Friday, June 22, 2007

Near Lexington, KY

I've got my VW bug back and am heading up north. In Alabama, I drove part of Lookout Mountain Parkway, which is sort of the Alabama equivalent of Skyline Boulevard - a road that bobs and weaves along the top of a ridge with occasional great views.

Near Chattanooga I stopped to see Ruby Falls, which claims to be the largest tourist-accessible underground waterfall in the world. I'll sort through and post pics later. For now, sleep...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bourbon Street reminds me of Burning Man

It's the middle of the night - 2am - and yet everyone's out partying. It's not cold - in fact, it's uncomfortably warm. There's no moon, but neon art dots the landscape as far as one can see, which isn't far because it's kind of hazy which makes everything look blurry, indistinct and mysterious. There are dark sheltered spaces featuring fire art.

There is a LOT of very loud music, chosen by people who like and know their genres. Many nearby venues have mutually incompatible themes, so you might find a cowboy bar next to a jazz club next to a hip-hop club, the sounds and styles and guests intermingling. There's a general aura of sex, music, and illicit drugs. Shock value is appreciated - a man walking his girlfriend on a dog leash elicited little interest or concern. And pictures can't do it justice - you just have to have been there.

Some partygoers look like tourists while others seem like they've found their true home and probably wouldn't fit in in the "real" world.

Even sober, the overall effect of a walk along Bourbon Street is profoundly disorienting. Like being in a dream. Or perhaps someone else's dream.

Regardless, the music is fantastic.

A key difference is that Bourbon Street allows commerce, so there's little risk of running short on drinks or pizza. Also there's no dust. And the hotels have showers and internet access and real toilets...

I like New Orleans!

In other news, my car has been fixed and I'll be picking it up tomorrow. Hurray!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Alligators and swamps and munitions, oh my!

I've decided merely entering Florida was enough for this trip; I don't really need to go all the way down to the tip. So I stopped at Kindville, in the upper panhandle, before turning back

Baby alligators are cute and have soft bellies. Adult alligators might also have soft bellies, but I'd rather not check. If you take a boat tour through the bayou, your guide will toss them marshmellos. To get the really big ones interested, offer half a chicken. Dangle it on a string. Hand feeding an adult alligator would be A Bad Idea.

Asking your TomTom GPS to find "the shortest route" through the Florida panhandle also turns out to be A Bad Idea. You might find yourself directed onto an unmarked road that looks like this:

Which is still pretty flat and wide so you're not really worried...until the route turns into this:

Eventually you turn around, ignore all further suggestions to keep turning onto things that really don't look like roads, and only on the way out do you start seeing signs like this:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Orleans!

The French Quarter is filled with lovely architecture but perhaps a little too tourist-oriented for my taste. I think I managed to eat at the local equivalent of those clam chowder places on Fisherman's Wharf in SF. Not only was the food expensive and mediocre, but the "live music" was a sort of one-man-band who played the worst cover of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay I have ever heard.

The Austin music and bar scene was mostly for the locals. Here, a lot of the scene is tourist-oriented. And though the buildings have mostly been rebuilt, it's dead on a Thursday. Other than the big Harrah's casino, which was jumping.

The town is beautiful and varied and just generally fascinating in a way that, say, the strip-mall-filled Baton Rouge wasn't. New Orleans has history, and knows it.

I'm at least 5 days behind schedule, mostly due to the car repair. I'm driving through LA and FL now, then I need to swing back to get the Beetle once it's done, then head up at an angle past Chattanooga to parts northerly.

Tomorrow: alligators!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Baton Rouge, Louisiana - stuck in the bayou

The New Beetle started overheating near Opelousas, LA. You haven't really lived until you've driven the back roads of Louisiana slowly in 102-degree heat, car heater on full blast, wondering if your engine will make it to the town up ahead.

Oh, and trying to find a VW dealer or even anyone who knows much about foreign cars in the middle of Louisiana? Not so easy.

Nobody in Opelousas knows foreign cars. With help from Google/Treo I found the nearest VW expert - not a dealer, just a shop in the boonies - in Lafayette. Slowly nursed the car down there. Turns out I've got a bad water pump and it's a complex thing to fix but is covered under warrantee. So all I've got to do is tow the car to the nearest VW authorized dealer, which turns out to be Southpoint VW in Baton Rouge. I made it there with the help of a flatbed truck.

The driver was thoughtful enough to offer me some chewing tobacco on the road down...

Anyhoo, we dropped off the car last night and today I heard from the mechanic that they should be able to get to work on my car or at least take a look at it "by early next week". When I noted that I was in mid-trip and *really* wanted to get it looked at sooner, he said "look, I totally understand, but we're just swamped. I mean, there are cars that have been here for 40 days!"

40 days. 40 days? Dude, if cars are getting stuck in your shop for 40 days there is something seriously wrong. You should be expanding the shop, opening a second one, and in the short term hiring more people to work extra shifts and paying the ones you've got overtime to clear the backlog. You have to be leaving money on the table here not to mention generating ill will with the existing customers. What could explain this degree of underpricing? Are there no project managers in Baton Rouge? No fresh-minted MBAs you could throw at it?

Anyway, I'm in Baton Rouge. Tomorrow I'll rent a car and - if I can't find a way to bump the queue - continue the trip in the rental. By the time I get back from Florida they might have made more progress. Or at least some progress. One hopes.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Louisiana territory!

I spent too long in Austin, but how could I miss the Segway tour? :-)

I highly recommend the ribs at Texas Roadhouse (Willie Nelson's restaurant) and the waffles at Waffle House.

Dropping into an Austin music store I noticed one of the largest music categories was - are you ready for this? - "Texan". Yep, all the artists from Texas were separated out as such in one place. It was literally half the music in the store.

Crossing the border into Louisiana, I found myself sidetracked by the casinos. I'd never tried playing blackjack at a "riverboat casino" - a casino that looks like a building and seems permanently attached to one, yet is technically a boat to get around a legal rule banning permanent casinos on non-indian territory. I'd also never played at an indian casino. As of today I've done both. It was a nice - and quite lucrative - break from travel, but it's time to mosey onwards. I am currently in Kinder, LA - the local Coushatta (indian) casino resort put me up for the night. Tomorrow I head on in the direction of New Orleans.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Days 5-6: Lone Star State

Random snippets of Interstate 10 through New Mexico are designated "safe zones". We turn on our lights in the Safe Zone. Speeding fines are doubled in the Safe Zone. It reminds me of CalvinBall -- "that means today is opposite day!" If they're going to randomly modify the fines, why not post what the fines are? And why only have the options of 1X and 2X? How about an "unsafe zone" where the fines are halved? Or a "random zone" where the cop rolls a D20 to determine your fine?

Fortunately I made it though NM unticketed.

Texas doesn't care so much about "safe zones" but is full of triangular signs asking you to "Drive Friendly". The anti-litter slogans are cute: "Drive clean through Texas" or "Don't mess with Texas." Another nice innovation: split day versus night speeding limits. Often the limit is 80mph by day and 65 at night. (Again, though, there's an unresolved definitional issue - when does "night" start?)

I was stopped by a cop near El Paso, but slowed down in time as I saw him cross the divider; he only got me going 86 (in an 80 zone) and let me off with a "warning".

I've started contributing to the internet photo-survey of weather stations where convenient. I found and recorded the stations at Tomestone, AZ and Fort Stockton, TX. Couldn't find the one at Boerne, TX. Found a temperature sensor in front of the fire station at Douglas, AZ, but I don't think it was the right one.

Tonight I am in Austin where I plan to do the expected touristy sort of things - see some live music, take a tour.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Day 4: Tombstone, AZ->Las Cruces, NM

Tombstone is fun. Lots of old-west people wander an old-west town having staged shootouts and selling hats to tourists. I overheard a grizzled cowboy trying to hire a gunfighter...over his cellphone. (Gunfighting apparently pays $55/day plus tips if you do three shows a day.) No cars are allowed on the main drag, only horses and buggies.

Bisbee, AZ is full of beautiful old brick buildings winding up the side of a hill. The copper mine is scary-large, and the landscape coming north from Douglas, Arizona is spectacular.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Day 3: Burbank->Tombstone, AZ

The windfarms near Palm Springs seem to go on forever.

My first clue that I wasn't in California anymore was the cacti; they grow taller than I remembered and always make me think of Road Runner cartoons.

The area around Tucson looks interesting but I'll save it for a future trip; today I blew right past Phoenix and Tucson to reach the tourist town of Tombstone, Arizona, the 1880s home of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday . The locals stage regular dramatic reenactments of the shootout at the OK corral among a collection of 1880s buildings and museums. They've even closed off a large area as only for horse-and-buggies, no cars allowed. I'll check it out tomorrow.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Day 2: Burbank

Hanging out with friends. 4-year-olds are energetic! This one calls me "uncle Glen", which is adorable. Dim Sum in Chinatown, then we went to an attraction called "TravelTown" that features all sorts of old trains you can clamber over. It doesn't really feel like the trip has started yet because I do the 5 to LA so often. Tomorrow: new territory. Eastward Ho!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Day 1: San Francisco->Burbank, CA. First accident!

Between packing and paperwork and procrastinating, I got no sleep last night. Took adrafinil and some Diet Coke to chase away the sleepiness. Decided at the last minute to try making time-lapse drive videos and futzed around for an hour or so in SF trying to get the video to work right. I had a notion that a proper car video of the subject should start with a view of the golden gate bridge or a similar landmark. Neglected the fact that the bridge can't be seen from anywhere that doesn't add an hour to the trip compared to starting where I was. (Saturday afternoons are full of festivals and traffic anywhere you can see the bridge). Two hours if you count getting there and futzing with the camera. Upshot: though I left my building by 1:30, I didn't leave SF until 3:30.

Using EvoCam on my MacBook with an Eyesight mounted on the dash. Got it sort of working, but this was a grey, gloomy day - overcast and foggy and smoggy - so I didn't care - the first few videos are just practice anyway. Took the most direct route to burbank, straight down 5.

Stopping for dinner, I got in my first accident! I was approaching the drivethrough of a jack-in-the box. Got rear-ended by a very apologetic teenager. A couple scratches on the bumper, no major damage. Decided it wasn't worth the hassle to deal with it; I let it slide. Other than that, the trip was uneventful.

Reached my destination by 8:30pm. Played some guitar and gossipped with old friends, then a *very* deep and long-delayed sleep surrounded by toys in "the kid's room".

The Kid is a disney fan. It turns out Stitch (of Lilo and Stitch) is not something you want to wake up looking at. :-)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Road Trip!

Laid off, decided to take my severance and drive my red Beetle around the country for a month. When I say around, I mean that literally. Counter-clockwise near the perimeter.

From SF I shall go down the coast to the vicinity of LA, then across all the way to Key West, then up the east coast at least as far as New York, then back across the north to Seattle, then back down the coast to SF. Time to see what we can see...