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Thursday, August 25, 2005

LET Days 12-14: New York to New Jersey to Chicago

This might be a placeholder, rather than a real entry -- it depends on how quick I am able to master Generous Host's keyboard, which is concerned for my ergonomic health and well-being and thus has me tripping over myself like a dumb person who trips over things.

The last several days have been people-oriented, not event-oriented, which doesn't make for the most exciting entries. I can write "Whitney and her sig-oth and I hung out and read comic books and watched TV and played video games," but does that really encapsulate it? The dizzy buzz of Katamari Damacy, the rush of words streaming out of Spider Jerusalem's mouth. The strange companionship found in a room where everyone is poking at something different, yet still connected to the others? The sheer media overload joy?

Enough post-modernism.

Sunday, my last day in New York, Stef and I met one of her friends from LA, one of the ones from the bar on Friday, and we had a long brunchy lunch in the Tick Tock Diner, lots of bad jokes and bad-only-because-of-subject-matter jokes. Afterwards, we went in search of an internet cafe to confirm information hidden on the web and/or back at the loft (a phone number for me, an address for Stef -- a dollar for internet versus four dollars for subway fare back to the loft: deal) before heading out on our next adventure -- Brooklyn! There was an apartment Stef wanted to check out there, so there was a slow walk through quiet streets, Stef timing how long it took to walk from the subway to the apartment, me trying to imagine living in such a place. Quiet, lots of families, parks and sunshine peeking through the shade.

I keep trying not to be weirded out by how New York really looks like a Woody Allen movie. I mean, it's a thought that demonstrates extreme mental damage. Yet I'm plagued by it still.

After returning from Manhattan, I took my time packing, then realized there was half an hour before I was due to leave for Jersey. So we fetched a slice of bonafide New York pizza, and I ate it on the rooftop of a penthouse as the sun slowly set. After six years of friendship and 3000 miles of travel, we were mostly quiet. We sat across from each other. Framed like a Wes Anderson movie.

The train to Jersey was uneventful; meeting Whitney's friends was a delight, even though they were leaving just then. And after laughing about video games on the platform until her friends arrived... Whitney and the sig-oth and I went back to Whitney's place and watched TV and read comics and played video games.

Monday, woke up late and showered quick, then accompanied my hosts to the Drew University library, where I did three incredibly valuable hours of research and reading for Play That Is About the Apocalypse, the new working title for which is "Crash Positions." Lovely lovely research. For one thing, I finally read the book of Revelation. Which is good for a person who writes about the Apocalypse to do.

And then I had salad for lunch (after two weeks of diner food, I CRAVE green vegetables) and hung out in W's office on campus (she's a student worker) and started reading Transmetropolitan. I'd read volume 1 a while back. There are ten volumes. I was determined to catch up. So when W and Sig-Oth and I hung out and watched TV and played video games and read comics that night, that was what I did. Stayed up until nearly 2, but GOT THROUGH IT ALL.

Reading Transmet in a day does things to you. Long-term effects are still being studied. It's just fortunate that I'm in no position of authority over anyone right now. They might take poorly to being called a filthy assistant.

Early the next morning, got packed up and left for the airport. Said goodbye to Most Generous Hosts. Bought more donut holes and coffee at Dunkin' Donuts. I should find another Dunkin' before leaving Chicago. Coffee, at the least, is necessary.

And then I was in Chicago. That's where I'll leave it for there.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

LET Days 10-11: New York City

As they say in the songs, "Everything's coming up roses..." To some degree.

Our plan for getting into the city -- complicated, involving us acquiring our driver (the girl whose car we were driving, who most definitely would be more skilled at stick than Stef), finding a hotel in Newark, and then driving into the city the next morning -- became much simpler when the driver said "You know, I could keep going -- do you want to go into the city?" So we ended up abandoning the hotel plan and biting the bullet, driving in and finding the loft where Stef's friend's parents had generously allowed us to crash.

Allow me to recommend coming to New York and staying for free in a SoHo penthouse loft with three stories, roof access, a pool table, priceless artwork, and several bedrooms. Generosity is not the only way in which these folks are rich.

Everything went eerily well on Friday night -- after Operation Get Stef's Stuff Out of the SUV and Upstairs went smoothly, Stef called another friend from LA who was in town, and we met up in an excellent bar, made even more excellent by the fact that Stef's LA friend knew the waitress, which translated into free pitchers of sangria. New York night life! Like LA night life, but with a lot less pretension and desperation to it. Nary a business card in sight!

Saturday, I woke up earlier than Stef, because I Had A Mission: Dunkin' Donuts was a big part of my early Texas childhood, and when we moved to California I never realized how much I would come to miss Munchkins. After many, many blocks and a few wrong turns, I eventually found an open store on Christopher Street, right next to the bondage gear. Wandered around with my coffee and donuts, watched a bit of a girl's softball game while sipping, taking pictures. I haven't taken too many touristy NYC pictures. I've gotten some fun ones of people, though.

Stef and I headed uptown after I got back, in search of that most New York of things: The Theater! This meant a sweaty hour at the TKTS booth, where we spent the money we'd saved on hotels on two for the Soon-Be-Closing revival of Glengarry Glen Ross.

And then we wandered around uptown, idly searching for H&M and a plan. We gave up on H&M, found a plan. "Food, then books, then theater, then death from happiness sound good to you?"

Stef said it sounded great. So we had bagels, then a long walk to the Strand, then a long walk through the Strand. Scored the new Poppy Z. Brite and a McSweeneys treasury for half off; could have bought SO MUCH MORE. The only thing holding me back? We are entering the part of the trip where anything I acquire will have to be carried on my back: my travel bag will transform from ordinary duffle to backpack tonight, for the next leg into New Jersey.

Glengarry was great. I don't know if you know about these guys? Alan Alda? Liev Schreiber? Jeffery Tambor? I don't know. They're pretty good actors. If you like that sort of thing.

(For the record, though, I officially don't like Fred Weller. I've seen him in this and The Shape of Things, and sorry son, but no. He's just no good. Feel free to debate this with me. I'd like to see someone try and change my mind on the subject.)

After the play, we came back to the loft for a little bit, figured out that if we were going to eat at an all-night deli, we should eat at a dumb touristy one. Hence, Katz's Deli. Which was, in fact, dumb, touristy, and not too great. I did get to have a vanilla egg cream, though, and while I might have preferred it at not-room temperature, it was still reminiscient enough of the one Grandpa got me, that time in Wooster.

Home and to bed. Today, we wander around looking for a place for Stef to live, then I take a train into New Jersey to see Whitney for a couple of days. Then, Chicago!

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

LET Day 6-8: Ohio

I have to admit, when planning the Ultimate Road Trip, I wouldn't have necessarily allotted four days in Ohio. Yet, here we are. In Ohio.

Surprisingly, it's been more exciting than you'd expect. I saw Lorrie's play, which is full of horses and guns being fired and frontier forts SET ON FIRE BY FLAME ARROWS AND TORCHES. I played with Lucas, who is adorable even when surly. I took a huge number of photos, and wrote some, and read a trashy novel in Yellow Springs. I hiked through a nature preserve. I saw Dave Chappelle at a coffee shop. I had a really good ice cream sundae.

Now I'm in Columbus, and I'm told we get to go to a bookstore beyond my dreams. I dream big when it comes to bookstores, so we'll see.

It's been nifty, learning that if I had to live in Ohio, Yellow Springs would be a lovely place to do it. Quiet and sleepy. A place that heals.

Hopefully, we'll be in New York Friday night or Saturday. There's still some stuff to be worked out. For example: where in New York are we going?

At least I know what the plan is for Chicago. Planning! It's the wave of the future.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

LET Day 5: Dallas to Memphis

This part of the drive probably would have gone a whole lot easier if we hadn't been exhausted, but even so it wasn't too bad -- blew right through Arkansas without stopping once, got into Memphis under cover of dark. Pretty city; one of the few I actually want to go back and see fully someday. Lots to do. I at least want to figure out what the deal is with that pyramid.

Graceland was overwhelming for me on several different levels. Took over a hundred pictures, bought a t-shirt, gaped openly. See, it's Elvis Week, which I now consider the only time worth going to Graceland. We were there the day before the anniversary of Elvis's passing, which means we were there near the height of the fervor. People from all over the world with all variety of sideburns. Souveniers and autograph signings and the difference between entertainers and impersonators. We were there after the house itself was closed, but the strip mall next door was All Elvis All The Time (almost literally -- lady at the souvenier shop where we bought our t-shirts said the party would go 'til 3 AM), and we enjoyed dinner at the Rock n' Roll Cafe while talking to various folk and listening to Elvis covers.

A perfect night. I couldn't stop grinning. I love people at their most obsessed, their most fanatical. I love Nerd Cons.

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LET Day 4: Abeline to Dallas

Whoof. Funny thing about road trips; you blink and you're in Ohio. Almost literally, in this case.

But, I shall backtrack. Saturday (Day 4) we got up and made the short drive to Dallas (relatively) in record time, and then spent the day with Stef's friends from high school, who were lovely lovely people. C. is our age, and just acquired her master's in architecture and has a good job with a promising firm; M. is our age, has a husband and two-year-old son, and is also a trained glasses technician, which meant that we spent an hour and a half hanging around a LensMasters, trying on glasses, learning what works and what doesn't with our faces. I found a new pair of frames that I fell in LOVE with.

Dinner at TGIF. Dallas suburbia at its best. And then we went On The Town. Got liquor minutes before the drive-thru liquor place closed; went to a bar called the Slip Inn and a club called the Lizard Lounge and HOLY CRAP did we not get a lot of sleep.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

LET Day 2 and 3: Las Cruses to Abeline

La Quinta, a hotel chain I am now on conversational terms with, claims to be Spanish for many things. In our case, those things include continental breakfast, close proximity to Denny's, and FREE WIRELESS. Almost worth the only room remaining being a smoking.

The past two days have been a little more stressful than either Stef or I would prefer, as Operation Driving Standard is not quite the smooth transition we'd hoped it'd be. Thus, we spent our extra day in New Mexico (Day 2) driving around in circles and trying not to stall out; this morning consisted of more of the same, before we came to the conclusion that it was time to shit or get out of the car. So to speak.

Really, as long as Stefanie doesn't freak out and remembers to accelerate, she's fabulous at driving stick. The combination of these two things, however, could be more present.

Stef is handling most of the driving. Okay, all of the driving. But I'm in charge of navigation and snacks and everything else that's important. A key part of my own learning curve is learning not to point and say "Go there!" This sort of direction-giving appears to be difficult for the driver to comprehend, given that most of her attention is focused on getting the car into third.

This evening, we barreled down the Texas freeway at 80 mph, five miles away from the exit that would fill our gas tank with precious fuel, and like a benediction from God my cell phone discovered two bars. So I called world-renouned manual driver Asa. "We're in the middle of Texas, we need gas, and we don't know how to downshift!"

And lo, he explained what he knew, and lo, Stefanie seemed to understand what he was saying, and lo, we refilled.

So that was the driving. What about the land we drove through? I'd forgotten how vast Texas seems, and the hugeness of the sky and the flatness of the land, the slight attempts at mountains, is overwhelming. I keep having to repeat it out loud. "I'm in Texas." I haven't been here since I was seven. No wonder we never came back.

Abandoned buildings, left and right. Aching. The first gas station we stopped at had no gas, but a diner. Drivers were stopped there, hanging out, as if the gas was just late by hours, not what was clearly days. Half of the convenience store section was just empty; clean in theory, but ground down into the dust nonetheless. One of the empty shelves bore a big box of religious pamphlets. Those were free. Folks are big on Jesus here. And breastfeeding. Saw a billboard for Breast-feeding: Best For Mom, Best For Baby Given that I was reading Bust all afternoon (and night, too -- best $5 I've spent so far!) it made for a surreal moment. Why does the government want me to breastfeed? No clue. And the first motel we stopped at tonight had two copies of the same picture of Jesus hanging on the walls. Next to the one behind the counter was a piece of paper reading: "Hi, My Name is God. I'll be solving all your problems today. You don't need to help. Just let me in."

We woulda stayed at that motel, but it wasn't near the Denny's.

I've been writing down the amusing traffic signs we've seen; it's still in the car, but I'll have you know that Texas is big on road construction signs that say "We're Working for You: Give Us a Brake!" And so far, the best is "Trenton, Texas: 3000 Friendly People and A Few Soreheads."

Wicked cool lightning storms all evening -- flashes so close that I kept checking my arms, seeing if the hairs were standing on end. Rain, too, but mostly lightning. Sharp and clear. Made me realize why I know so much about lightning, given that California isn't really big on it. All of the fun facts stored in my brain are totally the product of day care freak-outs and Mom's special brand of "If you understand it, then you won't be scared." Count between the light and thunder and you know how far away the storm is. We couldn't hear the thunder inside the car, though. Which had me a little concerned.

Been taking lots of useless pictures from the side window; may try to post some tomorrow morning, before we leave. It's beautiful country. Dust storms, raining from the ground to the sky. Fluffy white clouds. And did I mention the land? So flat! There's a horizon! I mean, the sky meets the land! There're no buildings or nothing!

I keep drawling, and it doesn't sound authentic but it keeps popping out anyways. Oh well. Stef is used to me sounding like an idiot.

Tomorrow's a short drive, as we're only three hours away from our next stop, in Dallas, where we'll crash with Stef's friends from high school for the night. And then Sunday we drive until we can find Jesus Elvis. That's right! Graceland! I just have to figure out how to get to it.

Bizarre, how it doesn't really feel like it takes too long to drive across the country. Even though there sure is a lot of it.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

LET Day 1: Los Angeles to New Mexico

We were in the car by 8 AM and out of Los Angeles by 9 -- at least, I think we were, as we were in Stef's mom's SUV and the car clock was set on New Mexico time.

To clarify what's happening -- my roommate is moving to New York. I am riding shotgun as we lug her things across the US, then I am making my way to Chicago before the 25th, in order to make my flight from Midway to LAX. We're calling it the Life Experience Tour because it's the thing I've always wanted to do, and hopefully I'll gain much wisdom and insight into the human condition as a result.

All clear? Great.

The drive from LA to Las Cruses isn't a particularly eventful one -- lots of flat land, big sky, a slate grey sunset. There was lightning in New Mexico and rain in Arizona, a sleeting deluge that dried up in minutes.

I worked on my crosswords, began knitting Scarf The First, read some of Nickel and Dimed. A delightful vacation read.

We did a pit stop in Tempe, got some Sonic and ate it at pal Nicky's house, on placemats, in air conditioning. It's not too hot yet.

And then we stopped at the Thing, a big roadside attraction on the 10, a massive gift shop and Dairy Queen built around the promise of The Thing, something You Won't Belive! I'm told is a mummified baby but have never seen with my own eyes to confirm. I did walk through the Soothing Gardens, a narrow corridor wrapping around the Dairy Queen, lined with tacky garden fountains oozing mist and cool air. There was a really awesome one with two bald eagles attacking each other. Very soothing.

They had butcher paper up in the bathrooms, so you could write messages on the wall without defacing the paint job. "I have seen the Thing and it is AWESOME," said one. "First Hawaii, then California, now beautiful Arizona!" said another.

We got in late to Stef's parents house, slept in. Today, we pick up the car that we'll be driving to New York. It's a standard transmission SUV. Neither Stef or myself know how to drive standard.

Life experience, man. I keep saying.

Tomorrow, we're off to Dallas -- and that's when it feels like this trip really begins, as we'll officially be going further than I've been previously. I mean, I've been to Texas, been to Ohio, been to New York. But not for a long time, and not by car.

We're gonna see the nation. Exciting times.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Life Experience Tour 2005 Begins!

First stop: Las Cruses, New Mexico!

We're leaving in an hour. I gotta finish packing. Good times ahead! I have crossword puzzles! And my knitting needles!

Will check in as I can.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Tonight, after watching Battlestar amongst friends, watching other jaws drop as things were shaken up, I walked home the long way, out of my way. Went up to Tara.

See, the city of West Hollywood is bulldozing this historic building (over seventy-five years old!), despite the protests and noisy complaints of the residents and locals. Called Tara after that movie about the slaves, it used to be a meeting place for the erudite and literate. Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt had dinner there.

Tonight, there was a candlelight vigil in protest of the city's decision to destroy, and when I walked up to the building the candles were lit, but the people were sitting, talking, lost in the dense brush and "old growth trees" that dominate the property. Conversation echoed out -- I just looked at the house, the flickering lights.

I walked home, my bare arms itching in the night air.

I know this blog has been bare, and I'm sorry for that. It's been a weird few weeks -- first I was gone, and then I came back, and there were so many things to do and I didn't realize how much I still wanted to get done. Not enough has been done. Working on other things, writing coverage instead of scripts, trying not to think about bad news and trying to make some good.

Das Roomie is departing to New York next week, and I'm going with her as she crosses the country -- we'll travel the nation, see things, meet people, and then I'll come back to LA and she won't The trip is a helpful distraction from the fact that I'm going to miss my friend a great deal. But this is a good change for her.

There's so much more to be done before my Jaunt. I should make a list. I should work. I should write and design and upload and reply and send.

But I'm taking it just a little bit easy. Easing into these changes.

After my Jaunt, I come back to LA, get a haircut, get a job. That's the plan. I'll have a new roommate, and Paul's plotting to build shelves, so life in the kitchen will be just a little bit better. I'll come back, and I'll go after prospects and I'll send out my screenplays and I'll make gold out of straw, some fucking way.

But during my Jaunt? During my Jaunt, I will most certainly be updating here. The thing about not blogging is this -- time starts to slip away. And the Jaunt is a trip I've dreamed of taking for years. Always yearned to tour the nation. And, thus, it is a period of time that I most definitely want to preserve.

I wonder if, when I come back, Tara will still be standing. I'd like to hope it will be. Even after all this time, I tend to think that not all change is good.

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