Sounders vs. Earthquakes at Kezar

My brother called me last Monday and asked if I wanted to go to the Sounders vs. Earthquakes U.S. Open Cup match that was happening Tuesday. He kicked in some of his miles to make the trip happen. Dan lives about 8 blocks from Kezar stadium where the contest was to be performed. Flew down Tuesday morning on Southwest, which was an experience so much better than any other flying experience I’ve had in years. I picked up a Sounders jersey for my nephew Victor and also brought him one of my old season ticket holder scarves.

I tried to explain to Dan and Brenda about Seattle fans, particularly E.C.S., who made up the bulk of those supporting the Sounders side at the game. I don’t think she believed me when I said our fans have some mean chants. Her face contorted in different directions when E.C.S. started up a let him die! chant in response to an Earthquakes player who went down particularly easily. The you’re a bastard referee chant brought up some wide eyes too.

But the drama came when we sat down in the section next to E.C.S. instead of in the E.C.S. section. All the seats were G.A., but the stadium staff really didn’t want Sounders supporters spreading out. Three or four times the staff came up to us and asked or told us to move in with E.C.S. I refused because we had a 6 year old with us. He wouldn’t be able to see or hear the game in the midst of the jumping E.C.S faithful.

Eventually the guy gave me the line that it’s just that his supervisor told him and he was just following directions. I told him he needed to get his supervisor to come down and explain to the 6 year old that he’d have to stand behind the loud jumping people. Then about 30 other people (most with young kids) saw we weren’t budging and moved over themselves. About then the supervisor must have given up, because the staff guy just waved us into the section we were already in at that point.

Charleston and Fort Sumter

First stop this morning was Starbucks. I needed coffee. There I looked up where I needed to go to get to Fort Sumter. The ferry from Patriot’s Point next to my hotel is closed for a bit, so I had to cross the Ravenel Bridge to downtown Charleston. I mention that because it’s a beautiful suspension bridge.

Ravenel Bridge from Charleston Harbor
Ravenel Bridge from Charleston Harbor

I got to the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center about 10:45 a.m. and the first ferry leaves at 11. Great timing and I hadn’t even known the timing of the ferries. During the trip across the harbor, the wind blew the deck chairs into a tumbled mess. Due to the breeze, I mostly couldn’t hear the canned audio telling some of the history of Fort Sumter. Lots of uses of states rights and a debate on the meaning of freedom. Very disappointed.

Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center
Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center
Ferry to Fort Sumter
Ferry to Fort Sumter
Windblown deck chairs
Windblown deck chairs

We had a brief wait to dock at Fort Sumter and then a short talk by ranger Olivia. She also repeated the debate on the meaning of freedom line. I wish they’d given her a better summary to repeat. We then had just short of an hour total

Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter
Park ranger Olivia
Park ranger Olivia

Then we got to wander around Fort Sumter, which looks quite different from 1860. During the Civil War the Fort was reduced to rubble and then rebuilt during the 1870s with much lower walls. In 1899, a large cement battery was built in the parade grounds as a defense during the Spanish-American War. So although the stuff I photographed is over 100 years old, it isn’t what I was hoping to see. Ah well.

Crumbling brickwork
Crumbling brickwork
Cannon and walls
Cannon and walls
Isaac Huger battery
Isaac Huger battery

After the ferry ride back, I viewed the exhibits at the Visitor Education Center (I hadn’t had time on arrival). These were excellent. Didn’t dance around the issue of slavery in the slightest.

By this point, I was hungry. So I drove closer downtown and looked for a place to eat. Most of the places were either closing up for the end of brunch, or had a line. I ended up at a place called Barbara Jean’s which is a small chain serving Southern food. It was mediocre. I need to find a better way of finding good restaurants than walking around, or looking at Yelp. The thing is that people with poor taste in food use Yelp too.

What I thought was a Confederate Museum turned out not to be. On looking closer, the museum was upstairs and an entrance to the Charleston City Market was below. I have no interest in a Confederate Museum, particularly one run by the Daughters of the Confederacy. But the City Market I did want to see. There were a lot of basket makers. A few people selling shea butter. Not a whole lot that was interesting to me. But I did see one booth with some great jewelry made by Sheinata Carn-Hall. I chatted with her a bit, and ended up buying something from her. When I left on my trip, my sister-in-law told me to buy her something pretty, so I’ve been picking things up for her.

Entrance to Charleston City Market
Entrance to Charleston City Market
Inside Charleston  City Market
Inside Charleston City Market

Then I drove to Georgetown. I thought about staying in Charleston one more night so I could have another stab at Southern food Charleston-style tomorrow. However, weekend rates were in place there and I didn’t feel like paying them a second night. $40 cheaper here than there. Hopefully I’ll find some good breakfast here in Georgetown.

Saint Augustine, Florida

19 January 2012

On leaving Titusville, I decided to get off the interstate and drive closer to the coast. So I headed over to US-1 and drove north. For a while that seemed like a good choice, although a bit boring. The towns along US-1 in that section aren’t particularly interesting. But on approaching Daytona Beach, the traffic increased, and 45 minutes of my driving was like driving highway 99 from Seattle to Everett. Lots of signs and traffic and intersections with lights and crappy businesses lining the road. Bleah. So when US-1 crossed I-95 I jumped back on the interstate.

But a few miles later I saw a sign for Saint Augustine and I remembered my middle school history: Saint Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the United States. So I got back onto US-1 and drove into the town. I need to do some research to find out if there are any native American settlements that have been been extent in some form for longer.

After parking in the city parking garage and stepping through the visitor center, I saw two things across the street: a Ripley’s Odditorium, and Castillo de San Marcos. First I headed toward the castle. Along the way is the Huguenot Cemetery, which is closed to public access unfortunately. My inner genealogist couldn’t help but snap a few photos from the wall. I didn’t get more because I figured such a prominent cemetery would have already been extensively photographed. Looking it up on Find A Grave right now it appears that is sort of true. Most of the markers have photos, but they are small versions. Grrr… I wish people more people would post large, high resolution photos on F.A.G.

Gate to Huguenot Cemetery
Gate to Huguenot Cemetery
Huguenot Cemetery, Saint Augustine
Huguenot Cemetery

Then across the street to Castillo de San Marcos. This was a military fort built to protect Saint Augustine and Spanish Florida in general from predation by English privateers based in Charleston. The literature on site trumpets the fact that San Marcos was never taken in battle. However, it was only attacked twice, and one of those times the English completely sacked Saint Augustine before retreating north on land.

Moat and walls of San Marcos
Moat and walls of San Marcos
Covered way, San Marcos
Covered way

The castle has extremely thick walls made of a rock that absorbs cannonballs. Outward from it lie additional protections including a dry moat, a covered way, and a sloping hill called a glacis. It has four diamond shaped bastions designed to make anyone approaching the fort come under crossfire from two of them. On top is a wide flat area where dozens of naval cannon are mounted. It would be very hard to take it.

San Marcos cannons
San Marcos cannons

The old Spanish part of Saint Augustine is mostly a pedestrian mall now. Lots of tourist shops in historic buildings, most of which seemed to be rebuilds rather than original construction. That made it less intriguing to me. I had lunch at a place that served English food called Prince of Wales. Hand battered fish and waffle chips. Very tasty. Decent singer playing on the porch as well.

Pedestrian mall, Saint Augustine
Pedestrian mall

For the late afternoon, I headed to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium. I had some trepidation that turned out to be justified. A significant chunk of what Robert Ripley found and promoted was foreign cultural practices that seemed strange to him. His cartoons and the Odditorium don’t usually draw attention to those practices in order to put them down. But what they do isn’t celebrating them either. The actual presentation is very othering. There are also a lot of fun things there: a sculpture of a manatee made entirely of soda cans recovered from Florida wetlands, a three story erector set model of a ferris wheel, and a couple of dizziness-inducing spinning tunnels. And lots more of course.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not!
Ripley's Believe It Or Not!
Mansion housing Ripley's museum
Mansion housing Ripley's museum

Then, driving on to the outskirts of Jacksonville.

20 January 2012

The reason to get to Jacksonville on the 19th was that I wanted to stop by the Florida Department of Vital Statistics and request a few death certificates for my genealogy work. A few people in my family tree retired to Florida and died in that state. I could have requested the death certificates via mail or online via Vitalchek, but the latter charges a hefty processing fee and I knew I would make mistakes on the applications if I did the former. So as long as I was going to be nearby, an in person visit seemed perfect. The bonus is that Florida, unlike a lot of other states, only charges $5 per death certificate. I did not ask for rush service, so my copies will be mailed to me in Seattle. The clerk was unable to direct me to a coffee shop afterward though. How do you people in Jacksonville live without coffee shops downtown?

And then I drove to Charleston. Other than gas and food, I didn’t stop in Georgia. I thought about possibly staying the night in Savannah and checking out that city, but I just wasn’t interested in genteel antebellum life and architecture last night. After crossing an immense suspension bridge into South Carolina, I kept to US-17 most of the way to Charleston. I’ve seen more swamplands in South Carolina than I did in Florida.

Just after I drove through downtown Charleston I remembered I wanted to see Fort Sumter, where the South started the Civil War. Where it was slipped my mind, so I pulled over and checked Google Maps, finding out that it was in Charleston harbor. So I found a hotel for the night as it was too late for a visit. Thought about heading out for a nice dinner, but the road food wasn’t sitting well, and I was tired, and my hotel room had a giant whirlpool tub. After an hour of soaking in the tub, I wrote a couple of blog posts and slept.

Kennedy Space Center

18 January 2012

Wednesday morning I woke up, hugged Lenei goodbye as she went off to work, caught up on my internets, then packed up and headed out the door.

First destination? Royal Palm Cemetery in West Palm Beach, where a relative was supposedly buried according to the Veteran’s Administration National Gravesite Locator. However, according to the cemetery office, he was not. Strike #1.

Then, a block away from the cemetery, I was waiting to turn right when my car got rear-ended. Fellow behind me was watching the light and not me. I was watching the crossing cars. In Florida there often seems to be one car at every light that blazes through the red just after it turns. I did not want that car to hit me. The car behind me did. Minor damage to my car. I’ll have it looked at when I get home and if a shop determines it’s a safety hazard, then I’ll get the guy or his insurance to pay to replace it. I’ve got other dings on the bumper, so I’m not going to fix it if there’s no safety issue.

Fender bender damage
Fender bender damage

Planned stop was the Kennedy Space Center. But on the way, I followed a fire truck in I-95 for about 20 miles. It was running with its lights, but under the speed limit. I wondered what was up, but after a few miles I noticed a giant smoke cloud in the distance. There was a 20 acre brush fire in one of the towns near the K.S.C. Police had all roads nearby closed, so I couldn’t use them as a shortcut to K.S.C. The smoke cloud was immense though.

I arrive at Kennedy Space Center around 1:30. The approach is via a long straight causeway from the mainland. The parking lot wasn’t very full, but I still arrived after the last up close tour had sold out. So I had to settle for general admission, which includes a tour to an observation gantry and to an on-site exhibit covering the Apollo program.

The bus drives past the assembly, but doesn’t stop. Still, it’s closer than we got to anything else that wasn’t an exhibit.

Assembly building
Assembly building, view 1
Assembly building
Assembly building, view 2

LC 39 Observation Gantry was pretty meh. Basically you can see the assembly building and a bunch of launch towers in the distance.

Shuttle launch site
Shuttle launch site

Heading back to the bus to go to the Apollo exhibit, I ran across a cup laying at the bottom of the tower.

The Stanley Cup
Mislaid cup?

Why the Stanley Cup was being shown at the Kennedy Space Center I don’t know. Cool for hockey buffs I suppose, but it seems kind of a non-sequiter at the space center. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto makes more sense. I checked out the event page for the Stanley Cup at the Kennedy Space Center. The C.E.O. of the company that runs the K.S.C. visitor complex is the owner of the Boston Bruins, the 2011 winner of the Stanley Cup. They were also letting some folks try on an actual N.H.L. Championship ring and get photos with it. One guy was really really chuffed about that!

The Apollo/Saturn V Center was really awesome. There they have what they claim is the actual equipment from the Apollo 8 launch set up in a theater. The exhibit plays the audio from the final 3 minutes of the Apollo 8 countdown with spotlights on the seats where the person speaking each part would have sat. Also, the auditorium rumbles with what I assume is the same amount of motion that accompanied the Apollo launch.

Apollo 8 launch simulation
Apollo 8 launch simulation

In the main part of the center is a full size Saturn V rocket suspended from the ceiling. It is immense. It took me about 3 minutes to walk the entire length of the rocket.

Saturn V rocket
Saturn V rocket

The center also had a treasures exhibit with a number of items including prototype and actual moon space suits and other tools. There are some moon rocks there, including one visitors can touch, though it felt to me like it was encased in a thin film of plastic. Pretty cool.

After the center, I returned to the main visitor center. I was tiring by this point, so the only exhibit at the main visitor center that I hit up was the rocket garden. I have no idea if these are actual rockets or mock-ups. I didn’t spend a lot of time there because it started to rain and I didn’t want to ruin my camera.

Rocket garden at the Kennedy Space Centery
Rocket garden

And lastly, I saw that the visitor center had one unusual item.

Space suit Hello Kitty
Space suit Hello Kitty

I didn’t feel like driving very far afterward, so I only got as far as Titusville, about 15 minutes away. When I checked in, the woman at the front desk looked at my identification and noted I was from Seattle. She knew someone from Seattle. He was a DJ. He DJs goth/industrial. And it just so happens I knew who he was because DJ Turbo had added me on Google+. I may even have heard him DJ once or twice, though I wouldn’t swear to it. I don’t go out as much as I used to.

I did have one goal that night though. Extract everything from my bags and repack it so as to be more useful for the next couple of weeks of travel. I needed to get the stuff I wanted to wear in my small suitcase so I don’t need to carry both in every time. And find all my electronic stuff and get it into my electronics backpack so I know where it is. Also, laundry.

And then bed.

Road Trip – Miami

15 January 2012

Disembarkation from the cruise was pretty damn easy. Wait with Mary Rose for our section (#10) to be called on the boat, then head off. Insert Sail & Sign card one last time to let the computers know I wasn’t on the boat any more. Wait by the carousel to pick up my bags. Wait in line at customs. Wait on the curb for the shuttle back to the parking lot. Only the last was much of a pain, as there was mess of people milling around the shuttle pick up area, and at least three shuttles run by the lot drove by without stopping. Finally a coordinator of some sort put us on a shuttle that was run by a different company, but they work together or something. That meant the van went by a different lot first, which wasn’t an inconvenience.

Mary Rose wanted coffee, but there aren’t a lot of Seattle style coffee shops in Miami, so I’d looked one up in Fort Lauderdale. It was a 30 minute drive, but Mary Rose’s flight was out of Fort Lauderdale anyway. Unfortunately, Brew Urban didn’t have any food except a couple of pastries, and they were out of soy milk to boot. We got brunch at the nearby Old Fort Lauderdale/O-B after a 40 minute wait instead. Food was pretty good after the crap Carnival served.

Then we headed to Hollywood Beach to walk the boardwalk, where I figured we’d find a cafe or coffee shop we could hang out at and people watch or surf the web. But the boardwalk was really windy, and there weren’t any coffee kinds of places. So after an hour or so, I drove us to downtown Hollywood Beach where there was a Starbucks. Incidentally, filled with people camping at tables not drinking coffee.

After a bit, we checked in at the Holiday Inn Express and waited for my friend Lenei, a resident of Fort Lauderdale, to show up and take us to dinner. Lenei picked a place she’d heard good things about called Aruba, but when we arrived it had switch to night club mode, so we ate next door at the Village Grille. Mary Rose ate a giant chicken sandwich on her own.

Then, rest…

16 January 2012

First thing on waking up was to deliver Mary Rose to the airport for her flight home. That was easy. 10 minutes there. 10 minutes back.

Later in the morning, I headed to Lenei’s place. The plan was to toodle around Miami and that’s what we did.

First stop, breakfast at the Floridian in Fort Lauderdale. Tasty huevos rancheros style breakfast. Then down to Miami to drop off a tire at Lenei’s mechanic. This is the cool part. King Automotive is right in the heart of a mural art district. Dozens of murals decorated the buildings around there. So we walked around and I got snapshots with my camera. Click through for bigger versions and more pictures.

Mural in Miami

Mural in Miami

Mural in Miami

Next stop, a little video store to pick up bootleg DVDs for Lenei to watch later.

Next stop, Little Havana after driving by the Miami-Dade Library so I’d know where it was the next day. At Little Havana we stopped by a small park where old men (mostly Cuban) played chess and dominoes. A few more blocks brought us to a market with a restaurant called Nuevo Siglo. Lenei ordered for me, as I know zero Spanish. A big hunk of cooked meat and a garlic dipping sauce. Delicious. Also stopped by the nearby Casa De Los Trucos House Of Costumes where I found a couple of masks that would be perfect for next year’s sparkle party.

Last sight of the day was on Virginia Key, where Lenei took me to see Jimbo’s Place. I don’t really quite know how to describe Jimbo’s. Lenei said it wasn’t what it was 6 months before, the last time she’d been there. There were a couple of bulldozers there and a big empty place where a bunch of shacks apparently had been. No sign of Jimbo.

After that, Lenei treated me to a home cooked meal, and I crashed on her couch.

17 January 2012

Lenei had to go back to work. My plan was to spend some time at the Miami-Dade library looking up obituaries. A few people in my family tree retired to Florida, so I wanted to dig up some information. The library only had obituaries from Dade county newspapers, and none of the three people in my tree who’d died in that county had obituaries published there. Struck out.

Instead, I drove to Fort Lauderdale and hung out in a Starbucks for a bit and then headed to the Broward County Library. There I started writing these travelogue posts and did a bit more research online into Florida relatives to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.

For dinner, Lenei and I partook of the fine food served at El Guanaco Taqueria Y Antojitos, a Honduran place in Oakland Park. I may have had the best enchilada I’ve ever had. Juicy and spicy without being drenched in enchilada sauce. If you are ever in the area, go to this restaurant. It’s super cheap to boot.

For our last task of the evening, I helped Lenei transport a kayak she’d stored at a friend’s house. Getting it strapped to the top of her Jeep can probably be done with only one person, but my presence makes it easy. Her friend travels for a living promoting Geico insurance, and also sells belts. For helping her fix her printer, she gave me a very sparkly belt buckle which I will gift to Keenan on my return to Seattle.

Before crashing for the night, Lenei popped in one of the DVDs she purchased the day before, Attack The Block. This was a pretty damn good movie. Fairly short, but that made it better. One story with very little to distract. Just after mugging a woman, a gang of London teens finds themselves in the center of an alien invasion and under attack. The Block being their project-like apartment building with something like 19 stories.

Mell Pell to Miami

4 January 2012

The morning of the fourth I woke up in Amarillo, Texas. You know that part of Texas that sticks up and lies between New Mexico and Oklahoma? It’s flat and boring. It’s part of Texas because New Mexico and Oklahoma didn’t want it. Also, Texas does not believe in rest areas. Instead, they have picnic areas. The difference is that there aren’t any bathrooms. If it weren’t for McDonald’s I’d have had to drive all the way across the state without urinating.

Oklahoma is also flat. But not quite as flat as north Texas and it has trees to decorate it in places. The only other thing of note this day was that I stopped at Logan’s Roadhouse in Oklahoma City for dinner. The schtick at this restaurant is that they give customers peanuts to snack on, and you can throw the shells on the floor! Which people seemed to be doing with abandon. But the gimmick seemed very look ma I’m throwing peanuts on the floor! rather than a big amount of pent up desire to throw food on the floor.

I stopped for the night in Maumelle, Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock. A long day of driving, but relatively easy given that the interstate was very straight and traffic was pretty light.

5 January 2012

The 5th was to be a lax travel day by intention.

First thing on the agenda was to head just south of Little Rock and visit the Pinecrest cemetery and look for a relative who might be buried there. I’d found a reference online that said the wife of my grandmother’s cousin was buried there. The office was able to quickly look her up and found where she was buried. When I got out to the location, my grandmother’s cousin Leo Reichle was buried there as well. I was hopeful I’d find him there, but wasn’t sure. He was born in Illinois and lived in Ohio after the war. So far as I know, his only connection to Arkansas was that his wife Geneva was from there.

Anyhow, that trip was quicker than I expected, so I had some time to kill. While I was driving through Little Rock I saw a sign for the Clinton Presidential Library, so I turned off the interstate to visit. The building looks quite impressive. However, the exhibits were a little more canned than I prefer. The one interesting things was that they have all of the President’s daily schedules in binders for public perusal. Redacted in a fair number of places, but still cool to see.

Clinton Presidential Library
Clinton Presidential Library

After that, I headed to Jonesboro. It’s a little off the direct path to Miami, but my friend Renay lives there and I wanted to meet her in person. She’s a former book blogger who still keeps her toe in the pool writing at Lady Business, which is a great feminist blog that focuses mostly on books and media. I had a great visit with her.

Then I was on the road to Memphis where I planned to stay for the night. Memphis freeways are confusing and seemingly under a lot of construction. The lanes are narrowed for that work, light was dimming right about then, and there was lots of traffic on the road. All that combined to make me really uncomfortable driving there. In on incident, a car pull up at a red light in the right hand turn lane. He sorta veered right but kept going straight at a high rate of speed, right through the red light. Also bypassing the long line of vehicles waiting at the light. Dangerous and assholish.

But as I got to Memphis it was about 6 and I realized I could drive some more. So on to Tupelo a few more hours down the road. Tupelo is a hilarious name, so I was chuffed to stay there.

6 January 2012

This was the longest driving day of the trip. My plan was to drive to Orlando and crash the night there. However, the night before I was looking at the web site for the Florida Turnpike to figure out what kind of change I needed to have for tolls, and what lanes to avoid and which ones to take. I didn’t want to get stuck in a Sunpass only lane because I didn’t know what they looked like. Unfortunately, their web site is crapola and I couldn’t figure it out. I posted that on Facebook, and a high school friend responded that I should head to St. Petersburg where she lives. As that meant a night not having to check into a hotel, that became my new plan. Also, it avoided the turnpike.

The drive to Montgomery was easy. But after that Google’s directions took me a way I probably wouldn’t go again. See, there’s no interstate from Montgomery toward eastern Florida. I should have headed directly south, but Google thought heading east through Georgia would be the fastest route. Normally I’m finding that Google’s estimations are about 15% to 20% high. But in this case the estimate for driving time was spot on. The roads through southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia were windy and slow. While not exactly picturesque, it was a nice drive. But as I didn’t want to pull into St. Petersburg at midnight, it was the wrong choice.

So when I finally got to I-75 and headed directly south toward Florida, I pushed the driving hard. Normally I’ve kept my speed under the speed limit and stopped regularly for breaks. On this section I was going over, and I only stopped once. I pulled into St. Petersburg about 9:45 local time, and found Stephanie’s place around 10.

Her family has a really nice house on Treasure Island, which is an upscale area on the water. Her three boys and husband were already asleep, so we chatted a bit before both of us crashed.

7 January 2012

Since the drive to Miami from St. Petersburg was only about 4 or 5 hours, I could sleep in a bit. When I woke up, Stephanie was already back from her job. She was still handling the phones via her cell phone though. She is an office manager type for her husband’s medical practice. Her boys really wanted to show off their Nintendo 3DSes, but I have to say that was pretty boring. More fun was the giant map of the world her oldest has on his bedroom wall. They played a game with me where they named a place on the map and I had to find it. They managed to stump me about half the time.

I got driving just before noon. I took the Sunshine Skyway toll bridge south instead of a toll free route. It had spectacular views and the other route didn’t.

The only item of note from the drive is crossing Alligator Alley, I-75 pretty much straight east to Miami through the Everglades. No real exits. Only a couple points of interest. The watery swampy part seemed to start about halfway across. I suppose there are places one could get off and go exploring the Everglades, but I wasn’t going to be doing that this trip.

Once in Miami, I decided to stay at the Quality Inn near the airport. This was based on having stayed at a couple of other Quality Inns already and finding they had reasonable prices and good Wifi. This one had neither. I used the guest laundry to wash everything I’d worn on the trip so far, and re-packed my bags so that I wouldn’t be taking some items on the cruise with me. No need for the heavy jacket that was necessary crossing Idaho and Utah.

I’d hoped to be able to Skype with a group of people from Community for Youth that were doing a reunion back in Seattle, but that didn’t happen. Not sure the Wifi could have kept up anyway. It was awful.

Dinner was at a fast foodish joint called Taco Beach just up the street. Not quite fast food, but not really an actual restaurant either. I can’t think of a comparable type of place in Seattle. The enchilada was delicious though, and they had a match on the televisions from the Mexican top flight. The match turned out to be not particularly well played.

And then sleep.

Pell mell to Miami

I haven’t had a lot of time to write the blog entries I promised myself I would. Although I had a fair amount of free time on the cruise, I haven’t had free time otherwise. Until now. Upcoming (including this one) are a few catch up posts.

One administrative item to note first. I am maintaining a Grand Road Trip travel map on Google Maps. It has all the stops and points of interest of the trip. Not a whole lot in the way of notes though. It’s mostly for me to remember things along the way, and for other folks to get an idea of where I have been. I am not adding much in the way of details of what I did at each place.

Also, it’s a very useful companion to these blog posts, as I don’t plan on writing up the exact routes in them.

1 January 2012

The trip started off quite well, though really a bit too late. Deirdre hosts a New Year’s Day party most years where she serves Hoppin’ John. I needed to be on the road well before that, but she wanted me to stop by anyway. I got loaded up and headed to Deirdre’s about noon. There she served pancakes (I think, I’ve forgotten already) and bacon, and packed me some cookies and a ginger brew for the road. Actual departure time from Seattle turned out to be about 1:15 p.m.

Of course, I freaked out and thought I might have left my door unlocked. Luckily, I could stop, email my building manager from my phone, and ask her to twist my doorknob and make sure. I got a reply a few hours later. I had locked it up tight.

Day 1 was about 10 hours of driving. I stopped for a quick break at the Selah Rest Stop on I-84 near Yakima. That’s where the bridge photo below was taken. It’s kinda pretty for a bridge. I stopped for a couple of quick rests and one gas station before finally deciding to call it a night in Mountain Home, Idaho. The drive between Seattle and Boise is one I’ve done many times, as I loved in Boise for about a year (1998).

Bridge near Selah Creek rest area
Bridge near Selah Creek rest area

2 January 2012

I didn’t get an early start, but it was much earlier than day 1. A quick (and free) breakfast at the restaurant adjacent to the Best Western and I was on the road. The route to Salt Lake City is one I’ve driven 3 times before as well. I do like the views from the interstate in southeast Idaho as a driver turns southward toward S.L.C.

S.L.C. has traffic and lots of it. To me it’s a good illustration of what happens when a metro area invests heavily in roads. People fill roads to their available capacity in cities. If more are built, people move to places and use them. There really isn’t unused highway capacity in a city. Also, S.L.C. did not pay for those roads by themselves either. Those are new and pretty and got a lot of funding from the federal government.

Around Provo I got off the Interstate and took US 6. The road is mostly a 2 lane highway, and it also has some incredible views. I stopped in Price and got myself a grilled sandwich at a little drive in called Sherald’s with a very overworked waitress. It was a damn fine sandwich. While waiting, I chatted with a couple of adolescents who were waiting for their burger. They were not particularly bright, but enthusiastic and charming.

Canyon viewed from US-6 in Utah
Canyon viewed from US-6 in Utah

Unfortunately, the evening was already upon me by the time I reach I-70 near Green River. That meant I didn’t get to see what must have been great scenery as I drove by Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. Moab looked like a nice town, though a bit touristy. I drove through and made it to Cortez, Colorado for the night, where I got a room at a really cheap motel. The temperature was in the high 20s, which seems downright cold to me as I write this from balmy Fort Lauderdale with a temperature in the 80s. I actually brought my road beverages into the room at night because I didn’t want them to freeze in the car and burst.

3 January 2012

I woke up pretty early and drove into the main part of Cortez from the outskirts for a breakfast at the El Grande Cafe. It is the kind of place where the old farts for their breakfast every day and the breakfast waitresses all call you honey. The people were friendly, but the huevos rancheros were awful.

Day 3 was the first day I did any actual sightseeing at all. I figured my chances of being in the area again anytime in the next few decades were pretty slim, so I was gonna take the opportunity to stop at 4 Corners, and stand in the one spot where I can be in four states at once. The road to 4 Corners goes through the Navajo reservations in New Mexico. There’s really nothing there. Just a small plaza with a survey marker in the center at the exact spot where the states touch. The local tribes have set up booths around the plaza to sell trinkets to tourists. I bought a bunch.

Four Corners marker
Four Corners marker

Afterward, the road took me into Arizona briefly before I hung a left toward Shiprock in northern New Mexico. My original plan had been to drive a more northerly route from Shiprock to Albuquerque and then take a left. Just cause. However, Deirdre presented another option when she was serving me bacon. Her hometown was Tohatchi, which is about an hour south of Shiprock. It’s on the way from nowhere to nowhere. So I routed through that town to see what makes a Deirdre.

The highway south of Shiprock is a four lane divided highway. I don’t know why. About 5 miles north of Tohatchi it abruptly narrows to two lanes undivided. Five miles south of Tohatchi, it becomes a four lane divided highway again, and continues that through Gallup. Very odd.

I did stop and pull into the Tohatchi High School parking lot to get a quick phone snapshot before continuing on my way. At the edge of Tohatchi I saw a fellow hitch-hiking on the side of the road. Since I was going that way I pulled over and let him hop in. I saw 4 other hitch-hikers shortly afterward. Deidre tells me that’s a way of life on the reservation. I just thought it would be nice to help a guy out (I’ve even given rides to gutter punks in Seattle before. The guy’s name was Rick, and he needed to get to the hospital in Gallup, though I’m not sure why. He didn’t appear to be injured himself. His accent was really thick, so I couldn’t understand much of what he said, and neither of us are the talkative sort anyway.

Tohatchi High School
Tohatchi High School

After dropping Rick off and swinging by the post office in Gallup to deposit a batch of post cards, I headed east on I-40. New Mexico had a lot more elevation changes than I expected, particularly dipping into Albuquerque and then climbing the ridge east of that metro area. The earth in the state is very reddish as well. Once I crossed into Texas though, everything flattened out. Final stop was at a Quality Inn in Amarillo.

More later…

Cross Country Road Trip

I might as well announce it to make it easier to explain why I won’t be attending your event in January.

After mom died in 2008, I wanted to relax and travel before getting back into the swing of life. But almost immediately afterward Gramps had a heart attack and so I put off any extensive travel so I could drive Gram & Gramps when they needed it, and then their health deteriorated. After that, I was doing some work and being the personal representative on their estate. I also had an increasingly aging and sick cat to care for.

All those will no longer be an issue come January. I am going to take some time and get out of Dodge.

Some time ago, Brittany (not her real name) planned a Caribbean Cruise for the 8th through the 15th of January, 2012. I had already booked my place on the cruise. Instead of flying to the departure point in Miami, I am going to drive.

Map of Google's suggest route from my house to the cruise terminal in Miami
Google Maps suggested route from my house to the Miami cruise terminal

I have only a loose plan at this point. I will fill in more details of the plan soonish, but most of the plan will remain undetermined until I get to wherever. I don’t know wherever is. I won’t know until I get there.

The loose plan: I think I will leave January 1st after I recover from New Years Eve debauchery. That will give me 7 days to drive to Miami. According to Google Maps, it’s about a 54 hour drive by their preferred route. That’s about 8 hours per day. On my own, I can usually go 10 to 12 hours each day. I might even have time to stop and see a thing or two.

From the 8th through the 15th, I will be reading books on a big fucking boat.

After the cruise, I will drive back to Seattle. On the itinerary are the following: Springfield, Illinois, a couple of places in Iowa, and Brule County, South Dakota. I want to research some family history in those places. I also want to also visit a few book bloggers (who, to my knowledge, do not live in those particular places) and buy them coffee and talk books. Other than that, I am giving myself the freedom to change my route because I see a sign saying This way to the world’s largest ball of twine! or National Mustard Museum, 100 miles ahead in Mount Horeb! Want me to visit along the way? Send me your details and if the whim strikes me, I will.

When will I be in those places? I don’t know. What other places will I go? I don’t know. How long will that return trip take? I don’t know. I will most certainly be back in time for the Sounders home opener in March. There’s a good chance I will be back in time for Losers Dinner on February. But I may skip that.

I will send post cards. If you want post cards, send me your mailing address. Either comment with it here, on Google+, on Facebook, or email it to me if you are squeamish about it being public. If you don’t have my email address, use spamforphil at (Note: I don’t check that email address very often, so put POSTCARD in the subject so I can pull the appropriate emails out easily.) I will also likely blog and Google+ a fair amount. Suggestions for things to see and do are welcome on any of the travel related posts.

So. There it is.

I’ll squee for Michelle Obama

Tonight my cousin Dave (who is showing me around DC), suggested we go to Zaytinya. It’s an “in” place right now, owned by José Andrés who is a famous chef according to Dave. They server eastern Mediterranean food tapas style, and Dave claimed the people watching would be good. Little did we know.

We walked up, and there were two security guys outside wanding people who went in. They told us there was a special event there. We thought we were about to be turned away because Angelina Jolie (or some A-lister) was having a private party. But they just wanded us and sent us in. We got on the list for a table and chatted in the bar. Normal conversation, but Dave and I kept turning back to who might be there. There was another security guy at the base of the stairs to the balcony section. We decided it wasn’t the President because we thought the security would be much tighter, and in my (completely wrong) opinion, the security guys looked too friendly to be Secret Service. I figured some minor foreign royalty, Kofi Annan, Gary Payton type of person. Dave did ask what I thought I would do if it was the President since I’m of the disappointed in the President liberal persuasion. But we continued to dismiss that it was the President.

We got seated, ordered, and started eating. We ordered lamb in filo, asparagus, shrimp, mushroom, and veal sweetmeats tapas. I’d never had sweetmeats from a cow before. I don’t think I will order it again. It’s definitely sweet, and something between the consistency (they were supposed to be fried crispy, but weren’t) and kind of a weird taste that was released after the first bite, I didn’t like it too much. I don’t think it was Zaytinya’s cooking.

Then I heard a bit of clapping from the other side of the Zaytinya. I looked over and the entourage had already descended the stairs and were making their way toward us. We were seated the closest to the hostess station and the entrance. I didn’t recognize the woman walking toward us. Then I saw past her and the second woman was Michelle Obama!

I am not a celebrity gawker, but I’ll squee for Michelle Obama. Prior to being First Lady, she was no slouch in her advocacy and political work. She impresses the hell out of me.

The two women and the Secret Service detail made their way right by us, and only after they walked out the door did I think to pull out my phone to snap a picture. Too late by then. Ms. Obama seemed a little awkward with the scattered applause as she passed. Not put off or embarrassed exactly, but not ignoring it either. My best guess is that she was just out for dinner with a friend, but Dave suggested it might have been her mother. Possibly could be now that I’ve checked photos of her mother online, but I couldn’t be sure.

Dave was right. The food was excellent, and the people watching was superb!

Empire Builder

Amtrak train (by skyler miller)
Amtrak train (by skyler miller)

I leave this evening for Madison, Wisconsin. I’ll be taking Amtrak’s Empire Builder train to Chicago, after which they’ll bus me to Madison. I have a flurry of last minute preparations to accomplish. I’m not freaking out over stuff to get done at the last minute, I’m just not the type who packs and gets everything ready a week in advance. Clean the cat box. Do a couple loads of laundry. Change my reservation to drop me at the right station in Madison (actually just finished that). Get some snacks. Pack.

The one thing I have done is pick out my reading material for the trip. My MP3 player is loaded up with audiobooks. I have four physical books I’m bringing with. I won’t read them all, but since my reading choices generally go with my mood I want options. However, I brought small paperbacks for space. Since I’m going to a literary convention, I suspect I’ll pick up a book or two while there.

The convention is Wiscon, a feminist science fiction convention. Although I’m a feminist, I don’t study feminism. I have no idea what kind of feminist I am, and I have no idea what kind of feminism predominates at the convention. (How very privileged of me to not have to declare!) So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’ll be enough that I find interesting.

I’m going because some of the most inventive science fiction and fantasy writers call themselves feminists, and I’m hoping to find undiscovered (by me) literature that doesn’t fit the mold. In particular, I’m looking forward to hearing Tiptree co-winner Nisi Shawl read.

Photo Amtrak train by skyler miller used under a Creative Commons By-Nc-Sa 2.0 license.