure). I rolled out around 10, and immediately into the Starbucks down the street to get my daily fix of internet news and nonsense. Vowing again to stay away from the toll road, I headed east towards the lake and took a nice local highway along the shore.


Graham says "Jesus would approve"
This eventually met up with the interstate (post toll section thankfully), which meant traffic. Sunday afternoon traffic going south into Chicago. My regiment of drinking as much water as I could was starting to catch up to me, as well as a slight irritation with the crowds of cars, so I took an exit looking for a bathroom. From here I decided to move towards the shore line again as I had heard the shore line road was interesting and goes right through downtown. This part of Chicago was pretty interesting, reminding me of a blend between northwest and southeast Portland.

Traffic began increasing as I approached the shore, which I realized was due to the giant public park the road I was on led to. A combination of traffic, stress of driving in an unknown city, and a renewed desire to use the restroom caused me to turn on what I thought was the correct road, but turned out to be one that ran parallel, with no way of connecting.

This began an adventure in navigating downtown Chicago trying to get on the right highway. Taking a wrong turn I eventually joined up with the correct route, however in the wrong direction. There must be some psychological effect that a full bladder has on the brain, because I was making some pretty poor judgment calls about turns and such. By this point, I was at the stage where had I been able to discover the proper logistics I would have used one of the empty bottles I had rattling around.

Once I was finally able to get on the shore line drive in the right direction, I decided to sacrifice my comfort in favor of not getting lost again. The road was nice, good speed and right on the lake; I was able to take in much of downtown Chicago at 60 mph.

Eventually, though, I was led into south Chicago. This is where my trip took a turn for the culturally interesting. I had this conversation with Graham, who helped me really flesh this out as he had the same general observations. Being from Portland, I hope to be a liberal and open person, and for the most part believe myself to be. However, with that in mind, the other element of being from Oregon is a lack of extreme economic diversity; for the most part, the state (at least the Portland metro area) has a range of middle class with few outliers on either side. Driving into south Chicago, I was abruptly thrown into a poor, predominantly African American community. In and of itself, not necessarily a threatening environment, but I was already lost (sort of) and quite out of my element. Against my intellectual self, I admit that I felt uncomfortable. I am unsure whether it was from expectaions and biases from what I've seen in popular media, a lack of personal experience in this kind of situation, or most likely a combination of the two. But the worst part was that I was frustrated in myself for succumbing to a fear that I know to be illogical. I know that the chances of anything adverse happening to me are low, and probably mostly equal no matter where I am, but I couldn't help but feel uneasy.

How do you combat those kinds of personal biases, when you know intellectually that they have no base? Putting yourself out there, out of your comfort zone, forcing yourself to confront your unease perhaps? I don't know the answer.

Needless to say, I found my way out of Chicago and into Indiana. This is where I had my first taste of the delicious institution known as White Castle. If what you want are tasty little burgers and fries, White Castle delivers. No frills or extras.


You provide compelling arguments.
I got out to Graham's around 9 (being in the Eastern time zone now). We went out to what is referred to as the "Oregon District" of Dayton, a street of shops and pubs that don't serve any Oregon beer. So why the name? Graham's housemates Bree and Ben postulated that it has something to do with the Oregon trail, and this district perhaps being a staging area. Probably the best explanation I heard. Despite not being from Oregon, the beer wasn't half bad for sure.

Monday we spent tromping around Dayton, visiting the Air Force Museum (very interesting), then heading out to Yellowsprings (the town Graham originally lived in when he first came to Ohio). The town is quite nice, but probably more suited for young families just settling down. We took a nice long "hike" through a nature preserve and rewarded ourselves with some beer (Stone Ruination IPA on tap!) and spinach dip.

On Tuesday, we began our journey north towards Cleveland...

Trip eh? Canadian
Kilometers eh? 6646
Music eh?
The Manchester Orchestra - Like a Virgin Losing a Child
Colour Revolt - EP
Lily Allen - Alright, Still