Memories skipped in Utah

After publishing the last entry, I realized I skipped a few interesting stories  during our brisk haul through Utah.

Rick thought it was strange that we had personified the Tom-Tom and little Buddha. However, within a few hours of the trip he referred to both as Tammy and Sid. Hours in a vehicle can make you long for interesting connections. Think of Tom Hanks on Cast Away. I’ve personally never seen the movie but I know he befriends a volleyball. I thoroughly understand why.

After making fun of Tammy earlier in the evening, I think she decided to play a trick on us. That’s right. I’m now giving her the ability to choose humor.

She made us exit in a po-dunk town. Then she looped us back three exits, right to where we were. As we passed the original exit she made us take, she didn’t say a word. I think it was her way of reminding us how much we relied on her navigational skills.

Hours later while I was napping in the front passenger seat, I was abruptly awoken by the car swerving. I looked at Nick who nodded at me with tired eyes. Rick was asleep in the back. I asked Nick what the hell was wrong. (Hey he woke me up by almost hitting a mountain)

He told me he was tired. I told him he needed to get his shit together and drive because from the looks of it he was the only one that was able to do so at the moment and I had driven 19 hours straight. I told him to think of something that made him happy. Then I closed my eyes to return to napping …only to wake up to hear him giggling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“You told me to think of something that makes me happy.”

“Well, you look like a kid on Christmas morning. What makes you so happy?”

“———‘s boobies.” (*——– is to not reveal the source of the chest)

Boys will be boys. And boobies will always wake up boys.

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On the road again

The alarm went off before I knew it.  I splashed some water on my face, tried to blow my sinuses through my nostrils, and attempted to get the guys moving. I knew I was in for a long day. Our goal was to reach Fort Collins, Colorado–which was 24 hours away.

I opened the door to find a gentle rain pouring. It wasn’t huge drops like in Louisiana. It was more thin, pin-like pellets that seemed to bounce off of you, rather than dissolve into your clothing.

We packed up Louis and were on the road by 7:15 a.m.

Rick called David to locate their position. The plan was to eat lunch in Bend, Oregon. According to Tammy, we would get there right before 11 a.m.

We drove through windy, mountainous roads past several Oregon State Parks. The view was breathtaking. I felt like a sponge trying to absorb any last drop of this experience.

We arrived in Bend right on time. I received a text message from my aunt Carla to check my email ASAP, so I grabbed my laptop and connected to the restaurant’s wireless Internet.

My sister Meggan was to be married in a few weeks and her bachelorette luncheon was that afternoon. The message said “Wish you were here.” The picture was of my grandmother, mother, a few aunts and Meggan’s friends and they were all making a peace sign. Except for Carla, she was sticking out her tongue.

"Wish you were here"

It was the first moment of the trip where I felt like I was missing out on something important. I knew I had missed a few parties and such, but I had the whole “Out of sight, out of mind,” mentality. Had I not thought that way, I would have been homesick the whole time and would not have appreciated the experience right before my eyes.

I smiled to myself and made a peace sign back to the picture, then closed my Mac. I would be home soon enough.

Interesting tidbit here about Bend. My brother-in-law plays online games and made a buddy through a particular game. They played for years but had never met. A few months prior to my trip, his online friend came visit Louisiana. I didn’t meet him personally because I was still living in Lafayette at the time. He was from Bend.

Once I arrived home, I was listing the cities we visited and my brother called his buddy to tell him I went through his small town. When bro told him where we ate lunch, his buddy said he could literally throw a rock and hit the restaurant from his backyard.

Small world.

We had an amazing lunch that day, shared some intimate hugs with our new friends and piled into Louis again.

Then we drove.

And drove.

And drove some more: through the high desert of Oregon, through the SMELLY dairy farms of Idaho.

We decided I would switch from the driver’s seat once we hit Utah. When we were an hour or so from the border, we realized we were at a quarter left on the tank. We hadn’t pushed Louis yet to see how “E” was “E”.

The gas light came on and we all three grabbed our iPhones to see how far it was to the next gas station. I turned off the A/C and dropped speed to 60mph. The next stop was 50 miles away.

It was the longest 50 minutes. No one talked. The uncomfortable tension between Nick and I could have made Mr. Rogers cringe. Rick said we were going to be fine and he calmly read a book.

I wish I were as cool as Rick sometimes.

When we got to about 10 miles away I started to breathe easier. Every mile that passed at that point was one less that I had to walk and I knew it would be easier and easier. Finally we saw the lights of a gas station and a “Welcome to Utah” sign.

The sigh of relief sounded like a tsunami crashing against the shore. There was now a vibe of peace after the tension storm.

Rick filled up the 14-gallon tank with 13.48 gallons.

We stocked up on water and jerky. I sat shotgun and smoked an American Spirit as we drove through Salt Lake City. I was contemplating my role in the universe and what I may do upon my arrival home. Did I want to move away? Did I want to stay? What is this path unknown?

The hour was creeping past midnight and I was getting nestled into my seat when Rick tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a letter with my name on it.

I was quite confused. Then I recognized the handwriting.

Alison.

My little chief. She was taking my position at the Vermilion and told me she was trying to plan a surprise for me. I had completely forgot.

I opened the envelope and found a novella written on journal paper. No sooner did I start reading her words did I also reach for the Kleenex. No one has ever written anything like that for me before. It was beyond an Ode to myself. It was the truth. About  friendship. About life. About sharing. About learning. About everything.

It made me cherish the relationships I get to experience with people. It cemented my understanding of what I know Alison will accomplish in her lifetime; and made me grateful that I will get to witness her achieve it. I am fortunate to have the bonds that I do.

Rick was given the mission to give this letter to me at an appropriate time. He had been carrying it around with him for a few days and that was the first moment I would have had to read it. Given what I was thinking about when he handed it to me, it was more than perfect.

“Lafayette, she needs you,” Alison wrote. These words have haunted me since Utah. It sounds like such a boost to the ego. But in all actuality, sometimes I think I’m just the one who needs Lafayette.

I fell asleep after rereading the letter. My heart was smiling. Part of me felt like I had just accepted this mission of a lifetime.

I went through one rem cycle and awoke to my phone ringing. It was Neal. It was 3 a.m.

Neal has done a complete 180 in the past two years. He has become very involved with social activism and environmental issues–very far from Pub daze.

He had just gotten into a very heated porch discussion with a friend and the friend’s ex-co-worker; both of whom were just laid off from oil field related companies. We were starting to see this happen more and more where we lived.

It was a very twisted point for Neal to have someone very dear to him challenge everything he had been working for, especially when those individuals were shafted from the source of his frustration.

(P.S. Since this situation things have evolved)

Either way, it was a cool moment for our friendship because we realized the value of how we can level one another out. We both live in these big imaginative worlds inside our heads, and somehow those two fantasies collide into reality every once in a while. It’s even more exciting to know we will see those fantasies become reality one day during our physical existence.

Our conversation ended as Nick pulled into a gas station. We were at the edge of Utah and Nick said he had a few more miles in him. I decided to try the back seat out for the first time of the trip. I curled in the captain’s seat and looked up at the stars through the view of the back sunroof.

There were so many shining throughout the sky. I suddenly felt like a shooting star: flashing through the eyes of thousands of strangers for a moment as I travel to an unknown destination. Unknown to myself and to the viewers.

Hopefully I spark something inside of them as I shoot by. Cause them to take a breath and realize they are awake. Alive.

I fall asleep to the thought, but my vessel kept moving.

Leaving Portland

I finished writing and sulkily headed back to my room to pack up. We hauled, what seemed like our whole current lives, downstairs and proceeded to check out of the Ace.

This had to be one of the best hotel experiences…not only of the trip, but ever. The entire staff was genuinely helpful and obviously enjoyed their place of employment. Plus, the spot was so right on for conveniently touring Portland.

Before I walked the block to get Louis, I asked the concierge if he knew where we could get an oil change. His eyes widened and for the first time I saw fear in this sweet man’s face. “I have no idea,” he said, shamefully. “No one has ever really asked me that, and I haven’t driven a car in over five years.”

I was not the least bit offended. Instead, I admired the “green” city I was standing in. There were more bikes and pedestrians than vehicles. It was quite different than where I am from, both in mindset and structure.

Before he started to search for a place (and believe me, he was already three steps ahead of me), I told him not to worry and that we would find something once we got to Eugene.

I walked the few blocks to the parking lot and breathed one of my last Portland breaths. No one thought I was a tourist. No one really thought anything of me. It was an odd comfort. A fellow pedestrian smiled at me as I crossed the street. I took one last look at Powell’s bookstore and then hopped in my vehicle. He smelled like home.

I pulled Louis to the front of the Ace and we piled our luggage, djembes, more books, and pillows as best as we could in the “L” shaped space of the Element. As Nick went take pictures in the authentic photo booth in the lounge, I looked at the interior and seriously wondered how on earth we were going to fit Rick into this picture.

Rick is studying for a doctorate of Physics in Eugene. He is originally from Lafayette and I would see him quite often at the Rok Haus when I worked there. When I first realized I was going to take a trip this way, I sent him a message on Facebook (which seems to be such a catalyst) to see if he would want to ride home with us instead of flying home for his summer vacation. I also knew he had mutual friends who lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is a place I wanted to visit along the way. He seemed enthusiastic about the idea.

I had called him at some point when we were in New Mexico to warn him that it may be a tight squeeze. He laughed it off and said it would only be himself and a stick with a red hankerchief tied at the end for his belongings.

Despite his chipper attitude, I was still wary of the space.

Before I could overanalyze the situation any further, Nick jumped in shot gun and we were ready for the road again. Louis meandered along the river road to the Interstate as my mind drifted along the current of Portland.

Maybe this would be my dwelling space one day. Maybe I was only supposed to absorb this energy for a short time. Regardless of the maybes, the moment was over for now. I nodded my head in respect of the universe and gave the maybes to God.

I was only able to drive 30 minutes before I had to switch with Nick in order to nap. The fatigue was starting to set in and we would be in Eugene in an hour. Rick and his friends were finishing their finals and the party that night was supposed to be “EPIC”. I knew I would need any rest I could get.

My Moroccan Cab Driver

I had a life-encouraging conversation with a cab driver form Morocco, the country Penny Lane wanted to travel to in Almost Famous–one of my favorite movies.

It was one of those moments when you felt like you met someone who introduced you to someone who haled the cab with the driver with whom you were meant to exchange words.

I was on Facebook earlier that afternoon chatting with Val. She was in Austin, I in Portland. She told me she had a friend who lived here who I just had to meet.

A little back story. The whole reason I know Val is because of a mutual guy we both had a thing for. We often pick on him and say the whole reason we both liked him was for us to end up becoming friends.

Well, her friend Kate had been living in Portland for a few years. Val sent me Kate’s info and after a few rounds of phone tag, she came meet me at this trendy restaurant. We discussed how Val and I had met and she told me she remembered the incident.

These are reasons I do not believe in coincidences.

Anyways, Katie took me around the Northwest part of Portland, which I hadn’t seen yet. We drank and hung out with some other locals: one who told me about a girl he is in grad school with who wrote about the travesty of Katrina (the girl’s last name is Trickey). The other guy was from south of Savannah, Georgia and we talked about the South.

Another anyways, Katie and I both realized how tired we were and she was going to call me a cab. She ran outside of the bar to conduct the search and ended up haling me one that was already outside.

We say goodbye and I hopped in to find this 40ish black man driving the cab. He and I strike up a conversation and I say I’m just passing through Portland.

This sparks a whole discussion on what exactly is passing through. He says he is a child of the planet and has traveled the world twice over. I am completely understanding what he is saying and we catapult ourselves into this very deep talk.

We crossed labels and cultures and barriers that most people won’t allow. We were both so astounded as to just how much we understood one another on a universal level.

Yet again, it was one of those conversations that I don’t think I can adequately capture.

The one thing we both emphasized though is that there is hope in this world.

One of the things that gives me hope is that I have reached this level of universal understanding.

I am from South Louisiana. We are the last to get anything. The fact that I have these types of conversations on almost a daily basis with people from my state gives me hope that there is a larger understanding taking place within the human species.

I tell this to the cab driver and he is flabbergasted. He then tells me about this monkey theory about a single monkey evolving and another monkey modeling that monkey’s action. Eventually, there is this exponential growth of monkey understanding and that’s how it becomes an evolutionary cultural custom. It’s all in the exponential sudden spurt.

That’s how I know something big is about to happen. It’s the whole reason I had to get away from the South. I knew in my heart that something is taking place in humanity that most of us don’t even realize. You can find it in the most unexpected places.

We can’t compartmentalize how we find truth. But as humans, we try to figure out everything. This life is not meant to be understood. But we spend lifetimes trying to say that the answer comes in a certain form. However, when you let go of the expectation, the answer shows up in an unexpected fashion.

We have to let go and trust one another.

We stayed parked in front of the Ace hotel talking about these universal ideas for five minutes. Both of us were so excited to have found someone who “gets  it”. Neither of us wanted to part ways because we both knew it could be a while before we found another soul to share this truth.

All we did was tell one another to pass along the peace and hope that it does exist.

His name was David. We shook hands after formally introducing ourselves and smiled.

This is the Liver philosophy. This is life. It exists. I found it in Portland. I have found it everywhere. It is me. It is you. It is now.

Through the Redwoods to Eureka!

The Redwoods are big. It’s almost a redundant statement because anyone who has been there knows it’s an understatement…just like the Grand Canyon.

My friend Sarah had written on my Facebook page that driving through the Redwoods Forest is a humbling experience. She was right on several levels.

To witness vast, living nature makes you feel like a single spec of existence. You realize how tiny you are in an infinite universe. Plus, it feels so still and all-knowing. It made me realize how often I run in unnecessary circles and waste potential energy by replacing productivity with worry.

We drove through scenic California mountains and ventured through one of the tackiest, yet must-see, tourist spots: a Redwood tree you can drive through. It’s $5 to go through the park, which is located in a 700 population village.

I bought some Redwood incense from the gift shop, along with a Viewfinder for my godchild Ellah. It had pictures from major American signature spots, most of which I saw on this trip. Plus, I had one of those small, blue, optical gadgets as a child and I used to look at Disney stories on it. Who needs modern HD, when an imagination and still frames can get you that simply excited?

Nick had the idea to set up Louis with the doors open and us jam out Remy’s song. After a short debate, we decided to film it as well. He grabbed his djembe and I played guitar and sang. Random cars drove by and waved as if we were rock stars. Or maybe they just admired that we were living life.

We drove through more terrain for hours until we reached Eureka. It was one of the last cities in California. We ate at Hana’s sushi restaurant. I cannot even describe how fresh the fish was. I know I live on the Gulf Coast, but I feel like I’ve been lied to. The Rainbow Roll had the most delicious salmon and tuna. I washed it down with Happy Hour saki and then we hit the road again.

We didn’t realize we still had another six or so hours to Portland.

We were slightly discouraged until we saw the Pacific Ocean. Nick was driving at the moment and pulled off the exit. My nerves started to intensify as we parked. At first I walked slowly onto the sand to take in the open view. The sun was starting to set, there were people tossing frisbees to their dogs, and a few couples were snuggling on the sand.

I inhaled the salty, fresh air and was about to sigh a refreshing exhale when Nick took off running and said “Beat ya to the ocean.”

We were a half mile away from water and I took off in a sprint. The young chap didn’t stand a chance.

The water was colder than a snow-cone on a hot summer’s day. I’ve heard the Pacific was cold, but compared to the Gulf it’s Arctic.

I waded in the water, reveling in my small victory, searching for stones to take back to my other godchild Malorie. I triumphed in my search and even discovered a crab claw to bring back for my fellow Cancer, Aaron.

For a split second, we thought about camping out on the beach, but my buddy Ben had scored us a room at the Ace Hotel in Portland and I didn’t want his ambition to be a waste.

So on we drove through windy roads. I have to admit, I did get queesy quite often. I had to lay back in the passenger seat and close my eyes in order to deter the puking sensation.

We finally crossed the Oregon border after darkness prevailed throughout the sky. We pulled up to a gas station in order to fill the tank and were astonished to find a guy walk up to our car and ask how much we wanted to purchase. Nick told him not to worry about it, but then we were told it was illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon.

What?

I thought we had left the weird laws in Oklahoma.

Evidently, it’s supposed to create more jobs and it stops drive-0ffs.

We snacked on popcorn as we made the trek to downtown Portland. We didn’t arrive until 3 a.m. I thought the streets seemed pretty bare considering the size of the city.

We walked into this freshly renovated, rather trendy building. It was classically chic and very purposefully put together. We were handed a real, old-school skeleton key and told our room was on the second floor.

I had so much adrenaline rushing through me as I creaked up the stairs. Ben, one of my dearest friends, works at the Ace in NYC. He was originally supposed to take part of this roadtrip with me. As I peaked around the lounge and hallways, I felt his presence.

It had been months since I had seen my pal, but as I opened the door to my room, I felt like he had set the stage for me. Everything was clean, precise and unique. The detail to how the magazines, brochures, and products were placed made you feel how the staff cared about the experience of this hotel. It had Ben written all over it.

I felt so connected to him at that moment, that while Nick passed out, I stayed up and wrote an email to him. I then began to type uncontrollably. I had only been in Portland for a few hours, but there was an energy here that awakened a part of my soul.

By the time I closed my Mac, the sun was coming up. I nestled myself into a ball and hugged my pillow as I fell asleep with a smile across my face. This wasn’t a sweet dream. This was a sweet reality.

Surprise in Sonoma Valley

Driving through California for the first time is a venture just in itself. You could probably ride through the coast and be satisfied with just the view.

We stopped for a restroom/sandwich break and realized we were in the Sonoma Valley. We checked our iPhone’s for local vineyards and saw a handful within a one mile radius. We figured it wouldn’t time wasted to taste some wine.

We tried to follow the maps on the iPhone, but it was of no use. However, we ended up on this highway stretch and out of nowhere vineyard after vineyard appeared like little grape surprises.

It was just about 4:45 p.m. and we prayed the little wooden taste rooms didn’t close.

We made it in the Family Vineyards as the official last tasters of the day. Evidently those winos like to be out by five so they can enjoy the rest of their beautiful afternoons (I can hardly blame them).

We tried a Sirah, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir. I’m a red girl. All of the bottles were way more expensive than I thought. The women behind  counter were very helpful. I wish I could remember her name because she really was a doll. She didn’t charge us for any of the tasting and didn’t force us to buy anything.

What they did do, however, was talk us into staying in Santa Rosa. They told us it wasn’t too far from the Redwoods or the coast. Plus, the vineyards opened relatively early, so we our taste buds could scope out the selection in the morning.

We drove through the quaint downtown and fell in love with its appeal. This was definitely our stop for the night.

We tried to search for reasonable hotels and found a deal on hotels.com for Fountaingrove Inn. It was $99 for a night, but once we walked into the lobby, we knew why.

The structure was built with large stone, so it almost seemed like you were in a castle. The lobby had two long red couches facing one another and the accents had a modern appeal. While we checked in, we noted there was a sale on wine bottles in the adjacent restaurant.

Why not indulge?

We lugged the luggage to our second floor room and were both quite impressed with the style. This was by far the nicest place we stayed the entire trip. It felt like we were little kids that were about to get in trouble for sneaking in or something.

We were ready to drink, so we skipped changing to go to the restaurant. We both felt super underdressed as soon as we walked through the doors. I really thought the music was going to stop.

Eventually we were served, not with the best service because I think this woman thought we were going to stiff her or something. One of the things I learned working in the restaurant business is to never underestimate who you are waiting on. Some people who rarely eat out will tip extra if you give them impeccable service because they are splurging. The ritzier people normally wine and dine often so they keep a standard 18%. And as for young people…you never know who is or has been a server and can empathize with your position, so they tip a lot.

Life moral story? Never underestimate anyone, because you rarely know a stranger’s background story.

We ended up drinking a bottle and a half of cabernet and decided a trip to the hot tub would be the best compliment. (After we had a chocolate dessert that we shared with the hostess and another server)

We hung out and chatted with people in the hot tub and pool until around 10p.m. There was a young guy who was backpacking his way through all of the National Parks. He worked for Chevron in Baton Rouge, LA for  a while before deciding to go back for medical school in the Caribbean.

Then there was a couple around the age of 30 from California who were touring wine country after a friend’s wedding. We talked for a while about how young people get married these days. That’s one thing I’ve loved about the west and the bigger cities I’ve visited. People my age aren’t married and it’s not because they aren’t ready to stop partying. They are actually working on their life goals and want to have things aligned before they commit to someone else. It is so refreshing to feel young-because I am!

I started to get a little queazy from the mixture of red wine and extreme heat, so I headed back to the room and watched t.v. in my comfy hotel bed.

Ahh the life.

Randomness at Stanford University

We drove through the California Hills with the intention of  sleeping in Fresno to wake in the morning to visit Yosemite National Park. I’m not sure if it was the natural high from the djembe experience, but when we arrived to Fresno, I was still too charged to stop.

We knew we had a few hours before the sun set and Yosemite was only an hour away. If we just drove through it, we could drive until late night and make it near San Francisco, which would allow us more time to see the Redwoods.

The golden hills illuminated the road as we wound up mountains and inched closer and closer to Yosemite. The speed limits dropped and time trudged on. We were determined.

We passed campsites and called, praying for a miracle that possibly someone did not show up for their reservation and then we could fulfill our Yosemitic-destiny. No such luck. You normally have to reserve spots at least six months in advance and the hotels are ridiculously expensive.

The sun was falling just as fast our spirits.

We found our selves in the Sierra National Forest…a few miles before Yosemite’s entrance. There were a few empty camp spots that were submerged under water, mud and muck. Louis off-roaded well, and we contemplated if we should risk getting caught. The fines are normally $500 and neither of us had that kind of money left at this juncture in the trip.

We decided to turn around and head to Palo Alto to sleep at Nick’s childhood friend’s place at Stanford University.

I was disappointed. Yosemite had been calling my name for a while. But at that moment I realized maybe the yearning was to spark Derek to have his own adventure. When I go to Yosemite, I want to spend at least a week there. I can’t just pass through.

We stopped at a gas station and ended up getting my favorite beef jerky on the journey so far. It was $15, but DELICIOUS. It was made from local cows and was somewhat organic. I’m a fan of softer jerky. This had the texture and thickness of fruit roll-ups. Perfect.

So I drove on for hours under a full moon, which lulled a harmonious vibe through me.

I called my former Rok Haus co-worker Kristin, who had biked the Pacific coast last summer. We talked about all of the outdoor things we will do when I return. It was quite motivating.

We made it to Stanford around 1a.m. Although the campus was dark, it was still gorgeous.

Andrew lived in a co-ed house (they don’t really call them dorms there). He was a kitchen manager and had a private room. We double-checked before we got there to make sure it was cool if a female could sleep over. That was no problem whatsoever.

The scene reminded me of the old Pauly Shore movie, Son-In-Law, where there are both guys and girls walking throughout the halls in towels. Except, these intellectual students were studying for finals, instead of partying their tails off.

We didn’t want to keep Andrew up long, since he had so much studying to do, so we crashed and planned to leave early.

We woke the next morning for breakfast in the downstairs kitchen. On Sundays, there is a gourmet chef who prepares brunch. This was unlike any school cafeteria I visited. The food was exquisite and fresh. The homemade waffles even had a Stanford label grilled into it.

Stanford is a pretty progressive campus and used many green products, such as Tater ware–utensils made from potatoes. I discovered at some point in Portland later on that Whole Foods uses these as well.

Andrew gave us a tour before we left. The first thing I smelt were Eucalyptus trees in the dorm parking lot. I would assume these kids need all of the natural relaxing herbs they can get due to the high-pressure nature of the institution.

I was really taken aback by the structures, monuments and sheer epic feeling of the whole environment. There is a church on campus that was dedicated to the Stanford’s son who had passed away. For a moment I felt I was in Rome. That feeling was intensified too when you saw the statues in front of the university art museum.

As we made our way back to the parking lot, we saw a sidewalk that was chalked with silly faces and flowers. I guess some students were releasing their finals-frustration. We decided Stanford needed to know that some Cajuns were there, so we chalked UL Lafayette with a fleur-de-lis. It was classy.

We wished Andrew well on his finals and thanked him for the hospitality. We set our eyes on driving to the Redwoods and hit the highway.

California here we come…

The drive from Vegas to L.A. is quite miserable. The Mojave desert is not very enticing. The best part about the drive was the pit stop in Baker at Mad Greek, a terrific little authentic restaurant.

I got a gyro salad that could have fed the cast of my Big Fat Greek Wedding. In fact, the whole place had the appeal of Dancing Zorbas, equipped with statues. It almost felt like I was in a dream mirage. The tastiness felt real to me though.

We arrived in Rancho Cucamungo, a suburb south of L.A., mid-afternoon. Nick’s aunt Linda and uncle Steve agreed to take us in for a few days. We chatted a bit about Vegas and the drive and before I knew it, I passed out in a chair for almost two hours.

I couldn’t believe how tired I was. Aunt Linda explained to me that she is the same way after Vegas. You don’t realize how much it zaps you…and then the dismal drive doesn’t help either.

Aunt Linda and I talked a lot that night. She and her husband have traveled all over the western part of the U.S. So far, the one city I wish we would have stopped to see was Sedona, AZ. If you would hear how she explained it, you would know why. It seems more magical than Santa Fe.

We ate dinner–a homemade Greek schmorgizborg–then watched Catch and Release. It was a perfect follow-up after Vegas. Relaxing.

The journey continues to Nevada

We started our venture towards Nevada with breakfast at Brandy’s. Evidently Guy from the road house diner show on Food Network did a story on it in Flagstaff. I had the most delicious vegetable omelet…I mean chunks of fresh broccoli, mushrooms and tomatoes. I couldn’t resist the oats pancake that had this savory apple cinnamon mush on top of it. An English muffin was included, but damn I had no room left in my tummy.

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I’m glad we filled up though because there was nothing but rolling desert hills after Flagstaff. The wind is horrible for your car too. There is nothing to block it and it becomes somewhat of a challenge to stay straight at times. Louis has these sun visors on the windows and the shaking becomes an annoyance quite often;  almost as aggravating as Tammy’s voice…but not quite.

We noticed the front bumper of Louis had come off on the passenger side when we had arrived in Flagstaff. At first, I thought someone had hit me in a parking lot. But we soon realized it was from the viscous wind (turns out my theory that Louis could fly was wrong).

We stopped at this rinky-dink gas station/restaurant about an hour from the Hoover Dam to grab some water (because it got HOT in the desert) and check on Louis’ bumper. I remembered I had some duct tape in my glove compartment from my second mother, Tammye (not our Tom Tom).

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For graduation she gave me this bag full of important items with a note explaining their meaning. It included duct tape and two packs of gum, well because MacGeyver used it. I’m glad we had it, because it has held my bumper together for three states.

An interesting note about the little shop where we rigged my Element. There was a license for prostitution dated in the early 1900’s next to the bathroom. Next to it was a picture of this woman bathing in an old barrel. I haven’t really formed an opinion of this observation, but I found it intriguing. Is it good that the whores bathed? Is that what you paid for? Who knows. I didn’t have the heart to ask either.

So onward. We drove for hours in the desert… some more. There was construction outside of the Dam and it took much longer than anticipated to see Hoover. It was worth the wait though. This human construction is amazing. Lake Mead is crystal clear too. It’s the best indication of the natural scene one can expect the further West you drive.

There is also a massive bridge that is going up too. It has architectural wonder…not like the bridges on I-10 that I’m used too. Imagine being able to say you saw the construction of the Golden Gate. It’s that kind of epic. (I would have pictures, but once again, technological woes plague me).

So we crossed the Dam and the state border into Nevada. Vegas was only a blink away.

While I was over this human construct, Derek, a fellow journalist/colleague of mine called. He was on his way to Yosemite. A whimsical, transcendental journey he decided to take a few months ago in order to get out of his shell and test his manhood.

We actually discussed the trip one night at Shaker’s, downtown Lafayette, when I played an acoustic gig. During my break, we kicked back a few and talked life and dreams. He’s an editor for a local weekly newspaper in St. Martinville. We took quite a few classes in college together, including Feature Writing with Buckman, one of the most militant journalism professors known to man (this class was also one that motivated me to quit my job and go back to school full-time and one of the pieces written that semester landed me my initial job as a staff writer for The Vermilion).

The other was Ethics and Sustainable Practice in Environmental Science (or something like that) with Griff, one of the most laid-back, make you reevaluate your current life situation and start a revolution, professors. Somewhere in the middle of these classes, we also took a trip to D.C. for a Society of Professional Journalists national conference where we witnessed Woodward and Bernstein (guys who broke Watergate scandal) and Ken Paulson (editor of USA Today) relate some of the most important professional words of wisdom and motivating philosophies to bring TRUE journalism back to the original roots. Like Paulson said, bring reporters back to Superman and Clark Kent; respectable souls who just want to give the public the TRUTH.

Enough of my backstory/rant. Derek and I had pertinent professional history and both of us are contemplating our future. It was no coincidence to me that he would try to make it to Vegas the next night for us to hang out and discuss our current situations.

Nick and I made it to Vegas around 4p.m. to our destination–The Excalibur. It was a castle on the Strip. I have to say, it was the most appropriate place for me to stay. The movement of Vegas, however, was not what I was in the mood for that first night.

As soon as we walked through the doors with our luggage, staff members in suits were asking us if we had checked in, if we were a couple, and if we got our free gifts. Between the third degree, the lights and constant bells/casino sounds, I felt like I was tripping on mushrooms and had turned into Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas…except without any of the perks.

My mind was swirling and we had to wait in line to check in. I didn’t think it would be very busy on a Tuesday, but this is another one of those cities that does not sleep or rest. There was some confusion between Expedia and the hotel because we arrived a day later than our original reservation. I had to wait on the line for 20 minutes trying to get Expedia to fax the hotel a copy of our itinerary.

Tip: try to stay on track to avoid these types of hassles. And if you can print out your confirmations, do so. Evidently emails on your iPhone aren’t as valid.

Oh yeah, we got haggled by a clerk named Catrina who talked us into giving her $40 cash, which was refundable, once we went on a tour of one of their new properties. In exchange for free breakfast and two hours of our time, we would get free Criss Angel Cirque du Soleil tickets.

Another tip: When you are from Louisiana and a woman named Katrina tries to sale you something, run away fast…there’s a storm brewing.

We changed, ate salads at the MGM casino and then drive to a ritzy retirement home to visit Nick’s 94-year-old great uncle Edgar, a Costa Rican native and a complete Casanova.

We sat and talked for two hours. Nick had only met him once before when he was real young, so Edgar told him a lot of tall tales about their family history. It was kind of like Big Fish. His stories were captivating and his presence, mesmerizing. And I think everything was very true.

He told us of his deceased wife, who he still sighs at the thought of, and his current female companions, who he smiles of. The best line of the century was when he was comparing a current comrade with his wife, who he says the resemblance is uncanny.

“I told her, ‘I wish I would have counted the freckles on my wife’s body. Because if I counted yours, they would be the same!”

He invited us to dinner the next night at the Gold Coast, the casino he still goes dancing every Wednesday. We bid farewell for the night and then decided drinks were necessary.

We found tickets for a free drink at the hotel bar and figured thrifty was the way to go. I had won $15 on our first dollar (which turned out to be the only money I spent on gambling). I used it to get a double bourbon and water. The bartender, who evidently doesn’t get tipped when given coupons (I appreciate my former life as a server and practice good tipping karma). He ended up hooking us up with Jack Daniels instead of well. The drink was stout too. It looked like Coca Cola without the fizz.

We sipped as we walked the Strip. The lights and architecture are a beauty, but when you look around at the people, it loses its valor. The drink was “mamazing” and I was giggly by the time we hit the Bellagio. We waited for the fountain show, but it was already 12:30 and it turns out they stop the display at midnight. I guess it saves cost or energy.

I had an idea at one point that if Vegas could use the energy of people pulling the handles into electricity, they could save a lot of money.

Anyways, Nick’s favorite part of us walking back to the hotel after me drinking a strong adult beverage, was when we passed a man pushing a baby stroller with a toddler, who was completely passed out (like drunk/exhausted passed out—but the kid wasn’t really drunk…at least I hope not). I accidentally yelled “Oh My GOD!”, then realized I said that out loud and clasped my hand over my mouth and followed with a statement behind giggles, “I mean, I’m not judging”.

But I mean come on people. I was already shocked as to how many families and children were on the strip or in casinos in general. If you are going to spend money on a family vacation, shouldn’t you take those kids somewhere more beneficial? To each his own I guess. And I guess I am judging. But there are provocative pictures of both men and women everywhere. It’s not exactly a wholesome environment fit for children. People are constantly passing around cards for personal strippers–even to parents with strollers. This ain’t Disneyland and they shouldn’t see the Australian Thunder from Down Under.

We made it back to the room and I brushed my teeth in judgment, talked to Jesus and Buddha and passed out. I needed a good rest after this exposure. Maybe I’d get off my white horse and join the party the next night.  Or just lighten up.

Arizona

The scene and winds changed as we crossed the Arizona border. I couldn’t get over how much the color of the rocks and mountains shifted from red to tan through a single imaginary line.

It reminded me of a Bioregionalism class I took a few years ago. Part of the idea was to separate lands by using natural, obvious barriers. After two weeks on the road, it seemed like the Western states use this idea.

We drove to Flagstaff to stay with a friend Marcus and his fiance Eva. I hadn’t seen them in years, but they graciously opened their doors on a last minute whim.

Actually, the first major road trip I took alone was five years ago. I bought a Mazda 626 and drove to Orlando to see two friends, one of which worked at Disney. Both Marcus and Eva were doing the internship program as well, which is where they met and fell in love.

It’s kind of funny how you can forget just how much history you and an old friend possess until you sit and have a few beers and then a former life just pops into existence.

This is what happened at the Flagstaff Brew Pub.

I was falling in amore with Flagstaff after one wheat brew. The locals seemed so laid back. There were dogs lying around outside. Plus, the shops of downtown were adorable. I liked the style of clothing and the vintage charm of the city.

Marcus and Eva have lived here for almost four years and loved the outdoor activities the scenery has to offer. There is skiing or snowboarding in the winter, plenty of disc-golf and bike trails, and enough running space to keep it interesting. I swear it seemed like there were more outdoor shops than boutiques…which is my kind of city.

There’s a university there as well–Northern Arizona University, home of the Lumberjacks. We thought it was pretty odd that was the chosen mascot because both of us had associated Arizona with desert, but we found out during our drive to the Grand Canyon the next day the answer to that question.

Marcus had pointed out during dinner that I had given him a tour of UL when he was a senior in high school. Considering he graduated in 2002, do the math. This year we both finally graduate with bachelor’s degrees and more life experience than many of the denizens at home.

Seeing his life made me realize why I am on this adventure of a road trip. Leaving everything you know in order to see what you are really made of is quite a quest for self realization.

We finished up at the Brew Pub and then walked through an alley to an old hotel that is now two different bars. According to our tour guides, most of the downtown hotels have turned into pubs after the boom of newer sleep destinations. This was fascinating to me. Nothing says kicking back like hanging out in the atmosphere of the Shining: carpeted floors, antique tables and bars that look like ghosts would be tending your spirits.

After a bourbon and water we went back to their house to retire for the evening. Nick and I planned on touring the Grand Canyon the next day and we wanted to prepare for the scenery. Plus, we thought we were going to have to pack up to leave for Vegas.

However, as I was going to learn the rest of the trip, sometimes things don’t work out like we anticipate.