Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Day 26- Definitely the Humidity

Looks like I spoke too soon. Of course, as soon as I bragged about the weather, I woke up to the sound of cars driving through the rain. I was wondering how this would affect breakfast, which is served out on the porch, and the answer turned out to be that it didn't. But it wasn't coming down very hard and the tree blocked most of it. I didn't linger over my tea, though.
Between the rain and the fact that I didn't feel like doing anything, I stayed in for most of the day. Well, not 'in', exactly. I actually sat out on the second floor veranda, which I had all to myself because there was no one in the only other room with access. I finished the book I was reading yesterday, then started and (eventually finished) another. Around one the rain let up for good and I went out for lunch, a meal notable both for the fact that it's the first one I have eaten indoors since last Saturday and for the fact that I ate it in a pharmacy. The Southernmost Pharmacy in the Continental United States, to be exact. (Another Roadfood place, of course.)
The rain let up for good in the afternoon, but I still didn't go anywhere. It was just so damn humid. The air was hot and damp and sticky and there wasn't even a breeze to move it around. I stayed out on the porch, mostly because it seemed so lame to hang out inside when I was on vacation, but every once in a while I would retreat to the refrigerated chamber of my room for a refresher. Eventually, I roused myself enough to walk to the restaurant next door (which I hadn't noticed before today- observant, no?) and get some sushi for dinner. A cooked item, because strange sushi restaurants are always a risky proposition. But it was good, and this close to the ocean I probably didn't need to worry.
Later on, I ended out going down to Duval Street with another solo traveler staying at my hotel, finally fulfilling my goal of actually doing something social. Shocking, I know.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

You Want To Know How Humid It Is Here?

It is so humid that even now, at practically midnight, the aircondtioning in my room is making water condense on my windows. That strikes me as being humid.
(I am still awake because I am following the A's game on the web. I'm about to give up and go to bed. At least they finally managed to score some runs.)

Days 24&25- Key West

In the spirit of the Keys, posting will now become lazy and unreliable.
Yesterday was adjustment day, when I tried to shift from 'go' mode to 'you don't have to go anywhere' mode. It wasn't easy. I found myself charging from one tourist site to another, scheduling as I went. It's not that I have to see everything here, it's just that I've been moving for so long that I've almost forgotten how to stop. I did manage to calm down eventually, though. Key West is good for that.
Breakfast was much better than I have been having, with fresh fruit, homemade quiche, and some nice croissants (plus other things, like bread and cereal, that I haven't tried yet). All the tables were occupied, so I ended up sitting with some of the other guests, a lesbian couple from Kentucky. (On a side note- since I've been here, I have yet to eat a meal inside. I see no reason to reverse this trend.)
As far as tourist sites go, I did see some interesting ones yesterday. I stood in the informal line to take my picture in front of the marker for the 'Southernmost Point in the Continental USA' (not technically true, but close enough). After that I wandered around some of the side streets in the old town area. It's funny, but for such an over-touristed area, once you get about a block away from the main drag, it just turns into a small Caribbean town. It isn't really, of course, but it's nice to pretend for a couple of blocks.
The only museum I came in really wanting to see was the 'Mel Fisher Shipwreck Museum'. It's dedicated to this guy, nuts by any measure, who spent decades searching for the wreck of this Spanish treasure ship, and he actually found it. Four million dollars worth of gold and silver and jewelry from the bottom of the sea. It's almost enough to make you think those optimists might be on to something.
I had lunch at a restaurant so casual that the tables didn't match and chickens ruled the dirt floor of the outdoor courtyard. They made a mean tuna salad sandwich, though. I forget exactly what I did after lunch. I think I wandered around for a while, and then I came back to the hotel, where I sat out by the pool and reread the copy of Lucky that Mom brought me.
Today was more of the same, only the museum I went to was the Audobon house (never actually owned or lived in by John James Audobon, but it looks better on the sign than 'some random guy you've never heard of house'). You'd like it, Mom, nice old house, pretty gardens, lots of Audobon prints. There was hardly anybody else there, and the tour was by walkman, so it was like I had the place to myself. I had another good lunch, at an even more casual restaurant (this time the chickens had babies), did some shopping and went back to hang out by the pool. The Kentucky lesbians came by and gave me a hard time for just sitting around reading and not being out at the bars partying, but the thing is, I like reading by a pool. The innkeepers have a whole bunch of lovebirds (they breed them, apparently not for sale, because they still have them all), so it sounded just like home. Today was hotter and more humid than it has been, so when I got too hot I went for a swim. Later on I managed to rouse myself enough to go out and eat dinner out on a pier, watching the sun set.
I hear it's raining back at home so I'll stop now, before I get in trouble.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Day 23- I Guess I Made It

When I wrote the following section yesterday I had been driving all day, in more traffic than I wanted, with the predictable effects on my mood. Plus, the A's were losing. I'm leaving it in for historical purposes, but I want to start over (see below).
[Well, here I am in Key West- mile marker zero. Technically, I guess this is the end of the cross-country portion of my trip- I've got some driving left, but it's driving back, which doesn't really count. It's kind of funny; I set this goal of driving across the country to Key West, and I made it, but I don't really feel like I've accomplished anything. I guess that's what happens when you set a goal that's completely pointless and arbitrary. I saw the Atlantic today.]
Okay, now let's try this again:
Today I drove from the Miami area to Key West, along Highway 1 through the Keys. The scenery was fantastic and the weather was beautiful, and if it wasn't for the other cars it would have been just about a perfect drive. (See? I'm much happier now. Too bad the internet is down and I don't know when I'll post this.) The sand was white, the water was toilet-cleaner blue and for some reason I found that pop music from the forties was the ideal accompaniment to the drive.
I reached Key West around four, and found the hotel without any trouble. It's a bit farther from town than I would have liked, but considering how late I made my reservations, and my price range (high for me, but this is an expensive place), I think it's about as good as I could hope to do. I'm staying at the Lightbourn Inn, a bed and breakfast in a nineteenth century house, with a modern addition and a small pool. My room is in the house, on the second floor, with a big bed and a tiny bathroom. The shampoo, alas, is not remotely worth stealing. It isn't even in a bottle- just one of those little sample packets. But the weather is gorgeous and the people seem nice and I'm sure I'll have a good time here.
After I checked in I went for a walk downtown, just to have a look around and maybe get some dinner. Duval street is definitely a party scene, but nothing compared to Bourbon. Lots of bars, lots of t-shirt shops, lots of cruise ship passengers (it's funny how superior you feel when you aren't one of them). I ended up on Mallory Square to watch the sunset, which is supposed to be this big and wild celebration, but I think that must be more in the high season. While I was there it was just a couple of kids doing some desultory juggling and one guy sitting up on a trapeze talking to the crowd (of mostly cruise ship passengers- a Disney ship was in port). The sunset was still beautiful, though.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Day 22- Clearwater to Somewhere Near Miami

Laundry day! Yup, I ran out of clean underwear. Fortunately, I had been saving my quarters and the hotel had a laundry room. Unfortunately, the dryer was been hogged by a couple from the hotel next door, and when I indicated that I needed to get my clothes dried because I had to check out, they helpfully suggested that there were laudromats down the street I could use. But, again fortunately, the lady who was using the other dryer came in and got her clothes at that point, so bloodshed was avioded.
Driving was a lot better today, though still Florida-esque. After weeks of using the left lane for passing only, it's hard to adjust to the idea that people feel free to drive in it at ten miles below the speed limit. I stopped for lunch in Sarasota, the sort of town that plays Kenny G music over its public address system. Then I drove on to where I am now, which is a Best Western south of Miami, where I stopped because it was late and I was tired of driving. I thought the trip was uneventful, which means that I am either very unobservant or very lucky (and I think we've established that I am not lucky), because watching the news tonight it seems that there were horrible accidents all along my route. I am just going to assume that there is no connection here.
I finally made a reservation in Key West, which is good, because I'll be there tomorrow. The guy at the listing service (reccomended by my guidebook) was very helpful, and the first person so far to take any interest in my trip. The place he found me is a B&B that looks very nice, and had better be- even discounted, it's pricey. I'll be there until Friday, when I head back up to Miami. I still haven't made my reservations for my return flight, but I'm planning to do that tonight.

Day 21- St. George Island to Clearwater

I think you get the idea of what I think about driving in Florida, so I'll leave that part to your imagination. That doesn't leave me much to write about, though. The hotel had a strict checkout time, so I got out of the room, left the car in the parking lot and went for another walk on the beach. That done, I hit the road again, stopping only to pick up some cookies, since the hotel didn't provide any breakfast, or if they did, they didn't tell me about it.
That I ended up in another La Quinta should be no surprise, although I'm starting to sour on this place. The rooms are generally decent for what I'm willing to pay (although this one had an odd feature in that, where the peephole is supposed to be there is just a regular hole in the door, which someone has plugged with a piece of kleenex) but I really don't like their policy of only letting you make phone reservations through their central office, even when you have called the place directly. So you end up not getting information like ' there's a problem with the internet' (fixed, fortunately, otherwise I would have had to hurt somebody).
Clearwater, Florida is the winter home of the Phillies, which means there is a cheesesteak shop in the strip mall next door. I got one for dinner because, really, who doesn't like cheesesteak?
Side note: This hotel is oddly infested with squirrels. I mean, the lizards I get, but squirrels?


It occured to me last night that I've been doing two different kinds of driving on this trip, and which one I've been doing has a determining effect on my mood for the day. There's the good driving, where it's just me, the car, a whole lot of semis and the occasional state trooper. That's actually pretty relaxing, except for the part with the trooper, and I generally get where I'm going in good spirits. And then there is the bad, or 'Florida', driving, where it's me, the car, a zillion other people and their cars, most of them so tiny and old that they can barely see over their own enormous steering wheels, plus some random lunatics, plus speed limits that change approximately every fifty feet. This is not relaxing, and even when where I'm going is on a beautiful secluded beach on the Gulf of Mexico, it isn't a happy thing. What I'm saying is, I may be kind of grumpy for the next couple of days.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Day 20- One Day, Four States, Two Time Zones

New Orleans was great. We had a good time, saw just about everything we wanted to see, ate everything we could bear to eat and it didn’t end up feeling like a forced march through tourism. Mom’s flight left early this morning, so there was no sleeping in today. We made it to the airport in plenty of time and I dropped her off and then I was on the road again. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated the distance to my next stop, and for once I had reservations, so I was on the road for kind of a while. About eight hours, to be exact. It’s a good thing I got an early start.
I crossed the Louisiana-Mississippi state line around ten, and I didn't notice. I mean, you'd think there would be a sign or something. I stopped once in Mississippi, got out of the car, said, "Huh. Mississippi." bought a Coke and kept going. I spent longer in Alabama, mostly because I got lost looking for the restaurant I found in Roadfood. When I did find it (with the help of the appropriately named tourist information center) it was very good, with lots of tasty seafood. It occurs to me that I maybe have been overdoing it with the descriptions of good food I have eaten, so I'll leave this one to your imagination.
Mobile isn't far from Florida, at least in terms of how I've been travelling, so pretty soon I crossed into my ninth and final state for the trip. This was where my miscalculation kicked in. You see, I had read in my guidebook that I-10 through the Florida panhandle is boring, and you should take highway 98 instead. What they failed to mention was that 98 is the traditional gathering point for the Southern America Slow Drivers' Convention, and it is very well attended. So it turned out to b a very good thing that we got the fan for the AC fixed (that was the problem I had in Austin- I only got cold air when I was driving fast enough to move the cold air into the car passively- it was a resistor, apparently). (Note to Zach: This was not my fault.) Long story (about a long drive) short, I at least made it to my hotel before sundown. I was staying on St. George's Island, which is a lovely place, although it looks like they have to rebuild it after every hurricaine season. I took a walk on the beach before dinner (pizza from one of the approximately two available restaurants). It was really a lot like Bodega Bay, except that the water doesn't turn your toes into little ice cubes and they have different seagulls here.
The place I was staying, the Buccanneer Inn, was really nothing more than an old motel, but it was right on the beach and it had BBC America, and that walk and a Monty Python marathon did a lot to revive my spirits.

Day 19- Last Day In New Orleans

Today was a day for repeats and relaxing. I misread my watch and overslept, getting up at ten when I thought it was nine. I wasn’t that interested in breakfast anyway, after crawfishpalooza, but I got some tea and strawberries and we got our touring underway.
We spent a good part of the day touring historic homes (and a historic convent, where an overenthusiastic docent cornered us and wouldn’t let us get away until she had told us the entire history of the church and its contents, plus a highly suspect account of the Battle of New Orleans (see above)). I feel well informed about the lives of wealthy residents of the French Quarter in the early- and mid-nineteenth century. For example, did you know:
- Houses had very high ceilings because heat rises, and some foolish people lived in New Orleans before the invention of air conditioning.
- The ‘daybed’ was for the lady of the house to use if she got tired during the day, because the mattresses were (all three of the tourguides told us this) ‘stuffed with horsehair and Spanish moss and had to be rolled out (by the slaves, of course) with a big wooden roller after each use.
- Said lady of the house would wash her own fine china, because said slaves might accidentally-on-purpose break a piece, possibly because there was no one to roll out their beds in the morning.
- Absolutely insane numbers of people lived in these big (but not that big) houses. One four-bedroom place housed thirteen people (not counting the slaves or their bedrooms).
- You are very glad you were born in the twentieth century.

One of the houses we visited was interesting both in that the woman who lived in it and restored it was a mystery writer (Frances Parkinson Keyes) who collected interesting things, and that our tour group contained possibly one of the most obnoxious women in the history of tour groups. When we were gathering to start the tour she asked if she could take pictures. The docent told her no, not inside the house, but she was free to take all thee pictures she wanted outside. Well, that wasn’t good enough for this lady, who waited until the docent was gone and then badgered the other one, our guide, into letting her take pictures anyway. I believe he said it was okay, as long as she didn’t use a flash. But I guess she just couldn’t get the pictures she wanted, because in a few minutes there she was, flashing away. And I’m not talking about a couple of snapshots here; this woman seemed determined to photograph every square inch of the house. (In Mom’s words, "It was like she was casing the joint for a robbery.")

The only other task on schedule for the day was a return to the shop where I had gotten the beads. I had spent a good part of the night thinking about one of the necklaces I hadn’t bought, with beads shaped like leaves on it, and I decided that a return trip was necessary. Unfortunately, eccentric stores run on eccentric schedules, and that one was closed Wednesdays and Thursdays. But I’m not giving up; I wrote down the address that shop hasn’t heard the last of me.

For lunch we had another mufalletta, because the first one was so good. Then we went back to the hotel and sat around and read for the rest of the afternoon, because, why not?



Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Day 18- Begniets, Crawfish, Beads And A Shiny New Pope

Today we made great strides towards my goal of eating everything in New Orleans, or at least a representative sample thereof. We started with begniets at Cafe Du Monde, which is a large, mostly outdoor cafe with the menu printed on a sticker on the napkin dispenser. The begniets were good, even if we did both end up covered in powdered sugar. As we were leaving from breakfast, the bells in the cathedral across the square started going off like crazy. It wasn't on the hour, and there didn't seem to be a service going on, and it was a while before we (okay, Mom) figured out that maybe they had announced a new Pope. And sure enough, when we got to the historic house we wanted to tour, all of the employees and some of the visitors were gathered around a tv in the beck of the gift shop, watching the Benedict the sixteenth being introduced. Then, later, when we were on the steamboat getting ready to leave the dock (more on that in a minute) the woman on the intercom mentioned it, along with the information on what to do in case of an emergency, and please don't sit on or lean of the railings.
The other major activity of the day involved me dragging Mom around some more on my semi-obsessive quest to find vintage mardi gras beads. We started at a bead store, which seemed logical enough. They didn't have any, but the very chatty young woman who was minding th store and eating her lunch told us, in between describing how her theater troupe had won two awards at a ceremony the night before, that she thought a place down on Barraks and Decatur, called 'Le Garage' might have them. So we went over there and found that it was accurately named; a junk shop in an actual garage. The guy there didn't have any, but he thought the store across the street might. So we went across the street and, sure enough, in the middle of another cluttered little junk shop, there was a wire rack with a bunch of necklaces and a sign saying 'Glass Mardi Gras Bead, pre- and post-WWII. I bought a couple, plus a broken string of beads and the little old man who was running the shop gave me random discounts on the prices and made change out of his wallet. Mission accomplished.
After all that shopping and old-house-seeing, it was time for lunch. One of the things on our to-eat list was a po' boy, another indigenous sandwich, so we found a place in the guidebook that was nearby (Johnny's Po' Boys) and headed over there. We ordered a shrimp po' boy, which is fried shrimp, lettuce, tomato and mayonaise on a french roll, and split it between us. It was good, and better with ketchup.
After lunch we decided to take the aforementioned steamboat tour on the Mississippi. There are a couple of boats that do them, so we chose ours after carefully considering which one was directly across the street from where we were standing. That settled, we bought our tickets and headed out on the river. The Mississippi River near New Orleans is not exactly the charming and pastoral scene one might expect. In fact, it is a busy working port with a lot of heavy industry and, aside from a memorial to the Battle of New Orleans (one of history's most pointless wastes of life, since it was fought two weeks after the war was over), there is verry little of historical intrest to be seen along its banks. Still, it was cool to do, if only to say that I've been on a steamboat on the Mississippi. I am a tourist, after all.

For dinner, we had crawfish. Lots and lots of crawfish. Crawfish bisque, etouffee, jambalaya, omlette and newberg (the restaurant had a combination plate) and fried crawfish with dipping sauce. We feel that we have sufficiently done crawfish. Then we went and walked on Bourbon Street again and I shocked Mom by declaring that we were going to get drinks in 'go-cups' so that we would fit in with the crowd and, when she resisted, walking into one of the take-out bars and ordering one. I got a hurricaine, which is supposed to be the local drink. It tastes like cherry Robitussin on ice. While we were walking along, we were accosted by a middle-aged lady who said we 'weren't partying enough' cited us, gave us hats and told us we owed her ten dollars a hat (not in so many words) she also said she was part of a group of local teachers and they were raising money for meals on wheels, so we made the donation. In return, we got little recipe books that we didn't really look at. Later on, when we were back in our room, I looked it over and noticed that on the cover it said that it was for 'eating the Hari Krishna way'. That's right: we gave money to the Hari Krishnas. Sorry about that. It's just the kind of wild and crazy thing that happens to you in New Orleans.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Cypress Swamp

Cypress Swamp
Originally uploaded by Daisyj.
This is a picture from the lower swamp, where the cypress trees have grown very tall. The stubby things sticking out of the water are air roots, put out by the trees to get oxygen.

Day 17- Lunchmeat and Alligators

In Which Daisy And Mom Take In The Wildlife Not Found On Bourbon Street

After our evening of riotous living, we overslept a bit and didn't get up until after nine. Breakfast in the hotel was nice, with good fruit and adequate pastries. The paper which had been left outside our door was predicting rain for Tuesday and Wednesday (so far unrealized), so we decided that this would be the day we went on a swamp tour. We didn't have to be there until two, though, so we spent the morning exploring a bit more of the French Quarter. We went down to Jackson Square and poked around in the shops a bit (I found some shoes, but they didn't have my size). I've been looking for old glass Mardi Gras beads, the kind they had back in the twenties and thirties, and they are surprisingly hard to find. It just seems like this would be the place for them, and they shouldn't be that rare, but there you go.
Before we headed out to the swamp, we stopped at a place called 'Central Grocery' (like Zarri's, but older) to get a mufalletta for lunch. A mufalletta is a sandwich indigenous to New Orleans, made with salami, ham and cheese topped with a mix of olives and pickled things, all on a round loaf of bread with lots of olive oil. I had heard they were good. We bought some Cokes and potato chips and headed out to the place for the tour, figuring that we would get there early enough to have a little picnic lunch. As it turned out, the tour didn't leave at any particular time; it left when everyone was there. So, since we were the last to arrive, our lunch was somewhat delayed.
Lunch or no lunch, the swamp tour was great. The boat was about as basic as they come- flat-bottomed, with a two-sided wooded bench down the middle and a motor on the back- and the guide came across more as a local who needed the work than a trained naturalist, but it really didn't matter. We started out in the upper swamp, where the water was dark brown and acidic from the tannins that had seeped out of the bark of the trees that were growing in it. The water was too deep for anything but trees and water lilies, but there was plenty of wildlife there. We saw lots of turtles- some pretty huge- and several diamondback water snakes (not poisonous), all sunning themselves out on branches. Alligators, our guide told us, were harder to spot this time of year because the water wasn't warm enough for them to be really active. But we did come across a Great Blue Heron and a woodpecker, hard at work on a tree. We decided that, since several people thought the woodpecker had a white beak, it must be the famous (and presumed extinct) ivory-billed woodpecker, and I see no reason to dispute that (although I will say it bore a striking resemblance to the picture of a pilliated woodpecker on the Audubon print in the hall outside our room). Then we went down the river, at high speed, because that seemed to be the way our guide liked to travel when he wasn't looking for nature and saw some of the lower swamp. Since the water was shallower here, the foliage was a lot denser, with sawgrass and lovely wild irises that are very hard to photograph. Not that we didn't try. We also saw two alligators, one which was doing a very good impression of a submerged log and one which was sunning itself on someone's dock. Neither seemed very interested in us, which was probably for the best. Later, we came across a raccoon and watched our guide feed it marshmallows, which it ate in a completely adorable and non-ecologically sound way. That was when we were going through a cypress swamp, with tall trees covered in Spanish moss all around. I'll try and post a picture here in a minute. We also came across a nutria, an aquatic rodent from Asia which has been causing ecological havoc in the area. I will say, though, for a terrible and destructive invasive exotic, it was kind of cute.
After we raced back to dock the boat, Mom and I settled down for our belated lunch. And I don't know if it was because we were pretty hungry by that point, but that sandwich was really, really good.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Day 16- New Orleans

Or, "We ARE Neurosurgeons!"

Mom and I are here in New Orleans, the city that sometimes sleeps, and wakes up with a hangover. To be honest, it feels like a completely different trip than the one I've been on, staying in a nice hotel and eating at good restaurants, rather than the La Quintas and Cheetos I've gotten used to. Mom got in at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon and I picked her up at the airport and we headed to our hotel (we managed to figure out which one it was, which was handy.) Driving in the French Quarter is strange and difficult and not to be attempted unless absolutely necessary, so once we got settled in we set out to explore on foot. Bourbon street has a distinctly third world air (by which I mean, smell) but the next street over had a lot of lovely little antiques shops and art galleries. Mom described the place as 'a cross between Cuenca (Ecuador) and Carmel." We picked a promising-looking restaurant and made reservations for dinner and then came back to our hotel for our 'free welcome cocktail' in the associated bar. The hotel (the Dauphine Orleans) is very nice, four floors of rooms arranged around a series of courtyards and facing onto a relatively quiet street, but the bar seems to be very much of a neighborhood joint, occupied by a few serious drinkers and a bartender who seemed to have been sampling the wares. When I tried to order a mojito, he laughed and said that they didn't have any fresh mint- apparently, it isn't that kind of place. So I got a whisky sour and Mom got a margarita and we took them out to the patio by the pool.
For dinner, we had seafood. Boy, did we have seafood. The restaurant had 'seafood' in the name, so that really shouldn't be a surprise. We ordered a dish ('serves 2 to 4') of all cold items: a dozen oysters (half plain, half with a dab of caviar), mussels, shrimp cooked in something spicy, two whole crawfish (shades of Bio 1a), a bunch of marinated crab fingers (little claws), and three marinated fish salads (one calamari, two regular fish- exact species unrecalled). We also split a bottle of sparkling wine, because it goes well with seafood. It was, suffice it to say, a heck of a lot better than dinner at a Cracker Barrel. Also, the whole thing cost more than I have spent on food in the last week. But it was so worth it. (By the way, Dad, we decided that you would have liked this a lot, but you would have had to get your own plate, because otherwise we wouldn't have gotten enough.)
As we were leaving the restaurant, Mom commented that there seemed to be several large tables of all men there. Since we had been seeing signs welcoming the American Neurosurgeons' convention to town, I commented, "They must be neurosurgeons." And apparently I was overheard, because a somewhat inebriated man at the bar called out, "We ARE neurosurgeons." And I continue to find this highly amusing.
The restaurant was on Bourbon Street, which seems to be closed every night so that people can walk around on it and drink without getting run over. When we came out after dinner things were in full swing, with people- some partying, some just watching- all wandering up and down the street. We joined in, and wandered a bit, listened to some of the music and watched the neurosurgeons getting down. I like New Orleans.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Day 15- Houston to Lafayette

In Which Daisy Finally Makes It Out Of Texas And Realizes She Is A Long Way From Home

Louisiana is really nowhere near California. This should not be news, especially to me, since I've been doing the driving, but I think this is the first time since I left that I've experienced any kind of culture shock. After all, the southwest isn't that different from home, west Texas is a lot like southern CA, inasmuch as it is dry and largely populated by Mexicans and Austin came off as basically Berkeley with cowboy hats. But Louisiana is different. For one thing, it is really, really green. I probably saw more chlorophyll in one day of driving than I do all summer at home. Also, I have a funny accent. A lady asked me what I was having at dinner, and I told her 'catfish', and then she looked and had to ask me again, because she couldn't find codfish on the menu. (The catfish was very good, even though it wasn't codfish and I ate at the bar because the restaurant was so crowded. Score another one for Roadfood.) Another person at dinner asked me what I was doing in 'south LA", which confused me for a minute. I mean, I didn't even go through LA; I cut across at Bakersfield.
There are some constants though: the motels here are still run by Pakistanis.
New Orleans is next, which is a part of the trip I have been looking forward to the most (I am suspicious of the grammar in this sentence.) I am writing this in a coffeeshop on the outskirts of the city, waiting for my mom's flight to get in so I can pick her up and we can figure out what hotel we made our reservations in.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Day 14- Guess where I am? Texas!

In Which Daisy Hits An Outlet Mall, With Damage to Both (Not literally, Zach, your car is fine.)
Left Austin today, and headed east. Actually, first I headed south, and stopped at the outlet mall in San Marcos. It was a pretty good one- kind of Gilroyesque- and I learned that clothes shopping when you're tired of the stuff you packed is a lot like grocery shopping when you're hungry. I ended up with four shirts (two t-shirts, one polo, one knit), two skirts and two pairs of shoes, so I guess it wasn't exactly disastrous. Then I drove to Houston. There is nothing interesting to say about driving to Houston. Sorry.

Worst Reality Show Ever

(I know this has nothing to do with being on topic, but it's my blog and I can diverge if I want to.)

I've seen this link on a couple of blogs lately, and it reminded me of some ideas I've had for the worst possible reality show:

Homeless Idol: Singing vagrants compete for a crown- the winner gets job training and regular medication, the losers go back on the street. Viewers vote by tossing 'virtual quarters' into their favorite's Big Gulp cup.

Who Gets The Kid?: Divorced parents compete in a series of physical and mental challenges to determine who gets primary custody of their children.

Celebrity Roulette

Lost in a Lifeboat: Ten contestants in a lifeboat with limited rations; every time they eliminate a competitor they receive a supply of meat equal to his or her weight.

America's Next Top Taxidermist

Feel free to suggest some of your own.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Day 13- Bats, sushi and the capitol of Texas

Today was better than yesterday, in the sense that I am not actually bleeding or on fire. Acutally, it was a fine day- the weather was nice, the hotel was better and I found a Jamba Juice. I spent most of the day walking around downtown Austin, starting with the capitol building, because it was the first thing I came across. I went in, because it seemed like something to see, and found that it contained twenty percent people in suits, eighty percent high school students on field trips. There was a really high dome, and paintings of all the governors, but aside from that it really wasn't that interesting, so I just used the bathroom and got a drink of water and left.
I'd read in my guidebook that 6th street was supposed to have nice stores in restored buildings, but I must have turned the wrong way because I found mostly auto-body repair shops and offices. It wasn't a complete loss, though, because I was able to make another Roadfood stop. This one was a place called 'Hut's Hamburgers'- kind of a dive, but in a friendly way. The food was good (so far, Roadfood hasn't led me astray) but they had a very direct approach to hamburgers. which is to say, if you ordered the one that was described on a menu as a 'burger with hickory sauce' (tasted like barbecue sauce to me), then that is exactly what you got: a patty, on a bun, with sauce. No lettuce, no tomato, no pickle on the side. They served their Coke in big glasses, though, and refilled it whenever it got about halfway down, so I'm not complaining. I'm also not complaining about the fact that there was a really good bookstore another block down, where the employees were having an extended debate about the eternal question: Britney or Jessica? (Eventual answer: Shakira) There was also a Whole Foods, which made for an odd, out-of-Berkeley experience.
I didn't get anything at Whole Foods the first time, but I did go back to pick up some dinner on my way to see the bats. I was drawn inexorably to the sushi bar, because anyone who eats chinese in Carlsbad is going to eat raw fish in Austin. It just can't be helped. It (tuna and salmon nigiri and rolls) was, in fact, good, and I haven't died yet or anything, so maybe it was okay.
The bats are 'the world's largest urban bat colony' (Please make rap jokes now. Thank you.) and they live under a bridge during the spring and summer. And every night people come out around sundown and sit around for a really long time waiting for them to come out. When they do, it really is pretty impressive, but very hard to photograph.

Things Are Looking Up

No more whining, I promise. Yesterday was not great, but after my little breakdown last night things started to improve. The A’s won, the temperature dropped and when I went to Krispy Kreme to get myself a donut (which, by the way, goes really well with cold green tea) the guy gave it to me for free. So I guess the lesson is: if you complain enough, things will get better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Day 12- Even more Texas

Hey Mary, remember when you predicted that I would be sitting in my car somewhere in Texas, stealing internet and listening to an A's game? Well, you didn't know I would be eating dinner too, did you? Shows how much you know.
Today started out okay, and then it went downhill. I forgot to get gas before leaving Ozona, so I was cutting it a bit close getting to the gas stations in Junction. (Named for Dale Junction, a key player in the history of west Texas. I believe he invented the shrub.) The scenery got better after I left I-10 and got on the highway to Austin. I was driving through the Hill Country, which is undeniably pretty and absolutely infested with wildflowers. I stopped for lunch in Fredericksburg, also pretty, a little tourist town which is apparently where the old people in Texas go when they swarm. I had a nice time, walking around looking at the shops, but unfortunately the new shoes I was wearing didn't, and I ended up with a badly blistered heel. Then I got to Austin, and discovered that my approach of driving in random directions and hoping I would end up at my hotel wasn't exactly reliable. Then I tried actually using my map, and that didn't work much better. Plus there was lots of traffic and I couldn't get the AC to work. Then I got to the hotel (another La Quinta, I had used points I had earned for a free night) and discovered my room absolutely reeked of cigarette smoke. I got another one, discovered the Coke machine didn't work and ended up walking barefoot (because of the blister) across the parking lot to use the one at the Days Inn. Are you sick of my whining yet? Yeah, me too. I made a reservation at a nicer, more centrally located hotel for tomorrow, and I made sure they had internet. I'm just wondering, mom, did you actually say there would be days like this? I might not have been listening.

Plus, Bo was in the bottom two and Nadia left while Scott (Scott!) made it another week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Day 11- A Whole Lot of Texas

Miles traveled: 349
Hours travelling: 5
Cokes consumed: 2
Things of interest seen while on the road: 0
Bugs collected on windshield: Uncountable
Pairs of cowboy boots bought in El Paso: 1
Sinking feelings when pulled over doing 84 in a 75 mph zone: 1
Warnings issued by young, cowboy hat-wearing trooper for going 84 in a 75 mph zone: 1
Average speed after warning issued: 74 mph
Actual name of the town I ended up in: Ozona
Distance to next town, Sonora, with more facilities: 35 miles
Reason for stopping: American Idol

Day 10- El Paso

Most people would not choose to go back to El Paso. It’s not that the place is a dump, exactly, but unless you’re really into Mexican border towns there isn’t going to be a lot for you there. I was here in February for the Left Coast Crime conference and, while I had a good time, I didn’t exactly fall in love with the place. But they had an item in the silent auction, two nights in the very nice hotel (the Camino Real) where the conference was held and the bidding only got up to a hundred dollars. So I got it, after all it was on my way and there’s nothing wrong with a nice hotel for fifty dollars a night (I am so stealing the toiletries). I didn’t do anything interesting today- went to the mall, took a bath, read a book- but it was good. For once, I didn’t feel like a tourist, just a person running her errands, and I actually found El Paso kind of interesting. It’s a place where the Anglo and Mexican cultures blur together, not in some cute UNESCO kind of way, but really and practically. Everyone seems to be bilingual, sometimes within the same sentence (at lunch I had fun eavesdropping on the next table over; a father was complaining about the special treatment other children in his daughter’s class were getting, moving seamlessly between Spanish and English as he talked). Tomorrow I start driving (and driving, and driving) across Texas, so I think a day off was something I needed.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Day 9- The Caverns

One of the best things about this trip is that I seem to be missing the high season pretty much everywhere I go- even the Grand Canyon wasn’t crowded. But I don’t think I can take much credit for the lack of people at the Carlsbad Caverns; that place is way the hell and gone in the middle of nowhere. I mean, seriously. The nearest ‘city’ is El Paso (more on that later) which is about two hours away on a two-lane road through even more nowhere. So, as spectacular as the Caverns are, I don’t think they’re ever overrun with tourists. But it is a spectacular place, if you ever happen to be passing by.
I went in through the ‘natural entrance’, which is about a mile of walking downhill along paved switchbacks. Swallows live up at the top, near the mouth of the cave, and they were flocking around and chirping as I started down in. You get out of the reach of the sunlight pretty quickly, so there’s electric lighting the rest of the way down- it means you never really develop any night vision, but at least you can see. About halfway down I found myself walking at the same pace as a ranger, who was going along and picking up all the trash that people had dropped in the cavern. He said this wasn’t exactly in his job description, and we talked a bit about the basic human need to throw things in holes (my favorite quote: "Later on I’m going to have to rappel down into the bottomless pit and clean out the stuff in there.") He said that, aside from trash and coins, the things he finds most often are baby bottles, reading glasses and sunglasses. (Just like my story! What do you mean, you haven’t read it? You should read it.) Anyway, it was nice to have someone to talk to.
I wish I could come up with a good way of describing the formations I saw in the caverns. It seems that this is a problem of mine- this total inability to describe these incredible things I’m seeing. The thing is, you know what it looks like- the delicate forests of soda straws, the waving draperies, the giant, liquid-looking stalagmites- the pictures are accurate enough. What I can’t get across is the three-dimensionality of it- the same problem I had with the Grand Canyon- I can’t put into words what it is that makes you stop and say ‘wow’. So maybe I had just better not try.
One thing I can describe is the bathroom. It was probably one of the most surreal things I’ve seen so far, walking down seven hundred feet below ground through all of these amazing stone formations and finding at the bottom: a bathroom. And a snack bar (selling nachos!). But the bathroom really got me, because it was so amazingly ordinary- the stalls, the white tile floor, the fluorescent lighting- all in the middle of this natural wonder. I did the long loop around the Big Room (about a mile and a half) and tried to take a bunch of pictures, although I don't think most of them came out.
While I was there, it occured to me that all of the park-type places I have been to have been water-related. The Grand Canyon was dug by it, the Petrified Forest was formed by it and the caverns were dissolved out by it. I'm not going anywhere with this, it's just something I noticed.
I left the Caverns around three-thirty and got to El Paso a little before six, driving through the emptiest countryside I have seen yet. There were wildflowers, though, mostly yellow with huge masses of them covering entire fields.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Day 8- Driving and Roswell

Have just been blown across New Mexico, Santa Fe to Carlsbad; arrived none the worse for the wear. The winds that hit us yesterday on the way to see the ruins came back today, in force. I had about three hundred miles to go today and they chased me all the way down, which wasn't great for driving. But I made it to Roswell just fine, and saw the UFO museum. It has the appearance of an extended fifth-grade science project- complete with posterboards and dioramas, but of course it's convincing enough if you're ready to take their word for it. They lost me with the crop circles though. Actually, they lost me at the door, but the crop circles really did it. Especially the one with the alien face. But the people there seemed very nice, and really, what's so wrong about mining human gullibility? It's a renewable resource. Speaking of gullibility, I got my tchotchkas. I couldn't decide what I wanted, so I got the five-dollar grab bag. A tiny stuffed alien, a beanbag alien keychain, a pencil, a pencil sharpener, an eraser and a bouncy, glow-in-the-dark Saturn.
I picked my hotel in Carlsbad based on having free internet, so I could post this for you (don't you feel special?). When dinner time came, I looked around and said, "What do you eat in southeast New Mexico? Chinese!" I probably shouldn't have gotten the lemon chicken.
Tomorrow: Daisy Goes Underground.

Day 7

In Which Daisy Does Some Serious Shopping, And Doesn't Regret It A Bit
Day Seven was Santa Fe, which is a lovely town. In the morning I went to the plaza, the old downtown square with a lot of shops and several museums on it. On one side, in front of one of the museums, there is a covered sidewalk where native americans from all over the region come to sell their wares. According to Melinne, the whole setup in kind of self-regulated, with a lottery for spots and only the people who actually make the things allowed to sell them there, so it seemed like something interesting to check out. I got there pretty early in the morning, at about nine-thirty, when they were still setting up. It was all just blankets on the ground, with the things on them and the sellers behind them- kind of like a more casual Telegraph, with fewer bongs. I decided to be methodical about my shopping; I took one pass where I just looked and asked a few prices, and then I went on and poked my nose in a couple of other stores on the plaza, to see if they had anything interesting. They didn't, so I went back and got down to shopping.
Long story short, I ended up with three necklaces- one made of big, chunky tourquiose beads (expensive), one with a silver disc with a bird embossed on it (not expensive) and one made of kernels of corn dyed red (very much not expensive) as well as a bracelet. The bracelet I had to think about- it was pricey and I had already bought the tourquiose, and since I needed to get more cash anyway, I put it to the walk-away test while I went to the ATM. It passed. It's a very cool bracelet; a silver cuff with a cutout design of local life (a guy on horseback, some sheep, a corral) overlayed (overlain?) on top (also in silver). (This isn't a very good description- I'll post a picture.) Anyway, great stuff, and I felt pretty pleased with myself.
In the afternoon, Melinne and I went driving in the mountains around Santa Fe. We were going to go and see some ruins, but the wind was so bad that we deicided we would be better off just looking at things from the car. We did see some caves that looked like they had been inhabited. Then we came back to town and went to the Georgia O'Keefe and fine art museums. Sasha, Paul and Melinne's dog, accompanied us the whole way.
We had a fine dinner at a local restaurant, where I discovered that 1 fairly strong margarita x approx. 7000 feet in altitute= 1 kind of drunk Daisy.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Day 6

A short day, and a relatively calm one. Today I drove from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, where I am staying with my second cousin Melinne and her husband Paul, who have kindly agreed to put me up for a couple of nights. Santa Fe isn't that far from Albuquerque, a little over fifty miles, so I spent some time in the morning at a bookstore I had heard about. Then I spent some more time looking for a place where I could connect to the internet, because I had forgotten to get the directions to the house from my email before I left the hotel. That didn't go to well. I found a Starbucks, but it turned out that, while I could get on there, they wanted me to pay for it, and I wasn't having any of that. Then I got to the bookstore and found that while my handy wifi-detecting key chain and the signs in the windows said they had access there, my computer begged to differ. So finally I called my mom and had her get the directions for me, and it all worked out in the end. Someday, this will seem like a quaint, old-fashioned problem.
Tomorrow I am going to see Santa Fe, which I anticipate enjoying.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

This is what my day looks like

The View
Originally uploaded by Daisyj.
Note the prominent bug splat.

Day 5

Fifth day, fourth state, second La Quinta. I meant to stop in Gallup tonight, but I made it to Albuquerque instead, because of baseball. You see, the A's were playing today, against the Orioles, and the game started at 4 (that's Arizona time, which is Mountain Standard without daylight savings. No, I don't get it either.) But I got to Gallup at about 4:30 and my radio only works in the car so, since I was going to be sitting in the car anyway, I figured I might as well be going somewhere. I did miss the second inning, which was too bad because the A's scored five runs, but I had an important stop to make. I'd been reading this book, Roadfood (which was a Christmas present from my mom, who appears to be orchestrating this whole trip) and I have been determined to try some of the restaurants mentioned therein. There was one in Gallup, the Eagle Cafe, and I will say I was not disappointed. The meal was great, the atmosphere undeniably authentic, and I did get to catch the next four runs in the nine-to-nothing shutout.
I also saw the petrified forest today, which clearly wasn't as interesting to me as the baseball game. There are lots of rocks there that look like trees, plus some ancient graffiti (damn kids with their damn petroglyphs). I took many pictures, which may make it here in some form.

More Grand Canyon

It occurs to me that in my post yesterday I made no attempt to describe what I saw at the Grand Canyon. This is because I kind of can't. Everyone knows what it looks like- from pictures and patriotic TV ads- a big layer cake of rock formations, with mules, but you get no sense of how huge it is. I mean, way down at the bottom, so much smaller than the main canyon that you barely notice it, there's a series of canyons that would be considered pretty significant anywhere else. Like I said, I took lots of pictures, but I don't think they'll do a better job of showing it than this lousy description. So, I guess what I'm saying is, you've really got to see this place.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Day 4

In Which Daisy Discovers That, Contrary to Appearances, She Is In Pretty Good Shape.
Today I went to the Grand Canyon, which was indeed grand. (Actually, it was pretty freakin' awesome, but I guess the Pretty Freakin' Awesome Canyon didn't have the right ring to it.) Anyway, the snow was gone and the weather was perfect- clear and just cold enough to be comfortable after a couple of hours hiking. I hiked down the Kaibab trail, about a mile and a half into the canyon to an overlook point. I took water, lemonade and two bags of trail mix of my own formulation (top secret, of course) and had a nice snack at the turnaround. The hike was listed taking about four hours, seeing as it had an elevation change of about a thousand feet, but I did it in two and a half (including snack break). I realize that this is just bragging, but damn it, there's no one here for me to brag to and I'm fairly pleased with myself. I did take regular breaks to look out over the canyon and say 'wow'. Unfortunately, there will be no pictures, at least not until later, because when I got out of the car and took out my camera to start taking pictures of this incredibly photogenic natural wonder I got a charming message telling me I needed to charge my battery. So I bought a little disposable camera and used every picture on it, but it'll be a while before I could get them on the blog.
Later I walked along the rim and saw a couple of condors and some molting elk. I could say more, but by now you're bored and I'm tired, so I'm going to bed. 'Night.

Day 3

Three days on the road and I have yet to stay at a hotel with shampoo worth stealing. I spent last night at the Grand Canyon Holiday Inn Express, the first place I've stayed to actually provide internet (the Stratosphere had it, but they were charging ten dollars to use it.) Yesterday I drove from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, which is further than it looks. But first, the buffet.
I had, as I mentioned, intended to eat at a buffet while in Vegas and, since one of the shows I Tivo'd said the Bellagio was the best I went there. I got there at about ten-thirty, when they were switching over the meals, so I was able to pay for breakfast and get lunch too (thanks for the tip, Ben). The food was mostly very good, though I would call the bagel sub-par and I consumed, by my estimation, about seven zillion calories in a little under an hour. I ended up feeling kind of ill, which I think means I did it right. By the way, Mom, I think you would like the Bellagio. The casino isn't that noisy and they've got this 'conservatory' in the lobby, which is basically a giant, walk-through flower arrangement. I took a bunch of pictures, which I'll post if I can figure out how to make links work again.
Anyway, I left Las Vegas around noon, about thirty pounds heavier than when I got there, and drove to the Hoover dam. It is very large. Then I drove and drove and drove, across very dramatic but very empty countryside. I thought it was pretty cool when I passed a sign that said 'next services 56 miles'- because hey, wilderness- except that about twenty miles in I realized that I really, really had to go to the bathroom (is this too much information?). After that, the driving was less fun for a while but the gas station I stopped at had an A&W, so I got a root beer float and everything was okay.
The gas station was actually on Route 66, which I keep encountering on this leg of the trip. I like the idea of it, but I'm glad they put in the interstate. Scenery that dull at eighty miles an hour must be pretty deadly at fifty.
Speaking of deadly, I haven't even mentioned the weirdest part of my day (it was a long day). I'd left the freeway and I was driving up the road that goes to the Grand Canyon when I saw some heavy clouds up ahead. Okay, I thought, I'm going to see some rain- no big surprise, it was in the forecast. So I keep going, and sure enough the stuff starts hitting my windshield, and I put the wipers on and at least it does something about the bugs. But the rain was falling funny, kind of sideways- which was odd, since the wind wasn't that strong. Then it got heavier and I noticed that the rain was kind of floaty and white, and eventually I had to accept that it was actually snow. (Which, frankly, I find completely inappropriate. I distinctly remember not signing up for snow on this trip.) I'd never driven in snow before, so I got kind of concerned, especially when it kept getting heavier, but I just followed the car ahead of me and eventually it let up and today the weather is beautiful. Which means I should probably get out there an enjoy it, instead of just sitting around and writing in this blog.

Monday, April 04, 2005

More photos

Many of me standing in front of things.

Ready for some desert?

Originally uploaded by Daisyj.
Look! Pictures!

Day 2

Vegas! (The exclamation point seems pretty much mandatory.) I got here at about one, after a couple of hours of driving across the desert. It sounds bad, but it was actually really pretty, with the wildflowers out in force. I couldn’t see them to closely, since I was doing about eighty, but I could look over out of my window and see whole patches of countryside that were just yellow. (Pictures to follow soon.)
The Stratosphere seems like a nice enough place; definitely a bit more downmarket than some of the other hotels on the Strip, but I guess that’s what you get for fifty-nine dollars a night. Once I checked in I went on a little excursion, to see what I could see. I took the monorail to the main part of the Strip and spent the afternoon wandering around, shopping and taking in all the tacky. Sadly, in four hours I only made it about halfway along, but I did see the Grand Canal (conveniently indoors and located on the second floor- the fact that the gondoliers could actually sing was a nice surprise), an artificial Eiffel Tower studded with fake rivet heads and the answer to the question: What would happen if the Roman Empire had survived to build shopping malls? I also got my toenails done, so it was a pretty good day. I still haven’t gambled yet, though.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Day 1

So, away I went. Today was just a whole lot of driving, mostly down I-5. Not scintillating under the best of circumstances, but this wasn’t so bad. Everything was still green from the rain and even the feedlot didn’t smell too bad. Stopped for lunch at Anderson’s Pea Soup- ate pea soup. It seemed like the thing to do. Bakersfield looked like a fine place, but I don’t think I’d recommend it as a vacation destination. I got kind of lost looking for a Starbucks and didn’t find anything that I would want to get out of the car for. (How do you fail to find a Starbucks? Is that even possible?)
One cool thing: As I was leaving Bakersfield, I started to notice a nice smell in the car. Like, a really nice smell. I thought I might have activated some hidden air-freshener module in the Grand Marquis, but then I realized that I was driving though massive orange orchards and the trees were all in bloom. The scent of the orange flowers was so strong it just about saturated the air.
By the way, my xm radio is one of the best purchases I ever made. (And yes, Mom, I know it was your idea. You were right. Now you need one.)
I liked the drive through the high desert, but the whole trip took longer than I thought and it was after dark when I got to Barstow. It turns out I probably should have stopped sooner, because when I got here I found that I was having a lot of trouble finding a hotel room. As in, the first three places I went were booked up, and the fourth was nasty and overpriced. I finally found space at an Econo Lodge (for a not-very-econo $56), where I learned that I have come to town just in time for a big Little League tournament. So I’m sitting in a fairly average motel room, listening to 11-12 year old boys run up and down outside my door. That’s not when I’m posting this though since, shockingly, the Barstow Econo Lodge does not have on site internet access. The Ramada, however, does, which is why I am sitting in their lobby right now, stealing their internet and trying to look like a patron (I would have been, if they hadn't been booked.)

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Here I go

Time to unplug my computer and pack it up. I hope I can find some internet access to post from the road today, otherwise the next update probably won't be before Barstow.

I'm kind of nervous

But excited too. I know I'm going to have a great time and do a lot of things I have wanted to do, but it's still kind of unnerving to be striking out on my own like this. I'll be sure and keep you updated on how it goes.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Almost Ready

I'm having a little trouble with the idea that I'm leaving tomorrow. I've been planning and thinking about this trip for so long, it doesn't exactly seem right that it's really going to happen. What's really strange is that I'm not that unprepared. Usually, at this point before leaving on a trip, I'm racing around with a zillion last-minute things to do, which I am never going to get done before I leave, but this time I seem to be right about on schedule. I still have to pack, and clean various animal-waste receptacles, but I think that's about it. Unless I'm forgetting something. I'm probably forgetting something.