Monday, July 6, 2015

Kansas City

Another holiday weekend, another journey to a random place that I hadn't been before.

The Kansas City area spans over the border of Kansas and Missouri, so doing much of anything around here shows me 2 more states, but I wanted to also get to Oklahoma while I was nearby. Of course, everything looks closer on a US map than it really is, so I chose to visit Natural Falls State Park in the nearest corner of the state. It was still nearly 4 hours drive each way.

I flew in on Friday afternoon and had a quiet night, keeping an eye on the weather. There had been thunderstorms (from scattered to severe) and flash flooding in the KC area in the days before I arrived, and they'd been slowly moving south/southeast toward where I'd be driving. Luckily, the storms had completely cleared the area by the time I set off early Saturday morning, Independence Day. Granted, early after a 2 hour time shift was only about 10:30am, but it's summer, and the days are long enough that I still had plenty of time to make it back without getting lost in the dark.

The journey started out as one of my less exciting ones... highway, farms, trees, nowhere to stop at all. Then, somewhere in rural Missouri, every light on the car dashboard came on. Every light. Engine, door open, traction control, air bag. Then after just about a second, they went back off and the trip computer reset itself to zero. The radio, the AC, the engine, everything else kept going. So I also kept going, looking for a place to stop that would be populated enough to ensure cell phone service, while keeping an eye on the car's behaviour.

Finally, about 60 miles later, I came to Joplin, MO, a city I'd actually heard of, and pulled into a parking lot.  With the motor still running, I checked the owner's manual: the trip computer will be reset like that only when you detach the battery. Well, that's not good. I searched the web and found all manner of issues with the electronics on the type of Hyundai I had rented, but nothing about spontaneous resets. I'd driven about 150 miles, meaning there were roughly 80 to go to the state park, then all of that back again. I sat in the car and had a debate with myself:

It seems to be running fine, it was probably just a computer glitch. Computers need to reboot all the time. Keep going!
The car will need more gas if it's going to make it there and back. If this is a battery issue, when I turn it off, it may not start again.
This is a gas station, try it!
And if it doesn't start, then I'm stuck here begging for a jump start or waiting god knows how long for AAA to show up.
But if it does?
Then I spend the rest of the trip stressing about whether the car will start the next time I stop. And the next... And the next...
Just keep going, it's silly to make it 2/3 of the way and not get there. Besides, it means I won't get to Oklahoma on this trip.
Yes, but the whole point of going to all the states isn't just to check them off the list, it's to enjoy myself. To remember it. I am not having the slightest bit of fun stressing about whether this vehicle will keep moving, and while a dead car in the middle of nowhere may be memorable, it's not exactly the memory I want.
But won't the car need to stop for gas either way?
The tank is over half full, and the range shows 199 miles. That's plenty to get back to the hotel.
Fine, turn back. At least if the car dies at the hotel, it's a comfortable place to deal with it.

So I headed back the other way, with the air conditioning turned down low to ensure my fuel consumption wouldn't increase. I made it back with no further issues and decided I needed barbecue. I consulted Yelp for something nearby (still not fully trusting the rental car) and ventured out for a few burnt ends. The car started, I found the place, and it was closed for the holiday. I saw another BBQ joint a couple of blocks away, also closed. So I stopped at the Hy-Vee and got some of their "BBQ" chicken and a bottle of sauce. It really wasn't good enough, but when you crave barbecued meats, nothing else will do.

I'm not really a fan of Fourth of July festivities, so I skipped the fireworks and stayed in with Netflix, hearing a few distant booms and crackles in the night air.

Sunday (the hottest and most humid day of my visit) provided a free afternoon before my flight, so I used it to visit the American Jazz Museum, which was a bit disappointing. There really wasn't much to it, and most of what they had was devoted to 4 big names. One of them was Charlie Parker, a great musician, bebop innovator and Kansas City native. I dig Bird, and thought it couldn't be more fitting to feature him in the museum. However, the others included were Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, which is kind of like having a popular music museum featuring no one but Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson. Yes, they've contributed greatly to the popularity of the genre and made some quality music, but there's so much more to it. Focusing on only the biggest names during one relatively short era is kind of an injustice.

The Jazz Museum shares a building with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which I thought was much more interesting and educational. I'm not a baseball fan, but I am a sociologist; baseball is such a big part of American culture and history that I found it fascinating. I also learned quite a bit. Maybe I liked it better because I went in knowing very little on the subject and found out new things like that originally most baseball teams in America called themselves the Giants. Not sure when I'll ever use that bit of trivia, but there's more where that came from!

After the museums, I finally managed to get some barbecue -- burnt end and sausage sandwich with a sweet and spicy sauce (good, but I still like Texas style better) -- and then went to the airport.

Overall, the quick trip was a success, and I liked what I saw of Kansas City. I also really don't mind missing the corner of Oklahoma, because now I have a chance to take another trip for something I really want to see there. Because there's always something.

When I left Seattle, I shared the shuttle from off-site parking to the airport with a couple off to Alaska, their 50th state, for their anniversary. When they both retired, they sold their house, bought an RV, and set off to see America. This is so common as to be a joke -- and one Neal made about me and my own map of the USA getting slowly coloured in -- but I get their motivation, it's really the same as mine. I'm planning to move to another continent, their retirement brings the end of their lives into view... we're both just trying to get the most out of the country we live in before we leave it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I'm absurdly late in writing this, but I guess that's what happens when travel melts together with too much work.

Jody lived in Newcastle briefly, many years ago. So almost as long as I've known him, he's been going back to visit and telling me he wished I was with him, that it's the greatest city, full of the greatest people. So when I saw that Admiral Fallow were playing there on a night that I'd already be in Scotland, I bought two tickets to the show and planned us a weekend getaway.

After a relatively short and overpriced train journey, we emerged from the station to a grey and blustery Saturday afternoon in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. We checked into our hotel, marveled at the view of St James' Park from our window, and then I asked what we should do. Jody shrugged: "Dae ken. What d'ya wanna do?"

I tried to make the argument that this was the city he'd desperately been wanting to show me around, so it was his responsibility to do so, but that didn't get us far. So I pulled up an internet list of things to do in the area and read them out... which resulted in us verbally crossing each off the list. Ultimately, we took a walk around a shopping area, nearly got blown over by the Hurricane Bawbag-esque wind, I read for a couple of hours while the man had a nap, then we got a takeaway in Chinatown and spent the night in, watching movies. At some point Jody admitted, "I always forget that when I think how brilliant Newcastle is, it's because it feels like home, not because there's anything to do here."

Sunday's adventures were slightly more exciting. I spent some time on the bike and elliptical machines in the hotel's rooftop fitness room, we ate excellent Indian food, and then we took a walk across town in the evening to achieve our reason for coming.

I loved both Admiral Fallow's first two records, but at the time of the concert, their third had only been out about 2 weeks. That meant I was at the point that I'd listened enough to recognise the songs and find them enjoyable, but couldn't sing along yet. Even though about half of what they played live was new, that still put me in a better spot than Jody, who only knew one of their songs... which they didn't play. However, when they started on The Paper Trench, he turned to me, looking proud of himself: "I know this song!" I grinned, "Yeah, I was walking around singing it the other night." Any way you get to know good music is legitimate, I guess.

The gig was at The Cluny, a pub with a small concert venue in an upstairs room. The sound was good, the lights were awful (all very bright and pointing forward from the rear of the stage, so that the band was backlit and the crowd was nearly blinded), and the show was perfect. Not only do Admiral Fallow sound flawless live, the room was exactly the right size for them. They're one of those bands who are all about the music, not the showmanship. The Barr Brothers are another perfect example of that. That's not to insult their live playing, they just dig making good sounds come out of instruments, and they want to bring you into that at a show, not make a big spectacle. So it was fantastic to see Admiral Fallow in that size venue, maybe 10 feet from the stage, feeling the sound waves rattle my ribs, while they pulled in the packed room of attentive fans and had a sonic conversation.

Seeing a band like that in a larger setting is always a disappointment, because you're too many and too spread out to become a part of their love of music. So even though they're probably having the time of their lives, the players seem boring and disinterested. You're separate, and they're no fun to watch. I've been in those situations, and it ruins some live shows that I should've really enjoyed. So I'm glad this one was in just the right sized venue and I got to have a great experience.

After the show, Jody and I admitted that we're both too old to stand around for hours watching music without suffering, and hailed one of Newcastle's recently acquired Ubers instead of walking the mile back to our last night in the hotel.

On Monday we woke up and went right back to Edinburgh, without me really having seen what makes Jody love Newcastle. But I had a great time anyway, and I'll be back. Maybe next time I'll get it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

West by Midwest

In my ongoing quest to get to all of the states, I'm now in the final stages: turning flyovers into drive-throughs.

I flew into Omaha Saturday and spent the night just over the border in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It turned out that my hotel was attached to a casino and nothing much else, so after checking the interwebs to find no attractive local attractions, and knowing I had a lot of driving to come, I went to the Hy-Vee for provisions and called it a night.

I have to say that driving through the working class suburbs nearby, I was reminded quite a bit of where I grew up. And all the people I've come across on this trip fit that mold as well. Everyone I've talked to has been lovely, I'm not insulting them, it's just that they're all very much like... my family. My family who I find increasingly difficult to understand from the relatively well-off, liberal, only-have-problems-you've-invented-for-yourself, yuppie world in which I reside. I guess I'm saying that I just no longer get most of America.

Anyway. At some point I had looked at a map and decided that 600 miles was a reasonable amount to drive in one day, so I set off at 10am Sunday to accomplish just that. I spent the first couple of hours going north along the Nebraska/Iowa border, then turned west on I-90 to go about 350 miles across South Dakota. The view was the same for most of that time: straight, flat highways without a lot of cars on them, farms, distant horizons, dark rain clouds, billboards for upcoming attractions... although neither Wall Drug nor The World's Only Corn Palace secured my patronage with all their miles of advertising. Even the Badlands looked mostly the same... at least the little bit I saw when I wasn't being pelted with rain so hard that I couldn't see out the windows.

It reminded me of a conversation with my cousin (who grew up visiting Nebraska annually) and his fiance:

Fiance - "I've never been to Nebraska, I can't wait to go!"
Cousin - "Yeah, there's a lot to see in Nebraska."
Me - "And if you just stand in one spot and turn in a circle, you can see it all."
"Y'know, because it's so flat?"
"Hope you enjoy it."

Shrug. As far as I could tell, I was right. Then I hit the Black Hills, which looked totally different. They were the kind of green rolling hills with livestock grazing lazily on them that you see in exotic places like New Zealand. Scotland. Idaho.

As I continued uphill to see Mount Rushmore, the rain kept pounding harder and the fog kept getting heavier (or the clouds lower?) to the point that visibility was just about the worst I've ever driven in. When I reached the national monument, I realised there was no way I'd be able to see anything more than a few yards from my face, and I wasn't going to pay the $11 parking fee to stand in sideways rain trying to photograph the side of a mountain through fog. Instead I stopped at the 'profile view' pullout and took a look. I saw clouds, a bit of rock, trees, and a mountain goat munching on shrubs at the side of the road. Maybe it was one of the bighorn sheep the signs warned me to watch for. I didn't care, I had been driving for 8 hours already and I was over it.

I turned back for the last part of the journey to my hotel in Deadwood, SD, which included a very familiar soggy drive through winding mountain roads lined with tall evergreens, and awful traffic due to road construction. My relief at arriving was short lived; Deadwood immediately struck me as a terrible place. It's a strip of casinos and tourist trap souvenir shops, neither of which appeal to me. After calming down over a chicken sandwich (the first food of the day not shoved in my mouth with one hand while I piloted a motor vehicle at 80mph), I decided to try joining them instead of beating them, and put $5 in penny slots. It took about 2 minutes for the money to disappear and for me to head upstairs to rest up for another full day's driving.

Today I needed to make the journey to Billings for my final night before flying home, which would have been just under 300 miles straight across on the interstate... but what fun would that be? Instead I drove more than 150 extra miles, meandering around on small, one-lane highways. The first portion of my journey took me through the northeast corner of Wyoming, and the small town of Aladdin, which with its population of 15 must keep the local road sign maker on his or her toes. I then headed up into North Dakota where the land started to look less like Scotland and added in more desert-like features of low scrub, red earth, and jagged rock formations poking up everywhere, until I arrived in the town of Bowman. I had seen online that they had some kind of pioneer/cowboy museum there that seemed worthy of checking out, but when I arrived, it just looked like kind of a joke (and not in a good way), so I decided to save my entry fee and keep driving. 0 for 2 on tourism.

The last half of the drive turned me back west into Montana, where the rain showers finally gave way to sun. I can't say how glad I was to finally be driving on dry roads again. Yes, I'm from Washington state and a champ at driving in torrential downpours, and OK, there was a cool moment going up a mountain into a cloud where I could see the far off droplets coming directly at me like a million little stars, but mostly I could've done without it.

Truth is, I really do prefer the small highways with their scenic views and lack of traffic, where I can sing along to my iPod on the car's sound system and actually appreciate the land around me. Where I saw a few antelope wandering around in a field and a pheasant pecking at something on the road side today. But after a couple of hours, the romance wears off, and I'm left with nothing but repetitive landscapes, RVs too slow to stay behind but too wide to see if I can pass safely, having to pee with nowhere to stop, and the miles left to go ticking down too slowly. I'll admit, this time I was happy to get back on a major freeway and into Billings.

But tedious views and long days behind the wheel aside, Cat Stevens reminded me of something very important today when he shuffled up on the iPod as I cruised along in the middle of nowhere:

"There's so much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out."

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Magical Mystery Tour

OK, yeah, there's nothing out of the ordinary happening, but ever since a few days ago when Jody referred to my 2 weeks of travel as a magical mystery tour, the song has been popping in and out of my head. At this point, I can't help myself.

So where did we leave off? Oh, yes, my last day in...


My flight out of Fort Lauderdale didn't leave until mid-afternoon, so after consulting the innerwebs, I decided to spend my time before the flight strolling along the Riverwalk, and picking up some lunch. Per the web, I would find a walk along the river (obviously), along with some parks and cute little shops/restaurants. What I found when I followed my directions there, however... well, it reminded me of when a Floridian friend told me not to visit that particular city, adding "Lauderdale's a shithole."

So I ended up back in the 'burbs eating fast food, then off to the airport to spend 20 hours or so going FLL - PHI -  LHR - EDI.


A couple hours after landing in Edinburgh, both Jody and I had to start working, which we were none too thrilled about. I was not only exhausted, I felt physically unwell after all that travel. It hadn't been all that much longer than usual, but for some reason it broke me. Jody mentioned several times that it's the worst state he's seen me in after a long-haul to Edinburgh. And he would know.

Unfortunately, working Seattle hours for a couple of days meant that my evenings were mostly occupied and I couldn't attend Jody's campaign events. I did take Tuesday off to celebrate his birthday, though, and Saturday was spent seeing Scotland lose at rugby. The game was... erm... well, at least it wasn't cold and raining. And by losing the game by 30 points, Scotland ensured that Ireland finished top of the 6 Nations Tournament instead of England, which is still sort of a win.

It's nothing specifically against England. Really. It's just that the Scottish no longer have all of that rage about the English murdering their ancestors and crushing their culture in daily life; it's all been redirected into sport. Team England losing any major or minor sporting contest will send waves of delight all across Scotland.

But anyway. After only a week in my adopted home city, I had to fly off to Spain, sans Jody. His excuse was a couple of political engagements while I was away, but I'm sure his desire to avoid flying also contributed. So we said goodbye at the airport, and off I went.


I took the train from the airport to a station a couple of blocks from my hotel. As I stepped off the escalator onto a busy sidewalk, blinking at the bright sun, my first impression was that Barcelona reminded me of Paris. But I quickly realised that was just the architecture; the city has a completely different attitude, much more upbeat.

I showed up really knowing nothing about Barcelona, or Spain in general. I speak no Spanish, but occasionally understand bits and pieces due to my past French and Italian lessons. I'd never had any desire to visit Spain, and only did because of the Robbie concert, so I did no research whatsoever before turning up in the country. I was lucky to do as well as I did.

Only after arriving did I search for things to do, and found that I had no interest in any of them. Tapas, meh. Young Picasso, enh. Architecture, history, the public squares that inspired this art or that book, psh. What did interest me, especially recently with all their attempts to gain independence, was Catalonia. So the tourist attractions I chose were the National Museum of Catalan Art, and the Catalan 14th century cathedral Santa Maria del Mar. The museum was interesting for a while, but it was a lot of very similar art from a very similar time period, almost all paintings, and their 'modern' collection only went as recent as the late 1940s. It failed to keep my attention for long. The church was pretty, but had just shut for the day when I arrived, so I got a quick snap of the outside and went back on my way.

I also walked many miles, despite also riding the Metro as much as possible. My hotel was in the midst of block after block of high end shopping, where the streets were always busy with cars and the streets were not well marked. I constantly got lost and worried that the rest of the city would be the same, but found it very easy to find my way in other parts of town where road signage actually existed and streets weren't choked with vehicles.

Of course, Friday night brought my main reason for the visit: Robbie Williams live at Palau Sant Jordi.

It was my fourth time seeing Rob live, all in about 3 years. The first three times were high production value affairs with huge, dazzling sets, pyrotechnics, dancers, and so on, all around the theme of the current record. This tour isn't supporting an album, it's just him playing live at cities he missed on the last tour, and was more like the shows of his heyday that I've seen on video. He appeared on stage with bleached hair, wearing devil horns and bondage trousers, and after spending an hour jumping around in front of the band, changed into a kilt which he used to flash his undies and shake his ass at the crowd. Basically, old rockstar Robbie was back, but now he seems happy about it, unlike in the previous days of stripped down shows like these.

It was great fun, despite me getting a bit of a lump in my throat during Angels. During the 15 years I raised my Selby from a kitten, many things changed in my life. The only 2 constants, there the whole time, which always got me through the rougher parts of it, were that demanding but totally devoted little siamese face, and Robbie's music. So given that I still miss her, hearing over 20,000 voices singing and through it all, she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I'm right or wrong... well, it hit a soft spot. I kept myself together, but I did stop singing along for a moment or two.

Regardless, Mr Williams sounded amazing and got the whole crowd into it, as always. I was buzzing way too late into the night afterward, especially considering that I got back to the hotel around 1am and had my alarm set for 6:00 to catch my flight.

After a couple of days back in Seattle, I'm still getting back into the old routine, and trying to catch up on sleep. And attempting unsuccessfully to knock my allergies into submission... it's clear that my sinuses are tired of going between climates and want me to just pick one where I'll stay for good.

Shrug. Never gonna happen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

BB&T Center: Canadiens at Panthers

As mentioned in my previous post, my excuse for coming to Florida was seeing the Montreal Canadiens in yet another away game. And I've had a very Habby day.

I booked a hotel near where the game would be played, figuring I'd have a car and could drive anywhere else, but would rather walk to the game than fight stadium traffic. When I arrived, the hotel had extra security measures like needing a key card to get up the elevator, but it's in a swanky suburb, and there's nothing nearby except shopping and the BB&T Center; it's not as if riff raff would wander in off the street. I thought, "I bet it's because the visiting teams stay here. The Habs will probably be here after their game in Tampa tonight." Then I laughed at what a silly coincidence that would be and put it out of my mind. Imagine my surprise to get back from the beach this afternoon and see the team buses and a row of fans waiting out front.

I didn't stay to gawk, it's not my style. As I've said before, I don't really get the point of fawning over celebrities. I like to show appreciation for their work, not worship them like gods. That's insane. If I saw some Montreal players in a bar, I'd chat with them, buy them a beer (or pineapple juice if that's what they're allowed during the season), and thank them for the years of happiness (and pain) they've provided me. But standing around watching them get on a bus? I'll pass.

So a couple hours after the guys had left our hotel, I took the walk down to the arena. Evidently this area is like LA, and nobody walks here. I don't blame them, with the temperature still around 32 C at 6:30pm, but I don't mind walking. I got to my seat -- 3rd row, between the faceoff circle and the corner, Habs end -- to find a sea of Montreal sweaters. Hurrah, I wouldn't be alone! Then warmup ended, and they all went back to their seats. I was surrounded by 3 or 4 other quiet Habs fans, and noisy, obnoxious, Panthers followers.

Going to away games alone, I always try to quietly blend in, because you never know what kind of away fans you'll get nearby. I've had the Canucks lover who hit on me all game, taunting and beer-throwing Rangers fans, friendly Avalanche supporters who chatted politely all game, and the passive-aggressive woman refusing to look my way while she bashed all of Canada for 60 minutes of play. But tonight was extra special. I had the superfans who bedazzled their Florida jerseys especially for the St Patrick's theme, and the angry assholes who swore about their own players and Montreal's all game, along with such generally hateful gems as kick their fucking French asses and I hate Canadians, all of them, I'll say it.

In the midst of my attempts to ignore this nonsense, I did enjoy a hockey game. Habs played brilliantly in the first period, but the game remained scoreless. In the second, both teams got sloppy with moments of good play, and whoever was sloppier got scored on. The third started with the Canadiens ahead 3-2, and Montreal's play was embarrassing. It was absolutely terrible, while Florida had a great period. Luckily the goaltender, Dustin Tokarski -- our backup, no less -- activated brick wall mode and the game ended with no more scoring. I would've been okay with the loss that my team deserved, but I'll happily take the win. And complain elsewhere about the coach's ridiculous system that relies on the goalie being a star every night and won't let the other 5 guys on the ice use their immense talent to the team's full advantage.

But anyway. It was a win and a good time, and despite the awful crowd near me, Montreal fans were the majority tonight. So it was nice for the guys to get a home away from home win for us.

Go Habs go indeed.

Another Road Trip

Over the past few months, I separately picked up tickets to a Montreal Canadiens game in Florida, a Robbie Williams show in Spain, and several Scotland rugby games in Edinburgh via my season pass. Imagine my delight when I discovered these three things were all taking place within a 2 week period.

I'm currently on the first part of this travel trilogy in Sunrise, Florida, awaiting the time to make the sweaty mile of a walk to the BB&T Center to see the Habs... who happen to be staying in the same hotel I am, and I don't know why they couldn't have just taken me along on the team buses... but I digress. In my ongoing attempt to visit more states, I started this leg of the journey in New Orleans, where I arrived late Saturday afternoon. I went to the rental car desk, declined an upgrade to an SUV, and immediately got lost on the short drive to my hotel. While attempting to find my way, I hit the first FM button on the radio and got a classic rock station playing Rock You Like a Hurricane. How fitting. A few minutes later, I was happily singing along to Whitesnake: Here I go again on my own... going down the only road I've ever known.... Even more fitting.

I stayed the night in Metairie, because the days when I desired to go out and party in New Orleans on Saturday night are far behind me. And unlike everyone else, I don't care about Louisiana cuisine. I'm not keen on seafood and I don't like beignets. Yeah, I said it. They're less good than doughnuts and I don't even think doughnuts are particularly enjoyable. Anyway. I didn't want to completely skip The Big Easy, despite its party reputation, so after consulting the interwebs, I decided to head out in the morning to check out the waterfront and the French Market before getting off to a full day of driving. I figured the amateurs would still be sleeping off their Saturday night on Bourbon Street at 10 on Sunday morning.

I was wrong.
The amateurs were still drunk.
And decked out in their St Paddy's green, necks shimmering with beads, staggering into the street as if cars were something they'd never heard of.

Before I'd even found a place to park, I hated everyone and everything so much that I turned the car around, cranked up the Charlie Parr (because obviously you can't drive through Mississippi without some variety of Roots music), and sped away on I-10 East. Little did I know that apart from a planned stop in Mobile, Alabama -- Oakleigh Mansion / Gardens / Historic Area, pretty but closed on Sundays -- and several unplanned stops for biological reasons, I'd spend the next 400 miles on that very highway. I was thrilled when I turned north on to winding country roads to get to my hotel for the night in Valdosta, Georgia. At least it was something different.

Monday morning, I attempted to wake up early, but the time zone and driving exhaustion wouldn't let me open my eyes until long after my alarm went off, so I got started later than planned on my drive down the length of Florida. The roughly 500 miles were supposed to take just under 7 hours without traffic, stops, or getting lost. In the end, I did all three, which put me in the car from 10:30am to 8pm. Almost all on I-75 South. For the most part, my detailed directions for the two days could have gotten me here just as successfully by saying: go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.

I would write something interesting about the drive south through Florida, but there's nothing to say. It's extremely boring. I decided to take a detour off the interstate for about 50 miles at Fort Myers, just to get some nice scenery, but when I hit bumper to bumper traffic on one lane roads, I decided 10mph was not the best speed for me to go the rest of my journey. So I turned around (after seeing some Panther Crossing signs, yikes) and got back on the boring-as-hell interstate. And after another couple of hours, I made it here to Sunrise, and tipped over.

You don't realise how active driving is until you do it all day. Mentally and physically, I was wiped out after all that mileage. So today has been significantly less productive. I slept late, lazed around the hotel, then went to the beach. I decided I would rather avoid the beaches Fort Lauderdale is known for (and the people who frequent them) and instead went to the John U Lloyd Beach State Park. Which was covered with the 70+ year old versions of the people who I expected to see on the standard beaches. I sat in the shade with my book for an hour or so, then realised I'd forgotten to pack lunch, and my empty stomach brought me back to the city.

So it hasn't been the most interesting trip, or the most relaxing, but hey... I've seen some new places, I get to watch my Habs (probably lose) tonight, and I've seen just how far I've come in becoming a curmudgeon -- Get off that beach and put on some clothes, you oversexed, overtanned kids! Why are you drunk in the morning anyway? In my day we drank at night and slept away the hangover in the morning... 

And hey, I wore shorts and used sunscreen for the first time in ages. That's never a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Southwest

Another long weekend, another visit to part of the United States I hadn't seen before.

Saturday - SEA to PHX

After waking up in rainy, chilly Seattle, landing in warm, sunny Phoenix Saturday afternoon was a welcome change. I put my coat away, hopped in my rental car, and drove to my hotel in Chandler. I came to see the Southwest, with no particular interest in Phoenix, so after heading out to the fancy foodie supermarket for road trip provisions, I had a quiet night and started to adjust to temperatures in the 20s (celsius). It never occurred to me that it would be the last I'd see of that weather for the weekend.

Sunday - Arizona

I had a full day of driving planned, so I woke up at a reasonable hour and pointed the car toward the Grand Canyon. Having always lived in very green, and very damp, locations, I've never had a lot of interest in the desert. Sure, despite fighting a cold when I arrived, my sinuses were mostly clear, and my hair didn't have even a hint of frizz, but it's so ugly. Right? Wrong. The Arizona scenery is gorgeous, an awe-inspiring demonstration of why they call it the painted desert. 

Speeding along, singing to my road trip playlist, I never noticed that I was mostly going uphill. While planning my desert trip, I failed to remember the other feature of the landscape: mountains. When I saw a sign for a chain-up area, and then a warning for ice on the roadway, I looked at the car's external temperature readout, and scoffed mentally, Psh. It's sunny, and dry, and 59 degrees out. Ice on the road... ha! But as the number on the elevation signs got bigger, the temperature on the dashboard got smaller (it bottomed out at 34 as I pulled into my hotel Sunday night), and the snow piled by the roadside got higher. So I put more energy into watching for ice in the shady spots on the highway than looking at the scenery around me. I only came across a few thin ice patches over the course of the weekend, which were all nothing under the traction control of my Kia Soul. Despite the car being the spitting image of a bright yellow shoebox with wheels, I was happy the rental agency gave me something a bit bigger and heavier than the little tin rollerskates I usually end up driving.

After about 4 hours of watching for ice, I pulled up to the entrance to Grand Canyon South Rim, where I got the opportunity to pay $25 to look at a hole.

OK, look, I get that it's a national park and it needs upkeep, but isn't that the government's job? Doesn't the national part of national park mean we should be putting tax dollars toward that end? When your average American family is likely to struggle to afford going to see the amazing things nature put in their own country, the system is broken. Anyway. End socialist rant.

Walking up to the rim of the Grand Canyon, you immediately get the sense that a photo can't possibly do it justice. But then you take 10 pictures of different views anyway, because that's what people do. It's so big, just unimaginably huge. And beautiful. But me being me, I pretty much did a Clark Griswold yep, uh huh, seen it, let's go and got back in the car.

Two or three hours east, after watching a brilliant sunset in my rearview mirror, I pulled into my hotel in Kayenta, Arizona. It boasted that it was "in the heart of the Navajo nation." It was dark when I arrived, but my brief tour of this nation's heart showed me a few businesses in shabby buildings, a lot of impoverished people, and a stark reminder that those Founding Fathers who Americans love to worship were a bunch of entitled dicks.

Monday - Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico

I started the day turning north toward Utah, and Monument Valley. When I got there, I opted against stopping at the official tourist attraction, and stuck with driving through. After all, isn't that the spirit of the road trip? It had to be the prettiest scenery of the whole trip.

But it didn't last long. Very quickly southern Utah became... monochromatic. Remember how the Crayola 64 box always had that red-brown colour called burnt sienna? I could use up the entire crayon drawing the landscape for that portion of my drive. As I neared Colorado, it turned into the lumpy brown hills covered in scrub that I found so unattractive on childhood visits to family in Central Washington -- even when my dad pointed out that it looked like Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. It was boring, so I stopped at Four Corners Monument, where the imaginary lines of all four states meet.

It was a nice break from driving, and I took some photos for a nice family whose two small children had a similar desire for a pit stop, but there wasn't that much to it. After stretching my legs for a few minutes, I turned back south and into New Mexico, where I spent the better part of 4 hours on roads with nowhere to stop, and nothing but the same Snuffleupagus scenery. Sure, when I got back into the higher elevations, it looked much nicer covered in snow, but that's about the best I can say about it. At least that allowed me plenty of time to notice the road signs. There seemed to be a small number of informational signs, and a lot reminding me to wear my seatbelt, not to speed because airplanes were watching me, especially in the safety corridor where fines double and lights must always be on for safety, to never drink and drive, but if I see someone else doing it, to call this number. The few useful signs I did see all had at least one bullet hole. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it's completely true. It became a road game to see if I could count all of the bullet holes before the sign whizzed past at 70 mph.

I merged on to the major freeway into Albuquerque just in time for rush hour. After my directions sent me the wrong way and I accidentally, unsuspectingly, drove a ways down the historic Route 66 (so another bit of Americana checked off the list), I asked for Garmin Man's help and made it to the hotel. Given that it was dark and I was fed up with driving, I had some dinner and made plans to see Albuquerque in the light of my last afternoon before flying out.

Tuesday - ABQ to SEA

When I dropped off the cat on Friday night and told Steve where I was headed for the weekend, his only comment was, "Albuquerque's pretty." Coming from someone who grew up in Nevada, I wasn't quite sure what to make of that.

My check into things to do for my last afternoon didn't yield much, so I decided to have lunch at the Frontier, which was supposed to be some of the best eats in Albuquerque, and call it good. But having slept in much later than planned, hotel checkout was too soon after breakfast and I just wasn't hungry. So I ended up driving around town a while, and doing what people with no agenda and the sun in their eyes do: stopped at Target for sunglasses. I wouldn't say Albuquerque is pretty, really, it's more of a giant suburb, but it does have quite a backdrop.

I'm now sitting at the airport, having just eaten a delicious but overpriced burrito, waiting for my flight to board. All told, I drove just shy of 900 miles this weekend. And it was good. The road trip is in my blood, it's by far the most American thing about me.