June 25th, 2012
My final night in Jacksonville I ended with a birthday/going away party. It was peaceful, just everyone on the back porch of my mothers home chilling by the pool. Thanks to Cliff, Chris, Josh, Ashley, Tony, Juliet for coming out to say goodbye. My dad and stepmom Kathy came out as well the next morning to say goodbye too. The 3000 mile journey would now begin by saying a final Goodbye Jacksonville.
The drive to Atlanta was nothing. Something I had done well over 30 times by now and a very familiar 5 hour stretch. Mom and I had discussed our plan of action with driving.
-Drive only during daylight hours
-Ensure hotel has at least 4 stars in reviews
-Eat the most amazing and bizarre foods as possible
Atlanta was just a short stop before leaving. I had condensed so much that I was able to manage packing 31 years of my life in a single two seater Volkswagen Rabbit. Along with mom’s luggage, we had the car completely full. To save money and eat well, we brought a cooler to pack all of the ham, lettuce, bread, and general on the road snacking we planned to do.
First leg of the trip was the longest. Atlanta GA all the way to Kansas City, MO. We originally planned St Louis, but the fact that we began so early, we figured might as well get the longest leg of the trip out of the way. Tennessee was welcoming; this would be the third time I had driven through there. Two times for conventions (Chattacon & MTAC) and once for the recent microburn, Unitus. The soundtrack through these southeastern states would be Rascal Flats and Allman Brothers.
The Saint Louis Arch could not be missed. At least 5 miles out of the city you could see its 630 foot majesticness towering over the city below. With no idea what goes on here, we parked and just walked on foot to the arch to get pictures. Surrounding it was a really nicely laid out park that reminded me a lot of DC. There wasn’t much happening downtown and overall, St Louis was pretty dirty. Twice accosted by bums asking for money, we wanted to just grab some eats and get out of there. We stopped at Big Daddy’s “The Best Bar In The Whole Wide World”. Again, nothing special. I got tiny tacos and mom got slightly hot wings. Heading out couldn’t have been better.
The drive now starting to drain us, we arrived in Kansas City just as the sun was setting. The city was clean and fresh. Architecture here was really pretty and there was a park right by our hotel with a fountain and really nice lights. The absolute best part of Kansas City… was the heavenly smell of BBQ all through the air.
flesy: We’ve got hella good bbq here in KC it’s the only thing we’re like famous for. My go to place is Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ is amazing, a lot of places call it the best BBQ in the world and well ill be damned it’s pretty fuckin good.
We were expecting to eat some good Barbequeue but for the love of all that is holy, if you value the true experience of tasting the best BBQ in your life, then you owe it to yourself to eat it here. We were entranced and just overly indulged in how good this was. Have you ever been completely full yet to continue to keep eating just because it tastes so good? That was us that night. We talked with our waitress and explained to her how we were driving across the country. This is where we began following the local recommendations for the rest of the trip. The waitress explained that if we really wanted a full experience of driving out west, then we have to go to Colorado Springs. Our trip completely excluded this originally as we were just going to shoot through Denver and Salt Lake City. The things she was describing to us got us so excited that we made plans that night to alter our route.
The next leg of the trip would prove to be the most boring and uneventful drive in all humanity. The never ending flat as a pancake state of Kansas. Once you begin the 6 hour journey, you can’t leave. It’s a solid 60 mph all the way down a two lane road and there’s construction damn near every 30 miles for no reason at all. This was where we got our first and only speeding ticket. Mom had gone over by only 20 but the cop saw the out of state and got ticket happy. If there was ever a redeeming factor through this expansive state, it would have to be the wind turbines. These things are the way of the future and in Kansas, they’re a dime a dozen. I was reminded of the beautiful Macross Plus opening passing these things and you almost get the feeling that their appearance is none of that of a dandelion, blowing in the wind. It’s pretty and about the only redeeming factor of the longest state drive of your life.
Colorado Springs came as a fresh breath of air. The mountain ranges all began here and living on the east coast you don’t see mountains, you see hills. To see such large and amazing bodies of rocky land towering to the heavens was breathtaking. The city is nicely lit up at night and there seemed to be a good lot of things to do. The hotel we checked into was a bit more upscale to Best Westin but had the same amenities. We asked where to eat and the lady suggested a local place but we decided to be a bit more adventurous and try the Polish eatery in Manitou Springs.
The drive here was… fun, haha. We had to go down some very curvy roads with near 45 degree drops. Thankfully I drive a compact car so it fit down these sidestreets but we prevailed and made it. Parking on a cobblestone street, it felt like we had gone through some wardrobe and ended up in Narnia. This quaint little village had all kinds of shops, eateries, pubs and even an arcade. This wasn’t just any arcade, it was a Penny Arcade with classic pinball dating back to the 1800s. There was nobody here either. Almost like we arrived on some deserted colony and we were the only survivors. A true western feeling.
Because we explored so much, we missed eating at the Polish place (which was owned by a guy who lived in the second floor of the same building). We asked around at a few more places and they recommended The Warehouse. Despite the name, it was quite popular among recommendations and as the time was getting late, we figured why not. The result was way way above our expectations. This place was nice, very classy. Our waitress had a cute Bettie Paige look to her and the decor was a darkish red. Walking in, they were nice enough to squeeze us in as the last customers of the night. Wine selection here was great, as was the choices in honey beer and other local brews. The food came as another huge surprise. Rabbit Rattlesnake Jalapeno Sausage. Just seeing that many things in a single entree blew my mind, we HAD to order this! If there’s one thing this trip had, it was certainly the most bizarre food decisions..
The next day would prove to be really exciting. Once again, taking local recommendations, we decided to spend this day without driving anywhere. Garden of the Gods was our destination today and man, the weather couldn’t have been better. As bad as it was at the time, we had a funny moment. While pumping gas that morning, mom slipped and spilled gas all over her pants and sweater. It was a pretty nasty setback, but the result was that because she changed clothes, she was really comfortable walking around in what surprised us as a very sunny warm day.
There’s no words to describe this rock garden. It’s visual, and you look at this art, and you realize, this really is a playground for the gods. Massive rock sculptures that almost near defy gravity and you can’t believe just how massive these structures are, completely untouched and uncarved by human hands. It wasn’t that crowded either so we were able to walk around with minimal disturbances from those around us, let alone some small tour groups. There were several different areas to explore here but we pushed on to find the Balancing Rock. It seemed to just defy gravity and hold its position on the mountain. From every angle was another perfect structure and in the distance the mountain ranges went on and on forever.
Our next adventure was up Pike’s Peak. Mom has always loved trains and the drive would be a little dangerous, so we both agreed the train ride would be nice and smooth. We were lucky enough to get there early so we picked the very front seats. This was good since I brought along my Miller High Life as per the waitresses suggestion to us the day before. All along the way up, we got to see several different kids of trees and a lot of different animals like deer, mice, and groundhogs. By the time we reached the top, we could see snow caps and a sharp temperature drop. 14,110 feet at it’s peak, this view was indescribable. Rumors state that on a clear day like today, you could see all the way to Mexico. Mom and I were above the clouds and even typing this out now, I can’t put into words how incredible this view was. Mom and I even managed to have a snowball fight for a minute before we both ran out of breath laughing and running around. We asked some other tourists to get a picture of us and thankfully my little knowledge of Japanese allowed me to thank him in his language. There were other guys trying to fly a kite up here but that didn’t go over so well. After taking pictures of everything up here, I needed to head inside to use the bathroom. This was when the beer I chugged along the way took a bizarre hit. I saw spotted black patches and got some really weird/cool vertigo. I stumbled my way through the gift shop and into the bathroom. Cooling off, I must say that while it was kinda fun, it was also a bit scary. The ride down was just as nice as going up and it felt good to be back on solid ground.
That evening, we headed off to Denver. The drive this time was nothing and went by pretty fast. The destination was suggested by a friend of mine online.
m335hh73r: Also if you’re in Denver and don’t go to the buckhorn exchange, you’re a jabroni.
This was no ordinary restaurant, this was Denver’s oldest restaurant, established in 1893. It’s location was really out of the way so again, really cool to have locals inform us of places to eat. The place was fully decked out in mounted animal heads and different memorabilia of the old west. The second floor actually had a covered wagon where they prepared some of the food. The menu was printed on an old timey 1800s-style newspaper with pictures of all the animals they provided. While Yak and Rattlesnake were unfortunately off the menu, we did savor eating the Ostrich, ?, ?. The food sat heavy and we definitely hit the right spot for quality food.
The next place my mom describes as “The weirdest place I’ve ever been to in my life”.
This place was the #1 place of the entire trip for me.
I had been building it up and because of it, almost skipped out on Colorado Springs.
This place… was The Casa Bonita.
I had seen the South Park episode about just how over-the-top outrageous this place was. The reviews all said the best and worst things about this place and all of it, All of it was 100% true. We arrived with such enthusiasm that I raced through and went right to the entrance. I knew the food would be bad so I asked if we could just get admission here. They said we had to order something as the entertainment was just extra. We ordered the cheapest plate of chips and a soda and then entered this wild world.
I’ll start by saying Casa Bonita is very dark, and muggy, and just… bizarre. Once we entered we noticed there was already flame jugglers going on along with a stage act with a Gorilla and the mariachi band playing. Our view allowed us to see all of this going on at once. Once the stage performance ended, they went right into cliff diving. Our food arrived and was completely horrid. It was a good thing we filled up beforehand. The other people here seemed to be teenagers bored with the performance or making fun of it, parents, crackheads, run down teenagers, and Mexican parents with about 6 kids running around. We got to go through Black Bart’s Cave and check out the arcade here. Even the gift shop made fun of itself, with the South Park “Was it worth it? Totally” quote. Is this a theme park? Is it a warped version of Chuck E Cheese? Is this hell?! There’s no explaining the level of kitch in this place and unfortunately most of the entertainment (Puppet show, Jail photos) had already ended. We closed the place up by trying to reinact the scenes from Cartman running around, but most of that footage is too dark to see.
We called it a night well spent and prepared for the next morning’s drive out to Salt Lake City, Utah.
A caller at my job named Christian and I discussed the things I must see in SLC. The city was very tall you could say and has a very nice polished look to it, with mass transit right through the main city streets. His most revered place was a very hidden gem of a restaurant; the Cinegrill. We were both pretty hungry and the way he described this place, we would not be leaving this place hungry at all. The location was nicely tucked out of the way, attached to a hotel. This place can easily be missed if you aren’t looking for it. Walking it, it felt like we had time traveled back to the 1950′s. Old timey jukebox in the corner playing music that sounded like an actual record had been warped by time, white/red checkered tablecloths on the seats. Along with that came a nice hospitable waitress asking how many are seating. We got the warmest welcome at this place and told our waitress about our journey so far. She discussed her son moving out west as well and things got along real well. Then the food came… an enormous amount of food too. Spaghetti with two giant slices of garlic bread for me and a nondairy salad for mom. They were very nice to honor her request here even though the menu was mostly dairy.
We had good time to visit the Mormon church and see the John Smith statue and a few sights around the area. As luck would have it, we arrived right in time to see the amazing 300 person choir perform their rehearsal. The amphitheater was like none I had ever seen. A giant giant ceiling and designed at such an angle that the sound reverberated all around you in perfect chorus. While here, we talked with a greeter who had the SAME name as my mom! She had suggested that since we were out here that we make the effort to visit Yellowstone Park. Though it might be out of the way, we agreed that this would be a pretty interesting detour. After two songs from the choir, we headed over to the nearby Mormon store. Mom had been looking for a CD of the choir while I explored the store a bit more. I had noticed a lot of bracelets, books, and other things with CTR. CTR is equivalent of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) only this acronym meant Choose The Right. Pretty catchy I’d say. Mom was also able to find a really nice book of Jesus art, only these had been drawn with Jesus’ eyes blue; the color mom liked best. We got a few souvenirs and then headed back.
This would be the one part of the trip we wish hadn’t happened. Going to Yellowstone was no easy task, The lady at the Mormon church described it as a short 3 hour detour that would end with us heading directly west to Portland. Apparently, Yellowstone was 6 hours north and there is no direct route west from that location. Before realizing this, we had already backtracked an hour to the nearest Best Western. This one, however, would end up being the WORST Western. From the lobby to our room was much too far, the rooms very messy and they didn’t even honor a full breakfast. The hotel was no help with directions nor did they have any idea how far Yellowstone was from here. We were ready to leave as soon as we arrived, but it was way too late to look elsewhere and we had about 12 hours of driving to accomplish the next day, our final day.
The final drive to Portland began a bit exhausting, with construction on different roads and not much beyond mountains and Oregon desert to see. We crossed into what ended up being the best final 2 hours drive near the end. All along the way, desert on both ends, but here was the final ride along the Gorge. The sun was setting right along with the drive so it was like an hour long sunset that just got better and better. On the gorge you could see over to Washington State and all of the little trails and waterfalls along the mountains running into the Columbia river. Indescribably amazing.
Elly had the best timing for when we arrived. She was just about to head out to the local dive bar Reel Em Inn. This place is still to this day my favorite of all dive bars in Portland and remains the absolute best place for fried chicken and jojos. We talked about our trip and discussed how the next few days would be laid out. As the entire adventure so far seemed spontaneous, we planned to take Portland one day at a time.
Day one of Portland, we crammed as much as possible into a single day. Began with breakfast at Becca’s recommendation Cup & Saucer which filled us way up. Next was the tram ride through the city all the way to OSHU (Oregon Health & Science University) medical center. From here we got a fantastic view of the city and neighboring mountains. I wanted to show mom the amazing food carts, so we went to the best location; Cartopia. Mom experienced both her first food cart and Boba Tea here. Out of the blue I caught Atlanta friends Brandy and Doug here who I hadn’t seen in over 5 years. It was definitely the beginning of amazing coincidences I would have moving here that we’d bump into them out of the blue.
That night we went to the fanciest restaurant in Portland, Portland City Grill. Mom had made a reservation here way in advance and our one request was to have a window seat, as this place was on the 35th floor overlooking the city. The wait was worth it and we had a fantastic view. Not only that, but out of nowhere that night fireworks went off. This wasn’t a special holiday, nor were there events going on, it was just another really cool coincidence that it would happen on the exact night we would be eating skyhigh enough that the fireworks were actually below us. It lit up the entire city and we could feel the vibration from the explosions. The most amazing feeling that night was that mom was there to experience this with me.
The fancy restaurants didn’t end there. The next morning for brunch, we headed out to Salty’s. This was right along the gorge river and we had reserved the buffet breakfast along with bottomless mimosas. The seafood here was really great and the waitress was also very happy to hear I had just moved here. We brought up the Goonie Rock and the lady explained to us that it was only an hour away, straight west. Our next adventure was set. Full from seafood and ready to explore, all we did was follow her instruction and drive directly west for an hour. There was nothing but forest but right when you hit the coast, it clears up to become a nice rocky beach. Haystack/Goonie rock was right where we parked and seeing it in person after watching the movie so many years ago was so cool. We had some time to spare so on the way home we stopped by my new Sage campus where I would be working the next day. The place was so… green! Lots of plants covering the building and a very impressive glass interior. Mom had changed hotels that night to a much more impressive Renaissance. It was a great location and had pools and happy hour daily at the bar downstairs. They were also very accommodating letting her stay the extended nights.
That night, we ate at Huber’s, know for being the oldest restaurant in Portland. The recommended food here was known as the Thanksgiving Dinner. A full plate of turkey, cranberries, stuffing, and anything else you’d expect to eat on November 24th. The meal was total heaven and the place still had the old timey feel to it. Our waitress was very bubbly and nice and was also glad to hear of our voyage across the US and recommended stopping by Mount Hood and Multnomah Falls. Our final part of the meal was a Spanish Coffee, which came as a big surprise. This thing is Loaded with strong drinks and not only that but the presentation is really cool. Fire, over/underarm moves, all kinds of craziness and to top it off, the drink has a real kick of alcoholic coffee. Between the two of us, we could barely finish it.
Mom would be spending her day at not one but two Gardens, both Chinese and Japanese. My friend Kalli was free that day and both of them got to experience a full day of exploring. I picked them up at the end of my workday and both of them had really fun stories to tell about each one. It seems each has it’s own experience and really there wasn’t one better than the other. We brought Kalli back to our hotel to talk about life, our journeys and religion. Really a great experience to have mom see friends of mine have such strong beliefs and have her talk about hers with complete openness.
The last day would mark mom’s final day and my first day on my own in this new and exciting world. Her plane leaving right around 6am, this was the exact time that Occupy Portland began it’s two month protest. Portland’s attendance toppled every other city in the country with nearly 3,000 people on it’s first day. Such a strong attendance for this event to stand up against a lot of issues our country faces, Portland is quite the entity.
This ends my week-long journey across the country and begins my fresh new start in Portland, OR. I will miss the friends I have made but there are all new chapters in my life I cannot wait to dive into head first. Life has only just begun.