I will try to give a brief summary of the roadtrip I took with my father
. I will be doing so purely from memory, so there will probably be a few errors here and there, feel free to correct me.
We were going from Seattle to Detroit. My dad works as an admin, of his own ISP, but he has essentially been stuck in a rut for the last few years being turned into little more than a technical support guy with a car and fancy title. So he wanted to get away, he also wanted to see his family back in Detroit. Fair enough. Shortly after this trip he dissolved his involvement with his old business partner and hopes to get a job at Microsoft soon. Anyway, back to the tale.
So, we're off to my dad's hometown. I had been there once before via Greyhound Bus. I found the bus trip very unpleasent, what with the psychomaniacs, Nam Veterans and whatnot, so I was relieved that this time we'd be going on our own time, in our own vehicle, a 1996 Red Geo Metro. Go ahead, laugh.
It was winter, so I packed a few sweatshirts and crap. I have a very high tolerence for cold, and we were going to be riding around with the heat on full blast anyway. I threw a copy of The Hobbit and my mp3 player into my backpack, we grabbed some other junk and headed off. We weren't a mile from home when my dad realized a slight error. We had left a day early. I suggested turning back, and taking one extra day in civilization. My pleas fell on deaf ears. One mile was far enough, we're going for it.
Having been down the way from Seattle to Snoqualmie before the first half-day of the trip was rather uneventful. I should probably mention here that we were taking an unorthodox route to Detroit. We were going down to Denver, then back up via Nebraska and Iowa to get there. This was for a few reasons. First, going through Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, in the winter is probably a Bad Idea. Second, my dad left Detroit at around 18 to become a Nature Boy. This ultimately got him to Denver, where he packed and worked for atleast a year or two. With that in mind, it should become evident that from Snoqualmie we were headed South for Oregon.
I had, in all my 10 years of Pacific Northwest residence never been to Oregon. We would just be going through it at night. Furthermore, it'd be the eastern half of Oregon, and if Eastern Washington was any indication, it would be a very boring place. I was wrong.
We passed through Pendleton, nice sized town for a gas stop, we were at a quarter tank, though, and the sign read 36 miles to La Grande. If there's one thing our little Geo had, it was gas mileage. We both didn't like Oregon anyway, and had resolved to do our best to not have to stop there. So we keep on trucking. Big mistake. Whatever demented cartographer concluded that La Grande, Oregon is 36 miles from Pendleton must've done so specifically so that we could get stuck.
You see, between Pendleton and La Grande there is absolutely nothing. Prior to arriving at Pendleton we had seen no dirth of civilization and small towns. However, as we hit an eigth of a tank things were looking grim. First, there was some Indian rez. After that, a steep hill. Now we're on E. 19 miles to La Grande. I'm getting nervous. I reach for the cell phone, just in case. Phew, it still has juice, and it's still in coverage. The Geo keeps on going, finally, we escape the Rez, and were naught but one foot outside of it when we saw the sign Entering Umatilla National Forest. Great, just great. Now we're below E. We had watched the episode of Seinfeld the day before where Kramer steals Jerry's car and, with the aid of a buddy, sees how far he can go on an empty tank, we were both starting to relate to this situation. 16 miles to La Grande. Good grief, weren't we 19 miles away half an hour ago? But we're driving at 60?!
So, our collective nervousness, and terrified glances at the gas meter continue until, by some divine grace we wind up 1 mile from La Grande. We were saved, or so we thought. One mile from that stupid town, the car finally pooped out. We pulled over. My dad got out in naught but his T-shirt and slacks and began pushing via the driver's side door. You see, I was 16, but, I had no intention of learning how to drive. I was afraid of the wheel, and now I had to pilot our Geo, being sure to not verve too far into the interstate. For while we were doing all this the local Teamsters were happily zooming by at 90 miles plus.
Not suprisingly, I wound up nervously driving the car into a ditch. This wasn't a bad thing, anyway, since my dad was too cold and too tired to push our poor little Geo down the off-ramp and into the waiting arms of Chevron. We got out, I put on some warm clothes and we trekked our way down to town to get a can o gas.
It was 14 degrees. At the time I thought this was cold, later on in our adventure I would find this to be woefully inaccurate. But I digress. We climbed down a nearby snowy hill, and wandered around the streets. While this was happening my dad opened up a dumpster and began rummaging. I inquired if he was feeling a little hungry. He replied that he had had bad experiences with gas stations refusing to give him a can with which to contain the gas before. Unfortunately, we found no can, and we entered the gas station with hopes they would be benevolent towards us.
While walking past the garage in the back of the station there was a woman giving conversation which ultimately led to her removing her top for the two hormonal mechanics ogling her. I refrained.
We got the gas, and fueled our Geo back up. She started, and we promptly filled her up at the station. Then our journey continued onward.
I was a little bit shaken from this episode, and when I learned that we were heading back for the freeway instead of stopping at the La Grande Best Western I was little less than pleased. I found out that dad intended to go for Boise. It was around ten o clock at this point, and he got no further argument out of me.
La Grande to Boise was even more boring than Snoqualmie to La Grande. The only point of interest was that we discovered a flaw in our poor Geo. She was overheating and required a cooling break every four hours. This was convenient, because it allowed us a brief nap periodically.
At 3am, PST, we were in Boise. My dad pulled over and asked whether I was up for us going all the way to Salt Lake City. We whipped out a map, it was a long way. We could do it, but we'd get there after daybreak, and we'd be asleep at the hotel until midday, plus our sleeping patterns would be askew which was already exacerbated from our timezone travel. We concluded that sleep was the best option. We went to a Best Western and crashed. The room had The Weather Channel, that I had been hearing so much about. I turned it on, only to be rudely awakened twice that night by the little piano sonatas they play whenever they go over local weather.
We woke up, at 8 and hit the road. We both had zero interest in Idaho, particularly because it may not exist. Boise in the day was even more boring than it was at night. I had been there before, once, on a choir trip. That time it seemed to me that Boise was a bustling metropolis. This time it seemed to me that Boise was one big truckstop with an airport and lots of potatos. As we left the city limits we spotted a chain-gang, working at something in the ditches that seperate the northbound and southbond lanes of the Interstate.
We kept going, we stopped at some sleazy restaurant in the middle of nowhere, Idaho. I ordered a Chicken Ceasar Salad. My standby for places I've never eaten at before. They prepared for me some behemoth of a meal (I have a very small appetite.) That did not resemble a Chicken Ceasar in the least. Oh well. I ate as much as I could, even though the chicken was cold and mushy.
Eventually we hit Utah. Here was where I first encountered Mormonism. It became rather evident rather fast. First, every store in Utah (K-Mart, Walmart, you name it) prominently displays racks of The Book of Mormon at the entrances. Second, there were signs advertising the Mormon Temple in Temple Square everywhere. Plus, everyone there had no sense of humor.
We arrived in Salt Lake City at about 4pm. By our guesstimates this would be around when we would've woken up had we gone for the all-nighter from Boise. Our wager had paid off. We stopped there, and got a room at the Wyndham Hotel there. It was quite snazzy. It was also very expensive. We went to Temple Square, for the whole touristy roadtrip factor. It was fun, until one of the local "tour" guides essentially asked if she could witness to us. We made a shady exit while she went off to go get some stuff. We then entered some trendy mall, with all the trendy crap that entails. We weren't really looking for anything. We left, went back to the hotel and ordered some pizza. We also ordered a movie via the cable dealy they have at the Wyndham. It was Sly Stallone's Get Carter. A brainless movie, that took place in our home town, woopie.
What a crappy movie. Oh well, we stopped watching after the first ten minutes when it just got too stupid. I flipped it over to NBC and we both fell asleep listening about Brigham Young University and how much the Utah Jazz sucked.
We awoke and set off. I made a navigational error which led to us to being a few miles off course. We turned around, and headed for Steambot Springs, Colorado. The rest of Utah was boring, much like Idaho. We stopped at some restaurant where all the tables had copies of books with titles like Bathroom Humor and How to Cope When You're Surrounded By Idiots. This reinforced my perception that Mormons have no sense of humor. We got some paper towels for the purposes of cleaning stuff when it froze over, and pushed on.
We eventually reached the Colorado border, via some desert. It's really beautiful out there. It's not touristy in the least, but it just sort've eminates its own innate beauty. Maybe it's because I've been a city-slicker my whole life, but there's something about seeing unending fields of nothingness that's positively awesome. We stopped right at the entering... sign, turned the engine off, and sat there.
It's perfectly quiet at that one little spot of interstate. We stepped out. I could only hear my foot steps as they crunched in the thin layer of snow. It was like walking on the surface of the moon. Really cool.
After we sat in awe and failed to take a picture because we could not find the camera, buried deep within a mess of junk, we zoomed off again. We stopped in a few weird towns like Dinosaur, CO. Apparently that area is very interesting for the paleontologist, not being one, I can't vouch.
I noticed that for the entire half of Colorado leading up to Steambot Springs there are signs for one store. F. M. Light and Sons, if I recall correctly. Every few miles, "Free cowboy hats at: F.M. Light and Sons!", "See the amazing stuff at F. M. Light and Sons!" Good grief. Could one state be so devoid of life that an entire half of its stretch could be riddled with advertisements for a single store? Evidently so.
We eventually reached Steambot Springs, and F. M. Light and Sons. The store was just a regular storefront, of no intimidating size or flair. This still leaves me in slack-jawed amazement. When we approached Bunny Ears Pass we encountered a problem. Our Geo had to ascend to 9000ft, with no chains. As we approached the ascent, the warning side read "chains required." Crap.
We turned around and skidded around on the ice from tire store to tire store hoping to find some chains in stock. Eventually we found some at Midas, the last pair. Phew. We turned back, and when we approached the base, the sign now read no chains. Whatever.
We went up and over over the course of an hour or so. When we came down we kept going on, stopping, of course, routinely. Eventually we encountered our last great obstacle to Denver. An 11,000ft pass. Hoo boy. We rested like kung-fu masters preparing for the grand finale of a kung-fu movie at the local Taco Bell.
After filling up on Chicken Fiesta Melt goodness we drove on, up, and, after much anxiety, over, the pass. On the way we encountered a complete maniac in a pickup. There were switchbacks on that pass that were a full 180, in the snow and ice, which had a year-round speed limit of 20mph. This guy drove past us at atleast 65mph. We wondered when we would see him flying off the edge and into oblivion.
We made it to Denver. We stopped at a Super 8 Motel. My dad called his cousin, Timmy, in the hopes that we could meet up with him before we zoomed off into Nebraska. We got no response. We pooled the local folks in Detroit for numbers and aid, but we couldn't reach him before we crashed out to the rhythmic monotony of The Weather Channel.
We waited a little bit for Timmy to call, to no avail. We made a brief stop at the Denver Botanical Gardens. My dad reminisced about sitting around the gardens, thinking for hours and hours. I could see why. But the show must go on, off to Nebraska. East Colorado wasn't nearly as beautiful as West Colorado, but it was much flatter and much, much warmer. At a nice 50 degrees Fahrenheit we decided to turn off ye olde heater. There, we had our choice of Talk Radio and Country Music. We chose Talk Radio.
Nebraska has to be the flattest freaking state in the union. We traversed the entire length of the state, and we didn't see one change in elevation. No hills, certainly no mountains, not even a speedbump. Really.
We dashed off into Iowa. A narrow state, it looked like we were coming to the end of our trip. Big mistake. It's horribly cold out there. The radio said -32F with wind chill. Ice began to solidfy on the inside of the windows. Fun.
Dad was getting pretty tired now. We had been pushing it a little. We had to stop to rest about 5 miles outside of Des Moines. I decided to do a little experimenting. I stepped outside with two wool shirts and a sweatshirt on, plus scarf and such. I was suprised that it was not as mind-numbingly cold as I expected. Indeed, I felt rather cozy. Nontheless, we pushed on. We decided to pass up Des Moines and go for the edge of Iowa. This proved to be too much, we got too exhausted and decided to rest at a very weird Ramada in Newton, IA.
The Ramada was weird because it was part of a Chinese Restaurant. Literally, the front desk of the Ramada was also where one would wait for seats at the Chinese Restaurant. Whatever.
When I woke up that morning I found that I had left my watch in the car. It was frozen and had been since 1 am. It took about an hour for it to finally start ticking again.
We kept going, we noticed hundreds upon hundreds of accidents out there, jack-knifed trucks, pileups, rollovers you name it, it was there. We stopped at an Iowa City Denny's. I got out of the car. Had I been exposed to that cold without seeing my surroundings I would warrant I had been shot out of an airlock and into the dead of space. Anyway, we kept on into Illinois. Pretty lame first half of the state till Chicago. We didn't go through Chicago, however, and for good reason, there's a whole lot of toll booths there and traffic is horrible. We skirted past and went through the very smaugy northwest corner of Indiana. We stopped at Michigan City (some city) right on the border to eat. Then we kept moving, up to Lansing, to see my Uncle and Aunt.
My Uncle is very argumenative, he'll argue you over anything. We walk in, get the obligatory relative hug and then sit down to a 4 hour debate over the whole Napster copyright infringement debacle. I also get the usual where are you headed in life drill from the Unk. Here we are, shaken, cold, tired and road weary, and what welcoming do we get? Napster. For crying out loud.
Anyway, I was more than thankful for the welcoming nonetheless. Uncle Gil and Aunt Karen have a nice big home, with very nice amenities and private rooms for the both of us. I also noticed they read like fish. The whole house was littered with books, stacks of books were used as tables and footrests. There were atleast 75 in the guest room I got alone. Most of them were on the subject of racial inequality. I should probably mention at this point that my father's side of the family is black.
We got up, did some normal talking, my dad went over a few familial subjects with them, I tried to stomach some Lousianan speciality Gil had cooked up. I mean him no ill will, but I have a very delicate palette, fish is not included in that palette, and certainly not Cajun breakfast fish. Regardless, I think he got the idea and let me go with a few bites as I normally partake of.
We then got back in the car, to my dismay, and went to Detroit. I was hoping we could stay in Lansing for a little while longer. I would gladly continue debating Napster if that meant I could have that nice room. Oh well. Off to Grandma's apartment.
Detroit seemed even gloomier and more dystopian then the last time I had been there. We had become so adjusted to accidents due to the snow at this point that we didn't even notice when a muscle car zoomed past us, up and into a sign on the embankment.
We eventually found our way to grandma's apartment. She was happy, as grandmas are. We chatted, sat back, and, well, did nothing. Grandma was apparently afraid of the cold, and of doing much of anything. Dad wanted to take her to a play downtown, or atleast to a movie. She refused to budge. After checking out all three channels on her TV we concluded this was going to be a very boring Christmas Eve's Eve if we didn't do something. We decided to see a movie. Grandma was a little appaled by this, so we asked if she'd like to come. "No, not in that cold." Then off we were.
We saw "Cast Away," It was a pretty good movie. I should mention we saw it at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. My dad was reminiscing about things he had done there as a kid. One anecdote which I found particularly amusing was that, even though he wandered around the once-bustling halls of the "RenCen," daily, he never, even saw a white person until he was 14. This was amusing because, for the few hours we spent around downtown, I couldn't spot nary a white person either.
The next day we went to "Church" with grandma. I put church in qoutations because she wouldn't voyage to an actual church with a cross, pews and all that good stuff. Her retirement center/apartment had its own traveling priest who would come in on Sundays with his family, sing, and do normal churchy stuff. The sermon amounted to "God is Good." and "Praise God." Sticking to the point, I guess.
That night we went to go see grandpa. I should mention that Gramps divorced grandma some time ago when he came back from WWII, to find that she had had a white son, Keith. Keith was, infact, my dad's legitmate brother, and no infidelity had ever taken place. Keith, today, is black as any other member of the family. This stems, apparently, from some sort've recessive genes on, ironically, grandpa's side. He eventually met up with the source of these genes, a pure white family that had married in wayback, now living in Chicago. Ooops. He had also remarried a rather eccentric though likeable woman from Loooweesana.
We discussed some stuff, mostly a future roadtrip we have planned for the summer of 2002 to South America. (Might node that when it comes.) We also discussed a few matters of great importance to dad that basically amount to him having harbored resentment towards gramps. Gramps was a little vague, but he essentially apologized and gave reconciliation. Great.
We saw Unbreakable later that night. It sucked.
We left the next day, for home. That being the day after Christmas this may seem odd. There is a reason, that reason was Keith. I should mention that Keith is a cocaine addict. He had robbed the entire family a few years back to feed his habit. He's gotten one of his sons, Demani, strung out too. After being estranged for the past few years, Keith called dad up. The first thing he said was "Hey, Kenny, do you have 20 dollars?" My dad was disgusted, and also frightened, for Keith is not a rational person, particularly when drugged. Dad described Keith from his voice as the "worst ever." Keith didn't stop there, Dad passed the phone to Taki (Keith's other son, my cousin) and begged him for some dough too. He even begged grandma. We did not want to be around for whatever problems might boil up if Keith found us. So, as I said, we split.
The trip back was not nearly as interesting as the way there. We decided to just go straight across the Minessota route.
Leaving Michigan was boring. We broke down in Chicago, briefly, but the car was magically recussitated. We stopped to get some Chicago Pizza there as well. I have no idea if it really was what people refer to as Chicago Pizza, but it certainly was good. We came and drove through Wisconsin with no problems other than getting some horrible Amish jerky.
We drove into a ditch outside Dexter, MN. How embarassing. We had to walk about a half mile to a lodge type place, where I unthawed while dad called a toe truck. We got out about an hour later and moved on past Rochester all the way to Albert Lea, where we stopped at a rather comfy Holiday Inn Express. The next day we finally fixed the overheating problem in our poor Geo. She had a cracked water pipe, which was easily fixed with a razor blade.
In South Dakota we came across nothing but Wall Drug ads and, of course, Wall Drug itself. We stopped at a Subway there for some grub. Here I made a greivous error, I ordered a cold sub. The sub had some strange goo in it, which I, stupidly, passed off as some unusual Dakotan condiment.
After throwing up in some unfortunate gas station's sink in Montana (I'm sorry!) we decided to stop in Billings, where I threw up twice more in the much larger toilet. I then passed out. When we hit the road I was still tired and slept half the way to Missoula. In Missoula, we stopped for some crap, and dad was also evidently tired, he took a nap. I slept some more. He got me some stomach-friendly dry pastries, which I couldn't eat without regugitating, sadly.
I also forgot to mention we drove through Wyoming, the emptiest state in the union.
We entered Idaho, and I slept through most of that. We went through the panhandle part, where the interstate passes through a narrow valley which houses many small silver mining towns. The people there are very pale, and the towns look like Mayberry. I felt a little uncomfortable going past KKK Kountry, but shrugged it off since we weren't stopping anyway.
I slept through most of Eastern Washington, boring as it is. I woke up to find out that it's very foggy and dark. We slunked along, until eventually things cleared up. Up, and over Snoqualmie we go. Hooray.
After two weeks of this adventure, home seemed somewhat different. For one, I have learned that T-shirts are the proper clothing for our "winter" weather (at worst it hits 20 degrees.) I also learned The Amish Can't Make Jerky. But those are stories which can be told at another time, I'm tired, and I just missed Star Trek writing this. Oh well.