I love all the travel advice in the comments. Thank you, M&M-ers.
Despite the apparent consensus, though, we decided to continue heading east out of Oklahoma City on Interstate 40, into Arkansas and toward Memphis, at which point our plan is to turn south on I-55 and make a straight shot to New Orleans.
Other than extremely strong southerly winds throughout Oklahoma, today was a beautiful day for driving, with clear skies and surprisingly (to me) pretty country in Oklahoma and Arkansas. We're both amazed at how much the landscape changes from day to day. Yesterday we saw hour after hour of high-mesa and red-rock desert; today we drove through the gentle hills of the Texas Panhandle, the wavy grass fields and red dirt of Oklahoma and the lush woods and horse country of Arkansas. Not a mesa in sight.
We thought we'd pull up somewhere around Little Rock for the night, but Michelle had an adrenaline rush and we kept on going -- almost all the way to the Tennessee state line. I don't know how she did it; I'm exhausted, and all I did was sit there. We're now tucked into a nice little EconoLodge in West Memphis, Ark., across the river from Memphis, and we hope to visit the Stax Records museum or maybe Graceland in the morning before we shoot south.
I keep meaning to post accounts of our poker adventures, or pics of lunch with Terry at Manhattan Beach and Miriam in South Pasadena, or our bitter riff on Starbucks' bungled marketing plan, or our cool new blog feature -- an "overheard" category -- but by the time we settle in for the night it's too late. That stuff will have to wait.
Here are a couple of quick pics from today's travels:
One of the first things you see when you cross from Texas into Oklahoma on this route is a sign advertising the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere. ("Exit for a spiritual experience you'll never forget.") Well, we got lucky. You could see the cross from the freeway, no exit required. I'm not sure how long I'll remember the spiritual experience, but I do recall that the actual cross, the one in the Bible, was in the Eastern Hemisphere, for whatever that's worth.
Oklahoma City. These are the bastards who are stealing the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team, and this Ford Center, on I-40, is where they'll play. I say "bastards" because people in Seattle are all upset about the team's moving. I couldn't care less, honestly. Good luck to the team and the OKC. I'm personally fine without either of them. The Oklahoman newspaper today was promoting a sports columnist who was taking great pleasure in poking the Pacific Northwest.
You're driving through Oklahoma, surrounded by cows, you ought to have a steak, is what I say. We finally found the perfect-looking joint, Big Jake's Cattle Co., although it was actually two miles inside the Arkansas state line. Sure enough, the menu featured a vast array of beef meals. Michelle ordered The Big Jake, a center-cut steak that the menu promised to be "the best eatin' of your life." I wasn't all that hungry. In fact I was going to order the "petite steak" but since they described it as "perfect for the ladies or the little fellas" I decided to go with a top sirloin instead.
They accidentally gave me Michelle's order, and I have to say that was one pretty tasty steak. But the best eatin' of my life? I don't know. I can think of quite a bit of eatin' this good or better on this very trip: the feast at Kaye & Val's, dinner at the awesome Bellagio buffet in Las Vegas, the Pete's turkey sandwich and Trieste cappuccino and Mama Matassa's manicotti ... and that's without even getting to the best Harley Dog in Kingman, Arizona.
More meals, wheels and photos tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
We just pulled into a little roadside motel in Amarillo, Texas, called the Camelot Inn, styled sort of like the Excalibur in Las Vegas, only a fraction of the size -- and price. We got our comfy but flashless double for $43, which includes free donuts and coffee in the morning and, surprise, free wireless.
It's been a long day of driving for poor Michelle though. We realized that our leisurely sightseeing along Route 66 through Arizona yesterday set us back a bit on our mission to reach New Orleans by Friday's JazzFest lineup. So we pushed on tonight farther than we planned.
Good couple of days, though. Today began at the Motel DuBeau, pictured above -- really now a youth hostel, the DuBeau Hostel -- a vintage 1930s-era stop on old Route 66 and our cool Flagstaff, Ariz., find. We drove across Arizona, into the beautiful mesa country of New Mexico, with a quick walk around old downtown Gallup and a stop for lunch at the famous and picturesque Hotel El Rancho just east of town. We played cards for a short while at Route 66 Casino (everything here milks the name) outside Albuquerque and then crossed into Texas to Amarillo.
That makes seven states -- Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas -- since we left home on April 19.
Fun, but a long day. Tomorrow back on the road to Oklahoma City, and we're still debating the best route from there: south to Houston then east to New Orleans; or east to Memphis and then south to New Orleans. Thoughts, experienced travelers?
Here are a few shots from the past couple of days.
Michelle in Vegas:
Mr. D'z, the awesome roadside diner in Kingman, Arizona, on Route 66, which really deserves its own post. It caters to bikers, like a lot of places on this highway, and advertises "Best Harley Dog in town!" I ordered one up. "I hear you make the best Harley Dog in town," I said to our waitress, Ginger. "Well, it's the only one, really," she said. I figured. Pretty good hot dog, though:
The storied El Rancho, host to movie stars once upon a time. The sign says, "Charm of yesterday, convenience of tomorrow":
Typical sight on today's long drive:
Monday, April 28, 2008
Kaye informs me that it was 19 years ago that she and I first drove through Flagstaff, heading out to find our fortune in LA, where Kate hubby Val had a job lined up, and I hoped to find one somehow.
We drove up through Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, hit the I-40, passed through the sad land of drunk Indians in Gallup, NM, crossed through the hell that is Albuquerque and then found our way into the pine treed town that is Flagstaff. The day we were here happened to be the day of the homecoming parade, and hundreds of blond and pure apple pie people rode by us in convertibles, cheered along side us, as quarterbacks and cheerleaders looked out misty eyed from their parade float perches and I guess wondered what they'll ever do in life to top this.
The air was clean and light, the town was small and charming and it seemed impossible that something so innocent was still around, untouched.
I loved Flagstaff. I was so glad to be passing back through on our trip to New Orleans this week.
I thought maybe it was my faulty memory at work again when we hit the strip malls and Taco Bells and car washes that make up most of the town now. I thought maybe my memory of the idyllic Flagstaff was selective -- I maybe just chose to remember the cool parts, and forgot the scabby strip mall side of the town.
I called Kaye to check, and she confirmed that yes, it had been 19 years. It was pure when we were here.
Mark says he doesn't regret the change that happens to this world. You lose somethings, but then you gain some too.
As evidence he points to the excellent local Starbucks, which certainly was not here 19 years ago. We did appreciate that cup of fresh brewed Verona, indeed.
Man, get out on the road a few days and it can be tough to find the time or the wherewithal to keep the blog current. Sorry about that. No shortage of fun adventures though.
Since we last checked in here, we shared an unsurprisingly spectacular dinner with Kaye, Val and Laurie at K&V's house. And I had nice lunches with McDermott and Miriam, played plenty of poker in Los Angeles, including with my friend Stuart.
Also we drove (well, Michelle drove) to Las Vegas and spent an excellent night there, and drove much of the day today -- over Hoover Dam, south to Kingman then east across Arizona, mostly on historic Route 66, and now we're ensconced for the night in a cool old-school Route 66 stop called Motel DuBeau. $45! With free wireless! It rocks.
There are stories to tell and photos to post, but I don't know how much we'll get to tonight. We're both kind of tired, and we need to find some food and a beer.
Posted by Mark at 7:36 PM
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Who needs Tivo? Turns out we can keep up with the latest Idol updates on Youtube. We heard already, of course, that Tattoo Girl was kicked off the show this past week. Tonite after the fabu dinner at Kay and Val's, we loaded our bloated bellies into the bed and cozied up to the computer to see the performances that were behind the vote.
The internets are both cool and convenient.
Friday, April 25, 2008
At Kateco's urging, I've started a Google Map of our trip. Pretty basic so far, just the route and a few key stops. You can click below for a larger version and zoom all the way in to a street-level view.
I'll add pictures later and keep it updated as we go, so check back.
View Larger Map
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Tonite I met my friends Jeff Light and Teri Sforza for dinner at Crystal Cove. This is a very cool spot where a few dozen people for years lived cheaply in houses built up on a state beach; they were recently booted and the residences they left behind are being used as cheap state park rentals. Awesome!! Teri and Jeff scored a place here for just $30 bucks a night. Don't even think about it -- theres a 6 month wait list ...
Tonite I met Jeff and Teri's daughter -- the charming Xia all in pink -- a smart and feisty three and three quarter year old who loves hot dogs and making fun of the way Jeff talks with his hands. She spent a good five minutes over dinner saying everything he said and waving her hands around in the classic Jeff Light style. She's awesome. Here she is jumping like crazy for the camera.
For a slideshow with larger images go here.
We're staying in a nice but also sort of odd place, the Embassy Suites in Anaheim, just a few long blocks down Harbor Boulevard from Disneyland.
Here's the view from our room. If you could crane your neck just a little bit to the right you could see the tops of a couple attractions at the Happiest Place on Earth. That big lot outside our window is an abandoned golf driving range. At least I think it's abandoned; I've never seen anyone using it.
Better days behind for the Harbor Greens Golf Range:
The room is comfortable as can be, and it comes with free breakfast and a complimentary evening happy hour -- I'm enjoying a free beer and pretzels right now -- but it's also overflowing with sunburned, slightly pudgy couples and their Mickey-eared and princess-gowned kids, all seemingly fueled on way too much soda.
Also just now the lobby was crammed with a bunch of teenagers wearing tuxes and silky dresses. In the elevator a 30-something guy looked at me and raised an eyebrow. "I don't know," I said, "the world's lamest prom party?"
When I told Gina where we were she broke out the all-caps: "MAN, are you going to go to disneyland? you know you want to."
Probably not this trip. We're staying here because it's centrally located to Long Beach, to friends Michelle wanted to visit at the Orange County Register and to the Commerce Casino, just up the 5 freeway.
Which reminds me, I need to jet now to meet my friend Stuart for some poker action there tonight. It ain't Disneyland, but it'll do.
More to come, including a report on last night's M&M card game, as well as my lunch today with my buddy McDermott in Manhattan Beach. Nice photos with that one.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
A few stray shots from yesterday's relaxing and pretty day.
We woke up in the Excellent Element at the beautiful El Capitan State Beach just north of Santa Barbara. This was the place Michelle booked for us online. It was as lovely as advertised and, at $25 a night, quite the bargain. There were a few other campers there, some sitting around a fire, others running a generator to power the TV inside their RVs. But it was clean and quiet, a four-glioma campground.
We got in after dark on Monday, flashlighted our way down to this nice beach just beyond our campsite and enjoyed a simple but perfect dinner: a second turkey sandwich from Pete's in San Francisco and a Red Hook beer from the Element-powered mini-fridge.
We continued driving down the 101 toward LA, but detoured to Ojai, as I mentioned yesterday, and jumped onto the free wireless at the nice little Ojai Coffee Roasting Co.
Entering Los Angeles, we left the 101 for the first time since downtown San Francisco and merged onto the 405, our "home" freeway, or one of them, when we lived here.
Then we headed straight for a little reunion at Kaye's in Belmont Shore (that's in Long Beach, for you non-Californians), and later had dinner with Kaye and Val at El Torito's, one of our old hangs.
Yet another very fun day.
Pie in the Sky II stats so far: Days 4, Excellent Days 4.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
This is just to see if they're checking the blog.
When we lived in Belmont Shore the girls and I used to stop at this In-N-Out Burger after spending the afternoon boogie-boarding at Huntington Beach. They loved it.
Michelle and I drove by the In-N-Out this afternoon on the way to Kaye's, and I thought of them.
Girlies? Picture comment me!
That was the greeting we got at about 9 o'clock Sunday night as we walked up Grant Street in San Francisco to North Beach Pizza. It came from a group of three 20-somethings, one in dreds, all possibly buzzed and just hanging out on the sidewalk. We knew what they meant: 420 is the unofficial passcode for pot, and 4/20 -- that is, April 20 -- is like an unofficial holiday.
"It's my birthday!" Michelle called out over her shoulder as we walked by.
"Really? Cool!" one of the dudes said. "Do you smoke?"
It had been a long day of driving for Michelley, who won't let my epileptic self near the steering wheel of the Excellent Element, and I wouldn't have been shocked if she'd pulled up to bogart the guy's doobie. But there was sausage pizza and an Anchor Steam to be had a block away and we were ready; we didn't need any help getting the munchies.
Although Pie in the Sky II really began on Saturday with the drive to Mom's house, Sunday's long Eugene-to-San Francisco leg felt like the true kickoff.
And what a strange day, to begin with several inches of snow on Michelle's car and to drive through intermittent snow flurries all the way through the Siskiyou Range separating Oregon and California.
After that the weather and the landscape changed as we pushed on through Redding, Corning (home of the Corning Olive Festival), Weed and the rest of those little Northern California towns, stopping occasionally to have a cup of joe and one of Mom's excellent cupcakes.
As it got dark, we finally crossed the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.
We spent an excellent night at the San Francisco Westin, thanks to the SF Chronicle, where Michelle did some consulting yesterday morning, and then we had our favorite lunch: the world's greatest turkey sandwich from Pete's BBQ at Mission and 20th, and a cappuccino at Cafe Trieste in North Beach. Special bonus: We met Trieste's founder, Papa Gianni, who posed for the picture at the top of this post. Click here to see how he looked back in the day, when he started this business 52 years ago.
From the Trieste web site:
If asked how he does it, "No big deal," Papa Gianni would say. "Buy the best beans, roast them yourself, and brew each cup like it's for you."Then a beautiful longish drive down Highway 101 (with a stop in Steinbeck's home town of Salinas) to Santa Barbara, where we camped at El Capitan State Beach. Nice. The Element worked beautifully as a bed.
And now we're in Ojai, the little artist enclave 20 miles inland, where we're scamming the free wireless at the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co. and enjoying our second cup of the day.
Heading now into LA for a few days of fun with friends and poker junkies.
Thanks to all for the comments.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Pie in the Sky II has begun. With the Excellent Element all packed and ready to go -- suitcases, electronics, tools and food stashed in genius cubbies under the futon platform -- Michelle and I hit the road this morning at 11:42. We weren't a mile away before I thought of something I forgot -- the cool CD set of Terry Gross interviews with writers that Mich gave me for my birthday-- but Michelle said it was too late to turn around.
"What direction are we pointing," she said, at about the corner of Fauntleroy and Alaska. "That's right. Ahead."
Weirdly, it was beginning to snow a little bit as we left town, the latest in the year that snow ever has fallen in Seattle, I believe. And it snowed off and on all the way to Mom's house in Eugene, along with patches of hail, really strong rain, and brilliant sunshine.
Here we are crossing into Oregon.
Mom prepared us an excellent manicotti dinner. I'm really glad she was the first stop on this cool trip. We're off now to visit our friends the Stahlbergs, a couple miles away, and then in the morning we'll head out for San Francisco.
Friday, April 18, 2008
My cool sister Michele was nice enough to buy me a going-away lunch this afternoon -- a nice break from packing for Pie in the Sky II -- but we had to laugh at our over-the-top waitress at the normally reliable Il Fornaio downtown.
Everything had to be explained just so and with a little extra flair, and the attention was a bit much. Shortly after she delivered our plates -- ravioli for Mich, capellini for me, both delish -- she was back to check on us.
"Are all the flavors as they should be?"
Mich, who had trouble stifling a laugh until the poor woman walked away, actually answered: "Yes, they are."
I muttered something to Mich about the tomato sauce tasting like chocolate.
Still, the food was good and it was great to see Michy one last time before Michelle and I leave in the morning. We get together quite often and we both said we'll miss our little lunch and coffee dates. She told me about the Kanye West concert she and her family saw the other night, and even offered to write a guest review for M&M! Can't wait for that.
Also she offered to swing by and pick up my drugs this weekend and forward them to Kaye's house but, miraculously, they appeared as scheduled this afternoon. So that's good.
Nicolosi & I still have a few things to put together tonight before we can leave in the morning, but we're actually in pretty good shape considering. Look out, open road, here we come.
(Mich, don't forget to send the review!)
Thursday, April 17, 2008
... and it is grayer.
That's Ross Anderson, a friend and former reporting colleague, reporting on his idyllic retirement at Cape George, a little enclave just outside Port Townsend, Wash.
Ross retired from the Seattle Times a few years ago, and last year he and his wife Mary Rothschild, who was an editor at the paper, decided to give up their beautiful Seattle house and move up to the Peninsula. But Ross can't stop writing, and he has started a nice new site, RossInk, to capture his observations.
The above post describes his move to what sounds like a beautiful and welcoming little community of oldsters.
Every neighborhood has its cranks and whiners, but seniors seem to have more to be cranky about and more time to whine about it.
Still, we're a diverse group of people living diverse lives. Take our street: a retired airline pilot, a former history professor, a nurse-turned-part-time gardener, a software engineer, a retired physics professor who runs a small technology company in town, a couple of ex-schoolteachers, and Mary and me. One of my friends is a former Fulbright Scholar who's written a novel about revolutionary China. Another spent 30 years building Boeing airplanes.
He also has a mini-history lesson on the beautiful Discovery Bay, little takes on Seattle politics, the environment, the news business and more. I can tell it's going to be a regular and worthwhile stop for me.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Wow, just in time for the launch of MySeattlePets, I went and gave away my fish. Yesterday, a neighborhood kid and his dad responded to my ad in the local newsletter and came over to take away the guppies, tetras, plants, tank, lights and all.
I kind of miss hearing them bubbling away in the back room. I hope they all like their new home okay. Goodbye fishies!
The behind the scenes beta for myseattlepets is live -- this is the new section we're hoping will bring mondo new traffic to Seattlepi.com. We've been working on it for 3 months or so. I know most M&M readers aren't in Seattle -- but if you feel the urge, go ahead and add your pups anyways. :)
At the moment everything's done but the front page. In phase II we're adding a database of pets looking for homes. What do you think? Is the top of the page too dark? I've been thinking for months that the black is too much, but I let myself be talked out of it. Should I have stuck my landing, or is this okay?
Thanks in advance for your reviews!
This lead story in the New York Times this morning gave me a start: Insurance companies are quietly beginning to charge their clients/patients a much larger percentage of the true cost of expensive prescription drugs, often without any warning.
There are plenty of horror stories in this article, enough to make me think of the $4,000 or so that my drugs cost every month.
The whole drug thing is a giant-ass nuisance enough without having to pay even more for the privilege.
For instance: I was supposed to be taking chemo this week, finishing off this month's course before heading down the road this weekend. But the stupid hospital forgot to schedule my MRI and doctor's visit last week, when we had agreed it would occur, and instead had my appointments set for next week, when we'll already be gone. I was able to get a pair of squeeze-in appointments for this week, on Wednesday, but given the UW's poor history of coordinating with my online pharmacy, Caremark, and its poor record of speedy delivery, I'm dubious about getting the drugs before Saturday. So that's a drag. And who knows, still, whether they'll come through with three months worth of pills -- that's about $12,000 to you and me -- as promised.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I noticed in the Live Traffic Feed in the left sidebar that someone from Indiana came to our blog directly on the the post Hot naked chicks ...," about Rosanne Olson's new body-image book. So I checked Google: Sure enough, we're the No. 8 result for the search "hot naked chicks," behind one science fiction story and a bunch of porn.
Yay for M&M! SEO rocks!
Sorry, Mr. Indiana. But pick up a copy of Rosanne's book.
She was on "Good Morning America" today, by the way. I watched, thanks to Tivo; you'll never see me awake at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. Short, sweet segment with Rosanne and several subjects of her book. Nice plug, and everyone looked and sounded great on TV.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Several mentions here recently about the big Pie in the Sky II road trip, and since the Excellent Element hits the highway a week from today I figure it's time to tell how the voyage got that name, and when and where we're going.
It all started seven years ago, actually, when Miriam rescued me from unemployment and potential bankruptcy by offering me a job at the Los Angeles Times. That story here. I was scheduled to start work in mid-October that year, 2001, so Michelle and I decided to leave a month early and take the long route from Seattle to LA ... via Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington, Louisville, Denver, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
We both always had wanted to take a cross-country road trip and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. When I called Mom to tell her about the plan, though, she thought it sounded over-ambitious.
"That sounds a little pie-in-the-sky to me, Mark," she said.
Well that cracked me up, so we immediately dubbed our trip the Pie in the Sky Tour, and made concert-style t-shirts, complete with projected tour stops on the back, to commemorate the adventure. I still wear mine.
Amazingly, the day of our scheduled departure -- with the moving van showing up early that morning -- was Sept. 11. Yes, that Sept. 11: 9/11. The moving dudes knocked on our door at about 7:30 and asked if we were watching TV. No, we said, and we turned it on to see the footage of planes flying into the World Trade Center. And then the moving guys unplugged our TV to load it onto the truck and Michelle and I climbed into my old Honda Civic wagon and we started driving east.
Weird. No planes in the sky and by the time we got past Spokane, a couple hundred miles east of Seattle, no solid radio signal either. We went for hours at a time without any news about what was going on.
And yet, we managed to have a great trip. We camped in Yellowstone, played cards in Deadwood, ate dinner with a bunch of flag-waving patriots in a small red-state diner someplace and then, later that same day, cruised into the liberal college town of Mankato, Minn., to find a peacenik coffee shop still open at midnight. Trippy.
Our plan had been to see ballgames in some classic parks like Wrigley Field, but the terrorist attacks suspended the baseball season. Some guy in a poker game in Shakopee, Minn., was raving about the beauty of the northern shores of the Great Lakes around that time of year, so we decided to blow off Chicago and head north instead, through Duluth and into Canada. That leg of the trip truly was as beautiful as advertised, but strange too. That's where we ran into Canadians, including the proprietor of a B&B where we stayed, who told us Americans had the attacks coming and almost seemed to hold us responsible.
Eventually we made our way through Niagara Falls and Boston and into New York, where we visited the less-than-two-week-old Ground Zero -- eerie, upsetting and unforgettable -- before moving onto happier destinations.
Some of the coolest parts of Pie in the Sky I were hooking up with friends and family, including M&M regulars Ronelle and her crew in New Jersey and Janice (below) and hers in Louisville, as well as Michelle's sister Renee and her family in Colorado. We also loved the Grand Canyon and the area around Moab, Utah (top picture). All those stops will be part of Pie in the Sky II as well.
Although we had tour dates on our t-shirts, we didn't really have a set agenda for that first trip, and that was a lot of its charm. The Canada detour was just one example of our spontaneity. We had a big Rand McNally atlas with us, and we traced our path in pen as we went -- it still hangs on our wall.
For this trip, with three times as much time on the road, our plans are even less set -- really, really, pie-in-the-sky, Mom -- except for the first two weeks, which are planned. We're leaving next Saturday, heading for Mom's place in Eugene; then to San Francisco, where Michelle has a speaking gig at the San Francisco Chronicle; to Santa Barbara, where she booked us an awesome camping spot on the beach; to Los Angeles, where she's speaking at a Cal State Fullerton writer's conference; to Las Vegas for a night; and then to New Orleans for JazzFest.
After that, wide open. We know we want to see some friends and hit some card rooms. We both kind of want to see the Florida Keys and Maine, where we've never been, and we hope to stay off the interstates and travel the smaller highways and back roads. The beauty of a long break. We'll camp and sleep in the tricked-out car when we can, grab a motel room if we absolutely need a shower.
Overly ambitious? Pie in the sky? Maybe, but something tells me we'll pull it off. With stories to tell.