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Monday, August 22, 2005


Summer draws to a close

First off: While I am normally a considerate neighbor, I’m currently playing the stereo as loud as I can without my ears hurting. I’m also playing the same song twice in a row, and seriously considering doing a solid hour; it won’t drive me any more insane than the incessant barking next door. In a concrete yard roughly as large as a 20-foot hallway, three hell-sent little throw-pillow dogs yap up a storm 18 hours a day. Sometimes they get into a raucous three-dog tussle, then get a little quieter, and I find myself hoping that one has been killed in the fight. No luck so far, and no luck on getting them to shut the hell up, either. I’d like to talk to the neighbors, but what do I say? “Please throw one or more of your dogs away”? For now, I shall drown them out in a manner consistent with the nature of their barking: annoying as hell.

But back to the titular point: Classes start again on Wednesday, and I can’t say I’m excited about that. I had hoped that leaving San Jose for a month would give me a fresh perspective and a newfound appreciation for the place, but only half my dream came true. Maybe I’m seeing it from a different angle now, but the Hose still looks like a shitty place. Not as bad as, say, most of Nevada, but shitty nonetheless. And while my experience as a student SJSU has been better than my life as a San Jose resident, it still doesn’t win any awards. The only thing that keeps me going is a fading desire to just get it over with, and I hate living life like that.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Road trip post mortem

If you ever really, really have trouble sleeping, I think a road trip is just the cure. Upon returning home at midnight on Sunday, I slept until 9 a.m. After a quick breakfast, I napped until dinnertime, then skipped dinner and went straight to bed. This pattern repeated for three days, interspersed with some cathartic vomiting.

Back on my feet again, I’m back at the blog desk with a final group of 78 photos. Now here’s the neat part: You can view them as a gallery in your choice of styles, as a customizable slide show, or as a super-cool map, which you should really check out. Under where it says “78 photos,” hit “play” to have the map walk you through our approximate route. Clicking on a thumbnail in the white bubble will show you a large photo, and clicking on a thumbnail in the right-hand column will show you a satellite view of the spot. (Some views, like Niagara Falls and the Gateway Arch, are cooler than others.)

Monday, August 15, 2005


Day 26: Utah --> Home

After nearly a month, more than 8500 miles, some $500 worth of gas, 28 states, the District of Columbia, and Ontario, we’re on I-680 at last. (I figure I should write in the car at least once, since that’s where I’ve been spending most of my time lately.) At Emily’s request, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” is playing. I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait to get to the Santa Clara Valley. 26 more miles! Whoo!

Keeping this blog updated every day turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. Nonetheless, I have a very good idea of what should have been posted on the missing days, as well as those with lean entries. I’ll be adding those entries using the dates they should have appeared on.

I’ve also got some general thoughts about the country after seeing so much of it, and I plan to write about them soon.

For tonight, though, all that will have to wait. I’ll post this entry when we get home, but we’ve got a cat to reintroduce ourselves to. That, and a place to sleep that’s ours for more than one night.

Addendum 8-18-05: Utah! The state spelled with an exclamation point!

No doubt about it, Utah is a breathtaking place. But by plastering Utah! all over the license plates and maps, the state just sounds breathless. They should let the scenery speak for itself.

The day we crossed Utah was not the clearest, so the scenery, while impressive, did not make for awesome shots. To give you an idea, here’s a formation called the San Rafael Swell, near Capitol Reef.

San Rafael Swell

On the western edge of the state, west of the Great Salt Lake, lie the utterly incredible Bonneville Salt Flats, where land-speed records are set. We were in a rush to make it home, but the sight of cars racing in the distance made us exit the freeway for a closer look. (Admittedly, I had dreams of pushing the Civic to its limits on the salt.) When entry to the speedway turned out to be $10 a head, we turned around, but not before examining the vast salinity of it all.

No salt angels for you

Emily refused to lie down and make salt angels for the camera.

No salt angels for you

Salty? Yes. Flat? Surprisingly not.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Days 23-24: Driving like crazy college kids

Pittsburgh to Boulder: 1494 miles, 27 hours

Night driver

This might have been a bad dream, but since there are mountains outside, I guess it really happened. Leaving Pittsburgh at noon, we drove across West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and part of Colorado without staying the night anywhere. I have never bought so much gasoline in my life.

Gas theft warning

We visited the Gateway Arch in St. Louis at around 10 p.m., and we caught three hours’ sleep in the car somewhere between Topeka and WaKeeney. Breakfast was at 6 in Russell, Kansas, and we slept another hour or two at 10. Getting to Boulder at 3 p.m., we went straight to bed. Now it’s midnight, and I’m awake and hungry.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Day 22: Pittsburgh

PIttsburgh buildings

I am not being ironic when I say this: Pittsburgh is cool.

Like Minneapolis, it looks big for its size. Only about 300,000 people call this handsome city home, but its surplus of bridges, tunnels, stairways, and great buildings suggests a much bigger place.

Walking around and looking at Pittsburgh was oddly satisfying, and it got me thinking about three of my personal criteria for a cool city: Hills, water, and good architecture.

PIttsburgh from the South Side Slopes

Hills are good because they allow a chance to back up from the city and put it in perspective. This shot was taken from Pittsburgh’s South Side Slopes, where the Monongahela Incline (something like an elevator running on tracks) hauls you up a San Francisco-worthy hill.

PIttsburgh at night

So long as it’s impossible to ignore, water adds life to a city. Pittsburgh’s three rivers, including the Monongahela in this photo, churn with pleasure boats, jet skis, and coal barges. Fishermen and swimmers line the shore in spots. Waterfront parks buzz with bikes and joggers.

PPG Place

A variety of interesting architecture can make the difference between a boring city and a cool one. PPG Place isn’t my favorite kind of building, but it sure makes a statement (PLATE GLASS GOOD!). It’s shown here reflected in the mirrored tiles of a sculpture in the plaza.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Day 21: More Niagara

Niagara Falls, Ontario, to Pittsburgh, Pa.: here’s a map, and it took a while.

Still feeling miserable and shedding virus like a madman. Using the little energy I possess to walk around and take pictures. When I return to the hotel, I fall fast asleep, so the posting is continuing to suffer. There are some stories about our time in Ann Arbor and New Jersey that I still plan to add, but right now I’m too addled to relate them in a sensible way. All that goes through my mind are random snippets of overheard conversation (“He was such a handsome Indian, I thought he was from Minnesota,”) and great signs I saw too late to photograph (the Amigone funeral home in Buffalo. Possible motto: “Not yet, but let’s start planning!”).

But back to the photos. At the motel du jour in Niagara Falls, I was happy to see that some fixtures never go out of style.

Command center Blade slot

Not that anyone uses a “safety” razor anymore anyway, but where do those blades go? Are the walls of motels everywhere filled with rusty double-edged Schicks?

Once I finally managed to tear myself away from these stylish lodgings, we took the Civic on its first international border crossing to get a better look at the falls. Conclusion: They are exceedingly wet.


A final note: We stopped in Buffalo because it’s supposed to have great architecture. Meh. One thing it does have is an old drunk who shouts at visitors. “Are you German?”

It's got wings!
Tuesday, August 9, 2005


Day 20: Niagara (not Niagra)

Syracuse to Niagara Falls: 166 miles, 3 hours

Niagara by night

We’ve spent the last few days with family and friends, and net access has been hard to come by in our free time. Today, I’ve managed to post our stops and maps, but it might take a few more days to add all the photos and incisive commentary. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 8, 2005


Day 19: How to get sick

Westport, Mass., to Syracuse, N.Y.: 355 miles, 6 hours

1. Visit the Northeast in August, when temperatures and humidity are both in the 90s.

2. Get accustomed to breathing air that feels like it’s just risen off a boiling pot of water.

3. Spend plenty of time in homes and restaurants with air conditioning so strong that it feels like a February morning after a snowfall. When your skin begins to tingle with the onset of the freeze-drying process, you’ll feel the fog form in your lungs.

4. Repeat the process a few times, and you’ll soon have the worst cold of your life. In August. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to shiver and sneeze for a while.

Sunday, August 7, 2005


Day 18: Juhzy to Westpaht

Franklin Lakes, N.J., to Westport, Mass.: 293 miles, 5 hours

Craig examines the love cuffs

Saturday, August 6, 2005


Day 17: North Jersey and NYC

Rockaway, N.J., to Hoboken, N.J.: 33 miles

The landscape of New Jersey is nothing if not diverse. There are plenty of highways and refineries, it’s true, but there are also sandy beaches, dense forests, and broad expanses of farmland.

And that’s all I’ll say in defense of New Jersey. It’s an overcrowded, overpaved privy pit, and it smells funny. Truth is, I’ve been out of New Jersey longer than I lived there, and I aim to keep it that way.

I realize that deer are about as exotic as raccoons in most parts of the country these days, but it was still impressive to see this faun and its mother traipsing through Scott’s back yard.

Rockaway, N.J.

Emily and Scott were unimpressed.

Emily and Scott
Friday, August 5, 2005


Day 16: Jersey Shore to the NYC burbs

Avalon, N.J., to Franklin Lakes, N.J.: 165 miles, 3 hours

Addendum 8-18-05: Stuff that happened on Day 17, but Day 16 needed punching up

Drove to Hoboken, took the tube to New York to hang out with Peter. It’s a hell of a trip that makes going to Manhattan for a drink look like no trouble at all.

Peter had shown me the Friends exterior at Grove and Bedford before, but I knew Emily would appreciate it more.

Grove and Bedford

Heading toward New York’s George Washington Bridge, N.J. Route 208 crosses over Ewing Avenue near the local high school. Taking that exit, stopping at the bottom of the ramp, and putting the car into neutral yields an eerie surprise: The car rolls back up the ramp. The risk inherent in this activity, of course, is that someone exiting the highway should rear-end you at high speed.

When I discovered the mystery spot, around age 17, I made full use and abuse of my new driver’s license by testing out the weirdness of the haunted exit ramp. Somewhere around the seventh or eighth time, a Franklin Lakes traffic patrol car caught me in the act. Putting safety first, the officer pulled his car straight up the exit ramp, head to head with mine. Had anyone taken that exit during our time together, my car would have been sandwiched between theirs and the cop’s.

Anyway. Cop puts his high beams through my windshield, struts over, and shines his four-D-cell Mag Lite in my face. “Licenseregistrationinsurance please.” I hand over the papers, and he eyes my license.

“Esch, Daniel. Hm. What do they call you? Danny?”

“I go by Dan.”

“Danny, what are you doing here?”

“Well,” I grinned stupidly, like this was the first time, “I heard about this thing where you stop at the bottom of the ramp …”

“Danny, let me ask you something. You go to school?”

“Uh, yeah.”


“Up the road — at the high school.”

“You a junior there?”


“You take physics?”

“Uh … yeah?”

“Tell me something, Danny.”


“Do things roll up hills?”

Not wanting to thwart the cop’s position of authority, I resisted the urge to invite him into the back seat for a demonstration. “No, sir, they don’t.” After a warning and an awkward reverse by the patrol car, I was free to go.

Some 17 years later, I finally returned to the spot in my own car, risking the $75 careless driving ticket for the sake of a few seconds of thrills. Luckily, there were no cops. It still works, pushing the Civic some 40 feet up the ramp. And it’s cool as hell.

Thursday, August 4, 2005


Day 15: The Jersey Shore

Rockville, Md., to Avalon, N.J.: 199 miles, 4 hours

Bridge over the Delaware
Wednesday, August 3, 2005


Day 14: New niece

Once again, there wasn’t enough time in greater D.C. to see everything and everyone that we’d planned on.

Of course, we would have been foolish to miss a visit with my new niece Miriam, pictured here with my brother.

Miriam and Tom

While we were there, my sister-in-law drove us out to Great Falls, Va., where the Potomac kills people on a regular basis.

Great Falls, Va. Great Falls, Va.Great Falls, Va.