Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Driving Across America: The End

Saturday, May 23rd

The final stretch. We had eight hours to drive. It's Saturday. It's Memorial Day Weekend.

This was the most uneventful leg, but unfortunately it is a necessary part of all trips. Because I had been catching grief all trip that Melissa was spending more time driving than I was, I volunteered to drive the entire final day. This won brownie points, but it stunk. Driving on a holiday weekend to complete a fun, 3,200 mile trip, is not fun. On the bright side, we had a lot to look forward to, getting home and seeing our families and friends in the MD.

The purpose of this post is to do nothing more than officially announce that we made it, safe and sound. We drove 3,222 miles in about 7 and a half days (left Tempe on Saturday morning at 10am, arrived in Severna Park on the following Saturday night at 6pm).

Top 10 Most Memorable: Good, Bad, and Ugly
10. Potter's Nuts
9. The Vail Gas Fiasco
8. Dining at the St. Clair Winery and Bistro
7. Driving through the night to catch an Austin sunrise (the good) and the subsequent search for a diner (the bad), resulting in a breakfast at IHOP (the ugly)
6. The Great Savannah Sandal Malfunction
5. "Dat Ozaka!"
4. When Swamp Rats Attack
3. San Antonio: Bohanan's, River Walk, and of course we remember the Alamo
2. The great company and great hospitality of all of our hosts (Brittany and Ross, the Reids, and Amanda, and sort of the Holiday Inn Express in San Antonio, but not so much the New Orleans HIX)
1. Conquering one of my dreams - driving across America - and sharing it with all of you

So...thank you all again for reading. I hope you enjoyed sharing our adventures as much as we enjoyed experiencing them (and I enjoyed writing about them).

Stay tuned for my exclusive Italy Travelogumentary, coming soon. Trip starts June 5th.

More Pictures from the Trip

Friday, May 22, 2009

Driving Across America: Leg 6

Friday, May 22nd
The final day of fun on our trip.

We decided to stay one extra day in Myrtle Beach. So we slept in, got up and slowly got ourselves together before heading towards the beach to get lunch. We didn't really have a specific destination, so we just found N. Ocean Blvd. and started driving up and down until we found a place that looked like it might have a decent lunch with tables overlooking the beach. It is "black biker week" according to the locals, so the town is busier than usual. We finally settled on a place, the name of which I cannot remember, at the 2nd Avenue Pier. We got a burger and some chicken tenders. They were about as decently average as cheap boardwalk food can be. With more research, I'm sure we could have found something more impressive. But they served beer in a can and they had free parking, so we were content. After that, we headed up to 48th St. to hit the beach where Amanda could find us when she got off work.

We ended up on 47th - no big deal - and set up camp. The people in our immediate vicinity were annoying, but at this point we thought we were only going to lay out for an hour at the most before heading back to Maryland. Once we found out Amanda's friend Garrett (I hope I spelled that right) was bringing cornhole (bean bag toss, for those of you who have never spent time in the south), we decided to stay and hang out.

So, we stayed on the beach long enough for all of us to catch a decent amount of sun. Turns out some people are not naturally good at bean bag toss. But we had fun. Eventually, we called it quits to go get dinner at Sugami's, Amanda's favorite local sushi place. She claims to be an expert on local sushi and that this place was the best Myrtle Beach had to offer. We ordered several rolls (I hardly even looked at the menu, letting the girls pick everything, so I don't know what we got) and they were all delicious. We wolfed everything down, hung out for a bit, then headed home. We were treated to dinner here as well, which was incredibly nice.

Once we got home, we quickly made our way to the super hot tub that had a TV with cable and a DVD player as well as surround sound. It also had variable jets, lights that gradually change colors, and if I failed to mention it before, a built-in TV with cable, a DVD player, and surround sound. Pretty awesome - something to aspire to.

Now, I'm sitting once again in the most luxurious bed I have ever experienced. It is time for an early bed so that we are well rested for the final, eight hour leg of our cross-country tour.

I will be back in Annapolis (or at least Severna Park) tomorrow evening. See everyone very soon!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Driving Across America: Leg 5

Thursday, May 21st
I will upload pictures tomorrow, as I just don't feel like doing it right now. But today was full of all sorts of things worth mentioning.

Breakfast in Roswell
Our plan was to hit the road by 7am so that we could get to Savannah for lunch with some time to explore, then leave for Charleston for dinner with some time to explore, before reaching our final destination at Myrtle Beach with some time to hang out. All of that changed, however, when the harsh reality of east coast weather came storming back. Being in Tempe, there was never a reason to check weather reports, so it was the furthest thing from our minds. More on that after this quick note on breakfast.

We woke up at 6am (I had a lot of trouble sleeping, so I was operating on about 3 hours of sleep when we got up). The Reids had a quality spread laid out for us with lots of fresh fruit (papaya, watermelon, canteloupe, strawberries), bagels, a maple walnut coffee cake, a Honey Nut O's. Melissa had coffee. I had water. It was a great start to a long day. We ended up leaving around 8am, and it only took us 45 minutes to get through Atlanta, which was a great surprise. We expected hours of traffic during morning rush hour on the Thursday before Memorial Day.

Savannah, GA
Back to the failure to check the weather... It began raining as soon as we got south of Atlanta. It didn't stop until we were three-quarters of the way between Savannah and Charleston. This had a detrimental effect on our visit to one of the south's oldest cities. For a quick history lesson (which I only recently learned myself), General Sherman--in his famous march--destroyed the city of Atlanta, so as far as American cities go, it is relatively new in its construction. In fact, Sherman razed a great deal of the cities in his path. For some reason, however, he spared Savannah. This place was, despite the rain, beautiful. It is very European at its heart. There are no yards, instead the city offers squares that are common area yards for everyone. These squares pop up every few blocks. They are all small parks with benches, grass, and trees, with the equivalent of a roundabout (traffic circle) around them and some street parking. The houses themselves were all very historic; elegant architecture everywhere you turned. The rain was a big damper on our fun, though. We originally meant to eat at Mrs. Wilkes, an old fashioned boarding-style diner, but the line wrapped around the corner in the rain and we didn't have rain coats or umbrellas. So we pressed on. We opted out of Paula Dean's restaurant because it was too expensive. We ended up parking near the river and walking down in a mild drizzle to find a lunch spot. When the deluge of rain began, we sought shelter in the nearest decent looking restaurant - the Cotton Exchange Tavern.

We got crab chowder to split, which was very good. I got a crab cake sandwich with sweet potato fries (pretty good, but no Maryland crab cake) and Melissa got seafood quesadillas (shrimp, crab, cheeses with salsa and sour cream). They were pretty decent as well, but not amazing. I ordered my first southern style sweet tea in years and made Melissa try it, as she had never enjoyed one before. We finished up and headed outside, only to be greeted by even more rain. We tried to see a couple sights along the river but were forced to retire to the car to avoid the weather.

I had a serious recurring wardrobe malfunction as we walked back. My flip flops kept sliding off my feet as we trudged through the wet roads and sidewalks. It was annoying, but Melissa found it to be hysterical. So I jumped in a puddle and splashed her. We finally made it back to the car so that we could dry off and get to Charleston, all the while hoping for the rain to subside.

The bridge out of Savannah was pretty but frightening. It was pouring, the winds were raging, and all the support cables were bucking wildly against the gusts. We made it across unscathed and were on our way to SC.

Charleston, SC

This city was beautiful as well. It had all the elements of a beach town, mixed with all the character of a historic site. We visited the battery where Colonel Moultrie (I'll check his name later when I upload the pictures, but I think that's how it is spelled) fended off a British attack against all odds. Fort Sumter was visible across the way. The houses in Charleston were absolutely incredible. Huge, plantation-style mansions on every block. The rain had stopped, but it was very windy and cold on the water, so we didn't stay at the battery long. We headed into town, parked just off Market St., and walked around for a little while. I was beyond tired, so despite Melissa's desire to hang out and enjoy the town, we decided to cut our visit short and head to Myrtle Beach. We did walk around for about half an hour, though. We learned that southern restaurants serve crab dip chilled, which is strange.

Myrtle Beach, SC
The drives are getting harder and harder as we get more and more traveling under our belt. I think our bodies are wearing down. We are getting more irritable about hunger and fatigue, and napping is becoming more and more common while riding shotgun. But we are keeping our morale as high as possible.

We made arrangements earlier in the week to stay with a family friend of Melissa's in MB--Amanda--who is house sitting a golf course starter mansion for 6 months by herself. For the third time on this trip, we managed to find a place to stay that did not require paying for a hotel (as opposed to two nights in hotels). Not a bad ratio.

We made it to the house a little after 8, and it is gorgeous. The room we are staying in has a bathroom larger than our bedroom was in Cityscape. The house is ridiculous. It backs up to a lake, has a hot tub with a TV outside, has touch lamps, overhead fans with remotes, heavy duty high efficiency laundry (this is our first time doing laundry on the trip, and it is sad that it is exciting to me), and one of the most comfortable beds I have ever laid in. I am actually laying in it right now as I type. I'm not expert, but I believe it is a memory foam, pillow-top, king size bed. I may never leave.

Amanda had plans to see a band play at a place called Spuds, so we waited for her friend to show up so that we could go get food and see the band. Spuds is in Murrells Inlet. We got there around 9:45, only to find out that they were no longer serving food. We walked up the "marsh walk" to Dead Dog Saloon for food, which was decent. Melissa and I shared a crab dip (served hot) and a chicken Caesar salad. Then we walked back to Spuds to listen to the band and we met a few of Amanda's other friends. She had to work early, so we called it an early night.

Now, I am laying in bed unable to sleep, with Futurama on in the background. It is one of my guilty pleasures.

On the bright side, once I get all the rest of the pictures uploaded, my blog is officially caught up. Thanks, everyone, for reading. I may have one more entry for everyone about this trip to sum things up once we are home. If we end up staying another day here, I'll probably post an extra leg describing our beach experience, then wrap things up on Saturday from Annapolis.

Either way, this has been a magical journey. I enjoyed sharing everything thus far. And this was great practice for my Italy travelogumentary, which promises to be even more interesting! See everyone soon!

Driving Across America: Leg 4.5

Author's Note: I wrote more than one entry last night and this morning, and I added more pictures to Leg 2. Be sure to check those out and read in order.

The 8 hour drive from New Orleans to Roswell could not have been less noteworthy. We passed through some pretty cool areas - crossed Lake Pontchartrain; saw the water tower in Biloxi, MS; drove by Mobile, Auburn, and Montgomery, AL; all of a sudden had Georgia on our minds.

But nothing really happened. I drove for a few hours, Melissa slept. Then she drove a few hours and I slept. We realized we had made a stupid mistake, however. Thinking we would get to the Reid's house by dinner time, we made plans to have dinner with them. However, Cafe du Monde took a little longer than expected, and we stupidly forgot to account for our final time change of the trip, so we didn't end up arriving in Roswell until about 8:30pm. We kept them apprised of our situation and they rightfully decided to eat without us. We pulled up at their house at 8:45pm. I'm pretty sure they thought our 'delay' was due to a late night of drinking in New Orleans, which was not the case. We were back at our hotel before midnight, but just took too long getting around town in the morning after waking up around 8am.

Anyhow, dinner was waiting for us on the table when we arrived. The Reids were, as usual, extremely hospitable. They heated up a marinated chicken, a cheesy hash brown casserole, salad, and some roasted vegetables. It was delicious.

Melissa's Note: This was my first true 'southern cooking' and it was amazing!

I didn't ruin it and tell her that while this was absolutely delicious, it was not exactly soul food. We stayed up chatting and catching up for awhile. We were also treated to a custom made carrot cake from Gail's surprise birthday party from the week before. Apparently, Larry pulled out all the stops for this one. The cake was custom made to look like a movie reel (they are big movie buffs), very similar to the one that decorates the front of the Orson Wells Theatre in Boston where they took many a dates when they first got together. It had the names of many of her favorite movies on it. And the party was hosted by their friends who had a theatre in their basement. Sounded like a blast to us!

The last thing I will mention about Roswell is going to meet a great deal of resistance if Jay reads this, but it has to be said. We unearthed his infamous Bar Mitzvah tennis picture. If any VT AEPi guys read this, you know what I'm talking about. It is just as funny this time! Jay, if you read this, who is this "Mazel Tov" guy that keeps writing all over everything?

Around 11pm we got our luggage out of the car and called it a night. I caught up on my blog - losing valuable sleep in the fear that we might not have internet again until we are back in Maryland, not wanting to turn off my readership with a lack of consistent travelogumenting - and then went to bed. We both had a little trouble falling asleep, so today is going to be an exhausting one.

First stop: lunch in Savannah, GA. We plan to see as much of Savannah as we can in a couple hours before getting on our way to Charleston, SC. Dinner there and some wandering, assuming the weather is good. Then, our ultimate destination is Myrtle Beach, SC, where a friend of Melissa's is house-sitting a mansion for the summer. That will be our home for tonight and, if the weather is good, maybe tomorrow night too. Pending that decision, we will be back in Maryland Friday or Saturday evening/night. Can't wait!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Driving Across America: Leg 4

New Orleans!
We didn't really have anything exciting happen on the way in. We passed a baby gator petting zoo and almost stopped. Unfortunately, I was being lame and wanted to press on to New Orleans. The city calls to me. We didn't have a great map in to the city so we stopped at the visitor's information center on the way in. This was the first of many experiences in the Big Easy.

The Cajun security guard was not...um...intelligent. We were looking for a brochure that might have hotel recommendations. She called the owner of the visitor's center, who also happens to own three hotels in the city. Rather than just giving us the brochure and letting us be on our way. So we had to wait about 10 minutes while he came downstairs to talk to us. Clearly not in his job description. I don't know why he came down at all. But he recommended a place in the heart of the French Quarter off Bourbon St on Conti (pronounced Konn-tie). Needless to say, we didn't go there. We got a little mixed up as I oriented myself with the city again. We had a rudimentary map, but it is tough to navigate a city full of one-way streets.

If you ask Melissa, she'll say I couldn't read the map. If you ask me, I'd say she wouldn't listen. I imagine it was somewhere in between, though once I got my bearings I was fine with the map, and she still wouldn't listen. But this is neither here nor there.

After checking a few different places out, we settled on another Holiday Inn Express. We figure you can't go wrong with a name brand like that. More on that later. As it turns out, you can go wrong with a name brand. It was cheap, though, and we parked in the garage around the corner. This was another experience. We had to go up to the sixth floor. The ramps were about 45 degree angles if not steeper, and almost exactly the width of the car plus maybe 6 inches. Once again, my driving ability saved the day. We made it to the 6th floor in about 10 minutes and parked successfully. We then had to ride the elevator down, go outside, walk around the corner, then go inside and ride the elevator up to our room to get ready for dinner. The room was small, and our towels had something pink and sticky on them. Smelled like tooth paste. We avoided it.

Now for the positives.

We went to Acme Oyster Bar for dinner. This place is a local favorite and a must go restaurant if you're in N'Awlins. We got raw oysters on the half shell, which were amazing. I didn't realize how much I missed good seafood. Melissa, who had never had jambalaya, got that. I got the Peace Maker Po' Boy, which consisted of fried shrimp and oysters with a Tabasco infused mayo, lettuce, and tomato. We shared everything. It was amazing. Melissa tabbed it as one of the best meals she had ever had. I didn't argue.

Our next stop was the famous Pat O's on St. Peters - the home of the Hurricane. Expensive, but another must see place if you're in the city for the first time. You have to either get a Hurricane or a Hand Grenade at some point. It being Melissa's first trip, we went with the Hurricane. It was very sweet. Our server was nice and pushy and typical of the city's hospitality staff. They dupe people into getting souvenir glasses by bringing them and charging for them without you asking for them, forcing you to return them at the bar if you want your money back. It was annoying for everyone, especially because the bar is always busy. But no big deal. I felt like I made money when we left.

Then, we walked up and down Bourbon St. No real goal in minds. I just wanted Melissa to experience it. It wasn't too crazy, since it was a Tuesday night. But there were enough people for her to get a feel for it. We had crazy people throwing beads at us from the balconies. There were religious nuts carrying huge crosses with electronic scrolling marquee messages warning of the coming apocalypse. The usual. We stopped at literal hole in the wall to get cheap beers. Never again. We actually dumped them out because they tasted so bad. Undrinkable. I don't know what was wrong with them.

Then we went to a little club with a live band performing that was actually really good. The white girl singing did a Lauryn Hill song and sounded exactly like her. We tipped her and left. Then we went and listened to some live music at the Bourbon Cowboy while watching drunk idiots try to ride the mechanical bull. Probably a highlite of the night.

Nothing else really happened. We slowly made our way back to the hotel so that we could get up early and head to Atlanta.

The following morning, we awoke to another experience. We were not alone in the bed. I felt something crawling on my arm, but I thought it was Melissa's hair tickling it. It turns out it was a really gross looking spider. It also turns out he took two bites out of my hand at some point during the night, which still itch like crazy. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that he was all that poisonous.

Melissa's Note: If there was ever a way to catch cancer, New Orleans would be it.

So, we got up and Melissa really wanted to go to Cafe du Monde to get her first beignet. This is the New Orleans equivalent to funnel cake. But it was amazing. Another local staple. We walked down the Mississippi River to get there so that Melissa could see something remotely pretty in the city. I also rediscovered the spot where we watched the Blackrobats the first time we came to NOLA (Sugar Bowl, my senior year). Fond memories.

They were fantastic. We got cafe au lait (mine frozen, hers hot). Then we walked back to the car. On the road again.

Next stop: Roswell, GA, 8 hours later.

Author's Note: For some reason, we didn't take many pictures in New Orleans. Which we both regret. There are a few more from the following morning on Melissa's camera, but I don't know if they will ever make it on to here.

Driving Across America: Leg 3

Monday, May 18th

After leaving the Alamo, we walked back to the hotel (Holiday Inn Express) to retrieve our car. We got out of town around 3ish. First on the agenda was picking up a case of water for the car. I tell you what - if there is one thing I have learned on this trip, it's that the little, mundane things might end up being the most eventful happenings.

So Melissa chooses an exit off of the 10 East where there is a market. There also happened to be bail bonds in the very same market. We should have taken it as our first sign to keep driving when the road we exited on was Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Anyone who knows much about cities knows that MLK is almost always a low income street. So we pull up to this "market" and there are literally crack heads loitering on the stoop. What I can only assume was the market owner was standing with his hands on his hips, just staring at them. We were the furthest thing from locals in sight. As we parked, a beat up old sedan came flying in to the spot next to us. A man got out looking very...poor...with his pants hanging so far down and his boxers bunched up so much that we could see the skin of his thigh between the hem of his underwear and the waist of his jeans. He was clearly heavily medicated. Anyhow, we walked in confidently avoiding eye contact. The place was a dump. I really wish we had pictures of this place (which would have included huge ads for bail bonds, among other things). I thought someone might steal my camera and trade it for crack right in front of me.

I navigated over to the refrigerated/drink area looking for a case of water. A delivery man was there stocking shelves.

Delivery Man: "Need sum'n?"
Me: "Just a case of water?"
DM: "Dat Ozaka?"
Me: "Uh...what?"
DM: (leading us up the aisle) "Heah." (points to a pile of unsorted cases of drink)
Me: (still trying to figure out what Ozaka is) "Thanks."
DM: "Mmhm."

Turns out...'Ozarka' is a brand of water, of which they had one case buried beneath several cases of purple stuff and Shasta. It is the local Texas bottling plant. Who knew?

So we got a 24-pack of water and paid $10 for it. We're used to paying $3 for good quality, name brand cases. And it stunk like nobody's business. So we did not drink any of it.

We got back on the road to Houston. We were meeting Brittany (my first friend from VT, met at orientation) for dinner. The drive from San Antonio to Houston was about 3-4 hours. And other than the Ozaka Ordeal, it was mostly uneventful.

Melissa had a sudden craving for Texas pecans (by sudden, I mean it was the sixth time she had mentioned wanting pecans before we left the state). So when we saw a huge highway billboard advertising Potter's Nuts, of course we had to stop. And it was well worth it. We went in and they had samples of a sweet and spicy chili pecan, a toasted cinnamon sugar pecan (still warm) and some kettle popcorn with something sweet coating it. They were all amazing.

Someone (Brittany) gave us bad directions in to town and we got a little mixed up driving into Houston. We eventually found the apartment building and were able to get a parking spot right out front. I wish we had taken pictures of the apartment, because it was gorgeous. We were both pretty envious. Brittany's boyfriend was not off work (doctor) yet so we chatted for a bit and then headed out to a local Italian place (her favorite restaurant). For some reason, on a Monday night, it was closed. So we pressed on. Brittany mentioned that the original Carrabba's is in Houston, and since Melissa talks about going there all the time and I had never been, we chose that.

We were seated right away. We ordered calamari (really good) while we waited for Ross. Also got a round of drinks. Service was not great at first, but the guy finally came around. When Ross got there, we ordered dinner. I got the chicken "Bryan Texas" - delicious - and Melissa got a pizza that was pretty decent. We had a really good time chatting. And then Brittany bought us dinner, which was too nice, especially considering they were putting us up for the night already. But she insisted, so we didn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth. After that, we opted for a night cap. Unfortunately, there was a slight miscommunication, and Brittany, Melissa, and I ended up in one place and Ross ended up at home. We went to a wine bar called The Tasting Room Lounge. Melissa ordered a bottle of Acacia "A," which is a red blend. The Acacia Pinot Noir is my favorite wine, but they didn't have it. This was pretty good, too, and I paid for it in exchange for dinner. Ross fell asleep and didn't make it out. We hung out. Very nice catching up and Brittany and Melissa seemed to hit it off pretty well.

We went home and promptly fell asleep. The next day, they had to work, but Brittany pointed us to Co Co's Crepes for breakfast/lunch. It was delicious, even though they fudged Melissa's order twice and they didn't have the mushrooms for my order. Still tasted great. I got a chicken and roasted vegetable whole wheat crepe with a wild mushroom sauce. She got a spinach, tomato, ricotta, and chicken whole wheat crepe with roasted red pepper sauce. They forgot her chicken, though, so she had to go back and get it. She offered to let them just throw the chicken on top, rather than remaking the whole dish. They gladly obliged, but they neglected to mention that that the chicken was practically frozen. So a return trip to have it reheated finally resulted in a delicious lunch.

We walked back to the car and decided to hit the road. We picked up some ice at the CVS around the corner. It was off to New Orleans - a 5 hour drive. This time, we did not get lost on the way out!

Driving Across America: Leg 2

Author's Note: A thousand apologies for the delay in writing. We have not had solid internet access for much of the trip. Tonight, I should be able to catch up completely.

Sunday, May 17th - 4:00pm
We woke up from our "good night's sleep," ready to seize the day. Sunday night was a celebration. We were doing a nice steak dinner, courtesy of my mom, as a gift for completing my 1L year relatively unscathed. As we were driving in, Melissa was researching San Antonio steakhouses (somehow, a copy of Southwest Spirit had materialized in our car - the complimentary magazine on Southwest Airlines flights). We decided on Bohanan's, which was conveniently walking distance from our Holiday Inn Express. We made reservations for 6:30 from the hotel, showered, and got dressed.

Melissa's Note: "Make sure to mention just how dapper we both looked."

We were both looking very dapper, as you can see. When we got there, we were one of the first tables to arrive. The place was elegant, but the floor plan was a little too wide open for our tastes. Lewnes in Annapolis is the standard for us, and aesthetically, this place did not compare. We were seated in what I can best describe as an Arizona room, which is almost like an extra porch-like room (they are usually outdoor patios converted to indoor rooms) overlooking Houston St. Our waiter, Jose, was very friendly and knowledgeable. He refused to let us order until he had shown us all of the day's cuts of steak, despite our solid confirmation that we already knew what we wanted. I ordered a Live Oak Heffeweizen (local micro-brew), Melissa got a Pilsner Urquell (craving Stella Artois, this was the closest substitution). Despite our original plan of getting wine, we opted out because the least expensive bottle was in the high 30's. They served complimentary crostini bread slices with cream cheese and pepper jelly with slices of jalapenos (a childhood favorite of mine from the day's of my dad's cocktail parties, which Melissa had never tried) that were phenomenal. We ordered a spinach salad with goat cheese, toasted almonds, purple onions, hickory smoked bacon, and mushrooms with a tangy vinaigrette. Delicious. For our entrees, we both got 6 oz. filet mignons--mid-rare--that were served with roasted peppers and goat cheese mashed potatoes. The executive chef has a secret recipe for his steak marinade that we thought was incredible. I found myself again thinking about IP law, and the wonderful world of trade secrets. Only the chef knows the recipe, not a single member of the staff has any knowledge. All in all, I would rate the meal a 10 out of 10. Top notch.

We wanted to get dessert on the river, so we reluctantly paid our check and headed off to the River Walk.

We stopped in at Rita's on the River for the biggest frozen margarita we had ever seen. It was pretty delicious. We shared it while we watched the Celtics blow game 7 (sorry, Barb). Then, we continued walking, checking dessert menus at every decent looking restaurant we passed.

Finally, we landed at Saltgrass, one of the other steak houses we had considered, because they had a huge brownie sundae on display. We got dessert and a split of Korbel Brut (they had very little range in champagne, offering a $7 split of Korbel or a $50 bottle of something else). Our waiter was a military brat that said he grew up around DC, went to Woodson in Fairfax, but did not seem to have ever heard of Annapolis.

At this point, it was getting a bit late to be out on a Sunday night, so we headed to the hotel bar. We got there five minutes before last call and made sure we got our money's worth. I say this because as it turns out, through some horribly convenient glitch in billing, the bar tab never made it to our room charge. We took a bottle of wine back to the room and enjoyed the finest balcony bar San Antonio had to offer.

We went to sleep with plans to see the Alamo in the morning before heading to Houston.

Monday, May 18th

Author's Note: Pictures to come later. I ran out of time while writing this entry.

As we were getting ready, I got a voice mail from Brittany suggested Boudro's for lunch and margaritas. It was on the River Walk, so we headed that way for some food. We were driving to Houston so we drank waters. But we ordered what turned out to be the best guacamole either of us had ever had. They made it tableside with roasted tomatoes and red peppers, lime and orange juice, avocado, onions, and a little cilantro. We added salt and pepper. Then Melissa had a seafood tostada, which was great, and I got chicken enchilades verdes, which were good, but not the best. We sat outside with a nice view of the river, finished up, then started walking to the Alamo.

There's not much to say about the old fort. We learned a little about its history. I will put a bunch of pictures of it up as well. Most of what is there as part of the monument was not actually part of the fort in its heyday. The main building is a church-like shrine where you have to remove your hat, remain quiet, not touch any walls or display cases, and refrain from photography. There was very little worth doing there, but it was an important historic landmark, so I'm glad we went. Directly across the street, the sanctity of Texas's great shrine of independence was tainted by several cheesy tourist traps: a Ripley's haunted house, a Guinness World Records museum, and others.

We got our fill of the Alamo and walked back to the hotel to retrieve our car and hit the road.

We were meeting Brittany and her boyfriend, Ross, in Houston for dinner. Estimated driving time: 3 hours.

Notes on San Antonio:
There were more beggars and homeless people in this city than I have ever seen anywhere else. It was very off-putting, as it would be one of the greatest cities I had visited were it not for the quality of its residents. That being said, we were only approached for money twice, and no one was threatening. The food was amazing. Everything on the River Walk was beautiful, and within walking distance from the hotel. We were both envious of that, though Melissa is more born for the city life than I am.

My journal of notes is in the car, which is four floors down, one building over, and then six floors up from where I sit right now, so I will supplement this entry when I upload pictures (tonight, hopefully).

For now, I have to get showered up so we can hit the road. Today boasts an 8 hour stretch of driving.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Driving Across America: Leg 1.5

I feel like the grandfather in The Princess Bride as I sit down to continue our adventure. I ended the first "chapter" with the swamp rat, and now I'm picking up again with a long, dark journey through central Texas. This stretch of road was pitch black. No street lights. No stars. Never saw the moon. The only light, other than my headlights, was from the oncoming traffic across the wide stretch of median. This meant I had to keep switching from high beams to low beams and back every time I crossed paths with anyone. However, I only saw one other car heading in my direction for the entire stretch between Juan Carrasco's and our ultimate destination.

Melissa remained asleep for another hour or two, occasionally waking up long enough to make sure I was still okay to drive. Unfortunately, this means that there was no note-taking and therefore not as much for the base of our story. So I'll skip ahead to...

Rural route 290. Fog: heavy enough to require windshield wipers on medium intermittancy. We experimented with 290 because we decided sort of last minute to go straight to Austin instead of to San Antonio first. Our master plan was to catch Austin in the early morning hours, find a decent hike, and catch our first Texas-sized sunrise. I woke Melissa up for this part because I didn't know just how rural it was going to be.

Author's Note: On our last non-packing day in Tempe, my friend, Scorza, had an end of the year pool party, where we discovered that some people--intelligent people, at that (no sarcasm)--think the word 'rural' is pronounced 'rule,' neglecting that middle R. I couldn't help but play that conversation over in my head as I wove my way through Texas.

There was an abundance of deer. This was straight out of a horror movie. Nothing but trees, heavy fog, bright deer eyes everywhere, and probably a chainsaw killer stalking us ominously through the woods.

Again, sort of a boring, uneventful leg, so I'll skip ahead. One last note on this stretch, however, is that 5 Hour Energy actually works. And when I say works, I mean that stuff is brilliant. It adjusted for the change in time zone, so that it actually only lasted 4 hours, but the clock read 5 hours later than when I had chugged the entire little bottle. Just an FYI to people out there who need a quick pick-me-up. There was no miserable crash at the end.


I see why people love this city so much, though I didn't figure it out right away. We spent a fair amount of time driving around, looking for a place to hike. Fail upon fail. We found a gas station instead, with a guy that looked like he could have played a central role in Men in Black III. Somehow, through sheer luck, we happened to find the one guy that really knows the best spots to watch a sunrise in Austin. He pointed us in the direction of Mansfield Dam on Lake Travis, and let us know (off the top of his head) that sunrise would be in one hour. We thanked him, Melissa got some coffee, and we were on our way to the Dam.

The Dam was a little confusing, and it took us some time to locate an actual spot to watch the phenomenon. We parked at the top of the Dam, thinking how ugly the view was. Then we thought this couldn't be it and we started to explore our surroundings. A small gate that looked like it was closed off at first glance turned out to be exactly what we wanted. It was not closed at all, and we ended up at a ranger's station with no one on duty. Free park entrance! We parked, grabbed a blanket, put on some warmer clothes, and found a nice park bench to perch on. As we sat and waited, shivering in the surprising morning chill, about 20 people came tearing down the road way to the boat ramp and headed off to fish. Once that stopped happening, it was probably one of the most serene, naturally peaceful things either of us had done since coming out here. The only sounds were birds chirping and preening, the water gently crashing on the rocky sands, and the wind whistling quietly through the trees. No artificial noise at all. It was a perfect way to enjoy the sunrise. I highly recommend that everyone do this at some point in the near future.

We didn't get a great sunrise, but it didn't matter. Once we decided it was up, we snuck out of the park without paying the ranger again (still no one on duty) and headed into town to find a diner. This would turn out to be the day's biggest challenge.

Sunday morning in Austin, TX provided absolutely nothing in the way of breakfast foods. At this point, it was almost 9am. The only place we could find was an IHOP. It had to do. We were both exhausted, starving, and grumpy. I ordered the International Crepe Passport - two scrambled eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, and two crepes with Nutella, strawberry, and banana slices. Melissa got a spinach and mushroom omelette with a fruit bowl and some hash browns. It was average, as all IHOPs are. But it filled our bellies and we were ready to find the UT campus.

This was much more daunting than we had imagined as well. Our maps were all atlases and road maps, and none of them had the campus specifically marked, so we had to do a lot of guess-and-checking. You would think a campus of that size and caliber would have signs pointing to it from every possible direction. That was just not the case, however. We spent 30 minutes driving around looking for it before all of a sudden we came upon it without realizing it. Along the way, we saw some of the most beautiful neighborhoods. There is really no uniformity to the Austin suburbs, but the houses are huge and historic looking. The smallest house we saw was bigger than just about anything Tempe has to offer. The campus, however, is a different story. It is gorgeous, with uUniform architecture for the most part. Everything was built with a light, almost yellowish hue of what I can only guess was sandstone because I assume everything is sandstone unless proven otherwise.

I really wanted to find the football stadium. We had planned to park and walk around for awhile taking pictures. But we were too tired. We made a beeline for the stadium, which is monstrous. I have seen quite a few stadiums in my day, but maybe none so impressive as Darrel K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. It's not the biggest one I've been to (I've been to the Big House in Ann Arbor), but it was the most imposing from the outside. We weren't able to get in. We walked around a bit, decided we needed a bathroom and were too tired to continue, so we got back in the car before the traditional "pay for the garage after the first half hour" timer had run.

We found a 24-hour cafe that served breakfast that looked much better than IHOPs and used the bathroom there. Annoying...

So we were on our way to San Antonio and a comfortable bed. We had about an hour of driving ahead of us. Melissa got behind the wheel. I started digging through old CDs for something we both knew the words to to help us stay awake. This was actually really easy. Believe it or not, Melissa (and her cool factor shot up about 30 points) has a store-bought CD that is one-half MC Hammer's greatest hits, and one-half Vanilla Ice's greatest hits. Jackpot!

We somehow grew tired of this pretty quickly and put in Weezer's blue album for the rest of the drive.

San Antonio!

Very cool city from the get go. We hit the heart of downtown as far as I can tell. We drove around longer than we felt like it trying to get a good hotel close to the famous Riverwalk. We finally landed at a Holiday Inn and got a room on the 18th floor. Tension at this point was a bit high. It was 11:30am or so when we checked in. We parked the car in the hotel garage, grabbed our necessities, and went straight upstairs to sleep.

The hotel is pretty nice. There is an outdoor roof-pool on the 7th floor that we can see from our room's balcony. We have not gone down there. Somehow, I managed to dig up my Priority Club membership from my road trip days in college that I had forgotten about. This got us a 2-hour extended check out (to 2pm) and 10% off in the hotel restaurant ("Windows on the Riverwalk").

The room itself has a big flat screen TV with no HD. We hardly turned it on. We have a tiny balcony with a decent view of the city. And we have a king size bed. We both fell instantly asleep at about noon. Neither one of us budged until about 4pm.

This officially ends the first leg of our journey. Miles driven: over 1,000. Stay tuned later tonight (hopefully) for a second entry detailing our exploits in San Antonio.

Author's Note: For those of you reading this who took IP with me last semester, look what we found in Austin!