Wednesday, July 9, 2014

So I know it's been quite a while since my last post, but it hasn't been until recently that I've had the inspiration to write about anything. A few months ago my boyfriend and I decided to move from Philadelphia to Southern California in the hopes of embarking on better careers and a better quality of life ( Here's a little bit about our journey across the country:

We've made it to California, finally. We've actually been here a few weeks now.

We began the journey by eliminating things from the car—packing and repacking. In retrospect, some of the things that made the cut (my hula hoop, Dave’s huge box of books) seem kind of irrational. This is especially because I forgot the laundry bag full of the clothes Dave and I usually wear, leaving us with a variety of clothing we rarely don (we've been dressing a lot ritzier than usual). Shortly before we left, we collected all of our spare change and put it in a doubled up Winnie’s plastic bag on the dashboard. While turning onto the turnpike from Virginia Drive, the bag slid off the dashboard, causing a sea of scalding hot change to spill onto my lap and in between my legs. Ouch—what a way to begin the trip!

 The drive across the country was amazing--so many beautiful things to see in places one wouldn't expect. We drove through Pennsylvania, to West Virginia (for just a few miles), Maryland and then to Virginia.

There is a safari park in Virginia where visitors pay a mere $16 to feed llamas, camels, ostriches, wild boars, deer, zebras, bison, and more exotic animals directly from their cars. This was our first unplanned stop on the road trip. We quickly learned that llamas are the aggressive homeless people of the Animal Kingdom. Once you give them a little bit of feed, they will literally stand in front of your car or stick their fly-ridden faces directly in yours until you give them more. We eventually shut the windows and played the waiting game. While we drove along the path, we approached the bison, which were huge! Dave quickly rolled up his window, screaming in fear of this colossal animal. Shortly after bypassing the bison, I was pretty sure a massive, two-humped camel was going to eat my face before I surrendered the entire feed bowl to him. Dave sat in the passenger seat laughing the entire time. Pictures to follow--I lost the cord that connects my camera to my computer and am in the process of finding a new one that actually works (the first two attempts have failed). After this awesome and unique experience, we drove until Roanoke, VA, where we ate a BBQ dinner and refueled.

We made it all the way to Tennessee on the first day of our drive (over 12 hours!) and stayed at a dicey hotel in West Knoxville. The room was swamp-like hot and there were burn holes in the comforter and fleece, despite it being a non-smoking room. I also had the feeling we weren’t alone—but maybe I was just imagining the critters crawling on my arms and legs...

We spent a lot of time in Tennessee, at least when comparing it to the time spent in other places on our five-day journey. After spending the night in Knoxville, we headed straight to Nashville on our second day. We ate lunch at a really neat restaurant called Whiskey Kitchen, where I had my first REAL vegetarian meal on the trip. The middle of the country is generally not vegetarian friendly, as BBQ is a staple in a southern diet.

We then walked around the main drag in Nashville where there was a myriad of cultural variety against the background of live music emanating from nearly every bar/restaurant. Not quite ready to leave for our next destination, we decided to stop to watch the end of the Spain v. Chile World Cup game at a local bar (one of the few not playing music). As avid Spain fans, we were disappointed by the loss, but didn't let it get us down so early on our epic journey. 

Our next stop that day was in Memphis, TN, where we decided to stay the night. We wanted to go to Graceland, but it wasn't open by the time we got there. Also, ticket prices were a little much, especially after how much we got for our buck at the Virginia Safari Park. Instead, we decided to go to Beale Street, which is sort of like the Bourbon Street of Memphis. We soon realized we had come during Bike Week. There were thousands of unique motorcycles and bikers flooding the street.

Interesting fact: Beale Street is always closed to vehicles. It's a super touristy street known for the birth of Blues.

I feel that we missed out a little bit on the real experience of the street since bikers--so loud and numerous—overran it! Still, it was neat to see and they had take-away beers I needed both of my hands to hold.

As the night went on, I began to get the feeling we weren't in the best neighborhood. Not wanting to miss out on something nearby and interesting, I texted my father, who has done a lot of business in Memphis, to see if there was anything we should check out before we went back to the hotel. He quickly replied, “Do Elvis and Beale Street and then get the hell out of there. Bad Area.” Say no more, Dad! At that point, we called it a night.

         We stayed at a Comfort Inn in Memphis, which was like a dream compared to the Days Inn the night before. There were two queen-sized beds with clean, white sheets and comforters and pillows that were medium or soft depending on one’s preference. The girl at the front desk told me I looked and sounded like Miley Cyrus, which wasn’t something I was too happy about. If anything, Miley looks and sounds like me! I’m older! I smiled and thanked her, though, because I knew she meant it in a nice way and she said it so sweetly. I guess it could have been the southern accent, too.

         The next morning we woke up early with the intention of stopping in Little Rock, Arkansas. This was the first time I drove, as Dave was on a roll the first two days and preferred the wheel. Having been to Arkansas before, I wasn’t too eager to drive through it. The last time the roads were littered with more road kill than I’d like to imagine, trash, and shredded tires. We missed the exit for Little Rock and decided to forget it, since there wasn’t much there, anyway. Almost entirely through the hell known as Arkansas, we were forced to get off at a TERRIBLE rest stop that I take full responsibility for choosing. There was nothing to eat and the restrooms were shoddy at best. Dave bought some kind of jerky to stunk to high heaven. Despite my doubts, it smelled worse coming out. TMI, I know.

         From there, it wasn’t long before we crossed over into Oklahoma. We stopped at the first rest stop to stretch, have some coffee, and use the facilities. The rest stop was really neat and cultured. Inside, there were Native American blankets and crafts, buffalo heads, etc. Outside, there were picnic tables sitting under open-air tepees. We walked around a little bit, but it was short-lived after I got attacked by chiggers and had an allergic reaction that had me itching for a week. I took a few Benadryl, which I don’t generally like to take, and as expected, got a bit loopy and delirious.

         Our only real detour in Oklahoma was in Oklahoma City around 6 PM on the third day of our drive. We parked in Bricktown, which is an old industrial part of the city that is now up and coming and flooded with young, hipster-y people. We ate at Bricktown Brewery and tried some of their craft beers. They were pretty good and we had a good view of another soccer game. We took a brief walk and followed signs for the Oklahoma City Memorial, but quickly realized the directions were exclusively for cars, not pedestrians. We really wanted to see the memorial, though, so we went back to our car and found a free parking spot directly across from the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.
         We were really glad we ended up stopping at this beautiful and powerful memorial, especially since it wasn’t part of the original plan. Huge parts of the original infrastructure remained, with commemorative plaques and marble walls surrounding it. The walls each had the exact time the bomb went off, a very powerful thing to see. Perhaps the most breathtaking part of the memorial was the white chairs set in rows representing each floor of the building. Each chair represented a person who perished and which floor they were on when it occurred. The entire place was eerily quiet, despite the many people visiting the site, making it all the more jarring. The memorial was so beautifully done, we both left impressed, but saddened.

         Next, we drove straight through to the Texas Panhandle. I took another Benadryl, hoping to fall asleep and get some relief from the relentless itching. Chiggers are the worst! This proved futile, however, as an EPIC lightning storm erupted onto the flat plains of Oklahoma. Watching from the car, we could see where the lightning hit the ground, over and over again. Who ever said lightning never strikes the same place twice? This is NOT true. The storm lasted for hours and looked amazing against the beautifully colored sky—azure on the left and rosy pink on the right, a contrast I’d never seen before. The lightning continued for hours, even into Texas. Despite the pouring rain and terrifying thunder and lightning strikes, the native Texan drivers didn’t slow from their 75 MPH speed limit. We tried to keep up, but my car isn’t great in the rain, so I cautioned Dave to stay right and slow at least to 60 MPH.

         Once we got cell phone reception, I booked a room at La Kiva Hotel in Amarillo, TX. We were nearly out of gas before we reached the hotel, so we briefly had to stop and refuel. Amarillo is terrifying at night. There is literally nothing there except for bright white crosses strewn across empty fields, against the backdrop of a jet-black sky. The gas station was the kind of place I imagined my murder would occur. Not to be morbid, but it was really creepy!
La Kiva Hotel was very close to the gas station, thankfully. By this point, we had been driving all day and were very tired. We wearily walked to the front desk where there was not a soul to be found. We hesitantly rang the bell, twice. No response. A typical-looking Texan man, who I remember having a toothpick in his mouth (although this could just be a figment of my imagination), stood up from the couch in the lobby and asked if anyone had come to see us. When we replied that no one had, he rang the bell repeatedly without skipping a beat. Still, no one came.

The Texan man just shook his head and tipped his hat saying, “Things move a little slower ‘round here. He’ll be round in a minute.”

I called the hotel, to no avail, as no one answered. Fifteen or so minutes later, the clerk appeared from the outside and apologized. We eventually got our room key and found our room, despite the clerk giving us the wrong room number.

After waiting for long to get the key at 4 AM after driving for hours, I was a little agitated and just wanted to take a shower and go to sleep. I did my best to stay positive when we walked in the room and it reeked of cigarettes and felt humid. Even worse, there was blood on the floor and the sheets felt dirty. Still, I took a shower and eventually fell asleep.

In the morning, we ate our free breakfast and hit the road on our way to our next stop: Albuquerque, New Mexico. Texas is a massive place and driving through it doesn’t make you feel like it’s any smaller. It seemed to last forever. The only things to see were windmills. So many windmills!!!! The bugs, true to Texas form, were the size of birds and relentlessly kept committing suicide against the windshield (my car STILL needs a good washing). There were some putrid-smelling cows, as well, but the entrance to their enclosures clearly labeled them as future beef. L

By this point, we had driven over 1,800 miles and were completely bored. We’d covered nearly the entire continental United States in the license plate spotting game and we didn’t have any cell phone service so our music choices were very limited (none of the CDs in my car go past track 7, for some reason). Near Vega, TX, the flat farmland begins to look more desert-like. I tried to take pictures, but the camera doesn’t do the desert any justice, especially from a moving car.

Finally, we entered New Mexico, “the land of enchantment”. It was crazy how quickly the landscape changed. It was noticeably hotter, even in an air-conditioned car and the sky was SO BIG—it was the clearest blue with thin, cirrus clouds lining the uppermost part. There is only so long that a person can enjoy the same, unchanging landscape, however, and we soon became bored again as there was nothing at all for miles and miles. We ran out of water and there was nowhere to stop for what seemed like ages. It just so happened that ironically, or not maybe, that I was thirsty in the desert. Of course. Eventually we found a rest stop in Encino, NM called Bowlin’s Flying C Ranch. I’m not sure how it was a ranch since we didn’t see any animals, or a ranch, for that matter, but the rest stop itself was really neat. There were lots of Native American crafts and jewelry. There were also interesting snacks, like centipedes in lollipops. We bought really neat hologram postcards picturing pictures of the desert, wildlife, and the annual Balloon Fest in New Mexico each year. Dave bought me a pair of stud earrings made from pennies. They’re so cool and different! Most importantly, we stocked up on water. Side note: they have a brand of water in New Mexico called “Desert Survival”.

After we left the “ranch”, we kept on trucking to Albuquerque. I ended up finding several partial CDs so we had some music, but not much. New Mexico looks a lot like the rest of the desert, but there are beautiful mountains and the bluest sky you’ll ever see. There are little rancher houses scattered across the land below the mountains. I wondered what it was like to live there. We still didn’t have any cell phone reception and there was nothing at all nearby. It felt so desolate.

A couple hours later, we made it to Albuquerque. We used Yelp to find a good, authentic Mexican restaurant, but when we got there we realized it was a hole in the wall and weren’t willing to take the chance. Instead, we stopped at Marble Brewery, a mile or two away. They had craft beers brewed on site and they were delicious. I had what I considered to be the perfect IPA—very hoppy, just a bit piney, and mildly bitter. Their food wasn’t as good, limited to about five items, of which we ordered terrible nachos that we barely finished. We only talked to a few people, but of them, not one was a native of Albuquerque. The place seemed to have a huge influx of young people from other states. We would have liked to stay longer, but we had to keep going to stay on track.

We got back on I-40 (the route we took for a huge part of the trip) and again, we lost service. At least there was beautiful scenery—red rocks, mountains, and great sky. Several hours later, we crossed the Arizona border, where the scenery immediately improved. The entire backdrop looked like what I imagined the Grand Canyon would look like, I’d be proven wrong later.

We stopped in Flagstaff, AZ for the night and ate at a restaurant called Salsa Brava. It reminded me of Adobe in Roxborough, where I often go with Lisa and Tiff, except that it wasn’t happy hour and they weren’t with me. Dave and I munched on yummy burritos and had delicious house margaritas—mine was pomegranate. We booked the nicest hotel of the trip while at dinner—a Marriot with an amazing comfortable bed, great shower, and impeccably clean room. I definitely slept better that night than the previous three.

In the morning, we awoke leisurely and got our things together. We dropped off our postcards at the front desk for the concierge to mail for us. Then, we went to get some lunch in downtown Flagstaff, before heading to the Grand Canyon. We ate at Flagstaff Brewery, which was a cool, trendy, very small microbrewery on the main drag of the small town. After lunch we briefly stopped at an outdoors store to look for pants. After the chigger incident in Oklahoma, I didn’t want to deal with any more bites or stings and any pair of pants I had were buried deep beneath the rubble of our belongings. After grazing for a few minutes, I decided I didn’t want to spend a minimum of $80 on ill-fitting hiking pants. If I got bit, I’d just deal with it, I told Dave.

The Grand Canyon is about two hours or so from Flagstaff, AZ. Our goal was to be there to watch the sunset, so we were a bit ahead of schedule. There isn’t much in between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon Village, mostly just luscious trees and little to no service. (I know I keep mentioning service, but it was our only way to access entertainment, and it wasn’t until we were officially out west that it began to fade out.)

After a long, windy drive through a remote desert and very little else, we arrived at the entrance to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It only cost $25 for our car and entry fee, which lasts for seven days. Generally, it takes about two weeks to see the entire Grand Canyon.

As much as we would have liked to stay for a week, we had to keep in mind that this wasn’t a vacation, but rather, the beginning of our new lives out west. The journey there could absolutely be fun, but we had to be smart about our finances and resources.

Upon obtaining our park pass, we drove to the parking lot of the South Rim. Even the drive to the lot was a few miles and very slow moving. After we parked, we sprayed ourselves with sunscreen and bug spray, poured a bottle of wine into a water bottle (what’s a once-in-a-lifetime sunset without a toast?), grabbed the camera and set off on our hike. The park itself was absolutely beautiful and very clean. There were people from all over the world visiting the Canyon, speaking in foreign accents and various languages. It’s easy to forget that such beautiful things exist in your own country when you live so far away from them. It hadn’t occurred to me that so many people from literally all corners of the earth—China, Australia, the UK, South Africa, Mexico, etc.—would flock to a national park for a vacation. I quickly realized why this place has so much allure, though. Nearing the railing separating the public from the massive drop to the bottom of the Canyon, my heart started to race and I held my breath. I looked at Dave, realized we were about to see something amazing and said, “Are you ready for this?” His face conveyed the same emotions as mine as we joined hands and walked forward.
That first view of this enormous natural wonder was more than I could have anticipated. It was so vast and intricate, impossible to take in all at once. It was challenging to imagine that we were only seeing a small segment of the entirety of the canyon. We looked to our left and saw people sitting on the edge of one of the cliffs overlooking the bottom of the canyon. While there are fences barring onlookers from an accidental fall, it is absolutely permitted to hike down and up the canyon’s cliffs. Being terrified of heights myself, when Dave suggested we hike down to near where those people were dangling their legs off what seemed to be a rock on the verge of falling, I cringed and shook. Still, I eventually got up the courage to climb down a little bit. Dave asked me to stand on a rock and pose for a picture. I stood there and made the mistake of looking down. Immediately, I began to shake, my knees locking, and my heart pounding. “Take the picture!” I urged him, anxious to get back to sturdier ground. As frightening as it was, the adrenaline pumping through my veins encouraged me to go a bit father.

We eventually made it to the same edge that the people we spotted across the way were on. The one male who was sitting there was talking to Dave and mentioned his friend was from South Africa. Having spent some time there, just the notion that someone from there was doing this gave me a little more confidence. I know it sounds odd, but something about South Africa comforts me and makes me feel safe. It turned out he had family from SA, but he wasn’t from there at all. Regardless, Dave and I sat there on the edge for quite a while until it started to get to sunset time. I suggested we find a perfect viewing spot for the sunset, since we hadn’t yet seen the whole park—it was hard to keep moving there since everything was so beautiful, it would take hours, maybe days to fully appreciate.

We bid adieu to the two guys on the cliff and moved on. We found a sectioned-off, secluded area with a perfect view of where the sun would be setting. We decided to take root there while we waiting for the sky to darken. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy that day, so we couldn’t see the sun as clearly as we would have liked. Despite the mild cloudiness, the view was still breathtaking and the sunset proved to be no less impressive. We sat and watched for a couple hours, sipping our wine, and listening to “Country Roads” by John Denver, which had become the primary theme song of our trip.

Though we were reluctant to leave, it had gotten dark, and we had places to be. The plan was to drive straight through the night to our final destination—Marina del Rey, CA, with a quick stop by the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, just to take nighttime pictures. We were both pretty hungry after hiking for so long at such a high altitude, so we stopped at one of the first places outside of the park entrance. As we waited for our food, we hit the salad bar out of desperation and found a seat. Shortly after, Dave had an Italian hoagie and I had some cheese ravioli. After we finished eating, we were on our way.

It was about 8:30-9 PM by this point, but we had some 5 Hour Energy’s in the car. I don’t like to drive at night because I have a hard time seeing clearly and I tend to get sleepy, so I asked Dave if I could drive the first leg of the trip. Sufficiently full from our recent meal, he had no problem taking a nap for the first few hours. Getting back to I-40 from the Grand Canyon entrance is about thirty miles and there is no light whatsoever. At one point, maybe fifteen miles until the exit, I spotted an elk crossing sign. It wasn’t but one full minute later that my headlights landed on a huge, almost majestic elk standing on the side of the road, as if waiting its turn to cross. I immediately slowed down a bit.

It was a few hours before there was any sort of light on the pitch-black roads and the car was starting to run out of gas before this point. Dave eventually woke up and began to route us towards the Hoover Dam. We were under the impression that we would just be driving by and able to snap photos on the way, but we soon found that this was not the case. We took an exit that led us to a very dark, creepy, and frighteningly dangerous, narrow road. The entire path felt as if we were on the edge of a cliff without a railing. Finally, some lights appeared and we came upon a state employee in a booth by the entrance. As we approached, he informed us that the dam closed at 10 PM (it was 2 AM). Having gone out of our way, we were pretty bummed out that we weren’t able to see it, but we cut our losses and kept on.

Nevada, unlike the other states we drove through at night, was much more lit up, even before Vegas. It was really neat to drive past Las Vegas and see all of the lights at night. Even at 4 AM, the city was bustling with activity. We managed to snap a few shots and were excited to have completed the last of our “must-sees” list. We refueled right before the California border and went in to get more 5 Hour Energy and use the restroom. I was still itching and exhausted anyway, so I took a few more Benadryl.

It was at this stop that Dave started to feel queasy. Right before we got back in the car, he vomited outside the car. Thinking the worst was over; he took the wheel for me. It was only a few minutes later, that he began to feel sick again. Asking me for a plastic bag, he became violently ill while driving. I eventually convinced him to stop at a rest area and let me drive to the nearest town so he could be sick in peace. Reluctant to stop less than three hours away from our final destination, he asked if I could just drive a while longer until he felt better. However, this never happened. We got off at the first exit we could find, which turned out to be a complete ghost town with no vacancy. Of course, we needed gas as well, and there was only one gas station around with regular priced at $4.79/gallon. It was at the gas station, that I booked a hotel at the nearest town, Bakersfield, CA.
It was about 20 miles away and I drove as quickly as I could to get my terribly sick, food-poisoned boyfriend to a bathroom he could use for a few hours. When we made it, at around 5 or 6 AM, the concierge said the reservation was technically for 3PM that day, not the morning. Despite him being difficult, I got a key for yet another dicey motel room. When I came back outside to take Dave to the room, my car was surrounded in a circle of vomit. Things were not getting better for him. Needless to say, he spent the night in agony, managing only an hour of sleep before we set off for Marina del Rey, a mere two and half hours away.

We left pretty quickly, as the room had been nearly destroyed by Dave’s violent night of poisoning. The drive was pretty boring until we got to Pasadena, about 45-60 minutes outside of LA. It was here that we got our first glimpse of what we thought was LA traffic, sitting in a standstill jam for half an hour before moving at all. We soon found out that a car wreck was to blame for the hold up and the rest of the ride was pretty smooth.

My sister-in-law’s brother left the keys in a hiding spot for us, which we picked up and then headed to our new home for the next month or so. My brother and sister-in-law were in Israel and wouldn’t be back for the next week, so we had the house to ourselves. We unlocked the gate and walked into a yard that looked like it belonged in the DIY section of Pinterest—a long wooden picnic table with benches on either side, garden lights lining the top of the area, surrounded by palm trees, and a patio with a large two person lounge chair. Finally, we made it home.

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been exploring the massive city of Los Angeles, visiting beaches, sightseeing, and trying new restaurants. Most importantly, though, is our search for work, as this isn’t a getaway like our other visits to this beautiful state. For Dave, I think it will be easy, as he has a solid finance background and has already had some offers. For me, maybe not so much since I’m trying to change careers from the restaurant industry to the sales/marketing field of work. Things are looking promising though, this week I’ll hear back from a real estate marketing company where I would be a studio manager if hired. There were three interviews and the last one went very well, so I’ll see!

I hope everything is going well back home and that you all are enjoying the summer. I miss everyone so much and really hope that you can all come visit sometime—maybe in the winter when there’s a million feet of snow on the ground! I’ll be home for the holidays in December, so if nothing else, I’ll come see you all. I know this post is incredibly long, but I didn’t want to leave anything out. Thanks for bearing with me.


Britt B :)