GG: The US Tour – Preparations, a recap and Las Vegas!
OK, so this one’s gonna be long. I realized at one point that some of my plans just had to change, for the better I think. But I also realized that certain things needed to be included in these recaps that I had left out before….like food! So in this post, I am going to back up a bit (hence the recap) and cover some food stuff and then I’ll try and catch everyone up through the prep phase and on to Las Vegas, where I am now. :p Hopefully, this will be the last long post and the rest will be short and full of fun, but it’s hard to say. This one wouldn’t have ended up this long if I hadn’t had horrid internet issues at my last hotel, but I’m getting ahead of myself. On with it then.
Herein lies the story of how even the best laid plans of Dwarfs and Men can be subject to change.
I can’t believe I didn’t talk about the fabulous food I had in Berkeley. I’m such an idiot. Food is just as important to roadtrips as cars are. hehe. Eating at good restaurants can be just as much of a wonderful experience as any other on a roadtrip so I am going to back up and touch on the ones I left out first before moving on. To be fair, every time I go to visit my Aunt and Uncle, I always have great food. Not only do they make wonderful things at home, but they know great restaurants and love going to them.
First up, Picante. Oh good lord. The moment I walked into this place, I knew I was going to love it. I spent a summer in Mexico in college going to school and while there are lots of fun stories to tell, what I miss the most is the good food. I’m not talking TJ/border-town, Americanized Mexican food. I’m talking sitting in someone’s kitchen while they cook it for you and having them take you where locals eat good Mexican food. I lived with a host family while I was down there and the smell of the Madre’s kitchen while she was cooking is exactly what I smelled when I walked into Picante. One look at the menu and I knew I was in trouble. Everything looked so good and I was not disappointed when it hit our table. Seriously, if you like good Mexican food or just want to know what real Mexican food really is, hit this place up if you’re in the Bay Area. It’s worth it.
Second, the place I have to force myself not to go every single time I’m there, Zachary’s Pizza. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Again, you know you’re in for good food when you walk in and inhale. It doesn’t smell like most Pizza places. You don’t smell dough or watered-down tomato sauce. What you smell is a kitchen full of wonderful herbs and spices and fresh ingredients. It’s such a small place that it just permeates the air. It’s wonderful. Oh, and the pizza is great. lol. My personal favorite : the Stuffed Chicken Pizza. Greatness like this isn’t cheap though, so be prepared. It’s worth every cent though.
I’m gonna stop there as far as the Berkeley portion of my trip goes because I could go on and on about the food there. So moving on. I really didn’t eat anywhere that great again until after I had changed my plans, so I’ll just get on to that.
So we all already knew I had planned to drive cross-country, but my original plan was just a quick short trip from Berkeley -> San Diego -> Vegas -> Albuquerque -> Tulsa. However, after reading everyone’s comments about things to see on the way, I realized this just wasn’t going to work. I mean, sure, I could have done that version of the trip and still said I had done it, but if I didn’t experience anything but freeways, would it really be worth it?
Once I came to this (obvious) realization, I switched to planning mode. I wrote down everyone’s suggestions for the first leg of my trip and hit up the Barnes and Noble to review their travel books. I ended up finding one specifically about roadtripping the USA and it covered a lot of the route I was going to do, so I snagged it and started reading and making notes. Once I was done and had reviewed everything, including the continuous comments on my original post, I realized I had to set certain rules for myself if this was going to be worth it. It couldn’t just be me driving from city to city, maybe meeting some of you along the way, it had to be more. So I made some general, mental guidelines to follow.
- If it’s close, I’ve never been there and it has the possibility for a cool experience, I have to make an effort to go. Obviously time and money are an issue, so some things may get skipped, but an effort has to be made nonetheless.
- While I want to see as much as possible, I still have to end up at either a hotel/motel, a relative’s house or a friend’s couch, this isn’t a camping trip. Oh, and I have to have good internet when at all possible. :p
- I can’t take all this flippin’ luggage. lol. I’m in a truck (pictures below) and it doesn’t have a shell/lid, so everything has to fit in the cab and not be so obvious. On the trip to Berkeley and back, my luggage literally filled the passenger side of my car. Not gonna happen.
- Unless there’s no other option, or it’s historic/meaningful, no fast food/chain restaurants. It’s not that there’s not good food to be had in them, but 90% of the time, you can eat that stuff anywhere in the US. That’s not what I’m looking for necessarily. Besides, when was the last time you had a memorable experience in a generic chain restaurant? hehe
- I must remain open to new experiences and not shy away from it because it seems like something I normally wouldn’t do. To be honest, this is usually my mindset on vacations anyway ever since I lived in Mexico, but I’ve found lately that I tend to stay in my comfort-zone way too much. So whether it’s chatting up cabbies in Vegas or spending an hour somewhere talking to someone when I planned on only being there for 10 minutes, it’s on.
So yeah, that kind of changed how I looked at this whole trip and how I was going to go about making it happen. First off, I realized cutting down on my luggage was going to suck. Second, I didn’t really have the things in my truck that I needed to travel cross-country like this (not sure why I didn’t realize that before, I’m an idiot). Third, this was going to take longer than I planned. hehe. So I basically tossed my old plans out the window and created new ones from scratch based on these new guidelines. So in effect, my trip up to Berkeley and back were more of a prep-phase for this whole thing, or at least that was how I was going to look at it. My “real trip” would start at a specific place and for a specific reason, which I’ll get to below. For now though, it was time to go shopping. :p
It sounds weird when I have to thin out my luggage, but the first thing I did was buy some more clothes. Gotta love Old Navy and their half-off men’s sale. 🙂 I picked up a pair of loose jeans, a couple undershirts and a lightweight, longsleeve cotton button-up shirt. After chopping off the bottom of the jeans to length and washing them to get that nice frayed look, these became my “road clothes”. Next up, a trip to REI where I picked up the following: Teva sandles (road shoes to cut down on the amount of socks I have to pack), travel stash for money/credit cards just in case, and most importantly to a traveler, a towel. Not just any towel mind you, as I had already packed one of my normal bath towels. No, this is the towel equivalent of the Sham-Wow. :p Decently sized when unpacked but smaller than a paperback book when folded up. It dries almost completely just by twisting it out and the size helps me cut down on even more space. Good times.
With the clothing-type stuff out of the way, I hit up Home Depot. Yeah, I said Home Depot. Since I don’t have a shell/lid for my truck (despite trying to track one down quickly before I left) I decided to pick up a pair of heavy-duty locks and a cable to connect them to. I strung this across the back of my bed and locked it on each side. No clue what I might need it for, but it seemed like a good idea. 😉 I also picked up a large MagLite for behind my seat to complement the small one in the glove box. Next up, Best Buy. I picked up a small travel-case for my camera, an iPod car hookup that sends it to the radio since I don’t have an inline jack or cassette deck, and a GPS unit. I found a good spot for the GPS and ran the wires good enough for now, set up the iPot adapter how I wanted it and was good-to-go.
Then came the hard part. I unpacked everything I had onto the two beds in my hotel room and lined up the luggage. What a pain. First I had to decide which luggage I wanted to use. I settled on my rollaround, garment bag and messenger bag with an empty backpack stowed just in case I pick more stuff up along the way and need a place to put it. This got rid of a very large duffel bag and a small duffel which would save me tons of space. Of course, all that had been full before, so I had to get rid of stuff. That took some interesting decisions, but ultimately I thinned it all out.
Once that was done, I took a trip to my storage unit. It’s weird looking at 99% of what you own stuffed into a small room. I unloaded the stuff I wasn’t taking and picked up stuff I needed for the trip: motorcycle toolkit since it works for my truck too and is tiny, oil for the truck, glass cleaner, travel umbrella, laundry detergent and fabric sheets. That’s when I realized I needed to go to the auto parts store too. So after way too long trying to find what I needed, I walked out of there with new windshield wipers, a bottle of wiper fluid, floor mats, and a new air filter. All of which got used immediately, hehe. I then hit the grocery store an picked up a first aid kit because for some odd reason, it was cheaper there than anywhere else but had the same, if not more, stuff in it. Go figure. Purchasing done, I then spent the rest of my night packing bags and the car, then punching coordinates into the GPS.
It Begins (again)
So after 5 hours of sleep, bleh, I checked out of the Holiday Inn Express and hit the road. No, I didn’t feel any smarter after staying there. The internet sucked too, by the way. Anyway, I hit the first entry in the GPS and was off. This is my first time using a car-based GPS and I was curious how well it would work. So far, I have to remember to change it so it avoids Toll Roads I think, hehe. I loved some of the options though, like the little cartoon cars you can have it “drive” down the roads on your screen. I checked the website and quickly downloaded the only real option for a trip like this: the Roadtrip icon.
That’s right! It’s the Griswold-mobile!!!! It even has the leash/collar coming off the back too, check the link. hehe. Awesome.
So where did I decide to start my trip? Well, since I was on the West Coast and in SoCal, there was only one real choice.
The world-famous Santa Monica Pier. I’d never been there that I could remember and since it’s right at the end/start of Route 66, the King of all roadtrip roads, it seemed fitting. I walked to the end of the pier and back, checking out Paradise Park, all the fisherman and, humorously, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. (Someone comment and explain why that’s humorous please. :p ) Most importantly though, I rolled up my jeans and walked down the beach to stand in the Pacific. I got a pic but decided I needed a second just in case so waited for the next wave to come up the beach. Stupid me. /sigh
Yup, it would have to be a big wave huh? Oh well. It kept me nice and cool while driving and let me not have to turn the AC on high. By the time I hit my next stop, it was all dry, so no biggie. Once I hit the East Coast, I’ll stand in the Atlantic, hopefully not this deep. :p
So, soaking wet from the knees down, I hit the parking lot and remembered I hadn’t taken pics of the truck yet. So here ya go, my roadtrip vehicle. Let’s all cross our fingers that it makes it. hehe
And here’s a shot of the interior for good measure. As you can see, the GPS is up on the driver-side on the bottom-left of the windshield and not in the middle. I really like it there as I don’t have to take my eyes off the road really at all to check it. Also, got the iPod and the cell phone in the passenger seat for easy access. The rollaround is covered by my sweatshirt and takes up a lot of space, but at least the seat is free for me to put stuff in where it wasn’t before. Also, you can jut make out the amazing travel-towel in the driver side door. (It’s the small black/yellow item.)
Since I had already driven a few hours, I did a quick clean of the windows and hit the road. I dialed up the iPod and played what I think is a great song to start a roadtrip. If you haven’t heard it, or haven’t in a while, listen to it. I actually liked that whole soundtrack, but that’s a tangent we don’t have time for right now. hehe. I ended up listening to a few of his albums on the way to my next stop…
The site of the first ever McDonalds restaurant. This is where the McDonald brothers ran their first restaurant as opposed to where Ray Kroc likes to say the first McDonalds was. While the original building is gone, a new one is in its place and houses a museum of many things, but with the main focus on McDonalds. I had planned on just poking my head in here and looking around for 10-15 minutes, but I was immediately greeted by the nicest man who proceeded to give me the full tour while talking about everything under the sun. I ended up being there a bit over an hour and it was well worth it. The highlight of the tour for me was seeing a full set of the old Snoopy glasses I used to have when I was a kid. Bah, all mine broke. 😦
Since it was lunchtime and I had just been where the first McDonalds was, I hit the POI button on the GPS, chose food, fast food and found the nearest McDonalds and grabbed a meal for the road. :p It was time to seriously head to Vegas. For anyone that’s done this drive, you know how boring it is. And hot. Oppressively hot at times, especially since you pass the cutoff for Death Valley in Baker. Speaking of which, the Thermometer there (a landmark for anyone that’s done this drive) stated 95 but it was probably closer to 100.
I have to say, it was much easier to drive into Vegas than out as evidenced by this next pic. Everyone must have spent the Father’s Day weekend in Vegas and all decided to come back at the same time. Traffic was horrid for them. There were at least 10 mile sections with it backed up and stop-and-go. The side going to Vegas never stopped once, didn’t even slow really. Yay me!
I did make one final stop at the California/Nevada border. I had to. The first time I ever went to Las Vegas, myself and the two girls I was with stopped at Buffalo Bills and rode Desperado. I’m a huge roller-coaster fan but I think the more modern coasters have spoiled me as this just wasn’t as much fun as I remember. It definitely goes fast and has some breathtaking turns and drops, but it’s a bit old at this point and really shook me around, banging me up hard and bruising me a bit on the stiff seats and guards. bleh. If you’ve never done it, do it just because it’s a landmark, but be ready. hehe. Because it was Father’s Day and the beginning of summer, rides were free when I got there, so I can’t complain too much. :p
Pulling into Vegas during the day just isn’t as impressive as doing it at night. Oh well. It was still good to finally be there. I was a little disappointed in the Luxor though. They seem to now be selling the sides of the pyramid for advertising purposes. bahh. Yes, that’s a Transformers ad. The other side towards the highway has what looks like a big playing card with the “Welcome to Vegas” sign in the middle. double-bahh. Check-in was slow due to a long line despite all the people I saw leaving town and finding the right elevator and then having my room be in the dead-middle of a side was annoying too, but hey, it’s Vegas. The internet works far better here than the last place, at least, after I finally figured out how to hook up to it. lol. If you plan on staying at the Luxor any time soon, choose a Tower room. I’m in a Pyramid room because I’d never stayed in one, but it’s not worth it. They’re not that great and the cool slanted window doesn’t make up for it. hehe.
But anyway, yes, I am now in Vegas and having a blast. I’ll post a Vegas recap in the next US Tour post with plenty of pictures for those that like that kind of stuff. I’ll be here until Wednesday morning and will then head to the Grand Canyon with possible stops at the Hoover Dam and the London Bridge on the way, but I’m not 100% on those. We’ll see. I had planned to just day-trip them while here but I seem to be too busy… hehe
As always, if you live along this part of my trip and want to meet up for a bite to eat or a drink somewhere, leave a comment. If you know of something that I should consider seeing on the way, leave a comment. Hopefully I’ll be able to sit down and set a firmer schedule soon, but I don’t know that it would last long. lol. We’ll see.
Until next time,