Category Archives: America

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

We drove the hour and fifteen minutes to Pittsburgh from Betz’s house in the morning to drop him off before I headed back to Middletown.

He and his friends moved into my old house from the year before, so it was really strange dropping him off there. It was the first time I’d seen my old place since I left so long ago. A pang of sadness hit me when I realized it wasn’t my place anymore. Then I got over it.

After dropping him off I headed out on the final leg of the trip by my lonesome. It was the three hour drive from Pittsburgh to Middletown down the mundane PA Turnpike. Normally, I’d make some sort of quip about the turnpike being equal to one or more of the gates of hell, but today was different. The painfully boring trek through western and central Pennsylvania has never been more welcoming. It meant I was going home.

Although I went longer periods of time without going home while still in college, this stretch felt much longer than normal for obvious reasons. I gained so much life experience in the last two months that I couldn’t even begin to describe it to someone. When my friends asked, “How was LA?” I never knew how to answer. “Good” would normally suffice for them, but inside I knew that it was so much more than good. I wanted to describe every minute of everyday, every beach, every work week, every mile on the road trip there and back. I wanted to talk about the people and the scenery, the drivers, the weather, the ocean, the culture.

The friends that did get to hear everything probably wanted to kill me. I was the obnoxious person returning from a semester abroad – all I could do was think and talk about everything that happened.

The final road trip was great overall. Las Vegas was awesome and I will absolutely be visiting again. I saw a ton of the Southwest, which I most likely won’t intentionally visit again. The Deep South rocked, and I can’t wait to go back to NOLA. I only got a taste of that city and it was sweet. The regular South was alright too. Each place has it’s quirks. Each has its pros and cons.

What’s next? Between these two road trips and other places I’ve been in my life I’ve visited 32 states and Washington D.C. so far. The goal is obviously to make it to all 50. I basically need to visit all the states that touch Canada, including Alaska but not including New York or Vermont. A few stragglers in the Midwest (I’m looking at you Kansas), and of course, Hawaii.

The three hours went by faster than I ever thought. I got off the turnpike and drove the familiar six roads to my house. As I pulled into my neighborhood, a sigh of relief overwhelmed me – I was home and it felt great. I parked in my spot in front of the house, walked across the yard, and opened the front door.

“MOM?! I’M HUNGRY.”

Ain’t no party like a Xavier party. Honestly.

We headed north to Cincinnati. The drive was only about 2 hours or so, but after driving around so much earlier, we were pretty exhausted. We managed to get turned around leaving Maker’s Mark – probably because it’s in BFE Kentucky where there’s no reception – so we took an odd route to get there. Once again more back roads, which is cool but really slow.

Our drive took us through Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky. We actually drove right past the Capitol building. It was on a really nice tree-lined street. I popped my head out of the sunroof at a red light to get a picture.

Convertible guy

The picture turned out to be of mid life crisis man driving his convertible instead.

The drive was relatively painless. We got to Cincy in the early evening to stay with Betz’s friend at Xavier. She made us dinner, which was awesome. She lived in a pretty big house, so we met the roommates and began the festivities for the night. We had a few drinks at her house while we got ready, played some games, and so on. Then the fun really began.

We went to a house party somewhere. When we walked in, there weren’t very many people there. Everyone was very segregated into their friend groups like it was a middle school dance when guys and girls are afraid to talk to each other. A really drunk guy stumbled by with a beer bong. However we couldn’t find any beer. The three of us stared at each other in astonishment. Xavier parties make Pitt parties look like a club in Barcelona.

After leaving the crashing and burning meet and greet we headed to some bars downtown. We danced around and did things that people do at bars like wait in the bathroom line and constantly look for your friends.

I slept on the couch that night and woke up to one of the roommates and her parents walking around the living room. So there goes my dignity. It’s a shame all my clothes were on – things could have gotten really weird then. After they searched for a phone in the couch I was on for some time they left and I slept a few more hours.

Betz and I left around 11 or 12 to head back to his house in Greenville. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Pittsburgh. On the way there we jammed out to Soulja Boy to rid ourselves of the crippling boredom that Ohio brings to America.

YOUUUUU

Good luck other drivers.

We arrived at Betz’s in the early evening. I met his family (sans father but including niece and nephew), saw his house, ate venison for the first time (that’s deer, folks), saw his farm and multitude of animals (including an awesome dog), had a bonfire, met another friend of his, chatted a lot with all these new people, and called it a night.

In the morning I was heading home for the first time in what felt like a year.

Finally.

Making my mark at Maker’s Mark.

We woke up late and bolted out of our friend’s place faster than Twista can finish a verse. We were heading to Loretto, KY to go to the Marker’s Mark Distillery but were going to have to make it fast or else we’d miss the 3:30 tour – the last of the day.

We were nearly across state lines when we realized we hadn’t gotten any Georgia peaches. Luckily there was a random peach stand when we got off to get gas, so we stopped to pick some up. I bought a basket of peaches. I don’t like peaches. So that was a poor choice.

Peaches (n Cream)

We entered Tennessee and the scenery took another change – this time for the better. It’s a gorgeous area full of rolling hills and green fields and trees. I made and obligatory “You’re the only ten I see” joke to Betz and proceeded to lose cell phone reception and fall asleep for a while.

We were surprised to see that this is the where the city all those jacked dudes in 300 were fighting about.

THIS IS

We didn’t want to get involved in their little fight so we kept going. Soon we entered Kentucky. Kentucky is very much the same as Tennessee except that it’s more north and less God fearing.

We got off the highway pretty early in Kentucky since Loretto is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Those are the best types of trips because you get to see the countryside for all it’s worth. Also there are no cops so the rules of the road only apply to annoying law abiding citizens.

As we approached the Maker’s Mark distillery we realized that we hadn’t brushed our teeth that day. Because we were all jacked up on testosterone from passing the Spartans, we chose to do exactly what is pictured below.
Mobile bathroom

We got to Maker’s Mark just in time for the last tour. Our tour guide was a little blonde girl with more attitude than Queen Latifah in Barbershop 2 when she argues with Cedric the Entertainer in his baby pool. She led the tour pretty quickly (she obviously wanted to go home) but it was still a pretty cool tour. We got to see the entire process that Maker’s Mark goes through to become the wonderful drink that it is.

I won’t bore you with the details (mostly because I can’t remember them) but it was a really interesting tour. One downfall though. My beer poop from the night before decided to strike about 10 minutes in. The tour was about an hour long. At first is was a slow, dull pressure, but with each step and each stop it became worse and worse until it felt like little rats were clawing at my bowels. If anyone bumped into me I was going to annihilate my pants.

As we approached the end of the tour all I could think about were the restrooms in the gift shop. They were calling my name and my insides were begging to meet the stall. Finally she explained how the process of creating Maker’s Mark came to completion and I nearly jumped for joy (I didn’t though because, well, you know).

A huge sigh of relief swept over me as we entered the building that contained the gift shop. Then the second to worst thing happened (the worst being public defection) – she made an unexpected turn and we entered the tasting room. Not only were we not done, I had to sit through a tasting of three different types of Maker’s Mark. Normally this would excite me as I’ve only ever had the regular bourbon, but today was different. At this point I was letting out little farts just to relieve myself of some pain. I looked at the seat I had to sit on and prayed to the Lord above that that stool wouldn’t get covered in my stool.

Ten agonizing minutes later, with sweat beading on my forehead and eyebrows, we were done. As I bolted up to leave, the tour guide announced one last “surprise” – we got to try Maker’s Mark bourbon chocolate. Because the only thing I needed less than holding the behemoth inside my bowels longer was food to make it worse.

I could have skipped the chocolate, but who know if I was every going to get the chance to eat it again? So I ate the delicious morsel and took off on a dead sprint to the bathroom. It was the entire way across the gift shop. I think I set my PR for the 100 yard sprint that day.

And it was worth it. The stalls weren’t some grungy, plastic door, stained toilet seat stalls. These stalls had full length wooden doors, relaxed country music, and wonderfully clean facilities. Until I got there at least. The release was similar to the feeling you get when you’re approaching your front door with your hands full of groceries and someone opens it just as you get there combined with catching your friend doing something really embarrassing and keeping it a secret until just the right moment.

After losing 10 pounds I dipped my own bottle of Maker’s Mark into their signature red wax.

Dippin Bottles

And here’s the perfectly dipped bottle.

My booze

Ok so I screwed up the wax a bit. Whatever. I had a rough day.

We left the distillery and headed to Cincinnati. Which is the hardest city in the United States to spell correctly on the first try.

Southern hospitality.

We left the heat and humidity of Louisiana early that morning to make our way to the heat and humidity of Georgia that night. To do so we had to drive through Alabama.

So that was fun.

Out of obligation, we played Sweet Home Alabama when we entered the state. We stopped around Mobile to get gas when a miracle happened.

Gas was $3.21 a gallon. It was like God reached out his hand and led us to this glorious place in America. A week before I bought gas in Los Angeles for $4.02 and was happy for my good fortune so this was like finding the gold at the end of the rainbow and then having the leprechaun show me how to make my own gold.

Or something like that.

The drive was very long, very green, and very flat. Basically we were driving through Texas again but instead of dreadfully boring brown we were staring at slightly less dreadfully boring green. Upgrade!

We were heading to Atlanta to stay with a mutual friend who lives and works there. It was Friday night, so we were excited to see the ATL nightlife. We arrived around 3:30 in the afternoon and our friend was still at work, so we walked to Olympic Park near his house. It’s a park dedicated to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta which also happen to be the Centennial games.

The park was cool. A nice open green space that we enjoyed for about 10 minutes and then walked aimlessly through for another 20. We then realized the Coke Museum was nearby and headed that way. We didn’t make it in time for a tour, but the gift shop was open. Never in my life have I seen so many Coke and Diet Coke related products. Shirts, bags, bottle openers, dog leashes, basketballs, hats, hoodies – you name it, they either had it or it was on back order. They also had a few cups there to choose from:

THIRSTYSoon our friend called to tell us he was home so we needlessly purchased Coke¬†paraphernalia and headed back. Our friend’s apartment was glorious. Not only was it big, but there was a rooftop basketball court, volleyball court, and tennis court. And everyone up there was young. Jerks.

We went to dinner and relaxed for a bit before heading to a pregame with some of our friend’s coworkers. Oddly enough, when we got to the pregame I met someone from Hershey, which is 15 minutes from where I grew up and also where I sold my soul for 3 years working. When I found out he was from Hershey, I got excited and started naming my friends who I knew from high school. He didn’t really seem to care. So my joy was left cluttering my head while he talked to other friends. The night was starting with a bang.

We got called a cab and took it to Buckhead, a downtown of sorts in Atlanta. We were driven by a portly woman named Yolanda whose card I still have in my wallet for some reason. She was hilarious and also probably wanted us out of her cab as quickly as possible.

We trolled around Buckhead all night until decided it was time to leave and get a cab to Waffle House (you could say we were well over the legal limit to operate, well, anything really). Best. Choice. Ever. We sat at the “bar” in the diner and I got what seemed to be an endless amount of food. Every time I finished one plate, another one was placed in front of me. Cheesy grits, bacon, scrambled eggs and cheese, toast, pancakes. I inhaled every morsel. It was the second time in one day the Lord blessed me with good fortune.

I was so focused on my food that when I was done I looked over to see my two friends asleep at the bar. One slumped forward, the other backwards. I looked over to see people at a table nearby laughing and making fun of them. I got irrationally angry at them for making fun of my friends so I made everyone leave and gave the mean table a dirty look. Gotcha good ATL.

I woke up the next morning on a deflated air mattress using my jacket as a pillow. My friends are so hospitable.

I’ll take my beer to go.

The Superdome was right in front of us as we got off the highway. It was cool in a “I’ll never go in there and have no desire to ever go in there” kind of way.

The first thing I noticed about New Orleans was that every other street name is in French. Which makes sense if you know anything the history of New Orleans. Well, that’s what I would guess. I know nothing about the history of New Orleans. The first street we turned on to was Tchoupitoulas Street. My guess is CHOO-PA-TOO-LAS but who really cares.

Stepping out of the car was the most disgusting thing I’d done all trip. The air was so thick you could have sucked the water out of it with a straw. It was the complete opposite of what I’d been living in for the past two months and the past five days in particular. One thing I sure did not miss was humidity. And mosquitoes with their diseases.

Our first stop was for dinner at a restaurant whose name is escaping me. We chose it because it served pretty authentic (or at least authentic to the tourists) Creole food. Needless to say I was excited. Betz and I took a seat near the back that gave us a view into the kitchen. We ordered our food and watched the cooks prepare it. I accidentally made eye contact with one of them. He asked me “how’s it going” and instead of responding “good” I averted my eyes looked straight down and grabbed my glass of water. I made a promise as a child not to talk to strangers and I don’t break promises damn it.

Our food came out. Betz ordered alligator and gumbo. I got rabbit (herein referred to as bunny) with dumplings and boudin. Boudin (or boudain, depending where you get it), from what I remember, varies in ingredients but generally includes a type of sausage, rice, and mixture of spices. Mine was fried. It was like hearing Susan Boyle sing for the first time in my mouth.

But here’s the big guy:

BunnyBunny. And to be entirely cliche, it tastes like chicken. I could tell it wasn’t chicken, but probably only because I knew it was Bugs’s cousin. It too was great. Betz’s food was good too, although I wasn’t crazy about the gumbo.

Off we went. The sun had already gone down, but there was no way we were going to the campsite before strolling down Bourbon Street. For those who are unaware, Bourbon Street is in New Orleans’s famous French Quarter. It’s beautiful area of the city that has elaborate French architecture. We walked through a bit of it before getting to our destination.

Although it was Wednesday, Rue Bourbon still gave off the stench of sin. Bourbon street has no open container laws, so we got a beer from a “to-go” bar that was really just a window facing the street.

Walking up and down that street forced me to reconsider my definition of eccentric. Every bar had people yelling at you to pressure you to come in. Strip clubs linked the bars together and the strippers were in the street yelling at you to come in. Street performers weren’t your typical singing act or magician. They were this:

Crazy monsterI think that picture speaks for itself. Mostly because I can’t say a damn thing about it.

The best part of the night was the end. Just as we were nearing the end of the street, we heard a band playing. As we got closer, we saw a huge group of men playing everything from the trumpet and saxophone to the bass drum and snares in southern big band style. Two women were dancing around to the music in front of the band (they were either with the band or on drugs, or both). We watched until they stopped playing. It was the most authentic New Orleans I could have seen in my short time there. It’s a memory I will never forget.

We headed to the campsite. As I laid the tent out to set it up I looked over to see the biggest rabbit in the wild. This thing was huge. I scared it away by letting it smell its nephew on my breath.

Remember the humidity? Well if anything, it had gotten worse. As we laid in the tent, sweat was pouring down my face. I didn’t move an inch and yet the sweat didn’t stop. I don’t know how people in the Deep South do it, but I give them props.

And I give them deodorant. Lots of deodorant.

 

BONUS: here’s a middle aged woman acting exactly as you’d expect a middle aged woman to act.

Crazy monster and guy in weird costume