Albuquerque catch up

Albuquerque felt like it had a lot of promise. Our friend John had been there for many years, it’s a fairly large city, it was our first time in desert country and a really beautiful landscape. Unfortunately we found that we were just a little too far from town. We were staying on Route 66 just outside of the city limits. Staying a couple miles further from everything wasn’t the issue, it was the long (and at times, steep) hill that separated us and the Albuquerque public transit system.

Our first Sunday in town we met John for lunch. I coerced Dan and Jake to take our bikes out (John offered to pick us up, but I felt it prudent to get some exercise after the wholly sedentary week in Frisco, TX), which turned out to be a mild fiasco. The hill from the park into Albuquerque was a breeze. The grade and length of the downhill ride kept us constantly nursing the brakes. Jake complained about not just flying down the hill but he’s apparently never had the scrub gravel out of a wound from wiping out. I have, and it sucks. I let Jake know that he could do the needful and fuck off. 6 miles of coasting later we were at the restaurant; we met up at an Arizona based restaurant called Filiberto’s which was open 24/7 and essentially served fast-food NewMex food (TexMex with green chili sauce). The daunting thought while coasting the whole trip down was, “Fuck, I have to go back up that turdhill.” After eating we stopped by this large Mexican grocery store to stock up on veggies and booze. We caught the city bus back west towards the RV park which shaved off 3 or 4 miles from our ascent. Sidebar, I had never ridden my bike to a bus and then taken the bus somewhere. Typically if I’m on a bike I’ll just bike the entire distance. On every city bus I’ve encountered they have a bike rack on the front of the bus, but this was my first time actually using the rack. I struggled mightily to get my bike locked in and after many minutes of toiling with the rack we were all locked up. Thankfully the bus was mostly empty and the driver was a nice dude, he dropped us at the stop furthest west on the bus line and we then we began our ascent.

The reason this was a semi-travesty is that Snake (aka Jake) had to work at 4pm Eastern (2pm local). The bus dropped us off at about 2:30pm local so Snakob had to hoof it up. In his haste he booked it without grabbing one of the waters from Dan and I. Jake made it back about 10 minutes before Dan and I but when we caught up you could tell he had exerted himself; his face was beet red with hardly a drop of perspiration. The desert really soaks up any moisture. After 30 minutes of toiling up the hill Dan and I took a break to drink water and survey the land. We were astounded at the distance we had gone. The remaining distance didn’t seem quite as daunting but the grade had gotten steeper and we both knew it was going to be a royal bitch. After cresting the top we snapped a picture and finished the ride. Mission accomplished and lesson learned: Take a cab.

Our remaining time wasn’t that eventful. The most notable thing was probably catching the hitch ball on driveways that frankly weren’t that steep. This additional stress on the hitch would become near disastrous later in the trip.

The best things about Albuquerque came about from John taking us around town. The first night we went out we got Dion’s pepperoni and green chili pizza with sides of Dion’s ranch. The pizza and ranch were good but it wasn’t the kind of thing that blows you away. We later went to a local micro brewery, Marble Brewing, joint and had some beers and caught up.

We went out the next evening as well. First, we got some ridiculous burritos from Frontier Restaurant (a local diner that really gets food out fast, the place is really big though… they have signs for the potential line letting you know how long your wait will be depending on where you at in the line). Frontier Restaurant is fairly inexpensive college kid fare: greasy, cheap, and in large quantities. After eating too much food we figured it would be good to ambulate to keep the food from just resting in our guts. We initially tried to walk around a ‘haunted graveyard’ but it was locked up for the night. John suggested going up to the base of the Sandia mountains and walk around a park there. Unfortunately we never found the park he wanted to take us to, so we settled for a park on the way back. The park was small and poorly lit. While walking up we were verbally shitting on having grass, like the park did, in the middle of the desert and cracking lame Breaking Bad jokes after stumbling on some crime scene tape. We kept walking towards the play structure in the park and I was preparing to vault myself onto the equipment when I finally focused my attention immediately ahead of me where I abruptly noticed someone on the play structure. They were sitting completely still and silent amongst the police tape that had been pulled down. I stupidly muttered, “Sup” and promptly changed course away from the play equipment. John and Dan had noticed the person at the same as I had and we all in an unspoken agreement walked quickly back to the car. The situation was quite unsettling, the kind of surreal moment where you wonder if someone is going to jump out and scream, “CANDID CAMERA!” No one jumped out, and there were no cameras. Just a silent person in a hooded sweatshirt amidst the police tape that had been pulled down.

We had planned to go out one last time when Phil got in on Friday but John came down with something and had to take a rain check. Frankly that probably worked out for the best as we still stayed up too late and had to pack up the next morning.
PS~ The RV Park had free continental breakfasts. Best part about that was not having to make my own coffee every morning in the bus.

West Texas, and Roswell, NM

While driving through west Texas and in particular through New Mexico I was totally unprepared for how stark and spare that region of the United States is. When looking at a map there were dots and names for towns, but as we drove past we typically found the ‘town’ to primarily consist of a small sign declaring the town and in one case (as we desperately needed gas) a single building declaring ‘Fresh Water’ and nothing else. There is an empty vastness to New Mexico that I didn’t understand until driving through the state.

We stopped in Roswell for food and gas. We were hoping that there would be some attractions for us to waste some time at (I’ve heard of the cheesy alien museum, but we had no idea where it was), but didn’t run into anything while driving through the main strip. Roswell didn’t seem that much different than most small towns aside from the requisite large eyed aliens outside of every shop (every fast food joint had a little green man outside).

Stairway to Heaven is a long song:

Carlos, drop it again:

Dallas… erm, Frisco, TX

We actually didn’t stay in Dallas ‘proper’, we were in a northern suburb of Dallas called ‘Frisco.’ From our perspective there wasn’t a lot for us to do as there wasn’t much in walking distance or biking distance other than go to strip malls. Also, it appeared that Frisco was frightened by the use of it’s denizens using bicycles… the sidewalks were littered with light polls, fire hydrants, or steps to a business. We biked to a bar near the Dallas Parkway and there were a couple of close calls with the sidewalk being a dick or disappearing altogether.

Some of the big surprises for us: Frisco was a ‘dry’ county in that they didn’t sell bottles of liquor. You could buy beer and wine, or buy beer/wine/liquor at a bar, but no bottles of liquor. Also, everything seemed to call it a night around 11pm or Midnight. As annual night owls, this tripped us all up a bit. We honestly couldn’t figure out what vices folks in Frisco had, perhaps franchising businesses?

My trivial complaints aside our friends Emily and Charlie were great to us. Emily and Charlie were actually in Michigan while we were in Dallas (Charlie was donating a kidney so that his brother-in-law Chris, one of our best friends, would be on the top of the list to get a kidney… which he had been waiting for nearly [or perhaps over] a decade) and still opened their wonderful home to us. Emily mailed us keys and directions to their place while we were in Lexington and cleared our stay with the apartment office. When we arrived Emily had cookies she baked waiting for us. If you’re reading this Emily or Charlie, thank you again so much for your hospitality. While in Frisco we had some very necessary rest and recuperation time. After the haphazard living in New Orleans it was a welcome break to be able to shower consistently and only take a few steps to use a bathroom.

I was the first to make a foray into Dallas, I specifically headed into the downtown area to get a tattoo. The guys at Charmed Life Tattoo in Lexington had referred me to Obscurities Tattoo and Piercing. You can read more about that in my Tattoos post.

Jake and I went out on the town on Thursday night to The Sundown At The Granada (they put on free shows) and met a fantastic young lady, Cynthia, and her friend. It was interesting to hear their perspectives on Dallas as they’re from Dallas but had spent time outside of Dallas. They confirmed some of what we were thinking, primarily that there is a shitload of highways and everything sprawls. While I wouldn’t choose Dallas as a place to live, I can see some of the things some folks might like. They also had some great recommendations on things to check along our trip (namely: Moab, CA). It would have been a shame not getting a chance to talk to some native Dallasites, and we were just very fortunate to talk to some really cool folks before leaving. I would certainly like to visit Dallas again but with our friend Chris with us.

 

Au revoir New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana. What can I say about the place? Wow, what a trip. This is a city that has a parade or festival for virtually everything. Oh it’s 12 days after Christmas? Time to start 12th night… kicking off the partying leading all the way up to Mardi Gras. Halloween? They’re on that. Thanksgiving? C’mon, they’re on it. St. Patrick’s Day? Really, you have to ask? On it. You name it, and they’re on it. We spent 2 weeks there and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of that city. That said, I had the impression if we scratched too far we would never have completed the trip (either we would have quit our jobs and turned into crust punks [actually there’s no way we would wind up as crust kids, we like showering too much… also from here on out they will be referred to as ‘Crusties’], or simply have rented/bought a home after living in the bus in NOLA for 6 weeks). New Orleans is a city that commands you to have a modicum of self restraint or you’ll burn yourself out.

The first week was spent in a RV park, our first time in a RV park in fact. Other than being in close quarters in the bus, living at a park is fairly comfortable. The facilities were cleaned daily, you never had to wait to use the bathroom or the shower and there were no ‘quiet time’ rules for the park, which for us is good. We generally stay up late, and we can sleep through noise. Given an unknown living situation (can we park the bus? is there room for us to sleep/work?), I would definitely opt for booking time at a RV park. Our time at the park was generally spent working, getting the bus in good order for living and working, and playing Magic at night (thanks again to Matt for letting us [see: Jake] go through his unused cards to make a deck of each color).

On our first night in New Orleans Jake and I dropped by Loren’s (our friend who has been living in NOLA for 6 or 7 years now) workplace, Buffa’s Bar and Lounge, to surprise him and find out what’s up. I had been unable to reach him by phone because he had gotten a new phone! Digits acquired (HEY BOO, HOW YO PHONE RANG?), we also met Loren’s new roommate Shifty, and got an offer to park in front of their house. We accepted but on the condition of parking out there the following week as we had already paid for the RV park. Jake, Shifty, and I bar hopped to the next joint (R Bar) but Shifty bowed out when Loren joined us due to one too many whiskeys. We shortly followed suit with a cab back to the bus. Through the week we learned not to trust public transportation in New Orleans, and came to appreciate the number of available cabs. (Side note here, I’m fairly certain ‘Baby’ is the second most common word in NOLA right after ‘drink’. When it’s used there’s really no sexualization of the word. When we walked over to a Rally’s to get fast food [we were nursing some solid hangovers] the female Rally’s employee used ‘Baby’ when taking our order virtually every other word. This wasn’t uncommon when ordered a drink or getting food anywhere else in the city. Baby is like the salt and pepper in every sentence in New Orleans. This was illustrated to great effect by Loren when we were trying to get cabs… I had called the cab company and had waited around an hour with no cab, Loren calls them up, uses ‘Baby’ about 20 times in 3 sentences and he’s promised a cab in under 5 minutes. No joke, if you don’t use ‘Baby’ in conversation it will be pretty clear to the locals that you’re not from NOLA). There wasn’t much around us at the park aside from some gas stations and a gated Family Dollar. Clearly, the park wasn’t situated in the best of areas but the park was gated and we never had any problems while we were there.

While at the park we had to restock on some necessary vittles, so we rode the city bus across the water to the Winn Dixie on Chef Menteur. While we were there I spotted Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland in The Wire, and Antoine Batiste in Treme) and pointed him out to Dan. I really wanted to say hello and ask for a picture but I wanted to ‘play it cool’ and not bug him while he was just around living his life. I did however hit him up on Twitter and commend what he’s doing with his community especially with Sterling Farms (bringing easy access to a grocery store in the city ). He tweeted back:

Wendell Pierce on twitter
Wendell Pierce on twitter

Pretty rad.

We all had Friday off so we went in to explore the city, get some grub, and I went to get a tattoo (you can read about the tattoo I got from Kenny Cox of Tattoo A Go Go on the ‘Tattoos‘ page). We also decided that evening to relocate the bus to Loren and Shifty’s place. As the week progressed we met the rest of the motley crew living at Shifty’s. A wonderful mix of bartenders, musicians, cooks and service people. The house was filled with 4 dogs, a couple cats (that we rarely saw), and a rotating mix of people passing out at the house after a morning/afternoon/night out. All of Loren and Shifty’s friends were great people to meet and spend time with. From George (who sings the best rendition of ‘The touch, the feel, of Cotton..’, see the video below) to Heath and Patricia, to Stephanie (who gets along ‘swimmingly’ with Heath), and everyone else that I failed to mention.

I don’t know if you can spend any serious amount of time in New Orleans without coming away with some story of the NOPD being complete shitheads, and our experience was no different. On the night that we biked to the city park we also went to a bar in Midtown (the name of which eludes me). We arrived at the bar, and the bike rack forces you to keep your bike partially in the street. Someone had parked their urban assault vehicle (read: SUV) really tight to the bike rack and we were trying to figure out a way to get the bikes off the street as much as possible. While in the process of locking up the bikes, the owner of the car came out and threatened to run our bikes over if we didn’t get them off the street, flashing her NOPD badge at us while she got into the car with a beer in hand. Good lookin’ out NOPD. The flipside of our experience with the NOPD was our last night when doing a crawfish boil and the cop that came out was really cool with us and only asked that we turn our music down. Two sides to every coin I suppose.

I already miss my time in New Orleans and all the great people I met. If I don’t move to NOLA for some period of time then I will be by to visit for an extended period.

Cheers.

 

Matt’s Tallahassee wrap up

While in Tallahassee I definitely did not take enough photos. Frankly, Tallahassee while different, felt a lot like Tampa. The flora and fauna is virtually the same, see: Spanish Moss. As soon as we crossed over the state line from Georgia into Florida, Spanish Moss was literally all over the place. When we drove from Tallahassee to New Orleans, as soon as we left the dong state, BAM, no more Spanish Moss. Dan actually asked a cabby about it one night, and the guy, a native New Orleanian confirmed that there is definitely no Spanish Moss in Nola. Anyways, I digress.

Tallahassee was made especially awesome due to how great our friends Matt and Katie are. They were amazingly gracious hosts and went out of there way to make sure we had a good time. Dan outlined our time in Tallahassee quite well, so if you’d like to read more on that experience go check out his post. I would just like to reiterate how amazing our friends have been. While in Lexington, despite Dave having to defend his Masters thesis (which if you’re not in academia you may not understand how stressful this is, but from everything I’ve gathered this is a very stressful point in one’s education), he made sure to take us around town and make sure we were having a good time while with him. Matt and Katie were just as great of hosts. While we had not seen each other in years it was a great process to get reacquainted with each other, staying up late playing new games, talking and sharing meals. They both made us all feel very comfortable and I’ll never forget our evenings together. While our trip may be out of the ordinary, what is most extraordinary are our friends. Thank you.

Chattanooga for an evening!

We weren’t relishing the idea of driving 12 hours from Kentucky to Florida so I contacted our friend Stephanie who lives in Chattanooga. She graciously opened up her home to us on short notice and we spent the evening hanging out and bullshitting until the wee hours in the morning. Thanks again Steph!

Matt’s Lexington Wrap-up

Even in the space of a week, details that were once sharp have dulled. I really should be more diligent in writing. I know Dan covered this briefly, but I’d like to reiterate this… Indi’s in Lexington, KY has legit fried chicken. Indi’s is the kind of place that you’re happy you don’t have near you, otherwise you’d gently balloon further out at the waist with each bite. Seriously great chicken, and worth having once (or 3 times).

Prior to leaving for the trip I had started ‘collecting’ two dollar bills. I never had a specific idea with what to do with them other than occasionally buy something with two’s. I think they’re a neat piece of currency that will likely get wiped out by the time I’m an old man. Before we actually left I divined that I would hand out the bills two the folks that were kind enough to open their homes to us. See below for the first 3 of those bills.