6 Oct 2007
Day One: Tucumcari, New Mexico
So Debra and I packed up our stuff and headed out this morning at 0-dark-thirty, and now sitting in a hotel room in New Mexico. I'd like to say I've seen as much of Kansas as I think might be necessary to see. Some of it actually was quite beautiful. But we're rather excited as the Southwest seems to have a little more variety in the scenery, at least for Midwesterners, unaccustomed as we are to oblique, non-rounded hills. And what is a "gulch" and why don't we have those in Missouri? Answer me that.
We drove through Greensburg, Kansas, purely by accident, and while I tried to approximate an appropriate Alan Jackson style 9/11 tear-jerker ("were ya there, when that twister came down, did it make ya cry, when the cow flew past yer windshield...like on that movie...") my wife made the astute observation that "HEY! It didn't destroy the WHOLE TOWN!!!". Although another quarter-mile or so, wow, it looked like Hiroshima, minus the glowing radioactive waste, and with a lot more Red Cross porta-potties. So, we apologize to the good citizens of Greensburg, Kansas for doubting the wrath of the tornado. We think Alan Jackson should write TWO songs about it.
We stopped in Liberal, Kansas, just before we passed into a region under the cloud of God's perpetual wrath (the panhandle of Oklahoma, which neither Texas nor Kansas would claim, thus pushed off on the Okies). The Panhandle featured such booming towns as "Hooker" Oklahoma, which wasn't so much of a good joke until I passed by the 10 x 10 shack labelled as the "Hooker Chamber of Commerce", replete with curly-lashed eyes for the two o's. It would have been worth stopping to take a picture if we weren't flying along like banshees seeking to escape the area.
But no, I was telling you about Liberal, which is home to the Mid-America Air Museum. I went their with my family years ago, so it was great to come back. Very sad to see how empty the place was; perhaps seeing these majestic and historic planes no longer interests the younger generations. Still, it brought me back, even that air museum / plane hangar smell. If you can get out there, go, and donate a buck or two if you can. I'm hoping they'll be around long enough I could take my kids.
On to Texas. We started seeing what no doubt were that most glorious of weed trees, the Mesquite. A raggedy, brush-like tree that apparently is very frustrating to farmers and ranchers, it is my favourite cooking wood and I wanted to chop down a truckful and bring it back, but no dice. No truck, actually, but no dice sounded like the right thing to say at the time.
My wife noted a keen difference between Texas and New Mexico. In Texas, the highway signs say NO PASSING or PASSING ZONE, and the motto greeting you on entry is DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS. When you pass into New Mexico, the motto is Land of Enchantment, and the highway signs say things like "Pass with care!" and "Courtesy costs nothing!". So basically we found much humour in the contrast between Texas' macho bravado and New Mexico's metrosexual sensitivity.
Which was kind of a common theme...we found a lot of things far more funny than they should have been. It could have been getting up before the dawn of...dawn, or it could have been the gloriously noxious fumes from the Texas cattle pens UNTHINKABLY LOCATED NEXT TO A PUBLIC HIGHWAY. But at one point I should point out that the following phrase was uttered:
"I think 'dillhole' might be my favourite word."
7 Oct 2007
Day Two: Kingman, Arizona
Today was mildly less eventful, I'm happy/sorry to say. We departed from beneath the shadow of the mesa in Tucumcari around seven-ish, after partaking of the copious bounty of the Econolodge continental breakfast, which included soft-boiled eggs clever disguised as hard-boiled eggs (which facilitated a rather comic episode as I unwittingly allowed my wife to demonstrate the way to briskly crack open a hard-boiled egg).
New Mexico continued in its manner of sensitive niceness, with hot air balloons sent up for display over Albuquerque as we passed through (very kind of them) and pink and blue seeming to be the state's official colours, with the highway overpasses painted that way. Even the dirt is pink. The mesas seem to be mountains restrained and lopped off out of concern for the self esteem of the smaller hills. This combined with the road signs imploring all manner of nice niceness and sweet goodygums politeness on the roadways, and New Mexico is sort of the Disney version of the Southwest.
Passing into Arizona, we encountered a new road sign phenomenom. In Arizona they seem to have a preoccupation with ice. Presumably because they rarely see it outside of their highball glasses, they appear to have a mortal fear of frozen water, and road signs saying "WATCH FOR ICE!" and "ICE ON BRIDGE!" abound all across the state. Now, I haven't seen these very often in Missouri, much less places to our north, and we get plenty of hail/sleet/snow/ice during the winters.
Also, "WATCH FOR ROCKS!" was common, and rounding up the trio of watch-for signs was my favourite, "WATCH FOR ELK!". I'm not sure what we were supposed to do if we did manage to see an elk; the sign neglected to give further detail. Were we to walk up and shake its hand? Arrest it? Take a picture of it? Arizona needs to stop with these incomplete instructions.
Speaking of rocks, we stopped and saw a great bally lot of them along the way, at the Petrified Forest Nat'l Park. We didn't actually go in, but milled around near the entrance, looking at examples laid out of petrified wood. Sufficiently satisfied, we determined that petrified wood looks like a cross between wood and rock, and once you've seen one petrified log you've seen them all, so we got back on the interstate post-haste.
Flagstaff, Arizona was quite a pleasant surprise, though we only stopped briefly to give our vehicle a full draught of fresh petrol. High in altitude with very beautiful flora, it's an area we wouldn't mind spending more time in again.
Here in Kingman we have passed the mountains and are essentially in the honest-to-goodness desert; the locals here have carefully tended dirt lawns. Lucky bastards! What I wouldn't give to be able to get away with that. However they do have one thing, leaked across the border to the west...In-N-Out. The best fast-food burger joint in the country. Dinner was good.
As I said, a much less varied day today, but tomorrow, we push on through the Mojave to visit San Diego, then back up to Santa Ana/Anaheim.
Day Three: Santa Ana, California
8 Oct 2007
Today started with us bidding our fond farewell to Arizona, filling up with an excellent complimentary breakfast at the hotel, and filling our car up with a not-so-complimentary breakfast at an antiquated filling station in the quaintly dusty town of Yucca, Arizona.
But nothing could prepare us for the border crossing.
All vehicles entering into California had to stop for an inspection. We naturally started to feel a little anxious. Upon pulling up to the inspection clerk, we expected something like "do you have any illicit drugs" or "are you smuggling illegal aliens", but instead, he asked the hard questions. DO YOU HAVE ANY FRUIT??!! Why yes, officer, we have an apple or two. FROM MISSOURI?! Yes, we bought it in Missouri, I have no idea where it was grown. The officer seemed to breathe a huge sigh of relief as he noted we only had a total of two Honeycrisp apples in storage, and he relaxed his grip on his sidearm and called off the request for backup. Once again California has shown its excellent priorities. There was no concern over whether our Model 12 and P3-AT were safely and legally stowed (they were), as the only thing on the minds of the Fruit Patrol was stopping rogue tangelos from crossing the border.
Then after crossing the Mojave desert (with myself humming the theme of "Lawrence of Arabia" incessantly) we eventually started getting into city traffic. Let me just say, we have at this point driven in seven states in the past three days, and virtually everywhere people drove with some semblance of sanity, and even the speedier ones were generally considerate on the roadways. Excepting Southern California. As much as I mocked the "kinder gentler" road signs of New Mexico, the one place those would be worthwhile would be in California. These people are insane! Apparently they are so energy conscious out here that they refuse to use turn signals, because of the carbon footprint of the incandescent bulbs. Instead they use the "California turn signal", which is the same for right or left turns: stick your arm at a 45 degree angle out of your window, and make a fist, and extend the middle finger while retaining the fist with the remaining fingers. It is also recommended to pass on the right whenever feasible, and to never change lanes while passing unless within 12 inches of another car's bumper.
We eventually got to the harbor in San Diego, which was quite beautiful. With a backdrop of some extremely cool USN aircraft carriers at the naval base, we visited the San Diego Maritime Museum. We saw the B-39, a Soviet post-war diesel attack submarine. There I realized my youthful ambitions of submarine service were far misguided, as a man over six foot on one of those boats is in for a cramped tour, that's for certain. But it was immensely interesting to actually tour a Soviet submarine. We also got to see the H.M.S. Surprise, a replica 19th century warship used in the movie Master and Commander. I got to stand where Russell Crowe stood, and I sang (not quite as boisterously as I wanted) "makin' movies, makin' songs, and foightin' round the world!", the theme song of Russell Crowe's Fighting Round The World series.
Then back on those blasted roads again, and cheating death we arrived at our somewhat lackluster motel in Santa Ana, but we trotted over for an early dinner at The Olde Ship, a British pub and restaurant in the area that I first tried a year and a half ago, while in Anaheim for a convention. Very good food as expected, and fantastic British beer.
Tomorrow will be duller still, I'm afraid, as it involves primarily visiting familial relations, which is of course of great interest to us, but of scant interest to you, loyal reader.
Quote of the day:
"Car pool lane violators PISS ME OFF!"
Days Four and Five: Burbank, California
9-10 Oct 2007
Yesterday and today are made up primarily of visiting family, which of course involves a healthy quantity of driving about Los Angeles, which of course involves a healthy quantity of fear for one's life. Still, we're getting a good deal of rest, which is nice.
I fear there may be a dearth of interesting information to add on this joint blog entry, so I'll just jabber on about some various topics.
Is capsaicin spray food grade, I wonder? How would it compare to habanero sauce?
Does anyone else struggle, upon visiting Los Angeles, with the highly embarrassing tendency to adopt an overly exaggerated and borderline offensive Mexican accent? I have the same problem when I've been on the phone with my company's dealers in the UK. I tend to start lapsing into a standard British accent, slightly chirpier than my typical non-descript Midwestern accent that I've adopted since moving here as a child. And that devolves into very nearly a drawl when talking to some of my more country-ish acquaintances at work. I am an accent chameleon, which is fun, but also dangerous. You don't want to exclaim, "hey, esé, whatchoo doo-eeng, man?" in line at El Pollo Loco. It's just offensive. But me gusta May-hee-can food, muy mucho, si si si! Alas, it is my cross to bear. It disappears when I leave the state, strangely enough.
Tomorrow we drive up to San Simeon. G'night all!
Day Six: Cambria, California
11 Oct 2007
Today we drove up from the sprawling tacolopolis that is Los Angeles, and first we visited Solvang for breakfast. Solvang is a great little town 100 miles or so north of LA...basically a Danish-settlement-turned-tourist-magnet, with quaint Scandinavian shops and restaurants. Paula's Pancake House is the requisite stop, for the thin style of Danish pancakes, accompanied with medisterpolse (Danish sausage). We toured the area a bit but didn't feel like emptying our wallets in shopping the local vendors of trinkets and assorted junk. One of the stranger things we noticed was the Rabobank branch. A mildly dyslexic moment had me registering that as Rob-a-Bank, to which I cheerfully replied, "don't mind if I do!" Upon which I got a jab in the ribs from my dear wife.
Back on the road, we stopped in San Luis Opisbo at the local Trader Joe's. I would love for Trader Joe's to open up in KC, but its not likely. They did open a couple branches in St Louis, strangely enough, but most of their locations are concentrated in the West. They have an "anniversary ale" which is a contract brew from Unibroue in French Canada. Very good Belgian quadrupel style.
Up at San Simeon (or Cambria, technically the town name) we spent an hour or so before check-in time searching the coast for elephant seals, but the ugly beasts played hard to get.
For dinner, we traipsed across the road to the beach, which is a state park and thus has the traditional BBQ grills and picnic tables. We grilled a mammoth KC strip (acquired from the aforementioned hippie grocery store) and we were swiftly surrounded by a flock of sneaky, greedy seagulls. As amusing as they were, we were under an obligation not to feed the local fauna, and thus we had to stiff the natives, no scraps for the birds. Might have been their only chance to eat a cow...
Day Seven: Cambria, California
12 Oct 2007
Today we had a fairly constant rain coming in from the sea, so we didn't do an awful lot...parked the car at the beach and sat, read books, and ate a picnic lunch while listening to the surf, mostly. Still, the ocean was beautiful, even with the rather constant rain. Gulls and egrets were quite common, and interesting to watch. We cut our time at the beach short when a couple vans full of hippies and Grenchies (we weren't sure if they were Greek or French, thus Grenchies) decided to boisterously congregate in the long term around the hood of our car. Kind of like the seagulls, you have to beat them back with a stick, but they keep coming back. Back, Grenchies, back!!!
We decided not to tour Hearst Castle tonight, but we did stop in at a small restaurant, the Wild Ginger Cafe in Cambria. We hadn't tried it before, and they had great "Pan-Asian" (mostly Southeast Asian) food, Not cheap, but recommendable.
Not a particularly witty or interesting entry, but there you have it!
Day Eight: Cambria, California
13 Oct 2007
Likewise today was a rather eventless day, but the weather was nicer. Again we had lunch at the beach, and the local wildlife were rather amusing. The signs say "DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE" but from the behavior of the aforementioned it seems apparent that this is a rule taken about as seriously as California's traffic laws. The squirrels, crows, blackbirds, and gulls all lined up to compete for attention. Lazy vermin, not willing to work for their food! What do they think this is, California?
Finished my latest Wodehouse book, "Thank You, Jeeves". A thoroughly enjoyable read. I'm also about halfway through "The Washing of the Spears", on the Zulu nation, and it's getting to the point where Lord Chelmsford is about to step in a gigantic Cape Buffalo pie, in a location known as Isandlhwana. Bad news for the 24th Foot!
Great dinner tonight at the Brambles Dinner House, dolmathes and rack of lamb with ouzo and retsina. I decided to give their Greek food a shot, as you can see. Not bad, not bad.
One thing I was thinking about. In Missouri we have a curious habit of naming towns after foreign locations, but then mispronouncing the name. Thus we have Versailles as Ver-sails' instead of Ver-sye', Nevada as Ne-vay'-da instead of Ne-va'-da, and New Madrid as Maa'-drid instead of Mah-dreed'. The question is, do we do this out of ignorance, or on purpose to piss off the French, Spanish, and whatever dusty reptiles are unlucky enough to live in the Nevada wastelands?
Speaking of, we'll be on our way through Nevada tomorrow, into Utah. Goodbye California, its been quite fun. Hopefully they won't catch us at the border smuggling out melons and raspberries.
Day Nine: Springdale, Utah
14 Oct 2007
Today was a long bit of driving, around there's not much to comment on. First point of business, if you're driving through Las Vegas northbound on the I-15, rethink your schedule, as in the Virgin River Gorge area you will be sitting for an hour or so, as it was in our case, in the NW corner of Arizona.
Other than that, not much, but we're here in Zion National Park, which is quite an impressive area, geologically speaking.
This vacation has also let us get caught up with the "cabled tele-vision" we've been hearing so much about these days...seems you can switch to all these different channels an antenna can't pick up! So we watched "Fat Pets Night" on the Animal Planet channel, which was enormously entertaining and reminded us of our gatito gordito. And then, picture my surprise when not only did the Fry/Laurie version of Jeeves and Wooster come on on the local PBS station, but it was the "Chuffy" episode, which compresses and approximates the story in the aforementioned "Thank You, Jeeves" book. Nice show to fall asleep to.
Day Ten: Springdale, Utah
15 Oct 2007
Today we hiked quite a bit, visiting the Emerald Pools in Zion. Made it all the way to the Upper Pools, which was a stout walk, but with all the old folk doing it we couldn't wimp out. Well worth the extra night, very beautiful country here.
Euros were thick here. Germans, possible Frenchies, and some brand of Slavic folk (possibly Russian, or Balkan area). I'm surprised they know of this place! I'm happy though, let them breathe the free air for a short while before returning to their socialist nation-states.
We had some kind of Thainese food tonight (Orange Chicken from a Thai restaurant) on our hotel room balcony, while watching the neighbor's alpaca trot around in his fluffy chubbiness, stuffing his face with grass and begging food off of passing tourists. There is also a pen of deer, elk, and ducks. Utah is like the petting zoo capital of the world. Either that or they like Peking Duck and Venison Pie rather a lot! As well as llama cheese.
On tomorrow to pass through Utah and Colorado.
Day Eleven: Stratton, Colorado
16 Oct 2007
Utah was surprisingly beautiful. We got off at a freakish 6AM in the morning and got into the hotel around 7:30PM. The hotel left a bit to be desired...the bed making me feel a bit like a hot dog on the grill...waking up every hour or so to rotate a quarter turn so I was equally browned..err..sored...on each side.
Again, Utah is an enormously beautiful. Even in places that are not state parks, or national parks, the scenery is amazing.
Western Colorado, west of the Rockies, is also very beautiful, as I-70 snakes alongside the Colorado River. Very pretty, but not quite as awe inspiring as Utah. The Rockies themselves were impressive, but the annoying urban Colorado drivers moving in on Denver annoyed me too much to enjoy the scenery. And Eastern Colorado ought to be annexed by Kansas. It looks like Kansas, it smells like Kansas...it is Kansas.
Tomorrow is the last day of our trek. Up early in the morning and we streak across the length of Kansas at 70 mph. It'll be nice to be back in Missouri!