Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day 31 - Final Stretch!

I woke up on the 30th in my hotel room, and realized two profound things. First, I felt better. I felt so much better. I took it easy the day before, I pushed my Badlands trip off, I ordered "healthy" Chinese food, and took care of myself. I had to make myself do it, but I did, and it paid off. This was a good epiphany.

The second thing I realized was that I'd overslept by almost two hours. Not as good an epiphany.

I gorged on leftovers and made my way to Badlands National Park. I decided to take the Notch Trail, as it looked like the best mix of exciting terrain and brevity. I nailed it, with only a few new dents in my skin to show for it. I'm still suffering from lack of pictures, but I took some stellar ones. As I resume my picture backlog, I'll post them here and make the world gasp in awe.

Let me know if I'm overselling it.

On my way to Omaha, I was pulled over for speeding. Three miles over the limit. Verbal warning. I get that traffic cops get bored sometimes, but why do they find me so entertaining?

So I arrived later than I intended, but make it I did to Omaha, NE, where I met up with Darcy and her menagerie of friends, comrades, associates, chums... so I think it was just the entire drinking population that came out last night. We hit a pizza place so I wouldn't fall over, then a tiny music venue for some live folk, and finished the evening at someone's studio where people kept tripping over the DJ's input cable and the party had fun with it.

I hit the bed about 3:30am. Out like a light.

I'm spending the day chilling out, which is pretty easy given the local weather, and tomorrow I go back to Indiana. A solid month on the road. Longer than I expected, but it's been so worth it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Day 29 - This too Shall Pass

This trip has been very good to me. I've reconnected with some great people, met new ones, and have seen parts of the country that redefine "inspiring" for me. Through it all, the weather has been gorgeous and I've been hale and hearty enough to enjoy every vista.

Except for yesterday.

Before I checked out of the Days Inn in Belgrade, MT (who forgot I was there and tried calling the room at 2AM, thanks for that), I was loading up the car and barely made it back to my room in time to hit the toilet. Once I was on the road, any time I stopped to gas up or take a break, I had to risk using the restroom as well. Everything went the right direction, it just went a bit faster than expected. I'm feeling better today, just tired. It's a good thing I'm staying in the area today, just a visit to Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park in the itinerary.

I made it to my next stop, the Grand Gateway in Rapid City, where I'm typing this, on time. I did have to skip my hike around Devil's Tower in Wyoming, but I did get some close-up pics that gave me some ideas. I tried visiting the trading post at the foot of the Tower, pulled open the door, and saw that it had been deadbolted closed. Then I noticed the lights were off and the whole place pretty much shut down, nonetheless there I was with an open door. I tried to close the door back up, but the deployed deadbolt was acting as a wedge more than anything by then, and it just wouldn't shut. Fortunately for my good name, someone that worked there stopped by and relocked the door. He even pointed me to some choice vantage places.

The day before that, I went from Couer d'Alene, ID, home of Jimmy's Down the Street and their massive (cinnamon) buns, to Glacier National Park. That was closed for the season. I was about to turn around and continue on my way, but there were a couple older locals and the forest ranger checking out the terrain, so we talked it up for a bit. One of the locals ran the nearby hospice, the other led the Christian Motorcycle Association chapter. I didn't know there was such a thing, and now I do. The ranger had found a dead goose in the river and invited us all to walk upstream with him to investigate. We found another dead goose, this one with a couple of holes in it, a small bear den with a collection of bones in it, and watched a mysterious land rover drive by. The whole episode was made even better with the complete absence of David Caruso and a pair of shades.

I'm on track to be back in Indy Sunday, perhaps Monday. While I want the fun to never stop, I'll be glad to be back in familiar surroundings and give my car a break. Now I feel a nap coming on.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Days 11-13 - LA!

After leaving San Diego, it was a blessedly quick drive into Los Angeles. A parking space was free right across the street from my friend Karen's place, and she took me in. I've already given some info about my time there, so I'll narrate the photos.

My second day in LA started at the Getty Museum. For those that've never been, here it is in tiny form.

I refuse to accept that this lighting wasn't planned to create this specific pairing of figure and shadow. I feel like I stole something getting it on my camera.

The many this facility was named for, Jean Paul Getty, was a billionaire in a time when being a millionaire seemed impossible. He was an oil tycoon that haggled with the kidnappers of his grandson, and he also appreciated works of art.

A panoramic view from one of the balconies.

This is the other main building on the complex. Pressed for time as we were, we didn't take in all the museum, but the place itself is amazing.

Labyrinths intrigue me. The concept of having a goal and not knowing for sure how to get there is very abstract, and yet that same concept can be rendered visually. And in cases such as this, rendered with pretty flowers.

Some guy.

The exhibit I just had to see was Manuscripts and Illuminations. Typecasting, perhaps, but it was a delight anyway.

The seasonal exhibit there was a triptych they recovered from western Europe, and hadn't been opened in centuries.

Karen, her boyfriend, her sister, and I went to El Capitan theatre to see Oz. Somehow Karen had acquired balcony tickets, front-row-center for us. I don't know how, and I don't need to know. I just loved those seats!

Most of the pics I took at the theatre didn't turn out well, but this one of the ceiling above the ticket booth came out alright.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House. I like the motifs, but I don't know that I could live with them. Some days, the desire to sacrifice humans is hard enough to resist without the architecture suggesting things.

In conclusion, LA has a depth and beauty that's positively shocking, so long as you know where to look and ignore everything else. This is made a lot easier when a dear friend grabs you by the ankle and drags you away from fluff it's perhaps more known for. Thank you so much, Karen!!

P.S.: The formatting on this particular update was a nightmare for some reason. Uploading multiple pictures sounds great, but in practice all it does is make things horribly messy. I think I've put this one update together three times before it's as legible as it currently is. Had to vent that.

Friday, March 22, 2013

More Catching Up

Carslbad, NM to Arizona (Day 5) wasn't a terribly exciting trip, it was just long. I enjoyed a few brief stretches of the trip that had wonderful views of the mesas, but honestly by this point they'd lost their novelty.

I didn't take a whole lot of pictures once I got to Arizona because I was staying with the Endres, who took photos for me. In my defense, I'd visited before and gotten plenty of pictures then, so I wasn't as pressed to capture the sights. They did show me some new things, though. One was the latest boy's habit of mimicking poses, which makes him almost too cute.

The other was the stargate. I don't know why giant ribs are in line to be sent through, but it did make me hungry.

The walking tour of Scottsdale was a lot of fun, and I really hope Marsha will send me the photos at some point.

It was about five hours drive to San Diego that Sunday, officially Day 10 of my trip. My friend Nathan has driven to Indy from here multiple times, and it was nice to reciprocate even with this small gesture. His place, while not completely moved into yet, has a curiously pleasant view.

Nathan took me for some very tasty food and beer, after which I caught one of those famous San Diego sunsets you hear about.

We went on a quick driving tour of the sights, what few we could see decently in the dying light, and I learned a few things. One, SD has a gorgeous nighttime skyline.

Two, my camera has a panorama feature.

Next backlog update: LA!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Day 20 - Sweet Release

I woke up this morning after ten hours of solid sleep, the first time this happened in recent memory. It was pretty awesome.

I ventured into downtown Seattle because it was Wednesday. Specifically, the third Wednesday since I'd left Indy and thus read new comics. I needed my fix! The people at Zanadu hooked me up with some uncut Saga fresh off the UPS truck. They're good people and treated me right.

The guy at the register also pointed me to Monorail Espresso, which served me the best macchiato ever. No joke.

Between the comics and the caffeine buzz, the shakes subsided. I found a nice place to read and got about halfway through when the rain started. I can now say I've had the full Seattle experience. I rushed into the Moore Coffee Shop located right next to the (surprise!) Moore Theatre. They did a very nice macchiato and had a place to sit down, so I can't bring myself to call one better than the other.

By the time I'd read my books, my aunt's class was over, so we met at Pegasus Pizza to have lunch. The food was great, the beer advice well-informed, and the conversation enthralling. My aunt's a pretty cool person.

I toured the coastline afterwards ans saw a tiny Statue of Liberty. I checked and didn't see Nicholas Cage anywhere, but the tension never did completely fade away.

You have to look closely, but behind the statue is the Celtic Swell Pub. The staff was very friendly, and by the time I'd left, I'd written 1,100 words in my big novel project. This is big for me. I haven't gotten deep into this story in about a year. I worried I'd forgotten how. Worse, I feared I wouldn't like it any more, that years of work were destined to get put aside because I'd let it get too stale. I'm thrilled to report that not only did I find my place, I found myself mentally backing away, letting my fingers fly, and enjoying the stuff that came out. "Relief" fails to express what I felt as I was packing up to head back to the ranch, but that's where it starts, to be sure.

Short version: I had a good day today.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Day 19 - Catching Up

I haven't seen the Castillos in a long time. My aunt came to visit about a year ago, but her kids had the audacity to grow up and become people since I'd last seen them years ago. I find it intolerable that I'm that old, but I suppose I can allow it for now.

They live just outside Seattle, WA, in a house built out of love of the craft. My uncle constructs landscapes and interiors with heavy natural influences, my aunt is a masseuse and healer, and their combined efforts have made a residence the flows with a wonderful energy, an energy they reinforce with a welcoming and energizing lifestyle.

As promised, I'm going to post some of the pictures I've taken on my travels so far. I'll be breaking them up into regions to save space. This post will cover everything between Houston, TX, and Chandler, AZ.

As an Indiana boy, born and raised, I'm used to lots of green and either flat plains or gentle hills (when not dealing with circles of racetrack or corn dogs). Thus, any natural occurrence of desert or mountains astound me. Case in point:

I spent the night just outside of Carlsbad, NM. As a fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels, I've read a lot of scenes that take place in cheap motels. This one came with a layer of dust. If it weren't for Lee Child, I'd have been displeased.

I woke up early so I could walk through Carlsbad Caverns and still make it to Chandler in one day. I'm going to spoil it for you - I could have spent a lot more time there. The drive up alone was gorgeous.

The walk into the Caverns was a winding path that inched me closer to this open, black pore of the planet. Signs everywhere remind one to stay quiet or else the bats will get upset by the swarm. Slightly intimidating.

It took me a while to figure out the settings on my phone to catch images in the dark.

The first one I got to work was for a formation that looked like a totem pole via H. R. Giger.

Finding the Bat Cave was easy. Why did Joker make it seem like such a big deal in Death of the Family?

The picture may not be great, but try to imagine being in the middle of a football stadium that's made of stone carved over millions of years and is otherwise empty. It's kinda like that.

My car sometimes thinks it's a jungle cat.

I took the same road out that I came in on. I have no idea how they managed to fit an entirely different vista into the same road, but I appreciate the effort.

Next update is going to have Arizona and San Diego highlights. Thanks for waiting!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day 18 (Really??) - Travel Sores

I compose this in the sitting room at Evan and Erin's place in Nordland, WA. It's also the living room, lounge, and visible to the kitchen, bathroom, and loft/ bedroom. This apartment isn't small - the ceilings are vaulted and climb for the treetops, the windows bring in natural light all day and capture gorgeous, natural views from every angle. It takes everything a young couple loves and keeps it close at hand. It's not just cozy, it defines the word and demonstrated how the word isn't interchangeable with "small".

Yesterday, we barely spent any time here. We instead went out to the Blue Moose Cafe for some delicious corned beef hash before starting our driving-intensive tour of the area.

Our first destination was the Olympic Park Rain Forest. I wasn't sure what to expect with this, being an Indiana boy I hadn't experienced rainforests except from movies portraying them as steamy, aggressively lush environments that provide cloaked aliens with excellent hiding spots. No aliens this time, and no bears or mountain lions. There was a LOT of green, appropriate for St. Pats!

The sheer amount of raw life sent me into shock. That may have also been the huge amount of oxygen in the air. Either way, we had fun with it.

A bit more driving, and we'd arrived at the Pacific Ocean a la Ruby Beach. It's one of those places where there is just so much raw elemental power that most people are afraid to ruin it with littler, or even taking souveniors. IT's simply awe-inspiring.

This is not to say that we didn't play around just a skosh.

After we all had given our due respect to our place in the order of things (read: Evan and I got our pants soaked by a raging tide), we drove back. And when I type "we", I mean "Erin seriously thank you so much for driving our loud mouths around all over this beautiful place!"
By the time we got anywhere near the Garagemahal, everything save Taco Bell was closed, so we had Taco Bell. We got home and washed it down with beer and a micro-USB cable from the car. Their cable let me grab the pictures you see here and the dozens of others I haven't posted yet. But now I can. Mwa ha. AHAHA HAH AHA HAAAAA!

Ahem, anyway. Expect me to post some image-intensive updates in the next few days just to catch up on my journey. I'll be halving lunch with Erin and Evan in a few minutes, then it's off to Seattle, WA, known for its lovely Castillos. See you soon!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Best Excuse Ever

I haven't updated a whole lot recently. The reason being that the time I'd intended for blog writing got abducted by people that wanted me to do cool things with them. I figure the smarter move was to collect things to write about, rather than write about all the things I didn't do. So....... sorry?

Karen in LA took me on a blitzkrieg tour of the area, including trips to the Getty and Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, tours of SpaceX (special thanks to Patrik for showing us around!) and Sweet! (there needs to be a shop across the hall called "Dude!"). A bunch of us went to see Oz at El Capitan in 3D - I don't know how Karen managed to get us front row balcony center tickets, and I don't care because they were worth it! Gelato, leftover Italian food, and beers fit into the mix too. She also has an inflatable mattress and a fondness for hosting people, so long as they've read Ben Franklin's works. Karen, thank you again.

From there I went to Los Osos (not LAS Osos, get it right, people) to meet my Uncle John. Uncle John lives in an oasis of plant life tucked into a little neighborhood, where he also does massage work. John doesn't have my dad's sense of humor, but he does have the gentle, tolerant affection for life in all its aspects, as well as his habit of swearing at the most surprising of times. Even through a late fog bank that shut down most of our sightseeing, I was amazed at how much the area reminded me of Falmouth. Both are coastal towns determined to stay as small and inviting as they can be, with family-owned businesses that everyone knows like family, and zero hesitation to give a guy a ride for no better reason than we're all in the mood for the same kind of food. We had thai from a place with a decent squash curry (pumpkins are orange, dammit!), good phad thai, and great beef salad. We're supposed to meet up again in September for my brother Evan's wedding, and I truly think we should meet at other times, too. My mom's going to love you, John!

A 12-hour drive from there and I was at my sister's Rory's place. She had homemade pasta and a wide selection of alcohols waiting for my weary mortal shell, and we fell asleep catching up on the few primetime comedy shows we think are actually funny. She is the bestest sister ever.

Today promises a lot of walking. As someone that drove all day yesterday, I do not mind this. My phone hoards its pictures so guardedly I'm calling it Troll now, so while you wait for the pictures, here's something funny I found on the intertubes.

See ya!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Days 6 through 9 - Owwwww

The past few days have been a whirlwind of new sights, locales, people, and smells. I never would have thought that there was a place that smelled like Vick's Vapo-Rub by nature, but I'd be wrong. Most of it's been great, but it's late at night and my legs want to rip themselves off my body and beat me without mercy, so I don't know how much I can trust to relay without harmful bias.

Like visiting Chandler, AZ. The Endres can put on a good spread for the travel-weary soul, the kids are uniquely accommodating (if somewhat insistent in other respects), and have been a joy to be around since I first knew them. But it hurts to have left.

I can report that when my friend Nathan says he knows a good place in San Diego - be it food place, scenic place, or place whose view will make one tremble with rage - he means it. He's the lovechild of GoogleMaps, Yelp, and Architectural Digest.

Weird details survive in my head when all reasonable thoughts have given up. The summit of the mountain range I drove through to get to San Diego was 4,121 feet above sea level. Can I tell you the name of said range? Nope. It was one of those mountains made mostly of rocks and boulders so large and broken that the only reason they could possibly have not fallen is that none of them want to be the first. It was pretty in the same way bears are pretty - gorgeous unless seeing it live and up close, then it's intimidating.

I remain without a working cable to hook my phone up, which is a shame since tonight I discovered two things: San Diego has some lovely skylines at night, and my phone's camera has a panoramic feature. When I finally do get that thing to work, I'm going to break the internet.

Sleep now.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Things I've Learned - Part 1

1) Heavy metal is dangerous driving music. People screaming loudly with crashing instruments sounds like a great way to keep a driver conscious, but it also pushes the gas pedal closer to the floor. Twenty minutes before I arrived at my first hotel, I switched to metal music. Ten minutes before I arrived at my first hotel, I was pulled over for speeding. Audio books make great road trip companions, on the other hand. A calm voice narrating a gripping tale or amusing story is just interesting enough to keep a mind active, but not distracting enough to affect driving.

2) Small children can hack past basic OS security. The only thing kids like better than playing with grown-ups is playing with grown-up toys. In certain cases, breaking the toy isn't the most damaging thing that can happen. Case in point,
Deep Thoughts, by Xander: "Once upon a time there was a world called birthday world every day it is your birthday. You can go to the bakery and make your own cakes. It was a really cool world. Shh don't tell any body Earth does not know. It was an ordinarily day on earth and a space ship was about to launch. The space ship was going out of earth to space. The person that was flying the spaceship named was Alex. He landed on birth day planet and he saw this little girl named Trillian. She was an orphan her parents are still alive looking for their little girl. Alex came up to Trillian and said "Where are your parents?" Trillian said she does not have any parents. Trillian looked sad at Alex. Alex said "We will find you parents.""
This has been Deep Thoughts, by Xander.
My laptop is highly coveted for being new to the house, and called "bad" because it lacks games. I'm just thankful the thing still works after he was done with it. This disturbs me because, for all the villainy Microsoft has been accused of, a ten-year-old could get around it and code SkyNet before the next season of My Little Pony starts. Uh oh-
Deep Thoughts, by Lily: "I like Ryan. Ryan is so so nice and so so funny. Ryan is cool. I think Ryan is the best. Now is the best thing ever. Ryan, Marsha is nice."
This has been Deep Thoughts, by Lily.
That was a six-year-old. Kids today are learning about as fast as velociraptors. My smartphone, on the other hand, has defeated every single kid in the house, and that uses pattern recognition. Simpler than the one advertised for Windows 8, but at least it keeps elementary school kids off my desktop.

Stretching isn't smart. It's vital. I've worked a lot of desk jobs, so I know how to get a full day's work done without getting out of a chair. There is a solar system of difference between sitting at a desk for hours at a stretch and sitting in a car seat, especially the driver's seat. With a desk, you can shift your weight, the position of your legs, and change the view in front of you all at the slightest whim. If you're driving and you try to do any of these things, several hundred pounds of metal and plastic moving at speeds no land animal can match react in ways that might send it it spinning into a mountain or off a cliff. No TPS report ever carried that much stress, so I avoid it however I can. This means fifteen minutes of stretching minimum before I start a big drive. Mostly leg stretches, but some push-ups and upper body stretching as well.

I hate waking up, my muscles hate it more, and stretching is like ripping the band-aid off: it gets the whole thing overwith fast. It doesn't prevent my muscles from getting travel sore, but it takes the worst out of it, allowing me to focus on not doing anything stupid while I'm directing over a million joules of kinetic energy. Because I'm nice like that.

Size does not matter. Since I've been at the Endre house, I've been cut, stomped on, threatened with stabbing and burning, and have acquired a collection of bruises and headaches. No, this isn't racial profiling or the local chapter of Fight Club. I'm being abused by children. A 23-month-old boy discovered the fun of the Flying Tackle, and takes special delight in smothering my head with his body. He's only 27 pounds of baby fat and manic smiles, so this is more fun than anything. His older sister, on the other hand, is fluent in two languages - sass and punches. 40+ pounds of sadistic muscle and detailed files on human anatomy, she's the one that has done actual damage. It's only slightly humbling that I'm getting my butt handed to me by people a fraction of my size, though, which proves another thing I've learned...

Beer helps everything. Want to break the ice? Ask strangers about the local breweries. Did the food you ordered not taste as good as it looked? Wash it down with a cold one. Are your muscles and/ or ego sore after hours upon hours of driving/ juvenile abuse? Beer not only numbs the pain, it also has carbs (and in some cases, citrus and other nutritious additives) that the body needs to heal.

Now I open the floor to you, gentle readers: What have you learned since Ryan left Indy? Has he made any observations or insights that brought new knowledge to your life? Any tips for future boarders on the proper care and treatment of Ryan? Leave a comment and share the wealth!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 4 & 5 - This Dust is Dusty

I noticed on the latest leg of driving that Texas has a lot of hills and mesas to look at on their interstates, while Arizona has more endless flat expanses. Fields of dusty nothing made more empty for the occasional plant. It gave me fresh insight into the kinds of madness that nested in the minds of early explorers and settlers that were out there too long - I had audiobooks and the ability to go 80mph over smooth highway and I felt a kinship to the Donner family.

Part of that may be from my decision to take this trip solo, I got a lot of flak for that. Sometimes, and by that I mean when I was working in a basement hole with no elbow room and three officemates, I get socially claustrophobic and just have to get away from people. It's in everyone's best interest. It's been so long since I've had the chance to do that that I've forgotten how much I enjoy bantering with people (that can banter back, at least), so hours upon hours of driving listening to Rene Auberjonois read from Lincoln & Child stirs my crazy pot in the other direction. Sometimes it's enough to trade problems if solving them isn't possible right away.

Gretchen gave me some rosemary-flavored WASA crackers for the trip, and they've been great finger food during the trip. I love me my gluten, but I don't miss it here. I'm told a little butter or something to cut the dryness is great, but I don't have the means to do that while I'm on the road, so I bear with it. When I made it to Carlsbad, NM, I had some Mexican food in one of the only restaurants open on Monday nights after 7pm, which made me reconsider how much of a nap town Indianapolis actually is. It was forgettable, so I forgot the name of it.

That night I crashed (not literally, relax) at the Great Western Inn, which looks like something out of a Jack Reacher novel. The place was mostly clean, though the desk and end table had a thick layer of dust all laid out for me.

The next morning I set out early to go to Carslbad Caverns. It made me over an hour late arriving in Chandler, AZ, but it was so worth it. I'm still a bit too travel-lagged to describe it justly without pictures, and I can't provide pictures because SOMEBODY (Verizon) made the cord on their charger recharge-only, not the power/ data cable I'm used to. Some might say, "But Ryan, surely you had tested and known this cord behaved in such a way, having had it for months already?" To those observant people, I say with all respect and friendliness, "Shut up."

When I do regain the ability to pull pictures off of my phone, rest assured, the internet will know. Oh yes. It will know.

The Endres welcomed me into their home last night with all the refinement and energy of a heavy metal concert. It was kind of sweet. I think I will repay their kindness by showering sometime soon.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 3 - They Don't Think Small in Texas

Before I forget, I have to give a shout-out to Gretchen. In the time I've been hanging out with her and Jim, she's taught me three new tricks with WordPress and smartphones. I've probably spent hours today just messing around with them. Vacation time well spent.

Today we went to the Beer Can House. This gets kind of deep, so let me explain: it is a house. It is coated with beer cans. With me?

John Milkovisch retired from Southern Pacific Railroad and puttered in his workshop. He spent three decades and change cutting up cans (some self-made, some donated), flattening them, and attaching them to his own home. He made a sign that says "Bad Cat" on it to counter the "Bad Dog" sign a neighbor put up to dissuade tourists, neither of them having pets. He turned his leftover concrete into garden art. Why? Because he was bored. I may have a new hero.

Afterward we went to Goode's Texas Bar-B-Q, which was some of the best I've ever had. I had brisket with sausage, all with a sweet and delayed-spicy sauce, and the most delicious chocolate pie every created. I think someone found a way to make chocolate bars and the clouds over sugar factories breed.

At 5 PM local time, I got to watch Jim run our weekly Dresden Files game. He doesn't use anything that he can't get through his laptop, so either he's overclocking that thing into the grave, or he does a lot of the detail-heavy GM work in his head. Since I'm still in his house, he's sitting right next to me, and he's one of those quietly intelligent people, I'm ready to say it's the latter.

We're watching dumb movies on network cable right now, closing up the night before an early start tomorrow: he to his regular job, me to a nine-hour road trip to Carlsbad, NM.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 2 - Texas, or "Duuuuude!..... ranch"

I woke up early Saturday so I could get breakfast before heading to the nearest police station. See, ten minutes before I got to my hotel Friday night, I was pulled over for speeding. I was keeping with traffic, but was sporting out-of-state plates, so obviously I was a danger to society. I was looking the ticket over trying to reconcile an unexpected expense with getting basically free hotel stays when I noticed there was no amount written on the ticket, just a date when I was supposed to appear in court. It took the officer five pieces of evidence to believe that I knew who I was, what I was driving, where it came from, and where I was going, yet the idea that I am not an Arkansas regular missed him.

The funny thing was when I got to the police station early on a bracing Saturday, an assured and friendly local trooper took one look at my ticket and uttered "Ugh, Staties." Short version: I should be able to leave the state without a federal man-hunt, so I could move on.

On my walk to the station, I passed by the county Admin building and nearly fell off the sidewalk. See, unless I'm wrong, the local paragon of state governance is Liberace.

If anyone knows who this is and why they're dressed like Khan from Star Trek II, let me know please!

A shower later, I was on the road for Houston. Google's first idea was to take me on a dozen toll roads. My first idea was to throw the phone out a window. We compromised. The route I ultimately took sent me down a lot of smaller state roads which added about an hour to my travel time, but it was worth it. I must have passed by a dozen ranches, with herds grazing and prominent stars and brand symbols everywhere. Again, I did not pull over to take pictures because I figure ranchers have guns and like privacy, and I like not being threatened or shot. I'm not being fair - everyone I've actually interacted with in Texas has been very friendly.

Especially Gretchen and Jim! After GoogleMaps sent me on a wrong turn at the very last minute, I finally made it to Casa del Plassard. Gretchen met me outside at the gate, I drove her to the community trash dumpster, and I entered the house. They had a room and bathroom set up just for me, their cats were friendly, and I wasn't there five minutes before there was a beer in my hand. The empanadas didn't turn out that great, but they were experimental anyway - the salad and the spinach&artichoke dip were marvelous! The evening ended with Two Towers on AMC and Red Dragon Inn on the table. I give this establishment 4.5 out of 5 stars!

This morning started with bacon, and we plan on visiting a house made out of beer cans. Gonna be a good day.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Arkansas, or "Whelp, I'm in the South"

Day 1 of my cross-country trip has already been eventful.

It began with a quick stop at my grandparents' - Hi Grandma and Grandpa! - during which I expressed that a few tea bags might not hurt for the trip and they give me a bag with enough provisions to cover the entire trip. Really should have seen that one coming.

The drive itself was mostly boring. Nine hours, give or take, of road without much to see. Until I crossed the border into Arkansas.

I don't know where I was when I saw it - the scenery had blended together, all I knew was that Tina Fey was talking about how uncomfortable it was knowing that Sarah Palin was going to sneak up on her. Describing it won't do it justice, but it's the best I've got: Picture Jesus looking at white text that reads "Are you going in the wrong direction? I specialize in U-Turns." Took me a second to read that fully, and in doing so I was no prepared for the follow-up text: "IsHeInYou?.com"

I almost pulled over to get a picture, but it occurred to me that the type of place that puts up a billboard like that is probably the type of place where the locals would beat up visitors that took pictures of their billboards. I switched to the slow lane and started tapping my phone so that I could call out when I had to get back in the fast lane very suddenly. See, a dining room table had flown off someone's car and he'd stopped to salvage it. Not a truck, not a van, a car no bigger than mine. Lost a dining room table.

When I do get into the slow lane and do find a working number, I find myself behind a flatbed truck (no tables) with a huge "God Bless America" sticker on it and what appeared to be a machine gun mounted on top. It turned out to be a heavy-duty winch, but it was enough to complete the trifecta - I had entered the South.

Later on, in one ten-mile stretch, I saw one billboard for an "adult superstore" and two billboards with Bible quotes against extramarital relations. I honestly don't know if these two concepts are contradictory or not.

To say I'm travel-lagged at this point is an understatement. But I made it this far at least.

Had a calzone and a few beers at a place a short walk from my hotel called Vino's. Hipster pizza joint, but they do good pizza and beer. We'll see how the hotel works out, I guess.

Tune in tomorrow when I regale you with the Tale of the Incomplete Speeding Ticket and (hopefully) arrive in Houston!