Archive for October, 2011

4,500-something

October 27, 2011

This is my last entry about my road trip. I drove 4,500-something miles through 13 states.

I think my car probably needs an oil change.

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I got some great photos that didn’t quite fit in previous entries. Like this one of Amanda welcoming the world to Wall Drug. (Where they sell 5-cent coffee to go with their homemade donuts and pecan sticky buns: soooo worth it.)

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And this one of me with my cousin Alex and his kids Millie, Ruth, and Henry. Millie and Henry and I had never met before. Henry just gazed at me. He’s hard to read. But Millie walked right up and said, “Hi Krista, I’m Millie!” I said, “You’re pretty shy, aren’t you?” And Millie said, “No, I’m not!”

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The burros in Custer State Park. They make their living by begging for junk food from tourists.

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Baby burro!

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This man saw me taking pictures of Pittsburgh, which is apparently an unusual enough occurrence that he wanted to be in one.

So here he is.

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Really?

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I mean, really?

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Jane, disappearing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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Vino

October 27, 2011

Ryan took me and Jane to a tasting at Denner Vineyards. Denner is on a quiet hilltop; that day, it was a hot, bright, quiet hilltop.

Jane marveled at the size of the wineglasses; like just about everything else, they’re bigger in America than in England.

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After dinner, Ryan took us back to the building where they actually make the wine. Here he’s punching down the grapes. He explained why you do this, but all I can remember is that it’s a crucial step in the process. You have to do it three times a day, like walking a dog or feeding a child.

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Ryan and me and wine-in-the-making.

Vintage

October 27, 2011

After Big Sur, we visited my friend Ryan in Paso Robles.

I met Ryan in ad school in Atlanta, and now he works as an ad writer in San Francisco. Except when he doesn’t.

Because every year, Ryan spends a few months in the Central Valley, learning how to make wine. How did the bastard get so lucky? Well, luck had nothing to do with it. One day Ryan wrote to his favorite winemaker and offered to become an apprentice, for free. The winemaker took him on, and for the past couple years Ryan’s been learning the business. This year he’s making his own wine. Which means this time next year, I’ll be sipping Ryan Cochrane’s pinot noir.

I love this story: Ryan’s in my pantheon of actual-size heroes. He had something he wanted to do. It wasn’t an obvious choice — it wasn’t what he was trained to do, or even remotely related to what he’d been doing — but he did it anyway.

It might sound cheesy, but I want to live the Ryan Cochrane way.* I want to go off piste. I want to make something. I want to find my wine.

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* I have an advantage: when I’m struggling with a decision — or just scared of doing what I want to do, which is usually the same thing — I can call the real Ryan Cochrane, and get 100% pure Ryan Cochrane advice. Thank goodness for friends.

One

October 24, 2011

Jane came with me from San Francisco down the coast to Los Angeles. This is the drive that dreams — and countless car commercials — are made of.

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The reason they shoot car ads on Highway 1 is that it’s preposterously beautiful. You could be selling a 1985 Buick LeSabre and it would look okay on Highway 1.

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The road clings to the coast. It climbs onto cliffs and settles into pastures, curves and dips and goes right up to the edge of the ocean. And the ocean — the ocean goes on forever.

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The thing about oceans is, they don’t have zits or wrinkles or bad hair days. Oceans are spectacular in the sun, brooding in the fog, dramatic in a storm. Oceans are mesmerizing from 5 feet and fascinating from 5 miles.

Oceans always look good.

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Ingest

October 24, 2011

The secret to a successful road trip is to never eat fast food. It’s easier than you think.

All you need is a good guide. My mother got me a book called “Roadfood” by Jane and Michael Stern — which was thoughtful of her, especially because she hates road trips and despises the kind of food that’s served in dives. That’s what this book is all about.

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It’s easy to think of middle America as an endless stretch of Pizza Huts and Burger Kings. But when you get off the interstate, it’s almost impossible not to eat regionally.

In Ohio, I had Polish pierogis — plump and potato-y with perfect golden edges.

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In Wisconsin, I had wiener schnitzel and schaum torte for dessert. In Michigan, I got Swedish food. In the Great Plains, I ate buffalo and venison.*

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In Utah, I had dinner at the state’s oldest restaurant: Lamb’s Grill Café. They served the best pork chop I’ve had in years, along with maybe the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.

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Nevada has a sizable Basque population. Who knew? I wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t stopped at the Martin Hotel, a Basque restaurant founded in 1898. I ordered lamb and was not disappointed.

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* The weird thing is that in America’s heartland — in America’s “bread basket,” where entire states are dedicated to growing grain — whole grains seem utterly unknown. I ordered a BLT at a diner in South Dakota and requested “whole wheat toast.” The waitress brought white. I asked about it, but she didn’t see my point. She just said, “That is wheat.”

Evening

October 24, 2011

The only other thing we really did in San Francisco was eat.

This is Chris and Jane at Bar Crudo, which is where he took us for the best fish I’ve had in a long, long time.

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Me and Jane, after dinner.

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Jane at breakfast — after a night of wine and cocktails.

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Fleet

October 23, 2011

In San Francisco, we walked the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the perfect day to do it; the sky was blue blue blue.

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I look like I’m in the Witness Protection Program, but Chris is gorgeous as ever.

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I mean, right?

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It was Fleet Week, when the Navy puts on an air show right over the Bay.

These are the Blue Angels. They buzzed the bridge several times, just like in Top Gun, when Tom Cruise buzzes the control tower and makes the guy slosh his coffee.

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The cerebral side of me was like, “This is a waste of tax payer dollars! This is a waste of jet fuel! This is a scam! They shouldn’t be allowed to set up Marine recruitment centers here! Some dumb 17-year-old is going to think he’s going to be like Tom Cruise, when really he’s just going to a godforsaken war in the desert.”

Then the Blue Angels would silently scream by, followed by their thundering sound, which drums in your chest like an extra heartbeat. And the non-cerebral side of me was like, “Cooool.”

Breathe

October 23, 2011

California is the best-smelling state.

I remember noticing this the first time I visited. I was 17 and my sister was 19, enrolled at the University of California Santa Cruz. She’d gotten a friend — a giant bearded man with a truck — to fetch me from the airport, and the three of us were smushed into the front seat of the cab. It was night, so I couldn’t see what California looked like. But the windows were down, and I could tell it smelled better than any place I’d ever been.

The same thing happened this time, crossing the border from Nevada. I pulled over for gas at a Shell station above Donner Lake.* I’m never in the mood to get gas: Gas stations are disgusting and pumping gas is boring. Plus the mountaintop was dusted with snow; it looked cold out.

But when I opened the car door, I was hit with the most incredible smell: crisp, sharp, wintery pine. Like the cleanest Christmas ever. Right there in a gas station by the side of the highway, it smelled better than anything I’d smelled on the previous 4,000 miles.

Home sweet, sweet home.

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* Donner Lake is named after the Donner Party, a group of emigrants to California in the 1840s. They took some wrong turns in Utah and Nevada, which meant that when they tried to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains, it was already November. Too late: A series of monstrous blizzards trapped them all winter long. Not everyone died, but the ones who didn’t had to eat the ones who did.

If you’ve never heard this story, chances are you’re either English, or you had chicken pox on the most exciting day in fourth grade Social Studies class. For very specific gory details, visit Wikipedia. Just not right after lunch.

Nevada

October 18, 2011

Heading west from Great Salt Lake, you drive across something called the Great Basin. It is sort of like driving across a giant frying pan, but with really strong winds.

The day I was there, it had been raining, which meant the road was surrounded on both sides by standing water. The salt flats are very white, so the water was as reflective as a mirror: sky and clouds above and below, as far as the eye could see.

This went on unchanged for hours, even though I was hurtling along at 80 mph: The Great Basin is huge.

Also beautiful, and terrifyingly empty.

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Was there ever a more elegant rest stop? Or a more useless one? — no soap in the bathrooms, and signs above the water fountains, warning you not to drink.

Utahpolis

October 18, 2011

Temple Square is the main sightseeing site in Salt Lake City. Unlike the touristic centers of other cities, there are no street musicians, mimes spray-painted silver, or vendors hawking Your Name on a Grain of Rice.

(I have never understood this particular phenomenon. Who is buying all these personalized grains of rice? And why? Are they really an evocative souvenir of Venice Beach or Times Square?)

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The Beehive House, one of the first structures the settlers built. Brigham Young worked and lived here, together with his sizable family.

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Right around the corner from the Temple: the curiously kerned “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints      Office Building.”

But if God did have an office building, it would look just like this. Don’t you think?

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Downtown Salt Lake. This picture gives you a sense of how tidy and orderly the city is. It is laid out in a grid, with incredibly long blocks and broad streets. (And a tram system! No cities west of the Mississippi have a tram system!) The other thing I noticed was a distinct paucity of Starbucks, liquor stores, and women in business clothes.