Saturday, September 6, 2008

Day Twelve: Civilization Begins with Distillation.

Slept in late today. Walked around the area I was staying for a good but in the morning. Did a few errands, including getting a new cell phone, which was sorely needed. Settled on the LG Dare and after dealing with verizon's stupidity regarding account management and having to get my dad on the phone, finally got what I wanted and left. I really like it so far, apart from one inexplicable dropped call at an extremely inopportune moment.

Did alot of walking basically, soaking up the gorgeous 80-85 degree and sunny weather, which apparently is actually very uncharcteristic for SF this time of year. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. Got on the BART ( Bay Area Rapid Transit), which was great, imagine if the commuter rail in Boston was super fast, cheap, and actually useful. Thats what it was like. I met Beth over in Berkeley in east bay area. I realized on the ride over that I hadn't even eaten yet that day, so we promptly found a brewpub, thanks to my new phone, and I wolfed down an entire pizza, which was delicious, regardless of my obvious hunger, as well as throw down a few of the local beers. We met Beth's friend David when he got out of class and went to another very good berkeley bar and had several rounds of drinks. Had alot of good conversation and beer for a good while, then left to go meet lauren in the Marina district. Supposedly, this area is where all of the 'beautiful people who know it' go to party most of the time. But a place called the blue light on Tuesday nights is the exception. Taco Tuesday, as they call it, can be summed up very quickly. 3-2-1, as in 3 Dollar Margaritas, 2 dollar coronas, 1 dollar tacos. Happy hour/drink specials like that are making it pretty easy to deal with not being able to goto my favorite watering holes in Boston anymore. We met alot of cool people and had some good laughs and enjoyed the affordable prices. Took a cab back, dropping Beth off near Luke & Michelle, and I went back to Lauren's to sleep. Tomorrow, we conquer California and camp out at crater lake National Park, before heading Portland for the day on thursday and seattle that night. Where does the time go! It's been amazing so far, time to finish strong now.

Day Eleven: All your Hippies are Belong to us

I woke up and met up with my friend Lauren from high school and her boyfriend for brunch the next morning. Got some real good eggs benedict on crab cakes and wolfed it all down. We later took the Muni downtown and saw all the sights of SF, walked along the water, saw fisherman's wharf, the seals, some awful live entertainment/magician who was just horrible, and putzed around SF for the majority of the day talking and catching up.

We went to Delores Park ( I think that was the name? ) where lindsay met us and we drank some hard cider and people watched all the crazy san franciscan free spirits. I feel like, in San Francisco, they can't actually get laws like public nudity and open container laws passed through legislation... but it doesn't much matter since no one enforces it or even worries about it. We met up with Luke Michelle and Beth and some of their friends in the area for dinner at a mexican joint down the block. Got some good mexican grub, and a group of us went to a party with Luke & Michelle at their friend's place. The "appartment" was amazing. It was a converted old wharehouse, that was a 9 person living space with amazing open kitchen and living room areas. All the rooms had interesting features like lofts and they had great artwork everywhere. It was one of the most unique living arrangements I think I've ever witnessed. Anyways, we had a good time and decided to spontaneously bring a pinata, so had fun busting that open and got some pretty funny video's of both hits and misses which I'll post in a day or two. Played a round of Mafia, which is a fairly entertaining game, and befriended some of the housemates and a physics major who worked with Luke. They were all very nice people. Eventually we retired and I went back to crash at Lauren's place. Stayed up watching 'The Devils Rejects' a Rob Zombie horror flick, with Lauren then fell asleep around 3am, no nightmares to report.

Day Ten: Someone told me it's all happening at the Zoo.

After devouring a delicious breakfast made by master chefs Kara and Dan, we took off for the world famous San Diego Zoo. The zoo was absolutely enormous and was extremely entertaining. The chimpanzees were really amazing to watch the way the interacted with each other. Something so clearly human-esque is happening inside they're brains. Other highlights include the tigers, Jaguar, the Swamp Monkeys vs. River Otters fight, Gorrillas at feeding time, the lazy/stoned Koalas, and countless other interesting creatures. We spent many hours there, before realizing we were both hungry and thirsty, and the only acceptable way to deal with that situation was to goto the Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, just north of SD.

For those of you not familiar with Stone, most notably the brewer of Arrogant Bastard Ale (slogan: 'You're not Worthy'), they make some of the most delicious beers on the planet. Although the tour was booked solid and we couldn't get on, we ate/drank in their excellent/gorgeous outdoor grounds of the World Cafe. It was a wholly super-satisfying experience. At around 4pm, we got in the car, pointed it towards San Francisco and charged full steam ahead.

For those of you who failed middle school geography, Los Angeles is in between San Diego and San Francisco. Also, there is essentially no way to avoid it. Also, it has the worst traffic of anyplace ever always. Except for apparently the Sunday before Labor Day at 6pm. Expecting a horror show and 4 hours of standstill on 25 lane highways, we cruised through LA, 90% of the time at 65+ MPH. We didn't speak a word of it till we were completely out, as it was totally unexpected and we were terrified to jinx it by reminding LA that it is supposed to have traffic in it. We cruised through the barren California countryside, which is much more like the empty swaths of land in the South/Texas/New Mexico than people often realize. You can go 30 miles in between exits in places. There simply aint nothing there for most of it.

We rolled into SF at 1230-1amish. I knew 3 different sets of people there, and they all managed to(extremely conveniently) live within 1.5 miles of each other. So I got to know the Bernal Heights/Mission/Noes Valley area very good. I dropped Beth off with our friends Luke & Michelle and proceeded to my friend Lindsay's place, yet another NU physicist of course, because we rock excessively hard. We stayed up for several hours talking about life and work and friends and moving and the west coast and everything else under the sun. Finally, exhausted, I collapsed on the air mattress and went to bed.

Day 9: Penguins in the Desert

We left after a quick breakfast from our gracious hosts, and headed west to the Desert Museum. I thought it would be an interesting thing to see, but my expectations were totally blown out of the water. The museum is almost entirely outdoors, but features many very natural settings in which classic examples of desert vegetation and life were displayed. Black Widows, Rattlesnakes, Ocelots, Bobcats, coyotes, wolves, foxes, some crazy bugs and other creepy crawlers as well as endless cacti and agave etc etc. It was really just the presentation of the whole place that sold me so heavily on it. Set right on the edge of the Saguaro National Park, with rocky orange mountains covered in towering saguaro cacti. We spent over 2 hours and only saw under 2/3 of the exhibits that they had there. But alas, the clock was ticking and we had lots to do.

Beth had 2 good high school friends who were recently married in Phoenix so we dropped in to say hi to/meet them. They made us a great and bountiful Jumbalaya and were really fun nice people. Browsed through their extensive record collection, marvelled at the enormous and awesome fish tank, and went for a brief tour of downtown Phoenix which had apparently been ravaged by the storm we saw in Tucson the night we drove in. Uprooted trees and knocked down walls were everywhere. It was pretty amazing. As always though, it was gorgeous that day as we were there, though the storm clouds were closing in on us as we were there, and we decided to take off for San Diego.

The drive out was gorgeous as anticipated. I-10 runs about 1/4 mile from the Mexican border for quite some time as well, so we had to go through about 5 border patrol checkpoints, but we were pretty clearly not mexicans, nor did we have any room in my car to store whatsoever. Then we got into some really windy awesome roads in the central California Desert area which was pretty neat. A really good drive again, mostly empty till just outside of SD and even then no traffic to mention really.

We got in at about 9:30 and were greeted by my old friend from physics classes, Dan Knudsen, who is doing some awesome neuroscience PhD research at UCSD, and his girlfriend Kara who apparently sat next to/befriended Sarah in an english lit class at NU which was really unexpected and entertaining connection for both of us. Furthering the small world bizareness, Beth had worked at almost all of the same labs that Dan had at NU, but never at the same time, so they traded stories about all their old coworkers' antics.

Dan and Kara were amazing hosts, fueling us with beer and raviolli and cooked us a huge breakfast the next morning. It was great to spend some time with them, as anyone who knows either of them will certainly attest to. But we had another super full packed day coming up, so we turned in finally.

Day 8: Rocket Man

Ahh Tucson. Relaxed and caught up with some neglected emails in the morning. Good some good mexican for lunch at a place Jared recommended.

Then went to the Titan Missle Museum. The Titan II missle was the primary method with which during the cold war we would have used to annihilate all life on earth as we know it. One of the old silos 20 miles from Tucson was converted into a museum to show the public what the working conditions were like on a missle silo crew. They showed off all the safeguards and explained why everything had to be engineered the way it was. It was an extremely cool place, meant to be able to withstand a direct nuclear blast and still fire off its payload and scorch some serious earth.

Came back and relaxed with Jen & Elliot a bit before heading out to dinner and then to get some drinks with their nerdy physics friends. They were a pretty dorky group, and I instantly remembered the mentalilty of socially awkward physicists in a weird sort of nostalgic way. Also, it reinforced my already firm belief that I dont want a physics PhD. Regardless, they were all nice, had some beers then went back to sleep early since we wanted to goto the Desert Museum just west of Tucson early in the morning before the sun forces all the critters to go hide.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Massive Photo Upload #1

Ride to Seattle: Episode 3: Tucson & Phoenix

The problem we seem to be having on this trip is that whenever we leave a place, its immediately placed in imminent threat of destruction. Hurricane Gustav is currently evacuating New Orleans and placing warnings as far north and east as Tennesee and East Texas. As we drove through West Texas, there were thunderstorms following just behind that brought severe flooding to a normally dehydrated desert. As we entered Tucson, Steve and I saw the most spectacular thunderstorm we've ever seen: the sky turned all sorts of amazing colors, and huge bright flashes of white lightning struck down upon the mesas all around us, 20 miles in every direction. We played Riders On The Storm, Thunderstruck, Thunder Road, Explosions in the Sky, and anything else that was appropriately epic. It brought us very little rain, and no wind; just an amazing view. Certainly though, someone was getting their ass kicked. After leaving Tucson, we stopped into see my friend Emily and her husband Mark in Phoenix, and we realized who's butts we saw being whupped. All through the city, trees were torn up by the roots or splintered to smithereens, windows were shattered, tall stone walls blown over. As I hugged them goodbye, the clouds darkened, thunder rolled in the distance; the weather was taking a deep breath to start again.

We are riding the leading edge of danger.

Friends of California, Oregon or Washington, beware. In the coming week you may find yourself caught up in horrible storms, mudslides, earthquakes or volcanoes--it is a very dangerous time to be friends with Steve or I. Perhaps you should take a break from that for a while, or just go on vacation somewhere else till long after we've passed. Or, maybe you should take it as a sign from God that you ought to flee your homes immediately and join us. After all, Steve and I have yet to be victims of any calamity. If you stay with us, you too can avert catastrophe. As Steve says, "We are the eye of the hurricane".

Anyway, besides discovering that we are two of the four horsemen of the apocolypse, we've been enjoying ourselves. The southwest is ridiculously beautiful, and our thirteen hour ride was actually extremely pleasant. Just set the cruise to 80 and hold the wheel straight for a very very very long time. Mountains, mesas, cacti and sunsets-- I cannot get bored of these things.

In Tucson we stayed with Steve's friend Jen and her boyfriend Elliot. It was funny, Jen was friends with all of my friends before I was their friend, and she left before I became their friend. Therefore, I'd heard all about her in stories told as if she were still there, but had never actually met her, she was just some mythic character in the saga of my friends. I found the real life incarnation of her to be super pleasant, she made really good beer and coffee, and thats really all I can ask of anybody. Also while in Tucson we went to the Titan Missile Museum, a decommisioned nuclear missile silo. It was really cool and somewhat frightening. Really cool in that the engineering and logistics going into this place is flawless, they thought of everything. I have never felt safer in my life than when I was in this silo. What was frightening was learning just how real the threat of complete annhilation was, and how extremely necessary all that engineering and logic was. The place was wired for Mutually Assured Destruction. We're going to hell all right, but Russia's riding shotgun.

We left Tucson and stopped by the Sonora Desert Museum, which was way cooler than I had expected. I kinda want to go back, the place was huge, and we only got through half of it in the few hours we spent there. Its sort of like a zoo, with all the animals you'd find in the desert put on display, all the kinds of cactus and agave and such too. But it was done so sooooo well, it didn't feel like a zoo at all, it felt like you were just walking around in the desert and seeing really cool things. I recommend it if you're ever near Tucson.

From there we rode the couple hours to see Emily and Mark in their new apartment in Phoenix, and were greeted with homemade jambalaya, beer and a record player. This is why I love Emily, she knows exactly what I need in life. We hung out with them for a few hours, toured downtown Phoenix briefly, took a group picture, and then we reluctantly left.

Six hours to San Diego. The Mexican border is 500 feet to our left. The sun is setting, but if we keep driving west, the day will last a little longer. I'm still technically a hobo, I have no job and no apartment meeting me at the end of this trip, but meh.