Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Road Trip: Fatigue and Roaches

Please tell me that was not a roach that just crawled up the wall.

I didn’t want to believe it, but it was a roach that just crawled up the wall. I very reluctantly climbed out of the bed, in my pajamas, to scope out the scene. I walked over to the side of the room where the roach had been and peeked around for more. I had the unfortunate pleasure of discovering one wedged between the doorframe, one beneath the table by the window, one underneath the air conditioning unit, and one in the closet. Then I stopped looking. It was time to go.

How did I manage to get ready for bed, put on my pajamas, and close my eyes without noticing a single roach, you ask? Well that is simple–the fatigue had reached a whole new level. I had already gotten to the point of bombarding my companion with the ridiculous inquiry of, “where are we again?” at least once each day. And on top of being mentally spent, we had just lugged all of our belongings up two flights of stairs because the elevator was nowhere to be found. Now, this is a routine we are quite accustomed to at this stage in our travels. Park car, take out bags, put bags in room, sleep, take everything out the next morning, move on. However, on this particular night, because the location of the hotel did not give us warm and fuzzy feelings of safety, we decided to take our bikes down from the rack on the car and into the room, just to be on the safe side. So yes, I rolled a full sized bicycle up two flights of stairs–one step at a time. It was so ridiculous and I was so tired, I burst into giggles in the middle of the staircase, making the moving of the bikes all the more difficult. Funny how delirious we can be when sleep-deprived. Needless to say, once I was finally in the room and settled under the covers, I did not want to move one inch. I had zero energy to notice roaches, but once they start scurrying around in plain sight, I have no choice. There was no way we could stay here for two nights.

We had finally arrived in Washington D.C.–well technically Arlington as D.C. hotels did not suit our very low budgets, and we were exhausted. We had spent the better part of the day exploring Monticello in Virginia and rediscovering what a multifaceted person Thomas Jefferson was. We walked in the footsteps of his former slaves and tried to imagine how life must have been for them. It was a history packed day, and after visiting D.C.’s famous Ben’s Chili Bowl upon arrival and devouring two orders of chili cheese fries, one chili dog, and a chili burger between us (the chili was that good), we now had food coma on top of fatigue. I just wanted to close my eyes.

We trudged back down the two flights of stairs and headed for the lobby hoping to get our money back and be on our way with minimal struggle. Oh, how naïve we were.

Exhibit A
We were met with a short, portly older woman who was ready for a fight. We explained the situation and she demanded we show her the roaches, because in all her 18 years of working here, she has never had such a complaint. She behaved as though we had planted our own roaches, and were trying to scam the hotel out of whatever measly money they might have had. Luckily, we had a handy photograph of Exhibit A, the roach in the doorframe, for evidence. “Well I can only refund you for tomorrow night because you have already used the room tonight,” she told us sternly. WHAT?! Now I was ready for battle. Unloading your belongings and spending thirty minutes in a room only to discover it had roaches, hardly counts as using it. I told her very nicely, that was completely unacceptable. She followed with, “Well, I couldn’t refund your room anyhow because you booked with Hotels.com and they have to cancel it, I will upgrade you to a new room.”

Exhibit B
We did not want any rooms in this place, but for the sake of sleeping and ending the battle, we accepted. We asked her what she was planning to do if we found roaches in the new room to which she barked, “Honey, if you do, you come and talk to me because that’s just not going to happen.” Okay. We headed up to the room and walked right past the previously elusive elevator. We inserted the key apprehensively, opened the door and found a new roach perched almost mockingly right on the wall above the bed. Second round of giggles. We marched back to the lobby, and now the male manager wanted to see Exhibit B, the roach above the bed, for himself. He walked back up with us, ended the life of the roach that was clearly there, apologized profusely, and told us that in his 13 years of working here, he had never had this problem. How crazy that they had their first ever large influx of roaches on the very night of our arrival.

By the time we reached the lobby, the woman had already processed our refund for the two nights. Hmm, she must have waved her magic wand and gotten the cancellation from Hotels.com just like that. We unloaded the car, took the bikes back down via elevator this time, and were gone.

Fighting to keep my eyes open, I entered the room in the new, cleaner, safer looking hotel, scanned it for roaches and only found one, dead, way in the corner beneath the safe. At least it was dead. Bags out again, then I am just going to close my eyes…

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Road Trip: Happiness in Daytona Beach

It was a far, far cry from the Everglades.

I laid on the smooth sand in the cozy Daytona Beach night air and let the warm water roll over me. It seemed worlds away from the hot tent, viscous mosquitoes, and the bathroom lizard of nights prior. As far as I was concerned, everything was perfect.

We had stumbled upon what felt like the greatest little place on Earth–or at least in Daytona Beach, the Sand Castle Motel. It was adorable. And it was a stone's throw from the beach, literally. The faded pastel yellow of the building was warm and inviting, and the sign at the front read: "Welcome Back." It was almost as though they already knew you would fall in love, and return to the Sand Castle one day.

The room had everything. Recliner chairs for watching tv, a full kitchen complete with dishes, and even a little dining table. But it was the toothbrush holder that got me. It was just like spending summers and Granny's when everything felt just right. Although I didn't put my toothbrush in it, because really, you just never know–but it still made me happy.

We stayed in the room just long enough to sort ourselves out, and then we grabbed a flashlight and headed for the beach. It was dark, but the ocean has a way of speaking to me, so it didn't matter that all I could see was my very next step and only with the help of the flashlight.

There aren't very many things that can beat a night on the beach. I let the gentle waves splash up against my belly as I looked out on the darkened ocean and took it all in. I could have stayed here forever. And the best part was that there was no place else I needed to be. We couldn’t help but relish in the perfection of the moment, the feeling of absolute freedom and be grateful all over again for having given ourselves the opportunity to experience it.

This is what I travel for, for these moments of absolute contentment, for the feeling of not wanting to be any other place than right where you are.  I travel for the thrill of being somewhere new, exploring something new, and experiencing something new. I live for this feeling and I am determined to capture it as often as I can. 

I understand that there will come a time for being practical and not running off on this trip and that (and according to my depleting bank account and concerned parents–that time should be very soon), but you can’t be perfectly practical all the time or life will fly past you on its way to see the world. You have to be a little bit crazy to just pick up and decide to live. You have to be a little bit crazy to take a month long road trip across the country without really having the funds to back it or any prospects of collecting the funds to repay it. I know I have my fair share of crazy, but everyone needs at least some of it. Without it, you are just trapped in practicality (which is okay if you like that kind of thing). It saddens me to hear people say, “I wish I could do that,” when I share my travel stories. I always wonder why they can’t. I don’t believe they are physically chained and bolted to their desks, although they may feel that way. I know that I don’t have anything that they do not, especially not money. Perhaps I have just reclaimed the key to the lock on my bolt and chain, and unlocked it. I think the only thing missing is a little courage; that little dose of crazy that is responsible for some of the more exciting moments in life. If there is something you want to do, do it before you get too old/tired/sick to enjoy it. 

Sure I might be a little broke, but everyone I know that is making money, would rather be at the beach right now. I am happy to have this life. I am happy to have given myself the freedom to live. I’ll keep my little bit broke and little bit crazy if it gets me to a beach in Daytona while my friends and family sit in the monotonous confines of their cubicles. I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Not even for the snakeskin gladiator pumps at Nordstrom that refuse to stop calling my name…yes, beach is better than shoes. Beach is better than shoes…beach is…Sigh.

Daytona was a beautiful reminder of everything that is great about quitting your job...

*NOTE: There are no pictures because sometimes you just cannot capture a perfect moment. Especially at night without a fancy camera. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Road Trip: Camping in the Everglades

Yes, camping round two, in the Everglades. Hmm, ‘is camping in the Everglades during summer a good idea?’ you ask. No. No it isn’t.

When the park ranger said, “We have a slight mosquito problem,” that should have been red flag number one. Actually, when the woman at the Everglades welcome center responded quite haughtily to our inquiry about the campsite with a definitive, “I don’t camp,” that should have been red flag number one. So red flag number two then. Of course you would expect there to be some mosquitoes as you are in the Everglades after all, but if the ranger specifically mentions that there is a problem, there must be a problem.

Evidently, red flags do not faze us because we were fully prepared to make this a true camping experience, complete with a campfire and marshmallows. We went on what felt like a scavenger hunt for firewood. I guess no one really needs firewood in a humid, marshy area. The store employees gave us quite a few you-must-be-from-out-of-town looks as they repeatedly told us they didn’t have any. Scrap wood from Home Depot would have to do. We had a fantastic dip in the warm, clean waters of the beach on Marco Island, stopped for some yummy chicken from Publix, and headed back. It had been a great day.

And then it was time to camp. This time, in what must have been an effort to redeem himself for the last tent assembly, my companion had the tent up in 3 minutes and 10 seconds. We started the fire and sat out on nice chairs and waited to roast our marshmallows. And then the mosquitoes came. And they came out in full force. We ducked and slapped them off for about ten minutes before deciding to wait in the tent for the fire to get bigger. And then the rain came. And the mosquitoes came to the tent. We swatted and annihilated them with a pair of jeans since we had nothing else and then decided we could do without marshmallows. We were not leaving the tent again. Well, at least I wasn’t.

It was probably about 80 degrees inside the tent. We were equipped with a mesh tent to allow for breathing, but since the rain had arrived, we had to cover it with the waterproof shield. So it was hot. Strange bubbling sounds started coming from the swampy pond behind the tent and I was sure it was the sound of alligators crawling out of the water and straight for us. I had the car keys in hand and an escape route planned if I needed to flee. I was scared.

But it was the buzzing that killed me. I have officially decided that the maddening and incessant buzzing of flying creatures is one of the most terrible sounds in existence. The mosquitos/bugs/dragonflies or whatever was lurking around in the muggy night refused to stop buzzing! I kept fanning them from my ears as I was somewhere between sleep and wake, only to realize once the buzzing had completely woken me up, that it was coming from outside the tent. There was nothing I could do. In a quick effort to prevent me from going insane, my camping companion suggested I listen to my ipod. Good idea. The soothing sounds of steel drums replaced the ridiculous buzzing and I didn’t go completely out of my mind. Although, I am sure I will have nightmares about the buzzing.

For once, I wanted morning to come quickly, but it decided to take its sweet time. When it finally arrived at 6:30 am, I was ready. Ready to be done with this “adventure.” I took out my cutest undergarments and my cutest outfit and headed to the showers (which were surprisingly the best part of the whole camping experience–minus the lizard that was keeping me company). I wanted to feel as far away from the hot, fatigued, mosquito-bitten, and overall disgusting feeling that I awoke with. So, if cute clothes would help me get there, it was worth a try. I took a long, lovely, hot shower, got dressed and was feeling great. As I headed to the mirror to fix up my hair, I was horrified to discover seven huge red splotches from mosquito bites on my face! I looked ridiculous! Now, instead of looking nice and feeling good, I looked like some kind of glamorized freak with a disease on her face! Sigh. What’s a girl to do? At least we were finally leaving; no more Everglades for me. But it really was not a cute look for heading to Miami...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Road Trip: What I've Learned in a Week

It’s been one week on the road. In the greater scheme of a month long road trip, one week is not much. But when considering that we have been traveling non-stop for one week, covered 10 states 13 cities, and packed in tons of activities, it seems like a lot. There have been great places and weird places, tedious drives and pleasant drives and lots of lessons learned in between. This is what road travel has taught me in one week:

The Lorraine Motel
Some places cannot be fully understood unless you are there. You cannot always live vicariously through someone else, through travel books, through the travel channel, or through this blog (J). The imposing nature of the Grand Canyon, or the surreal feeling of standing where Dr. Martin Luther King was killed, cannot move you the way it should if you are not there.

It’s not camping without s’mores. Yes, we set up camp, slept in tent, and used questionable toilets buried in the forest, but it still didn’t feel like camping without the campfire and the s’mores. Must at least bring marshmallows next time.

GPS doesn’t know everything. Although it is a genius invention and has for the most part made things much easier, sometimes a GPS just needs some human practical reasoning. It doesn’t always know when roads are closed and just can’t admit when it’s wrong. As old school as it may seem, road maps and atlases are still handy.

Rotten avocadoes have a really, really foul smell. If you are going to pack avocados, fruit, or anything perishable in your bag of road snacks, be sure to keep them in your main line of sight. Forgetting any of these items in the sweltering hot car for five days will not bode well for the smell inside the car. It is actually pretty revolting.

Pandora is the greatest musical invention ever. It is better than two full ipods. It is better than an old cd collection. It is better than your road trip companion trying to sing to you. It has everything you have ever wanted, and some things you didn’t even know you wanted. It is almost like Pandora knows you, knows your innermost favorite music. I’m only sorry it took me four days and lots of repeat songs to have this epiphany.

Beignets should be sold everywhere. Period.

Not every Travel Channel endorsed restaurant has good food. The food always looks delicious when we see Adam devouring it on Man V. Food, or Anthony enjoying it in style on No Reservations. But some places just don’t live up to the hype. It helps to check out other reviews before going on an all out Travel Channel food tour.

Some pet peeves and small annoyances are better left unmentioned. If you are going to be on the road, especially for any length of time, you cannot fuss about everything. If the trivial frustration is not going to matter in ten minutes, don’t say anything at all. I suppose I should have already known this from the, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ mantra, but sometimes things have to be relearned. 

A great companion makes ALL the difference. If they keep you fed, are always mindful of your safety, and enjoy similar activities to you, you’re in business. It also helps if they already know you well and like you anyway.

*NOTE: This was written at the one week mark, but two nights sans any semblance of wifi delayed the post)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Road Trip: For the Love of the Music

She just wanted to hear the music.

Dressed in a cap and sweats with a rag over her shoulder, the littlest old lady surfaced from the ‘Employees Only’ section somewhere at the back of the room. She appeared to have just finished, or been in the process of cleaning something. She strolled quietly over to the piano on the stage and took a seat.

We had stumbled upon the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park by chance as we left the French Market and the intense mugginess of the day. The place was completely void of visitors but filled with an abundance of free information on the history of jazz in New Orleans. And it was air-conditioned.

We perused the 'Jazz Gumbo,' an interactive platform detailing the medley of instruments that make up a jazz band, and how each sound is relevant. I was able to get a taste of the inner workings of the music. Just as I pressed the button for saxophone, Fats Domino instead replaced the sample music I was hearing. I rounded the corner to see where the powerful sound was coming from, and it was her. The little old lady had sat down to play and a beautiful outpouring of jazz came through her fingertips. She was great.

We took a seat to enjoy this now free concert at the free venue with the free cool air. We like free. She played with such focus that she never even noticed her audience until we clapped at the end. We were irrelevant. She was just playing for the love of the music.

We thanked her for playing and she was embarrassed for having messed up. We assured her that we hadn’t even noticed, because we really hadn’t. She told us that when she tries to play Fats, sometimes she gets him and sometimes she doesn’t, almost like the music either comes to her or not. She said that sometimes she can only remember how to play half of a song and can't finish the rest. Old age has caught her, but her love of the music is undying. She was excited just to be talking about it. As we got ready to leave, she smiled at us in all of her toothless glory and said: “Y’all should come back on Saturdays. That’s when the big band comes and they really tears it up.”

If only we were going to be here longer than 24 hours.

Great music filled the rest of our day and evening as a live band played while we enjoyed a snack at Café Du Monde, and then later when we hit Bourbon Street to sample the N’awlins night life. A band of about ten or so young men played the best jazz I have truly ever heard live in my life. They played right on the corner of the street to an audience of passersby and some loyal supporters. It was awesome.

Traveling up Bourbon Street can be kind of a sensory overload. There are all kinds of different things going on all over the place, some much crazier than others. Your evening on Bourbon Street can be spent in a drunken stupor sipping hand grenades or fish bowls 
Maison Bourbon
(local drinks), booty shaking on the dance floor, and engaging in whatever other vices strike your fancy. Or, you can spend a quiet evening enjoying some of the best jazz or blues around. I was in a classy mood, so of course, I opted out of the booty shaking and instead wandered into Maison Bourbon and took a seat. Dedicated the preservation of jazz, this place was a quiet sanctuary from the crazed behavior taking place outside its walls. The jazz was as sophisticated as the men playing it in their shirts and ties. It was nice to sample different ends of the musical spectrum in the French Quarter. Maybe I’ll try the booty shaking next time.

New Orleans is truly alive with music. It will make you want to dance, sing, and be a musician (or date one) all at the same time. Maybe I’ll find my musician in the days ahead…

Friday, September 3, 2010

Road Trip: I am Tired!

The driving is exhausting. Period. And while the thrill of passing through one place to the next and having a new adventure each day is really great, I'm tired!

Most of each day is spent driving, only to arrive at a place in the evening, grab something to eat, and find a place to sleep. Then it's early to rise, pack in the sightseeing, and get on the road and drive. Then drive, drive, and drive some more. It would be one thing if we were passing by beautiful scenery and coming across great stopping points for photo-ops, or cute roadside cafés, but we are not. Instead, we are driving on roads where all you can see to either side of you is nothing (or red rocks in the Southwest). 

The cars on the road are fairly sparse and you are usually sandwiched between a truck or three. And to make matters worse, when driving at night, everyone wants to play the bright lights game. Now, this is a very delicate matter. You must turn off your bright lights at precisely the right moment or else you are in trouble. Accidentally forget to turn them off, and the driver will flash you repeatedly with blindingly bright lights. Turn them off too late and you may still get flashed. Turn them off too early and the oncoming driver might think you never turned them off because your regular lights are bright enough, and flash you anyway! We spent the better part of the drive trying to find just the right time to turn off the bright lights and were met with flashes, honks, and only the occasional polite driver that did nothing. It seems the best bet is to turn them off just as you see your opponent turn off their own. Oh the things you learn on a road trip.

And the music has run out. You would think between two ipods filled with songs, that you could get pretty far without hearing much twice. But 2,400 miles later, I am hearing repeats. I have actually had moments of longing for my old cd collection, just to get a little variety. 

Some days the food is really tasty and I am saddened that I must leave it behind, and some days we eat nasty pre-made burgers from gas station cafés if we don't get the timing right. My camera dies on a regular basis and I am forced to post blogs if and whenever I can because in these desolate dead zones, I have no idea when my next internet fix will be. And sometimes when I am faced with the option of going out on the town after a long day of driving/sightseeing/driving, I almost, just almost, want to say no, curl up in my pajamas, and close my eyes. 

But this is the greatest adventure. I have seen more of my own country in the last three days than I have seen in the last three years–or really ever. I have experienced a million wonderful (and strange) things that I would never otherwise be discovering. So, I will take my copious amounts of driving, various nasty burgers, and severe lack of sleep any day. I can sleep when I get home. Or maybe on the beach in Florida...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Road Trip: Grand Canyon Unlit and Illuminated

Never arrive at a campsite at night, especially for your first visit, and especially if you have any inclination towards wimpy-ness.

It was way too dark. And it was cold. All we could see were shadows of the looming forest trees, the barely discernable street signs and the occasional brave (or slightly crazy) person headed into the blackened forest for a nighttime shower. I was just a little bit leery.

Okay, time to set up. We shone the headlights toward our lot and took down the camping gear. Well, when I say “we” I really mean my much more savvy camping companion, who very confidently claimed that he could assemble the tent with his eyes closed. Don’t need my help? Great, no argument here. I’ll just sit patiently in the warm safety of the car, and write. Lost in my thoughts and words, I hardly noticed when ten minutes later the tent was still in a flat pile on the ground. Maybe I should be helping…the consideration of lending a hand vanished as quickly as it appeared when I saw an unidentified flying creature breeze by the windshield. I’m sure he can figure it out on his own.

He eventually got it, lined it with sleeping pads, bags, and warm blankets. After a quick cup of hot tea courtesy of Jetboil (the greatest camping invention of all time) it was time for bed. Thankfully, the pure exhaustion of the day kept my wimpy fears at bay and I fell asleep.

The morning came faster than I wanted it to, but since we had missed the sunset over the Canyon last night, we had to catch the sunrise. So at 5:30 am (I hope this ridiculously early rising is not becoming a habit) we loaded up and headed for the nearest Canyon viewpoint. We were just a tiny bit late for sunrise–it had kind of already risen–but it didn’t matter.


Awestruck would not do justice to the feeling I had when the Grand Canyon first came into view. This natural wonder is beyond amazing. Its vastness is something that cannot be explained or comprehended unless you are standing at the Canyon’s mercy on your own two feet. It was bigger, grander, and more incredible than I could have ever imagined. As I stood at an unnerving point to pose for photos, I was literally and figuratively at the edge of life. I had never felt more alive–or freaked out–but I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

We took a bike ride around the rim in the 56-degree morning air. It was cold and the air was thin, so I didn’t last long before taking a much needed food break. A peek into the Hopi house to look at the beautiful, hand-made Native American treasures, and a full tummy later, it was time to head back. The difference between the Grand Canyon unlit in the starry night and illuminated in the morning sun was stark. Its glory is much better appreciated in the safety of daylight. It is sad to leave this place knowing that we have barely scratched the surface, but our time was well spent. I am sure the power of this Grand Canyon will call me again one day and I will come running. But for now, on to New Mexico…
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