Monday, June 30, 2008

Typical California weekend?

This weekend, one of my first as an official resident of California, included these things:

- a yoga class

- a birthday party where wearing tiaras was encouraged

- scoring an invite to a seminar about orgasms and their spiritual connection

- paying $24.50 to have two articles of clothing dry cleaned (ouch)

- finding my new favorite jogging (if that's what you can call what I do) trail along the Napa river

- at least eight watermelon margaritas made with fresh watermelon

- making guacamole for a party

- eating freshly smoked prime rib with my newly established Cali crew while overlooking the whole valley

All in all, it's safe to say that I like it here so far.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Now that I'm here

There are so many things I want to write about, so many stories I have left to tell. Like about getting pulled over for a speeding ticket in Utah. Or about my last night of my trip, spent in Lake Tahoe, where I met a wonderful new Indian friend named Kunal, and we spent the night drinking Sierra Nevada and eating pizza on the lake. I wanted to do a post where I expounded on the different kind of rest areas around the country - and how impressed I was that every stop in Iowa boasted free wireless internet.

I need to talk about how my arrival in California was celebrated by sipping Champagne by the pool of the household that is hosting me, and about our adventure my first night where we met a slew of big, burly, wine-sipping contractors who bought us dinner and made us laugh insanely all night.

But right now I don't have time to do those potential posts justice, so instead I'll just tell you about my morning here so far in Napa:

I woke up right at 7:00 to the sun streaming in through my windows, and the sky was completely clear. The view outside my window of the sprawling valley inspired me to practically leap out of bed so that I could drink it in properly. My host (who is also my boss) and I went for our morning walk up and down the road that leads to her house, and chatted about business and life as we walked past newly sprouting grapes, red earth, and beautiful flowers all along the way.

We returned to a breakfast of poached eggs and English muffins, and ate outside overlooking the pool and the mountains. Her boyfriend, who had cooked the wonderful morning feast while we were walking, sighed his daily refrain with pleasure as we sipped our coffee -

"Well, another shitty day in the Napa Valley..."

We all grinned.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tales from the road: Fun things to say

Traveling alone means that you delight even more in talking to strangers. I have not been in the mood to get into deep conversations with anyone - this is more of a selfish journey than a making-friends journey for me - but at the same time, some idle chitchat has been fun. So far I've yukked it up with a diner waitress in Illinois, a cool older couple from LA that I bumped into at two different scenic views in Colorado, and the lady who works at the Plainsman Museum in Nebraska. And I have to admit that there are a few phrases that I have become very fond of shocking people with, and watching their eyes blink in confusion as the words pass genuinely through my lips. They are:

"Where am I exactly?"

"Um... what time zone are we in here?"

Finally, my most favorite is, when asked where I live:

"Actually, I currently live in my car."

People really don't know what to make of that one. They usually pause for a second and look me over quickly, visibly wondering if this preppy, younger-looking-than-she-actually-is blonde girl is bullshitting them, and if so, why would someone of this seemingly good-girl demographic be making up some hair-brained lie about being homeless? Or, is it possible that she actually does live in her car? (Wisely, I think, I did manage to refrain from the temptation to deliver this line to the cop who pulled me over for going 55 in a 45 in Utah when she looked at my driver's license and asked if the address on it was current.)

After relishing in the looks on their faces for a few seconds, I laugh and give the skeleton version of my story, the degree of depth that I go into varying depending on my own mood. Since I'm not exactly looking to make friends right now, the explanation usually goes something like this:

"No, no. Ha ha. I don't really live in my car. I just like saying that. I'm actually in the process of moving to California from Virginia and making the cross country drive... Yep, by myself."

Chew on that, people.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tales from the road: The Brothers Family Restaurant

Ok, I've eaten way more fast food on this trip than I had originally intended. I had promised myself that I would only stop at little local places with character so that I could soak in Americana and have as many experiences as possible. However, what has happened more often than not is that I've been kinda tired and somewhat rushed, and have given into Arby's and Wendy's cravings much more easily than I would ever do in real life.

I even tried to tell myself the other day that this is the way it should be. I mean, I was making this journey to really get in touch with America, right? Well, most Americans eat a shit-ton of fast food. There.

But, the other day on my way from Chicago to Des Moines, I did myself proud and stopped in Rapids City, Illinois for lunch at the Brothers Family Restaurant. The tiny diner-like establishment boasted a whopping 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream - how could I pass it by?

I settled in at the counter. Was I just imagining it, or were the people at the tables eying me - curious about the un-regular in their midst? I scanned the menu as a middle-aged waitress with short, permed hair and a friendly demeanor handed me a water.

"Breakfast all day?" I asked.

"Yep," she replied with a smile. "And they know eggs here." I grinned.

Eventually, though, I settled on just a regular cheeseburger and fries, and scanned the dessert menu while I waited for my food. I chatted for a few minutes with another waitress. Her son used to live in Des Moines, and it she said it was about three hours away. Well, two and a half if you drove like her son, and three and a half if you drove like her, she clarified.

My food came up quickly, and by then a couple of people had joined me at the counter. One was a pretty, olive-skinned woman who was chatted with the employees warmly about the horses she was training, and the other was a man who read a newspaper while he ate his soup. My burger wasn't anything spectacular, but I enjoyed it. The lettuce and tomato were fresh, and the fries were crispy. I dipped them in my customary yellow mustard, and nibbled them happliy.

The whole time I'd been there, I'd been contemplating dessert. They had a rather large rotating dessert refrigerator adjacent to the counter, and the several different kind of pies looked gorgeous. My FFF has totally gotten it into my mind that homemade desserts are to be revered, so when the waitress cleared my plate and asked if I wanted anything else, with her hand poised to rip my check off of her pad, I had only one question -

"That depends - are the pies homemade?"

"Yes, ma'am," she said with a smile.

"Rats. I was hoping you'd say that Mrs. Smith made them. Now I'm going to have to have a piece."

The apple caramel cheesecake that she put in front of me was to die for. Creamy and light, with lots of extra caramel sauce and bits of cooked apple peppered throughout, I ate it more slowly than I did my burger.

When I was done, I paid my check with the owner up front and quietly left, hurrying back to my car as if I had been missing the road for the forty-five minutes that I'd been off of it, taking with me a sickly full stomach, and a little smile.

Tales from the road: The Plainsman Museum

When driving across the country, there are two ways to do it. One is to just go. You burn rubber down the interstate, barely stopping to eat, sleeping in your car at rest stops, careening towards your final destination in as little time as possible. The other way is to mosey along, drinking in everything. Driving two hundred miles out of our way to see the Largest Ball of Twine, snapping pics at every scenic overlook, learning the life story of every diner waitress you meet.

For this trip, I’ve been somewhere in between. The whole reason my dumb ass chose to drive a small SUV 2500 miles across the country when gas is hovering at or around $4/gallon is because I was excited about the journey. I wanted to take the time to clear my head, and use it to truly wrap my mind around what exactly I am undertaking with all of this, both literally and figuratively. Plus, I too was excited to become connected with parts of the country that I hadn’t visited yet. However, that being said – I need to get there. No time to dawdle too much. No balls of twine for me.

My chosen route down I-80 was causing me to drive all the way across Nebraska for most of yesterday. I was not predicting the best of conditions. I figured it would be corn, corn, as far as the eye could see. Wrong. Not a single stalk. It was lush, and green, and fertile with rolling hills and beautiful blue sky. And chock full of tourist… let’s not call them traps… attractions. Yes, attractions.

In the space of one afternoon I whizzed by signs for the Pioneer Museum, Buffalo Bill’s Ranch, the Sod House Museum, and a formerly functioning Pony Express Stop. I could barely contain my excitement. Rather than waste the entire day stopping and starting, since I was supposed to be on the road for about ten hours anyway, I decided to choose one and go for it.

The Plainsman Museum is in Aurora, Nebraska, about two miles North of I-80. The whole museum is a facility that sits on about two acres of land, has two huge ware-house type buildings that house the different exhibits, as well as an old train car, schoolhouse, and cottage, all completely set up with authentic pieces to depict typical “Prairie” life in Nebraska. They have two full time employees, the lady who showed me inside the first exhibit said, along with eighty-one volunteers who help catalogue things and give tours – all of whom are over the age of seventy-five, and every item in the museum had been donated by benefactors and locals.

After I paid my $4.50 admission ($1.50 AAA discount – what’s up?!), I walked through the covered wagon and into the mock town setup. Many of the items were labeled with hand written cards, and they had exhibits showing off everything from rifles to wedding gowns, dentist offices to saloons.

I wandered the property for about 45 minutes, and truly enjoyed my time there. To wrap up, let me just say that when wandering these fifty states, I really believe that you should take a few minutes and stop at things like this when you can. There is a lot to see and do out there - some of it educational, some of it kitschy, some of it big, some of it small, and most of it fun.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tales from the road: Crossing the Mississippi

The weird thing is, I had forgotten that I was going to. Between getting to know Chicago, lining up the rest of my stops, and starting to prepare for my first few weeks in California, I'd completely forgotten that at some point I'd be driving across one of the most significant rivers in the world. I mean, think about it - it's kinda a big deal. Think about all of the phrases that talk about one side of the Mississippi or the other. Think about how significant it was in the shaping and exploring of our country. Think of all of the people who live their lives never seeing the other side of it.

And here I was, sailing across it at 75 miles per hour, barely realizing what was going on until I caught a last minute sign out of the corner of my eye.

"Holy shit!" I exclaimed as I sat up like a rod in my seat and craned my neck to get as good of a look as possible without dying in a fiery crash.

Once across I settled back down and tried to reflect on the last mile in reference to it's significance to my journey.... And quite frankly, other than just recognizing it, I'm not sure what to say.

Today is the day I drove across the Mississippi River on my way across the country. Kinda cool, huh?

Amenities available at...

... the World's Largest Truck Stop, from whence I am writing this:

- Free Wi-fi (obviously)

- A movie theater

- Laundromat

- Public showers

- More tacky souvenirs than you could shake a stick at

- Gameroom

- Restrooms that are so clean they have won awards

- Wendy's, DQ, Taco Bell, one buffet-style restaurant, and another claiming to have great homecooked food

- A dentist

- A barber

And a lot of different kinds of Americans.

On the Road Again

Well, I've been in Chicago for a little over a week, and today I hit the road again for the next leg of my cross country excursion. The time in Chicago has been a lot of fun, and also very productive. I got some great job experience in, and really got to know Jill, the lady who works for our company here in Chicago. Here are a few highlights of the last ten days:

- Discovering the Red Eye, which is like a mini-version of the Chicago Tribune but out every day and available free on most street corners. Brilliant! It's kinda like the New York Post - short, highlights major news points, focuses a lot on sports and entertainment, and includes a horoscope and crossword puzzle every day. Every city should have one for lazy news readers like me.

- Meeting some of the guys who play in the band Umphrey's McGhee. Super cool, and great musicians, I'm glad to have made these new friends in Chicago.

- Morning power walks up and down Lake Michigan.

- Staying in a high-rise in Lincoln Park and waking up to this view every morning:

All in all, Chicago is definitely my kind of town. And I'm already scheduled to be back in August. Maybe next time I'll be able to catch a Cubs game.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Road trip soundtrack

So now I'm about 1000 miles into my great cross-country trek, and I've been listening to my iPod... well... a lot. Here are the songs that are emerging as my favorites to drive to:

- No One, Alicia Keys

- Brian Wilson, Barenaked Ladies

- Crazy Bitch, Buckcherry

- The Wind, Cat Stevens

- The Long Way Around, Dixie Chicks

- My Humps, Black Eyed Peas

- Rock n' Roll Heaven's Gate, Indigo Girls featuring Pink

- Get Out the Map, Indigo Girls

- Free Man in Paris, Joni Mitchell

- Bleeding Love, Leona Lewis

- Errtime, Nelly

- La Vie Boheme, Original Broadway Cast, Rent

- Day is Done, Peter, Paul, and Mary

- Shut Up and Drive, Rhianna (incidentally, also a great song for Spinning)

- Portions for Foxes, Rilo Kiley (incidentally, also a great song for making out)

- America, Simon and Garfunkel

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tales from the road: Recent conversations with my gays

Friday in NYC with Blake (who has asked me to be his date to a wedding in Napa in July):

"Oh my gosh, your hair is getting so long!"

"Yeah, I should have trimmed it before I left Richmond, but just didn't have time."

"No, it looks great. I love it."


"Don't change it before the wedding - it'll look great in the photographs."

Sunday driving down I-80 somewhere in Indiana with Jason (great friend from high school who lives in San Fran already):

Ring, ring.

"Hey! I'm in Indiana!"

"Uh-huh, yeah. Look, quick question. We're buying Madonna tickets - are you in?"

"Hell yeah!"

"Great. Concert is in November. We're getting six tickets - one is yours."


"I know, aren't we good gays? Working Ticketmaster the second the Madonna tickets go on sale?"

"I think tears are welling up in my eyes right now. I'm so excited to already have my San Fran posse looking out for me before I even arrive."

"You know it, girl. Gotta run - we've got brunch plans at noon!"

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tales from the road: Strongsville, OH

I needed a halfway point between New York City and Chicago, and Strongsville, OH fit the bill. About twenty minutes outside of Cleveland right off of I-80, this was the perfectly safe little suburb that I was looking for. I checked into my Holiday Inn Select around 7:30 and set off to the nearby mall to find dinner.

Halfway there, I mentally scolded myself for leaving all of my magazines in the hotel. I don't mind eating by myself, but usually try to have something to flip through to curb boredom. I scanned the backseat and something bright pink caught my eye. Perfect! It was the copy of The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road that someone had given to me as a going away present the week before.

Not two minutes after I had settled into my bar stool at the Macaroni Grill, the bartender, Mike, had spotted my book.

"Takin' a road trip?"

"Kinda... well, yeah. I'm driving cross country right now because I'm moving to California." I then gave the ten second version of the complicated story.


"By the way, where am I, exactly?"

Mike laughed and explained that I was sorta in between Cleveland and Akron.

I then proceeded to tell that ten second version to almost every employee of the restaurant. Lesson learned - when sitting at the bar alone in a suburb of Cleveland reading a bright pink book with a precarious title, people love to talk to you. Which was fine. Meanwhile, in between discussing Sex and the City with the gay waiter (I'm assuming in a town like this there was only one) and nibbling on my halibut and risotto, Mike and I flipped through the book and discussed the finer points - like how to get out of a speeding ticket, and which road trip persona I should adopt.

I finished up and paid my bill (slightly annoyed to have been charged for both glasses of wine after all the entertainment my book and I provided, but oh well).

"Well, nice to meet you!" I said to Mike, sliding off the stool and picking up my purse.

"I guess I'll probably never see you again," he said, matter-of-factly.

"That is most likely true," I responded, surprised that he had said that. "Good luck to you!"

"You too," he responded. We both smiled amicably and I headed out towards my car.

All in all, not a bad evening spent with strangers at the Strongsville, Ohio Macaroni Grill.

Tales from the road: NYC

H and C are two of my favorite people from my time in New York. Both insanely smart, pretty, and possessing the sharpest wit known to mankind, they are basically the coolest couple you'd ever want to meet. H was one of my best girlfriends in the city, and I always joked to the guys that I dated that if we ever had to become swingers, that I would want this couple to be on board and induct us into the lifestyle. (Usually this comment was met by a nervous, confused laugh. The fact that most of these guys didn't realize that this was my way of paying a high compliment, but that I was essentially joking, was symptomatic of our eventual demise. But, I digress.)

Four years ago, H and C spawned Sam, who has since become one of the coolest little kids ever. Now, I have never been much for children. I just don't get them. I do not possess the ability to talk to them on their level, I don't really care how their day at school has been, or the name of the toy that they are carrying... it's just not my thing. Whenever I encounter a child younger than thirteen, we usually just end up staring at each other awkwardly until I finally end up saying something like "Hey, kid. How's it goin'?" At this point the kid usually gives up and walks away from me, and I am left affirmed in my conclusion that kids just aren't for me.

But these past few days, I realized that maybe those cases were just symptomatic of my relationship with the kid's parents. Most of my exposure to children has been at forced family dinners where, in reality, I couldn't relate to most of the people there, least of all the little ones. But these past few days, I had an absolute blast with H, C, and Sam. I loved watching them interact with him, and my heart melted every time he addressed me directly. We spent hours in the park, walked all over the city, and hung out drinking wine and eating cheese, and I not only cherished the time I got to spend catching up with them, but was totally awed and inspired watching how great they were with the kid, and the values that they were patiently and purposely instilling.

I had a great few days in New York catching up with a lot of good friends, but I think that what I will take away from the trip the most is this - I can be a kid person after all. Assuming the kids have awesome parents, that is.