–The following was written mostly Friday evening but finished tonight (Sunday)
At 6:00 this morning, after driving more or less nonstop from western Utah (C, on the map below) without sleeping, I was welcomed back to Chicago by the endless precession of bluetooth-chattering, egg and sausage mc muffin-smacking residents of western Illinois, who, instead of taking the train, choose to endure 2+ hour traffic jams at such early hours of the morning that only farmers and Williamsburg cocaine enthusiasts should be awake.
Nonetheless, I was back in the city and snuggled up in bed in my frosty apartment by 8:30 this morning. That is of course, until around 3:00 this afternoon, when I was rudely awaken by Brendan (whose Long Beach apartment had been my home for the past two weeks), who was calling to inform me that he was feeding himself grapes while sitting in a hot tube on a San Diego rooftop outside of ASR. Instead of throwing my phone, I simply ordered myself pad khee mao and a cucumber salad from my favorite local Thai establishment and perused expedia until its arrival, at which time the delivery man called me out on my two week hiatus. I suppose I’ll have to call the tamale man tonight, as I’m sure he’s been wondering as well.
After a departure lunch with the homies at TK Burger on the dark side of the Orange Curtain, we were on our way back to Chicago around 2:00 Wednesday afternoon. As usual, the drive back from LA was one customs. I personally cannot fathom driving through Las Vegas and not stopping, at least for a few minutes to take in the absurdity of the place, and will immediately write off as soulless anyone who can simply “pass through” such a place on the way to another destination. This of course, is why I have never not exited Interstate 15 at Tropicana Avenue and proceeded to make a left turn onto the strip. Be it a dip in the pool at the MGM, a beer on the Brooklyn Bridge at the NYNY, a three foot margarita at the Westward Ho, or a spin of the roulette wheel at the Belagio and a buffet at the Flamingo, you don’t just pass through Las Vegas.
In this case, it was a three dollar beer and hot dog at some no-name dive casino next to the Flamingo. The hot dog was surprisingly above average, and I drank half of the beer before passing it off to Dan, because I, above all things, had to be in proper shape to drive us to Chicago.
On the way back to the car, which we had parked for free on the third floor of the garage at the Flamingo, I discovered the coveted roulette machine which had ruined an otherwise wonderful day at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe one evening in the Summer of 2007. This day, however, the gods were on my side, as I struggled, pineapple-mango smoothie in hand, through the ups and downs of the wheel to come out four dollars ahead. Free parking, three dollar hot dog and beer, and a smoothie purchased on a gift card, combined with four dollars winning at the Flamingo means we were headed north on Interstate 15 towards Utah one dollar ahead.
Another tradition that used to take place specifically in Vegas, now takes place in St. George, Utah. This is of course, a final hamburger and strawberry shake at the last In-N-Out Burger as one heads eastwards towards the vast expanse of flavorlessness known as the great plains. Now that In-N-Out has expanded to the great state of Utah, one is left with more stomach space for hot dogs and buffet food in Nevada.
The climb up into the highlands of central Utah brought with it increasing amounts of snow, as well as uncertainty as to the logistics of the rest of our journey. As we left Vegas around 8:00 PM, and had already finished our meal in St. George by 11:00 (hello mountain time), we were on pace to be in Denver way too early for our scheduled intermission of bike riding and burrito eating at Illegal Pete’s. It was decided that although we were not exceptionally tired, a nap was in order, as to align our schedule with that of the sun.
We found our sleeping quarters, a view area on the side of Interstate 70 just east of Salina, Utah, in the middle of a stretch of 110 miles of zero civilization. I felt at ease with the situation, because, as a man of tradition, I had slept at the very same rest area almost exactly a year prior. In fact, it was upon waking there last year that I took the following photo.
Before sleeping in the car, I experimented with some long exposures with the Leica, as it was surprisingly not too cold outside. I lacked a tripod, but did have a one dollar chip that I kept from the Flamingo, which I used to prop up the lens and attempt to frame up these shots in the dark.
We slept through the alarm on my phone, finally awakening around 8:30 once the greenhouse effect took hold and made it unbearably hot in the car. 70 miles east we found ourselves in Green River, where tooth brushing and contact lens cleaning takes place in these parts.
10:35 AM found us in Grand Junction, Colorado, the first real civilization since St. George. As most late-morning breakfast aficionados are well aware, 10:30 is the time at which most fast food establishments feel it is appropriate to replace hashbrowns and cinnamon rolls with ground beef and onion rings. Grand Junction makes no exception, so we found ourselves working with a chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, and Dr. Pepper at 10:35 on a Thursday morning after a long night of gambling and sleeping in parking lots.
A stop for gas and water in Glenwood Springs had us ready for the climb through the two snowy 11,000 foot mountain passes between Vail and Denver. The mild altitude sickness induced headache that I acquired while passing through the Eisenhower Tunnel quickly passed as we unstrapped the bikes from the back of the car at a park just outside of downtown Denver. A cruise around downtown on the bikes during at the peak of a warm and sunny Denver afternoon was followed up by an early dinner at Illegal Pete’s on 16th Street. A wise man once said, “when in Queens, you eat at the Sizzler.” The same can be said regarding Denver and Illegal Pete’s. A re-up on Burritos, bike ride back to the car, and quick jaunt down East Colfax and back up Colorado Blvd found us on eastbound Interstate 76, barreling towards Nebraska at 90 mph.
Just outside of Fort Morgan, Colorado, we encountered the first of two run-ins with the enforcement wing. Moments after I cautiously and courteously passed a state trooper, I noticed he was pulling me over. After a private questioning of both Dan and I, he failed to catch us up in some sort of scheme, which apparently involved the bicycles on the back of my car, as the fact that one of them lacked wheels really seemed to rack his brain. We left the scene with a “good day” and the first of two written warnings. Dan snapped this photo in the mirror while I was out of the car being questioned.
Shortly after a quick stop for gas and drinks in Fort Morgan (which is quite possibly the most foul smelling town east of the Rockies), we found ourselves passed by a small caravan of three vehicles with zero regard for the law. For some this could be an unnerving experience, but for those in a hurry it is a blessing. We quickly caught up with the pack of renegades, which consisted of an Audi wagon with Colorado plates, a Ford Pickup with Iowa plates, and a red VW sedan with plates that remain a mystery. By assimilating oneself into a such a caravan, the chances of being picked out by the police in the event of a speed trap is reduced dramatically. A sustained three hours of speeds between 100 and 110 miles per hour landed landed us in central Nebraska before the entourage split up for gas stops.
Just west of Lincoln, not long after returning to the road, we were pulled over yet again, this time the result of an elaborate speed trap featuring three of Nebraska’s finest. As I saw the lights from miles back, I was actually following the speed limit, if not going a mile or two below. Still it was claimed that I was going “well over eighty.” Either my boyish charm prevailed or the officer knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on, but we were let off with our second written warning of the evening. This is not to say that the spirit of our 100+ mile per hour rampage through the Great Plains was not damaged, as from this point on cruise control was set at a few miles per hour over the limit.
After what seemed like hours, we finally crossed through Omaha and over the river into Iowa. With 1 AM swiftly approaching, the prospects of finding an exit with both an open Wendy’s as well as a gas station seemed grim. We settled for gas and a snack, and embarked on a 280 mile stretch to the town of Wolcott and the highly regarded Iowa 80 truckstop, which claims to be the world’s largest. Regardless of their claims, Iowa 80 is the world’s premiere dealer of fine wolf shirts, Christian bumper stickers, and cutlery, as well as the location of an infuriatingly understaffed 24 hour Wendy’s.
With all of our humanly needs fulfilled at one truckstop, we were on the last leg of our journey back to Chicago. Less than 30 miles east on Interstate 80, we crossed the Mississippi River, signaling our triumphant return to the kingdom of Blagojevich. Shortly after, we merged onto Interstate 88, which could only in a state with the political tradition of ours, be named after the disaster that was Ronald Reagan.
At this point, it’s about 4:00 AM central time on Friday. It’s 2:00 AM Friday in LA. Exactly 36 hours earlier I was sitting outside in the sun, eating a hamburger in Costa Mesa. Trying to pinpoint the moment at which time jumped the shark, I find myself reflecting upon the roulette wheel at the Flamingo, the deserted rest stop in Utah, 16th street mall in Denver, 350 miles of Nebraska while listening to late 80’s shoegaze, and then what?
Only a day prior I took this photo of the sun setting in the California desert as we drove towards Las Vegas.
I’d been driving without sleep since Salina, Utah. Now I’m sitting in Friday morning rush hour traffic fifty miles west of Chicago on a tollway named after an asshole. I’m tired and delusional and there’s a shit ton of snow on the ground and the sun is just starting to rise. We could stop for lattes, but as a brilliant man would say, “there’s no time for handjobs.” We merge onto 290, bumper to bumper through Maywood and Oak Park. Finally after Harlem it opens up, we switch from Belle and Sebastian on the now defunct iPod to Bone Thugs N Harmony on the CD Player, exit at Damen, and drive the final two and a half miles north to Wicker Park, arriving just before 8:00 AM.
We quickly unload the car in the alley before I circle the neighborhood looking for parking. Of course Wicker Park being in it’s own timezone, no one is actually awake at 8:00 on a Friday morning, so parking is actually more difficult than it would be at noon when everyone heads to brunch. After locating an unplowed and icy spot two blocks from my apartment, I lodge my car into a mess that I assume I’ll have to dig myself out of next time I leave, that is if my car even starts after the zero degree cold spell that is predicted for the following days.
I’m in Chicago, trick.
I’m still in Long Beach. It’s very lazy here. We’ve been going out every night, but pretty much just eating and getting nothing done during the day. The overall amount of flannel here is slightly appalling. It’s been 80 and sunny everyday, so I’m not complaining.
We’re about to head to the proper eastside for some King Taco and a visit to VIP Records, where Snoop Dogg shot his first video.
I was browsing Expedia this morning, waiting for people to wake up, and stumbled upon something I wish I hadn’t seen. New York-Rio de Janeiro on February 4th and Buenos Aires-New York on April 8th for a total of $670. Extremely tempting to click a few mouse buttons and be locked into a non-refundable two months of whatever in the southern hemisphere.
I’ll be back in Chicago on Friday. I think we’re leaving Long Beach the day after tomorrow. If the weather in the Rockies is clear, we’ll be driving through Vegas and Denver instead of following Old Route 66 through the Southwest. In the somewhat foreseeable event that I have a few drinks tonight and end up with a fancy new plane ticket, I’ll have to spend next week securing a visa at the Brazilian embassy in Chicago, getting a yellow fever vaccination, attempting to sublet my bedroom, renewing my international drivers license, and converting my stash of Euros to Brazilian Reals and Argentine Pesos.
Time for tacos.
Last Thursday was perhaps the first time in my life that I’ve started a driving trip on time, let alone early. Nonetheless, the car was packed, bikes strapped on the hatch, and we were on our way to Grayslake to acquire our third party by 10:30 in the morning. Shortly after noon, we were on our way to Lawrence, Kansas, almost an hour before our estimated time of departure of 1:00.
Our leisurely pace put us in Lawrence around 10:00 pm, where we were put up by our friends Amanda and Rustin, who we’d just seen in Chicago the week before. A night of cheap drinks, not-so-good live music, and delicious pizza was followed by breakfast at Milton’s (the second best breakfast spot in the United States) and some record shopping on Mass Ave. The sunny 65 degree weather was a nice change from the 20’s and snow that we had left in Chicago the day before. Our last stop in Lawrence was a visit to Luke Bender’s liquor store, as well as the dotdotdot art collective that shares the space next to the liquor store. The portrait show at the gallery is quite impressive.
Upon departure of Lawrence, we decided that the best way to remain on schedule would be to make dinner reservations somewhere along our route. That being said, at 3:30 in Lawrence, Kansas, we made 8:30 dinner reservations at the Outback Steakhouse (for some reason I had gift cards) in Oklahoma City. With steaks and lobsters on the horizon, we kept up the early streak, and checked in for our reservations at 8:15. In hindsight, it was probably a bad call to order crab-stuffed-shrimp in a farm town 1500 miles from the nearest saltwater, but we were on a roll. We also managed to acquire groupies in the waitstaff.
At our dinner, we decided it was imperative to make it to Long Beach for a house party on Saturday night. We figured that by driving straight through, our eta would be 4-6 pm Saturday evening. I kept up driving until Tucumcari, New Mexico, at which point Brendan took over. Until this stop, I had driven the entire trip. I fell asleep immediately after retiring my post, but woke up soon to see Brendan, white-knuckled, fishtailing at 90 mph along 3 inches of snowpack on Interstate 40. After not crashing, we traveled the remaining 60 miles to Albuquerque at speeds between 20 and 50 mph, depending on snow conditions.
Somewhere between almost dying and arriving in the southwest’s most unpleasant city, I realized that I had fallen violently ill. The bathroom floor at the Albuquerque Flying J Truckstop was left with a puddle of bloody steak vomit. The rest of the drive was interrupted by frequent emergency pullovers for roadside vomiting from the backseat. We arrived in Long Beach at 5:15 PM, on time. Dan and Brendan went to the party. I slept for 18 hours.
Yesterday afternoon Marky S and I decided rather impulsively to drive down to Champaign-Urbana for the night. Neither of us had been down there in well over a year, and with a plethora of friends and places to stay in that town I figured it would be a good preflight for the LA run that my car will be making on Thursday.
Urbana was great, however the seed of doubt has been planted as the intervals of time between which my car turns itself off randomly seem to be decreasing. Not to mention the alignment and braking situation. The civic hit 153,000 miles somewhere in the south suburbs this afternoon. It’s been to New York and back twice, as well as Miami since the last oil change. Perhaps I’ll pencil in an oil change on tomorrow’s list, somewhere in between eating a bacon wrapped filet mignon at Fogo de Chao and paying my phone bill at AT&T.
On a different note, Capture One, the only program that currently converts Leica RAW files, has completely stopped working on my computer. In light of this, I have about 3 gigabytes of unusable RAW files sitting on my desktop. Here are some unedited jpegs at 3200 ISO that I shot on the way out of the city last night.
Note the engine light
Southbound Dan Ryan
View Larger Map
Back in November a few friends and I decided rather impulsively to drive to Miami for the weekend. Leaving after class Thursday afternoon and returning shortly before class Monday at 8:30 in the morning, we’d cover 2760 miles roundtrip through the lower midwest and the southeastern United States. With the total available time being roughly 86 hours, we were left with 38 hours of actually being in Miami after accounting for the 48 hours spent in transit. Normally my policy is that time spent in the destination must be greater than time spent in the car, however the unseasonably early snowstorm and 20 degree weather forecast for Chicago that weekend called for drastic measures.
We arrived in Miami Beach Friday night to discover that nascar was in town, and as such all accommodations were booked solid and the city was full of hundreds of thousands of people who drink lite beer and enjoy watching cars drive in ovals for hours on end. After quite the search we landed ourselves in a bayside motel in a slightly grimy residential neighborhood on the northwest side of Miami Beach. No complaints though, as the price was more than right, our door opened up to a waterfront pool, and a slashy and some excellent Colombian takeout was just a five-minute walk over the bridge into Miami proper.
A few weeks after returning to Chicago, I was watching a rap videos on Latin American Television with a new friend when I was shocked to see the pool at the International Inn as the setting for quite the scandalous video. Upon further Youtube and Google investigation, I became aware that this was also the motel from the Reno 911 movie. Strange how that works.
Our days consisted of this.
As is obligatory while driving through the southern United States, we consumed much Chik-fil-a and Waffle House, as well as a stop at a rather unfortunate Wendy’s in Merrillville, Indiana on both the way out and the way back. Fortunately, our diets while in Miami consisted of exclusively Cuban, Colombian, and Argentine food. In fact, I enjoyed the most delicious empanada of my life at an Argentine bakery at 5:30 am after riding the Collins Avenue bus up from a long night at Purdy Lounge and night swimming in South Beach.
Joe lost his glasses after being slapped in the face by a wave while body surfing on the morning of our departure, rendering me the only capable driver, as the girls cannot drive a shifter car. Although I’ve driven thirty hours straight without sleeping on multiple occasions, I didn’t have it in me to do this without a break. We ended up sleeping in the car in the parking lot of a Waffle House in Macon, Georgia. This was rather convenient, as upon waking up I had to walk less than twenty feet to acquire my daily serving of bacon. Monica had grits. This is probably why her sunglasses matched the facade of the restaurant.
I forget where I saw this, but I was so appalled I actually went back to my car to grab my camera.
A quick stop at a used record store near Tulane University in Nashville for a re-up on the soundtrack left us with TLC’s Crazy Sexy Cool, The Fugees Greatest Hits, and soundtrack to Hedwig and the Angry Inch to cap out the drive.
Although we arrived home in time for my Monday morning class, I put some aloe on my slightly crisped back and took a nap.