On The Road Again, I Just Can’t Wait To Be On The Road Again…

Day 224 of the Adventure and we were back on the road. We left Chattanooga in early April and drove to Raleigh to stay with Jason’s parents for a bit. We set up at the local flea market for a few weekends, and finally got to take a few side trips.

We took a few days and went to the shore, down past New Bern, North Carolina all the way out to Beaufort, hitting thrift and antique stores along the way. We set up camp on the Neuse River and spent some of the hottest days of the spring (temperatures were in the 90’s!) submerged in the clear, refreshing water. Miss D got to play in the water too, and kept trying to catch the jumping fish that were popping out of the water all over the place.

The next week we drove down to Sanford and into the Uwharrie National Forest and relaxed while the rain fell. We also got to test drive Jason’s recent van remodels: he tore out the old benches/bed and put in shelving, a table, and a futon. I am happy to report that the updates work great! Betty is even better than before and ready for more road trips this summer. Next up is Chicago for Memorial Day weekend and a Cosmo wedding. Chi-City, here we come!

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Chattanooga Choo Choo

It was nice to settle down for a bit in Chattanooga. I got a job at a local deli, known as River Street. Best reuben in the world! And, I have to say, the best Chicago-style Italian Beef. I know that makes me a traitor, but it’s true. Jason was selling records and thinking about setting up at a flea market or two. We got an apartment, well, actually three apartments, but we ended up in a cute one-bedroom on the North Shore, where we got to have indoor plumbing, appliances, and real furniture for a change.

So one day I was walking to work and I was hurrying because, as usual, I was about to be late, when I happened to notice a few weary travelers setting up shop on the corner up ahead. I saw them put out an empty suitcase, which I assumed was for money, either handed out in charity or perhaps one of the duo was going to strum some tunes on a hidden guitar. Either way, I was not in the mood to hand out money, so I kept my eyes cast down under my sunglasses and planned to just cruise by them. But as I was looking down at the man sitting next to the suitcase, I noticed his partner standing on the other side, and what stood out were her incredibly bright pants. Day-glo tie-dye pants, to be exact. Then it dawned on me that you don’t see those pants very often, yet I was sure I’d seen them somewhere before.

“You can call me Spirit.”

Oh no. It was at that instant that the man looked up at me and I recognized the man, and suddenly I was looking at two of the rock-houndin’ hippies we had left in the dust in a backwoods campsite in Arkansas five months before. They were here! I called Jason as soon as I got out of sight and told him not to drive the van around because surely they would recognize us and hunt us down for leaving them stranded. I worried about it all day and night, but when I went to work the next day, they were gone, and I haven’t seen them since.

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Leaving California

Leaving Yosemite, we headed south, but with no destination in mind and we realized a decision needed to be made. Try to stay out west and make a go of it or head back east to friends and family and hopefully some easier times. Perhaps it was obvious from my previous posts that California was sucking us dry – mentally, physically, and financially. We missed friendly people and affordable… anything. And anywhere we could camp in California was up a mountain and thus was around freezing for the better part of the day and all I wanted to do was stay wrapped up under the covers. We decided to make a break for it. Driving almost straight through (other than a quick stop in Bakersfield to take part in the test market for this new thing we had heard of…the Doritos Locos Taco. You all know by now how that “test” turned out…) we made it from Yosemite to Chattanooga, Tennessee in three and a half days, pulling in at 11pm on New Year’s Eve, and were so happy to see friends, food, and champagne! It was time to take a load off.

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Yosemite

Driving into Yosemite was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. When you come around the last bend, there’s Yosemite Valley ahead of you filled with every famous Ansel Adams photograph ever taken. But seeing the hordes of people milling around, I quickly became grumpy. There was nothing majestic about cramming onto a shuttlebus with 50 other people trying to peer out the windows and find their stop, then to disembark along with half the bus in order to observe nature’s wonders surrounded by screaming children and tired parents while trying to vie for the best photo-taking spot. That was not what I had pictured when I dreamed about the majestic Yosemite. But while I was hormonal and crabby, Jason just gazed around at all the beauty trying to take it all in. I realized I was making two people miserable, so I tried to snap out of it on day two when we went to see the Giant Sequoiua Grove. We’re talking the stuff of old-timers’ legends, with the tree big enough to walk through and a tree that is almost 2500 years old. Now that was pretty cool.

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Feliz Navidad

We arrived in San Jose just in time to celebrate Christmas with Nicole and her boyfriend Jason, which we did by having a BBQ in the park. It was delightful.

And since the city was having a Christmas Festival all week, we poked around checking out the rides and Nicole pointed out two that had come from Neverland. That’s right, the one that belonged to MJ.

It was wonderful to kick back and relax with friends. And joke about how everyone seemed weird in California after growing up in the Midwest. Nicole had noticed that when people needed to get around you, they wouldn’t say “excuse me”. They would just wait, maybe sigh loudly a few times until you finally noticed them and moved. It’s not outright rudeness, it’s more a way of conducting oneself that makes it clear you believe the world revolves around you. Sort of like a “once they notice they are inconveniencing me, they will kindly get out of my way” mentality. Strangers didn’t seem to say please, thank you, hello; they were indifferent to you. I got to see it first-hand when we were at the supermarket later that weekend and it just left me thinking how very strange it was.

But we had a merry weekend with Nicole and Jason, who were moving back to Chicago the day after we left. We all hung out on inflatable beds (the only furniture left in the apartment since everything else had been shipped back to await their arrival in Chicago), enjoyed a few drinks, and reveled in the company of friends.

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The Gambler

 

We reached Monterrey and had some time to kill before meeting up with my friend Nicole in San Jose, so we stretched our legs and went for a walk on the beach. Nicole had told me you could get free clam chowder along Fisherman’s Wharf, so we headed there. Turns out that since all of the restuarants on the wharf claim to have the best clam chowder, they all set up outside offering free samples so that you can decide for yourself. Yum! Plus we got a free show from the noisy seals lounging around the piers.

From there we headed to Santa Cruz, where they filmed the first vampire cult classic, Lost Boys. We strolled the empty Boardwalk and for the first time since we’d started the trip, looked at each other and said, “Would you live here?” It was warm and sunny. Sporty people were playing volleyball on the beach, people were walking around enjoying the day. We figured that if we had to get a job again, being boardwalk carnies would be about the most fun we could have. We even sent out a few apartment queries on craigslist.

At the end of the boardwalk was a huge building with a “CASINO” sign lit up. Jason said, “Ok, I have $5. If we go in there and I make $50, we’ll stay.” “Ok,” I replied, nervous and excited. How easy was it make $50? What were the odds of winning if you only started with $5? Could I really live there? What if it got TOO sunny? But then we walked in and discovered it was not, in fact, a casino. It was a giant kid’s arcade. Where you could only win prizes like stuffed animals and candy necklaces. “Guess we’re not staying,” J said.

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Big Sur

ImageIt was finally time to make the infamous Highway 1 drive, up the coast from Morro Bay to Monterrey. But about 15 minutes into the scenic drive, we realized that towns were (happily) missing from the map, which meant that so were gas stations, so we turned around and went to fill up at the last station we passed.

Now let me paint you a little picture of gas prices at that time. In most of the country, prices had been hovering around $3.15, we had just seen them as low $2.99 in Arizona,and immediately upon crossing into California, they had jumped to around $3.99. A bit exorbitant, but hey, it’s California. They charge you to watch the sunset in California, so the fact that gas prices were almost a full dollar over the rest of the country didn’t surprise me much. What did surprise me was when we pulled up the this gas station, just before hitting the remote patch of coast south of Big Sur, and knowing this fully, they were charging $4.99. A gallon! For unleaded! That’s EXTORTION! Which is what I yelled out the window as we pulled back out and drove another 30 miles to save ourselves $1.30 per gallon. It was worth it, just to keep our money out of the grubby little paws of that greedy capitalistic opportunist. The nerve, honestly. But once we were on our way again, the episode was quickly forgotten. The stretch of coast really is, as many have put it, “The most beautiful meeting of mountains and sea”. We were simultaneously wincing while trying to maneuver the hairpin turns and letting out strings of delighted oohs and ahhs as the next bit came into view.

Now floating around in the back of our minds were the recommendations of not one, but two, fellow gypsies – keep an eye out for Jade Cove. They whispered that if you went there when the tide was right, you could find hunks of rough jade. James, the rock hounding hippie, even showed us a piece the size of a small trash can that he had wrapped up in the trunk of his van. “I made sure to carry that one all the way up myself,” he told us when describing the steep and treacherous hill that you had to scramble up once you had collected your jade souvenirs. “That way I wouldn’t have to share the profits with any of the others, ya know?” This coming from the man who had already taught us how to crack open white rocks to find Arkansas quartz and where the most strategic location was in a trainyard if you were planning to hop any of the outgoing trains. So we were practically taking notes every time this guy opened his mouth, and this was no different. But it had been months since we were in Arkansas, and then a locksmith at the Oxnard flea market had mentioned the same place , explaining that he and his wife had stumbled upon it when they were voluntarily homeless for a year. So while cruising up Highway 1 looking for a spot to stay for the night, we both gasped in surprise when we passed a sign that read “Jade Cove.” “Could that really be the same one they were talking about?” I said. While we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out for ourselves, dark was closing in and we still hadn’t found a campsite for the night. We decided to leave it for morning. We were up before dawn the next day, and by the time there was first light, we had found the cove, and were making our way down the precarious slope. Sure enough, covering the exposed rock bottom were pieces of what looked like the same green stone. Now honestly, James could have been showing us a giant green rock that was completely worthless, but even though he seemed a bit crazy, I doubted he would have taken the time and effort to haul that thing back up to the road if he wasn’t pretty damn sure it was jade. We also now have some pieces of a curious green material…but who knows?

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