Driver's Log

Days 49-50: Austin, TX to New Orleans, LA

Look at the weirdo (“Keep Austin weird!”) that we found in Austin!

lunch with Charlotte

Just kidding, it’s Charlotte! She suggested we meet for lunch while our car was being serviced at the Spider House Café, a very Austin-esque institution. And yep, with its pop-culture mural and shrine outside and peeing cherub water fountain, I’d say we got a nice little slice of Austin culture.

Charlotte just moved back to Austin after a two-year stint in Atlanta (She likes grad school HOT, apparently.) and is pursuing a PhD in Media Studies (Forgive me if I got that name wrong). Unlike some grad students I know [myself], Charlotte loves most parts of academia and is psyched about her studies and research. I’ll be in interested to see what kinds of cool media theories she publishes in the future!

After lunch, it was too hot to contemplate doing much of anything at all, so we saw The Conjuring, a somewhat acclaimed horror film. While the movie itself was sort of forgettable, the Alamo Drafthouse cinema, an Austin movie chain, was pretty neat. It even serves food during the screenings. I was afraid to get any tea for the movie, lest a jump-scare make me spill hot liquid all over myself.

For dinner, we met up with the family at Fonda San Miguel for some legitimate Mexican (Tex-Mex? Geez, I don’t know the difference) to celebrate Richard’s birthday. This is one of their favorite restaurants, and it did not disappoint. I have seriously forgotten what good salsa and tortillas taste like, so this was awesome.

There were four children in attendance, which made for a somewhat crazy but pretty hilarious dinner. (“Granny! Granny!!! I tooted!”)

kids at dinnerThe family members all work together on a UPS store franchise with three different branches in Austin. It was neat to hear them talk about how they all worked together on this family venture.

Somehow, we got the whole group together for a picture!

family pictureRichard and Vera wanted to stay in Austin at the Four Seasons, where they had celebrated Vera’s birthday a few years ago. Of course, we didn’t say “no” when they suggested this birthday plan.

Look what was waiting for us at the room when we got back! Maybe I should work on my chocolate penmanship skills (though after the disaster that was my cake-decorating class, perhaps not).

chocolate at the 4 seasonsAs soon as we got back to the room, we were able to see the Austin bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge. We missed this the last time we were in Texas, so Harrison was really excited to see it. Even better, we had an elevated, air-conditioned view from our room, as opposed to the limited oven view from the outside bridge.

Unfortunately, the bats don’t show up that well in the picture, but there were millions of them! I say this without exaggeration.

view from hotel roomThanks to Richard and Vera for a fun stay in both Horseshoe Bay and Austin! We hope to come back soon. (Mom, they hope you’ll come down for a visit soon too!)

Vera & Richard at dinnerToday, we hit the road again, making our way eastward. We had a brief stop in Baton Rouge for the capitol, of course. Harrison surmises that it might be the tallest capitol buiding.

LA state capitolWe’re staying in the Garden District in New Orleans, which is the only place outside the French Quarter that I could remember after coming here for two cousins’ weddings. For dinner, we took the streetcar to the French Quarter:

street carOh, hai, Bourbon Street!

Harrison on Bourbon StreetFrom my previous trips to the Big Easy, I remembered the Napoleon House Bar & Café, which is where we went for dinner. The building is on the register of historic places as part of a failed attempt to rescue Napoleon from exile. Oh well, it makes for a nice place to eat dinner, even if the courtyard was approximately a thousand degrees with ten-thousand percent humidity.

Napoleon House menuNapoleon House is known for its Pimm’s Cup, which was a refreshing way to combat the New Orleans summer stickiness. I look like a vampire in this picture, but that is perhaps fitting as New Orleans in the setting for Interview with a Vampire.

Mica with Pimm's cupHarrison had a muffaletta for dinner. There are almost no sandwiches that I find less appealing than muffalettas (Italian cured meats with olive salad), but all of these make Harrison’s list of most-favorite things:

Harrison with muffalettaHe washed it down with a cold local Pilsner and then was too full for beignets or chicory coffee at Café du Monde. Booooo!

hot sauce, SOS beer, Pimm'sSo instead we walked around and saw the Mississippi and Jackson Square by night:

Jackson Square by nightAnd now, I’m going to go bask in the air-conditioning and congratulate modern society on this delightful, humidity-combatting invention.

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from the road

Days 47-48: To Horseshoe Bay, Texas

How do you know you’re in Texas? Well, for one, it’s very hot, and there are long horns on the side of the road.

And you can eat burgers on Texas toast with a side of tater-tots in your car at Sonic:

Harrison eating at Sonic

Also, you might see a van with a cross strapped to the back hurtling down the highway!

Unrelated: Harrison was rather amused to see this Dairy Queen’s sign for the $500
Hungr Buster Meal.

DQ sign - $500

Anyway, Texas is home to my uncle Richard and aunt Vera. I last visited them in 1994 right after my 8th birthday at their old house in San Antonio. They’ve since moved to a new lake house in Horseshoe Bay, TX. This was a very clever move because their house is (as they say) “a giant playground,” and their kids, grand-kids, and great-grand-kids love to come visit! Right when we arrived, their 12 weekend visitors were heading out. They said that the house once held 25!

Harrison and I are somewhat more subdued than a hoard of 2-to-18-year-olds, I suppose.

view of the house

The house is right on an inlet of the Lake LBJ. This morning, they took us on a boat-ride around the lake:

getting on the boatToday was Richard’s birthday! He steered that boat like a true and seasoned captain.

Richard & Vera on boatBy the way, we’ve decided to add to our list of property acquisitions. In addition to our spacious houses in LA, we’re purchased this summer home on Lake LBJ:

house on lake lbjDon’t worry, you can stay in our guesthouse when you visit. (There’s room for all in our hypothetical future.)

house on lake lbjAfter lunch, Richard showed us how to use the jetskis:

Richard on jetski

 

Go, Richard, goooooo!Richard on jetski

Then it was time for my first (and Harrison’s second) jetski ride:

Mica & Harrison on jetskisPop-quiz time: Which of us was the faster driver who enjoyed riding the wake of speedboats and shooting across the lake? (Hint.)

Harrison on jetski

And which of us was a slow and conservative (safe!) driver who got freaked out reading the entire WARNING label on the jetski?

Mica on jetskiPretty sure you got that one right! I was impressed that we both topped out over 50mph. I also saw several turtles, which made the day even better!

The lake water was pretty warm (like bath water), so we took Vera’s advice and opted for the safer pool for swimming.

Did anyone else make the “George Washington” hairdo in the pool when they were younger? Harrison apparently was unfamiliar with this.

In the afternoon, we relaxed and got to chat with Richard and Vera and celebrate Richard’s birthday! They’ve done so many interesting things (were in San Francisco during the ’89 earthquake!) and traveled all over the world, though like us, road trips are their preferred mode of travel. It’s really neat to get to spend time with relatives that I haven’t gotten to talk to much in my adult life. I’m learning so much!

And now, we are worn out from the Texas sun and heat. Bed time for meeeee!

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Driver's Log

Driver’s Log v2.0: The Southwest

Welcome to the second installment of the driver’s log! During this road trip, I have discovered that my dear wife has a rather narrow definition of a beautiful landscape. It tends to involve oceans and pine trees, features which are rather lacking in Arizona and New Mexico. I happened to enjoy (most of) the drives through those states, so I feel that I should weigh in so as to provide a different perspective on the landscapes of the southwest.

Leaving eastern California on I-8 was what seemed like our tenth ascent/descent of the Pacific coast mountain ranges. As we descended, the trees disappeared and the mountains became what looked like large piles of rock (see Mica’s post). Then the desert started.

I was actually pretty excited to see the Arizona desert after living east of the Mississippi my whole life. As far as being big, flat, sandy, and generally inhospitable, it did not disappoint. What I did not expect was the intermittent attempts at rain in southern Arizona. It never rained in earnest, but there was standing water in Yuma, so it must have rained at some point. I later learned that Yuma averages about a quarter inch of rain in the month of July, so I suppose we were privileged to have seen puddles there.

As we made our way north through Phoenix to Flagstaff, we entered the mountains of northern Arizona. These were of course very different from the mountains of Montana: fewer trees, more red cliffs. Sedona was nestled in the most impressive part of the area, surrounded by towering structures of red-orange rock. North of Sedona, we climbed to Flagstaff via a winding and, surprisingly, forested road. I was not expecting to see many trees in Arizona, but WVT is full of surprises!

The drive east to Santa Fe along I-40 (parallel to old Route 66) was mostly flat, dry, and scrubby, into New Mexico. At that point, we began our ill-fated trip to El Morro and El Malpais, straight into a massive New Mexico thunderstorm. Though it foiled our attempts to see a giant wall of old graffiti and weird volcanic rock formations, I was happy to see lightning again, after many weeks of no precipitation at all. I think the wife was less amused.

Stormy driving

The drive through Albuquerque to Santa Fe was accompanied by yet another huge thunderstorm, even worse than the last, but we were able to admire the landscape on the way out this morning. Santa Fe is set against a pleasant backdrop of mountains, and though Mica did not much approve of the brown stucco, I thought it complemented the scenery rather nicely.

In the last (and first) installment of the driver’s log, we had just passed through the most boring stretch of land I’d ever driven (southern Minnesota). I am happy to report that that dubious distinction now belongs to eastern New Mexico! Pat yourselves on the back guys; you’ve earned it. It was flat, with scrubby underbrush, and only a few trees bigger than a garden shed. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that, in the 200 miles between Santa Fe and Roswell on US-285, there were two named towns, one with a population under 500, the other under 100. So yeah, there is actually nothing there. Good thing I got gas before we left. I might have died of boredom had Roswell not been filled with amusing alien kitsch and a flying saucer McDonald’s!

IMG_0957 Harrison at Roswell McDonald's

PS – WVT passed the 10000-mile mark in eastern New Mexico! It seems that my estimate of 10k for the whole trip was wrong! Sorry Mom!

wvt odometer at 9999.9

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from the road

Days 45-46: Across the Southwest

We’ve been on the road for the past few days, driving from Flagstaff, AZ through Santa Fe, NM, and now, we’re in the booming metropolis of Artesia, NM.

In Gallup, NM, we stopped at the historic El Rancho Hotel for lunch. The walls were plastered with old black-and-white photos of the old Western movie stars who stayed there while filming. I am sad to say that I recognized almost none of them.

El Rancho hotel

Harrison took down an impressive bowl of green chile stew. We’ve apparently been eating “Midwexican” (coined by our friend James) for too long; the salsa and chiles were spicy! We’re not used to that.

Harrison with green chile stewThe rest of Friday was uneventful, as we drove through not one, but TWO huge rainstorms. The rain foiled our plans, and we were sadly unable to see the El Morro and El Malpais national monuments.

Stormy driving

 

Our phones even alerted us to the fact that there was a flash-flood warnings between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Fortunately, our hotel did not lose power, and we were not swept away in a swollen arroyo.

This morning, we met the team from the Ride the Future Tour in the hotel breakfast room. They are also taking a cross-country road trip, but they’re driving only gas-free vehicles. They started in Charleston, SC, and are riding to the Google headquarters to increase interest in electric modes of transportation. So cool!

with the ride the future tour

Before taking off, we photographed the New Mexico State Capitol, which was surprisingly difficult to find within the complex!

NM State Capitol

The drive from Santa Fe to Artesia is super-boring. I’m just going to tell it like it is. There is nothing. No-thing. You can see forever, and there is nothing to see.

I was thrilled to get to Roswell, NM, because it meant seeing people. Harrison was thrilled about the space-themed McDonald’s:

Roswell McDonald's

And, of course, we visited the Roswell UFO museum. It’s pretty hokey, and the “exhibits” (enlargements of various documents and snapshots) look like they were curated by a seventh-grader.

aliens at Roswell UFO museum

I’m going to turn things over now to Harrison for his next installment of his “Driver’s Log” posts! You can hear his (probably more enthusiastic) report for the last few days.

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from the road

Day 44: Brother(-in-law) & Hot Arizona

Look who we “found” in Alpine, CA this morning: Palmer (Harrison’s younger brother and my new brother-in-law)! After graduating from Harvey-Mudd last year, he moved to Alpine to work for a math problem-solving website/company.

As the first official guests, we got the grand tour of the living room/office. Actually, I just asked him a barrage of questions (“What do you eat?”, “How far is your work?”, “What is this falling-down building outside your window??”) while Harrison ate toaster pastries.

Palmer's living roomLiz, you will be delighted to see that Palmer has sequestered his fourth plate, haha. 

Palmer's plates(Actually, he explained his very thorough system of using one plate at a time and moving it to a different pile. He has all four on rotation!)

As you can tell, Palmer was thrilled to have us barge in on his apartment.

Palmer and Harrison

Since our lives are up in the air and Palmer is always traveling (He’s going to China soon for an international puzzle competition.), it’s not clear when we’ll see him next. Byyyye, Palmer!

Mica and Palmer

We commissioned a WVT puzzle from Palmer as his specialty is making super-complicated puzzles. We’ll put it up on the blog soon as a contest! Get your thinking caps ready; it looks like a DOOZY.

From Alpine, we turned east and drove down I-8 into Arizona. First, we passed huge piles of rocks in western California:

Rocks on i-8

I-8 runs very close to the US-Mexico border. From the car, we could see into Mexico…with a large fence in between. At one point, we went through some kind of checkpoint where border agents [I think.] waved us through.

highway checkpoint

In Phoenix, we photographed the Arizona state Capitol:

AZ state capitolIt was so hot when we got out of the car in Phoenix–the car thermometer read 104 degrees! That saying “But it’s a dry heat!” is a load of bunk! It was like walking around in a giant oven but without any of the good baking smells. At one point, I tried to sit on a little ledge and leapt up, yelping in pain because the hot bricks felt like they were burning my legs.

Meanwhile, Harrison was fascinated with a cactus:

Harrison with a cactus“Be careful,” I said, “Don’t touch it!”

Harrison touching cactus“Yep, they’re sharp. That would hurt a lot if you ran into it,” said Harrison.

Yes, gentle readers, I have married a genius. 😉

We continued our trail across and north in Arizona. We passed through Sedona briefly, right after sunset. The red rocks were pretty cool!

red rocks outside Sedona

Unfortunately, we didn’t see/feel/perceive any energy vortexes. Note: This website says that it’s vortexes, not vortices.

We’re stopping over for the night in Flagstaff, AZ. I was surprised that the surrounding area is quite forested. This was what the drive between Sedona and Flagstaff looked like.

forest outside Flagstaff, AZPretty big change from the hot rocks, right?

Another big day of driving tomorrow, so I’m headed to bed!

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from the road

Day 43: Seeing the Pacific Ocean & Dorothy!

I realized that we’re about to turn eastward on WVT, heading slowly back to the East coast. Crazy, right? As such, our brief sojourn in San Diego is our last stop near the ocean, so I wanted to soak in all that salty goodness today.

After a run along San Diego’s Embarcadero, we grabbed lunch at Bay Park Fish Co. Harrison was excited to eat an authentic fish taco in San Diego. (The authenticity is perhaps disputable, but he says that they were de-licious.)

Fish tacos at Bay Park Fish Co.When we had a family reunion here in 2008, I loved running and walking around the Mission Bay Park, so I made sure to hit that up today. I was shocked to see so many people in the park, enjoying a picnic, swimming, or windsurfing, on a Wednesday afternoon. I’m guessing that they’re mostly summer tourists, but maybe San Diego residents get out to enjoy the occasional mid-week fun-day.

Mica in Mission Bay Harrison in Mission BayWe were not, however, content to see only the Bay. We headed over to Mission Beach to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean, which is FREEZING.

Mica in PacificHarrison was not thrilled about this, but he MANNED UP and walked right in.

Harrison walking towards waterHe made it in, just barely…
Harrison in water

 

…before posting a hasty retreat!Harrison retreating from water

 

 

 

That’s okay, we got an obligatory couples face-photo on the boardwalk so you know we were there!

on boardwalk

 

What??? TWO free Lara bar samples on the boardwalk?? SAMPLES?!? Mission beach is the best!

Mica with Lara bar eyes

(I’m frowning here because Harrison wasn’t taking the picture as fast as I wanted and people were staring at me.)

Not content with just Mission beach, we headed to the swanky La Jolla area for a view of the sea lions at La Jolla cove:

at La Jolla coveYou can see how gray it is in the background–the clouds blocked out all the warm sunshine, and with a breeze blowing, we were cold! I did not stick around to take photos of sea lions. Nor did we stick around long enough to feel really poor because La Jolla is for the fancy-pants rich!

For dinner, we went to Bleu Bohème to meet one of my sweetest and goofiest friends, DOROTHY! She and I took several high school classes together, but one that sticks to memory in particular was senior year Anatomy & Physiology, where we learned that eyebrows are like “eye mustaches.” Anyway, Bleu Bohème came with a glowing recommendation from Dorothy:

“Do you like French food?  (haha!)  😉  There is this cute place called “Bleu Boheme” that is super cute.”

And we concur, it IS super-cute (and tasty)! I love all the melted wax candles that look like sculptures at each table:

candle at Bleu Bohème

It was great to see Dorothy, whom we last saw in (we think) 2010! She has been out here for the past five years pursuing a PhD in Speech Pathology, and she’s hoping to finish up next year. However, she, like us, has fallen out of love with academia, so it was a dinner full of commiseration and grand expressions of empathy for how we all made the wrong life decisions. (But also, really fun!)

Grad school makes us feel like this:

Grad school facesSometimes, we try to talk with our mouths full and look like this:

Mouths fullDorothy, we lurf you!

with DorothyAnd, once again, grad school, we do NOT lurf you:

sad grad school facesWe’ve crammed a lot of sightseeing and friend-seeing in our 36 hours in San Diego! Tomorrow, I’m going to take deep lungfuls of sea air to prepare me for our drive into ARIZONA. Oh lawwwwd, it’s gon’ be hot, and I am not ready for it!

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from the road

Day 42: Beverly Hills to San Diego

Like the movies have us believe, LA has palm trees.

Palm trees in LA

And also, plentiful sunshine, expensive cars, clothing, houses, children’s furniture stores–oh, the list goes on! We said “good-bye” to Helen this morning and descended from Hollywood Hills via Mulholland Drive, Rodeo Drive, and Wiltshire Drive. It was a feast for the eyes, that’s for sure.

And, you know, I think that the abundant wealth and sparkle of the city convinced me that Los Angeles is where we want to move…

…which is why I am delighted to share with you that we found a new house(s)!!!! 


Our "new" house

Yes, yes, we’ve decided to move into BOTH of these two adjacent homes in the heart of Korea town! This zip code isn’t quite as flashy at Beverly Hills, but, you know, our new home boasts a luxurious outdoor bathroom and impressive sunroofs in all rooms. And when we move into the neighborhood, property value is certain to increase. We’re such trendsetters; this will be 2013’s most expensive US zip code, for sure.

Okay, so we didn’t find a home in LA (HAHAHA, like you fell for that!), but we did find Chris Choi!

We met Chris through Dan and Alejandro while he was studying in law school at UofI. As it turns out, he just flew into LA from Washington, D.C. yesterday and wanted to meet up with us. What a serendipitous meet-up!

Chris has lived all over the world, but he is an LA native and knows good Korean food. So, of course, he chose a pretty awesome Korean restaurant, Soban, for lunch today. I knew it was authentic immediately upon entering because (1) a seizure-inducing new feature about goats was playing in the background and (2) a mesh colander filled with stainless steel utensils was prominently displayed on the bar. The food was so good that it made us realize just how crappy the Champaign Korean food is. (*sigh* There’s one less thing to like about it.)

Soban gives you tonnnnnnns of banchan (side dishes). BANCHAN EXPLOSION!

Lunch at Soban with Chris

(Chris says I look more Korean than he does. I disagree. Thoughts?)

I’d say we did a pretty good job though….

Empty platesLike us, Chris is applying for jobs all over the country. I hope we end up in the same city because he’s a cool guy and I know he will be my gym buddy for LIFE if we’re in the same place. (Right, Chris? RIGHT?!?)

After lunch, Harrison wanted to revisit the CalTech campus, which, contrary to the impression you may have from this blog, is actually his one true love. After spending his first “independent” summer there in high school (He says: nominally, doing research but in reality, being payed to play pool and hang out with awesome people), he has talked about it with a sort of dreamy, drunk-on-nostalgia voice for the ten years that we’ve been together.

Harrison in front of dorm

So yeah, I was expecting a lot! It is a very pretty campus. I mean, there are olive trees lining the quad with the dormitories.

CalTech QuadHe somehow neglected to tell me that THERE ARE TURTLES IN A CAMPUS POND! This is clearly the best part. World-class academics ain’t got nothing on turtles.

CalTech turtlesAfter the turtles, it was all downhill. I got the post-lunch sleepies and fell asleep in the car until we reached the outskirts of San Diego.

We’re staying in downtown San Diego at the swanky Omni, which is a very generous wedding gift from my (and now, Harrison’s!) cousin Trent and his husband Rick! I visited their lovely home in the hills five years ago for a family reunion, and I was pumped to go back and see them and to eat Trent’s homemade Mexican food!

The house has gotten even better–they now have two great dogs, Ellie (chihuahua) and Sarah (lab)!

Trent, Rick, and dogsTrent and Rick are two of my most favorite relatives! Trent is a kindred spirit who loves musicals and enjoys when I post pictures of the satellite radio Broadway selection on Facebook. And Rick is a retired police officer, and he told us all kinds of cool stories. We heard a pretty awesome one about how he helped find the missing dolls from a million dollar Barbie theft in the 90’s by searching through records and talking to tweekers. [Raise your hand if you knew what a “tweeker” was. Please! Put your hand down! You didn’t know!]

Meanwhile, Sarah listened to our conversation with great dignity!

Sarah & Ellie

 

Rick is a San Diego native, and Trent has lived here for 25 years. They had lots of great things to say about the city, and their arguments about the weather were pretty convincing (“We own some hoodies. That’s about it.”).

WVT in SD

So, maybe we’re not going to live in our airy home in LA, but I might just be convinced to move in with Rick and Trent FOREVAAAAAARRR (Okay, guys? Lady-dogs? All good?? Yeah??)

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