wine by the color

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sticking to my plan to visit all 50 states, I crossed two more off the list this week:

#40 - Iowa

Here's what I can say about Iowa:

1. I wrote my weekly column for the local paper late Tuesday night. But I couldn't send it at that time because I was awaiting confirmation on something, so I needed to find somewhere to send it while driving across America's Heartland. I was hoping to find a Starbucks. Let me assure you, Starbucks are hard to come by in Iowa.

So I was cruising across I-80 toward Des Moines when what to my wandering eye should appear, but a sign reading "Wireless Internet - Next Rest Area." After cutting across two lanes of the fortunately empty highway to the exit ramp, I parked the car and Sweet Georgia Brown, there was free wireless access. So I sat in my car and filed my story.

2. In most of the places I travel, the gas stations are called Shell, Sunoco, Exxon and the like. In Iowa? Kum and Go.

Do with that what you will. (They are hiring, though.)

And here's a picture of the capital building in Des Moines:

I wish I'd had time to make a stop in Dyersville, which I imagine is the highlight of the state, but my schedule just didn't allow it. I could say I would stop there next time, but it would be dishonest for me to indicate I'll be visiting Iowa again anytime soon. Nothing personal.

Moving on...

#41 - Nebraska

Pop quiz ... if I asked you to name the location of the nicest hotel I've stayed in all year, which would you choose?

a) New York, N.Y.
b) San Francisco, Calif.
c) Palm Springs, Calif.
d) Pinehurst, N.C.
d) Lincoln, Neb.

Yep. I have no explanation for it, but I am giving The Cornhusker in downtown Lincoln four stars across the board.

First, look at the size of this room. It's about half the size of my condo. Not to mention much better decorated:

It figures that I was only staying there for one night. Everything else about the hotel was great as well - the food, the staff, and, most notably for me, the unbelievably comfortable bed. The previous night, I slept a grand total of 75 minutes. At the Cornhusker, I made up for it with nine hours of sound slumber.

While in Lincoln, I made the rounds at the football stadium, which was impressive. Well, the outside of it was:

That's the best view you're going to get. That place is locked up like a prison (more on that in a moment).

They have these signs at the entrances around the stadium. I appreciate the enthusiasm of the sentiment, but disagree with its accuracy. Let's just agree to disagree on this, Husker fans:

As I drove out of Lincoln, I passed the Nebraska State Penitentary, which is more or less around the corner from the university. There's a McDonald's across the street. Had I known how hard eateries would be to come by for the next four hours, I'd have stopped there. I didn't, and that was a mistake.

Shortly after I left Lincoln, I drove through the charming town of Beatrice, where a garbage-truck driver honked at me as I drove by, then drove over a curb while gawking in my direction.

Hey, it's nice to be noticed.

From there, it was time to drive almost 300 miles to my next destination, in Kansas. This is what the view looked like for most of those 3oo miles:

I would have stopped on the side of the room to take pictures like this more often. But there is no side of the road in much of Nebraska and Kansas. There is simply no shoulder. There is the road, and there is the field on the side of the road. To take this picture, I simply stopped my car in the middle of the road. The speed limit is 65 to 70 MPH, and there is no shoulder. Call me crazy, but this seems unsafe. Particularly given the proliferation of tractors on the roadways.

That brings us to Kansas, where I am now. And here's all you need to know about Kansas:

This is not something they've done for Labor Day weekend. I've driven past this house repeatedly on three separate trips to this area during a five-month span, and this is the house's permanent decor.

Americana, baby.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My internal clock is all sorts of screwed up. Monday afternoon, I flew home after 10 days in California, so I'm still firmly on West coast time. Since my arrival in the Garden State, I have unpacked, had dinner with my sister-in-law and the crazies, gone through 10 days of mail, gone to the bank, paid the bills, ripped the 21 used CDs I bought at Amoeba while in SF onto my laptop and downloaded them onto my iPod, made a brief stop in the office, spent two hours at the hair salon, had dinner with my parents, watched the Mets piss away a game to the Phillies, watched TiVoed episodes of Rescue Me, Entourage and My Boys, written a column, done laundry and repacked.

Why the frenetic pace?

Because in four hours, a driver will be at my door to take me back to my home-away-from home, EWR. And thanks to my body's inability to recognize it is back in the Eastern time zone, I am wide awake.

Many times, people hear about my travel schedule and say, "I don't know how you do it."

For once, I might agree with them.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Finally (and I do mean, finally, as it's been exactly one month since I was there), my trip to Mount Rainier...

I have long been mesmerized by Mount Rainier. If you fly into Seattle on a clear day, you can see it for a good long time before landing. Driving almost anywhere in Seattle, but particularly south on I-5 toward Portland, which I have done at least five times, the mountain seems to follow you for the first 20 miles of the journey. As you wind along the highway, it teases the driver as it pops in and out of view. I'm amazed there aren't more accidents along that stretch of highway. I've always found it so breathtaking I can barely keep my eyes on the road.

Several times, I have stayed at a hotel in downtown Tacoma, which offers this stunning view of the mountain:

But I had never actually found time to visit during my 10 or so trips west. So, when my plans to visit Tege in Portland fell through last month, I decided to make the effort during one of the two extra days I had in the Evergreen State.

My plans to visit Sunday hit a speed bump due to some late-night carousing Saturday night. A mid-level hangover, coupled with my resultant reasoning that it would "probably be crowded because it was a weekend," and a completely overcast day eliminated any possibility I'd be going that day.

So I bagged it until Monday, when I awoke early and checked out of the hotel before hitting the highway for Mount Rainier. As I approached the mountain, I stopped to enjoy this incredible view:

As I drove over from Tacoma, I knew it wasn't the clearest day and that the view might not be the greatest, so I wasn't entirely surprised to find the view essentially non-existent. It looked pretty much like this:

That was slightly disappointing, but I was determined not to let it ruin my trip. I leisurely made my way up the mountain's access road, stopping a few times to check out the wonders of nature the park offered, including these waterfalls:

I also wandered down a trail onto what I assume is usually a raging river, but at this point was just a robust creek. There was a small, rickety footbridge crossing the water, which offered the opportunity to take this shot:

After meandering for a few hours, I stopped for lunch at the visitors' center. I decided I didn't have enough time to wander much further up the mountain road, so I decided to rest and enjoy some other vistas of the area.

Then I popped myself up on a stone wall and opened a book, and turned on the iPod. I listened to a few songs on the shuffle dial when one of my all-time faves, Springsteen's live version of "Land of Hopes and Dreams," randomly hit the dial.

All of a sudden, there was a stir in the crowd assembled in the visitors' center parking lot. And with good reason...

The clouds were starting to part, the sky was a bright blue, and finally, the beautiful mountain was coming into view.

So I sat there for a few minutes, listening to Bruce warble about saints and sinners, losers and winners, whores and gamblers and lost souls, while the mountain thrilled its guests with a brief view of its spectacular beauty.

And just like that, the clouds rolled back in and the peak disappeared. I left a short while later, back down the mountain toward the airport.

But as I drove away, Mount Rainier gave me one last thrill...

Cloudiness and all, Mount Rainier earns an outright A+. I will definitely be returning. Next time, I will bring a friend with whom I can explore more off-the-beaten-path areas, several more days, and good hiking shoes.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It's easy to forget the difference three little letters can make, until you go looking for possible tour dates for your favorite musical artist here and instead wind up here.

The good news is that option #4 on the list of possible future endeavors from a month ago is looking pretty good.

Monday, August 20, 2007

My working environment for the week has a dearth of women’s restrooms so I used the handicapped facility earlier. It is, without doubt, the largest bathroom I have ever seen. While doing my business, I mused that “you could probably fit a bed in here.” And that reminds me of one of my favorite stories from college...

I only lived in the dorms during my freshman year. Our dorm was a complete circus – 24 floors filled with some 1,700 18-year-old kids away from home for the first time. (Not surprisingly, many of the friends I made in the dorm that year did not return for a second.)

For a good portion of the year, I dated a guy, Jamie, who lived two floors above me. One night, we were out carousing with friends, including his best friend from high school, who was visiting for the weekend. We carried on well into the night, but the hometown cat left the bar early to return to the dorm.

Upon returning to Jamie’s room late that night, we immediately realized something was awry. It wasn’t hard to notice – the enormous bunk bed was missing. Completely gone from the room.

It took a few minutes, but we finally found it … in the bathroom of their suite. His buddy had disassembled the bed, moved the pieces to the bathroom, reassembled it, and promptly passed out in it.

It was an incredible testament to what alcohol-fueled energy and creativity can produce.

And in an ensuing testament to laziness (and perhaps in recognition of good shtick), that bed stayed in the bathroom for quite a while.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A few random Sunday things...

If you're looking for an excellent (albeit lengthy) read, might I recommend this? It's the story of the man who won the U.S. Open golf championship earlier this year, as unlikely a winner of the country's biggest golf tournament as you will find.

I hadn't flown to San Francisco for a few years and had thus forgotten what it's like to open the window shade moments before landing, only to see nothing but water below the plane. Quite unsettling.

And finally, when flying across the country, if the person using the bathroom before you does something that requires four flushes, it's probably a good idea to walk away and tend to your bathroom needs at a later time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Among my casual goals for 2007 was to be generally nicer. Not necessarily to people I know - to them I'm plenty nice. More to the anonymous souls - people I do not and will never know.

So when I first saw the photo below, I had lots to say about it, but vowed to let it go.

Well, I cannot let it go. Every time I look at this, it sets me off. Hearty laughter. Sheer horror.

For I just don't think I've ever seen such a sight:

For those who don't know, this is an internet celebrity of sorts. I do not read his work, but am aware that many people do.


Admittedly, my concern for my personal appearance has waned as the years have passed. The "I could give a crap" phase is coming along quite nicely as I hurtle toward the end of my 30s. In fact, yesterday I traveled home on two planes from halfway across the country without showering. Hey, you have to be on an airplane at 5:50 a.m. Something's gotta give, and a time-wasting trip to the water closet was the first thing to go.

And sometimes, when I know I'm not doing much of anything, particularly anything that requires leaving the house, I wear some shady outfits. I'm currently wearing shorts that resemble the ones this gent is sporting, along with a t-shirt I got my freshman year of college, which looks every bit of almost 20 years old.

But I am not going anywhere except to bed. I am not walking the streets with my rolling attache (which, as an aside, makes me wonder if he's on his way to a business meeting. I would pay cold, hard cash to be sitting in that room when this walked in). I am also not a pseudo-celebrity who has made a name for himself ripping the appearance of others.

Truly, I am trying to be nicer. But if people are going to throw this sort of thing out there, I mean, really. A person can only take so much. I have limits, dammit.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Should you find yourself in America's Heartland any time soon, with the temperature hovering in the 102-degree neighborhood at 7 p.m., might I recommend you visit the local branch of a high-brow ethnic restaurant?

For while there, as you take in a little SportsCenter while enjoying your orange peel chicken at the bar, you may also be entertained by the bartender, a genuinely nice lass who, after discussing her new tattoo, a sizable, accurate replica of an 80s-soap-star-turned-90s-sitcom-star, at some point offhandedly mentions that she participates in the local roller derby.

And really, that's all you need to forget about sweltering heat that absolutely sucks the life out of you, seemingly 24 hours a day.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

In the melodic words of John Sebastian, welcome back.

It's hard to describe the thrill I get when my messenger alerts me that: "You have received e-mail from Brett Favre." I just knew joining that fan club would pay off.

The NFL season opens in a month. I'm already fired up.

I returned home Monday to three weeks of mail, including the results of my annual physical, which delivered the unexpected news that my LDL cholesterol level (the crappy one) had dropped almost 25 points in a year. Apparently, cutting back on the 3 a.m. cheese dogs and fries after drinking marathons does have some positive health effects. Who knew.

However, it is a good thing I had the blood work done prior to our four-day getaway, because that was a glorious festival of culinary boardwalk crap – pizza, fries, waffles and ice cream, and perhaps the best pork-roll-and-cheese I've ever eaten.

The trip also featured a stop at McDonald's on the way home. I had not visited a McDonald's since I made the decision earlier this year to eat healthier (outside of one extremely hungover morning when nothing but the collegiate breakfast of champions – sausage biscuit, hash brown and a high-test Coke – would do).

So imagine my surprise to see this new sign as I wound my way around my long-lost friend's drive-thru:

Do I really care if I have a face-to-face experience with someone at McDonald's? I think I do not. I just want my golden goodness. I don't care if it's delivered by a robot.

But it's interesting that the muckety mucks at the Golden Arches saw this as a viable business plan. I'd love to have been in that meeting. “No, seriously, I think people would be happy to know they will definitely interact with the surly teenagers we have working at drive-thrus. That’s can’t-miss."

For the three people who care enough to have asked me about it, I am working on the Mount Rainier round-up. This week was a blur of work, social gatherings and planning a trip to Ireland. Bear with me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

So, I guess everybody heard the big news from the baseball world last night?

That's right. Crazy Nephew #1 played under the bright lights of the town's little league field. First night game ever, which included each player's name being announced over the loudspeaker. He played admirably, going 3-for-3 with three runs scored. He also actually caught a ball at one point (it may have been during warm-ups, but when you're six years old, a catch is a catch).

There were no suspicions of performance-enhancing drugs, although several Blow-Pops were enjoyed during the game.

And, just when the assembled crowd started to wonder if the game would ever end, the lights went out, plunging the area into complete darkness. Game over.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Don't you just love summer?

Well, except for the moment you arrive to a house that has been sans air conditioning for the entirety of your three weeks on the road, during the height of the 2007 NJ Humidity Festival.

Sweetie Pie Princess celebrated her first birthday this weekend. She didn't enjoy herself one bit...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The story of my trip to Mount Rainier, along with the photos, is not something I can rush through so it's going to have to wait until Monday. I'm leaving for four computer-free vacation days momentarily and I just haven't had time to get to it. I've been extremely busy since my return to the homeland with golf, bicycling, cocktails, sitting on my arse and hanging with these two...

But here's a little unrelated tale to hold you over until Monday...

I was in Target last night getting a few vacation-related items when I saw a cute shirt in the clothing department. I went to try it on, and that's when the magic happened.

While in the dressing room, I overhead two women chatting - the woman who hands out the numbers and a customer. I don't believe they knew each other prior to this conversation, but they sure did hit it off. They were discussing their respective children, and the one mentioned that her oldest, who is 25, just had her second child. The other said her oldest is 22 and "if she comes home pregnant anytime soon I'll break her fucking legs."

The first woman then mentioned she has three children. The oldest, grandchild-bearing daughter had a non-noteworthy name. The youngest is named after Megan Kanka, and the explanation for that was: "Well, they were saying her name on the news all the time and I just thought, that's a really nice name."

But it's the middle child's name that set me off...

Woman 1: "And the middle one is named Alyssa."
Woman 2: "Oh, that's pretty. Where did you come up with that?"
Woman 1: "Well, you know, Who's the Boss was really popular when she was born."
Jersey Girl in dressing room: Snorting laughter

Have a nice weekend.