Tag Archives: travel

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.

Don’t hold your breath.

Now that we separated ourselves from the situation in the living room, we got ready and hit downtown Austin. If you’ve never been to Austin, go there. It’s awesome. We headed to 6th street which is packed with bars and, on the weekends, is closed to vehicles. Also no open container laws exist. Which is heavenly for the drunk on the go.

We bar hopped a bit until finding our way to Pete’s. Pete’s is a dueling piano bar. We stayed there for a while, listening to the best live piano I’ve ever heard and having a few beers. We decided to check out a few other bars, but alas, we ended up going back to Pete’s and (poorly) singing the night away.

Pete'sAt one point Betz rode a mechanical bull. Those pictures (and the video) mysteriously disappeared from my camera roll. I have my suspicions as to where they went.

Anyway, the next day we got up and headed out for our longest drive of the trip – a nearly 9 hour trek to New Orleans. We woke up at 10, so needless to say we got a much later start than intended. And, as always, we had to suffer through the desolate landscape. Only this time my old friend Mr. Hangover poked his ass into the car. Dick.

When we were nearly out of Texas, we realized that we hadn’t gotten any true Texas food. We stopped in Beaumont to pick up some brisket. It was one of the best choices we made on the entire trip. It melted in my mouth and was the perfect hangover food. I ate it so quickly that I may or may not have eaten a few pieces of the paper wrapper and my fingers.

Although I crossed the Mississippi in Iowa on the way out to LA, I was excited to see it down south where it’s the behemoth that I’ve always heard it to be. I checked the map every so often to make sure I didn’t miss it.

Then I zoned out and missed it. We passed through Baton Rouge and I kept staring at the buildings instead of checking out the river or snapping any pictures. I’m not sure if I have some type of mental disability or am just really, really stupid.

Finally, for the first time since we left Los Angeles, we saw grass. Grass! Turns out, Louisiana has a ton of it. And it’s always soggy. That state is really low. Like super low. Below sea level low.

A cool thing about the change in scenery is that we got to see a lot of bayous – something neither of us have seen before. They’re basically lakes with trees growing out of them. Cool for 5 minutes, just there for the next 3 hours. And it was pretty irritating that I didn’t see any racist Disney characters floating along in a canoe playing a banjo.

The BayouSee – lake with trees sans Disney characters. I assume there is an alligator or two in there.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally saw the New Orleans skyline. You can see it from miles and miles away as you cross a huge bayou on a raised highway. When you’re in southern Louisiana, it’s like you’re always driving over a bridge.

I can’t imagine how many little kids have passed out trying to hold their breath.

Prepare for liftoff.

With the gas debacle over, it was time to find a place to sleep. The only way to camp at Carlsbad is to skip the bat show letdown, so we made a great choice there. At the Visitor’s Center we were told that all around the entrance to the park is what’s called “public land”. It’s exactly what it sounds like – land that anyone can use for anything. So we found a dirt road and started up it.

We crept up a hill until we found an opening to camp. We could clearly tell it had been used recently because of the various beer cans laying around and the abandoned fire pit. Just like the night before, we set up camp using my car headlights and cooked a mediocre meal over the flimsiest gas stove ever made, anywhere.

The night sky was amazing. There were no lights for miles and the clouds had disappeared. We laid on the hood of my car (which now has a huge butt shaped dent in it) and stared at them for a while. I imagine it’s what the Badlands would have looked like if the clouds wouldn’t have been there.

Bedtime turned us into 3 year old little girls who wandered away from her Mom and just now realized she’s alone in Target. It was pretty scary being solo in that wide open space with nothing around but the wind and mysterious wildlife. And by mysterious wildlife, I assume there were flesh eating mutants roaming the land searching for 22 year old guys camping alone driving a 2002 white Honda Accord. These mutants have very particular tastes. Good tastes, obviously, but particular.

After a sleepless night waiting for the foodie mutants to arrive, it was time to head to Austin. We entered Texas to see this glorious sign:
True

Never in my life had I seen a speed limit so high. It was like God reached out and touched my soul. Pedal to the metal – we were getting to Austin ASAP. (I recently heard that they raised it to 85. At that point, is there even a need for a speed limit? Strap some wings onto your car and prepare for lift off.)

Unfortunately, the drive peaked there. Texas is terribly flat and boring. At least in Arizona we had cacti and mountains to look at. Texas has sporadic brown grass. I’m not sure why everyone that’s from there has so much pride it in. Sure, it’s big, but so is Montana and you don’t see them waving their flags in your face.

Of course about 7 people live in Montana.

Hours and hours later, we finally saw signs for Austin.

AustinThat’s a view of the city from an overpass. There are a ton of overpasses in Texas, and they’re really big.

We used AirBnB (if you don’t know, now you know) to find a place to stay. For those unfamiliar with the service, you essentially rent a room from someone’s house. They let you stay there for however many nights you want, and you pay them. It’s way cheaper than a hotel, and way more authentic.

Luckily, the guy we were renting from was in Mexico for the night, so we got to use his bedroom instead of the couches. Unfortunately, his roommates were not in Mexico for the night. They were nice enough – casual, helpful with places to go, etc. – but then, as Betz and I were having a drink before we went downtown for the night, Tim showed up.

Tim walked in wearing an ensemble that he most likely stole from a fry cook who just got off of work, part of which he then exchanged for the contents of a homeless man’s trash bag. His long curly hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in ages, and most of the things he was saying sounded like some sort of euphemism neither of us understood. When he realized we were there, he sat down beside Betz, stared forward, and introduced himself. Then, without missing a beat, he offered us drugs.

Betz and I took our drinks to the bedroom.

 

Cavesicles and Bat Flights (or lack thereof)

It amazes me that one day someone walking in the barren wilderness of New Mexico stumbled across Carlsbad Caverns. That person had no idea the amazing piece of land that they found. Because it’s dark in there. And I doubt they had a flashlight.

There are two hiking trails in the caves and we managed to get there before the first one closed. We kicked off the hike at the cleverly named “Natural Entrance”:

DA MOUF

It’s really quiet going in there because anything you say echoes very loudly. So much as a soft fart can be heard by all. Trust me on this one.

The caves are beautiful. There are facts along the way that describe what you’re looking at, how it formed, and so on. All of it was interesting, but I can’t remember anything of significance. It’s also enormous in there. So big that they only let tourists in certain areas of the cave. Apparently they’re still discovering new parts in the places where tourists aren’t allowed. Also, there’s a part that’s called (and I kid you not) the “Bat Cave”. I think it’s where Christian Bale lives. But more on that later.

As expected, there were stalactites and stalagmites all over the place. Or as I like to call them, “cavesicles”.

Cool cavesicles

Pretty sweet right? These bad boys were everywhere. It was hard to get good pictures, so I had to just use my memory instead (which sucked).

About 2 hours of hiking later, we made it through everything we were allowed to see, so we headed to the surface (oddly enough, on the elevator we met people from my hometown).

At the visitor’s center, we were told that they were having a “bat flight” showing at dusk, so we had some time to kill until then. On our way in, we noticed there was a “scenic route” for driving. We headed that way. This is what we saw.
Barren wilderness

For 9 wonderful miles, this was it. Cool? Yes. For 9 miles? No.

Then we realized we had a problem. The car was almost out of gas, and we weren’t even a third of the way done. There was no way to turn around as the road was a single lane rocks and dirt with nature to the left and right. And when I say out of gas, I mean the needle is ON the line for empty. Was the gas light on? No. Because the gas light in my care doesn’t work.

Panic mode sets in – all I can think about is us getting stranded miles from civilization for the night. After about 30 minutes of anxiety, we made it to the exit. Back to the visitor’s center and done crying in time for the bat flight.

Apparently, thousands of bats live in the “Bat Cave” inside the caverns. When the sun is setting, they fly out and go hunt. There’s an amphitheater there to sit and watch. I know what you’re thinking – “That sounds awesome!” “It’s probably just like in Batman!” “I hope they don’t poop on you!” Well it’s not awesome, nothing like Batman, and they do poop on you.

Well they don’t poop on you. The bats trickle out for minute after painstakingly slow minute. There’s no climax, no rush of wind from flapping wings, and definitely no crazy Batman-esque appearance. We gave it a shot, but after a while decided it was time to go.

We hopped in the car to head to our campsite. Then we realized that, although we made it out of the scenic route alive, there still was no gas in the car. Which is a major problem, because the closest gas station is at the entrance to the park, 7 miles away. Anxiety returned as I started the car and saw that the needle was not BELOW the empty line. We headed out and naturally got stuck behind the slowest driver known to man. At a roaring 20 mph we made our way down the winding, hilly road. Each tap of the gas pedal felt like it would be the last. With all my fingernails bitten off and sweat pouring down my face we finally reached the gas station.

Little did we know that wasn’t the last of our issues that night.

Mexico? No thanks.

Arizona morning

The sun shone through the clouds as we made our way out of the campground and to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Arizona, along with most of the Southwest, had some pretty interesting landscapes. There were always mountains in the distance, but not a mountain range. Just randomly placed mountains. And not really any grass either. Just dirt and shrubs.

And giant cacti. And no people. And no water. And a lot of sun. And misery.

To be honest, I liked it. I wouldn’t live there, but it was a cool place to see and visit again. If it was between there and Toledo.

Because it’s so flat in the Southwest, it makes rain very deceiving. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a rainy season in the Southwest. No winter, spring, summer or fall – just the dry season and the rainy season. We were there during the rainy season. This means that it normally rains once a day or so in quick spurts – not miserably pee on you for  6 days straight like it does up north. So as we drove along the highway, we could see rain clouds dotting the landscape. We could see for miles and miles, so we’d see rain that never even got close to us but drenched a large area of land.

It’s not like here in Pennsylvania where the weather is pretty much the same across the entire state. It took me a while to realize this, just long enough for my aversion to driving in thunderstorms kicked in.

When I was done silently weeping at the thought of driving in a thunderstorm I realized we had a strange route ahead of us. We entered New Mexico from the west, and were going across the state. But the fastest way to get there was to go down south into Texas and then back up north into New Mexico. As we entered Texas, we drove through El Paso. For those who are unaware, El Paso is on the border of Texas and Mexico. The city across the fence in Mexico is called Ciudad Juarez, and we had a perfect view.

It looked dirty and scary.

That was the closest I’d ever gotten to Mexico. To this day I pray I never have to get that close again. I saw one murder and three stabbings in 12 minutes. And somehow got high.

Screaming in terror from the sight of Mexico, we got off the highway for a less traveled state route back up to New Mexico. We barreled down the road until we came to an odd structure where we had to stop. As we got closer, we realized it was a Border Patrol station. Which was weird, because we were about 50 miles from the border. My guess is that if someone is sneaking into the USA, they’re not going to wait 50 miles to get off of the main road. Just a thought, border patrol.

So for the second time in three days, my car was searched for weapons and drugs. The dog didn’t find any drugs, and luckily, Carlos – who we had hidden in the backseat – kept quiet, so we were free to go.

We stopped at a rest stop to eat and let Carlos run like the wind. Here’s our view – it’s like where we stopped in Iowa but hotter and no corn or water and with dirt, shrubs and a mountain in the distance. So basically the same.

TexasBetz peed on the pavement like a dog and we made the final leg to Carlsbad Caverns. About 30 or 40 miles from the Caverns, the landscape had FINALLY changed. We were going through a mountainous area with great views of the land around us. As I gaped at how far we could see, I turned to see Betz asleep. Poor guy missed the one and only exciting part of the drive.

His loss.

We got the Caverns, parked, and made our way into the Visitor’s Center. After seeing rock and dirt all day, we made our way to mouth of the cave to hike through more rock and dirt. But this time it was dark.

And with lots of fat people.