Monday, July 27, 2009

File This Under Strange

So, I've sort of talked myself off of the ledge of despair. Today, I had a technology orientation where we received our laptop and learned all of the various software programs that will make hard subject matter a little bit cooler. During the session, I met a few other classmates and had some nice conversations. After the session, me and this guy, Mike, decided that we'd grab a bite and a beer in the evening as his wife is also back home.

So, we stroll into the Second Street Grill, take seats at the bar, grab beers, and start chatting. Thirty minutes or so pass and there is lull in the conversation. In the break between topics, I take a minute to look around the bar and take in the surroundings. I recognize the guy sitting next to me: Jeremy from Atlanta, a friend, an accomplice of Dr. J3K, and a mountain-biking buddy. He is the very last person that I expect to randomly bump into on a Monday night ... at a sports pub ... in Yakima freaking Washington.


He looks up from his meal. Stares at me and just freezes before muttering something like "What the hell is going on? Who are you?"

We were both good and freaked out for about ten minutes.

Evidently, he's here on a consulting assignment and, at this point, has lived in the city longer than I have. As we see each other mostly when Dr. James Three Thousand is in town, I'm not sure that he was aware that I was moving here. Needless to say, it was a freaky-ass thing to experience. I'm still a little weirded out by it. It is, by far, the strangest thing to happen to me in a long, long time -- excluding, of course, the incident at the hobo convention with the duct tape, squash blossoms, and commemorative Obama plates.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What Not to Do When You're Homesick

Just for the record, a good homesickness cure is not to ask your wife to put you on speaker phone and let you talk to your dog.

The words "He just picked up his toy and started wagging his tail" will break you down into a heap of choked sobs and streaming tears.

How the hell am I going to do this without them?

#1 Dad

This afternoon, I put my dad on the shuttle back to Seattle for his flight. On my drive back to the craphole, I fought back tears. After arriving, I managed to wallow in my own homesickness for a little while. Holy shit, I was one step away from watching "Of Mice and Men." That would've been happy-go-lucky. Anywho, it made me reflect on the past week.

On our cross-country drive, we were listening to The Moth podcast. A woman was telling a story about her mother and made the comment that "parents are so much more forgiving of their children than children are of their parents." It stuck with me and made (makes) me want to be a better son, to be more patient with them, and the like because no matter how old you get, you're always their child and, if you're lucky, the beneficiary of their unconditional love.

At this point in my life, I've lived away from home for as long as I ever lived at home. Since I left for college, this road trip has been the longest time me and dad have spent together by ourselves. It was a pretty fun drive, I must say. It was pretty damned cool seeing dad excited, like a little kid on a family vacation drive. If I had a dollar for every time he called my name and pointed to something he saw on the freeway, I'd be a rich man. It's nice to see your folks full of wonder.

Checking out St. Louis from the arch.

Snapping shots of the "fireball dropping out of the sky."

Studying the roadside, getting ready to point out something.

I suspect that, in part, this trip was something that Dad really wanted to do as an adventure. I also suspect that the equally important reason was that he was the family ambassador sent by Mom to come with me on this journey, to lay eyes on me and this strange new town so many miles away, and to once again turn me loose to the world.

I am lucky.

You Have Died of Dysentery

Friday, we woke and started final leg of the trip with promises that we'd be in-bed and well-fed early in the night. It seems like all week long, we ended up driving really late and going to bed hungry. In retrospect, it seems like more punishment than was necessary but, at the very least, dad was a great sport about it.

The stars of the show.

On reaching Oregon, we were constantly amazed by the scenery, the mountains, and the farmland. At one point, the highway rounded a mountain and opened into an utterly staggering vista before dropping for six miles at a six percent grade. Once more, the descent was harrowing in a moving truck towing a car. Dad and I both got a chuckle out of the fact that my mom would've been absolutely unglued had she been in the car with us.

Click on the image to enlarge it.
No matter the size, it won't do it justice.

Best Rest Stop in the Country: Weatherby, OR
In dire need of "rest," we stopped at a rest stop in Weatherby, Oregon. After narrowly avoiding ruptured bladders, we wandered about the place and read about the Oregon Trail (the real one, not this one) which passed through those very mountains...with horse-drawn wagons...a hundred and sixty years ago. Ridiculous.

The next time you get pissed that you have no bars on your mobile phone in the middle of nowhere, think of a family spending six days trying to navigate one single stinking mountain while watching loved ones die. We're sissies every one of us.

View from the rest stop at Weatherby, Oregon.
Dad was checking out the educational signs.

He Was Right
A few rest stops we bumped into some folks that, evidently, were traveling the same route. They were the grungy, black-clad, dread-locked, pierced hippies. Dad walked by them on the way to the can. On returning he says, " Sax was right, they are dirty hippies. That girl had dirt and grime all on her elbows. She stank." Classic.

Arrival and the Great Underwhelming
At about 3:30pm on Friday and 2682 miles after starting, we pulled into the apartment. Did I mention that I rented it sight-unseen? Did I mention that it was half of a duplex, the other half of which is occupied by four female second-year med students? Did I mention that I was hopeful that it would be great?

To say that I was underwhelmed would be a fantastic understatement. To say that I simultaneously wanted to choke the shit out of the landlady and weep with frustration would be getting warmer. The place was dirty, strewn with dead insects (beetles or something, not roaches). The kitchen has a terrible drop ceiling with plastic lighting tiles. It has about 17 bazillion light switches that control something non-intuitive. It has a pair of metal exterior doors in the middle of the living room wall that lead into the other apartment. It has teal effing carpet with matching cheap-ass honeycomb paper blinds. It has the DSL modem and wireless router for the girls on the other side. It has the mailbox where all the mail for the duplex is delivered. It has a 1/5 share of all the bills for the duplex but no untilities of its own. It has a toilet that constantly runs. It has a garage that can easily accommodate a 16-foot moving truck and, I assume, an RV.

It does not, however, have a happy tenant. I'm not unpacking just so that I can entertain the notion of moving the hell out of here after Winning Run arrives on Tuesday. Wish me luck and patience.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Salty Lake and Potatoes

Yesterday, we finally made it out of Wyoming following a stay at a motel in Green River and a breakfast with the weirdest waitress ever. She looked like she'd just come from a fight club boxing match and answered "You Betcha" to everything with a saccharine sweet laugh.

Another wind farm in Wyoming.
Notice the truck near the base of the turbine in the foreground.

We headed into Salt Lake City to visit with Big Chief Mike, a friend from college. Driving into the city, we headed down a few steep grades. When we finally got to Mike's place, smoke was still coming off the brakes of the truck which was a little disconcerting. During lunch, I phoned the roadside assistance to bring a new tire because we'd noticed an increasing bounce in the front. When the guy showed us the tire, it had worn clean through to the tread. He told us it was a good thing that we called when we did because he didn't think we would've made it too much farther on that one. So, we got to visit Mike with the ability to stop and without having my things scattered all over the highway courtesy of a high-speed blowout. I feel like a winner.

After a fantastic lunch that Mike had whipped up, we headed out and, after an eternity, made it to the north side of Boise, Idaho. Today, we've got around 500 miles to get into Yakima. Hopefully, it'll be uneventful.

States Covered
Wyoming, Utah, Idaho

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Through the Arch and Into the Plains

On Tuesday, we crossed into Missouri and decided to stop at the Arch. I have to admit, it was larger and much more interesting than I thought. We searched for a parking space and decided to take a break, walk over to it, and ride to the top.

Approaching the St. Louis Arch.

For the record, if you are the least bit claustrophobic do not even think about riding the trams to the top of the arch. Imagine being stuffed into a coffin with four other people and making a slow ascent 600 feet up a metal arch. It was pretty cool but maybe a little unsettling.

Dad about to get into the tiny coffin-sized tram to the top.

After leaving St. Louis, we headed up to Lincoln, Nebraska to visit with my dad's first cousin. It was pretty nice to meet him and the rest of the Nebraska family and to see my pop so excited to just hang out with someone.

Corn is King
Driving west through Nebraska, one thing becomes readily apparent: corn is king. Unless you live in the heartland, you really have no idea about the scale of the farms in this country. By the way, I don't pretend to have a great idea from only driving through a few states but I will say that it's staggering. In western Nebraska, corn seemed to give way to wheat. Amber waves, indeed.

Wyoming is Big
We were pretty amazed at how the topography changes pretty quickly after entering Wyoming. Plains change to rocky, rolling hills. You climb some hills and descend into an enormous plateau. Hell, at one point, we drove absolutely straight for about 10 miles before a tiny curve in the road. Our country is enormous. The terrain is pretty cool and you eventually tire of seeing so damned many antelope just grazing, grazing by the highway.

A monument to Lincoln on the Wyoming Roadside.

The plains of Wyoming.

Storm cloud and the setting sun.

Dad shooting the sunset.

The Green Initiative
In addition to being awed by the vast emptiness of the state, we marveled at the wind farms that we crossed. On television, the turbines look big but that pales to being near them. The photos don't do justice because there isn't really anything to determine the scale or the distance and I didn't have a lens wide enough to get the hundred or so into a single shot. They're pretty damned cool.

Wyoming wind farm.

Another view.

The Gas Miracle
Our fuel was running low as we neared Laramie. Somehow, we didn't exit the freeway because we thought there was one more exit for the town. With fuel dwindling, we hit the Garmin for info on the nearest fuel station and headed west toward it. The fuel light came on as we approached the abandoned gas station. Luckily, there were a couple of guys there working.
"How far to the nearest fuel?," Dad asked.

"Which direction?," the weathered guy replied.


"80 miles," he said with almost no expression.

"How about east?"

"20 miles."

"Okay, thanks."
Dad and I looked at each other uneasily and headed back toward Laramie.
"Hope there are three gallons in the tank," dad said.

"Me, too."
On the ride back, we drafted an semi to conserve fuel and lamented that it was uphill most of the way. Personally, I used my Jedi mind trick to keep that damned truck moving. The twenty minutes back was silent and tense. Inside 10K, I knew that I could run back to the station for fuel and began to rest. After an eternity, we coasted down the hill into the gas station, sighed with relief, and laughed a bunch.

We put 32.1 gallons of fuel into a 32-gallon tank. Close one.

States Covered
Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts

Boy, leaving is ridiculously tough. I'd done pretty well in getting ready and telling most of my friends goodbye. As expected, I got really emotional when I was leaving Winning Run and absolutely blubbered when I said goodbye to Dylan.

At the truck rental place, I was pulling the car onto the car carrier when dad and the rental guy started dancing around and yelling at me to stop. Turns out the trailer wasn't connected to the truck and had come unhitched with me on top of it. Awesome.

We stopped for the night just outside of St. Louis and will aim for at least Lincoln, NE to stay with dad's cousin. Fun stuff.

My finger is still bleeding from the nailbed and is unusable; unloading should be interesting. I'll post pictures later with forewarning for the gore.

Highlight: the giant Superman statue in Metropolis, IL.

Truth, justice, and the American way.

Handy camera work from a perfect stranger.
(Not Balki.)

States covered: Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois.

Monday, July 20, 2009

westward bound

Just nearly cut off my finger on the moving truck. About to start the drive.