“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”
– Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
So the great road trip of 2012 has come to a close. Well, it came to a close Monday at approx. 9:27p.m. when I flung myself into my apartment, disheveled and in desperate need of Thai food. It’s funny how I could go 12 hours in the car no sweat, but 12 hours of air travel took the wind out of my sails. I’ll blame it on the minimal sleep & general vacation hangover. All in all, I drove a 3,000 mile tour of gluttony and excess with Penguin and puppy and lived to tell the tale. It’s a long one, so sit down and rest a spell. As we were live-tweeting the entire experience (#WHMS – When Harry Met Sally), I will scatter the tale with the “Best of Twitter” moments…
TUESDAY– “@HillarySpeaks: OMG guys we’re in Iowa. Penguin has officially transported a woman across state lines. Intent determines whether this is a felony.”
We stopped in Iowa City for dinner, deciding on Sanctuary Pub after frantically texting my many Iowan friends for suggestions. One lamented her absence and proclaimed to be living vicariously through me that evening. Iowans love everything Iowa, so I expected only greatness. My beef stew was exactly what I needed. Not sure if Penguin even tasted his macaroni and cheese, as it was gone in 39 seconds. I did. It was delicious. So was the butter-soaked garlic bread. After dinner, we went next door to the liquor store and picked up a bottle of Templeton Rye – Iowans tout it as the best in the world… like anything from Iowa. We also spotted a peculiar item: wine-infused whipped cream. We laughed about it then, but kicked ourselves the rest of the week for not purchasing. We spent the night in beautiful Council Bluffs, IA, our room illuminated by the glow of the neighboring gas stations and casino.
WEDNESDAY – ”Penguin: ‘It makes sense now why they don’t have a show about Nebraska truckers…’ – @HillarySpeaks after driving 250 miles through Nebraska”
Penguin wanted me to have the pleasure of crossing into Nebraska in the daylight… and by that, I mean he wanted me to have the pleasure of driving the entire state of Nebraska. Cross that off of the “to do” list! Nothing of note really happened in Nebraska. Penguin, refusing to drink the swill our hotel called coffee, promptly passed out for a few hours… but only after playing the Folger’s theme by Rockapella. We stopped for lunch at Grandma Max’s, a quaint restaurant/gas station, where he proved his unnatural talent for winning claw game prizes. My bounty? A plush Angry Birds bird. It was here that I was persuaded to trying ranch dressing for the first time. Yea, you heard me.
“@HillarySpeaks: Thought it was a city. Turned out to be an oil refinery. #wyoming”
Not long into Wyoming, I saw my first tumbleweeds. Lots of wind, which explains the tumbleweeds. See, guys? It’s like I understand the concept of cause and effect. My HS physics teacher would be so proud. He would probably ask me to return his rocket modeling CD, too. Sorry, Mr. Black. Wyoming/Nebraska was also host to myriad crazy cargo. Weird things spotted on trucks included a closed truck trailer, complete with HVAC system, full of show chickens; a motor the size of Motor City; a TANK; a trailer of axles with wheels; and what we could only assume were nuclear warheads and missiles. Dare I say the Plains States are preparing for the zombie apocalypse?
The pinnacle of Wednesday was our stop in Little America, Wyoming, a “census-designated place.” We laughed for a good 20 minutes reading Tom K’s Yelp review, which raved about the bathrooms, but NOT the $10 bottles of wine. We didn’t get a look at the touted “marble bathrooms,” but we did get awkward pictures of us on a bison and a brontosaurus. I was a little bummed that there was no Little Ellis Island. We ended the night (late) at Penguin’s friend’s place in Logan, UT, but only after driving through an enchanted forest fecund with deer. Creepy, Hitchcock-like swarms of deer.
THURSDAY – ”Penguin: Yeah someone drew a penis in the snow on the [Mitt Romney Stadium] field. Didn’t expect that.”
We got a nice break from driving when we took an extra day in Logan.
Penguin’s pal gave us a walking tour of his campus, a driving tour of the nearby mountains, and an epicurean tour of Northern Utah: Polygamy Porter & pita chips. While purchasing said items at the grocery store, we saw an old man buying the 18-pack of Keystone Light tall boys that Penguin had been eyeing minutes earlier. This pretty much made our lives. The nightlife tour included three different styles of “bar”: a basement establishment that served pizza & pitchers of 3.2; one with dead animals on the walls; and the lone establishment that served liquor, where three of us drank the majority of a bottle of Wild Turkey 101. I mean… you can only drink so much 3.2 beer. Literally. You might suffer from hyper-hydration and die.
I also had several bouts of genius in Utah… I do my best work on watered-down beer. I’m like a watered-down Kerouac. Several musings included:
- Petey Pablo was CLEARLY inspired to write Freak-a-Leak after listening to Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5; and
- Fantasy Fantasy… where you bet on the success of other people’s fantasy teams. I’m gonna need a programmer to develop this. I’ll pay you in draft picks. And ground floor investment possibilities.
So, I mean… all of my pictures have been ridiculous at this point, but THIS happened:
FRIDAY – ”Penguin: Must read article about Young Jeezy. Happy to know we have the same taste in bfast cereal. @HillarySpeaks wants Jeezy to move in with her”
Leaving Utah, we stopped for coffee at a panini shop/church called The Genesis Project. We might have been converted. I’m not sure… I called Penguin a smartass in front of the very cheerful cashier and instantly felt guilty… and by guilty I thought maybe they would kick us out without letting us get our coffee, which might have resulted in Penguin leaving me in a shallow grave.
The drive at this point was a lot of rolling hills — what the geophysicist of the group called basin and range. I just figured that they’d count as my hill repeats, even if I wasn’t running them.
Penguin entertained me on the drive by reading excerpts from an article on Young Jeezy. “What happened with Jeezy?” you might ask. Things got real and he moved in with a friend accused of murder and ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I’m hoping that when things get real for me as I study for the Bar Exam, he’ll come eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch with me. We also amused ourselves with ridiculous billboards. My favorite one called for drivers to “Find out what word rhymes with varmint,” which advertised the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The most confusing was one that said “Cowboy up or go sit in your truck.” We’re still not sure a) what that means; and b) what it advertised.
As we passed through Reno, we joked that we were going to get hitched. Or was it a joke? Turns out ALL of my friends thought it was true. THANKS GUYS. We landed in Truckee, CA, and grabbed drinks/dinner at Bar of America with another friend of Penguin’s in town for the weekend. Shitty service resulted from our gratuity-included-sized group, but the goat ragout, wild boar, and beet salad we split were pretttty phenomenal. Post-dinner festivities included shotskis of tequila practically upon entry, and enjoying the party house hot tub while the others played board games.
SATURDAY – ”@HillarySpeaks: Welcome to Napa! Let’s frolic… & then go see #rockapella in concert, drunk on food & wine from @RamsGateWinery.”
On our drive through Utah, we had learned that Rockapella (yea, the genius acappella group that narrated Carmen San Diego’s travels) was playing in Napa the night we would be there. This was clearly fate, and you don’t thumb your nose at that. We found a hotel in historic downtown Napa where the crazy concierge told me I looked like Kendra Wilkinson and boisterously welcomed puppy into the lobby. I’ve heard several celebrity comparisons. A playmate has never been one of them… After checking in, we popped into a few shops – and by that I mean we did a local wine tasting; checked out a high-end dog store that sold singing dreidel dog toys; and bought Rockapella tickets at the Napa Opera House.
A college friend of mine is a chef at Ram’s Gate Winery, and she gave us a fantastic private tour before setting us up with patio seats overlooking the Sonoma sunset. As we enjoyed the view, in awe of everything around us, she sent out wine and food at a rate that could only be considered hazing. Menu (with pairings) consisted of mushroom and truffle arancini; a cheese board fit for a king; goat cheese & mushroom tort with a fennel salad; braised oxtail over fresh pappardelle; lamb meatballs in a mole sauce that would make you slap Rick Bayless; and two cakes: carrot and chocolate heaven on a plate. We giggled as every course came out. When our server brought out our cheese board, I think we gasped. It was enormous… to the point that we were discussing how a breathalyzer on the way home might just read “cheese.” Run – don’t walk – to Ram’s Gate. Seriously. You’re welcome.
“Penguin: if [you] heard a drunk pair of kids in their 20s screaming for folgers theme from the balcony, that was me and @HillarySpeaks”
After a fantastic dinner, we did what any red-blooded American would do… drink more wine & then head over the the Napa Valley Opera House to see Rockapella in concert. We might have been a little wine-happy, ordering a bottle 20 minutes before the show… or Penguin might have been flirting with the bartender. Actually, both scenarios are totally viable.
We sat on pins and needles (read: we were merrily singing along at a volume that was probably inconsiderate of our neighbors) waiting for them to play the Folger’s Coffee theme song, as well as their money-maker: “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” They played both and so much more. I found out (as I wrote this) that one of the singers is a graduate of my rival high school. If only I had known at the time… he totally would have partied with us. After the concert, we skipped over to the brewery next door for some local micro brews. Napa, as much as it’s known for its wine, has some fantastic local breweries.
Sunday — “@HillarySpeaks: Penguin: you know the easiest way to tell tourists from natives. Me: Prob something I’m doing? Penguin: Yea, wearing shorts…”
We might have woken up after check-out was supposed to happen. We might have also stopped for some pretty tasty coffee as we developed the day’s game plan. Penguin has a pretty ingenious system. Everywhere he travels, he checks the “Best Thing I Ever Ate” wikipedia page to determine whether or not there’s a local must-try option. After determining that a must-try bakery in Bakersfield was closed on Sundays, we decided that we would take the scenic Highway 1 down the coast of California. We stopped at a sandwich shop in Monterey – Compagno’s - that was beyond words. Unless those words were “nom nom nom.” The HALF sandwich we both ordered was easily the size of both hands combined. We finished our sandwiches and hit the road, Pacific Ocean-bound.
The 1 was incredible… and then we hit Big Sur, at which point it became unbelievable.
I didn’t realize that this part of our country existed. At one point, both the dog and I were panting, heads out of the window, as Penguin happily drove the
hairpin curves, Johnny Cash filling the narrow space between mountain and ocean. As it turns out, our gigantic meal was fortuitous. About 75 min into our drive, we learned that a landslide had taken out the road ahead, forcing us to U-turn and make our way back to Monterey. Hard to get mad when you stop and ask for directions at place that looks like this…
While the detour was beautiful, it put a crimp in our timeline. Dinner, as well as drinks with some high school pals of mine, were abbreviated and cut, respectively as we didn’t slink into San Diego until close to midnight.
To cap off this culinary tour of California, Penguin took me to my very first In-And-Out Burger. Despite my aversion to cream-based sauces in pedestrian circumstances (it’s a very niche aversion), he forced me to go the more traditional route and order as-is. He did allow me to go “animal style,” which was super nice of him. It was also super nice of him to wait in line at the counter with a 7-year-old boy and ask for a hat for me to wear.
Upon reaching our final destination, we collapsed on the couch with a bottle of wine that he had brought back from New Zealand. With puppy at our feet, we enjoyed (slept in) La Jolla for all of seven hours before racing me to the airport.
Monday — “@HillarySpeaks: TSA agent just patted down my ponytail… I might look like a complete and total degenerate.”
The WHMS Roadtrip was filled with firsts: New places, new states, new foods, & new visuals. It was also filled with laughs. Hood to Coast team, take heart. The fact that we both lived to tell the tale bodes well for our Portland adventure…