Thursday, January 31, 2013

Road Trip

Today I'm going to talk about my roadtrip.  For those who like my "funny" posts, this is not one of them; you have been duly warned.  I just want to chronicle the trip here with some of my favourite pictures.  We will return to our regularly scheduled posts after this.

But first I have some other housecleaning to do.  For example, remember how I said I was going to Centralia, PA?  Well, I did, and it was awesome.  I went with my best bud Kevin right before graduation.  (Literally the DAY before.)  We found several steam vents and nearly gave up looking for the old cracked highway, but we found it right before sunset and it was awesome.  Unfortunately Kevin's phone died but that's okay, we got the most important pictures already taken.

 Like this jewel.
The best part of this picture is that it was taken in a cemetery.  Why was there a bathtub in a cemetery?  Who the fuck even knows.

Also I feel bad for not posting any pictures of my graduation but I actually don't really have any.  Well, I have two formal ones I got in the mail but I don't have a scanner.  So instead here's a picture of me and Andy drunk the night after my graduation, where I'm wearing the token hat.  Hopefully that'll be enough.

This is what a college education does to your brain.

I'll post some up as soon as I actually, you know, figure that out.

So the roadtrip.  Right.  Well, there I am in Pittsburgh, Christmas day, at 9 or 10 pm, waiting for Jack in my not-at-all-suspicious car.

"Hey, kids, you want some candy?  Got some good candy over here..."

He got into the car and it was immediately apparent that we had a problem: neither dog wanted to sit in the back.  To be fair, about 4/5ths of the back seat was taken up by my rabbit and her hutch, leaving only a very small space for the dogs.  In the end, we crammed our packs there and the dogs sat on Jack's lap. 

Seamus actually gets really anxious on car rides.  He hyperventilated and quivered the whole time.  This is the face of terror.

And then we were off.

For those who have ever driven across the country before, you know just how empty and boring Indiana and Ohio are.  Our first "stop" according to the schedule was Chicago, which we reached at daybreak after a continuous night of driving.  (Actually be to fair we did stop around 4 am for a one-hour power nap, and woke when it was too cold to keep sleeping.)  (Edit: Jack wanted me to note here that he was wearing two dogs and was therefore quite warm; I was the one who woke up with my teeth clattering.)

I briefly drove by some of my old haunts to show Jack: the high school I graduated from, my parents' house, my church.  But perhaps from sleep deprivation, I was feeling more than a little giddy and wanted to keep on keeping on, so we left before noon without saying hi to anyone and kept going west toward Omaha.

Illinois is so shitty I couldn't find a picture to express its shittiness.  Jack took this picture and you can see some shittiness out the window.  Although this actually might be Kansas.  Frankly they're very interchangeable, but Kansas seems to have come to terms with it and Illinois is like a drunk guy who won't admit he has a problem.

Passing out of Illinois, we reached Iowa, which I was surprised to find very beautiful.  Wind farms were everywhere, and the land was hilly and pastoral, with lots of herds of grazing cattle.  We saw two rainbows as well and agreed that Iowa doesn't deserve the bad rap it has; it's certainly no Indiana.

We got turned around a little making our way to Omaha and ended up taking an unnecessary 2 or 3 hour detour that went north, paralleling the city, before finding it.  Nebraska was remarkable.  Upon passing into the state, there was such scenary: on our left, a rocky hill face with a dark bruise-coloured sky above it, while to our right, a farrow field dusted with snow and bright with a spectacular rose sunset.  The sunset was one of the lovliest I've ever seen.  We came into the city just as the sun had disappeared below the horizon, and it was a good thing, because the temperature dropped and it began snowing lightly. 

We found a hotel perched up on a hilltop, the hill covered in packed, slippery snow.  Upon opening the car down, Seamus promptly escaped down the road.  I went after him and managed to dive in front of an SUV that nearly hit him (and nearly hit me, since the road was completely iced).  Seamus went without much complaint; his feet froze during the 5> minutes he was outside.

Jack and I spent the night there and sought out a bar; we had cinnamon toast crunch shots, which are a thing, apparently.

 They seriously did not give a shit; the food was atrocious.

The next morning we left later than we meant and struck out for our next stop, Cawker City, Kansas.  For those who don't know, this is the saddest little town on the planet and has only one thing there.

Here's the thing.

Kansas as a whole was sad, really.  There were lots of run-down little farms and trailers and on more than a few backroads, untied dogs chased the car.  Cawker City took the cake, though.  The town seemed abandoned and nothing was open; in fact, it was hard to tell which businesses were in business at all.  We found the twine and then tried to go to the twine museum, which was closed and had a hand-painted sign that told us to go down the road to a private residence, which we did.  The "museum" was actually an older lady's foyer with some ball of twine mugs; on the wall, there was a Doonesbury comic making fun of the twine; clearly, the town was so excited to be recognised that they had no concept of how sad it was.

"Thrift + Patience = Success!"
Note that "success" is not ironically in quotations marks for some reason.

We stopped at what might have been a repurposed bomb shelter.  It was a bar, maybe, but we weren't clear where the entrance was, and we finally gave up and agreed to get the hell out of there.  On the way up, we stopped to fuel up and Seamus ran away again.  I found him trying to "play" with the most terrifying animal I'd ever seen.  I guess it was a guard dog, but it appeared to be made from a mixture of Satan and direwolf.  Solid black, enormous, with piercing blue eyes, it moved only when I grabbed Seamus's lead and yanked him away from it; its jaws snapped the air where his head had been and it rumbled thunder out of its face at him long after we'd left. 

Artist's depiction.

Jack went to look at him, and said that it was so still at first he thought it was a statue.  He didn't get closer to it from the street because it was too intimidating.

We had hoped to get the fuck out of Kansas quickly, but night fell and it was so cold that despite the car's heater our digits went numb.  We were on backroads with no lights and empty fields as far as you could see, and finally agreed to stop at the first place we could find.  Then it started snowing and the windshield wiper fluid froze to the wind shield.  We found a place without a moment to spare, only an hour or less away from the Colorado border.  We stopped there; it was tiny, but the lady was nice and didn't charge us any pet fees.

The next morning we woke early to get the car cleared off.  Jack begged to drive, since up until then I'd done all of it save for a couple hours at night in Indiana.

 I consented so that I could capture all the majesty of nature through the grimy car window on a tiny camera phone and post it on my blog for all the people who totally care. 

So I left him take the wheel as we passed into Colorado.  Eight miles later, we heard a horrific bang.  "The gazelle head!" we cried.  Remember, we still had my gazelle head strapped to the roof of the car.  We pulled over immediately, and got out to check it.  The straps and stops were all in place, and we couldn't see anything apparently wrong with it.

As Jack was getting back into the car, I said, "You might want to check the tires while we're pulled over."

Jack dutifully checked, and came back to inform me that the back left tire was "obliterated."  How we'd even managed to pull over on it was nothing short of a miracle; the cold had made the rubber inflexible, and it had shredded to pieces and depressurised.  The picture doesn't do it justice.

I love to imagine that people who saw the car getting towed east with the "CALI OR BUST" thing painted on the side shook their heads sadly and were like "Aw, poor hippies, they busted."

So we called AAA and they came within 40 minutes; they put the car up on the back of a truck, with us and the dogs in it, and hauled us back the 8 miles to the rest stop where I'd given Jack the wheel.  We bought a new tire and had it installed, only setting us back about $100, and got back on the road.  The whole setback was 2 hours, but it made us both paranoid for the rest of the trip.

Initially, Colorado looked the same as Kansas.  But then the land changed from farm to scrub and soon we started to see mountains on the horizon.  We passed into the mountains, which rose up slowly from the scrubby plains we were used to.  They looked like the kind of land you'd graze cattle on, like an old pioneer move or something.

But by that evening we were really and truly properly in the mountains.

I know that the formatting is weird and this picture sort of "sticks out" of the blog's lines, but trust me, you deserve to see how awesome this is; a smaller size doesn't do it justice.

Shortly before sunset we stopped by Alamosa to see the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which boosts the tallest sand dunes in North America.  We were not disappointed; those bitches were half as tall as the mountains they stoof below.

 You can see how tall the mountains are thanks to the clouds; check out those dunes!  There's a lot of signs saying not to go fuck around in the dunes, which probably means people like me have already tried dunebuggying around on them with hilariously disastrous consequences.

Night fell and we found ourselves snaking through winding wind-swept mountains covered in snows and pines and the occasional warmly lit ski house.  There were no other cars and no streetlights; it was single lane but the moon was full and light everything in crystalline shadowed detail.  I can't emphasize how surreal and lovely and peaceful and lonely and wild and dreamlike it all was.  I wish we'd had pictures but those wouldn't have done it justice.  It was beautiful, but we got no pictures, in part because it was all ice and a 7-10% grade and we were working pretty hard on not dying; getting us down the mountain, I was in a controlled slide, and during some parts I even had the parking brake on.

Artist's depiction.

For the records, the route was 160W and I think the specific place was called something like "Wolf's Something Pass."  After Durango, it was called Navajo Trail after the people early settlers heroically stole the trail from (armed only with superior weapons and smallpox blankets!).

We made it to Durango unscathed, with a temperature of negative fuck you.  We headed out to a local brewery to celebrate not dying and having our frozen corpses unearthed in the spring by bears; I had the best damn Caesar salad ever.  The next morning (four degrees Fahrenheit, not including windchill), we headed off.  The scenery was again breathtaking; lots of stony cliff-faces, white snow and pine trees everywhere.  No pictures; I think we were just enjoying the ride too much.

Then that transitioned into distinctly southwestern land: red mesas and peaks stratified with tan and brown and sandy bands, and little dry creeks and more scrubby bushes that must have been related to the ones on the painted plain on the other side of the mountain but had a much more wild, don't-fuck-with-me-I'm-prickly look.

Yeah, cool stuff like this.

We hit up Four Corners along the way and then ended up in Arizona.  (I think we were in New Mexico only long enough to be in Four Corners.)

We thought about putting on a trenchcoat like this and going as a really tall person to save on admission fees but we decided we'd already ripped the Indians off enough, historically speaking.

Tuba City was among our stops, and what a depressing place that was, though not up to Cawker City standards.  In Arizona, we found stray reservation dogs everywhere, ramshackle buildings and slapdash stands selling Indian artifacts, manned by sad-looking Indians, and everything covered in a fine coat of rust-red dust.

I convinced Jack to drive by the Grand Canyon, though he wanted to keep going and possibly hit California by nightfall.  We reached a compromise: Jack was allowed to drive (we'd become a little superstitious, even though the tire thing wasn't truly his fault) but only if we took 64 along the southern rim of the Grand Canyon.  (Route 89 goes south from Tuba City to Flagstaff and is much faster.)

As we turned along 64, we saw a sign that said "GRAND CANYON CLOSED."  We immediately began chuckling.  How can you close the Grand Canyon?  Put a tarp over it?

An hour and a half up the mountain, the landscape changed abruptly from red sandy desert to snowy, bouldery evergreen forest.  We came to a toll booth at the top, where we read a sign that said we were entering the Grand Canyon National Park and the cost was $25 per car and $12 per person.  We exchanged a look; we only wanted to pass through and didn't want to pay a $50 toll.  When we got to the booth, we tried to explain to the park ranger we only wanted to pass through and didn't want to pay the fee, and he told us, "No problem."  For a split second we were relieved, until he continued, "You couldn't go up there even if you wanted to.  Road's closed."

"What," we said.

"Closed," he repeated.  "It's completely iced and too dangerous.  You have to turn around and take 89."

We turned around and made our way back down to the mountain.  By the time we reached the entrance, we needed to buy gas and discussed going back to Tuba City, where I would drive.  The hilarious irony in this is that Jack was desperate to prove himself useful and made zero forward progress, once again setting us back through zero fault of his own.

Eh, I've seen grander.

Who am I kidding?  It was actually pretty grand.

But we weren't too bummed out; we continued to Flagstaff and began discussing plans.  Though we could have made it to Los Angeles sometime between midnight and two am, we were already ahead of schedule so we decided to stop in Kingman, AZ and spend the night.  We arrived the next day in Los Angeles in the early afternoon and had plenty of time to move in. 

 Jack took this picture of the sunset on our street when we moved in on December 30th, 2012.

Since then, Andy and I have put together a cute little home.  Andrew made built-in shelving for my room and a little table for additional counter space for the kitchen.  I was under budget from the roadtrip and have enough left over to pay for my half of the fridge we bought, plus my bike.  Amazingly, both my betta fish Tony and my gazelle head made the whole trip unscathed.

And now I've been here a month and I'm still searching for a job, and things are going alright.  But don't worry, I'll find something to bitch about shortly, blog, I promise.  (Well, for starters, I don't have a job or any friends except Andrew and Jack.  But hey, that's another entry.)  I'm glad we're all caught up now and I can go back to my regular, inanely humourous posts.  See you next time.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Hello, blog! No worries, you haven't been forgotten.  Just neglected.

 (But I was only ignoring you because I was having such a good time without you.)

I've just been taking a couple of weeks to settle in to California. I bet you want to hear all about my roadtrip and graduation, eh?


Well then, let's see how long I can make a post before I get kicked off of the internet!  The last week of finals was really surreal. I didn't have any work and so I spent a lot of time sitting around the empty apartment. By this time I'd given away or gotten rid of anything that wasn't coming with me, minus the furniture, which stayed with my little condo. That was the nicest place I've ever lived and I was sorry to say good-bye to it. Finals went by without much of a hitch. The only thing I really studied was plant physiology, since I know plants are one of my weak points when it comes to biology. I puked out the last essay I would ever write for Penn State. (It was on the ethics and controversies of cloning dogs, but I hardly remember writing it. I probably spent more time on the in-text citations than actually creating words.) To study for my An Sci 305 test, which was about birds, I watched “The Three Caballeros,” which is a Disney movie from 1944 that features I don't know what the fuck. That shit was more confusing than Fantasia. I learned nothing about birds except that Mexican roosters shoot the ground a lot when they're excited and that donkeys with wings are exempted from donkey races, which wasn't even on the test.

 (I sure do miss the old educational television of the 1940s.)

In any case, I must have done better than I thought, because my final semester GPA was 3.67, meaning I graduated with a 3.02. I'm not really proud of being a B student since I know I'm smarter than that, but considering that I worked overnights while doing 18-credit semesters packed with 400-level science courses, it's nothing to sneeze at, either.

As far as I'm concerned, a victory.

Graduation day came too quickly and I wasn't at all ready. It really did feel surreal. My best friends were all there: Dan, Tom, Andrew and Jack, Lily, Kevin, Mick, Brandon Hamilton and Nate Davis.

 Dan had fun, and it was awful.

 The ceremony itself was pretty horrific. In light of the Penn State scandal and the fact that it was a fall graduation, they apparently found a homeless person to give the commencement speech. Grandma Simpson stood up there for what was well over an hour trying to wing a decent speech, which largely amounted to how proud she was (of herself) and how great of an achievement this was (for her to be giving the speech).

 (The trick to giving a good commencement speech is to tell 'em stories that don't go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em! Give me five bees for a quarter, you'd say.  Now where were we? Oh yeah: the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn't have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those biiiiig yellow ones.)  (Let the record show that this is, hands-down, my favourite Simpsons quote of all time, and that I promise to stop quoting Simpsons on my blog henceforth.)

By the end, everyone banded together and decided she was done and began clapping to shut her up, but much like my drunken family members at reunions who decide to sing karaoke, she refused to be done and plowed on for a little longer just to make sure our spirits were fully and properly broken. (For the record, my favourite part of her speech was when she was talking to each college personally and when she came to communications had nothing to say about why their degree mattered and instead said how she liked napping. ACTUAL THING THAT HAPPENED.)

 Then they called our names and we trudged to the stage and shook some hands and were given a fake diploma. They took our pictures (I gave a thumbs-up). I was mortified that when they called my name a large section of the crowd cheered, especially after I'd yelled at the crowd to show some respect and decorum during the ceremony. Afterwards I found my friends, and bumped into my parents, who were nice enough. Mom was crying a little. We chatted for nearly a half-hour before I went off to Otto's and my friends and I spent the rest of the night drinking, me still wearing my robe and just not giving a gosh darn.

The next day I packed up what remained of my things into my car, a beat-up 2000 model Ford Focus covered in both dents and spray paint. It looks like a drug dealer's car, if that drug dealer had gotten the car hooked on the drugs and made it his bitch. Also, to move my gazelle head, Andrew took the liberty of wrapping it up in a wad of tarp and duct tamp and foam until it looked like I had some sort of monstrous pinata-tumour growing out of the top of my car. At dinner the previous day, Tom had advised me that “a ten, eight, or even a six-year-old car might get you from point A to point B, but it won't get you across the country.” I mentioned mine was 12 years old, to which he replied, “Oh. Well, really, it's more about the mileage.” To which I replied that mine had about 134K on it. To which he shut up.

So I hugged all my friends good-bye, loaded my dogs and rabbit into the car, and set off for the first leg of my journey in Pittsburgh to visit my Aunt Marianne for Christmas. I arrived late on Christmas Eve and stayed the night, and spent most of the next time recounting my graduation to cousins and other family friends. I left Christmas day to pick up Jack, who was coming with me and who was visiting his mother, also in Pittsburgh. We set out at about 9 pm, and that's where the real adventure began! Tune in next post for one of my plot-driven and therefore much less humourous blog posts in the coming week, where I will bore you with pictures of my roadtrip!

(Next Week: How I Nearly Died in Nebraska, and Why Jack Isn't Allowed to Drive Anymore) (Those two topics are not nearly as related as you might think.)