Wednesday, October 26, 2005


After the gun store, it was onward to lovely Columbus, Ohio. Definitely more mellow. I've been there a few times over the years, and it's very sweet there. Very community-ey. I know that's not a word, but it should be. There are sweet little art events every time I go. This time it was sidewalk art.

half a frog

Different local groups and companies were allotted squares and chalk and they went to work. Here's one almost done:
fleur de sidewalk chalk

Here's a kooky theme one by a bar:
Martini Dress

Parked nearby were these cool art cars:
Art Car


See? Community-ey. And very sweet.

Does it seem like I am trying to butter you up on how arty and cultured Columbus is so I can cushion the blow of something less so? Because I totally am. Try to think of all of your stereotypes about Ohio. I am going to blow them out of the water.

Or not.
I wonder why
Yes, that's really a Wonderbread Factory. You can smell the sweet scent from a few blocks away.

Who remembers this gem?
Chateau Blanc
If you know what a White Castle is, you're already grinning. Sacks of tiny square burgers with grilled onions on top. That's about all you need to know. I was sorry to see that they'd been taken in by the newfangled fast food combo-trend, but then again I was just reading in some book how the big castles in Europe back in the day used to have their own built-in church. So this corporate merger was actually kind of inevitable.

Here's a classic:
The Royalty of Milk Products

I've always liked Dairy Queens, because they remind me of the midwest. More precisely, they remind me of the imagined midwest I created in my head as a california child listening to my father's stories. It was a fuzzy dull colored place, like the photos from the 70's he'd brought with him when he came out west. The midwest of my imagination was always sunny with golden wheat fields and beige bellbottoms and then sudden insane blizzards and twelve foot snowdrifts out of nowhere that usually cropped up when I was complaining about my long (but sunny) walk to school. When I actually went to the midwest as a teenager, I was surprised there were still Dairy Queens present- it seemed like a quaint artifact.

Dairy Queens are cool, but the name doesn't make any sense at all. Who the heck is a Dairy Queen? And what in the world about that name makes you want to eat ice cream?

The Unionized Milk Growers
This is basically a 7-11 with gas. But it's called United Dairy Farmers. Clearly there was some kind of political shift from the Dairy Monarchy to a Dairy Farmer's Union. The secret lives of milk cartons are not for us to question or understand.

The mart of milk
Ack! Will it ever end? What is it with these people! How much milk could they possibly be drinking?!?

Dari What??
You can't fool me! Spell it wrong all you want, I still know what you're trying to say! You all HATE vegans! I get it!

Moving right along.

Ohioans clearly love dairy, they also LOOOOVE their Ohio State football team, the Buckeyes. They love a team of sweaty college students who are on a team named after... a nut. A nut that grows on a local tree and just so happens to be poisonous. Go Buckeyes!

Folks all over town have these flags depicting said poisonous nut:
Ohio State
And also the the T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs... everything. On game day, the campus area is FULL of red t-shirts. It's hard to picture a town so gung ho about other poisonous things, you never hear thousands chanting, "GO ARSENIC!" but these Ohioans make the best of every situation. They've transformed their deadly mascot into a nutty treat:
That's the version done by one of the town's gourmet chocolatiers, with organic ingredients and everything. Looks fancy, right? It's basically a homemade peanut butter cup, but a little bit rounder. They are delicious. (Note the unnecessary butter in the ingredient list, looks like the Dairy mafia got to them, too.)

More chocolate! Columbus is a jewel of the midwest, with amazing cultural delights.

Or, Fine "Dinning" if you prefer:

Let's see, that takes care of food and sports, what else... oh right! You may have heard that Ohio has some percentage of churches that have a conservative bent. But see here, they are actually totally open:
We love you right back, weirdo church people
Seriously, I have no idea what that church is thinking. Is this supposed to be marketing? If I wanted to join their church and I walked in the first day and they were all REALLY nice would I suddenly feel self conscious? That particular sign was across the street from where we stayed, so each morning I'd have a wave of wanting to go up and walk in with like caked dirt in my hair and cuss words flying out of my mouth and tell them that I loved them too, and I'd be staying for dinner. Somehow I never quite got to it.

Speaking of kooky churches:
Church of the longest name ever
I felt I had to display this sign here in Iomi's Computer Written Chok Full of Bad Jokes Blog of Fire and Mirth of California, Hawaii, and Some Other Places.

That name too esoteric? Here's your straightforward:
The only two things you need in life
Smoke n' Page! Brilliant! I had always hoped someone besides street vendors would corner that market on items that are in that grey zone between "solidly out of style" and "quite a few years left until it's retro." Smoking and Pagers. I love it. Do they have those spray painted denim "dress-up" overalls in there with a bedazzled picture of a sunset and Debbie Gibson's face on the back? They even accept checks. They are so cornering that market.

If any of the things I've shown you are driving you to drink:
Drive thru liquor store
A drive through liquor store. You drive up to a vinyl-sided warehouse looking thing, and then drive right in and that's what you see. Workers run up to your window and ask what you want and then hand it through your window as you palm them the cash. Maybe it's the Oakland girl in me, but it really felt like we were driving up to buy stolen VCRs or something instead of a sixer of Tecate. But look there, they have chips and candy, so you know it's legit.

All in all, we had a great time in Ohio. One last thing: my friend told me about this pate she'd eaten at a party. She said it was delicious and I know you don't know her, but trust me, she has good taste. I was interested in the story because she was obviously going to share the recipe with me. She giggled and explained that she had been impressed that this other partygoer was responding to compliments by explaining that she'd made the "Chateau Blanc" pate at home... fancy. Then, in secret, she revealed this regional recipe with my friend, which I will now share with you lucky readers:


1 bag White Castle burgers, wrappers and bag removed, pickles, onions, and buns included
1/2 bottle affordable white wine

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, blend until smooth. Shape on a serving platter and serve with crackers.

Serves: everyone who doesn't know the recipe.

Viva Ohio!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Road Trip III: Hunterrific!

Let me tell you, Pennsylvania is a loooong state. We (much to my chagrin) didn't have time to visit the Hershey Chocolate factory this time, but we passed the Nestle Factory. Those Pennsylvanians sure must live the good life with all those chocolate factories everywhere.

Then I saw this:
It's for an Army surplus store, but they talk about something I'd never heard of- a gun library. Is this a real thing?

We stopped in the middle of nowhere to get our chariot worked on (the truck needed an oil change) and had just enough time to visit this:
Huntin' mart
A huge "outdoor supply" store called Cabela's. Those of you who know what this is maybe chuckling already, but for those who don't, I'll give you a little tour.

First things first, a close up on the enormous statue in front of the enormous store:
He does the work, lazy whitey up front gets the glory
As you can see here, outdoorsy types of yore worked in harmony and split the work evenly. The Native Americans did the rowing, and the white guy has to sit up front and point the way with a huge gun. That's exhausting work. Notice how the white fellow here is paying close attention to how the Native American man is rowing, clearly he is keen on learning. And the Native American man is obviously happy to help.

The statue begins to give you an idea of what may be going on inside, but I still didn't know what to expect. It looks way bigger than even the extra huge behemoth super Wal-Mart stores that dot the country, and yet I'd never heard of this place. I rushed inside for a closer look.

Huntin' Heaven
It. Goes. On. Forever. In this photo if you squint your eyes and peer toward the upper right corner above that white part, you can see small lights dotting the ceiling. That mezzanine area up there alone is the size of a grocery store. The whole thing: 250,000 square feet. About dead center you can see some kind of huge fake mountain thing with animals on it.

It only takes a moment inside the doorway to realize that "outdoor" means hunting. And lots of it.

Rack after rack of camo, for summer:
Blendin' in

Fall line

And winter:
Hunting fashion
Just like all the other high fashion department stores.

And there's something for the whole family!
Daddy, I wanna hold the shotgun!
Why yes, that's a camo jumpsuit for a tiny little girl. Complete with tiny ribbons and bits of lace for the pocket. Awww... how cute. And the brand name: Daddy's Little Deer. Isn't that sweet.

So there are probably times when the woods are full of families in full camo, blending so well that they might be mistaken for a leaf, and armed with these:
Camo Gun!

If you find that thought at all scary, you may want to bring a set of these along for when you need a pit stop:

There are all kinds of weird equipment in the store, including laundry detergent to get the persony smell off of your person:

Also available in mouth spray, deodorant, and general all-over spray:
Everyone needs this sometimes
I have to say, I think these people are missing a large market here. That breath spray is probably a good thing to keep in the glove box for interviews and dates and stuff.

But Cabela's isn't just out to make a buck. The company claims that this is "an educational and entertainment attractions (sic), featuring a décor of museum-quality animal displays, huge aquariums and trophy animals interacting in realistic re-creations of their natural habitats."

Lemme show you some of that décor:
Whoops, looks like I got my date's forehead in the shot. He looks kind of worried, doesn't he? I know I was. But I guess it's pretty cool that I kept with the theme of decorative heads by getting his head in the shot.

More lovely décor:
Talking Deer Heads
This one has to be my favorite. This is the way back of the store, upstairs on the mezzanine level. It's the entrance to the Shooting Gallery, where you can pretend shoot things in the comfort of the store. Anytime someone walks by, motion sensors trigger this charming display: the mounted deer heads on either side of the sign come to animatronic life and talk in wacky voices about how scared they are of the big bad hunters who are going to come into the gallery and shoot them. Charming.

And how about those trophy animals interacting in the realistic recreations of their natural habitats?
It's just so real! Just like the handrails in the Serengeti!

I don't know how many of you have had the chance to see big game in Africa, but I know at least one of my readers was with me, and... hey Jamie, remember when we were in that wildlife reserve in Tanzania and we saw the zebras? Those are the exact same handrails and floodlights and painted background, am I right? And remember how all the animals clumped together like that? Yeah! It brings it all rushing right back.

Rawr! Realistic nature scene!
What happened? Am I outside? It's just so real!

Polar lair
Scary! But what's that little plaque there?

Moment of glory
Each animal has it's own little sign telling you what it is, who shot it, when they shot it, and where they shot it. All of the pertinent info. That must be the "educational" part.

Trust me, this is only a very small portion of the educational and decorative content available in the store.I kept wandering around, stunned. Then I saw it:
Do they use the dewey decimal system?
A GUN LIBRARY! Just like the kind you can make at home with all your savings from the Army surplus store.
What happens in there? Obviously something more manly than what happens at my local library, you can tell by the big tusks. Do you think they have story hour in there?

Whatever goes on, I am sure that safety is their number one concern.
Soothing Name

So, big tough hunters are big and tough. This is what I have learned. But you know, people are more complex than that.
Tuff hunters with warm tuffets
Their bum-bums get cold, just like us.

So you know, you really shouldn't assume that they're all gruff and uncultured. They like to have marinated meat out in the field:
Flavoristas unite!
After skinning elk and tanning hide for days on end, it really helps to save a few minutes on the marination step. I get that. But "flavoristas"??? I think a line has been crossed here. It's hard to picture.

*****Opening day of hunting season******
Wife: "Where you goin', Earl?"
Earl: "Jest out. Be back in a few days."
Wife: "You goin' huntin' again?"
Earl: "Me an' the other flavoristas been waiting all year for this! Leave me be! Can't a flavorista marinate in the woods in peace anymore?"
Wife: "Fine!"

Other hunterly ways to save time on hunterly food:
Hi Maria!
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but aren't s'mores kind of famous for being easy to make?

If all of that rigamarole is too complicated, Cabelas again has you covered:
It doesn't get much more straightforward than that. Except that it's a candy bar, not a dried chunk of caribou.

I guess I'd seen enough of Cabela's. On the way out I spotted these plaques:
There should be a plaque for most boring plaque
Why, it's Ye Olde Wall of Extremely Obscure Plaques! They must be proud. They are so unlimited.

Outside, there was a great little spot for the kiddies:
Scary animal treats
I can see that they're trying to get an early start on getting kids interested in the "outdoors" but not one of those flavors sounds delicious. Nor do they make any sense.

It was a very interesting and educational stop. Plus we got to take home these classy his-n-hers beer cozies as souvenirs, so we can remember our trip to Cabela's forever:
Klassy stuff

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Road Trip II: Nor'east

Word to the wise: if you leave Atlanta around noon and plan to stop at a hotel somewhere around New Jersey, do not expect a lot of vacancy if your trip happens to coincide with Fashion Week, UN Week, and CMJ music festival. There will be no room at the Inn, and no one will offer you a manger. You will keep on driving until you get to Providence, which will happen around 6:30 in the morning. Luckily, Providence will have real actual proper coffee shops open at this hour, which will make it all worthwhile.

Providence is adorable, and has a very different attitude than Floribama. It's hard to put into words exactly, so I'll show you some photos.

In a bar, which raised their prices from $1.50 to $2 for a pint:
How it is

On a shirt someone at said bar was wearing:
Art slut

On a wall around town:
Liberty and Justice
Which is a very poignant sentiment despite the spelling error.

There's a giant bug on the side of the road as you enter the city:
Huge bug

Even the street signs are so... New Englandy:

Some things, however, like poor marketing decisions, don't seem limited to one region or another:

From Providence we moved on to Boston. If you've never been to Boston, here it is in a nutshell:

Dunkin' Donuts:


And Brick Dunkin' Donuts:
Brick Dunkies

That's the general aesthetic.

The pastime is most definitely baseball. The city's official shirt/hat/bumper sticker/keychain/baby blanket/conversation is: Red Sox. You watch the game for hours, then talk about it for hours, then play the baseball video game, then talk about it some more.

They start the indoctrination really young:
Teensy little game

This game was really cute. The player-to-coach ratio was like 2 to 1. While watching the game I chanced to overhear this most adorable conversation :
Loose toof
Player: (with finger in front of mouth) "mmphhpmmmmppffff"
Coach: "Hey buddy, I know it's tempting don't pull that out too quick. Wait till you get home, your mom can help you put it under your pillow and maybe get some money for it."

The park is called Boston Commons, which is lovely although I don't really know what it means. It was in the commons that I discovered that, contrary to popular belief, one does not have to rely solely on San Francisco's Golden Gate park to experience really bad music in an urban park environment:

There's also a lovely pond in the middle:
What's this?

But, lo! What is this watercraft that heads our way?
It's a swan boat!
Why, it's a swan boat, of course! Tourists have the opportunity to view 360 degrees of the three foot deep aquatic algae pond. They needn't feel limited to viewing it from shore.

How is such a magical vehicle powered, you ask?
The truth
Why, it's a two-legpower engine! Also known as the buff-legs Boston summer job, also known as Boston's answer to the rickshaw, except that it doesn't actually take you anywhere but in a slow, shallow circle.

How do the actual swans that live in the pond feel about the swan boats? They must be proud to be immortalized in such grandeur.
So embarassed
Nope. They hide their heads in shame each time the boat passes by. I can't say I blame them.

Boston also has great shopping, including this store made just for me:
Tall girl shop

And this:
Inflatable lock
Nothing like a GIANT inflatable padlock to make me feel like a storage unit is safe.

I was lucky enough to take ride around Boston Harbor (pronounced Bahstahn Hahbah) in a boat. It was wicked fun.
Boston Skyline

I don't get to go in boats that often but I learned a couple of things.
Boats have gas stations, too.
Boat Gas Station

And for anyone who feels weird about gas prices and SUVs, check this:
And a boat gets around two miles to the gallon. So you have to have... let's see... like 10-15 times as much fun per hour on a boat to make it worth it. Which we did.
We saw this boat which seems so Bostoney to me:
Old Glory
Just slap a brick Dunkin' Donuts and a Red Sox sticker on there and you're set.

From a boat, you get to go right under the flight path for Logan Airport and these huge jetliners fly right over your head. There are all of these cool tiny islands to zip around and check out, and it's really beautiful.

Our Bostonian boat tour guides explained that this island has brick barracks on it that have been designated as housing for homeless Bostonians:
There's a bridge that connects it to the city and apparently it has pretty tight security- only residents are allowed in.

There was another island that used to be a landfill/dump and then was converted into a park that people could visit by boat. They had planned to put an amusement park on it, but that didn't work out. It was recently shut down because it is burping up toxic sludge and slowly sinking into the water.

There was another one that was a smallpox quarantine island a loooong time ago. It was accessible to the public until recently, when it was discovered that the shoreline was eroding and- how should I say this?- seeping diseasiness. There are big signs up now saying that it's best not to dock there for a visit.

On a lighter note, but not really, there's this:
Beware, pirates!
Which is a big thingie off of which they would hang convicted pirates as a warning to other pirates. That's a pretty direct crime deterrent system as well as a precursor to the modern billboard, I'd say. You don't even have to translate into different languages. People just get it.

Maybe this is sounding like a creepy boat trip, but it wasn't, it was really nice. We got to see the sunset over the city:
Boston sunset

And then an orange moonrise as we walked from the dock to dinner:
Red Moon

Dinner was an awesome event, with crab legs and fried clam baskets and buckets of seafood-eating tools:
Fried food bucket

I put on the bib that came with the meal, you know, just to fit in with the locals. Of which, exactly zero were wearing their bibs.
Rockin' the bib
It was a good thing I did, too, because it was covered in crab bits by the time I was done.

The restaurant also gave us these space age tools for cracking open the crab legs:
Crab rock
Yes, that's a rock. Yes, you are supposed to bonk your way to dinner. Just like our forefathers' forefathers' forefathers did.

Walking around the super fancy part of the docks downtown, you can't help but see this:
The photo does it no justice, but it's stinkin huge, and really shiny and super duper fancy. It's the yacht that belongs to the owner of the Red Sox, and everybody knows it. It's no secret what's popular and makes lots of money around here. There wasn't a Dunkin' Donuts yacht, so maybe it's a franchise.

Bars in Boston are pretty cool. We found one that had my favorite beer from when I lived in Kenya:
Baada ya kazi

And I spotted this super tall guy and just had to tell him how rad his shirt/hat combo is:
Peace is patriotic
And- lo and behold!- he was part of Cindy Sheehan's traveling party. They were all on their way up to DC for the big rally. She was in the same bar, I guess I'd been so obsessed with my Tusker beer that I didn't see her walk right past me through the narrow bar. We got to meet her and say hello. If you don't believe me, here's a dark, blurry photo of the back of her head, which as anyone who has read a tabloid knows is irrefutable proof of anything:
Cindy Sheehan

As our Boston trip was coming to a close, we took a day trip out to Walden Pond, which was really cool.
Walden Pond
I think they're spoiled for bodies of water in the northeast, because in California we'd call something an eighth that size a lake, and a pond is something that forms in your driveway when it rains.

It's really lovely there, a wonderful place to go with your sweetheart.

There are rocks and leaves and and a nice path around the "pond." There are also these scary trees that look like they're eating the fence.
Nibble nibble:
Omnivorous tree


Here's a replica of Thoreau's cabin:
Thoreau's Cabin
It's 10'x15'. They put the replica there so that you can marvel at how simply he was living, but a private studio like that with a yard would be worth like $3,000 per month in New York. This Thoreau guy built it for just over 28 bucks.

There's a pretty rad sign next to the pile of rocks that marks where his actual cabin used to be:
Walden Pond sign

There was this sign pointing up the path:
Thoreau's what?
Which is clearly not in reference to his house, because all of the other signs call it a "cabin."

As we progressed along the path we figured it out. It had just been a misspelling of what was clearly Thoreau's Hat:
Thoreau's Hat

Leaving Walden Pond is kind of an adventure. We'd gotten a bit turned around on the way in and asked directions, but oddly enough the people at the gas station less than two miles away had no idea what we were talking about. Fine, we figured, even though there is not one single other world famous landmark public park in the area. On the way out, we asked for directions back to the highway back to Boston. The folks at the second gas station had absolutely no clue. They live half an hour from a major world-class metropolis and they had not one clue how to get to there. The gas station employee whipped out a map and it all started to make sense- the map was for like four square miles. It's an interesting way to think about spatial relations. Four miles. We obtained another, much larger map that included the fabled lost city called BOSTON and made our way back.

On our way out the following day, we hit up Dunkie's one last time:
Boston Kreme
Lookie! Boston is rewarded for their loyalty with their very own donut flavor. But "Kreme"? Mother nature must be cringing. What is this Kreme? Does it have any relationship whatsoever with cream? Or even any dairy in it? If it were spelled "creme" or "kream" would that signify a closer relationship with an actual food product? How far away does it have to be to be spelled "kreme"? I went ahead and didn't try it.

Next stop: New York City!
I've flown over and driven through New York a lot of times over the years, and every single time it strikes me how it just goes on... forever.

Driving through NY, we saw a few of these:
School bus
The sign says, "This vehicle has been checked for sleeping children."
No kids, no... really
Something bad must have happened, like children waking up at night alone in bus yards. But it really gives someone on a quick passing-through trip the sense that it's a scary scary place to be a kid.

We also saw this awesome BAM! sign, which about sums up how it feels to drive into New York after hours of small towns and fields:
BAM! You're in New York.

I always wonder how the graffiti artists in urban areas are so much more motivated and resourceful in big cities. How do they get up there? Why are people in Pensacola happy with scribbling on bathroom walls and New Yorkers perform acrobatic feats?
What do they do, go up on the roof and then paint the whole thing upside down? Someone should give these people a medal for bravery.

Speaking of bravery, here's a thing I only see in New York:
safety last!
What is this, safety last? That guy has no goggles and he's practically standing in traffic. At least he had an orange cone, unlike this brave fellow:
He's just dead center of the intersection, no cones, with huge saw.
Cars just speed on by like it's nothing.
Don't mind me, I'm just slicing up the street.
Slice, slice, slice. Just slicing up the street with a huge saw. No need to block either street off or even ask people to slow down.

We only stayed in the city long enough to have dinner and sleep, but it was great fun, and as always it made me wish I had lots of time and money to really appreciate it.

On our way out in the morning, we watched the skyline recede and the trees at the side of the road became thicker and greener. We hopped on the Jersey Turnpike, which must be the most expensive of the roads in this country:
Maybe the garden state uses all that money for... gardening or something.

On the road, it feels like a really quick transition from super urban to pretty rural. We started seeing things like this pretty quckly:
Leaving the city

Goodbye, New York. Next stop: The midwest!