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...

Florida

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.

Edinburgh

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.

Barcelona

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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

PNC Arena: Canadiens at Hurricanes

Well. Another arena, another Habs game. And last night's ended in a 3-1 win.

Part of Jody making sure I got my awesome new Pacioretty jersey in time for Christmas was so that I could wear it to the game last night. But I  bottled it at the last minute. I didn't want to deal with driving to the arena, so I figured I'd catch an Uber there, then get a drink somewhere nearby afterward, and head back downtown when the crowds dispersed. I imagined myself wearing a Habs home sweater, all alone, walking into a sports bar full of drunk Canes fans after the game. The image wasn't pleasant, win or lose. Turns out there's nothing anywhere near the arena, at least not that I could see beyond the vast parking lots, so I needn't have worried about sports bars.

I should have worried about the fans at the game, though, considering the woman next to me kept shrieking at an eardrum destroying volume for her team, booing mine, and calling Subban a diver. And the drunker she got, the louder she complained about hating Canadians. Not the Canadiens, Canadians, one of which I'm guessing she assumed me to be. Hopefully she didn't represent the rest of the team's supporters. 

It is always possible that I'll run into superfans when I go to games, though, given that I always sit as close to the ice as I can manage. I don't see my team often, so I had might as well see them close up. Last night's seat was 3rd row in front of the face-off circle to Carey Price's left for 2 periods. I don't know if it's how the arena is set up, but it was the first time I've been close enough to the ice to get a chill. Not an excited chill, an actual chill. When the action came by, the speed of the skaters threw a cold wind up off the ice... a cold wind that smelled like sweaty hockey equipment. It reminded me of some of my first exposure to hockey, seeing a high school friend play in a tiny rink that was normally used for figure skating. In the seating area (2 or 3 bleachers), you had waist-high boards, no glass, and a stern warning to keep your eye on the puck. So last night's cold, slightly smelly breeze put me right back to those early days of falling in love with hockey, more than 20 years ago.

But I digress. The other nice thing about being close to the ice is that you notice so many things that you can't see from the higher up seats, and definitely not from television. Like how nice the players are to kids, taking time to talk to them, or give them sticks and pucks, even on TV timeouts during the game -- I've particularly seen Brandon Prust and PK Subban do a lot of it -- but how they pointedly ignore all of the adult fans shouting out for attention. In fact, most players rarely look directly at anyone on the other side of the glass, except Andrei Markov, who occasionally scans the faces in the crowd with a look of disdain, or at least the Russian severity he's known for. Or that when my hockey boyfriend Max Pacioretty is concentrating on the ice, he has his tongue out, wagging around like the kid in A Christmas Story trying to decode Annie's secret message. And that Carey Price, normally deadpan in interviews, has big dimples, which he shows constantly during time outs, grinning away chatting with teammates... as long as the game is going well. When it's not so great, the smile goes away. He goes to the bench for water, nobody says a word, then back to the crease.

And before you ask, yes I was also watching the game. It was a typically frustrating affair like Montreal's been putting up all season. They had one strong period, then spent the rest of the game letting Carolina have possession, playing sloppy defense, and leaving Price all alone in net to save their asses. Luckily he's one of the best goalies in the NHL, and a couple more of our goals went in than did theirs.

But it came out a win, and I was happy. All's well that ends in the W column, I guess.


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Carolinas

In my ongoing quest to see the rest of the US states before I leave this expansive nation, I find myself in Caroline du Nord, as some of my fellow Habs fans would say. I figured a Montreal hockey game was a good enough excuse to come to the Carolinas, and with a rented Chevy Cruze at my disposal, I've now seen some of both states.

I arrived in Raleigh Saturday night and wandered the streets around my downtown hotel a while looking for food. I wasn't feeling up to the raucous nightlife I could see going on in the many bars and restaurants, so after a lot of walking, I gave up, got a mediocre shawarma to go, and had a quiet night in. My plan was to get to bed at a decent hour so that I could transition to the new time zone seamlessly, wake up early to visit the fitness room and grab some free Hampton breakfast before watching the Dons game at 10, then hitting the road to an as-yet-undetermined location in South Carolina.

Of course, plans are usually disrupted by reality, and I soon found out why this was the first hotel room I've ever been in that had complimentary earplugs next to the mini shampoo and shower cap. I got to bed around 12:30, but couldn't sleep due to the loud untsa-untsa-untsa of what I can only assume was a nightclub nearby. After finally managing to drift off briefly, I was awoken again at 2am by screaming drunks who spent what seemed like an eternity hollering at each other, blaring car horns, and having some sort of competition to see whose bass could rattle my windows the most. I finally passed out sometime after they all fucked off home in the wee hours. So my plans had to be updated when I slept through my alarm and got up in time to watch just the last 10 minutes of Aberdeen's victory.

Determined to still get out and see the area, I used the googles to find things to do within a decent drive from here. After finding a lot of no interest to me, there it was: Cheraw, South Carolina, birthplace of Dizzy Gillespie, 2 hours away. Done. Sold. Sat Nav programmed. The drive was pretty simple and straightforward, and mostly devoid of traffic. Not that I would have minded; of all the parts of this country I've driven, Southern drivers are the nicest (yes, the Carolinas are part of the South). I never speed in rental cars, and I'm usually semi-lost, so I stay in the slow lane. And in the South, nobody rides my bumper trying to push me to go faster, they just pass by, and don't cut me off afterward. They move out the way for merging traffic, and then move back, so as not to clog the passing lane.

On my way to Cheraw, I saw many, many historical markers, mostly to do with war goings-on. If I were a person fascinated by American history, it would have been a great day out learning things. But I'm not. Only music history for me, so on I drove, reading nary a sign. Being a dork for anything Scottish, though, I was interested to drive through the town of Aberdeen, NC, which was so Scotland-inspired as to have a tartan sash emblazoned on its 'Welcome to' sign. I made a mental note to stop there on the way back, but when I came through the other direction, I was following a vehicle that said CAUTION CHURCH VAN on the back and became so obsessed with staying behind it to try to get a photo at a red light that I missed the whole town, and the picture.

Anyway. Despite losing phone signal at the state line, I drove directly to the birthplace of Diz to find that it's not much worth making a 2 hour drive for. There was another of those famous historical markers, and the vacant lot where his house had been was turned into a park with a few benches and some jazzy modern art. I stepped out of the car for some photos, did a quick drive through the dilapidated downtown area, and turned back north. By the time I got back to Raleigh, I was tired out and wanted nothing more than a movie and bed.

Today I did bit better in my tourist attempts, and took a walk over to the State Capitol and the North Carolina Museum of History. As I said, I'm not a history buff, except for music, and I'd seen on the website that the museum had an exhibit on Carolina Bluegrass. I was disappointed when I got there to see that it was just one glass case without much more than some Doc Watson records and a kid playing the banjo on an old TV show. But since I was there, I wandered the whole museum, and was again reminded of how Southern this state really is, and how much tobacco means to it. It's odd, though, for all the tobacco influence on the area (I went through Marlboro County yesterday, everywhere I turn it's Tobacco Road this or that), I have seen very few smokers out and about. Maybe their history means they know enough to know better.

I'm now taking a rest before the big Habs-Canes game tonight, and then tomorrow I fly off to Edinburgh for Hogmanay. But not before I get some good barbecue. I have 3 hours between hotel checkout and airport check-in, so I hope to spend as much of that time as I can consuming smoked meats. And enjoying every delicious minute of it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts

Remember yesterday when I was waxing poetic about enjoying the journey, never mind the destination? Well, today I enjoyed very little of it. Today my journey was mostly miserable.

When I originally looked for a route for the 2nd day of the trip, I noticed that pretty much any road I used to drive across Connecticut and Rhode Island went near Hartford and Providence, so I chose those as my two stops on the way to Boston. The plan was to leave Bennington early, stop for lunch in Hartford, stroll through downtown Providence in the mid-afternoon, check into my hotel in Cambridge after a brief stop at the Harvard Bookstore, then ditch the car and catch public transit into Boston for dinner. But, of course, when we plan, the travel gods laugh.

I woke up this morning with completely clogged sinuses and a raging headache, after my body clock decided that alarms were for suckers, and I was sleeping until 10. It took the coffee and decongestants until 10:45 to kick in, but then I was off... only a couple of hours behind schedule.

I made a quick stop at Bennington College, because it was only 5 minutes out of the way, and it allowed me to make a 30 Rock reference on Instagram. From there, I asked Garmin Man to take me to Hartford, and he had one of his obviously you're insane and that place doesn't exist moments, so I asked Google Woman instead. First mistake.

While the Google Maps app is much better at finding locations and staying connected, the directions are absolutely terrible. I had barely left Vermont when I'd already been told to turn the wrong way twice in a row, making Google Woman begin insisting that I turn around immediately. I'm not sure a computerised voice can sound panicked, but she seemed fairly anxious while repeating "turn left" nonstop until I found a place to circle back. She then directed me on the longest detour around some Massachusetts suburb possible before putting me on the Masspike going toward New York. I pulled off and gave Garmin Man a chance, who informed me minutes later that he'd lost connection and couldn't get it back. My phone then flashed up an alert that its battery was about to die, because the charger had come loose hours before. Even plugged back in, it couldn't charge fast enough to replace the speed at which it was draining.

So I shut off my phone. I was far, FAR from my printed just in case directions, so I decided to follow the road signs. I knew I needed to go southeast, so at any fork, I picked the road that took me in that direction.

Not only was my new strategy less stressful, it was also much more accurate; within a short time I had crossed into Connecticut. It also gave me the opportunity to do some road sign banter with myself (eg It says Canaan to the left, so I'll go right. I mean, Canaan's a hell of a town, but I've just come from Canaan and it's not the kind of place I need to see twice today!), and navigation by Gilmore Girls (eg Hey, Litchfield is that way. What was it that happened in Litchfield? Did Luke move there? I remember Litchfield being near Stars Hollow, and Stars Hollow was 30 minutes from Hartford with no traffic. I'll go toward Litchfield). When I finally saw signs for Hartford, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

Of course, my lunch in Hartford plan was a failure, since I took the exit to the capitol building at almost 4pm. I drove a couple of blocks looking for parking, and found myself in a pretty rough area of town. I was tired and didn't have the patience to look for a better place to leave my car and something interesting to do, so I asked Garmin Man how to get to Providence, and he got me there just before 6. At this point I had a very full bladder and cramped up legs, so I pulled into the first place I saw that would allow me to deal with both these problems: a mall. I also managed to grab a coffee and get back on the road around half an hour later.... Just in time to get stuck in traffic.

When I was nowhere near Cambridge at 7:30, I gave up hope on anything Harvard related and updated my destination to the hotel. I hate the vast majority of fast food, and didn't feel like sitting around a restaurant, but I was starving. There were loads of strip malls on the way, so I figured I'd just pop into a supermarket for a sandwich and eat it when I got to the hotel. Nothing. Absolutely nowhere selling foodstuffs. I could've bought almost anything else imaginable on that road -- cars, lumber, pet supplies, smart casual wear -- but not groceries.

When I finally made it to the hotel, it was 8:30pm and I was fed up with everything and everyone. I managed to squeeze the little red Fiesta into the last tiny parking space in their garage and get up to my room without strangling anyone. Turns out there's no food nearby here either, so my dinner consists of handfuls of the peanuts and granola I packed for snacks. And I'm not going into Boston tonight, because I'm angry at the world, and I'm a Habs fan, so you do the math.

Tomorrow is looking like it will be one of the rare times that I'm going to be happy to get back to Seattle. And I may think twice the next time I have a brilliant idea to take a road trip.