31 July 2008

I'm Shippin' Up to Boston!!!

I found a place in Brighton, but I need to jump on it now. So I'm getting up at the crack of ass, and will hopefully get there by midday - since I have to be ready to deal with stuff by the start of business on the West Coast, at the latest.

But I'm going back! My last trip up the Satan's Beanstalk that is the I-95 corridor... at least for a while.

27 July 2008

Stuck Inside of Baltimore With the Boston Blues Again

With apologies to Mister Robert Zimmerman...

I had a sublet all lined up in Waltham for Sunday, but at the last minute, the kid (a Brandeis University student, the little snot) remembered that she had finals this week. Somebody get this brat a fucking day planner! So I spent Saturday running around looking for sublets, but no dice.

My friend Liv's mom is having company in from Spain on Sunday, and I've already imposed enough there. All my stuff, other than a suitcase and some personal items, is in my friend M's basement in Baltimore. I had been planning the cannonball to end all cannonballs - a twenty-hour boomerang down and back to get my stuff up to Mass. So instead of that round-trip from hell, I came down to Bawlmer for the work week, and plan to go back next weekend.

The drive is truly horrible: from Hartford to New York and from Philly to Baltimore it is pretty much all city traffic. The Mass Pike and Jersey Turnpike were my only chances to go at true freeway speed. Add some rain to that and I was well and truly shot by the time I dragged in to M's place.

It's kind of nice to be "whole" again, in the sense of being able to go pull whatever I want out of my crates. And I'm enjoying Baltimore now, with the lower humidity and without the pressure of trying to figure out how/whether I could live here. But I am looking forward to an end to the peregrinations. I'm burning up Craigslist and have a few opportunities for when I go back up. I'm ready to roost, at least for a while.

26 July 2008


When it's a beautiful day in the midst of an extended period of New England summer thunderstorms and tornadoes, and you only have a little time to have a lot of fun with someone... there's nowhere to go but up.

up up and...

I went out to the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts yesterday to meet up with my friend J. She grew up out there and returned home to go back to school and raise her kid. It's about two hours (if, um, you don't get lost as I did repeatedly) from where I am on the coast, so it was kind of a special trip. But she dragged herself and her daughter across the state to see me when I got here, and I did really want to see her and get a chance to check out the countryside, so I took a day off from work and headed out.

I picked the perfect day:

nailed it!

It's really been pouring here, lately. I told friends I really wanted to see thunderstorms after years of mild California weather. I'm over it now. Fortunately, the day cleared up pretty much perfectly.

sun at last!

Leverett, Mass. is the site of one of the Peace Pagodas built all over the world by monks of the Nipponzan Myohoji order, founded in Japan after World War II to work for world peace through prayer and pilgrimage. It seems kind of random to have it in what J repeatedly refers to as "the middle of nowhere," (what is the HTML tag for dripping scorn?) but there are actually quite a few Buddhist communities in the hills and valleys of north and west Massachusetts. It's peaceful country.


I had told J I had a surprise for her, which was mildly insane of me as I had no idea where the place was we were to go to meet the hot-air balloon. Luckily, her mom had a map and got me pointed in the right direction. I was hoping against hope that she didn't have a terrible fear of heights, as we approached the little airport in Northampton and she told me about the time she puked in a small private plane she once went up in.

I managed to keep it a secret until the very last moment, as we approached a sign that said "Pioneer Valley Balloons," and she said "no way."

I said, "way."

We got to (kind of had to) help Vinny, the pilot, fill up the balloons, which actually enhanced the experience. It is about as simple as you can imagine (fill bag with air, heat air up, fly) and as complicated as sailing without a rudder (you change directions by finding an air current at a given altitude in the direction you want to go in - otherwise you drift).

It was about as perfect an evening as you could ask for.

We found a place to land that looked really good from the air, but turned out to be a boggy mess after weeks of rain. The van coming to get us and the balloon got stuck.


My flying partner was a hell of a good sport, though, and we got out of that field at maybe 9:30, having donated about a half-pint of blood to the local mosquitoes. I managed to get myself back to Boston by about midnight. Even if I didn't love driving, I'd burn more than a tank of gas for a day like that, any time.

Clear skies, gentle winds, and soft landings to everyone.

19 July 2008

The passionate journey

In a free bin in Baltimore I found a copy of The Passionate Journey, an out-of-print novel by Irving Stone. The novel - which I thought was fiction up until a few minutes ago - is the biography of the American artist John "Wichita Bill" Noble. Noble was born in Wichita, Kan. in 1874 and was raised on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. He made paintings of the Texas plains driving cattle with his father, and later went to France to live the life of an artist. He died of alcoholism at New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1934.

I was drawn, obviously, to the title "Passionate Journey," and it's clear that Stone uses the word passion in the sense of "the passion of Christ:" an intense life filled with ecstasy and also great pain. Noble struggled with depression throughout his life, and so provides us yet another example of great art coming from great suffering.

The central theme is the artist's struggle to find meaning in his life. A recurring image is of a white buffalo, which Noble pursues in his dreams and works into his paintings. The white buffalo is a sacred symbol in many Native American traditions - as my paleface ass vaguely understands it, the white buffalo represents communication with the Creator. Noble also carries a pendant, given to him by his mother, which represents the North Star. In Noble's childhood, when his friends play a cruel prank on him, his mother points his bed towards the North Star, telling him
"...it's always there. No matter what happens to us, or to the world, that star is steadfast. It will never change, fail you. As long as you can find the North Star you'll know that you're secure."
At different times in his life, Noble finds the White Buffalo in death, in his work, in the love of his life, in himself, and ultimately in his experience of God, which he feels as the animating force in his art.

Humans are meaning-making animals. I've tried, especially in recent years, to resist the urge to create some whole conceptual overlay to my life. In a very real sense my life is my art, and the existence I have created for myself, through hard work, inspiration and lots of luck and serendipity, is my masterpiece. So I guess I could say that my White Buffalo is experience -good and bad - and the North Star that has always guided me has been freedom. (Having written that, it sounds awfully glib, but I'm sitting here reflecting on it and I can't find a reason to change it - so if it's glib it will have to remain so.)

Here's a chance for me to go a little interactive on my blog for a change: what is your White Buffalo, and what's your North Star?

16 July 2008

Hey Jack Kerouac

I was driving around Lowell, Mass. today, looking at short-term rentals. The area tends toward "run-down" as opposed to "quaint," which is not that big a deal to me. There's rather an overabundance of quaintness here in Greater Baaaston, which is nice... but a little cloying.

In any regard, driving through Lowell and seeing the working-class neighborhoods triggered a deep memory, and I had to wait until I got back to Wikipedia to confirm: Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell. I had worried it was just random neuron corruption in the twenty-five years since I wrote my senior honors English paper about On The Road.

I was kind of a wannabe beatnik in high school, as much as I was anything. I didn't really understand it, but I was drawn to Ferlinghetti and Kerouac's bebop writing styles as a kind of rebellion from the homogenized corporate blandness of the middle 80s... Ronald Reagan's "morning in America" was my teenage angst-y dark night of the soul.

At a core level, of course, I referred back to the journey of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in planning my own trip, though not in the sense of a wild odyssey living by my wits and having random drug-fueled adventures. Joseph Campbell talked about the monomyth, the heroic journey common to so many Eastern and Western mythic tales. Campbell broke the fundamental structure of this ur-myth down into stages, including:
  1. A call to adventure,

  2. A road of trials,

  3. Achieving the goal or "boon",

  4. A return to the ordinary world,

  5. Applying the boon

Campbell described the monomyth thus:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Anyway, I don't know if I faced any real "trials" in my own journey, though I did see a fair share of "supernatural wonder." So I'm still pondering what "boons" the "fabulous forces" may have bestowed or will yet bestow on me, though I certainly gained some real clarity about my life, if for no other reason than for the simplification of my life into the very immediate experience of a series of moments.

I feel like I experienced something somewhat akin to the apotheosis discussed by Campbell in my time alone in the Grand Canyon, with the culmination in the blowout conversation with D on the way to New Orleans. I definitely felt a fundamental shift after that experience, and I'm now kind of struggling to integrate it. Campbell also talks about the hero's reluctance to return to the ordinary world - and I'm certainly feeling that when I contemplate going back to the world of work.

I felt I wanted to keep the insight I received in the Grand Canyon to myself at the time and still kind of feel protective of it. The substance of the insight is really hard to communicate in words; though I did get a very clear flash that I "heard" in my mind as if it were coming from somewhere beyond me: "that which you seek, you have within yourself - what you have to do, you must do with others." I'm not going to try and speculate on whether this was God talking to me, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the hash browns I had for breakfast. It was what it was, and I've been carrying it along with me as well as the nonverbal part of the insight I received.

It's been very clear to me for a while that my quest was for a meaningful life, as I expressed in my Pursuit of Happiness post before I took off. I've often thought I would find this meaning in activism, as I see all the wounds of our world and society around me. The question of how I can make a dent in the many problems we face as a country, as a race, and as a biosphere, however, is murky at best.

The journey still continues inside me, and this may be the trickiest part. How I negotiate the twists and turns of my return to "the world" will certainly determine how I live the next phase of my life.

Meanwhile... at the end of August, Penguin Classics will be releasing the original draft of On The Road that Kerouac typed on the long scroll of tracing paper back in 1951, before Viking made him change everybody's names and edit out the sex and drugs. So, I'm going to wait to reread the book until then.

And who knows. Maybe old "Ti Jean" has something to teach me yet...

14 July 2008

Mile it-totally-doesn't-matter-anymore: Baaaaaaaaston!

It's gotten past the point where counting the miles makes any sense anymore, as I'm more kind of meandering at this point. With all the side trips, I figure I covered 4,500 miles getting from the Pacific to the Atlantic in two weeks. The GTI has performed like a champ, and I didn't get a single dent or ticket despite all that high speed hands-free driving (h/t Michelle at Bleeding Espresso Christina at The (Mis)Adventures of a Single City Chick.).Baltimore was fun, but I still was feeling the road call to me. Boston had always been intended as the furthest point of my journey, and from this point I'll either stay where I am or backtrack. I'm not feeling called to Maine, or the Maritime Provinces, and I'm really close to the coast here.

I took a side trip up to Philadelphia area to visit my friend M's sister and take in the old homeland. Philadelphia has changed in so many ways since I left for good in 1989... and, of course, at the same time hasn't changed at all. I had some forgettable fettucine at Marra's on Passyunk (note to self: recommendation from suburban Jewish moms may not be the gold standard for Italian food), and stopped in on a whim at the menswear shop a couple doors down. There I met the tailor Pasquale Sciolto, half-Italian and half-hobbit. It seemed like the guy was three feet tall. It turned out that he was from southern Abruzzo, near Molise, so we jibber-jabbered in mixed standard and dialect for a while as M goggled. I don't know if I got paesanu rate or not, but I did OK for a single-thread men's shirt, I guess.

Saturday morning early I hit the road. What amazed me is how much tolls cost on I-95 up from Baltimore. I spent $10 just on the 100 or so miles to Philly. With the Jersey Turnpike, the George Washington Bridge, and the New York Thruway, I figure I dropped about $25 on tolls alone before I even reached Connecticut. Add to that the most expensive gas of the whole journey ($4.81/gal in Southport, Conn.) and the trip to Boston was a spendy one. Also, sweaty: half of New England was trying to get to the beach towns, and 95 inexplicably runs right along the coast. I definitely won't go that way again: it was a crawl in humid heat. It took me about ten hours to reach my friend Liv's place in Ipswich.

The North Shore Boston suburbs are really great. We're in those thick Eastern woods that sort of make everything dim and cool, even though there's a fair amount of development. Also, really old homes (like, 17th century old) are not at all uncommon: Liv's boyfriend lives on the top floor of one. And there's all this nautical atmosphere around. These communities made their livelihoods from the sea for generation upon generation, and some - like Gloucester - still do. We had a few drinks at the Crow's Nest, the bar depicted in the movie A Perfect Storm (though it was not set in the real bar). These people have probably all lost someone at sea... like a wild extrusion of the eighteenth century into the twenty-first. Oh, and the drinks are cheap... and strong.

I met J, who I was friends with in San Diego, on a flawless summer Sunday in Boston's Public Garden yesterday.

The Boston Public Garden

We both remarked on how much it felt like a San Diego day... and how much nicer it was to experience that kind of day in Boston. In San Diego, it's just another day, but in Boston, it's something extraordinary. J grew up out in western Mass. but never got into Boston much; being a short distance from five colleges, she never really needed to go far for entertainment. She came back to raise her kid out here, and is, like me, checking out Boston as a place to live. On the recommendation of both her mom and one of my oldest friends, we rode a Swan Boat through the garden's lagoon with her three-year-old daughter.

a Swan Boat

We walked through the Garden and the Common, splashed in the Frog Pond, and got her daughter a totally weird balloon hat from the tweakiest street performer I've ever met:

We feel the child will make a complete recovery... given enough time and therapy.

I'm finally starting to feel a sense of having arrived - there's plenty more to see and to do (that is to say I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life!) but for now I'm kind of settling down. I'm not sure how long I'll be here, but I'm putting out tendrils and feelers, and we'll see what emerges.

I dedicated this trip to all the people who can't - or think they can't - just pick up and take off like I did. This has without a question of doubt been the best thing I've done for myself since going back to university, and maybe the best thing ever. Please, if you have even the slightest opportunity to do something random, unplanned, and adventurous - do it. The benefits far outweigh the downside risks, in my opinion.

And I speak from experience.

the trip

07 July 2008

Mile 3,758: it's Bawlmer, hon

I decided to go for the Last Cannonball, waking up early and wardriving Nashville's quiet streets for a hotspot at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. From the parking lot of a Comfort Suites near the airport, I posted a half-asleep road diary, checked my work email and hit the road. 12 hours to Baltimore!

First, last, and foremost: Appalachia is among the most beautiful places Gaia Creatrix chose to adorn her planet with. Green, green hills and wide rivers, sky and sun, rain and clouds. I drove along just loving the view out my window. I have to hike that there Appalachian Trail now.

I had this interesting experience coming up I-81, as traffic dropped from its congenial cruising speed of 80 to an uncomfortable 0 as I came around a bend:

I saw the white smoke up ahead and assumed it was a forest fire. It had been rainy for the whole trip up, but I figured maybe lightning had started a fire. In actuality... it was fog. Or mist or something, in one little valley, that was actually thick enough to stop traffic. We drove through it... no hickory-smoke odor, just rapidly attenuating Stephen King mist. Weird.

As Cannonballs go, this was an enjoyable one. Almost the whole trip was through hills and mountains, with just the last little Washington-Baltimore part being trafficky. I had completely forgotten the fact that it was the Sunday after July 4, and probably should have expected much heavier traffic on the roads. But it was an easy shot.

Baltimore is a place I am thinking about settling. It's a small city with a pretty good cultural scene, I have a job possibility here, there's a minuscule but good-enough-for-me light rail line, and one of my closest friends from high school is here and is offering me her spare room. So I'm checking it out, and there's pluses and minuses: it's pretty familiar, being culturally similar to Philadelphia where I grew up. On the minus side... it's culturally similar to Philadelphia where I grew up. But it's a very cute place - they call it, with sort of double-negative irony/civic pride, "Charm City."

There is a sort of downtown/main street area near here on 36th Street in the Hampden neighborhood that they call the Avenue - or as a street sign says, the "Aveune." Lots of cafes, bookstores, little shops, and the one who started it all (according to some accounts): Cafè Hon. A brief description of the "Hon" phenomenon, from the Cafè's website:
Hon: Pronounced "Hun" 1. can be used as a term of endearment, like sweetie, babe, honey, etc. In Bawlmer, Hon can be heard anywhere, but some neighborhoods more than others. It almost always follows any sentence, like "we're going down the ooshun... Hon." 2. A Hon is a person that takes on a certain look and/or persona, i.e. Beehive hairdo with cat's eyes glasses, leopard print, feather boas, gold taffeta, etc.
The cafè itself is a classic old diner, and the service and ambience is pretty diner-authentic, even if it's a little self-consciously kitsched up. I ordered the Meatloaf Sandwich, which was advertised as "even better than your Mom's."

It was.

Meatloaf Sandwich

Cafè Hon and the Hon Bar are at 1002 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, Md. (410) 243-1230.

I'm staying with my friend this week and then heading up to Boston for a week on Saturday, to see if I find myself drawn to that place as well. But for now... I am a temporary "Baltimoron."

VW in Bawlmer

the trip so far

06 July 2008

Mile 3,044: a night in Nashville

I was feeling the urge to get back on the road after I regained consciousness at my new friends' house in Faubourg Marigny. As much as I didn't want to leave New Orleans - and I didn't - the idea of having to work the following Monday motivated me to start the last leg of my trip.

The question on my mind as I got back on I-10 was which way? The shortest route led through Atlanta and would take me through the heart of the Old South. However, I had relationship ghosts in that direction, and had also always been thinking about seeing Nashville. A moment's thought was enough to resolve that question, and I headed North.

This was another one of those no-iPod meditative drives. I was feeling a lot of power at my back after the New Orleans visit, and I was enjoying speed again after a bunch of days going no faster than my feet could carry me. I talked to M, my good friend from Baltimore, who at that moment happened to be with a friend of her sister's who was from Nashville. Of course, I made her ask him where to go for food. He pointed me in the direction of Swett's soul food cafè, and that was all that needed to be decided. Nashville by dinner!

Of course, by the time I got into my last motel and showered enough to be presentable for dinner, Swett's was closed. At 9pm on a Saturday night! I was gobsmacked... but decided I may as well just head for the tourist area and see what caught my eye. Broadway in Nashville is filled with neon and music, ordinarily right up my alley. However, I was only after food at this point - I was eating like a Stone Age hunter and I needed to bring something down - quick.

One block off Broadway, I saw this sign:

Past Perfect

Good enough.

I parked (illegally, it turned out) and went in for the kill. A half-pound bison burger looked just right. It came, reasonably quickly, and I did my best Girlie-imitation, thus:

1/2 lb bison burger

(The flash washed everything out, but you get the idea.)

The burger was a bit dry, but that was probably my own fault for ordering a half-pound of bison meat medium-well. The twice-baked potatoes were surprisingly good, with big chunks of real bacon and nice garlic-chive spicing... however, the "pasta salad" was a bit of a letdown. True, macaroni elbows are, technically, pasta - but it struck me as sort of typical of the bistro-ification of bar food that seems to be going on more and more. I mean, why not just call a mac salad a mac salad?

All in all, though the food was pretty good, especially when washed down with a Yuengling Lager - I was close enough to Pennsylvania, apparently, to enjoy this regional specialty. I had gotten a bit spoiled due to the quality of the mostly pre-screened restaurants I had patronized since Austin. Totally worth a visit when you're done - what do they call it? - honky-tonkin', I believe. Past Perfect, 122 3rd Avenue South, Nashville, Tenn. - (615) 736-7727.

Google said I was 12 hours from Baltimore. Time for another Cannonball? I had to sleep on it, as a night on a recliner in New Orleans had done nothing for my mental abilities...

the trip so far

05 July 2008

Mile 2,518: taking it Big Easy

It's kind of hard to believe that I have an actual crush on a whole city. But, I mean, come on: New Orleans has great music, great food, great architecture, and oh did I mention the music. Ev. Ry. Where. Even the bad stuff was pretty good. I ended up spending two days and nights in the city, and if I didn't have time constraints I may well have spent a week or more. Or, quite possibly, just never left. It's happened to others.

I did a straight run from Austin through Houston on I-10, fighting a couple of thunderstorms and Baton Rouge rush hour. It's interesting how different states really do have their own highway cultures. New Mexico's is just fast. Texans are surprisingly disciplined about using the passing lane for passing. And in Louisiana, the official road sport appears to be tailgating. At 80+. Bon temps roulez.

I hadn't eaten anything since my Smitty's feast for lunch the previous day. I really was still digesting, but also I wanted to save myself for the boudin at Poche's, which came highly recommended by my coon-ass friend Angela as well as by Girlie and Mr. Whateverthefuck. I got to Breaux Bridge in a downpour and wandered around bayou back roads for a while before figuring out I had gotten off at the wrong exit. I got back on I-10... and was halfway through the Atchafalaya Swamp before figuring out it was in the other direction.

In the throes of a major blood sugar crash, I pulled into Poche's, where most of the lunch stuff was already gone. The nice girl (or extremely tiny woman) behind the counter offered me crawfish etoufèe, fried crawfish or fried catfish.

I said "yes, please:"

heaven in styrofoam

Poche's is at 3015 Main Hwy, Breaux Bridge, La. - 1 (800) 3-POCHES. You want to take exit 109 off I-10 and follow the signs.

I had no idea (since I am, you know, white, technically) that it was the weekend of the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. As a result, most of the city's hotels downtown were packed full. Fortunately, they squeezed me in at the Quality Inn just a couple blocks off Canal Street, which was a great location though I hardly spent any time there. I spent the next two days out exploring and basically just developing a really serious infatuation with the Crescent City. I may begin stalking, or writing "Paul New Orleans" on my notebook. Smitten.

Girlie had mentioned the vieux carrè cocktail and I kept going from bar to bar trying to find someone who could make it. Finally, Girlie actually emailed me a link to a recipe, and I brought my BlackBerry into Jean Lafitte's and said "this, please." It's another rye-bitters cocktail, but over ice. So it's kind of a summer-night sazerac.

I love the Quarter but can't really see myself living there. If I were to make my home in the city it would probably be in the Marigny neighborhood just to the north: a lot of the same awesome architecture, great people, and music music music. I saw Ellis Marsalis's jazz quartet at the Snug Harbor in the Marigny and got myself a cup as a souvenir:

Hey, I wanted the cup.

They were nice enough to fill the cup with ice and like seven different kinds of alcohol.

The Quarter is filled with all these fake-ass little voodoo shops and tacky occult parlors for the tourists. However, a little hole in the wall on a side street really pulled me in. I mean, take this as you will, but once I saw the place, I knew I was walking right in. I asked for a charm or amulet for my journey, and, of course, winded up wound up telling the Basic Abridged Version of my story. Mimi, who runs the shop, is a funny, tough-ass little witch who rides a Kawasaki ZR750, and we talked (well, really, she talked and I listened) animatedly for a while as I sipped my Big Gulp of liquor. She pulled out a bunch of talismans and I looked them over as she helped a gay couple pick out a charm for a friend. The way I feel about magic is like the way I feel about fate in general: I don't even try to believe in it, I just allow it to work on my more primitive levels. The wisecracking witch totally connected with my inner mystic, and I just went with the feeling that I was where I needed to be, with who I needed to be with, getting done what needed to be done.. The talisman that really spoke to me was the Second Pentacle of Venus, "for obtaining grace and honor, and to accomplish all matters of the heart."
Second pentacle of Venus
So I got that going for me, which is nice. Esoterica is at 541 Rue Dumaine, New Orleans, La. - (504) 581-7711.

I went to the riverbank and watched fireworks with a brass band playing and everything. Americana. I ended up striking up a conversation with a schoolteacher who came to New Orleans after the storm to help at one of the new charter schools. She had a friend from Atlanta with her, so invited me along on their bar crawl as they waited for her boyfriend to finish work. They invited me back to their cute-ass little Marigny house, where I spent the night instead of my Quality Inn. I'd have walked back but they thought I'd get mugged or wake up without a kidney or something, and I deferred to the locals' judgment in the matter.

I got dropped back at my hotel, packed quickly (since I never really unpacked), and took off. Nashville!

the trip so far

02 July 2008

Intermezzo: the ATX

The original plan was to be in Austin over the July 4 holiday, but my friends here had other plans. That, among many other similar missed connections, led me to the conclusion that there was to be no plan... that I'd pretty much make the thing up as I went along (with concessions, of course, to unavoidable realities like the laws of physics and the need to continue earning a living to pay for all the expensive gasoline I'm burning up).

I had been loosely thinking in terms of just spending a day here. However, I took the inspiration that led to my reckless driving of June 30 and ended up spending two days having a real vacation: eating, drinking, sleeping late and enjoying the company of cool people.

I am still kind of on Pacific time - is there such a thing as car lag? - and so it's difficult for me to get to sleep at night. Add to that thirteen hours of driving at high speeds with windows down and/or music blasting and there was a distinct ringing in my ears on Monday night. I tried to settle down to sleep in yet another unfamiliar place, but kept being disturbed by these weird semidreams. I had one where I imagined I had written a whole screenplay about a music teacher at a school for autistic children who has a stroke and has to relearn how to play... but the only people who can teach him are - yes! - autistic children. If I could wave a wand and create all the things I imagine, well, I'd be rich. Or, you know, insane.

Anyway, I spent a big chunk of the first morning laying around, drinking espresso, catching up on blogging and drinking more espresso. When my friend Angela came home, I was able to catch her up on my life in the four or five years since I saw her last. Each friend brings a particular side of you out more strongly than others do, and I realized how much I missed Angie and Ray Ray and the Paul that I am with them.

Angela asked me what I wanted to eat, and I said "Tex-Mex," thinking that this was the traditional regional cuisine of the strange land I now inhabited. Fortunately, she took me out for real Mex and margaritas at a place called Polvo's. What they call "interior" Mexican here seems a little less intensely cheesetacular than the Mexican I'm used to in San Diego - Girlie says it's more jalisqueño as opposed to the oaxaqueño and Baja food we had in Southern California.

We had a great time that night with some folks I had only known online before coming to Austin.* They took us to a great little wine bar called Vino Vino in the Hyde Park (um, I think) neighborhood. Girlie and the Mr. are people who enjoy exploring new restaurants in Austin and who have sufficiently developed palates (the Mr. attended a cooking school in Firenze) to appreciate what's worth appreciating... and mercilessly, but humorously, slam what needs slamming. So I was unashamed about asking them for a recommendation.

We shared every small plate on the menu. Each of them was quite good, and the gravlax and pates were particularly rocking my world. The wines served were each excellent in their own way, though one was unforgettable for both its complexity and for the backstory: it's made by Cistercian (I think!) nuns from Lazio, central Italy, under the supervision of the Umbrian vintner Paolo Bea. The wine is made from four grapes: Trebbiano, Verdicchio, Gracchetto and something else that I can't remember but hopefully she or he can Malvasia. The wine is called Coenobium, and I am going to pursue it as Ahab pursued the white whale. Lucky Austonians can try it at Vino Vino, 4119 Guadalupe St. Austin, TX - (512) 465-9282

I asked about some authentic Texas barbecue, and today they delivered in spades: Smitty's in Lockhart, a not-inconsiderable drive out of town, where they were so kind as to take me for lunch. This place is so authentic that they don't use plates, just pieces of butcher paper to catch (some percentage of) the grease.

The meat was tender, and the flavor was of the smoked meat itself - no sweet sauce to bury the taste here. If you want vegetables... go somewhere else. However, if you are in the mood for something that looks like this:

still life with grease

...then Smitty's is your place. 208 S. Commerce, Lockhart TX - (512) 398-9344.

I have been writing a while, and the one or two of you that have actually made it to this point have been reading a while. These posts are meant as road diaries, and I've gone heavy on the photographs for folks that didn't want a writing assignment when they came to this blog.

This is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me. I wanted to catch as many of the memories as I could as soon as I could. I start my solitary wayfaring again tomorrow morning, with a run to New Orleans where I am thinking of spending the Fourth of July. I understand that's coming up soon.

Austin was a wonderful break from the road. I have - obviously - been having fun on this trip, but the opportunity to enjoy a convivial pause with friends old and new has reminded me why I'm making this trip in the first place: to generate the inspiration to make a new start and build the life that I want, in all its particulars. And certainly, that will involve good friends, good conversation and good, good food.


* meeting them was oddly similar to meeting, like, celebrities that you've only seen in pictures. I'm going to follow blog etiquette and refer to them only by their online names, which kind of sucks as they go by "Mr. and Mrs. Pants (otherwise known as Girlie and Husbear)" on their blog. I mean, "Girlie" is kind of sassy, but having met him on a guy to guy level, I'm having a real hard time referring to her spouse as either "Husbear" or "Mr. Pants..." which is why I'm going with "the Mr."

01 July 2008

Mile 1,878: cannonball run from Albuquerque to Austin

I slept in. It was wonderful. Allow me to sing the praises of the reasonably clean and halfway decent traveler's motel. It is a boon to the soul and a balm to the spirit of the weary traveler.

As you can tell, I really liked the suite.

I rolled out of bed, f***ked around with my newly-working-again computer for a bit (e.g. watching Flickr Uploadr totally choke and die on the lousy Comfort Inn Wi-Fi) and went for a run before it got too hot. When I came back, I showered and took a dip in the Jacuzzi.

I mean, this place wasn't like the Fairmont or anything... but when you've been on the road for a while it really feels great to pamper yourself. By the time I got back in my car again, I felt even better than I had before I left San Diego.

I loaded up on road food and headed out to the hills. New Mexico roads are fast, and gas is (relatively) cheap, so I ran pretty hard for a while. I had hoped to make Lubbock in a day's drive, but I got a random text message from a friend in San Diego who wanted to know if I was trying to drive straight through to Austin. Almost eight hundred miles! What was he thinking?

I took it as a challenge.

Google Maps would have had me go straight down I-40 to Amarillo and then hang a south down I-35 all the way to Austin. But screw that. I decided to go the weird way, through Roswell and West Texas, so I took U.S. 285, an almost vacant stretch of glass-smooth four lane asphalt. After a couple hours cutting through eastern New Mexico at better than a hundred per, I came upon Roswell: a much bigger city than I had ever imagined. I mean, it's pretty much the only city for many miles around, so it sort of has to be a regional center. It's more than just UFO kitsch.

That, however, was all I was interested in.

Buddha in downtown Roswell

There was one big "International UFO Museum And Research Center," which was offputting not least for the fact that it charged admission, and a whole smattering of little kitschy shops. In short, basic roadside attraction culture, but packaged and sold as a commodity. Yahoo.

I got back to my previously scheduled reckless driving, and managed to fall off the route Google had carefully prepared for me:

Google is my co-pilot

I found "Continue to follow US-285" to be kind of an ambiguous direction, given the state of southern New Mexico signage. As a result, I went the wrong direction at an incredibly high rate of speed before recognizing my mistake and speeding even faster back in the direction I had come. Fortunately, as it happened, the "rush hour" traffic was apparently in the other direction out U.S. 180, so I only had to pass three cars.

Finally, I crossed the Texas state line! I passed through the town of Pecos, which apparently had suffered a plague or a zombie attack as there were literally no people to be seen. I continued on the impressively well-maintained Texas stretch of 285, which apparently was fringed on all sides by small, slow moving black tumbleweeds.

I slowed experimentally to get a better look at one of them, and it appeared to be crawling. Now, I only had a couple espressos that morning, but I thought it possible that a bunch of hours of high-speed driving was making me see things.

So, I got out:
Texas road tarantula

Big bugger - maybe four inches across. Apparently they just wander around in the summer time. It did seem like they were all going from right to left, but my understanding is that no one knows if it's mating, or migration, or what. Why did the tarantulas cross the road? Because they're a bunch of scary bad-ass arachnids, and they'll cross the road wherever and whenever the hell they please! They were leaving a lot of spider-shaped splotches on the road, however...

The rest of the trip was a straight cannonball down I-10 and up 35 - Texas Troopers were everywhere, though, so I did the whole leg into Austin in the granny lane, moving with traffic, at a steady speed of 80 mph (the legal daytime limit). I pulled in to Round Rock at about 12:30, and woke my dear friends Raymond and Angela up a little while thereafter (Google Maps being a little crappy with the exit sign notation).

Halfway there!

the trip so far