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Sunday, July 31, 2005


Day 11: Greater Detroit

Today was another break from driving, though we did get rides to the Detroit Institute of Arts and Cranbrook. The former is a fine museum, while the latter is a private school that my mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, and myself all attended for some period of time. It’s known for its ridiculously attractive campus.

Without question, the best part of the DIA for me was Diego Rivera’s massive fresco installation. I positively love his work, and this was the best example I’ve ever seen.

Diego Rivera fresco Diego Rivera fresco

The sun was setting on Cranbrook by the time we arrived, so my photos are few.

Cranbrook Cranbrook trash
Friday, July 29, 2005


Day nine: “If you seek a beautiful peninsula …”

Escanaba, Mich., to Ann Arbor, Mich.: 443 miles, 8 hours

We had planned to explore northern Michigan a little, but we’re learning quickly that there’s always more road than there is time to drive it. We dipped our toes in Lake Michigan and appreciated its Greatness, but there wasn’t time to do much more.

As with Montana, the scenery of rural Michigan lends itself more to a swiveling head than to a still camera. (That’s not to suggest that motion pictures of Michigan would be anything but dull.) There was one highly photogenic monument, though: the Mackinac Bridge connecting Michigan’s two peninsulas.

Mackinac Bridge Mackinac Bridge Mackinac Bridge
Thursday, July 28, 2005


Day eight: Minneapolis. Eau Claire. Wausau. Green Bay. Menominee. Escanaba.

Minneapolis to Escanaba, Mich.: 409 miles, 8.5 hours

Miles so far: 3072

States visited so far: 9

Minnesota and Wisconsin are both surprisingly pretty places. Green, lush, and covered in farms, they’re as vast as the great plains, but not as boring. Wisconsin, in particular, was far more hilly and convoluted than I expected, but given the time to drive the road and study the map, that makes a lot of sense: If it weren’t for Wisconsin’s elevation, Lake Michigan would drain into the Mississippi River instead of the St. Lawrence.

Like Montana and Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin lend themselves to panoramic photography and no other kind. You already know what a barn looks like, and a silo, and a cornfield. Pictures of those things are beyond dull. But surround yourself with a huge homogeneous landscape, and it’s breathtaking.

Lucky for me and my non-panoramic camera, we arrived in Minneapolis, which is one of the most attractive cities I’ve ever been to. Straddling the Mississippi where it’s still rather narrow, the city displays a variety of tasteful architecture that doesn’t try too hard. The frigid city had the good sense to develop an elaborate Skyway system that allows workers, residents, and visitors to walk across downtown without stepping outside. Emily and I walked above ground nearly a mile from our hotel to the riverfront, where we then crossed the Big Muddy on foot.

Downtown Minneapolis Bridge over the Mississippi Downtown Minneapolis Grain Belt billboard

Especially for Max, here are some highlights of the sculpture garden in town.

Richard Serra Sol LeWitt Frank Gehry Claes Oldenburg

Tonight, for the first time, we’re in Michigan’s gorgeous Upper Peninsula, on the north shore of Lake Michigan. More tomorrow as we set out toward Ann Arbor, the whole point of this trip.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Day seven: Corn, cheese, and conservatives

Mitchell, S.D., to Minneapolis: 321 miles, 7 hours

Note: The road map linked above isn’t entirely accurate, since we followed a state road through Minnesota instead of taking the interstate.

“So, you live in San Jose?” Still in an I-90 stupor, I nodded at the motel clerk. “What are you doing in South Dakota?” she demanded.

“Well, we, ahh… ” I began.

Please tell me you’re on a cross-country drive.”

“Oh, no,” I replied, perking up a little. “We drove out here just to see the Corn Palace.”

“You wouldn’t believe the number of people who say that. And they’re serious.

We’re really good at tourism in South Dakota,” she continued. “We get you to come look at faces on a mountain, a drug store, and a building covered in corn.”

Such is the reality of South Dakota. If we hadn’t stopped at that damn Wall Drug, we might have escaped the state unscathed. Instead, we made it no further than Mitchell, and so ended up visting the aforementioned palace in the morning.

Markedly less odious than Wall Drug, the Corn Palace is as wholesome and Middle American as … um … corn, but not half as appetizing. Essentially an awkward cross between a theater and a basketball arena (home of the Kernels!), the Palace spends its off days as a repository for touristy crap. And during the few non-winter months, the building is elaborately decorated with corn mosaics inside and out. Those, I must admit, are the most impressive artwork I’ve ever seen in the corn medium.

Corn Palace artwork detail

I found this freaky-ass bug outside the Palace to be as compelling as anything inside. What in God’s name is it?

Freaky-ass corn bug

Just down the street, there’s proof that Jesus is a very bad mime.

Jesus is a bad mime
Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Day six: Whole lotta Dakota

Gillette, Wyo., to Mitchell, S.D.: 457 miles, 9.5 hours

So much South Dakota, and so little to say. We actually spent the morning in Wyoming making an ill-fated side trip to Devil’s Tower, which was invisible thanks to a rain storm. The same bad weather made it pointless to try to see Mount Rushmore or the Crazy Horse monument, so we just pushed eastward through our first painfully dull state.

If you’ve ever driven within 200 miles of here, you know about Wall Drug. The closer you get to that tourist trap, the more frequent the billboards become, with five or six cryptic Wall Drug signs per mile near the town of Wall.

If, on the other hand, you’ve never been up here, let me give you a piece of advice: Just skip it. It’s an absolute nightmare. The high point of the stop in Wall (pop. 815) was a pair of cranky women behind us on the wooden sidewalk complaining about the slow-moving tourists in front of them. I might have had similar thoughts when I was a San Francsico resident, but at least I tried to keep them to myself. And I never complained about the tourists at places like Pier 39, because places like that (and Wall) exist solely for their enjoyment. All the same, I think we should do the good people of Wall a favor and stop visiting their nasty little burg.

Today we head for Minneapolis. But not before we stop at the Corn Palace! (I guess Wall Drug taught us nothing.)

Monday, July 25, 2005


Day five: Over the Continental Divide

Missoula to Gillette, Wyo.: 585 miles, 8.5 hours

Miles so far: 1875

Gas mileage so far: 34 mpg (Someone asked, OK?)

Big Sky country

Today’s drive was the West with a capital W. Mountains, buttes, and sky were all too huge to fit in a frame. Cattle, bison, and oil rigs are all picturesque, but what’s more remarkable than anything we saw is the vast emptiness that surrounds it. California has its share of lonely patches, but this feels like the population center of nowhere. Statistics support this view: In the nearly 98,000 square miles of Wyoming, there are fewer than half a million people, less than live in the 49 square miles of San Francisco. And Montana, which is more than 5,000 times the size of San Jose, has approximately the same population. There’s a tremendous amount of nothing out here.

There are two images that will stick with me, though. First is the pro- and anti-Indian graffiti in a bathroom in Hardin, Montana, just north of the Crow reservation. I was startled to see that there’s someone alive in this century who would respond to an Indian pride tag with the phrase “wagon burners.” Dude, it’s over. Whitey won. Maybe you didn’t get the telegram.

The second memory is more benign: a man riding horseback on the reservation, talking on his cell phone.

As I write this on Sunday night, we’re in the same motel as a number of competitors in the National High School Rodeo Finals, which is apparently a very big deal in Gillette. Maybe we’ll get to smell it tomorrow.

The red roads of Wyoming Storm in the distance, Wyoming sunset in the sideview
Sunday, July 24, 2005


Road trip day four: back in the saddle

Portland to Missoula: 557 miles, 10 hours

The last time I visited four states in one day, I was in New England, where the states are smaller than the state parks out west. Thanks in large part to the narrow panhandle of Idaho and the generous speed limits up here, we managed to cross both Washington and Famous Potatoes on our way from Oregon to Montana.

As the snowy peak of Mount Hood receded behind us, the lush greenery of western Oregon gave way to the rocky desert that fills the state east of the Cascades. Much of the road was lined with monumental rock formations that, for lack of a roadside geology guide, I’m going to guess are columnar basalt. Or something.

Just as the brown landscape of eastern Oregon bears little resemblance to Portland, the southeast portion of Washington is a world away from Seattle. Treeless, wheat-covered hills rolled into infinity, looking like a classier Nebraska. Spokane looked like Bridgeport, Connecticut, from the freeway.

Idaho, on the other hand, was stunningly green and rugged, and Lake Cour d’Alene looked like paradise. Our Idaho crossing was over in less than an hour, but I look forward to returning.

Now in Missoula, we’ve barely entered vast Montana, and it’s just about the most stunning landscape I’ve ever seen. Like Vermont on performance-enhancing drugs, with 100% evergreen forest. I also like the Montana version of time: The sun dropped behind a tall mountain around 9:00, and the sky was still light an hour later.

With our entry into Idaho, we crossed into territory that’s hard to do justice with a camera … so no good pictures so far. I’ll try again tomorrow as we head for Wyoming.

I-84 tunnel Mt. Hood in visor mirror Rocks in eastern Oregon The Evergreen State

I’m sitting on a sidewalk outside a closed UPS Store in Missoula to post this. Make it worth my while — post a comment, for gosh sakes.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Day three: Portland

Baggage Dept. Union Station
Friday, July 22, 2005


Day two: Portland

Finally, I got to visit Portland in the summer. My previous visits here were both in December, and I found it to be — like many places in America at that time of year — cold, damp, and unpleasant.

Summertime is a different story entirely. Sure, it threatened rain for a while, but most of the drops evaporated before they hit the ground, leaving wispy traces in the sky. (According to the weatherman, this phenomenon is called virga. Fascinating.) For the most part, the weather is warm, breezy, and pleasantly humid.

We spent much of the day among the Pearl district’s old warehouses, repurposed as cafes, shops, and ad agencies. I made a pit stop at REI to pick up some small camping items, and found it to be the nicest REI store I’ve ever seen, with ridiculously helpful staff. The neighborhood even charmed me into entering a hipster Portland barber shop, where I got my first haircut in about six months. Susan, at Rudy’s on 13th Avenue, did an awesome job.

My favorite part of the Pearl, though, was the buildings. We don’t see a lot of brick structures in California, and I miss them.

Crane Bldg. Crane Bldg. detail Pearl District and Fremont Bridge Pearl District lamp

For fans of The Simpsons, it’s worth noting that the east-west streets in this part of Portland (hometown of Matt Groening) include (neighbor) Flanders, (bully) Kearney, (Reverend) Lovejoy, and (Mayor) Quimby. Excellent.

I forgot to mention yesterday that the entries from this trip introduce a little technical innovation to the blog: Clicking on any photo will show you an enlargment in a pop-up window.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


On the road: Day one

San Jose to Portland: 686 miles, 11 hours

We got a late start, and it was hotter than the hinges of hell, but we had an uneventful air-conditioned drive nonetheless.

Our only real stop was Redding, Calif., where we checked out the Sundial Bridge. The bridge was even cooler than we expected, and is well worth a short detour off I-5.

Sundial Bridge Sundial Bridge

We also got a good look at Mount Shasta, which never fails to impress. Hats off to my friend Chris for summiting this peak recently.

Mt. Shasta

They’re still finding big trees to fell, too.

log truck
Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Hitting the road

Today I’m embarking on a mammoth road trip across America and back. In a way, it’s sort of a long-held dream fulfilled: car + camera + laptop + road.

I’ve got to say I’m pretty excited, from a photographic standpoint, to get out of our broiling-hot back yard. I mean, it’s great here and everything, but how many pictures of the feral kitten can I take?

Answer: at least one more.

Little feral
Saturday, July 9, 2005


Cute ’n’ creepy heads

Little feral Baby head
Friday, July 8, 2005


Ancient 4-track nonsense

My personal organization project has caused me to throw out a ton of stuff this past month, but it’s also reacquainted me with some things I’m glad I saved. One box, for example, contained a number of tapes made on my four-track recorder back around 1990. At that time, the ability to mix audio was incredible to me, even if it involved cassette tapes and questionable sound quality.

The music I made was pretty awful, but this song based on messages from my answering machine still makes me laugh.

Site news

Updates in progress

To be sure, I’m not the only one who hasn’t been cranking out the blog entries lately, but I still feel the need to explain myself a little. I’m still trying to organize my life a little better and generally get my shit together, and that’s been a daunting project. (On the plus side, I’ve uncovered some interesting artifacts, as you’ll see in today’s other post). On top of that, I’m in the process of totally redoing the photo section of this site. The first phase of that project, removing lots of old snapshots, has already happened, and I’m trying to roll out phase two by Monday. Stay tuned.