Thursday, November 8, 2007

Day 9 (8/27), Boston - Part 1: Southie

To begin our morning, Jen took us to Attleboro's finest restaurant, Babe's Place. This was the type of greasy place that could be found in any small town in America. The kind with a long row of counter seating, with the people at them drinking cheap Folgers coffee, and an assortment of tables and booths around them. I could have bought the same ham and cheese omelet here as I could at Denny's. However, two things set this place apart from all the others. First, the waitresses had awesome accents. Serious. They were such distinct New England accents (not necessarily a Boston accent) that I almost laughed when I heard them. Secondly, they had eggs Benedict on the menu. And while they are typically only sold on Sundays, they made an exception and cooked some up for us. Yay!

We left Babe's, blew through Attleboro, and headed to Boston. For multiple reasons, I've always wanted to visit Boston. For one, I'm big into cities, so Boston, with its rich history, has always appealed. Also, part of that history involves the settlement of generations of Irish immigrants, and with my cultural pride, it seems like a city that I would vibe with. Lastly, my good friend, Gibby, lives there.

The plan was to do some site seeing early in the day and, when Gibby got off work, hook up with him. When we got into the city around 11:00, we went straight to South Boston, where we walked through the neighborhood, stopping at no fewer than three bars. Yes, it was early, but we were excited to be in Boston and, more specifically, Southie. Plus, the neighborhood didn't offer much else to do. So, with Jenny as our guide, we stopped first at the Boston Beer Garden on Broadway. Although big and fancy, this place lacked the character that I envisioned of a Southie bar. With the urge to leave after the first drink, the Beer Garden served only the purpose of wetting our whistle before hitting up bars as we explored the neighborhood.
The second bar we went to, the Quencher, was the quintessential neighborhood hang. The patrons spoke of their 20 plus years of frequenting the place. Displaying on the walls were pictures of the Red Sox, famous people who have come into the bar, and newspaper articles talking about Southie. They sold tee shirts that read, "South Boston is Behind Me," proclaiming their pride for the neighborhood. There was also a dog, Shorty, hanging out (figuratively and literally, as the dog had ginormous balls and his scrabble bag dragged on the floor).
After a couple drinks at The Quencher, we decided to explore the neighborhood a bit more. The neighborhood, although obviously prideful and full of tradition, was not what I had envisioned. Yes, there was Irish pride, as evidenced by the various bars' names, Irish flags and other insignia, but it did not appear to be a rough and tumble area, as portrayed in movies. However, the densely packed, low-rise buildings, peppered with quaint neighborhood bars, did offer a certain charm.

As we explored Southie, we visited a couple other bars: the L Street Tavern and the Shannon Tavern. L Street was ran by a friendly bar tender who, in between flirting with Maggie and Jen, cursed the bus loads of tourists who flock to the bar due to its appearance in the movie, Good Will Hunting. It was made famous as a local hang for Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's characters in the movie, which took place in Boston, mostly in Southie. Despite the loathing of tourists, the bar did not shun its Hollywood connection, as pictures of Affleck, Damon, and Robin Williams made their place amongst other Irish themed wall adornments.
The Shannon Tavern, making reference to one of Ireland's rivers, was probably the most non-descript of the bars we went to. Filled with old-timers playing the lottery and drinking, the bar, on the bottom floor of a corner residential building, was only distinguished by a small Guinness sign hanging above the door and a shamrock displayed on the outer wall.
While at the Shannon, Gibby called to let us know he was off work. He gave us directions to his downtown apartment, the One Devonshire, and we were on our way, sadly leaving Southie behind. As it turned out, our early morning drinking in Southie would pale in comparison to what was in store later that night.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day 8 (8/26), "Schmidtty, we got an exit."

Sunday morning, our last in Philly.

We awoke at Maggie's brother's house a bit on the tired side. The previous day was long, busy, and hard on the body (alcohol and extreme heat don't mix well). Sunday wouldn't be much different, as we had a lot planned on our last day in Philly. First on the list was to catch a Phillies game.

The game started at 1:00, but we were at least an hour from the park, as well as hungry and in need of coffee, so we decided to leave fairly early in the morning. As we approached Citizens Bank Park, we decided to splurge and pay for a parking spot close to the stadium. We arrived at about 10:30 AM. When we pulled in to the park, we realized we drove through the wrong entrance. When we explained this to the man collecting a $20 charge, he understood our mistake and was sympathetic to our desire to go to the cheaper parking lot. He was also intent on making a big scene out of our mistake, and he proceeded to yell at his partners to make way for us to do a U-turn and exit through the entrance. Upon hearing of our mistake, he shouted to his partner across the lot, "Schmidtty, we got an exit!" Almost immediately, a whole crew of parking attendants, while yelling at each other, rearranged the orange cones directing traffic, stopped oncoming cars, and motioned us through the lot's entrance. How accommodating!

Anyway, we ultimately found a cheaper lot not too much further from the park than the one we just exited. When we found the right spot, we parked, hopped out of the car, and found the warm beers and whiskey that had been sitting in the back of Maggie's vehicle for the last few days. As it turned out, that was the only thing we put in our stomachs all morning, as we skipped breakfast and never got the coffee that we all craved. Without anything in our bellies, it didn't take long before we were buzzed.

While sitting in the parking lot drinking, we watched other tailgaters play quaits, the same game that folks were playing at the wedding. We also entertained ourselves by watching Nate play with one of those wooden raquets with the little bouncy ball attached to it. After an hour or so, we decided to head inside the park. When we entered, we went straight to the concession stand, where we each got a beer. While sipping the cold beer (a welcome change to the warm ones we had been drinking earlier), we walked around the park in search of our seats. We finally found them in the upper deck between third base and the left field foul pole. Our neighbors, in the seats behind us, were a family headed by on of the most vocal fans I've seen. The dude had something to say for every player who came to bat, whether it was cheering for one of the Phillies, or harassing one of the Padres (their opponent). The dude even yelled and cheered when the beer guys came to our section of seats. Seriously, the guy did not stop was awesome. He even had his little daughter yelling.

While watching the game, I decided to take a picture of the park on my phone and send it to a buddy back in Portland (Bobby, who is a Phillies fan and from Pennsylvania). When he got the picture text, he quickly called back to inform me that his family was at the game. He told us what section they were in and said we should go say hello. In between innings, the crew migrated to where Bobby's family was sitting. We found seats right next to them and introduced ourselves. Maggie and I had already met Bobby's sister when she visited Portland some months earlier, and since Bobby's dad looked just like Bobby with grey hair, it seemed like we already knew him as well. While sitting next to Bobby's dad, he began telling me stories of his growing up in Philly. He also spoke about the neighborhood where Bobby's mom grew up, in South Philly, just across from the parking lot of the stadium. After chatting with them for a while, doing our best not to slur our words and hide our drunken states, we got bumped from the seats by late-arriving fans.

The four of us finished out the game and then headed back to Maggie's house, where we were going to eat dinner with her family before making our way up to New England. On the way back to the house, we picked up some cheesesteaks, as it was my last chance to indulge in the tasty treat in its birthplace. After eating dinner, we packed up the car and headed north. We drove through New York (passing by White Plains), Connecticut (New Haven and Hartford) and Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, Nate and I, while the girls were asleep, decided to take a little detour and drive through downtown Providence. From Providence, we were only half an hour from Attleboro, where we stayed with Jen, Maggie's friend from college.

We made it to Jen's house after 2:00 in the morning. Although late, we stayed up a bit to chat and talk about what our plans were for the next day. It wasn't long, though, before got tired and had to hit the sack. I went to bed first, claiming the room on the second floor, where I fell asleep to the sound of the loudest fan ever (I couldn't turn it off, because the humidity would have been equally as annoying).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Day 7 (8/25), Blistering Heat and a Wedding

Wedding day.

We awoke Saturday, alone in Maggie's house, she and all her family down on the Jersey Shore setting up for the wedding. We were left with directions on how to get to the wedding site, about an hour and a half from Philly in rural New Jersey. We were also informed of the casual nature of the wedding, as well as the heat, and told that shorts would be an acceptable style of dress, as long as they were matched with a collared shirt. As Nate and I were already well aware of our sensitivity to the heat, we had no problem donning shorts at the ceremony.

With traffic and pit stops, our drive took closer to two hours, getting us to the wedding about a minute before the ceremony began. Although we were given permission to wear shorts, it was very awkward to show up to the wedding late and in shorts, especially since we knew a total of four people there. Because we were the last to arrive, we were left with the only seats left. As it was an outdoor wedding, and the temperature was expected to hit 98 degrees, most of the seats were covered by a large tent. However, the seats we were left with did not get the shade many were able to enjoy.

The lack of shade immediately became problematic. It wasn't more than two minutes that I had an enormous sweat stain on my chest, back, and one in each arm pit. And it was at the four minute mark when I developed a stain on the crotch of my shorts (from sweat dripping off my chin) and one on my butt (from the accumulated sweat dripping down my back). While I can give my own lengthy and obscene description of the miserable combination of heat and humidity, I'll rather offer the readers an excerpt from Nate's journal, detailing the toture we went through:

"It was so fucking hot and humid. I was sitting there sweating, ridiculously. Sweat was pooling up in my ass crack, beading all over. A constant drip formed from my nose and chin. I can honestly say that I have never been so uncomfortable in my life. It was terrible. I sweat through my shirt, shorts, and my hair was part afro, part sweaty strips of hair glued to my sweaty, gleaming forehead. I sat with my head down, holding my head, and wiping the salty sweat that was obstructing my vision away from my eyes. While looking around and wondering why the fuck weren’t these people perspiring profusely, I mean I know they're locals, but that shit is natural, there is no getting used to that kind of weather, why are these people not sweating like me. I was beginning to get angry. Then came the mosquitoes, out in full force. So, here I am in New Jersey at some fucking wedding, I don’t know any of these people, why am I here enduring this shit. No amount of free food and alcohol will make up for this…Fuck it…I want to leave, but where do I go. Nowhere is the answer. I can’t leave, I’m trapped at this place and must tolerate the heat and bugs. The wedding lasted approximately 20 minutes. Seemed like it would never end. I don’t know what happened in the ceremony, no idea cause I wasn’t paying attention at all, just sweating while worrying about heat stroke and communicable diseases that these mosquitoes might be passing me. I hate those lil’ vampire fuckers. At one point in the ceremony I almost got up to walk away, maybe douse myself with water, maybe hydrate myself a little bit…but I realized that it would be too awkward and people were already staring at me like I was some kind of alien or freak of nature. Although it’s easy easy to assume that I wasn’t looking my best. So I’m angry, like really pissed off about my current situation. I was on the verge of losing my sanity and just start running around screaming obscenities. Luckily, I was able to keep my composure. I looked at Jeff, noticed that he is in a similar situation, and could tell the was on the same page as I, so that helped a bit. I don’t think I could have lasted 21 minutes, I would have lost it. The wedding ended, reception began, while the sweating and awkward stares persisted. I think I made an impression, not necessarily a good one, more like what the fuck is wrong with this guy and who is he."

To say the least, Nate and I had a little difficulty handling the heat and 800% humidity. It was so bad that I was forced to go to the car immediately after the groom (Maggie's brother) kissed the bride, where I sat in front of the air conditioner and drank a gallon of water. After rehydrating and cooling off, I went back to the wedding, at which point the reception had started. The site was an old farm not too far from the Jersey shore. The centerpiece of the rural site, called Bull on the Barn, was a crab shack that served local catches. Next to the crab shack was an outdoor bar. Both the crab shack and bar were surrounded by open land, fully vulnerable to the blistering sun and heat.

Upon my return from the car, I found myself a huge fan in the bar, which I took the liberty of monopolizing to the fullest extent. While I felt sort of bad hogging the breeze from the fan, it became obvious to everyone else that I was most in need of it, as my pale (now probably bright red) face and numerous sweat stains loudly stated that I was close to passing out.

When I was done sweating (due to dangerously low levels of water in my system), I ventured to the crab shack, where Nate, Stacey and I sat with Maggie's grandma. Nate and I attacked the crab with a vengeance, returning to the food line multiple times for seconds and thirds. Somehow, with my novice crab-cracking skills (I've never really had crab before), I managed to puncture the tip of my index finger with the crustacean's leg. However, after enduring the most miserable 20 minutes of my life in the sun, the pain from the cut was relatively small, and I just continued eating crab....and more crab.

After stuffing my gut with crab, I again needed to find a breeze somewhere. I departed the crab shack and headed back to the bar, in hopes nobody took over "my" fan. When walking to the bar, I found the most amazing discovery: the narrow walkway between the crab shack and the bar produced a wind tunnel that was equal in strength to the fan. So, to not appear selfish and anti-social, I hung out in the walkway and attempted to talk to the people who had to squeeze by me. After a while of being an awkward obstacle in the walkway, I decided to rotate between the fan and wind tunnel. This way, it sort of looked like I was mingling and not such a wall flower.

After a while, I grew restless. There were a few people playing horse shoes, so I checked them out for a bit. As it turns out, it wasn't horse shoes, rather it was a game called "quaits," I think. Similar concept, but instead of trying to get a horseshoe around a spike, you have to toss a weight onto a board with a target on it. The closer you get to the target in the middle, the more points you get. Apparently it's popular out there, because I saw tailgaters playing the same game in the parking lot at the Phillie's game (the next day). Anyway, the game didn't catch my interest enough, so I wondered around to the field in the back. There, I found a kid hitting a wiffle ball by himself. So, being the baseball lover that I am, I told him that I could beat him, and challenged him to a game. As it turns out, the kid (probably only 13) was pretty good. He hit a couple homeruns off of me and ran his score to 10 before I got up. After such a long half inning, my at bat finally arrived. I was intent on rocking this kid, outdoing his 10 runs by at least 2...and then quitting while I was ahead. Well, the kid struck me out three times before I was able to get my 4th run. Frustrated and defeated, I told the kid I needed to get back to my fan.

When the wedding ended, most headed to a beach house that the bride and groom rented on the shore in Fortescue, NJ. It was a beautiful location, reminiscent of some presidential vacation spot on Martha's Vineyard. Before the sun went down, we all decided to walk down to the beach and go for a swim. It was a good thing that I had been drinking, because Nate's warnings of hypodermic needles often being found on the Jersey Shore did not scare me as much as it should have. So, Maggie, her twin sisters and I jumped in and swam toward a reported sand bar some 100 yards from the beach. Maggie insisted that the waves breaking off the coast meant there was shallow water, thus we could swim out there and stand up. It took like 15 minutes to swim out there. Maggie found it first and, as I didn't believe there was a sand bar, scared the shit out of me when she started standing on water. Eventually I found the narrow spit of shallow ground and stood on water as well. It was pretty cool, I must say.

Anyway, we eventually swam back to shore and decided to call it a night. We gathered all our stuff, said our goodbyes, and headed back to Maggie's brothers house, as he and his groom had left town for their honeymoon, and we weren't up for the drive back to Philly. On the way to his house, we stopped at a hoagie shop/market called WaWa's. Here, we were able to custom order (by computer) our own Italian hoagies. Apparently my order was so far from what an Italian hoagie is, the lady, when receiving my order, rolled her eyes at me. Then, when completing my sandwich, handed it to me and said, "Here's your creation, whatever it is." Great, thanks lady.

Nate and I grabbed a bottle of whiskey to compliment our hoagies. When we got the house, we found multiple puddles of pee from the dog (Tuco...taken from the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) that had been sitting in the house all day. We maneuvered around the pee puddles, found a spot to sit, and scarfed down our sandwiches. Nate and I sat outside for a while, taking a few shots from the bottle of whiskey, before growing tired and returning to the house where we all crashed for the night. Despite the endured torture of heat and humidity, the day was actually quite nice. The wedding was mellow, down to earth, had good food and music, and the people were all very nice. For good and bad, the wedding in Jersey will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Day 6 (8/24), Cheesesteak Love

After a beautiful sleep in a bed, I awoke on Friday with a pep in my step, and a hankering for my first Philly cheesesteak. After navigating our way through the (dumb) turnpike, and Philly suburbs, we made it in to the city well before noon. Our first stop was the Philly art museum. For art connoisseurs, I'm sure the museum is awesome. For movie aficionados, however, this place is mecca, for none other than Rocky Balboa once ran up the steps leading to the museum, where he so-famously proclaimed his love for Adriane. Standing atop these steps was like standing at the OK Corral or Pearl Harbor. Truly historic. Secretly, I wanted to run up the steps and pump my fists in the air. Unfortunately, the cheesy tourists who acted on their similar urge ruined it for me, and I simply soaked in the moment of cinematic history, while gawking at their Rocky impersonations. Oh, and as for the museum, we didn't was too expensive. That's not to say our fruitless trip to the museum went without art, for a sculpture of the Italian Stallion himself sat outside of the museum, where fans can get up close and personal with ol' Sly for free.

From the museum, we headed to the historic core of old Philadelphia. This is where Liberty Hall is, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's house, etc. In other words, a true slice of American History. After parking, we made our way to the main visitor center in old town. We were cut off, though, by a group of demonstrators who were holding a rally to stand up against the violence that has recently plagued the streets of Philly (for perspective, with an average of one murder a day, Philly will have more than 10 times the amount of homicides as Portland, OR). After watching the protesters and subsequent speeches in the park, we continued on our way. Before going too far, we decided to get some food. We hit up a street vendor who was selling cheesesteaks, hoagies, meatball sandwiches, and hot dogs. Not wanting to get my first cheesesteak out of a mobile cart, I opted for the meatball sandwich. After gobbling our food, we moved on and signed up for a tour of Liberty Hall. While waiting for the tour to begin, we gave ourselves a self-guided walk of the surrounding area. Although small in area, there was a lot to take in. We saw Ben Franklin's burial place (easily seen from the sidewalk, despite coming with a $5.00 entrance fee to the gated cemetery); the Liberty Bell; old cobble-stoned streets; and the first and second banks of America.

After getting our fill of history, we, upon the advice of Maggie's mom, went to the Italian Market. In its heyday, I can see how this would be an attraction, with local vendors selling fresh meats, fish, and produce. Now, though, there is little indication that the market is Italian, nor a busy market. While vending stations do exist, and the sidewalks are lined with brick buildings painted in the colors of the Italian flag, the only remains are storefronts selling cheap clothing, candies, and not so fresh fish. At the end of the worn-out strip of wooden vending stations, Pat's and Geno's beckoned with their respective claim to cheesesteak superiority. Pat's, named after Pasquale "Pat" Olivieri, is the reputed home of the original steak sandwich, first created in the 1930s. Geno's, however, lays claim to the first steak sandwich to have cheese on it, originally started by its owner, Joe Vento shortly after Pat made the steak sandwich popular. As they face each other on opposite corners of the same intersection, it's hard to decide which to go to. We eventually went with Pat's. As you wait in line at Pat's, there is a huge menu on the wall that has step by step instructions for ordering a steak sandwich (convenient for the apparent hordes of tourists). The first step in ordering is deciding if you want onions or not. If you do, you order a steak sandwich "wit" (not with). Then, if you want cheese, you have to specify which kind (American, provolone, cheese whiz, etc). I'm told that the most authentic cheesesteak is ordered with cheese whiz. So, when I approached the window to order, I asked for a "cheesesteak wit and wit whiz." I've since learned I could have simply said, "Whiz wit," and that would have sufficed. Aside from the joyous delightment of eating a cheesesteak, Pat's offered some entertainment as well. For example, the lady who ordered after me, apparently from out of town, approached the window without fully reading the instructions, as they clearly state that you must know exactly what you want, and how to order it, by the time you get to the front of the line. So, when she said she wanted a cheesesteak and asked the guy at the window what was good to put on it, he responded (in the best Italian, South Philly accent): "You have to tell me lady. I'm're gonna have to get to the end of the line." Wow! I simultaneously hated this guy and wanted to be him at the same time. Although very stereotypical, and not necessarily the norm, this was the type of character that I grew to admire while in Philly...straight to the point, in your face flare. While seemingly brash, it is without pretense and bullshit...awesome.
Anyway, we still had more to see in Philly, so we walked back to the car to make sure we didn't have a ticket. Along the way, we went in and out of small side streets to check out murals and some street art. When we got the care, we checked the tires to see if parking police had marked them with chalk (for we were in two-hour parking and I thought that's how they keep track of who's been there). We would follow this routine every hour and half until we figured we were safe for the evening. We spent the afternoon and most of the early evening on South Street, a 10-15 block stretch of record stores, tattoo parlors, clothing stores, smoke shops, and bars. We met up with Gibby, my best friend since kindergarten, who flew down from Boston to hang with us for the night (he was originally supposed to fly in at 2pm, but got delayed til closer to 5), at the Blarney Pub. After catching up briefly, and having a few drinks, we left to find a more divey spot off of the main strip. We found a spot a few blocks away called the Friendly Lounge, which, ironically, was bar tended by a grumpy fuck. Actually the dude wasn't that grumpy, he's just not used to non-locals coming through there. As we sat there for a few drinks, we were told of how the neighborhood has changed for the worse and that we should not venture any more east than we already had. The bartender, and one of the local patrons, turned out to be cool dudes in the end, but not very welcoming, so we headed back to South Street. As we were leaving they suggested a couple bars that might be more to our liking.

Back on South Street, we found Tattoo Moms (as recommended by the grumpy bartender and his friend). Not only did Tattoo Moms serve $1.00 PBRs, but they also had grilled cheese sandwiches and party favors on all the tables. Pretty good combination, if you ask me. After a few drinks, Gibby realized it was time to catch his train to New York, where he was staying for the weekend before going back to Boston. He said our goodbyes, put him in a cab, and headed back to the car. Unfortunately, our method of checking for chalk on the tires was flawed, for we had a $27.00 ticket. After bitching about the ticket, we hopped in the car and headed back to Maggie's place. Since Maggie did not come with us (she was with her family preparing for the wedding the next day), we had to do our best to follow the same directions she gave us...but backwards and in the dark. Naturally, we got lost and drove through every suburban township on our eventual return to her house. Part of the problem was that her house lies in one township, while the houses across the street from her are in another. So, with the street having two different postal jurisdictions, it also had two different sets of numbers. In other words, while we were looking for the 500 block of Welsh Road, the addresses on the other side of the street through us completely off, as they were in the 1000's. Great! We eventually figured it out, made it home, and crashed in front of the TV while watching the Departed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Day 4/5 (8/22-23/07), Oglala and the Epic Drive

Our fourth morning was a good one. Not only did we get a nice, dry sleep (some of us under the stars), but we were also able to take showers in clean facilities. We also knew we had some cool shit to see, namely Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands. Despite the warm showers and sights in store, there was a collective sense of dread, though, for we knew that we would be driving straight to Philly upon leaving the Badlands. As mentioned earlier, we were now about a day behind schedule. And since the wedding required us to be in Pennsylvania by a certain time, we knew that to make it in time we were going to have to skip a good part of the country.

After showering and packing up the car, we headed for Mt. Rushmore. On the way, we stopped for sausage and cheese biscuits and coffee at a little country store/cafe. This provided the fuel we needed to see Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln etched in stone and make our way to the Badlands. Although not being very patriotic (and a bit irritated that the "founding fathers" were given such a big monument in the heart of Indian territory), I found Mt. Rushmore to be pretty impressive. It is much larger than I expected, and it has stunning detail. What's better, there is no hiking involved, thus allowing us to see the monument, take some pictures, and make our way to the Badlands without losing any more time. The monument also provided another opportunity for Pegasus to get some fresh air and see some history.

It wasn't long before the rolling, wooded Black Hills leveled out into the dry and bare plains of South Dakota. On occasion, a small farm would break up the monotony of the dry, arid landscape. Some of the farms sported extensive plots of sunflowers, with a few stretching as far as the eye could see in one direction. When the desolate landscape reemerged, the prairie dogs took over. And I mean, TOOK OVER. These little rodents were all over the place, stooping above their holes and staring at us as we drove by. The stark plains eventually gave way to red and white colored canyons and small ravines, as well as hoodoos (spire-like formations jetting out of the ground) and little gullies. It was here, before finding ourselves in the heart of the Badlands, that we drove through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota Nation (Sioux for those not hip to Native history). While no interesting sights were seen here, it was moving to drive through such sacred and historic land. It was here that the US government broke a treaty and took away 7.7 million acres of reservation land when gold was discovered in the black hills. It was here that the government took control of an additional 350,000 acres to practice their bombing during World War II (with the remnants of bombing, as well as some remaining live munitions, much of this land is uninhabitable). It was also here that the FBI killed American Indian activists in the early 1970s on the site of Wounded Knee, the same spot where nearly 200 Lakota were massacred by the US Army 80 years earlier. Yikes! To say the least, the history is deep on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

After driving around a bit on the reservation, we headed back through the sunflowers and prairie dog fields and into the heart of the Badlands. While Glacier and Yellowstone were great to see, and beautiful in their own right, the Badlands were so unique and unlike anything that I had seen before. The multicolored hills (red clay, white sand, and light green shrubs), hoodoos, and ravines were awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, the similar colors and repetitive landscape did not provide for great pictures, as the many hills blended in to one blur when snapped by the camera. At one point, Maggie and I decided to climb one of the many narrow peaks. We nearly got ourselves stuck on top, and almost died while braving the rocky terrain on our way down. The area would have been a great place to watch the sun set and camp under the stars, but due to lack of time, we were forced to hit the road as we continued on our way to Philly. Before leaving the Badlands altogether, though, we couldn't pass up one last photo opportunity; this time with a wild antelope...or so we thought. As we saw the wild creature on the side of the road, about 20 yards ahead, we slowed the car to a creep until we were just beside it. Before Nate was able to take a photo, we soon realized that the "wild" animal had a weird contraption wrapped around its neck. It turns out that the contraption was a collar, and the antelope was indeed just a goat (presumably from one of the farms). So much for another wild animal pic.

We were soon out of the Badlands and making our way through the eastern half of South Dakota. As it got later, and peoples' stomachs started rumbling, we stopped for dinner in "1880 Town." Yes, the town, which was comprised of a gas station/market and a motel attached to a restaurant, was actually called 1880 Town. I think it was trying to capture the essence of an old west town, but it failed miserably. However, being in the middle of nowhere, we had no idea when we'd be able to eat next. So we stopped in 1880 Town, whose claim to fame is having set items from the movie, Dances With Wolves. Unfortunately, we soon found that the restaurant, which is housed inside the caboose of an old train, was closed for renovation. We asked the gas attendant where we could go for dinner, and we were told our best bet would be Murdo. On the way to Murdo, while Nate was driving, a deer decided it wanted to cross the freeway just as we were approaching it. As I saw it make its move from ahead, I shouted to alert Nate, who nearly had a heart attack as we came feet from running into the deer at 80 MPH. If the deer, like most do, had stopped in the middle of the road and stared, it would have been toast. However, the stars must have been aligned in the deer's favor, because after stopping briefly in the road and taking a peak at us, he continued on his way, just barely escaping certain death. It took Nate and I about 10 minutes before our heart rates returned to normal levels.

We arrived in Murdo, SD with high expectations. We left with filled with hatred and, some, with volcanic stomachs. A word to the wise when visiting Murdo (only the Lord knows why one would do this): do not eat at the Family Star diner (don't let the AAA approval fool you). Our waiter was horribly rude to us, the cooks put something in our food (and came out of the kitchen to stare and laugh at us while we ate), and half of us had violent reactions to the food. The other two were just disappointed with the quality of food. After eating, we decided it would be a good time to let the car cool down a bit and check all of the fluids. So, while we let the car sit, we found a park and broke out the wiffle ball and bat. Unable to play a game with four people, we decided to play a home run derby, of sorts. Basically, each person would get a chance to hit the ball 10 times. When Stacey began the game, she launched her first hit off of Nate's face and neck. While not totally prepared, Nate's reaction time did not allow him to block the ball, which left a red mark as a reminder. Stacey's next hit: right at my face (fortunately I was able to block it). Fuck, Stacey, can you not hit the ball off of our faces?

Anyway, after some wiffle ball hitting, we headed to the gas station to fill up, check the fluids, and tear up the bathrooms with partially digested food from Family Star. We were then on our way. We had more than half of the country to drive through (or, as we soon came to say, the whole right page of the map). For the first stretch of the drive, I sat up front with Nate as he drove. He introduced me to a lot of obscure music that I had never heard of (but grew a liking for). After hours of listening to CDs and an iPOD, we decided to give it a break and see what was on the local radio. By this time we were in Minnesota somewhere. As soon as the radio is turned on, a public service announcement comes on, exclaiming a tornado warning for the states of Indiana and Illinois. Nate and I immediately looked at each other with excitement, for we were headed in that precise direction. When the public service announcement was over, I scanned the channels and, to my delightment, I found the Giants on the air. It must have been because we were so close to Illinois, and they were playing the Cubs. Nonetheless, it was awesome to listen to my team so far from home.

As we drove through Minnesota, Maggie eventually took over the driving, with Stacey switching into the passenger's seat. I was woken a couple hours later to the erratic swerving and acceleration of the car. We were in Madison, WI and Maggie had two things on the mind: peeing and McDonalds. As we raced around Madison, we eventually found both, however not without Nate and I being confused and scared for dear life in the back seat. With all the speeding around and U-turns to find them, we lost track of which direction we came from. So, to find our way out of Madison and back on to the freeway, Maggie again proceeded with a multitude of U-turns and gas-break-dippin. We eventually found our way, and I was soon asleep. I again woke a few hours later as we drove through Chicago (at rush hour...shitty). I woke to the sound of a man yelling, "I'll stick it up your ass, jackass." Yes, there was a road rager driving along side of us for about 15 minutes as we made our way through the city. He was not yelling at us, rather the guy in front of him, so it was quite entertaining. He must have called the guy a "jackass" 20 times, as well as telling him to "hurry up" and warning him of things he was going to "stick up his ass." Unfortunately, to make Philly on time, we had to skip Chicago, so the road rager was my only memory of the city.

It was when leaving Chicago that we discovered how freaking expensive it is to drive on the East Coast. The only way to get from Chicago to Philly, without going out of our way, was to drive on toll roads. Being from the Bay Area, I'm accustomed to the concept (all the bridges have a toll), but the turnpikes on the East Coast are serious money-making operations. Any time you want to exit from the turnpike, you have to pay a toll. What's more, every 20 miles or so, there are toll plazas which collect anywhere from 30 cents to a couple dollars. I think we ended up paying $19 for the stretch of the turnpike we were on..

As we approached the early afternoon, it began to get bloody hot. Again, my bum became sweaty, sticky and, presumably, very stinky. So, when we decided to take a break at a park in Ohio, I took a swim (bath) in the river that ran through the park. For fun, I walked up stream so I could let the current carry me back down the river. Unfortunately, the water wasn't deep enough, and I only scraped my back on the rocks that eventually stopped my trek downstream. At least I got to soak my bum off.

After everybody ate, and I dried off a bit, we were back on the freeway. Other than a brief torrential downpour, there was nothing of importance in Ohio or western Pennsylvania. By night fall, we were approaching Philly. It was about 10PM when we finally got to Ambler Township (still don't really know what a township is). We were welcomed to Maggie's home by her mom and grandma (dad woke up briefly to greet us, too). After starting some laundry and catching up with family, I think we watched the Departed. In no time I was out, sleeping in the guest bed, cherishing the best sleep I had had in almost a week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Day 3 (8/21), Pegasus Revealed

My morning started at 4AM, to the frightening sound of a mad man stomping toward my tent. There are always moments when camping, in which you fixate on certain sounds and scare yourself by thinking of the different things they can be (bigfoot, a bear, the Blair Witch, etc). Usually, when rational thinking takes over, you can say to yourself, "Oh, that's just a pine cone falling from a tree, not bigfoot throwing things at me." Or, there are other times, such as hearing sniffing sounds and faint growls, when you can say, "Shit, that could be a bear." Well, the mad man walking toward my tent was an example of the latter. The steps, obviously from a biped, could be heard in the distance, slowly getting louder and louder. Judging by the sound, I could tell that something was definitely walking in my direction...and with purpose, I might add. He finally reached the campsite. Not wanting to overreact (by jumping out of my tent and flashing a knife, for example) or wake the other three, I laid silently in my tent, hoping that the mad man would not do a jig on me or light my tent on fire (normal thoughts, right?). Luckily, the mad man had second thoughts and just continued walking through the campsite. The adrenaline rush from lurking mad men, coupled with another night of rain and a leaking tent, made it hard to fall back asleep.

At the first hint of daylight, I hopped out of my tent and walked to the showers. I could not wait, as my stinky butt-sweat (the result of sitting in a warm car for prolonged periods of time) was beginning to really gross me out. When I got to the restroom area, I had a hard time finding the showers. I looked all over, but with no results. How could this be? I thought this place had showers. After finally coming to grips with the prospect of not showering, I took a wash rag and went to town in the bathroom sink. When done, I dried up and patted myself down with baby powder (this is the only way to conquer the bum-sweat).

When I returned to camp, everybody was up and trying to air out their soggy tents. Nate confirmed that someone did indeed walk through the site in the middle of the night. However, when looking around, I realized that I had placed my tent right in the middle of a path that connected the main road to the other campsites (see what late-night arrivals to camp do), thus making the mad man not so mad.
After packing up the car (a morning routine that became quite annoying), we checked out the map and planned our route for the day. As we were already half a day behind, we decided we had to make it to Mt. Rushmore (and see it) by night fall. But first, we had to see what Yellowstone had to offer. Our first stop was the Mammoth Hot Springs. The springs, which are essentially a series of small vents for thermal activity under ground, sport streams of steaming/boiling water, terraced landscapes formed by the calcification of minerals, charred trees, and a god-awful smell of sulfur farts. The wooden walkway that leads you through the springs, let us see what is, basically, volcanic activity up close and personal. Aside from the smell, it was pretty cool.

As we drove through the park, we passed a series of thermal ponds, open meadows, and forested hills. Fresh off the disappointment of not finding a "real" bear in Glacier, we were intent on finding one in Yellowstone (Yogi or Booboo would have sufficed). This did not happen, though, as the buffalo and mule deer dominated the park. After taking a bunch of pictures of buffalo along the way, we had one more stop to make before leaving the park: Old Faithful. The most famous of all geysers, Old Faithful is another thermal vent like the hot springs. However, whereas the springs have no underground constriction (and are in a state of continual spew), geysers face some constriction beneath ground and, when the pressure builds, will spew at intervals. Old Faithful, surrounded by hundreds of onlookers, erupts about every 90 minutes. At its peak, the boiling water, heated from the magma below ground, rises to an average of 145 feet. After a minute and half, the spray subsided and the onlookers clapped and cheered. It was with some of these onlookers, that our travelling companion rooster, Pegasus (stolen from a friend's backyard), got some of his first exposure (photo opp) on the trip. Nobody could understand why we were carrying around a fake rooster, so we told the story of how we stole him from a friend and sought to take as many pictures of him as we travelled across the country. Highly amused, the cheering tourists just had to take a picture with him.

As time was ticking, and we had already seen the main attractions, it was time to leave Yellowstone and make our way to Mt. Rushmore. The drive to South Dakota was long and hot (more bum sweat). We drove through Big Horn National Forest, as well as a bunch of small towns in central and eastern Wyoming. To keep ourselves entertained, we played "BOMB." The objective in BOMB is to tout your movie knowledge. The first person says a movie, with the next naming an actor from that movie, followed by the next person who must then say a another movie with that actor. The first person to get stumped, without repeating any actors or movies, earns a letter. The first person to spell "BOMB" loses. This only kept us entertained for little while.

When BOMB lost its appeal, the Canadian Club Whiskey took its place...or at least for Nate and Maggie, who went to town on the bottle while Stacey pretended she wasn't falling asleep at the wheel, and I stayed awake and sober out of concern that I might have to drive. As was customary for our trip thus far, we didn't even cross the border into South Dakota until after sundown. We realized that we were again going to miss our target by quite a few hours. So, this meant that Mt. Rushmore would have to wait until the next morning. Our priority now was to find a camping spot. Lucky for us, Stacey, while falling asleep and screeching around the twisty, Black Hills roads, stumbled across "North America's best campground, hands down." So says the Jewish man from Chicago who offered to shine his car's headlights on our site while we set up camp. This dude was solid. Not only did he offer to brighten our campground, but he donated hot embers from his fire so we could get one of our own going. He was wrong about one thing, though: no way could this place be mistaken for "America's best campground." The Game Lodge campground wasn't a dump by any means. However, the expansive lawns with paved roads cutting through them, as well as the abundance of RVs and lack of space, did not make for a very outdoorsy experience.
The Game Lodge did have showers, though. So as we pitched our tents, we could not have been happier with our campground. In no time, our tents were up and we were finishing the bottle of whiskey, along with the warm beers that had sat in front of the car's sun-beaten, back window all day. As we sat around the campfire, Maggie asked us to tell her stories about ghosts and some our most shameful tales from growing up. At the end of the night, we were grateful for two things. First, we knew we could look forward to showers in the morning. Second, there were no clouds in the sky, nor any rain in the forecast. We had our first clear sky of the trip. It was so nice out, Maggie and I decided to sleep outside of our tents. By far, that was the best sleep that I had had on the first three days of the trip.