Thursday, October 7, 2010

South Dakota

Aside from listening to the last two innings of Roy Halladay’s no-hitter live on the radio, the drive to South Dakota from Colorado was as boring as you might imagine it was. I found the campground that my friend from Rocky told me to go to, and wow, had he undersold it. From my tent, I saw three bison and two dozen deer, and heard elk, coyotes and mountain lions. The stars were more incredible than I have seen on this trip so far. They were so bright that you couldn’t make out any constellations after about nine o’clock because all of the other stars were just as bright. The Milky Way looked like a solid white ribbon in the middle of it all.

This morning I woke up in time to see the sunrise and headed for the various National Monuments in the area (I want to make it to a sports bar to watch the Braves game tonight). My first stop was the not so famous, largest sculpture/carving in the world…the Crazy Horse monument. To give you some perspective, the head, which took fifty years to carve is larger than the entirety of Mt. Rushmore. The statue, when completed will be taller than the Washington Monument. If it is ever completed (the only revenue for the project comes from visitors to the carving and only about two dozen people are working on it), it will be the center for a Native American cultural center, which will boast a Native American university and medical center. Although, Crazy Horse was Lakota, the park stresses that it wants this to be a universal symbol for all American Indians. I hope but am not optimistic that it will be completed in my lifetime.

The second stop today was Mt. Rushmore. I was disappointed to find that the cafeteria from North by Northwest was bulldozed about fifteen years ago. Other than that, it was Mt. Rushmore…pretty cool I guess.

My final stop was Devil’s Tower Wyoming from Close Encounters of a Third Kind fame. You can see it from probably twenty miles down the road. It is way cool. Apparently it used to be the cone of a volcano, who knew? In any case, I’m headed back to South Dakota to watch the game and find a place to lay my head for the night, and then off to the UP. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Real Mountain State

My first night in Colorado was spent dominating Billy and his dad at pool. We went to what is apparently the best burger joint in Denver, and despite my better judgment, Harvey convinced me to try the peanut butter burger which was indeed excellent. I spent two nights at one of Billy’s dad’s swim coach pals “man cave” in Denver, while the three of us went to watch Georgia lose yet another game. Boulder and the CU campus are pretty awesome. Boulder has a pedestrian mall down the center of the downtown off of which you’ll find most of the typical downtown establishments--bars, restaurants, shops, and as Billy pointed out though, there are probably a couple hundred coffee shops sprinkled in.

I spent my third night in Colorado, excluding the one three weeks a go, at Brooke’s house north of Boulder where we watched five or six episodes of “The City,” a remarkably easy show to make fun of and ate probably not cooked entirely funfetti cake. The following day I went to Rocky National Park.
I decided to camp out for a couple of nights in Rocky, and in the day in between, hike to the top of Long’s Peak (14,250 ft). I got up at five in the morning, in order to hit the trail by six. As I was about to head onto the trail, I meet another lone hiker, and we decided to head up together. He too was from Georgia and had been to the Colorado game--small world. We made it 7 of the 7.2 miles to the summit until we came to the realization that the last .2 miles was 800 feet up a 70% incline of loose rocks aptly named “the trough” for the shape it took and I guess the fact that you get fed to the wildlife when you can’t climb back out of it. We turned back and made the 7 mile journey down the mountain. In the meantime I developed altitude sickness, which manifested itself as an intense headache and an intense desire to not walk anymore. I guess the 13,600 feet I made it up to was the highest I had ever been. When we finally made it back to base camp, Dylan and I had walked 14.5 miles and climbed 4500 vertical feet. Needless to say, my body hated me for several hours afterward.

Camping in Rocky was quite an experience. The elk bugle the entire night--which if you’ve never heard it sounds halfway between an eerie wail and a whistle. By the way, I saw probably two dozen elk here including to bulls locking horns in a lake and one sleeping in the middle of yard in the town down the road with about twenty people crowded around him taking pictures. Aside from the elk, I had some neighbors who were either methheads or had voice immodulation like Will Ferrell from the SNL skit. The yelled at each other probably 22 hours a day, and when I glanced over at them, they yelled at me. Finally, the fighting was broken up when I guess the man swung an ax at the girl and drove away which prompted a ranger to come to the sight and give the two of them a stern reprimand. My other neighbors and I bonded over our mutual disdain for these people though, and I became fast friends with a couple moving to San Francisco for a tour in the Coast Guard, incidentally the guy was from Heritage in Conyers and we knew probably a dozen of the same people. I also met a man who had driven straight from Dayton, Ohio (24 hours no stopping). He advised me on what to do in South Dakota. This morning I met a guy who had fallen off of the trough in Long’s Peak a couple of years ago and had been medevaced out (apparently a similar fate killed somebody last week--I’m really glad I decided not to summit).

Last night was a particularly exhilarating camping experience for a number of reasons. 1) I treated myself to steak and baked potatoes. 2) A black bear came to within about twenty feet of me. 3) It sleet thunder stormed for about an hour. All in all, a memorable stop. Onto South Dakota.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Northwest Passage

The greatest thing about the West coast, and there are many, is that I am currently watching the Ryder Cup, and it‘s only 12:30 AM. Sports happen three hours earlier, which honestly makes my life immeasurably better. It has come to my attention that my numerous readers are becoming antsy at the gaps that have been occurring between posts. I have been doing this intentionally to build suspense, much like JK Rowling literally ruined every June for me as I waited for the next Harry Potter to come out. Actually, I’m just really lazy, but I am flattered that people actually want me to keep posting about my travels; thus, I will attempt to be more punctual.

After spending time with Parag at Berkeley, I began to sort of miss academia for the first time in a long time. I think that this trip has definitely cleared my mind of any resentments I once held against schools for morphing my precious youth into a huge ball of stress. Eleven more months till I get to go back though, I think I’ll survive.

After leaving Berkeley, I headed back up highway 1 toward Oregon. I honestly think that the coast is even more breathtaking north of San Francisco than it is south, and Mendocino is probably the crown jewel of the whole road. It is a really unassuming town that juts out on a promontory in the midst of rocky islands and surfing beaches. I camped out on a state beach near Eureka, and that’s where I met the most interesting person on my trip to this point.

I think his name was Dan. He was hitchhiker, who from my count had been to forty different countries. He had owned at least ten different luxury cars, some at the same time. He had been a roadie for Pearl Jam and Soundgarden in the early ’90’s. He had two kids, one was a 12-year-old who was still at home in Washington. He currently is the sound effects guy for powows in Washington state, and was hitchhiking his way down to San Francisco to retrieve a guitar that he had hocked a couple of months ago. I think that if you only bought 5% of his stories, he was still pretty interesting…

The next day, I arrived in Eugene, Oregon (Tracktown, USA). My friend Beth put me up for a couple of nights. The first night we played trivia where the final questions came down to 1) name all of the metalloids 2) name the most populous commonwealth countries 3) name all of the states that have a six flags. Yes, that’s right all three of my subjects, geography, chemistry, and theme parks. We dominated it and won, two board games, some wrist bands, ten bucks, an orange hacky sack, a dictionary, and Oregon Duck key chains that recorded the date of our triumph.

My last day in Eugene was spent basking in its Pre-ness. For those of you who don’t know, probably the most famous American runner ever was Steve Prefonataine who attended the University of Oregon. He finished fourth in the 1976 Munich Olympics 5000 m, won every single NCAA championship he competed in, never lost a race at the Oregon Track--Hayward Field which he made famous, was the first athlete to wear Nike shoes, and was responsible for the US beginning to allow professional athletes to compete in the Olympics. He died far too young when he crashed his car into a rock in Eugene, and most people think he stood a chance to win the 5000 in Montreal in 1976. I ran on Pre’s trail which goes from the U of O football stadium to the rock where he died, and I also tried unsuccessfully to sneak onto Hayward Field.

Finally, it was time for the drive I had been dreading since day one--Eugene to Boulder. The trip is 1226 miles. To put that in perspective, Athens to Boulder is 1449 miles. It took Lewis and Clark six and a half months to cover what I drove today in longitude (Eugene to Evanston, WY), and I couldn‘t even see the blue turf at Boise State because the stadium is entirely fenced off. I went through three This American Life pod casts, two B.S. Report pod casts, seven Yale med pod casts, and my entire purchased music play list on my iPhone (55 songs). Only six hours left to drive in the morning and at least the Ryder Cup is on.

RIP Frances Wallis, you will be missed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Great California Blog


Highway 1

My first stop in California was the musical road in Lancaster, a road that has grooves cut into it so that when you drive over it, the vibrations in your tires produce the William Tell Overture. It was not that exciting, and considering that it is eighty miles from anywhere, I’m not sure it was really worth the effort. But, like many things that I have done on this trip, I can now say that I’ve done it, whether or not I would do it again. It was not long after Lancaster that the 110 degree weather began to subside and the ocean fog began to roll in. I stopped for the night at Refugio Beach just outside of Santa Barbara and camped on the beach. Side note, the California state park system is very much a for profit industry. To car camp in California typically costs $35. To hike or bike into a campsite costs $5-10. Therefore, I have been and will continue to do what many others appear to be doing as well which is to park about a quarter mile away from a campsite and to “hike” into them. The interesting adventure of the night was that I saw a top secret satellite get shot into space from Vanderberg AFB (confirmed in the newspaper the next day). The next two days I spent on highway 1. It took me along rocky cliffs, an Elephant Seal beach, Clint Eastwood’s bar, William Randolph Hearst’s castle, Pebble Beach golf course, the lonely cypress, and four lighthouses. Then, I once again “hiked” into a campground in a redwood grove along the Big Sur river.

My reprieve from camping happened in Santa Cruz, where I stayed with my sister’s brother-in-law (and sister-in-law-in-law?) Scott and Mary. It was a nice break from the road to watch Modern Family, eat non-canned food, sleep not on the ground, and get Forest checked out. While an oil change still only costs $30 here in California, I could see the garage attendants salivating when I brought the ‘89 onto the lot. Apparently, it is standard operating procedure to run up a list of things that a garage can fix for you if you let them, and while the oil change only took fifteen minutes, typing up a list of parts to replace took about an hour. All told, if I want to make it back to Georgia, the Santa Cruz Firestone store believes that it will cost me $2500. Looks like I’ll be hitchhiking home from Iowa I guess.

From Santa Cruz, I headed to Yosemite. I would describe Yosemite Valley almost how I’ve heard the Grand Canyon described a lot--too big. It’s hard to put into perspective. Certainly the famous peaks (El Capitan and Half Dome) are impressive, the waterfalls are staggering, and the meadows are beautiful, but it’s hard to capture in words or photographs unless your Ansel Adams I guess. I camped out near El Cap, and the temperature fell to 40 degrees (not Celsius). I froze my butt off, something I didn’t realize would happen to me before I got to Wyoming. I suppose I should have brought that heavy coat that’s currently sitting on a hook in my closet at home.

After reacquainting myself with the sun and the car heater (which still works), I rolled out, once again bound for the Bay Area and my once upon a time dream school, Stanford. I hung out with Amanda, ran a 10K (still out of shape), did laundry (thank you Stanford and Amanda), watced Mike Bobo lose his job on national tv with Lucas, Amanda, and Jill, and picked up my friend Parag at SFO. We went back to his place in Berkeley, which is not nearly as posh as Amanda’s place at Stanford to say the least. After a couple of days relaxing in the comfort of the bay area, I will once again hit the road tomorrow morning, bound for the Redwoods of Northern California and Oregon.

A few notes on California:
1) The weather is fantastic
2) The prices are strange. It’s really hard to tell what items are going to be strangely jacked up in price. Gas can be 2.75 one place and two blocks up the street it will be 3.15. Market principles seem to have little or no effect in the State of California.
3) I think the people are just as nice and friendly as they are in the South. Everywhere I have gone, I have met really gregarious people from camping on the coast to Yosemite to San Francisco last night.
4) The wealth is in no way evenly spread out here. For instance, comparing Palo Alto and Berkeley is almost laughable--though Berkeley is way cooler I think, I’m a little worried my car might be getting broken into as I write due to the sheer number of homeless people that call Berkeley home.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Every rock in Zion has a Mormon name, not even one shoutout to Bob Marley or Israel

Refrigerator Canyon

1000 ft down


End of Angels Landing

Beginning of Angels Landing

Cedar Breaks Sunset (1)

Cedar Breaks Sunset (2)

Bryce Canyon

I’ve decided that Southern Utah is without a doubt the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. There are five national parks here (granted I come from Georgia which has none, but still, that’s impressive). I only managed to visit three of the five. Yesterday, I went to Bryce Canyon which basically looks like a bunch of multi-colored fingers sticking out of the ground. It’s amazing that erosion can have so many vastly different effects on the same types of rocks in the same general areas. Bryce Canyon is the only place in the world that has rock formations like this, while Capitol Reef sixty miles down the road can claim the same thing, as can Arches and Zion. You go around a curve in Utah, and you’re in an alien landscape unlike any other place on Earth.

After Bryce, I saw the sunset from Cedar Breaks National Monument and then drove into St. George, Utah, a town made of 90% retired Mormons. Chiego has friends of his family that live here, Dave and Betsy. They are probably two of the more intelligent people I have ever meant. Their living room is filled with hundreds and hundred s of books on anything and everything you can imagine and several hundred jazz and classical CD’s. Dave has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry but taught advanced calculus at Memphis State. Despite a stroke, Dave is still sharper, wittier, more intellectual, and smarter than I have ever been or ever will be. They are truly impressive folks and fantastic hosts.

Chiego and I woke up early today and went to Zion National Park. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. We hiked six miles up 3000 feet to the rim of the canyon and back down, but then I went out to a point called Angels Landing. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. I have no idea how anyone got the Department of the Interior to agree to make this trail, but basically, there is a “trail” out to this promontory 1200 feet above the canyon below. For most of the “trail” you are climbing hand over foot with sheer 1000 foot drop offs to your left and right. Fortunately, the National Park Service provides a chain that you can hang onto in especially dangerous parts of the climb. To give you a better sense of this hike, three people died in one week in April earlier this year--one from a heart attack, but still. Having this knowledge ahead of time, then looking over the cliff face began to sort of freak me out, and I longed to be back on the ground. Then I saw a ten year old kid jumping down the trail. I couldn’t be shown up by a ten year old, even if he was in better shape than I. Eventually I made it to the top, and was rewarded with an absolutely incredible view of the park, but I’m not sure that I would do it again. We’ll see if I can do half dome next week in Yosemite. I have to say that that hike was easily a top five moment of my trip so far.

Tomorrow, Vegas.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Parks and Driving, Driving and Parks...

Mesa Verde



Surprisingly well maintained road

Four Corners

Monument Valley

I can totally commiserate with truckers. In my less than three weeks on the road, I have already surpassed 5,000 miles. I was hoping to cross the country and back in 10,000 miles, but now, it looks like it may be more like 15--poor Forest. After my night in Santa Fe, I journeyed toward Monument Valley via Petrified Forrest and Canyon DeChelly. Petrified Forest was underwhelming as a whole, but I still don’t understand how wood becomes petrified instead of simply decomposing--if you have the energy to google this, let me know. I was at Canyon DeChelly for the sunset which was pretty remarkable, but then it was dark and I had nowhere to stay…in the middle of nowhere. So, I went to a tiny Utah state park that I had seen on the internet the night before. Gooseneck Park between Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods provided me with a place to rest my head. When I pulled onto the Mesa about 10:30 at night another campfire was going, so I set up my tent and went to talk to the folks around the fire. Dave and Dennis were two Canadians on their way across the Western US to see what they could, and there was a guy and a girl traveling from Chicago to San Francisco and back I think. They were already a couple of bottles of Canadian whiskey in, and so we talked for a couple of hours about TV shows, politics, movies, and just about everything else. I went to sleep that night with no rain fly on my tent, looking up at the Milky Way and the clearest night sky I had ever seen.

Yesterday, I went to Monument Valley, Four Corners, and Arches National Park. I made the mile and a half trek up to Delicate Arch for the sunset with about a hundred other people. A couple of other sojourners had rather noticeable Southern accents, Ed and Libby. Ed approached me because I was wearing a UGA hat. Apparently, he had just moved out to Colorado in the past couple of years from Atlanta. Eventually, it came out that I didn’t know where I was going to be spending the night. He told me that there was a campsite next to his about ten miles down the road from Arches on the Colorado River. Ed and Libby had also made friends with their camping neighbors--Mike and Bonita who were in between jobs like a lot of people I have met on this trip so far. Mike is a potter moving to somewhere in Northern California after the trip (he doesn‘t know where); Bonita is a massage therapist. We all ate dinner together, where I learned of the delicacy--peanut butter and horseradish on a cracker (you really need to try it).

The following morning I woke to the sun just barely touching the rim of the canyon above my tent. Ed and Libby took me to an awesome breakfast in Moab where we talked some more, and I hit the road for Mesa Verde National Park where I finally sprung for a National Park pass which gets me in to any park or monument in the country on the free. I feel like that might be useful on this trip. In any case, Mesa Verde is home to a hundred or so abandoned cliff dwellings from the thirteenth century. One of the most impressive ones was Cliff Palace which I toured.

I then went to the really cool gold/ski/college town of Durango for dinner. I met Chiego at a brewery that sort of reminded me of Copper Creek. Tomorrow we are heading to St. George, Utah via Bryce Canyon. Thankfully that will be my last day of intense driving until I get to Northern California. The road is starting to wear me down. I’m going to need the Pacific Coast Highway next week for rest and relaxation. Why is the West so freaking big? And, why are all of the places I want to visit so far apart?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Teaching an old car new tricks and phtots from the road

Carlsbad Caverns
New Mexico

Did I mention that Forest is a 1989 Nissan 240 SX? In 28 hours, Forest and I covered 1000 miles from Houston to Santa Fe. We slept together last night somewhere in the middle of nowhere Texas (the stars really are bigger down here by the way). We sweat through the 100 degree heat without AC together. I began to pick up on his quirks. For instance, keep the heat on defrost to allow some of the heat to escape from the engine. Take at least a fifteen minute break every two hours. Don’t go faster than 75. Draft tractor trailers whenever possible. Ignore the engine light. The coolant reservoir leaks, so bring coolant with you. Oh, and the power steering goes out after you get off the interstate or any straight roads. Two weeks and three thousand miles in, Forest is running strong, but I’m slightly worried.

Religion in Texas

Paul and I went to the Cypress Creek Cougars vs. Cypress Springs Panthers football game on Friday night (very original school and team names). The stadium seats 11,000people. The field is turf. The dance lines have 50 members each decked out in cowboy hats and sequins. There is a video board that shows every play in real time as well as instant replays. The running back for Cypress Creek will be playing at West Virginia next year. All that is to say, this isn’t your grandmother’s football, unless your grandmother is like mine and has lived in Valdosta for most of her life. Cypress Creek is apparently much better than Cypress Springs (it was their homecoming game), and they began to literally run away with the game in the third quarter, so we left at the start of the fourth quarter, impressed. In fact after watching the Dawgs and Falcons, the Cougars were probably the best team I watched all weekend.

Where the wind comes blowing down the plains

Sorry that the next three of these were so long in coming. Laziness compounded with a lack of Wifi has severely slowed down my blogging. That being said, my blogs from now on will take on more of the color commentary form rather than play by play, so the post will be shorter and sweeter hopefully. Thanks for reading and any feedback is loved, as I am starting to get lonely here in the middle of New Mexico.

In Oklahoma, I totally mooched off my sister for the apartment suite above her garage and the washing machine and dryer. I slept in late, and then I headed off for the US Cowboy museum. If you ever make it to Oklahoma City, this is pretty much a must see. It’s a combination of a Western art museum, history museum, and a collection of novelties. The art is centered around a Western art competition that the museum hosts every year. It’s apparently a very big deal. All of the winning pieces from past years remain in the museum and have their own special room, they are actually quite impressive. The cool part of the museum though is remarkable for the sheer volume of pieces it contains. There are over 8,000 strands of different types of barbed wire (yeah you read that right). They have a Stetson hat exhibit. A half dozen stirrups exhibits. Boot exhibits. Bit exhibits. Rein exhibits. It’s sort of overkill; I’m not going to lie. Aside from the exhibits, they have a model Western town, regalia from just about every Western film ever (including this sequin suit worn by Robert Redford that looks pretty hilarious), and the actual brands from every big ranch in the Old West--in two words, totally legit. I'm thinking about deferring med school for another few years to be a cowboy,but I'm not sure how my family would feel about that.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Arkansas--The Natural State, a.k.a the Land of Opportunity, Razorback State, Hot Springs State, Bear State, Bowie State, and my personal favorite, the

The Toothpick State

So I’m writing this on my sister’s porch (I don’t know where she is) in the middle of the remnants of a hurricane, under the most ominous yellow tornado skies I’ve ever seen…I forgot to mention that my sister lives in Oklahoma. If I don’t finish this blog, you’ll know what happened to me.

In any case, I left Baton Rouge very early yesterday morning--which seems like an eternity ago. After the aforementioned Waffle House stop--Forest and I headed to world famous Natchez, MS. The town used to be a thriving economic center on the Mississippi, but ance the Bole Weevil hit in the early 20th century, it caused a tremendous depression in Natchez; this meant that no homes were built in the 1920’s in Natchez because the economy was so depressed. Instead the citizens maintained all of their antebellum homes, and so about 40 of them remain there today, and the town itself is quite charming, in contrast with Vicksburg.

Vicksburg, is the most destitute “city” I’ve seen on my trip so far. The downtown area has next to no charm (1920’s buildings and hotels). If you had about $20 million, I think you could literally buy the entire downtown as there are very few businesses left. The only draws to this place are the interstate rest stop and of course the battlefield (which is pretty impressive as far as battlefields go). It was here that I crossed the mighty Mississippi river for the first time, though I had flirted with it about a dozen times so far that day.

I crossed back into Louisiana and entered an area of the country known as the Louisiana delta. Betsy looked this up for me, apparently you can call a flat, fertile area, a delta, even if it is no such thing. To call the Louisiana delta flat though is almost a misnomer. I stood on top of a levy and could just about see the curve of the earth. Goats are apparently a popular farm animal around these parts, and I saw multiple “door museums” which sell painted doors. I also saw probably a dozen enormous oak lined driveways leading to doublewide trailers--I should have taken a picture of that.

And finally Arkansas. For all the crap I’ve given Arkansas in my life, it has honestly been my favorite state on the trip so far. I got to the state having no real clue where I was going or what I was going to do for 24 hours in the Land of Opportunity. I was thinking the Clinton Museum since he is my boy, but I wasn’t entirely sure about that.

I decided to camp out on Lake Ouachita (WA-chit-AH) in central Eastern Arkansas very near the boyhood home of Mr. Clinton, Hot Springs. On the ride to Ouachita, I listened to about 5 hours of Razorback radio analysis of their home opener against Tennessee Tech. At least ten times, somebody called in and reminded everyone in the state that Tennessee Tech is not Georgia--which I had been confused about the first seven times at least (side note--I was listening to the radio because I am out of Bill Simmons podcasts, excluding the two part one on Beverly Hills 90210 which I actually started listening to I was so bored, and I’m also out of This American Life pod casts--if anyone knows another good pod cast let me know).

Lake Ouachita is absolutely breathtaking. I tested my camping skillz out which are going to need a little bit of help before Yellowstone. I ate beanie weenies, Vienna sausages, and fruit snacks. I was not desperate enough to crack open the spam yet. I went to bed really early and was awoken at about 11 to water dripping on my face. Evidently there was a hurricane? I was not totally unaware that there was a hurricane in South Texas, but in Central Arkansas? Also, evidently, my rain fly on tent leaks--perfect! The leak was not too bad, and I had put my backpack in my car, so only half of my belonging were absolutely drenched.

The morning was overcast and calm. I went fly-fishing and swimming in the lake (it was the most perfect water temperature I have ever felt--Billy you know how picky I am about this, imagine Tate -1.5 degrees). I packed everything up, got in my car and it began pouring, again. This was fortunate though, because it meant that the ranger was too lazy to get out of his cabin to come and get my money.

From Ouachita, I went to breakfast in Norman, Arkansas (take a look at some of the town names in Arkansas, they are all borrowed from other states, Norman, Atlanta, Nashville--it‘s pretty amusing). Norman is a town of 423 people (Wikipedia) nestled between the bustling metropolises of Mt. Ida (2007 AA State Champs in football according to the billboard that welcomes you to the town of 981--begging the question why they were in AA to begin with) and Glenwood (p. 1751). I think it’s safe to say that the place I stopped for breakfast in Norman is the only restaurant in Norman, so it shouldn’t kill the story if I don’t remember the name of it. In any case, it was the greatest breakfast I may have ever eaten with possible exception of Porterhouse brunch--if you ever find yourself in this restaurant, you must order the Norman Omelet. When I walked in, an old timer asked if I was looking to buy a horse. I said that I was not unless it could make it to California. To which he asked how quickly I wanted to get there. I struck up a conversation with the four patrons in the restaurant, and when they heard that I what I was circumnavigating the country, one of them asked if I was doing so on foot. I sort of scoffed at the idea, but then the waitress pointed to a signed picture of some country musician who had indeed walked into their diner one day on his journey by foot to Tennessee. Another picture on the wall was of a patron who had biked from Chicago to Los Angeles camping along the way. Needless to say, I was not the newest thing Norman, Arkansas had seen; I did not get my picture on the wall.

After breakfast, I headed to Murfreesboro, site of the Crater of Diamonds state park, the only public diamond mine in the US. I went in with high hopes of finding a 2 karat diamond and thus being able to avoid having to buy one later on in life, but I soon realized that the people there were just about as interesting as the toil of sifting through buckets of volcanic soot. The people I stood next to while I was seeking my treasure, I’m pretty sure came to the park to talk about their lives to whomever would listen. I grew bored and moved over a few benches to a group of ladies with a dog. They knew what they were doing. They were dressed in knee high rain boots. They came with lunches prepared, and most impressively they came with their own sieves and shovels. One had already found a diamond today, and they hadn’t even looked through their dried rocks yet, which is apparently when the vast majority of diamonds are found. I ended up with a lot of quartz after my two hour attention span gave way, and I went back to the resident expert to see if any of my silica was in fact carbon--it was not. I asked if he had seen any diamonds yet today; he said he had not. I told him that a lady next to me had found one, and he asked if it was the lady with the dog. Evidently, she and her gang come to the park 5 days a week. She had recently been laid off, and her friends were retired. They treated diamond mining as sort of a cross between a quilting bee and a serious bridge game. They didn’t talk a whole lot, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Post script: there is an urban legend that a man paid for his son’s education by diamond hunting at Crater of Diamonds park--whether this is true or not, I don’t know.

From Murfreesboro, I drove to Oklahoma City through torrential rain, and I am now in a posh studio apartment above my sister’s garage. The road’s not for everyone, I must admit. Nights like these in queen beds are especially hard.

Go west, young man

Pensacola to Baton Rouge

After Tallahassee, I began to slowly inch my way Westward across the country. My first stop was Pensacola. Though my time there was limited, what I gathered about Pensacola was that it was probably more of a military town than Athens is a college town. They have model blue angels on the columns of overpasses. Luckily I was hanging with eight Air Force officers, and my hair is still pretty short, so I fit in pretty well. My friend Wes lives with Justin from UGA and William from the Citadel in a sort of bachelor pad/Animal House complete with a foosball table, big screen tv, and pool table. Apparently they are in some sort of holding pattern awaiting assignment/the continuance of their training, so basically, they are on perpetual paid vacation until that time comes. Man, the military is tough.

Three other guys from UGA were visiting--Andrew, Anthony, and Jose. In addition Christy is also stationed in Pensacola, so there was a veritable gang to hang out with. We began the night by going to McGuires--a cavernous Irish restaurant that can cater to anyone and everyone. From the 18 cent soup to the $100 filet mignon burger that comes with a magnum of Don Perignon, to the 1946 $20,000 bottle of wine. When you walk in the restaurant, the first thing you notice is that there are supposedly over a million single dollar bills hanging from the rafters. There are also hundreds of signed celebrity photographs on the wall from 1990’s Alexi Lalis to the Smashing Pumpkins. Our waiter was Dean, who at first had trouble dealing with us for a number of reasons. One, we came in at 10:30 at night, two, Justin Bower, and three, he was from South Africa. Once he understood that one of our main goals for the night was to mess with him, he opened up and began regaling us with stories of shark attacks in South Africa and other lighthearted tales. We stayed there till about 12:30 in the morning and then went to a crowded bar--apparently bars in Pensacola are hopping even on a Sunday night.

Monday, I drove to Baton Rouge. I got to hang out with Betsy; we went out and ate red beans and rice, gumbo, po boys, and hush puppies at a Baton Rouge restaurant. Betsy has Watson the Sheltie. I’m pretty sure, Shelties are second in my book of favorite dogs behind Schnoodles. In any case, after playing with Watson, I heard tale of TFA in Baton Rouge, which to surmise, apparently revolves around curious, hormone-crazed 12-year-olds.

Currently I’m in a Waffle House in Baton Rouge sitting across from a guy that looks exactly like Sting but with more tattoos, and there is an extremely angry waitress who’s riling everyone up. Apparently, she just broke up with a golddigger girlfriend, and one of her friends isn’t going to pick her up to give her a ride to her apartment, so she is slamming dishes and bitching at patrons who don’t tip enough as well as the rest of the wait staff who isn’t doing the dishes. Today is my first “spontaneous” day and tonight I don’t know where I am going to crash other than I think some camp ground in Arkansas--my first of many uncertain nights.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

College Town #1


The ride up from Spring Hill was interesting. I didn’t realize how similar to Georgia, North Florida is. The road I rode was an extremely desolate and somewhat depressing stretch of highway. Aside from my first Bald Eagle spotting, the only point of interest was the one stop I made for some boiled peanuts at a shanty set up in the middle of nowhere. Georgia does boiled peanuts so much better than Florida.

First Night: True to form, Jamie took Drew and I to a movie as soon as we got to Tallahassee--once a film student always a film student. The movie was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I’ve decided that I officially have a man crush on Michael Cera. I think being compared to him might be the most flattering comparison a person can get (Tanya). After the move, the three of us went to the most honkey-tonk bar I have ever been to, under the guidance of Jamie. To get a picture of this bar, it is literally in the middle of nowhere, it is actually made of corrugated steel, and the name of it is “The Pallace Salloon.” The first thing that hits you when you walk in the door is billows and billows of smoke (there’s something to be said for Athens for sure). The next thing you notice is dartboard after dartboard lining the walls. We hung out there for the rest of the night and then Jamie and Drew left me at said bar to play pong with some total strangers in the middle of a sketch part of a town that I‘ve never been to. We then swam for a couple of hours in Jamie’s sketchy apartment complex pool…at 3:30 in the morning.

Day: Drew and I slept together on a futon. When we awoke, college football was mercifully on tv, finally. After about seven hours of watching random games, we decided to go to the pool…again. On the 100 yard walk to the pool, we saw a fight, and a car getting towed despite the owner’s presence. The rest of the day went pretty much like that until we went out. The bar that we went to on the second night was slightly less sketchy than the first. Jamie managed to fall down the stairs and get kicked out--he claims that he was just denied re-entry, but I think that he actually got kicked out. As a result, he called me and Drew eleven times each in twenty minutes, and ran the two miles home to his apartment. Drew and I got a ride.

All in all, Tallahassee is a strangely different place from Athens. It is certainly a college town, but the mix of Florida people makes it a much more diverse campus than UGA’s. As I said before, Jersey Shore could pretty much have been written about most parts of Florida--Tallahassee is no exception. On to Pensacola for some R&R Air Force style.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Sunshine State

The purpose of my trip down to Spring Hill, FL (just north of Tampa) was to visit my oldest cousin, Laurie, her husband Nick, and her two daughters Emma (6) and Kate (4). They're certainly more exciting to hang around than my granparents and great aunts, but honestly, kids wear me out. After being a veritable jungle gym for two hours a day, even Utah vs. Pitt last night couldn't keep me awake.

This area of Florida is surprisingly beautiful. It's not on the beach, and it's not swampy like Gainesville an hour and a half north, but if you replace vineyard with orange groves, it almost reminds me of central California. There is some mission style architecture, a lot of farming, and a lot of nice subdivisions.

Typically when I go to Florida, I am on vacation. This trip down south, was no exception. My first day down here was filled with about 8 hours worth of golf. We won't talk about my score, but suffice it to say that on the 18th hole, I Happy Gilmore style drove the ball 300 yards onto the fairway. I would go on to bogey the hole after I tried to carry a lake with my three iron and ended up about two feet short. It being my golf game that we're talking about, that was pretty much the highlight of my game.

There are about 10 golf courses within a few miles of my cousin's home. One cause of this, is the great number of retirees (yes, all from New York and New Jersey--that isn't made up). But, another reason for that I think, was the housing boom. At its peak, Countrywide had 500,000 loans out in Florida, 73,000 were subprime. In 2007, the company was worth $24 Billion. In 2008, Bank of America bought it for $4 Billion (most analysts, thought that too much). To illustrate the result of this crisis, the golf course that we played, had a beautiful 90% done 34,000 ft., two story clubhouse. It has lain fallow for three years and has become molded and overgrown with weeds behind a chain link fence. The country club filed for chapter 11 in 2008; it's now a public course. According to Nick, housing values have accross the board been slashed in half, and these are Mcmansions we're talking about here.

The neighborhood that my cousins live in reminds me of a sit com (Copeland St. Rowdy Bunch shout out) a bit. People just drop by to hang out and shoot the breeze. Everybody is a young professional, with kids--sort of the quentessential American suburb. Kids riding their bikes in the streets. No fences between houses. Swimming pools. Dogs.

Like I said before, this has really been a true vacation. I've slept late, eaten well, gone to the gym, and played exhaustively with my cousins who think I'm their uncle/the energizer bunny. If you do anything fun with them, they want to do it 75 more least.

In any case, I'm about to make the drive up to Tallahassee to see my friend Jamie who's in film school at FSU. Oh and Drew will be there too I guess. Adventures to ensue, I'm sure.