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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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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Driver's Log

Round Lake, IL to Sioux Falls, SD: Driver’s Log

When planning this road trip, I was excited to see friends, family, and the sites along the way, but I was also excited to see what the country looks like between those things.  The destinations are awesome, but getting there is half the fun (my lovely wife may think otherwise)!  For those readers who also wish to know what can be found in the wilds of Wisconsin and Minnesota, read on!

The answer: Apparently not much can be found on I-90 in Wisconsin and even less can be found on I-90 through Minnesota.

I will elaborate, lest you feel you have been given short shrift.  Wisconsin is actually a very pleasant state.  It has green, rolling hills and dairy farms dotting the countryside.  As we drove north and west of Madison, the hills became more jagged, and as you saw in Mica’s post, some interesting rock formations popped up.  I should also mention the area surrounding Wisconsin Dells, which appeared to be some bizarre water park resort destination.  Please comment if you know what is up with that.

Upon crossing the Mississippi at La Crosse, Wisconsin, we were greeted by the relentless plains of southern Minnesota.  There is so little in southern Minnesota that the road signs saw it fit to tell me that we were approaching the burg of Albert Lea, MN (pop: 18k) from 100 miles out.  There was just nothing else in between.  Plains gave way to sad little hills, which gave way to more plains.  The interstate was, by and large, straight as a pin, and there were typically about 5 or 10 cars per mile of highway.  I think I saw more wind turbines than on any other day of my life, even after living in Illinois for five years.  I don’t mean to imply that the state of Minnesota is boring; we were just in a boring part of it (less “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” more “I Can Tell We’re Not Far From Iowa” (no offense Kim, and other Iowa natives!) (sorry for double parentheses!)).  Someday we’ll see the prettier and more interesting parts, but today was not that day.

Tomorrow we spend a solid day driving across South Dakota, but I am confident it will be more interesting.  Faces on mountains and stuff.

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