Live, from Jakarta

I really, really shouldn’t be awake right now. Although it’s a bit after lunch at home, it’s near 1 a.m. here in Jakarta and I need to be ready in seven hours to give an all-day workshop.

But, what am I going to do? Let down you, my loyal audience? All four of you are dying, I know, to hear about my adventures so far. Luckily for you, I’m awake enough — and stupid enough — to have both the energy and the adventures for this post.

An interesting start

I decided to forgo driving myself to the airport Saturday, and instead hired Washington Flyer to drive me there. My driver, who’s name I failed to get, was Malaysian, and told me that he had just come from a family party to take me to the airport. He was friendly and in good spirits, so I asked him what the party was for. “My brother in law died,” he answered.

Not sure if that was indeed an even worth celebrating, I asked the driver where he was from and other such niceties. That turned into a 45-minute monolog about his arranged marriage, including the four women he turned voted off the island because they weren’t pretty enough. His parents, nearly exasperated, demanded he find a bride before returning to the United States. Apparently he succeeded, because he now has two boys. He said he won’t be picking out their brides for them, but he added that they’d better only marry once. “No divorces!” he shouted, as we pulled up to the United terminal.

Snorers everywhere

The flight from Dulles to L.A. was uneventful, which I think is always a plus when defying the laws of gravity. That’s not to say the 18-hour flight from L.A. to Bangkok was full of surprises. Indeed, it, too, was mostly uneventful. I was, however, startled several times by the gentleman a few seats over with a severe case of sleep apnea and what appeared to be pneumonia. Given his condition, and the copious snoring he emitted, I was surprised to see he was chewing gum — I would think that would be choking concern. Actually, my observation’s not quite correct. The gum was resting precariously on his lower lip, as if trying to decide whether or not to leap for freedom. I did not notice whether or not the gum’s escape was successful.

Real estate deal

The third leg of the trip, from Bangkok to Jakarta, was a 3-hour joy ride compared to the 22 hours I had thus far spent in a giant aluminum tube. I played some Orbital, read some New Yorker, and flipped through the in-flight magazine. It was there I noticed an ad for spacious beach-front property. It looked amazing. And priced at 3 million baht, it had better be, I thought. Then I grabbed my iPhone and did the exchange rate. What? $120,000 for a beach? Holy crap! Honey, sell the house. We’re moving to Thailand.

Traveling with stupid

I’m not used to carrying around a lot of cash. That’s for two reasons. First, I don’t have any. Second, I too often rely on my cards for purchases. It’s a habit I need to break. Especially after today.

Upon arriving in Jakarta, we were steered to the on-arrival visa station. For starters, I didn’t even realize that’s what it was. I thought it was a money-changing station. OK, I thought. I’ll get some rupiah. So, I stand in line. Eventually, I realize I need to pay $10 for an Indonesian visa. No problem, I thought. Then I looked in my wallet.

What kind of moron travels 12,000 miles — to the other side of the planet!! — with $4 in cash? I mean, really? Could I be more of a dumb ass?

Hey, no worries, I think. The luggage carts around here all have MasterCard ads on them. I can just use my card.

So, I go to the  window and show my card. The man shakes his head. “Oh shit,” I thought. Either I need to hit up a fellow passenger for $6, or I’m about to get my ass shipped back stateside. Just as my stomach was about to hit the floor, the man pointed across the hallway. “Over there. Credit card.” I glanced over and saw an identical booth, but that one accepts plastic. Thank God.

Signage

As I waited to clear immigration — and waited, and waited — I began to find incredible amusement in the advertisements adorning the area. The first one that caught my attention was a sign offering billboard advertising space. The image was of an idyllic beach. The text? “We’ve got space.”

I really, really hope the intention was not to erect billboards on the Indonesian beaches.

The next sign I guffawed at was the one declaring “Welcome to Indonesia. DEATH PENALTY FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS!” In English, of course.

Oh, Indonesia, really know how to make a guest feel comfortable. Actually, the really funny part of the sign were the six guys pictured who had apparently been caught trafficking drugs and put to death. Ok, that’s not funny, but what is funny is that the sign blacked out their eyes.

There was one more sign that cracked me up. Well, not a sign, exactly, but a sticked. On the window of one of the airport security office was a large sticker proclaiming “Y2K Ready!” Yes, and just in time, too.

Traveling with stupid, part II

I was met outside customs by a nice fellow from the hotel. He escorted me to a taxi — a shiny black Mercedes — and off we went. I had taken off my long-sleeve shirt and was sitting there in my white t-shirt as we skimmed the surface roads along ramshackle huts of corrugated metal, wide canals, and your usual assortment of safe and unsafe vehicles. I felt incredibly Western and not in an especially appealing way.

I set my iPhone next to me and thought, “don’t forget it in the taxi.” (This is what’s known as foreshadowing.)

We scurried along the highway and into the city. From a high overpass, I got a view of the incredible, sprawling metropolis that is Jakarta. The air was hazy and the land was a mix of trash heaps, fragile huts and buildings in various stages of construction or decay.

Eventually we made it to the hotel where guards checked the vehicle and raised the entry gate. Oh, right, I thought. Danger lurks here, doesn’t it?

Then I hopped out, handed the driver some rupiah (I had stopped at an ATM at the airport after clearing customs), and marched into the hotel.

After checking in, I made my way to my room only to discover my keys hadn’t been properly programmed. So, I trudged back downstairs to have the problem fixed. As I stood there, my drive came rushing through the lobby. He had discovered my iPhone in the back seat and had brought it back to me. I was stunned. Not only by my stupidity, but by his kindness. I thanked him profusely and he quickly withdrew back to the hot, humid air.

More tomorrow.

Remembering the road, day 23

Day 23

Mark and I were to continue our tennis marathon this morning, but he overslept and it didn’t happen. Instead, we lounged around until the whole family went horseback riding at a local place that offers trail rides. Unfortunately, the trail rides were severly limited and the hour it was supposed to last really only stretched about 20 minutes. I’m still not sure how they counted the minutes.

One thing I missed out on was the sight of me on the smallest, shortest horse in the barn. For some reason, I was given what by all appearances was a pony, while my nephews, two feet shorter than I, were riding high on tall horses. Soursa, my “horse,” looked like it had six legs  four of its own plus the two of mine. So it goes…

Six-legged horse

My mom trailered her horse and another for my dad to the location and on the way back, suffered a flat tire. That meant unloading the horses by the side of the road, jacking up the trailer, changing the flat, reloading the horses, and finally, getting back to the barn. In all, it delayed them by at least 2 hours.

In the afternoon, I found time to catch up on sleep and then proceeded to hand Mark a 6-1, 6-1 tennis victory. Even though it looks like it wasn’t even close, nearly every game was won by a single point, and in many cases, I lost game points. I am, no doubt, a choker. I get one more chance for redemption in the morning.

After a celebratory dinner for mom’s birthday tonight, we tried to get a pay-per-view movie (Ocean’s 11) only to fail to get the 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. films. Why? We have no idea. Evidentially, Heather H., who was the kind soul helping us at the cable company, couldn’t figure it out, so we ended up watching the last half of Octopussy, one of Great Britain‘s finest moments.

Oh, and at dinner, my nephew Sam informed us that his third leg is named, “Mr. Happy.”

Remembering the road, day 22

Day 22

Today it is much cooler and much less humid. In fact, it’s quite comfortable. I got my film photos back today and there are a few I liked. I’m thinking that beofre long, I’ll have to get a good SLR digital camera. But, the one I want is about $4,000 and that’s about 10 times more than I want to spend. Maybe in about 5 years…

After a quite day lounging around, helping with some household stuff, my brother Mark and I staged a tennis rematch. My mom and our wives joined us for some doubles before we went mono-a-mono and I exacted a tiny bit of revenge.

Then we stopped to play wiffleball with the boys. That came to an end once I lined the ball off the pitcher‘s leg… that is to say, my nephew.

That reminds me, Truman was cracking us up in Las Vegas. Whenever he spotted a surveillance camera (and he spotted plenty), he’d hold up his hand and flash the “loser” sign. I’m sure security personnel throughout Vegas were looking for that 10-year-old.

Another amusing story I forgot to mention is the use of the walkie-talkies along the trip. Nobody could understand me, claiming I was mumbling. Cynthia was having trouble too, as she held the walkie-talkie to her ear when talking and mouth when listening. I think we were both just dead from all of the miles.

Ok, one more amusing story from Vegas that I forgot to tell. One day I was walking down the hallway and someone put out their room service cart to be taken away. On the top of the cart were three delicious-looking dinner rolls. Then there were two, and it was delicious. Cynthia just found out about it today and says she’s disappointed, but the kids thought it was cool.

Anyway, we’re definitely winding this trip down. Tomorrow is my mom’s 60th birthday and we’ll go horseback riding, probably will play more tennis, and just relax.

Remembering the road, day 20

Day 20

This morning we awoke knowing it would be our last big road day. We’re to drive from Rolla, Oklahoma through St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Columbus, OH.

With the morning sun we noticed that the EconoLodge wasn’t quite as fine as we had previously thought. The first sign was the mouse droppings on the sheets. Sign two was the overly flexible bathtub… I thought I might drop right through the floor. Sign three was the dried doughnuts and thick coffee. So it goes.

We headed out and made it to St. Louis in good time. We hoped to visit another Roadfood spot, but we weren’t able to find the street it’s one very easily, so we just pulled over at a Bob Evans.

The arch in St. Louis is pretty and it’s neat to see another icon of America. I didn’t get to go up it, but according to my brother, it’s something to miss. I’ll take his word for it.

Having crossed the Mississippi, the speed limit is back down to 65 at the most, and having gotten used to 80+ mph, dropping to the 60s feels very slow indeed.

The midwest is definitely the land of symbols. Everywhere you look are flags, “United We Stand” slogans and “Let’s Roll” banners. I don’t see nearly this much stuff back in D.C., where one of the attacks actually happened, and where people are still feeling threatened.

Illinois is also giving Texas a run for its money in terms of the world’s largest cross. It stands about 300 feet tall or so. How many of these things are there? And who makes them? There must be some company out there in the giant cross business. I would think it would be a small market, but apparently not.

We spotted a car from Hawaii today (had Hawaii plates). That accounts for all 50 states. It does bring up the question of how they drove across the Pacific, though. And should there be an Interstate in Hawaii?

While at a rest stop in Indiana, we came across the most bizarre thing yet. It was an all-in-one hand washing station. Often I favor the advance of technology, but it has to be an improvement. This definitely was not. It was a hole in the wall with a soap dispenser, faucet, and hand dryer lined up at the top of the wall with the hand dryer closest to the front. Using infrared sensors, the system detects when hands have been inserted into the hole, dispenses soap, runs water, and then dries your hands.

One of the two systems in the men’s room was broken. The other was so slow… and requires the whole sequence to run before restarting, that a line in the men’s room developed. Guys who had just finished emptying their bladders were standing there waiting for this ridiculous contraption to complete each cycle. Just what was wrong with a normal sink?

I slept past Indianapolis. I don’t think I’m the only one to do that. In fact, I think plenty of people living there are doing the same thing.

As we motored into Columbus, I realized that we failed to do a standard travel activity: making semi-trucks blow their air horns. So Cynthia, my niece Jane, and I got right to work. We managed to get 16 out of 20 truckers to blow their horns, and one out of one Buick, driven by my brother.

I found out today that my beloved Cleveland Indians traded their best pitcher, and possibly one of the best pictures in the American League, Bartolo Colon the other day. For roughly 50 years.. from 1949 to 1994, the Indians were the laughingstock of baseball. Then they got great and nearly won the World Series. But now it looks like a return to past and that sucks. Oh well, baseball is going down the tubes anyway thanks to spoiled millionaires… that is, the owners and the players alike. Bah.

Upon arriving in Columbus, we watched a number of hot air balloons float above the city in preparation for the July 3rd fireworks there. Roughly halg a million people gather along the Olenatangy River to watch the show a day early so that neighborhoods can have their own local shows on the Fourth. Once we got to my brother’s house, we picked up some Thai take out, watched the first half of the Harry Potter movie, caught a few fireworks being shot off in the city, and then hit the sack.

Remembering the road, day 19

Day 19

Today we fled New Mexico and sped through the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, stopping for the night in Missouri, a couple hours short of St. Louis.

We’ve mostly driving along I-40 which allows us to bypass the wildfires near I-70, but it also means we have to cut back north if for no other reason than I-40 is stopped at the Mississippi thanks to the barge that knocked out a bridge there. Besides, our destination is north of here, so that’s a good reason too.

Driving along I-40 means that we were frequently coming into contact with the history Route 66, the first highway to the West. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles (I think), Route 66 boasts many diners and motels, and various tourist traps to lure drivers into pulling over for a rest and a laugh.

In north Texas we streaked past the Cadillac Ranch where a series of Cadillacs are partly buried on end so that they appear to be growing from the ground. Shortly past that is the World’s Largest Cross (in the West). And indeed it is a big cross, surrounded by many other smaller crosses. It crossed my mind that the proprieters of the cross might become cross if someone were to write their name on the cross with a Cross pen. Perhaps that’s an issue that could be debated on Crossfire or become a plot point on Crossing Jordan.

Hours later we stopped in Elk City, OK, at another Roadfood eatery: Billie’s. Billy is the owner and cook. His specialty: onion burgers. Although I detest onions with every fiber of my being, I ordered a King Size burger along with fries and shake. After scraping off most of the onions, I quite enjoyed the burger, along with the enormous shake and the fries. Billy, meanwhile, let the phone ring while he made our order and the orders of people who came in after us and pulled up to Billy’s drive-through.

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Once things cooled off a bit, we had Billy sign our book and asked him about his business. He said that for 42 years he ran a dry cleaner across the parking lot, but then OSHA cracked down on him, so he started up the burger joint instead. I don’t know what he did to get OSHA on his case, but with double-size shakes and meaty fries, he gets my support.

While we ate, I looked through the Elk City Eagle, the local paper in town. For 50 cents you get 8 pages filled with one or two locally reported stories, plenty of AP news, Family Circus, Marmaduke, the Bible Quote of the day, a page of around-the-town photos, and classified notices, such as “Guinea Pigs, $30 each.”

Once we finished our meals, we bade farewell to Billy and continued east through Oklahoma. The scenery in Oklahoma isn’t anything to sneeze at, but, in all honesty, it just isn’t as interesting as high snow-capped mountains, rippling rocky canyons, or lengthy vistas of natural beauty. No, it’s mostly rolling hills of small trees and bushes dotted with billboards, fast food restaurants, plain houses, and warehouse-style shopping depots.

So, to pass the time we’re playing games, listening to audio books and music, and trying to find amusement in the billboards. For example, at an Oklahoma toll station, the sign warned of a $103 fine. Who comes up with numbers like these? Was this debated in the state legislature? “I propose a fine of $100!” “One hundred dollars, that’s not nearly enough. I demand $103!” “Here here!”

Another good sign announced free 72-ounce steaks. What’s that? A free 72-ounce steak? Absolutely! You just have to eat the whole thing within some time limit and if you don’t finish it, you have to pay for it. By the way, how big is a 72-ounce steak? That’s four and half pounds, baby!

My nephew Truman is again with us today and he’s spent much of the drive planning our evening accommodations. By plotting out our course and our hourly progress, he has figured out where we will be likely to be when we’re ready to stop driving. Then we crosschecks that with a AAA book listing hotels and motels. By reading up on the options and looking at alternative locations he picks out a clean, inexpensive place to bed down for the night and have a free continental breakfast when we awake. He definitely has a future as a travel agent, or a NASA engineer.

I’m particularly enjoying the drive back as we reenter the land of humidity and low altitude, meaning I can breathe again. I had thought the dry air of the West would help me to breathe easy, but that proved to be wrong. How good it is to be able to breathe. Ahhh…

Tonight, as we drove through Missouri, we noticed that the gas gauge was getting a little low. Our goal was to get to Rolla, MO, and when we were about 120 miles away, we had less than 1/4 of a tank. Near midnight, when we got about 80 miles away, the light came on. When we approached the 60-mile barrier, Cyn encouraged me to get gas. Twenty miles later, we pulled into a gas station that was closed. When we were just 25 miles away, I assured Cyn that I was pretty sure we could make it to Rolla. We turned the A/C off. We hoped and prayed. Then a glowing neon sign beckoned us to pull over and gas up. Reluctantly, I did so, and Cynthia sighed a huge sigh of relief. Our tank holds 15 or so gallons and the pump pushed in 14.2 gallons. We had about 20 miles left to Rolla. It would have been close, but now we’ll never know.

Remembering the road, day 18

Day 18

I awoke this morning to find out we had 20 minutes to clear out of our rooms and drive across the park. It wasn’t because we were evacuated, but because our tickets for the only open cliff dwelling were earlier than expected.

Sam rode with us in the back seat and we hightailed it across the park winding our way through mountainous hills and curves. Sam, who suffers some motion sickness, assured us he was feeling okay just as we approached the parking lot. Then he threw up. It’s quite amazing how much hot chocolate an 8-year-old boy can hurl. We immediately pulled over, stripped him and wiped out the vomit. He felt bad, but he shouldn’t have — he can’t help it — we just felt badly for him. After all, nobody likes to throw up on themselves.

After we cleaned Sam up, we hitched a ride on a tram into a deeper part of the park from where we could explore some of the ancient cave dwellings. Ranger Don was great. He thanked us all for understanding that much of the park had to be closed: “It’s not a matter of if we get fire, but when,” he noted.

The part of the park we were in wasn’t so much in danger. A quick look around explained why; just two years ago fire swept through it and all that remained where the black skeletons of a forest  nothing remaining to burn.

Ranger Don took us into Long House, one of the larger cliff dwellings in the park and explained to us how it is thought that the rooms were used. As always, a loud person was in our group, in this case a large red headed woman whose husband wore a Florida Gator’s tank top, allowing us unprecedented access to his armpit hairs.

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“How did they get through those holes?” she shouted at Ranger Don, pointing to the unusually small rectangular doorways allowing the cliff dwellers access to their rooms. He answered that they were big enough for people to get through, but not so big as today’s doors because the people of that time (600 AD to 1200 AD) didn’t need to push big refrigerators and such through them. The red-headed woman was unconvinced. “My husband can’t get through them! His shoulders are too big! Were they small people?”

Ranger Don explained that the people weren’t small… averaging about 5-feet tall, larger than the Europeans of the time. I wondered if her husband had actually tried to push his way through the ancient ruins and what would happen if he got stuck halfway through. I could see him ruining the ancient brick walls and getting red dust all over his Florida Gators tank top and the woman shouting “See!”

The tour of the ruins was very interesting and Ranger Don had a lot to say. He pointed out the narrow and precarious paths the dwellers would use; showed how the people got water seeping out of the sandstone, explained why timbers that were nearly 1,000 years old were still standing strong, and much more. But, as my nephew Truman reminded him, we were running late and had to catch the shuttle bus. So we scampered back to the top of the mesa and continued touring the area.

While riding the shuttle, my brother and sister-in-law started talking to a couple sitting near them. It turned out they were friends of my brother’s in-laws in Ohio. It’s yet another example of how small the world is, and how wherever you go, there’s someone from Ohio. Even the moon! Remember Buzz Aldrin? I bet if there were aliens on the moon, one of them would have asked Buzz where he was from. Buzz would have said, “Ohio,” and the alien would have said, “Really? Me too! Do you know…”

We left Mesa Verde after lunch and headed south into New Mexico. We would have gone directly east, but massive wildfires in Arizona and Colorado were causing delays and detours, so we decided to just skirt the issue by taking a more southerly route. Along the way, we spotted a giant column of smoke rising from a distant hill. It was a small fire and it was belching out a tremendous amount of smoke. Still, the cloud from the fire simply blended into the gray sky, itself already a gloomy hue thanks to the fires. We never came very close to a blaze, but the evidence from them was omnipresent. I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a connection between the fires and our route: 666. Coincidence?

Jane rode with us again, although today she used a towel to keep a slim but vital bit of separation between her and the remains of Sam’s regurgitated hot chocolate. Once again, we nearly forgot she was there as she whiled away the hours sitting and sleeping without saying but a few words.

Streaking into New Mexico, we stopped in Albuquerque for dinner and gasoline. I had let the car run on empty far longer than ever before, coming to within 30 miles or so of running out of gas. After refueling, we briefly explored “Old Town” Albuquerque and looked for a bite to eat. Turning to Roadfood, we settled on the Tortilla Factory, an establishment confirmed by a local merchant to be a great place and a good value. Just a shame, really, that it went out of business several years ago. D’oh!

After looking around briefly for another place to eat, and finding only closed or very expensive restaurants, we turned again to Roadfood. It listed to places on Central street, also known as Route 66. Hoping to get our kicks, we headed down Route 66 and saw that the first place listed, a drugstore with a old fashioned counter, was closed. But, luck was with us at last as we came into the University of New Mexico area and the 24-hour “Frontier.” What a great place! Dinner was fast and delicious. It’s just the sort of place I wish I had near me when I was in college.

Then it was back to the road. Already Cyn and I have listened to a Michael Palin (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda, etc.) book on CD about his adventures on the Pacific Rim, the first Harry Potter book, and tonight we wrapped up book two of the series. Then it was time for New Mexican radio. We flipped around the dial a bit, not finding much in range. We settled on some bluesy rock music before finally finding an all-the-time Mariachi station. And into the dark night we drove with Mariachi music serenading us down the highway. It’s surprising how many different Mariachi songs there are and how at some point, they all start sounding the same. Kind of like these updates…

Josh and Cyn (mileage: 5,120)

(Note, I’ve changed the mileage from total odometer reading to the trip accumulation. Do I really think anyone cares? Of course not, but I spent at least an hour today thinking about it as mile marker after mile marker after mile marker passed by, so there you have it.)

Remembering the road, day 17

Day 17

This morning I woke up at 4:45 and got my brother up and saw the sun rise. It was another beautiful sight as the red ball of flame slowly lifted over the canyon wall. Once it was blazing above the rim, we set out on a 4-mile roundtrip hike into the canyon. The guidebook told us to plan one hour per mile, but we figured we could do it in half that time.

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As we set out, the cold wind chilled us so we moved briskly. The trail was made of sand with wooden ledges, rocky steps and debris, and plenty of mule manure. Initially we’d walk carefully trying to plant our feet solidly without stepping in the mule dung. But before long, we gave up that hopeless plan and just plodded ahead. Deeper into the canyon the views were clearer and stunning. It’s hard to describe how big the Grand Canyon is. Within about 20 minutes we made it to the two-mile mark where a tunnel has been carved out of a massive piece of rock. We used the restroom facilities there and turned around to head back. For the first quarter mile, Mark and I were step in step. But when I needed another break, he pushed on ahead, leaving me to make the steep climb alone. What a brother!

The hike back up was exhausting. Walking in sand is tiring, walking uphill is tiring, walking on uneven terrain is tiring, and walking at 8,800 feet is absolutely tiring. Putting them all together is just flat out exhausting, but I still managed to get back to the top in about an hour, just 10 or so minutes behind Mark, who, I was informed by a hiker heading down into the canyon, was jogging part of the trail. Ugh.

As I walked up the hill, I started noticing pain. First I was getting blisters on my toes. My thigh muscles were beginning to ache, and most oddly, my armpits were getting really irritated. I couldn’t figure it out until I realized that because it is so dry here, any sweat is nearly instantly evaporated. So as I was walking, my arms were rubbing against my sides without the benefit of perspiration lubrication. It was really uncomfortable. Hmm, perhaps I’m revealing too much? Then I won’t speak of my nosebleeds.

Back at the cabins, everyone else slept. I’m glad they did because I’m not driving today. I’m sleeping. I have to make up for these early morning hikes.

Having slept for a hundred miles or so, I awoke to find ourselves on a Navajo reservation… very different from what I expected. Because I really haven’t thought very much about reservations since I was in about the fifth grade, I guess I still had this vague idea that Indians live on reservations sort of like they used to live throughout the country before Europeans arrived. Yeah, that’s pretty naïve, but I really hadn’t ever thought about it.

Of course, it’s nothing like that, or at least, this reservation wasn’t. It was a vast tract of land  I’m not sure exactly how big  with houses and stores and gas stations and such. It seemed like a fairly poor area, with your standard assortment of fast food joints and such. We drove around a bit and found a small place that looked to me like a biker bar. Called “Kate’s Café,” it featured a ham, veggie, and mashed potatoes special for $3.95, a dollar more to include a soup or salad. It was fantastic.

As we ate, I noticed that my nephew Sam was wearing a Cleveland Indians t-shirt and mentioned it to my brother. Knowing that the name and even more, the mascot (Chief Wahoo), is considered by some as racist and discriminatory, it probably wasn’t the wisest choice of wear on an Indian reservation at a restaurant catering to locals. (Later that day, when we stopped at another restaurant touting Mexican fare, I noticed Sam was wearing the shirt inside-out.)

After leaving Kate’s, we continued to head northeast, eventually re-entering Utah and taking a drive through Monument Valley. Anyone familiar with Westerns, especially those made by John Ford, will instantly recognize Monument Valley. It’s a relatively flat desert boasting gigantic thrusts of rock and dirt in the forms of plateaus and spires. As we rounded a curve presenting us with the view, it was like coming across a famous actor on the street.

Sadly, the two giant wildfires in the area conspired to fill the sky with a thick smoky haze, greatly reducing the visibility and the beauty of the landscape. Still, they are impressive and I was thrilled to drive through there.

Passing Monument Valley, we were treated to more canyons, ledges, and other landscapes that changed with each passing mile. One canyon looked like a rock junkyard with giant boulders just strewn about. And then before we knew it, we were back on flat, arid land. As we sped along the two-lane highway, several large animals moved towards the road. At first we thought they were cattle, but their shape wasn’t quite right. Soon we realized we were looking at what we believe to be several wild horses. The horses appeared to be tagged, but were clearly ungroomed. It was an open range area and the horses were simply wandering throughout the open plains.

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We turned back to Arizona and within a few minutes we found ourselves at Four Corners  the only place in the country where four states meet at the same point. I was expecting a bit of a marketing zoo. It thought there’d be all kinds of fast food places, shops hawking knickknacks, and such. Instead, it’s a small site run by the Navajo tribe in the area. Flags surround a platform where the four intersecting boundaries are clearly marked on an metal plate. A wooden platform stands over this so that moms and dads can take photos of the kids. Surrounding all of this are stalls from which Navajo members sell art, souvenirs, photos with themselves, and anything else someone might want to buy. To access the area it costs $3 a person.

I took the opportunity to jog from Utah to New Mexico to Colorado to Arizona all within a few seconds. There didn’t seem to be much difference from one state to the next. It’s neat and a fun stop if you’re passing through. But I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to go there. “We planned our whole trip around this,” said one woman whose children posed on the crisscross of the four state boundaries. Clueless as to what to say, I got back in the car.

With us in the car was my niece Jane. Half the time I didn’t even realize she was there, she just sat quietly as we listened to a book on CD. No “are we there yet, are we there yet?” No “I’m hungry…” or “I need to use the bathroom…” She was simply a great traveler!

Since we’re a two-car caravan, we have small walkie-talkies that enables us to keep the other car informed of upcoming stops and needs. This is proving invaluable. I want to have these all of the time. It would be an incredible time saver. I can imagine using them for telling people in cars ahead of me that the light has turned green, or for finding people in the movie theater! There are so many uses!

As we drove, my brother decided to get his car washed. I considered it for a moment, but I really feel the layers of dust, grime, bugs, and tar is giving our car real character. I’m looking forward to rolling into to D.C. with a car that really looks like it has put on about six thousand miles.

Our final stop tonight is Mesa Verde, a national park in the southwest corner of Colorado where there are ancient condos carved into cliffs. After finding our lodge, we unhappily heard that nearly the entire park was closed due to extreme fire dangers. This is a real bummer, the first of our trip. Fortunately, there is one cliff dwelling area still open so we hope to see that tomorrow, but it’s still a letdown.

As we settled in for bed, we noticed a bright flickering light in the distance… we’re fairly certain it’s a fire. It’ll be interesting to see what the story is in the morning… or if we’re evacuated before then.

Remembering the road, day 16

Ok, so I finally wised up and am going to submit the rest of my road trip diaries and schedule their publication over the next few days. Then I’ll return to more on-topic blogging.

So, without further ado:

Day 16

The previous night I announced to my family that at 5 a.m. I was going to watch the sun come up. They announced to me that I’d be doing it alone… and they were half-right.

At 6, I finally dragged myself out of bed, checked to see if anyone else was stirring (they weren’t… my nephew Truman had asked me to wake him up and when I did, he said, “Ok, I guess I’ll go.” “You don’t have to,” I answered. “Ok, I’ll stay in bed then.”), and headed out. By the time I arrived at the canyon ridge, the sun was just about to peek over the distant hill. I waited for a moment and there it was, illuminating hundreds and thousands of what are called hoodoos: tall spires of rock and dirt reaching skyward. They look a bit like stilts that no longer are supporting anything.

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One lookout point was crowded already, so I went a different direction. I followed a steep path down into the valley where nothing other than my footsteps and breathing could be heard… and I was listening because bear and mountain lions hang out down there. After a little while, birds starting singing and eventually I reached the end of the trail where a natural bridge at the bottom of the canyon.

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However long it took my to hike down, it took longer to hike back up. The moon still hung in the sky affording me ample photo ops, and the beautiful colors and shapes of the hoodoos sparkled in the morning sun.

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By the time I reached the top, it was past 8 and I decided I needed to head back to see who was stirring. Everyone was up and starting to look around for food. Cyn handed me a bag of laundry and I was off to do that.

After a big breakfast and laundry was all done, we looked around Bryce a bit more, seeing another magnificent natural bridge, and then it was off the Grand Canyon.

Going to the Grand Canyon from Bryce necessitated driving through Hatch again, so we stopped off to look for Hatch mementos. Hatch is not a big tourist town… perhaps 100 people live there, and most of them seem to be packing up and moving out. The only Hatch souvenir we could find was a T-shirt and that had to do.

At one point along the drive, I thought we were in big trouble. For some reason, several kids were driving cattle down the two-lane highway. A big bull was running and he didn’t like the look of our car. I thought for sure he was going to run right into us, but fortunately he sidestepped us. It was the first time on the trip I was actually nervous about the intentions of an animal, and it was just a cow… not a bear or a bison or anything like that.

Meanwhile my other nephew, Sam, was riding with us. I caught him slipping a CD into his walkman and asked him what it was, guessing he’d answer “‘N Synch,” or “Backstreet Boys.” Instead he told us it was The Beatles‘ Abbey Road. I was floored. “Well, let’s put it in the car’s CD player so we can all listen to it!” As we did, he started singing along with the music, his little 8-year-old voice nicely complementing John’s and Paul’s.

After Abbey Road, we played Rubber Soul and Let it Be. Before long, I saw that Sam was listening to his walkman again. “What are you listening to now,” I asked, thinking he was going to tell me the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan. “Backstreet Boys.” Oh well.

When he wasn’t listening to music, Sam and I played 20 questions. He stumped me with woodpecker, and I stumped him (and his auntie Cyn) with kangaroo. Cynthia just couldn’t imagine what animals there are that aren’t mammals, yet have fur and legs. I’m looking forward to reminding her of that in years to come.

As we arrived at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the scenery was all pine trees and subtle rolling hills nothing to indicate the gigantic gorge ahead. But before long, we could glimpse it through the trees. Multiple signs warned of the fire hazard due to incredibly dry and windy weather.

Our cabins at the Grand Canyon
Our cabins at the Grand Canyon

We’re staying on the North Canyon in two small cabins. The lodge nearby sits on the rim of the canyon and overlooks the deep plunges. It’s about 11 miles across to the southern rim, and thousands of feet deep. Unfortunately for us, nearby forest fires meant that the canyon was filled with a smoky haze.

Still, even with the haze, the view was beautiful. We took a nice walk along the rim and ended up back at the lodge for sunset. Even though people are told not to go off the trails — both for their safety and so that plants aren’t crushed and rocks further eroded an awful lot of brainiacs climb rocky ledges for a “better view.” One smart guy brought along his beer and two kids. They guy really was asking for it, but it seems his genes will live on to see another day.

Speaking of drinks, there’s a microbrew here called the North Rim Ale and it’s excellent. As Sam describes it, it has a unique spaghetti/cheerios aftertaste, and to him, that’s a good thing.

We attended a brief lecture by a park ranger on the many past errors of the park service (such has having a policy of killing mountain lions) and then enjoyed a late but spectacular dinner. It further proved to me the uselessness of Las Vegas. Here I am in a place of amazing natural beauty, spending less to stay there, and having a dinner many times better than anything we ate in Vegas.

By the time dinner was done, the kids were half asleep in their plates and we trekked back to the cabins and fell fast asleep.

Remembering the road… day 15

For those still following along at home…

Day 15

We left Las Vegas this morning and headed north towards Zion national park. The area around Vegas really isn’t very attractive and it’s made even less so by the pollution. We’re caravanning with my brother and his family, and today my nephew Truman is riding with Cynthia and me. We’ve been playing 20 questions and he managed to stump me right out of the gate. Oh, to be 10 again…
On the way to Zion we hit our first big traffic jam, courtesy of a truck driver who took a sudden right off the highway where there was no sudden right to make. And later some road work slowed us down again.
We retraced some of our steps as we drove through beautiful red rock cliffs, ledges, canyons, and such. To me the rocks looked like muscle fibers exposed by the the removal of skin. I suppose for many, we’ve seen enough rocks to last a lifetime, but I continue to find them interesting.
By lunchtime we made it to Utah and Zion National Park and after a quick bite, took a shuttle into the park. So many visitors come to Zion that most cars are barred from the park and visitors much hitch a ride on free shuttles, which stop at designated hiking points. After Yellowstone, I was prepared for this to take a long time, but Zion is relatively small, so a round trip on the shuttle takes only about 45 minutes.
We stopped several times, once to hike up a small hill to a pretty lookout. At second stop, we hiked several miles into the backcountry (such as it is with trails) and admired some beautiful water-carved rocks, sprinkling waterfalls, and drying pools. The hike was tiring and most of the crew turned back about halfway through. As it happened, they saw most of the best stuff anyway.
We came across some deer, lots of little lizards, and several other animals as we drained our bottles of water. It was so hot and so dry, we had to work to keep from getting dehydrated.
Following that hike, I took one more brief walk to a swampy area hidden under a rock face while the others pushed on. It gave me a chance to really take in Zion, which boasts massive canyon walls that shoot straight up hundreds of feet. One of the shuttle drivers said that Zion is the second most popular place for rock climbers (after Yosemite) and it’s easy to see why. I have a real appreciation for rock climbers… it takes on average 2 days to scale Zion’s canyon walls, meaning the climbers sleep, eat, and do other business halfway up the rock face. I couldn’t do it.
One of the neat things about Zion, and all of the parks we’ve been to, is that they are working hard to be environmentally friendly. For example, at Zion, the buildings are naturally heated and cooled using different architectural techniques, and they work quite well. The shuttle buses run on clean-burning propane gas, waste is limited, recycling promoted, and so on. It reminded me of Vegas, although in a different way. Vegas of course is nothing but consumption. One day we were walking down the strip and I was noticing all of the lights, moving objects, escalators, air conditioning, and everything else that uses energy. Then we passed through the Bellagio’s doors, which boasted a sticker saying, “this is a low-energy automatic door.”
Anyway, back to Zion. Reunited, we pushed on through massive tunnels that lead us through Zion’s walls. My nephew Truman played The Sims in the back seat and after a short drive, we arrived in Hatch, Utah. Being 7 Hatches, we hopped out of the cars and took photos. While trying to get the timer function to work on the camera, a friendly Utahn agreed to help us out and took our photos for us.
Right across the street from the sign was a small motel and restaurant and so we decided to make it easy on ourselves and ate there. For half the price, it was better food than nearly any we had in Vegas. Good ol’ small towns.
The kids stayed entertained by reading books on the table, such as “How to Live with Idiots,” “Outhouse Humor,” and other such titles.
As the sun set, we made way for Bryce National Park. All along the way we kept seeing a familiar site: hills with letters on them. For some reason, a number of towns put a big white letter on a nearby hill, usually the first letter of the town’s name. I don’t understand it.
By the time we got to Bryce, it was dark and the sky was amazing. It looked like millions of diamonds scattered on black velvet fabric… simply stunning.
After staring the skies for a few minutes, we all hit the sack and as soon as our heads hit the pillows, we were out.

We left Las Vegas this morning and headed north towards Zion national park. The area around Vegas really isn’t very attractive and it’s made even less so by the pollution. We’re caravanning with my brother and his family, and today my nephew Truman is riding with Cynthia and me. We’ve been playing 20 questions and he managed to stump me right out of the gate. Oh, to be 10 again…

On the way to Zion we hit our first big traffic jam, courtesy of a truck driver who took a sudden right off the highway where there was no sudden right to make. And later some road work slowed us down again.

We retraced some of our steps as we drove through beautiful red rock cliffs, ledges, canyons, and such. To me the rocks looked like muscle fibers exposed by the the removal of skin. I suppose for many, we’ve seen enough rocks to last a lifetime, but I continue to find them interesting.

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By lunchtime we made it to Utah and Zion National Park and after a quick bite, took a shuttle into the park. So many visitors come to Zion that most cars are barred from the park and visitors much hitch a ride on free shuttles, which stop at designated hiking points. After Yellowstone, I was prepared for this to take a long time, but Zion is relatively small, so a round trip on the shuttle takes only about 45 minutes.

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We stopped several times, once to hike up a small hill to a pretty lookout. At second stop, we hiked several miles into the backcountry (such as it is with trails) and admired some beautiful water-carved rocks, sprinkling waterfalls, and drying pools. The hike was tiring and most of the crew turned back about halfway through. As it happened, they saw most of the best stuff anyway.

Water falls over a Zion canyon wall

We came across some deer, lots of little lizards, and several other animals as we drained our bottles of water. It was so hot and so dry, we had to work to keep from getting dehydrated.

Following that hike, I took one more brief walk to a swampy area hidden under a rock face while the others pushed on. It gave me a chance to really take in Zion, which boasts massive canyon walls that shoot straight up hundreds of feet. One of the shuttle drivers said that Zion is the second most popular place for rock climbers (after Yosemite) and it’s easy to see why. I have a real appreciation for rock climbers… it takes on average 2 days to scale Zion’s canyon walls, meaning the climbers sleep, eat, and do other business halfway up the rock face. I couldn’t do it.

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One of the neat things about Zion, and all of the parks we’ve been to, is that they are working hard to be environmentally friendly. For example, at Zion, the buildings are naturally heated and cooled using different architectural techniques, and they work quite well. The shuttle buses run on clean-burning propane gas, waste is limited, recycling promoted, and so on. It reminded me of Vegas, although in a different way. Vegas of course is nothing but consumption. One day we were walking down the strip and I was noticing all of the lights, moving objects, escalators, air conditioning, and everything else that uses energy. Then we passed through the Bellagio’s doors, which boasted a sticker saying, “this is a low-energy automatic door.”

Anyway, back to Zion. Reunited, we pushed on through massive tunnels that lead us through Zion’s walls. My nephew Truman played The Sims in the back seat and after a short drive, we arrived in Hatch, Utah. Being 7 Hatches, we hopped out of the cars and took photos. While trying to get the timer function to work on the camera, a friendly Utahn agreed to help us out and took our photos for us.

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Right across the street from the sign was a small motel and restaurant and so we decided to make it easy on ourselves and ate there. For half the price, it was better food than nearly any we had in Vegas. Good ol’ small towns.

The kids stayed entertained by reading books on the table, such as “How to Live with Idiots,” “Outhouse Humor,” and other such titles.

As the sun set, we made way for Bryce National Park. All along the way we kept seeing a familiar site: hills with letters on them. For some reason, a number of towns put a big white letter on a nearby hill, usually the first letter of the town’s name. I don’t understand it.

By the time we got to Bryce, it was dark and the sky was amazing. It looked like millions of diamonds scattered on black velvet fabric… simply stunning.

After staring the skies for a few minutes, we all hit the sack and as soon as our heads hit the pillows, we were out.

Remembering the road, day 13

Continuing this long-ago odyssey:

The food so far has been pretty disappointing… and finding the restaurants is a bit of a challenge. Every place has plenty of attractions and foodstuffs, but in order to get to them, you have to pass through the casinos, which of course lures you into playing. These guys really have the system down pat.
It even works outside. I was walking down the sidewalk when all of a sudden, I was hemmed in by a fence that required me to enter the Excalibur’s casino in order to cross the street via a skywalk, which of course, forced me to enter the New York New York casino… all just to cross the street.
Once I did manage to cross the street, I came across a series of newspaper boxes. Since I hadn’t read the news in a couple weeks, I thought I’d take a look. Turns out, all of the boxes were for stripper info. One boasted of the ability to have a college girl in my hotel room within 20 minutes! And, to be fair, there was a giant billboard for the “Thunder from Down Under,” which featured six or seven hunky men sans shirts and chest hair. No word on how long it would take them to get into my hotel room, which is just fine with me.
One of the older casinos in this part of the strip, the Tropicana, is clearly feeling the squeeze from the newer more glamorous places, like New York New York, the Bellagio, and such. The Tropicana is luring people over with free spins on the slot machines, discounted meals, discounted show tickets, etc. Before long, I’m sure, they’ll tear the place down and build some new resort that has some spectacular show featuring man-eating palm trees or such.
Television is everywhere around here. Nearly all of the casinos have Times Square style outdoor TV screens, most of them pushing ads for something coming to that casino  the MGM Grand, for example keeps pushing the Shaq Celebrity Roast and the world championship darts tournament. Even the elevated train linking a few casinos has a tv in each car… showing more ads for those casinos, of course. Naturally the restaurants have TVs, but so do even the bathroom stalls of one we went to for lunch. Fantastic!
There really is no end to the extravagance of Las Vegas. It’s total sensory overload in nearly every way. I’ve already gone on and on, so I’ll stop.
Tonight Cyn and I are going to the Mandalay Bay House of Blues to see the Cowboy Junkies… a group that strikes me as very anti-Vegas. It’s also the last night my cousin and his family will be with us in Vegas… bummer. We’ve loved hanging out with JR, Hanna, Maggie, and Ben!

Day 13

The food so far has been pretty disappointing… and finding the restaurants is a bit of a challenge. Every place has plenty of attractions and foodstuffs, but in order to get to them, you have to pass through the casinos, which, of course, lures you into playing. These guys really have the system down pat.

It even works outside. I was walking down the sidewalk when all of a sudden, I was hemmed in by a fence that required me to enter the Excalibur casino in order to cross the street via a skywalk, which of course, forced me to enter the New York New York casino… all just to cross the street.

Once I did manage to cross the street, I came across a series of newspaper boxes. Since I hadn’t read the news in a couple weeks, I thought I’d take a look. Turns out, all of the boxes were for stripper info. One boasted of the ability to have a college girl in my hotel room within 20 minutes! And, to be fair, there was a giant billboard for the “Thunder from Down Under,” which featured six or seven hunky men san shirts and chest hair. No word on how long it would take them to get into my hotel room, which is just fine with me.

One of the older casinos in this part of the strip, the Tropicana, is clearly feeling the squeeze from the newer more glamorous places, like New York New York, the Bellagio, and such. The Tropicana is luring people over with free spins on the slot machines, discounted meals, discounted show tickets, etc. Before long, I’m sure, they’ll tear the place down and build some new resort that has some spectacular show featuring man-eating palm trees or such.

Television is everywhere around here. Nearly all of the casinos have Times Square style outdoor TV screens, most of them pushing ads for something coming to that casino  the MGM Grand, for example keeps pushing the Shaq Celebrity Roast and the world championship darts tournament. Even the elevated train linking a few casinos has a tv in each car… showing more ads for those casinos, of course. Naturally the restaurants have TVs, but so do even the bathroom stalls of one we went to for lunch. Fantastic!

There really is no end to the extravagance of Las Vegas. It’s total sensory overload in nearly every way. I’ve already gone on and on, so I’ll stop.

Tonight Cyn and I are going to the Mandalay Bay House of Blues to see the Cowboy Junkies… a group that strikes me as very anti-Vegas. It’s also the last night my cousin and his family will be with us in Vegas… bummer. We’ve loved hanging out with JR, Hanna, Maggie, and Ben!