Monday, August 29, 2005

Day 13 and Beyond

Many of you have asked me if I have arrived in San Francisco yet. The answer is, of course! Havent you been reading the titles of the posts? It only took me 10 days to reach the Bay Area. It just took me 3 months to write all the entries. I have found a place to live in the city, thanks to a friend of a former co-worker. I live in the fabulous North Beach, which is part of the pictures from Day 11 (a few blocks from Vesuvio Cafe and down the hill from Coit Tower). I am still looking for a job, not a surprise given the state of the economy and that I am switching careers. I have been temping, tho not steadily, for the past 2 months. I have also started taking a class in Restoration and Wildlife, which is a lot of fun. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Day 12: San Francisco

Woke up this morning nice and leisurely. We had 2 things on the agenda: Go to the Giants game, and drop Liz off at the airport. I am not a baseball fan, but if it were up to Liz, we would have stopped at every ballpark we passed. Since the Giants were playing the Mets, her team, it was a given that we would be taking in a game. I didn't mind too much, if onle for sociological reasons. SBC park is gorgeous, and we had great seats. The Mets lost, of course. I tried not to cheer for my new home team. I have a dilemma - stick to my roots in rooting for NY teams, or embrace my new home and root for SF teams? Live in the past, or live for the future? I think I will do neither, and root for whatever suits my mood at the moment. After the game we wandered back to the car, passing many bars filled with Giants fans. We walked by this one bar, and I idly looked in the window, when I realized with a shock that I recognized a face! I've been in San Francisco for all of two days now, and I can count on one hand the people that I know here. The people in the window I did not count upon my hand as they were former coworkers of mine back in NY. I knew Bob was moving out here a week before I myself left, but I never pictured him a baseball fan. I didn't know his former creative partner (in advertising, creatives come in teams, an art director and a copywriter; Dave had actually left Euro a year before to join another agency so Bob had had a different partner in the remaining time), Dave, had moved out also, but there he was, SF Giants visor perched firmly on his head. I walked into the bar to accost them. Dave, it turned out, had been offered a job soon after Bob had joined DDBSF. He bought the Giants visor as a show of new hometown pride, even tho he is no more a fan of baseball than I am. We chatted for a few minutes, exchanged numbers, and then Liz and I left. We had quite a bit of time until Liz's plane left that evening, so we opted to explore more of San Francisco. We drove to the Presidio, a former Army installation that is now a park under the Golden Gate Bridge. We parked at some random parking lot and wandered down to Crissy Field. Crissy Field is a reclaimed marsh that also serves as a park trail along the waterfront. We hiked up the trail til almost the end, reading the informative signs describing how they restored much of the marshland from its former use as an airfield. Almost at the end are a string of dilapidated structures that look like they date from the turn of the century, or maybe the 1920s. I don't really know my army architectural history, but the buildings looked cool even though they were abandoned. There is a warming hut further on (to give you an idea of the normal weather patterns) but we noting the crunch of time we turned back through the park alongside a road. Along this steep route we passed a pet cemetary. Pet cemetaries always freak me out - blame it on the string of bad horror movies in the 80s, which, admittedly, I never saw, but the commercials were enough to make me never want to go near one. We got back to the car and drove around a bit more to look at the housing options. The Presidio was the largest Army Installation in the west and had lots of housing built in many different eras from the 1860s-1970s, and most of that housing is available to rent. We drove through some gorgeous older structures that I'm sure is expensive to rent, and through some cheap ass housing that i'm guessing is from the 1970s era. That area is right on the ocean so it must get terrible fog. We had forgotten about time again and raced off to dinner at Andalu, a small plates restaurant in the Mission. I had been there before for New Years and it was yummy, and was glad to see the quality was still the same. Liz's parents had offered to pay for our meal which was very sweet of them, but we had to eat rather quickly in order to make Liz's flight. Mad dash to the airport, drop Liz off, and it's official - I'm a San Franciscoan. Well, an Oaklandite, as I'm staying at my brother's cat-sitting while he is at Burning Man.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Day 11: San Francisco

Finally, we have reached the land of milk and honey. Oh wait, that’s Israel. Which let me tell you, I saw neither hide nor hair of milk and honey. Dry desert stubbornly terraformed with water that I’m sure was raped from an overused aquifer. Hey, that sounds like California too! I digress.

Liz and I woke up in San Mateo, which is just south of San Francisco, helped her parents pack as they were flying back to NY that day, and hopped in the car to drive into the city. All of my previous encounters with San Francisco have been in a car, as my brother lives in the east bay not near the BART. I hate driving into SF, much as I hated driving into NY. It’s not so much the driving that is annoying, but the parking. For this reason I have never warmed to SF, which was always a niggling doubt in the back of my mind when I made the decision to move here. Problem is I couldn’t think of any other place I would like better, either. Liz and I decided to park in a lot, something that goes against every fiber of my NY being, but we didn’t want to drive around all day in unfamiliar neighborhoods trying to score a spot only to return to find a ticket on the car for some arcane parking violation. Not that they necessarily have arcane parking violations here, but I’m sure the police officers would take one look at Irma’s NY plates and make something up on the spot. So a lot it was.

We whipped out the free AAA tourbook to SF and started on a walking tour. It started in Union Square, the hip, fashion center of SF, anchored by a Macys, Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s, Saks 5th, etc, and conveniently enough, where we parked. Right off Union Square we took in a sidewalk art fair and walked into the Xanadu Gallery, which is housed in a Frank Lloyd Wright building. The exterior of the building is very modern but not that distinguishing, the inside spiral theme is reminiscent of the Guggenheim. In fact Wright used the Xanadu as a test before he designed the Guggenheim. The spiral is as amazing in a small scale as it is in the much larger museum.

On the other side of Union Square is the gorgeous Westin St. Francis hotel, survivor of the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed 90% of SF’s buildings. We waltzed in to the lobby, mentally laughing in the face of the upperclass gentility that frequent the joint, to use their bathroom. Best place to find a bathroom on a trip – a nice hotel. Walk in like you are a guest, the bathroom is usually to the side of the lobby, and nobody will look twice. Luckily today even in expensive hotels the guests dress in casual attire, so it’s harder to spot the fakes.

After our brief refresh we continued on the tour through Chinatown, which looked much like NY’s Chinatown, tho not as big. We stopped for buns at a Chinese bakery; mmm were they good. I got a roast pork bun, my favorite, and a creamed corn bun.

Much like in New York, next to Chinatown is the Italian neighborhood of North Beach, which is larger, and slightly more authentic than NY's Little Italy. At this point Liz remarked that really I wasn’t leaving NY at all; that in all the neighborhoods we had seen SF was just a west-coast clone with hills. I partly agreed with her, there’s a reason I chose SF over LA and that’s because it’s a city, but SF has a different character that I like. It’s a nice mix of big city edge with California laid-back attitudes. We walked by the Vesuvio café, home of the beat poets, and grabbed a coffee in Café Trieste, a charming and tourist crowded café.

North Beach is also the home of Telegraph Hill. We climbed to the top which features Coit Tower, a phallic symbol if there ever was one. Sure, its supposed to represent a fire hose, as Lillian Coit was an obsessive fan of firehouses, but really, a tall round building on a top of a hill, if that's not phallic then what is. Great view, tho.

We hiked down the Greenwich steps on the other side of Telegraph hill, where wild parrots live, and my thighs felt like we were descending the inner wall of the Grand Canyon again. We walked back up the Filbert steps and walked down to Del Monte square.

They had a small farmer’s market that day and we bought the most delicious plums and apricots. God I love California. Del Monte square is just off Fisherman’s Wharf, so we were spared the mass hysteria of tourist throngs of that area.

No trip to Fisherman's Wharf is complete until you ride the famous cable car. We walked to the end of one of the cable car lines, the Powell-Hyde, where they put the car on a platform and turn it by hand to go back up the tract. We decided to continue in the uber tourist tradition we had been adopting all day and ride the cable car. It was $3, which may seem like a lot but compared to the $5 it would increase to in 2 days it was a relative bargain. SF is smart in some ways, as even tho the cable car is part of the Muni system they charge more for it as most of the people who ride the Cable Car are tourists so why not profit off of them. If you are a resident of the bay area and own a monthly muni card you can ride the cable car for free, but you cannot transfer from a Muni bus to the cable car for free. The line was really long, as this was a prime tourist designation, but we decided to wait on line like everyone to experience it just this once. It took an hour, which is absurd. We had the usual line dynamics, people standing around in the hot sun alternately waiting patiently and complaining to their fellow line waiters about the length of the wait. We also had the typical line jumpers, in this case an elderly trio who didn’t really speak English and cut just behind us when the line made a turn and tried to edge up everytime the line moved. Liz, myself, and the people behind us talked loudly about how rude they were in an effort to embarrass them enough to step out, but they didn’t listen. So Liz point blank told them to get off and go to the end like everybody else but they also ignored us. They couldn’t claim language barrier as one of the women spoke English, but pretended they didn’t hear us. We made sure to not leave any room in front or behind of us so they would be pushed out, but some silly person a few behind us let them in. It’s behavior like that that encourages line jumpers. Someone should write a sociology paper on this behavior; from signs at amusement parks I know it is prevalent elsewhere.

When we finally boarded the cable car we took position on the exterior, hanging on for somewhat-dear-life. Liz’s leg got hit by a car that didn’t know how to share the road, but thankfully it was just a tap. That didn’t stop us from glaring at the driver, however. They were tourists anyway, so it was all good.

After riding one form of SF public transportation we decided to try another, the Muni Metro. We took it to the Castro, but ended up walking through mostly residential neighborhoods for hours. The Muni metro is a very silly transportation system. The platform was very long, as if to accommodate a many-car train, but the train that arrived only had 2 cars. From my recent experiences aboard the metro I know this is not an unusual occurrence – so far the longest train I have seen has only had 4 cars. Regardless it got us where we were going, or where we thought we were going if we had actually paid attention to a map and not walked away from the neighborhood we had been trying to see. No matter, walking through residential streets holds an interest all its own, because SF is full of gorgeous Victorians that I can only dream to live in.

We grazed the end of Golden Gate Park before we decided we were hungry and drove to the Mission to inhale some yummy Mexican food. We then drove to Oakland to my brother’s apartment to crash for the evening.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Day 10: Las Vegas to San Francisco

Day 10: Sleep, that blessed vixen, how you eluded us. Snatched from the grip of beautiful slumber by the insanely early (for Vegas, anyway) check-out policies of the Paris Hotel, we wearily packed our bags and joined the throngs of people dropping their keys into too-convenient boxes. Really, if they were smart they would avoid a traffic jam by staggering check out times. We then headed over to the Bellagio buffet for brunch. The Bellagio buffet was the other dining experience I recalled so fondly from my last time in town 5 years prior. Hopefully, opposed to the Paris buffet, it will stand up to memory. Mmmmm. It certainly did. Maybe it was because our schedules were so out of whack, maybe it was because we knew we would be spending the entire day in the car with only fast food as our culinary companions, but we certainly enjoyed Bellagio’s gustatory presentation. The day was bright, a hard sun glinting off our sunglasses as the heat cascaded over us; we got into the car and headed west. Not too far out of the Vegas gridlock we entered California. The golden state, receptacle of my dreams and desires, lay open and dry ahead of us. We climbed miles and miles of golden brown hills; the engine temperature climbed and our check engine light, boon companion of our trip, reacquainted itself. I turned off the air conditioning in climbs to try to drop the engine temp; nothing like driving in the August desert without air conditioning. We stopped off at Baker, California, “Gateway to Death Valley” which really only exists because it’s a convenient middle point between two tawdry civilizations: Vegas and LA. We took the obligatory photo of the gigantic temperature, helpfully announcing 106 degrees, filled up the tank and purchased numerous cold drinks. We got off the 15 (now that I live in California I have to precede every highway number with a “the” as in “the 15” to reference Interstate 15), a nice wide highway, in Barstow to take CA-58, a much smaller road. There’s not much between Las Vegas and San Francisco and no direct superhighway. We stopped again in Mojave for gas, which is very close to Edwards Air Force Base. For such a historic base (this is where Chuck Yaegar broke the sound barrier and is a landing site for the shuttle, among other historical moments) there is really nothing here in the way of services. We did pass 4 billboards proclaiming that “The Bible – Good For Life!” That’s right, that fabulous billboard that greeted me at the beginning of this journey in Pennsylvania resurrected itself in nowheres-ville California. After Mojave we passed through Tehachapi, which is ‘famous’ for its wind turbines clustering along the hillsides and for some random railroad innovation called the Tehachapi Loop, which is a circuitous route built into the hills to help a train with the steep grades. Apparently if a train is long enough it can loop back on itself with no harm. There was a train passing through when we drove by but the loop is so big you can’t tell anything from the car (here’s a picture: We pretended we were excited, tho. We then passed through Bakersfield, easily the highlight of any trip (please note dripping sarcasm), and stopped at a hamburger/taco stand in Wasco, an even tinier town just north of Bakersfield on the connector road between the 99 and the 5. The drive at this point consisted of such scenic highlights as almond groves and other unidentifiable crops lining the road (its not that I can identify almond trees, its just that they were labeled whereas the other crops weren’t, and California doesn’t publish a helpful guide to identifying roadside crops for those long trips like Kansas did). Finally, the 5. I have un-fond memories of driving the 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles in my 4 years in college. Long and boring is what I primarily remember, with the only highlight being that you can speed as much as you want. We reached the bay area by 9:30pm, after only about 9 hours on the road, which isn’t bad at all. I called my brother, which was where liz and I were going to be staying until she flew home and I found an apartment, but he was going to be at work til after midnight. We then called Lizzie’s parents, who happened to be in the bay area on vacation and they generously invited us to crash at their hotel in San Mateo. The check engine light went off, obviously heralding our arrival.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Day 9:
We got up at 6:30 to hike the first length of the
Bright Angel Trail – a 3 mile roundtrip hike to the
first rest stop on the Trail and back - down the wall
of the canyon.  We brought lots of water and salty
snacks, as they tell you to.  The hike down was not
tiring, but my legs started shaking after about 10
minutes.  They are not used to continuous steep
downgrades, obviously.  The path was wide but a bit
perilous with all the loose rock and dirt.  OK, not
that perilous but you constantly had to be on your
guard about slipping.  We reached the rest point after
about an hour.  The signs all say that it takes 1/3 of
your hike to get down, and 2/3 to get back up.  We
were looking at 3 hours, which is about average for
this trail.  We rested at the stop for about ½ hour,
and then started climbing back up.  I got winded
immediately, and drank lots of water.  The downward
path seemed endless, and I was afraid the up-canyon
path would be even more so. It wasn’t.  Lizzie and I
went slow for a while, not wanting to push ourselves
too much, but then I saw a marker near the top and got
a second wind, powering up the rest of the path.  It
had taken us less time to reach the top as it had to
get down.  2/3 as long, my ass.  We were dripping with
sweat, but it didn’t matter. It was 10:30 am and we
were done with our first hike.  We had time to do
another hike, a level hike to the rim through forest.
It was not a marked trail, which was all the better
because we had it pretty much to ourselves.  We walked
through about a mile of forest with gorgeous grasses
and wildflowers, til we reached the rim.  I think it
was the prettiest overlook yet.  We ate a good lunch
in the Arizona room at the Bright Angel Lodge in Grand
Canyon Village and too off for Vegas. The road out of
the Canyon (through the Kaibab National Forest again,
and again not really a forest) was pretty.  Rolling
green shrubland as far as the eye can see – parts of
it almost as flat as Kansas, with mountains framed in
the distance. Wild sunflowers and a weird plant with
the base looking like short corn and the top like
saguaro cactus lined the road.  We got on I40 headed
west, apparently towards Los Angeles.  I don’t get
that – I-40 doesn’t actually reach LA, it stops when
it hits I-15, which also doesn’t go to LA.  So why did
they put LA on the I-40 sign?  Bizarre.  Painful - gas
is $3.09 in Arizona along I-40.  Ouch.  Gas pains
aside, its on to Vegas, baby, Vegas!  We drive over
the Hoover Dam, which I previously would have been in
awe of, except for two recent developments: 1) we just
saw the grand canyon.  Nothing can beat that,
especially not something man-made; 2) recently read
Cadillac Desert, which is about water in the west.
Basically we have dammed up every single possible flow
of water and not only is this affecting the former
river environment in terms of fish species and the
like, but we are also drawing more water than the
system can handle.  The book was written in the early
80s, the problems are so much worse now. So looking at
the Hoover Dam, the engineering ‘wonder of the world’
I couldn’t help but think of the stupidity and hubris
of our country in thinking it can tame nature and not
reap the consequences.  Ah well.  Pretty Art-Deco
sculptural work, tho. Now it’s on to Vegas, baby,
We drive to our hotel (after sitting in traffic for a
half an hour to go 2 blocks), the Paris, check in, and
take showers. Boy, are we dirty.  Remember, we spent
the morning hiking the Grand Canyon, and then hopped
in the car. By the time we have scrubbed the filth
off, we have to run to dinner before Alexa’s flight.
We ate at the Paris buffet, which I had eaten at last
time I was in town 5 years ago.  I remembered it as an
amazing culinary experience, and hyped it up to Alexa
and Liz as such.  They wanted to go to Nobu, which is
apparently better than Nobu in NY, but I didn’t want
to eat in a restaurant in Vegas a meal I could eat in
NY. Why did I leave NY, then?  The time crunch really
decided things, tho.  So we ate at Paris. It was not
that good, certainly nothing close to my memory, and
definitely not backing up my sales effort to Lex and
Liz. Mediocre meal done, we dropped Alexa off at the
airport exactly on time. Liz and I went to the
“Fremont Street Experience,” which is the really old
historic street of Vegas that they had decided to roof
over (cause the rains in Vegas can really threaten a
place).  Lots of neon. Very cool.  Then Liz and I went
back to the hotel to take a nap so we can be refreshed
for our Vegas experience. We got up at 3am (Vegas
never sleeps, after all) and walked around the strip,
ogling at all the fake monuments. We did the
obligatory stop at New York, New York, amazed at how
un-new york it looked.  They poured that much money in
and couldn’t even get it to look right? And the
Brooklyn bridge had ads on it, damn Vegas. We did not
ride the roller coaster as it does not run all night.
The only people up and about were coming home from
clubs drunk off their ass, or gambling. And there
weren’t too many gamblers either.  I don’t believe the
hype, NY is still the city that never sleeps. I’ve
been up at 2am in NY and the streets have been
crowded.  Vegas is a sham. After touring the casinos
we decided to stop at one and gamble, like good
tourists. We went to the Barbary Coast.  Liz is a slot
machine gambler; I used to be but not after realizing
it’s a really boring and fast way to lose money. I
played Blackjack in Vancouver in a dinky local casino
and had a blast, so I was ready to try my luck at the
big leagues. I did plunk a good $20 into the slots
anyways, and lost it within 5 minutes. I thought slots
are engineered to keep you there awhile before you
lose everything? Not in my experience.  Liz had wanted
to try a table too so we went over to play some
Blackjack, choosing a nice empty table since we don’t
really know what we’re doing. The first dealer was
nice.  He, sadly, got replaced by an asshole. So we’re
playing, and the dealer asks me what hotel I’m staying
at. I reply, “the paris.”  He says, “tomorrow, stop by
a giftshop and pick up a card on how to play
blackjack.”  I was so offended.  First of all, I’m a
tourist. I know I don’t know how to play blackjack
beyond the bare basics, and I’m there to find an
enjoyable way to lose money, and am happy with any
meager winnings.  It’s the playing, not the winning
that matters to me.   Second of all, if I was really
serious about playing blackjack, I wouldn’t have sat
at a $5 table, which is the smallest minimum they
have. After I was up $20 (to compensate for what I had
lost at the slots) I withdrew. Not bad considering
that’s a 33% increase over the  $60 I began with.
After that Liz and I left. It was daybreak already.
Sweet. We went back to the hotel and crashed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Day 8:
Woken up at first by the fishers leaving at 5:30, I
woke up for good when our alarm went off at 7:30.
Time to drive to the Grand Canyon.  We had been
driving through the Kaibab National Forest, which
didn’t look like much of a forest.  I figure that in
this land of deserts and shrubs any grouping of trees
is special enough to warrant national forest
attention.  We got to the Grand Canyon at about 11am.
What a big hole in the ground.  We went around to the
various viewing points, ate lunch in Grand Canyon
Village and then did a hike around the rim.  There
were so many people there.  I liked Zion much better.
Less people, more up close and personal, more variety
in activities.  At the canyon your hiking choices are
pretty much either super easy or very difficult.
Every other sign they were warning you about hiking
under the rim. “Can you run the Boston Marathon?” One
went.  “Margaret did.  She died hiking Bright Angel
Trail in 2004.”  Gee thanks, scare the bejeezus out of
me.  We were planning on doing the Bright Angel Trail,
the most popular trail in the park, the next morning.
Turns out you can do several lengths of the trail
without hiking the full length – a 6-9 hour hike.  The
first length is only 1.5 miles.  Of course, that’s
straight downhill, at which point you have to then go
back straight uphill.  They recommend leaving very
early in the morning, and not hiking between 10 and
4pm because the temperature inside the canyon can get
very hot and there is little to no shade.  We exited
the park and checked into our hotel in Tusayan (a town
right outside the park).  Alexa and I went looking for
dinner and an internet café.  The café was closed and
the only thing in walking distance was a pseudo-diner.
What a crappy restaurant.  Ah well, can’t expect much
in a town that lives and dies by its tourist trade.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day 7:
The day dawned bright and sunny and we were on our way
to Zion National Park.  We were going to get to a
national park if it killed us.  We drove along a
deserted but very scenic road in Utah.  The red cliffs
in the desert were very striking, and they changed
into rolling shrubland with the Sevier river running
through.  It looked like a great place to raft, since
some parts were white-water.  Next time I am in this
part of the country Iwill have to go rafting.  We
entered Zion National Park.  Considering that Lizzie
had to go to 3 different places all over the isle of
Manhattan to try to get the National Parks Pass, it
was exciting to actually get to use it.  Zion is
simply breathtaking.  Words can’t really describe it.
Towering red cliffs, canyons with the Virgin River
rushing through, all of it was spectacular.  We went
on three hikes, the last one being the best –
scrambling on cliffs, crossing rickety bridges on a
less used trail to end up overlooking the canyon.
Sadly, it was time to leave.  You could spend a few
days in Zion, but we had to get moving.  At this point
the Check Engine light came on, but we studiously
ignored it.  Our original plan was to drive to the
North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but we nixed that in
favor of visiting the Coral Pink Sands State Park,
which we had seen advertised in Zion.  We drove for
about 12 miles on open rangeland, over a mountain
until the sand dunes came into view.  There was
practically nobody there, and the sun was getting
ready to set over the hills.  There were miles of sand
dunes stretching as far as the eye could see, more
orange than coral pink, but still amazing.  We took
off our shoes and climbed some of them.  The sand was
super fine and cool.  I resisted the urge to slide
down the dunes.  Some kids playing did not have such
compunctions.  We were exhausted by the time we got
back to the car. Thankfully not too exhausted to drive
to our next resting place, the Cliff Dwellers Lodge at
the base of the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona.  On our
drive out of the park we were stopped by a herd of
cattle eating.  We didn’t want to announce our
presence in case the bull decided that we were an
enemy, so we waited them out.  And waited.  And
waited. Finally they were done dining along the edge
and got off the road.  Back on the main road, we
crossed the Utah/Arizona border and gained an hour,
because Arizona, like Indiana, does not observe
daylight savings time.  The Lodge was quite rustic,
when Liz called for reservations the proprietor said
they have beds, bathrooms, and bibles.  It is used
mainly for fishers.  When we got there we were
disappointed to discover that there were in fact no
bibles.  So sad.  However, we could eat, sleep, and
fish, according to the sign.  Eat and sleep, yes.
Getting up at 5:30am to fish? No thank you.  

Monday, August 22, 2005

Day 6:
I brought the car in to various Frisco auto repair
shops, but no one was available to look at it
immediately, and they all said the check engine light
was nothing to worry about, so we headed on.  We drove
to Glenwood Springs to soak for a little in the
world’s largest hot spring.  We noticed the car
starting to vibrate continuously (it was vibrating
intermittently before) so we found a BP service
station as soon as we got off the highway and dropped
the car off to be looked at.  What better way to while
away the time than to soak in the springs.  They had
water slides too, so we were happily occupied.  The BP
guy pronounced our car’s engine peachy keen, said the
vibration was most likely due to wheel alignment, but
no big deal, so we got back on the highway west.  We
cruised along for a while, 80 miles per hour, when
suddenly the tire blew out.  The other back tire,
shredded.  Joy.  This time we were stuck on the side
of the busy and fast I70 in the middle of Colorado,
not near much with sketchy cell phone service.  We
couldn’t budge the bolts, so I called Geico, who
couldn’t get a hold of a towing company to change the
tire.  Meanwhile I called 911 to get a cop to stand by
us so we don’t become a news headline.  A cop from the
town of Parachute, CO, pulled up, and he called for a
tire guy.  We chatted for a long while – very nice
guy- until the tire guy came.  In two seconds he had
the tire changed.  We drove on the spare to Grand
Junction, about 40 miles down the interstate, to get
to a Sears to buy a new tire.  We decided to replace
every single tire, because we were about to head into
true middle of nowhere Utah without cell phone
service, and if I couldn’t get emergency roadside
service in somewhat populated Colorado than I would be
flat out of luck in Utah.  I don’t understand how a
tire could shred, let alone two.  When I bought the
car I asked the mechanic who looked at it if the tires
were good since I was driving cross country.  He said
they were fine.  When the first tire shredded I asked
the guys at Sears in PA if the other tires were fine,
and they said yes.  Grrrr.   We had a great tour of
the Mesa Mall while we waited  Alexa conquered the
tools section of Sears.  2 hours later we were on the
road again.  Our original plan for the day called for
a brief stop in the hot springs, then an afternoon
hiking in Arches National Park in Utah, dinner in
Moab, sleeping in Richfield, another 2.5 hours west.
We didn’t reach the Arches exit until after dark, so
it was pointless to go.  We still went to Moab for
dinner because there is nothing else for hours in UT
and we were hungry.  Fighting fatigue we pulled into
the hotel in Richfield about 1:30 in the morning.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Day 5:
Today dawned nice and bright in Kansas City, MO.  I
went down to the concierge desk to inquire after an
automotive repair shop to take a look at our engine.
They told me that Firestone was open, shockingly for a
Sunday in the heartland.  I went back upstairs,
showered, dressed, packed, and headed over to the
Firestone.  They don’t have the engine technician on
Sundays. Of course.  I called my insurance company, as
I have emergency roadside assistance through them.
They gave me the names of 3 companies.  I called all
of them, none of them were open.  Lizzie called AAA,
as she has a membership.  They almost laughed,
“You’re looking for automotive help, on a Sunday?
Good luck!”  They did, however, point us to a Wal-Mart
(evil empire!).  Interesting that a store that prides
itself on its heartland values is open on a Sunday,
the lords day.  Wal-mart did not actually  have a
repair shop, they just had tire and lube changes.  But
we mustve looked pitiful so the guy gave a cursory
glance over our engine, pronounced us fine to wait til
the next day to check it out in Denver.  Phew.  We
filled up the car, got back on the highway, and the
Check Engine light went off.  So bizarre.  I’m not
questioning our relative good luck, as we have a 9+
hour drive to Denver, with a stop along the way to
visit the Concrete Garden of Eden. 
I had heard that Kansas is flat, but it didn’t look
that way.  Rolling hills with lots of green trees and
lots and lots of corn.  We first stopped off in
Salina, to eat sliders at Cozy Burger, recommended by
Roadfood.  Each burger was 75cents, which would seem
cheap until you saw how small the burgers were.  They
were ok. It was nice to stop, tho. Driving long
distances in flat landscape is boring.
We took at right at Lucas, KS, about 20 minutes off
the highway, and miles away from civilization.  Our
destination was the concrete Garden of Eden.
S.P.Dinsmoor, a civil war veteran, had decided to
create a representation of the Garden of Eden, made
out of concrete.  Entirely self-taught (Grandma Moses
he aint), he went on to create sculptures espousing
his ideas of laborers and big business in modern
society.  He then left a clear request for
mummification, and is still visible in the mausoleum
in the backyard.  Gruesome.  In the giftshop I picked
up brochures from the Kansas dept of tourism labeling
the wildlife, grasses, and farm crops that you can see
from the highway, so at least I would know what I was
staring at.  Back on the highway again, next stop is
Goodland, KS, past the central/mountain time zone
change.  Past lucas the terrain turns into classic
Kansan prairie.  Miles and miles of flat farmland.
You can do a 360 and not see a single hill.  It was
beautiful, but also boring.  And Kansas is a big
state.  We reached Goodland several hours later.
Goodland is the regional capital of the sunflower
business (Kansas is, among other things, the sunflower
state), and as such commissioned a giant Van Gogh
reproduction of one of his sunflower paintings, set
atop the Worlds Largest Easel.  Why this isn’t visible
from the highway is beyond me.  I guess they want you
to stop and spend money in Goodland, but all we did
was drive 2 minutes off the highway, snap some pics,
and get on our way.  Next stop, Colorado. 
Eastern Colorado looks a lot like Kansas.  The terrain
slowly becomes rolling rangeland, which is somehow
even more desolate than the farms of Kansas.  After
many hours we roll into Denver. 
We were staying the night at my friend Laura’s
mountain place in Frisco, about an hour west of
Denver.  Laura currently lives in Manhattan, but
happened to be in Wyoming this weekend and was coming
back to her apartment in Denver for the week.  She
arrived about an hour before we did, which was
perfect.  We had eaten dinner in Denver earlier, so
didn’t get to Frisco til midnight.  The terrain at
this point was drastically different than anything
previous.  We crossed the continental divide just
before Frisco, and even though it was late at night we
could still tell that the mountains were awe
inspiring.  Laura took us for a drive up the mountain
to a meadow away from civilization so we could see the
stars.  We drove for a while on a dirt road
illuminated by the moonlight.  The only negative part
was that you could still hear the highway noise even
though you felt you were in the middle of nowhere.  We
got to bed at 2, which wasn’t ideal since we had to be
up early the next morning to get the car checked out. 

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Day 4:
We said goodbye to Todd and Sha and headed to the
Indiana State Fair.  In the weeks leading up to this
trip I had researched state and county fairs on the
internet, hoping to hit at least one in the journey.
I had turned up nothing, so it was a pleasant surprise
when Todd told us last night that the Indiana State
Fair was in Indianapolis through this weekend.  It
brilliantly hot and sunny, and we found free parking,
which is always a bonus.  We walked into the fair and
the first ‘attraction’ was the 4-H youth tractor
driving event. That was amusing for about half a
second, and then we got bored and continued on.  We
walked by the grandstand where they were racing
chariots.  That was cooler.  We watched from the
sidelines for a bit and then headed over to the
Cloggers – basically tap dancers with taps on the
heels of their sneakers.  As exciting as this sounded,
it wasn’t that exciting in person.  Spying the Swine
barn we went in to look at championship pigs.  What a
stench.  We watched the pigs being paraded around and
an announcer calling out all the salient features of
each pig.  We couldn’t tell them apart, but we trusted
their judgement.  About this time we grew hungry,
which probably had nothing to do with the fact that we
were passing rows and rows of fried food stalls.  I
had a pork burger, Alexa had a lamb burger – both of
which were promoted by the Indiana Board of Pork and
Lamb, respectively.  Quite tasty.  It started to rain,
even tho moments before there was a bright blue sky
with a blazing sun.  After 5 minutes the rain stopped
and the sun came out, as blindingly hot as ever.
About this time we grew weary of the heat and fried
food, and knew we had to get on our way if we were
going to make it to St Louis to pick Lizzie up.
Lizzie was flying in at 10am and going to the
Cardinals game, which shouldve been over at about 4.
We got onto the highway and headed west, cruising
along at 70.  The drive to St Louis passes through
southern Illinois, miles and miles of really boring
road.  I didn’t see a single cop along the road, which
was nice, but I still tried to keep close-ish to the
speed limit, which was a paltry 65.  I didn’t
understand that. There was no sign of civilization on
our drive, just miles of greenery (more of the kudzu
that had blanketed trees all along our trip) , so why
couldn’t they raise the speed limit to 70 like the
neighboring states?  Stingy Illinoisans.  Just before
we got to Missouri we passed a gigantic metal cross
along the side of the road.  It must’ve been about 7
stories tall, and was not surrounded by any buildings.
Thanks for the reminder, Illinois.  Thankfully, just
past this was the Gateway Arch peeking up over the
hills to announce our entrance to St Louis.  Lizzie
had gotten to St Louis at 10am, after working til 2:30
am and leaving her apt at 4:30 to get to the airport.
She had then been at the game all day in the 90+
degree heat, without sunscreen.  Needless to say, she
was red and exhausted.  We were originally planning to
go to the City Museum, which is supposed to be pretty
cool, but given Lizzie’s exhaustion and our need to
get to Kansas City by nighttime, a 4 hour drive away,
we decided to press on.  The state of Missouri is
similar to Illinois, but a lot more crowded along the
Interstate.  There were a lot more God, Bible, and
Jesus signs, but a new addition were the anti-abortion
signs, always followed right behind by casino and
adult videostore signs.  We found the juxtaposition
apt.  My favorite billboard along this stretch was a
sign that said “Jesus” against orange and yellow rays,
which echoed the sunset behind it (good placement,
bible thumpers).  I don’t know what I was supposed to
do with this information, besides acknowledging that
yes, Jesus is a word.  I guess I was supposed to pray
fervently in front, shouting ‘hail jesus! Praise be!,’
but somehow it didn’t move me, sunset and all.  I
wonder why.
We entered Kansas City, MO at about 9:15 pm, heading
straight to the BBQ place that was supposed to be open
til 11pm.  Wrong.  It closed at 9.  What is it with
these places and the hours in guidebooks?  Just goes
to show you, always call ahead. We went to the hotel
and asked if there was a bbq place open, and they
directed us to Gates.  It was very good.  Finger
licking good, if I may borrow the overused phrase.  We
got in the car and I noticed the Check Engine light
was on.  Uh-oh.  It was too late to worry about it, so
we  headed back to the hotel, the 4* Hyatt Regency
that we had gotten off of priceline for an obscene
price, and collapsed in bed.  

Friday, August 19, 2005

Day 3:
We slept in this morning. Checked our email, 
chatted with Angela who had a "doctors appointment" 
this morning, and then repacked the car.  Angela 
gave us her vacuum to re-deflate the bag.  
It's so much fun watching that thing do its magic.  
Big mound of linens one minute, flat, crinkly, 
heavy, solid wall of linens the next.  We put 
the linens back in the trunk, put another bag on 
top, and promptly ripped the plastic.
In one big poof the bag expanded.  We put the other 
bags on top, crossed our fingers, and slammed the trunk.  
As long as we don't go back in to the trunk we should be fine. 
We hope.  Angela's husband, Tim, works for a gas company; as 
a perk he gets free gasoline. We filled up the car with it 
($2.43 for mid grade! The cheapest so far this trip has been 
$2.51 for low grade in Jersey, where its subsidized by the 
government) and went to Chipotle with Angela and Tim for lunch.  

After lunch Angela gave us directions to the field of corn.
 Now some people may think this is not an unusual thing for
 the midwest, as a large chunk of our drive since
Pennsylvania has been past cornfields, but this field of 
corn is different. It's made out of concrete, to symbolize
 how suburbanization has taken over farming in the heartland.

After frolicking in the field we get back on the highway and 
head west to Indianapolis.  Cruising along I 70, going 70, we
 suddenly hit traffic. In the middle of nowhere.  The left 
lane was stopped dead. The right lane was empty.  Even though
 we thought other drivers knew something we didn't, we are 
still new yorkers, and went into the empty right lane.  A 
couple of miles ahead there was a sign that said "right lane 
closed, 2 miles."  Every car that was in the empty right lane 
was moving into the stopped left lane.  We, of course, cruised
 right along in the right
lane (with intermittent stops when the other drivers realized 
they too could use the empty lane)until we had to move into the
 left lane by traffic cones.

Earlier we had done some research and decided to go to the 
Indianapolis Museum of Art, which according to Frommers was 
free.  This was good because we were only going to get there 
at 4, an hour  before it closed. We pull up at 4:15 and see 
that the museum charges $7 to get in.  Damn Frommers.  I ask 
the ticket person if there was a discount because it was so 
late in the day.  She looked confused and said, "You know its 
only 3pm, right?"  Apparently we had crossed into Central time 
without even knowing it.  Later, my friend Todd told me that we
 were still in Eastern Time, but Eastern Standard and not Eastern
 Daylight.  Indiana does not follow Daylight Savings.  

The museum was housed in a very pretty, airy building.  There
were 3 floors, but only the first was open, and the museum had 
not quite finished its renovation.  There was a great exhibit on
Overbeck Arts and Crafts Pottery.

After the museum we headed up to my friend Todd's place, where he 
lives with his girlfriend, Sha (pronounced Shay).  I tell Todd that
 our evening's activity is to go visit the World's Largest Ball of
 Paint, about an hour north of Indy.  Sha can't come
because she has to pick up her friends from the airport.  

We head north in Todd's car, through expanding Suburbia, until we 
hit Alexandria.  Getting off the highway we are enveloped in 
cornfields.  This is true middle of nowhere.  About 5 miles down
 this country road we make a turn.  A mile down that road we make
 it to the ball of paint.  I had called earlier to make an appointment,
 because it is just this man and wife, Mike and Glenda, in the middle 
of nowhere, showing off their 17,000 pound ball of paint.  They were 
prepared for us, with the layer of paint written on the ball, 
paintbrushes, and pictures illustrating the 28 year history of the ball.
  The damn thing is older than I am.  Mike asks us which color with 
which to paint the ball.  Paint the ball?! Awesome!  The raison d'etre 
behind my cross country trek - to experience all of America's oddities, 
and here I was given the chance to participate in the experience! Layer 
# 19,059 was ours.  I chose purple.  Todd, Alexa, and I attacked the ball 
with gusto. 

While we
were painting Mike regaled us with stories.  Tom Green, the actor,
 had painted the ball back in the 17,000s.  Dave Letterman wanted
 Mike to bring the ball of paint to NY.  He was worried about 
transporting it so he declined.  When we were finished Mike handed 
us a certificate with our names on it.  That's definitely going to 
get framed.  I bought a t-shirt ("I painted the world's largest ball 
of paint!") to support the operation.  By the time we were done it 
was dark outside.  A gorgeous red moon had risen in the east over 
the cornfields.  We headed back to Indy on State Road 37, a country 
road that's more direct than the Interstate we took up there.  
Miles and miles of nothing but cornfields abruptly gave way to 
overpopulated suburbia, about 20 minutes outside of Indy.  

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Day 2:
After a restful night we availed ourselves of the free
Continental breakfast.  We then drove on to
Fallingwater, our first stop of the day.  Designd by
Frank Lloyd Wright over a waterfall (hence the name),
Fallingwater is still as magnificent as the last time
I was here, about 8 years ago.  After Fallingwater we
went to Kentuck Knob, another Frank Lloyd Wright house
in the same area, albeit built 20 years later.  The
house is based on hexagons and triangles; there is not
a single right angle in the house. Its awesome.
Next up was the Creegan Animation factory, where they
make animatronic figures.  Sadly we weren't going to
make it in time, so we decided to go on to Columbus.
To make up for missing the factory, we decided to take
a side tour and visit the Longaberger Basket Company
headquarters, which is a building in the shape of a
basket.  I can't imagine what it would be like to go
to work in a basket.  Finally we ended up in Columbus,
at the house of my friend Angela.

Day 2 Pics Log Cabin Motel: Jones Mill, PA Alexa and Cara at Fallingwater Longaberger Basket Company HQ, Ohio

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Day 1:
We left Staten Island at 11:05am, 5 minutes after I had projectd.  An auspicious beginning, if I do say so
myself.  First on the agenda, after a brief stopover in NJ to visit my aunt and uncle, was the Shoe House
in Hellam, PA.  I76 is ugly, made even more so with the expensive tolls.  Speeding down I83 towards
Hellam, I suddenly felt a tire go and the rim hit the road.  I pulled over to assess the damage. The entire
tire was a mass of shredded rubber.  Joy.  Now Alexa and I have changed tires before, so we weren't
worried.  Our feelings changed when we couldnt even get the tire out of the trunk.  Now matter how hard we
pulled, it wouldnt budge.  Just then a guy pulled over and offered to help. Visions of Americas Most Wanted
flashed in my head, but I ignored them.  He reached in and unscrewed the lock holding the spare to the trunk,
making us feel like idiots for not noticing that little feature.  He changed the tire as well.
Sometimes its good to look like a helpless girl.

Spare on, we headed to the nearest Sears to get a new tire.  Loading the spare back into the trunk, the
vacuum packed bag of linens decided to open and expand.  Considering that my trunk was full this was
not a good thing.  We shoved the bag in the backseat until we could get to a vacuum to re-deflate it.
Finally it was time to go to the Shoe House.  We pulled up, and there was a big closed sign on the
gate.  Ah well, we still got good pictures in the twilight.

We then pressed on to Jones Mill, PA, site ofthe Log Cabin Motel.  Hungry, we were told there was one place
open til 10. We pulled up, and it had closed at 9. Auspicious day indeed.  While we were driving to the
unfortunate pub, we were greeted with a billboard that said, "The Bible...Good For Life."  Thanks, Jones
Mill, Pa, we really needed that little bit of salvation.  It must have worked because we found a
beer mart that sold sandwiches.  The Log Cabin Motel was really quaint, as I'm sure it was built to be.
Everything was made out of wood, except for the mattresses, thank god.
Day 1 Pics Shredded Tire in PA Shoe House: Hellam, PA