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The Great American Road Trip

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Day 37: On The Home Again, I just can't wait to get on the home again

Oakland, United States

We stopped for breakfast at an amazing truck stop on our way back home to Oakland recommended by a book I bought in Chicago called Roadfood. The book has been hit or miss, but this one was a hit. 24hr restaurant, velvet painting gallery, western store, and fiberglass dinosaur park all in one. Yee Ha! Just before the trip started I was talking to my friend Scott about Monte Cristo sandwiches. Ham, cheese and Turkey separated by three pieces of bread, egg battered, deep fried, and sprinkled with confectioners sugar. Today I had one. For breakfast.

We took I-5 the whole way home. I-5 is by far the most boring road in the country. I would know. There is nothing on that drive but farm after farm and then you get to Cowschwitz. Thousands of cows waiting to be turned into yummy steaks and hamburger. Gross. Yum. Gross. Yum. I can't decide, but am hungry.

We drove all the way to Oakland and decided to stop for dinner at my favorite Laotian restaurant (What ocean? Laotian.)Champa Garden

And then I drove home and stroked Peanut for a good long while.
Now I need to figure out what I'm going to do with my life. Wish me luck.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on October 7, 2008 from Oakland, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 36: Joshua Tree

Twentynine Palms, United States

We woke up this morning on route 66. My iphone has a bug when it comes to some pictures sometimes screws them up and makes them unusable, but sometimes it does this:


We drove through the Colorado and Mojave Deserts on our way to Joshua Tree National Park. Crossing the California State line was fun. I was home, but not really. Northern, Southern and Central California really are different states in mindset, but as I learned on this trip, each state has its different areas and the lines drawn between municipalities are arbitrary. We love to draw the lines for political and monetary reasons, but the lines get really blurry psychologically. We'll fight to the death to defend them, but it seems so silly.

Joshua Tree is an alien landscape. The "trees" blur the lines between tree and plant. Joshua Trees are Yuccas. A Yucca is not a tree, but a Joshua Tree is.

They are alien looking. Add that to the crazy jumble of boulders and rocks and you have the background of a Star Trek episode. We climbed and hiked for a bit, but mostly drove around in awe of our surroundings.

In a weird bit of irony, the camp site we chose turned out to be the same site that Heather and I camped in 8 years ago while on our Honeymoon. I didn't realize it at the time, but hiking around the area suddenly brought on the type of Deja Vu that isn't imaginary. What's the significance of that do you think? I choose too see it positively. Heather and I had 12 years of joy and this was one of those joyous places. Maybe the universe wants to give me a second shot at life long happiness. So far so good.

Here's a ring shot. I couldn't get it to focus, but its at least a visual.

And here's us being cute with our shadows

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on October 6, 2008 from Twentynine Palms, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 35: The road home

Seligman, United States

We're in love. It's true.

We shipped out of Albuquerque unclear of our destination for the day, but very clear about the destination for our lives.

I tried unsuccessfully to find a Couch Surfing host in Flagstaff, AZ, so we drove until we didn't. Catching a highway sign somewhere in New Mexico for an Ice Cave called Fire and Ice, we pulled off and drove 20 Miles down a scenic road to a family run attraction at the base of a volcano.

For 9 dollars, we hiked to the top of a volcano and then hiked down to a collapsed lava tube that had the right conditions to make an ice cave.
I love these volcanic landscapes. You may remember near the start of my trip that I went to another Ice Cave in Idaho. This one was smaller, but its the black volcanic rock and the life that grows there that I love and jumped at the chance to share with Justine.

We drove through New Mexico, into Arizona, and passed Flagstaff to a Route 66 town called Seligman for the night in a nice motel.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on October 5, 2008 from Seligman, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 34: She Does!

Albuquerque, United States

Well, the big day was here at last. What? You didn't know there was a big day? Well, there was, but it was a secret. Two and a half years ago I met this wonderful woman who introduced herself as Sparkle Bottom. I said "I bet you are" I learned quickly that her name was also Justine Smith and she is that too. I was wearing an electric orange fun fur coat, a Fox eared hat, bright orange glasses and ice skates. She was wearing a hot pink psychedelic spandex jumpsuit and was lacing up thigh high white pvc boots. I was also on a date with someone else. We shared a few compliments and realized that we had exchanged emails on tribe.net a few weeks before about an event that I was helping organize. I excused myself as I didn't want to be rude to my date and she found that charming.
A few days later we were chatting online and soon she was on her way down to San Francisco on a regular basis to visit with me. She was just getting out of a long term relationship, graduating from UC Davis and looking forward to moving to San Francisco having reinvented herself as a responsibly hedonistic landscape architect. I helped her move into her apartment, though she wound up staying there rarely and instead slept at my apartment in Oakland, would drive with me into the city every morning and gal around town until it was time for me to drive home.
She eventually moved to Oakland, though not to my apartment and she saw very little of her Oakland apartment as well. She and I officially moved in together in October of last year and have been living an idyllic life ever since.

Justine and I share a passion for passions. She's a geek about plants and living things. I'm a geek about a rotating list of too many things to list here. We feed off of each other's fascinations on a daily basis. She laughs at my jokes no matter how old they get and I love it when she gets crafty.

I am madly in love with this woman. How is it that I have had the great fortune to have had two great loves in my life and that they loved me back with the same force and vigor? My relationship with Justine benefits from having learned valuable lessons from my relationship with Heather. I no longer need someone else to validate me(though it is nice). I no longer need to fix someone else(though I love her). She and I can walk through life as partners, side by side, sharing in each other's passions and sorrows.

About a month and a half ago I got word that my divorce was final. I picked up the phone, called my mother and got the ball rolling on asking Justine to marry me. I then called her parents to ask for their daughter's hand in marriage. They were giddy and excited. The plan that eventually developed was to have my mother and sister fly out to Albuquerque (where her parents live) under the guise that they were there for the International Balloon Fiesta, one of Justine's favorite events. While I was in New York, Sandy Mionis, a very dear friend of my mothers, somewhat of an aunt to me and a jeweler selected a handful of antique engagement rings for me to look at. It was a tough process as I wanted something simple and antique looking, but kept coming back to this deco star burst ring which was so radiant that I couldn't pass it up. Sandy had my grandmother's engagement diamond set in it 24 hours later and my mother wore it on her hand on the plane ride to New Mexico.

This morning we all got up around 5 am and dragged ourselves to a parking lot where we boarded a school bus that took us to the fairgrounds where 700 hot air balloons were rolling out and beginning to inflate with air. There is nothing quite like standing in a field with 100,000 other people all weaving their way through miles of multi colored fabric with the sun rising, teams of balloonists preparing their hundred foot tall envelopes of propane fueled air. There were balloons in various stages of ascent all morning long. Long rows of them, 30 or more side by side- some rows beginning life as flapping fabric filling up with cold air from large industrial sized fans, their baskets laying on their side, other rows billowing mounds of ever expanding kaleidoscopes of color. They crowd each other as they grow a hundred feet tall, breathing to life as plumes of fire are shot up deep inside of them until they reach that balance point of air pressure. They float off the ground slightly as the team makes final preparations and then in a cheer each one goes up and up and up, filling the sky with rainbows, castles, stars, Darth Vader helmets, advertising slogans, and cartoon characters. It's intense. For three hours they continue to fill up, lift off and then join in the grand march of hundreds of others down the canyon, getting smaller as they get further away only to be replaced with dozens of other balloons seconds later.

At the peak of the fiesta, at its most intense, I turned to Justine and said "Isn't this Amazing?" looking away at some new balloon getting ready to lift off, she replied "Yeah!" I said "I have something that will make it even more amazing" and pulled out the ring box. She looked at me somewhat puzzled, caught a glimpse of the ring as I said "Will you marry me?" Completely overwhelmed (which is her favorite thing to be,) tears welling up, she mouthed yes. We laughed and cried, our families cried and laughed all crowding into each other creating a moment of intimacy amongst a throng of sensory overload.

The rest of the Balloon fiesta was a blur, but it didn't matter. We were in love and excited for our future. I don't remember much of the rest of the day. We went for breakfast, went home, passed out, woke up later that afternoon, shared a champagne toast, eat some steak, tried to go see the night balloon event, though it was canceled due to rain, watched All of Me, and fell asleep, all giddy and ebullient.

Here, look at these pictures.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on October 4, 2008 from Albuquerque, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 33: Tex Mex

Albuquerque, United States

My mother brought bagels from New York and I went out to get lox for them. We ate breakfast around the dining room table all the while making yummy sounds. I had forgotten to get the cream cheese while at the sotre and we learned that fig flavored goat cheese makes an excellent substitute.

Today was a bit o the lazy side as it was more about the getting to know yous than anything else, however we did manage to get in some good local food and quality local artist shopping. When my folks and sister were here 14 years ago they developed a taste for Sopapillas, a fried sweet dough that you serve hot and fill with honey. We looked up on the iphone the best place to go and drove to Garcia's kitchen for some authenic New Mexican food.

Never has a state name told me more about a cuisune than New Mexico. The food was Mexican, but new. There are no such things as sopapillas in Mexico, they also have their own versions of most "traditional" dishes and we all enjoyed each dish that we ordered. Here is my mom, Judy (on the left) and Justine's mom, Elizabeth (on the right) just before we tore into the sweet dough in front of us.
We then drove over to 4th street where I immediately found a hat shop and we all tried on our western versions of hat wear. Justine and I both got hats there, though I thought everyone should have come away with a hat. It was more dress up for them than serious shopping, but all had fun and I got another hat to add to the wall.

Across the street was a wholesale Navajo artisan shop which sparkled, shined and ran away with our money. We each bought something special and played dress up yet again, only this time nearly everyone bought something to adorn themselves or others. They also had a series of Navajo dolls and I took a fancy to a series of the them called Watermelon Clowns. Here's a close up of one of the faces. the rest of the photos I took of them came out too blurry to use here. I need to do more research into the significance of them.

We closed the shop down and then wandered across the street to an art gallery featuring the works of some acquaintances of Elzabeth's and Neil's. Really beautiful work. Here's Neil and I (wearing my new hat)

We leave early tomorrow morning (5am!) to catch the a shuttle over to the Balloon Fiesta. I can't wait. In more than one way ;) Some of you know why, the rest will hopefully find out tomorrow. Stay tuned. It should be exciting.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on October 3, 2008 from Albuquerque, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 32: The Texas Pan Handle

Amarillo, United States

The area surrounding Amarillo Texas is pretty sparse. What there is however are a few roadside attractions based around burying vehicles up to their dashboards at a 45 degree angle and letting people spray paint them. The first and most famous of these is called Cadillac Ranch.
There are at least two copycat attractions in the area, though we only got to see one of them- the VW Slug Bug Ranch
There is also one featuring Combine Harvesters, though we missed that one. They are low brow art at their finest. They celebrate what they are burying by featuring them in a different light to draw your attention to them, then they allow you the visitor to partake in the art of them by decorating them however you please. This mostly takes the shape of writing your name and the year you visited, but that's just as valuable to the more "artistic" contributions made for we give greater value to artistic works when someone signs and dates it. It's such a human thing to do- To leave our mark; To say I was here. I opted for some stripes in fluorescent pink from a can left over by some other American artist circa 2008. I'm sure Jon n' Harriet 10/08 will be covering it shortly.

We stayed with a really awesome Couch Surfing host named Carl in his house just outside of Amarillo. Carl grew up in the pan handle of Texas and loves to take road trips like the one we are on. We did what we seem to do will every couch surfer we stay with- swap stories. He tipped us off to Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest Canyon in the US, second only to the Grand Canyon which we hit in the morning. Carl has a really sweet Pug mutt named Buddy and Justine and him got some serious bonding in.

Carl was great and I hope he comes to stay with us in Oakland on his next trip. We shoed him some pictures of Burning Man and I think we'll be seeing him on the playa in the near future.

On our way out of Texas we went to the canyon which was beautiful as advertised. We hiked a lovely mile long trail and back and took in some serious pretty.
All through the day we were followed by vintage Jaguars with right side steering wheels and British plates. After stopping our car in a lookout in the canyon, we got to talking with some of the drivers of said foreign vehicles and learned that they were part of a 60 car caravan of British Jaguar enthusiasts who shipped their cars from London to Chicago and were driving Route 66 from Chicago to LA. Brilliant.

We got to Albuquerque and were greeted by Justine's parents whom I adore and love learning from. We had dinner, petted their cat Blacky Browny and then drove to the Airport to pick up my mother and sister. The introductions went very well as assumed and then we all retired for the night.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on October 2, 2008 from Amarillo, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 31: To be, or.....

Oklahoma City, United States

I woke up early in the cabin with an epiphany about my future and what this whole bar thing really wants to be. I've been wrestling with what shape the bar should take for what I want is not actually a bar, but a creative space for my hedonistic friends to hang out in and the only way I can figure out how to make that financially viable is to sell booze. When talking with The owner of a former bar called The Odeon in San Francisco which is serving as a bit of inspiration for my bar-to-be I asked him why he decided to close it down. He told me that he was tired of watching his friends turn into alcoholics. This is a real issue for me. I myself have a slight allergy to alcohol, never developed the taste for it and have noticed a shortness of patience with drunks. I like my hedonism to be in the responsible category and I think that a lot of people use Alcohol to numb themselves to life instead of using it to free themselves of their mental barriers to creativity. I want a place that sponsors creativity, not numbs it. How then to open a profitable bar that turns away serious drinkers? I realized in my sleep that what I want is not a bar, but a living and breathing creative think tank that includes amongst other things artist studios, industrial arts space, public performance spaces, event spaces, and, oh yes, a bar that serves as town hall, conference room, and gallery. It's sort of crazy, but it hit me that I was thinking too small about what I want my future to look like and that I needed to harness the energies of my friends looking for something new, take advantage of the economic downturn's effects on the commercial real estate market as well as the spate of closings of some of the better known underground artists spaces in the Bay Area. There is so much more to be said, but I have faith and for now that's all I need.

Okay, back to my trip. The one involving my car, Justine and the road.

Oklahoma City looks so so pretty goes the song Take a Trip on Route 66 and it really is a pretty city. Tired of pounds of pork laced in tangy smoky sauce and the fat stewed vegetables that accompany it, we opted instead for Sushi for lunch. In Oklahoma of all places. The trusted knowledge box found us a great place to satisfy our raw fish craving and we were well satisfied. We then took a dime tour through Oklahoma City and found their botanical garden called the crystal bridge which is an I.M. Pei designed tube shaped building that hovers over a man made river side park

complete with minimalist Shakespearean stage
We wandered around the park for a while and then headed for Amarillo, TX

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on October 1, 2008 from Oklahoma City, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 30: I miss Bill

Little Rock, United States

Today began a sort of mad dash across the Southwest. The days of 4 hour dives between cities and of taking 2 lane roads are over and we are on a mission to get to Albuquerque by Thursday night so that we can be there when my mother and sister arrive in prep for the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta Saturday morning. It's the meeting of the mothers and Justine and I want to be there for it.

Our only stop of the day was in Little Rock, Arkansas to visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. By act of Congress each President since the 70s must provide a place for the collection of presidential papers, speeches and other supporting documents in a library setting designed for research. Congress won't fund these libraries, but you got to have them, so in order to raise the funds to keep them going, each president has opted to erect a museum to his stay in the White House and the admission fee combined with private donations pay for them.
The Bill Clinton Museum is an open love letter to Slick Willy. I loved Clinton, wished that Gore (and when not him, Kerry) could have replaced him, but this museum was one big cigar in his lovely lady parts. There was no mention of Monika, nor any disparaging comment about his presidency. It was solid propaganda all the way through. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was a little more balanced in my mind. That said, there was plenty of fascinating history, beautiful displays of some of the presidential gifts he received
and a replica of the Oval Office as he had it, complete with the histories and symbolism of his furnishings.
We got to listen to Billy himself give us an audio tour of the museum and there was an impressive yet odd curated display of Chopper style motorcycles that nothing to do with Clinton spread throughout the museum.

After the museum we drove around Little Rock a bit looking for aplace to eat and settled on The Flying Fish, a southern fried fish place with any number of combinations of catfish, shrimps, oysters, mussels or hush puppies deep fried in cornmeal batter.

On the walls were an extensive collection of "Big Mouth Billy Bass" animatronic singing fishes. No doubt if you remember them you are shuttering right now at the thought of one of them crooning Take Me To The River and Don't Worry Be Happy. Thankfully these all had their batteries removed and I think this was to serve as a graveyard for them. Apparently they will give a basket of catfish to anyone who brings in their novelty plaque for display and retirement in the restaurant.

We also visited the Clinton museum store which was next door and bought a few choice items.

Hopping back in the car we drove through the state of Arkansas and stopped for the night in Ten Killer State Park just past he Oklahoma border.

We secured a beautiful cabin in the park, eat a dinner consisting of Tasty Bites and Dolmas, and then passed out for the night.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on September 30, 2008 from Little Rock, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 29: A hunk, a hunk of burning love

Memphis, United States

Elvis Lives!

Graceland is everything you would hope it would be. I'm sort of blogged out at the moment, but I'll say that it's big, gaudy, fabulous, ridiculous, sweet, sincere, and surprisingly authentic. Here are a few shots I took.

It took up most of our day and we were left with no time to do anything else in Memphis except.....that's right......eat more BBQ. Interstate BBQ, famous for it's Pork Shoulder sandwiches and BBQ Spaghetti. God I love pork. I'm a terrible Jew.

We hopped back in our car and sped our way towards the famous Peabody hotel in downtown Memphis.

Famous for it's daily parade of Ducks. The Duckmaster leads a flock of 6 trained ducks from their penthouse suite, down the elevator and into the fountain in the lobby at 11am and then back again at 5pm. The ducks hang out all day in the fountain and the whole hotel is decorated in Duck fashion including this bug eyed guy in their gift shop I didn't get a good picture of the actual ducks, so you'll have to use your imagination, or better yet, look it up online. I'm sure there are thousands of photos on the interwebs.

We got back to Matt's place and set about updating our blogs and looking for lodging for the next few days. Tomorrow we head to Oklahoma through Little Rock, Arkansas and are looking for a cabin in a state park to stay in. Following that we will be staying in Amarillo, TX and then on to Justine's parents hours in Albuquerque. The gas shortage seems to have passed and we never got close to running out. Amen. Here's a picture taken moments ago of Eva, the cat at Matt's apartment enjoying the taste of BBQ on my beard.

Peanut will be jealous. Don't show this to her.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on September 29, 2008 from Memphis, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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Day 28: We're going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee

Memphis, United States

One of the ubiquitous signs along the roads in the South is for Waffle House. I've been far more willing to eat in franchise restaurants if I feel that it is part of the local culture and want to immerse myself in that culture. This morning presented the perfect opportunity to do so. We had another 3 hour drive day and could afford to stop for breakfast. Pretty good. Not great, but certainly southern. The waitress was super nice to us and when Justine asked her if they sold their mugs, she shifted her eyes back and forth and asked how much it was worth to us. She packaged one up for us all stealth like and we left her a big tip.

We took more small roads into Memphis playing Elvis songs all the way, but starting out with Paul Simon's Graceland. I actually cried as I passed signs headed for Memphis. When Heather and I drove cross country a decade ago, the one place on her list that she REALLY wanted to see was Graceland. I convinced her that it was too far out of the way and never went. Now I'm headed to the home of Elvis without her and I feel guilty about it, but really excited all the same. We met up with our couchsurfing host Matt in Memphis and even though he had only lived in town for a month, gave us a great tour.We went for ribs at Central BBQ which features a dry rub instead of a wet rub which had been the norm up until that point

They also featured BBQ nachos. I'm going to need to do a cleanse when I get back, either that or get a colonic. maybe both. We ended up going down Beale Street and catching a few live acts, the best of which was a big band rehearsing for a Christmas gig.
The STAX logo was from the now defunct STAX records and displayed in a joint on Beale Street. We also listened to a great cover band that did a lot of Johnny Cash tunes mixed in with other southern songs and walked into Tater Red's Lucky Mojos and Voodoo Healings.
a sort of novelty shop/voodoo shop. A different shop on Beale sold these denture shaped ice cube trays. Brilliant. The same shop sold me a beaded American Flag vest. I can't wait to show it off. It's ridiculous.

permalink written by  JRadhirsch on September 28, 2008 from Memphis, United States
from the travel blog: The Great American Road Trip
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