Tuesday, April 29, 2008

To our new home..... (4/10/8)

We busted out of Nevada and made it to the place I started from, 6 years ago. We did take a nice detour to the Donner-pass/emigrant museum, which does a nice job of celebrating the journey (epic journey to California) instead of the result (cannibalism). We then settled in a bit, enjoyed a cocktail and our view with the Doctor's friend Dr. Andromeda, and went to a great restaurant near our place called Chenery Park .

3500 miles and 8 long days later, we were in the city by the bay, with the burgh still in our hearts and the future wide open.

To Reno (4/9/8)

Ilsa drove (and I worked) through the desert of Utah and through Nevada. After taking the pups for a walk at a very dry dog park, we decided to top off our culinary adventures the only way we knew how -- by going full-bore, American campy. We went to the Peppermill casino's buffet!

To keep things interesting, we played both the "Kill Count" game (where the object is to eat as many species as possible), and the Poetry-Buffet game (which we invented on the spot). The goal was to create an arranged plate that could be the subject of a poem (we chose Haiku for our format, although you can easily change this to limerick, for example). My "haiku" follows the image (I snapped it after I ate the salad in the middle).

salad, fajita
brownie, jello, and a peach
whipped cream and doughnut

To Salt Lake City (4/8/8)

Now we get to the part of the trip where: (a) Ilsa drove (sometimes in the snow), (b) The Doctor worked, (c) we found a doggie park each day in the city we got to for the night, and (d) we were kinda ready for the trip to be over. We'd hoped to head down to Vegas -- we just didn't have the energy (especially with me needing to work and Ilsa doing almost all of the driving).

First, though, we went to flagship store of Cabela's, the outdoor superstore. The following image captures the store pretty well.

During the travel today (or it might have been the previous day -- I'm writing this a few weeks after the fact), we had a funny thing happen. I was on the phone for a conference call to a prospective vendor. It was a conference call, and we were in the middle of nowhere. Cell phone reception was iffy. I had two phones (iPhone and Blackberry) -- so I dialed into the conference call with both phones, since they are on different carriers. After 20 minutes, the primary line I'd called in on dropped, and they started saying -- "oh, did we lose dave?", and I responded "yes, we lost one of my phones" -- they were quite surprised!

We got to Salt Lake City, found a doggie park for the pups, and then went out to a great dinner at this mole place called the Red Iquana. It was quite popular & crowded -- and deservedly so. It was delicious -- and a great surprise in SLC. We were getting quite happy with the road-food -- we were batting nearly 1000 for dinners on the trip -- let's review:

4/3 -- Ilsa's brother's homemade sushi
4/4 -- (forgettable place in Indy)
4/5 -- Prairie Grass Cafe
4/6 -- Coq au Vin by The Doctor's step mom (forgot to mention this earlier - yummy!)
4/7 -- Dude's Steak House
4/8 -- The Red Iquana

How could we top this?

Perfect photo for how Wall-Mart felt at midnight

Ah, Sidney, NE. (4/7/8)

We headed off into the great plains, through Western Iowa and into Nebraska. Nebraska is a funny state. The "Great Platte River Road Archway Monument" attraction is apparently a big deal.

We ended the day in Sydney, Nebraska, where we were happily surprised by a nice hotel, a great place to eat (Dude's Steak House -- you should stop there, it's a classic!) where we were regaled with funny jokes by our waitress and where we had some kick-ass steaks. Seriously, it's worth the 8 minute drive off the interstate if you're ever out that way.

To Ames (4/6/8 -- what do we appreciate? A Bed!)

We headed to Ames on Sunday, and stopped early to visit my parents. We had a nice visit -- capped with several trips to the new 24-hour Wal-mart in my hometown of Ames to (a) replace the air-mattress-pump that, although it worked fine in Pittsburgh, was an inert blob once we got to Iowa, and (b) to return the "car-cigarette-lighter-only" pump I bought on trip (a) and get a model that might get the mattress inflated before the next day. The dogs enjoyed my mom's backyard, and, overall, it was a nice (although quick) stopover.

Tasty Dinner

After our frolicking at the lake on Saturday, we went out to a great dinner in Northern Chicago at the Prairie Grass Cafe. We had some tasty food and enjoyed a fine martini. They make their own sausage; they have great pate; they have good spirits -- what more could we have asked for?

A sunny day in Chicago (4/5/8)

After an adventurous night in Indy, we headed up to Chicago's northern suburbs. We'd been in the windy city recently (last May) for one of Ilsa's high-school friends weddings, and we liked the town. The city is quite pretty (as you can see above).

We scoped out the dog parks in Chicago on our way (on the iphone -- once again showing off its utility) to Bell's former owner's place. This woman was living in New Orleans before Katrina -- and stayed there through the hurricane with her three dogs (two of which were greyhounds). The coast guard eventually made her leave -- and made her leave her dogs behind. She emptied the contents of a bag of food on the table, opened the toilets, and reluctantly left. Once she got to safety, she started calling the SPCA -- and they eventually went to the house and rescued one of the dogs. Bell was too scared to come out, and they had to come back the next day. They eventually rescued her, and took her to a kennel where they were keeping all the lost pets.

The greyhound adoption leagues are very strong, and word was out around the internet bulletin boards and mailing lists that there were greyhounds without homes. Her former owner couldn't keep the dogs -- they were stuck moving to Chicago and couldn't keep them, sadly. We'd been on the lookout for a second dog to keep Penny company, and had recently begun leaning towards the idea of a female older greyhound. When we saw Bell's picture, we knew we had to try to help. A great group of people helped get her from Baton Rouge to Memphis, Nashville, and eventually Louisville, where Ilsa picked her up back in 2005. She's been doing great and is a spunky, affectionate older lady.

Anyway, the plan was to stop by and let Bell's former "mom" see her again, and although emotionally a bit complex, it was a good time. The dogs were exactly as stressed as you can see below:

We then went, with Bell's former "mom" and her sister, over to a local dog park (right on Lake Michigan) and the dogs had a great time, as you can see below. Bell even ran! Quite impressive at nearly 15 years of age!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Gary, Indiana: Not Much to See Here.

The only things I know about Gary, Indiana are: A) it is the birthplace of the Jackson 5, and B) that it burns to the ground in an insane conflagration in the Stephen King novel The Stand, which is about post-apocalyptic America.

As much as I love "A-B-C," I think King had the right idea. See picture, above.

"America's Best Value Inn": Only one word in this phrase is true.

Sorry all that I have left the blogging to the Doctor. It's just that I have been doing most of the driving and he's been working on his computer in the car. Isn't technology wonderful?

After we left Asheville and the hospitality of my brother and his Significant Other, we made our way to Indianapolis. On the way, the Doc searched the interwebs for doggy-friendly hotels near the interstate, and happened upon "America's Best Value Inn." After calling, he found that a room at the ABVI could be had for the low, low price of just $59 per night.

This should have been a warning. But we looked at Google Street View and it seemed like your normal, faceless interstate motel.

When we pulled into the ABVI parking lot, the Doc jumped out of the DoggyLimo to check us in while I took the pups for a pee break. I noticed a lot of empty 40-oz. bottles of malt liquor in the grassy areas of the motel, but chalked it up to the proximity of the highway. The Doc had to check in through a window of bullet proof glass.

We got our room, the door of which was dented with what looked suspiciously like boot-heel marks-- as if someone had attempted to kick the door down.

We were hungry and starting to get snippy with one another (AKA, "hangry") so we fed the dogs, brought in our stuff, and headed out to search for sustenance. I am a lousy navigator, so even with the help of the GPS (which I have taken to calling "The Bitch," because she is always smarter than I am) I got us all turned around and farther from the food than when we started. The Doctor got sick of my blathering and indecision and pulled into a likely-looking parking garage attached to a hotel, with a sign for something called the "Weber Grill." All the Webers I know required charcoal and a dangerous amount of lighter fluid to produce food, but at this point I would have eaten an E. Coli burger Raw with a side of Salmonella Skins and been happy about it.

It turned out that we were parked in the garage for this giant glass and metal "entertainment complex" in downtown Indy. We had been to this complex once before, during a business trip for the Doc that I tagged along to, and which involved a tiki bar, flaming shots, and an electric bucking bronco. Don't ask. Anyway, the place was like a freaking Habitrail for people. We had to go up and down and around and on escalators and elevators and skywalks to get our lousy spinach and artichoke dip and a shared chicken salad.

We made it back to the ABVI without incident and collapsed into bed. We slept like the dead, having resolved to shower in the morning before we left.

Oh, if only we had looked at the towels before we slept on the sheets. The cold, cold light of morning did the ABVI-Indianapolis no favors. The towels were smeared with dirt and strange gray spots of indeterminate origin. It would have been more sanitary to wipe ourselves dry with the wadded-up Kleenex in the ashtray of the DoggyLimo. I began to notice the other signs of filth and general grossness: mold in the bathtub, brown buckled wallpaper, fingerprints on the telephone handset, Penny and Bell's unflagging interest in sniffing in certain corners. We escaped only $59 the poorer, having learned a valuable lesson about motels that seem too good to be true.

America's Best Value Inn: Not the Best. Not a Value. Not an Inn. Barely American.

Tomorrow we stay in a Marriott.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Rain, rain, rain, damp clothes, and sushi! (4/3/8)

After strapping a Thule to our roof, we headed into the rain, down through West Virginia. Ilsa drove most of the way, through pouring, driving rain. I worked some and drove for a bit after it got dark. We finally arrived in North Carolina, where Ilsa's brother and his girlfriend and prepared a terrific repast for us -- handmade sushi! We chatted with them well into the night and enjoyed the rest. Our dogs played with theirs (Winnie and Lola) and enjoyed the backyard. Our rooftop Thule was utterly NOT waterproof -- be careful if you ever get one! Thankfully, Ilsa's brother's dryer worked, and we got some super large zip-lock plastic bags the next morning from Ingles grocery store, so the lack of waterproofing could be dealt with.

Change jar

And, we're back again. In loading up the van, the last load was a jacket, our change jar, and a bag -- and I put the change jar behind Ilsa to load it into the car and packed the other stuff, as I figured the change jar needed to be held so it wouldn't fall over -- and I neglected (doh) to let her know about it! She didn't see it, and we drove off to run last errands (getting a Thule van-top carrier for our extra stuff) and, when we were just about to REI -- we remembered the change jar. We figured it was probably gone, but it had maybe $50 in change in it, so we figured we had to check. Our neighborhood surprised us -- it was still there! Good thing we went back for it, as it had more than $80 in it. So we then left for North Carolina for the first leg of the journey.

Goodbye house (4/3/8)

Goodbye first home! This was my first real home other than my parent's place, and only because Ilsa moved in with me. We had a very warm and comfortable home with great memories -- and it is hard to leave it behind. We will make a new great home out in California, and yet it is hard to leave the place where we started growing our family together. So -- with one last picture, we're off!

Brian Turner (4/2/8)

We went to see Brian Turner on Wednesday night after the movers finished taking everything. He's a poet who served in Iraq as a soldier and wrote a great book called "Here, Bullet" about his experiences. He was a very engaging reader. Ilsa wrote the program notes for him (very good!) and he was very inspiring. He described the country as being decadent about the war -- our lack of caring for the traumatized families on both sides. His point was that regardless of our feelings about the war, to wage war without taking care of the consequences is somewhere between decadent and immoral. I could not agree more, and am troubled by how little I've done to put my time and money where my beliefs are on this point.

The truck that ate our house


Moving is stressful, there's no two ways about it. My immune system is fighting to get over this sore throat I've had for three weeks and Ilsa and I are both exhibiting other signs of stress. The dogs certainly can tell something's in the air -- they are quite disturbed and off their normal routines. Lots of extra pets are going their way -- which, as many of you know, helps the petter as much as the pettee! Lowered blood pressure and reduced stress are good things for us right now... The house is empty, empty, empty -- huge areas with no furniture and the little detritus of our years here...

The little death of a home

We packed up on Tuesday the 1st -- April First!! And it was not a joke that we were moving. The guys from South Hills Movers came in and encased our belongings in cardboard on Tuesday and moved them all out to the truck on Wednesday. Strange that all that we moved from the house could fit into 1/3 of a truck. Nice guys, and efficient. They reminded me of the good-natured qualities of yinzers, for sure. It was strange having them move us out -- not too much for us to do except try to keep the stuff we needed for the drive out separate. I worked some; Ilsa ran some important errands. We ate at the Park House on Tuesday night -- and it's totally changed to a hipster bar, although they still have the peanuts we like.

Tony (3/31/8)

We took a short break to go hear Anthony Bourdain speak on Monday night. He's funny and smart and humble enough to recognize he's very lucky. He also said he wouldn't knowingly eat dogs -- we liked that. We took Christian and Lori for a belated xmas present and had a good time.

Give it away, give it away, give it away now (Party, 3/29/2008)

We had a few friends over on Saturday for a going-away party where we tried to push our extra stuff on our friends. Some of them humored us and took some things -- and, much much more importantly, we had a great time toasting our time in the 'burgh and our new plans. The house was a mess, the booze was all for the taking -- and despite some heroic efforts (and some rather (link to hangover cat -- hungover people), there was much left over. Twas nice to see everyone, however, and we will miss our friends in Pittsburgh!