Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coast-to-coast Day 6 - NY and Mass.

The Falls are awesome, truly, despite all the commercialism. A genuine Wow moment. We pass through Buffalo, on to Utica (cute but not much to it). Then Albany, with an unusual capitol building, which seems to be modeled on Parliament. Pull off in Kinderhook, NY, enticed by a sign that Martin Van Buren’s home is here, but we can’t find it, and it’s getting dark. Onward to Cambridge.

Moby Dick? We're into the long discussion on species of whales and how they should be classified -- fish or mammal. We're not going to finish it, but at least we have 140 pages of sampling.

(For scale, note the tour boat in the lower right.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Coast-to-coast Day 5 - Michigan, and Canada

Stuck in a major traffic jam, first thing in the morning-- on a Sunday?! Turns out there were some major storms, almost a tornado or hurricane, a couple days ago, and the freeway was washed out. We get detoured down Calumet Ave through south Chicago, back to I-90 (which we’d left). We decide to take the Northern route, bypassing Indiana and Ohio. Next stop Lansing, MI. These towns in Michigan are hurting, just like Michael Moore told you. A drab capitol, bland college town. Everything has an old and about-to-be-abandoned look. The state was built to serve the big American automobile, with a vision of green parkways linking cul-de-sac towns. Sounds nice (perhaps) but there’s no scenery, just an endless, wide highway area lined with trees and shrubs. You can’t see farms, hills, villages. Nothing. At Port Huron, we cross a big bridge into Ontario. Half-hour wait at the border. It’s flat, too, but prettier – rolling farms, red barns. Why are barns always painted red? Dinner in London, a good sized city with a big park at the center. Massey’s Fine Indian Cuisine. We spend the night in Canada, at Niagara Falls, arriving at 10:45 pm. Spray and mist in the air everywhere.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What NOT to do when moving

One big no-no is to hire a rude and ineffective cleaning company to clean your house.

We used Elbow Grease Organics, they were recommended by a friend (who hasn't used them, but knows the owner). If I were writing their ad, it would say "Elbow Grease Organics — We provide the Organics, YOU provide the Elbow Grease."

Thursday night I stayed up ALL night (yes that means zero sleep) to get the house packed and ready for the cleaners on Friday morning. My mom showed up, packed until Midnight, slept for a bit and got up at 5:00AM to finish things off. Needless to say, we were exhausted!

One of the first things Liz O'Donnell, owner of Elbow Grease organics, says to my mother is,"How can you see through those glasses, I just want to take them off and clean them." Then she started ripping on the house. My instinct was to send her home right then, but I needed the house cleaned because the renters were moving in the next day and I couldn't take the day off.

My mom was there for a bit while I was at work and got to hear Liz make other professional comments like, "When I clean rich people's houses there isn't this much clutter."

I should mention here that we were in the midst of MOVING and that most everything had already been packed up and stored or sent to Boston. There were some things still in flux, of course. But we told her that would be the case when she came and gave a bid. The house is literally echoey because it is so emptied out.

Unfortunately, I not only did not send her home, I also wrote her a big fat check in advance of the house being finished. Big mistake!!!

I got home after work to find the house was NOT clean. Some small amount of cleaning had happened...but there were three people cleaning and it didn't look a lot different than it did when I left in the morning (other than my stuff having been moved around to random locations).

So I stayed up until 4:30AM cleaning and sorting through all the bags they had dumped my stuff into. Miles, bless his heart, refused to go to sleep until around midnight. He insisted on staying up and helping me clean. At eight years old, he could see how bad the situation was...and how bad the cleaning was!

The house looked great by the time we were done. On the plus side, I found a nice hoodie to use as a rag to clean the toilet (ooops...hope it wasn't yours' Liz). And the renters have moved in and seem to be very happy there.

Moral of the story: Avoid Elbow Grease Organics

Coast-to-coast Day 4 - Minn. to Chicago

We get a later start – too tired to be up at 6 again. Hit Twin Cities, and do our usual driving tour, but this is a bigger city (or cities). It’s Sat. morning, so things are quiet. We find the University of Minnesota across the river from downtown Minneapolis, thinking we’d find some restaurants, have a nice brunch. If it exists, we must have missed the street. We drive all around the campus, though, and end up back in downtown Minneapolis. The university is huge, with three campuses in the area. At one point, we're on an overpass and look down, and find ourselves right above the crumbled pieces of the I-35 bridge. Giant blocks of concrete, looking as if it had been deliberately demolished. Not finding any eateries, we head for St. Paul and find ourselves stuck in traffic, at the entrance to the Minnesota State Fair. The state capitol building is grandiose and impressive. This must have been a wealthy state in the mid 1800’s, trying to prove itself to the Eastern states. Lunch at the historic Mickey’s Diner (slow, but hey, it’s got character -- the guy at the info desk at the capitol told us it's where Jesse took Arnold for lunch).

On to Madison, WI. It’s off the freeway. I can see why people love this town. It’s the perfect merger of capitol and university town. The city planning was fabulous, with a big capitol building on a knoll, and a spoke pattern, with boulevards radiating out, one of which heads straight to the Univ of Wisconsin. Lively pedestrian area between the two. We chew up a few more miles after dinner and decide to skip Chicago, but stay in a southern suburb called Harvey, IL, on the Tri-State Tollway. Comfort Inn.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Coast-to-coast Day 3

From Miles City we set our sights on North Dakota. We stop-off at Teddy Roosevelt National Park in the Dakota Badlands. It’s like a smaller scale Grand Canyon. Maybe it was bad for farming, and bad for trying to navigate on horseback. But amazing scenery. Prairie dogs, prickly-pear cactus, bison, and scoria (that’s a geology term we learned). The park is built around the historic western town of Medora (beware of the $5 coffee). On to Bismarck, ND – a sad capitol city, maybe the ugliest either of us has seen. DQ was the best we could manage for lunch. Then, dinner in Fargo, which seems to be the end of Western landscapes and Western style towns. It has a kind of nice, reviving downtown. Dinner at Sammy’s Pizza, which boasts “#2 Pizza in the U.S.A.” (as rated by some New York outfit). It’s been there for 50 years and has a unique crispy crust. Worth the stop. Onward to St. Cloud, MN, Days Inn, check in after 9 pm.

Jake really liked these kiosks in Fargo

Friday, August 24, 2007

Coast-to-coast Day 2 – Montana

Up at 6 am! No more tarrying. Breakfast in Missoula, at The Shack (boysenberry pancakes that sure sound good now). Drive around town looking for a decent bookstore, and find Birds Nest Books, where we pick up an old paperback copy of Moby Dick. Neither of us has read it. It’s perpetually on the list, but never makes it to the top. Theme one emerges – gotta check out the college campuses. We circle around the U of Montana. At Butte, we set another pattern for the rest of the drive. We exit the highway, find the main drag, spend 15 minutes getting a feel for the town and looking for a decent cup of coffee or lunch, and head out. Impression? A hard-scrabble mining town on a hillside. Next stop: Bozeman, home of Montana State (not much of a university area). Excellent coffee milkshake at the Leaf-and-Bean. And a drive-through of Livingston, MT – the old gateway to Yellowstone, a smaller version of Bozeman. At some point this afternoon, we start reading aloud Moby Dick. We discover it’s comedic! And it has something of a 20th century sensibility (published in 1851). Dinner in Billings, at a brew pub. Bigger town, but not much going on. End a long day at 8:45 pm in Miles City, MT, almost across the state, at the War Bonnet Inn.

A town named for Miles!

Thursday, August 23, 2007


...is consuming all of our my time...no time for blogging...just packing. Keith is en-route to Cambridge with a packed mini-van and his friend Jake along for the adventure.

In two days the renters are moving in. Thank God my mother called and offered some help. Thanks, Mom!

Coast-to-coast Journal, I-90 (with deviations)

My good friend and college housemate, Jake, aka Chris Madden, has signed up for the road-trip. There’s something about a road-trip that’s fundamentally attractive. And, I discovered when some people reacted to this with surprise and others with envy, it’s one of those things in life where either you get it or you don’t. I had several friends later tell me, “I wish I could have come, too.” That’s despite the fact that it’s long and there’s not much time to spare (sort of like a reality TV show: We have six days to make it to Boston, before Miles and my mom arrive by plane).

Day 1 – Wed., Aug. 22, 2007. -- We get a late start – there’s too much to do. Not just packing up the van, packing the house. The yard. By 11:30 am, we’re passing under Seattle’s “Portal to the Pacific,” heading East. Lunch in Ellensburg.
A pit stop at Gingko Petrified Forest (state park) – thought-provoking and memorable, every time I’ve been there. Giant trees made of stone. Jake’s never been to the region before and Grand Coulee is screaming to him from our map. Detour #1. We skirt Soap Lake (I summarize the story I did for NPR), and enter an incredible canyon country – the coulees. They’re remnants from ancient, monumental floods. Again, forces of nature so vast that you can't help but feel Awed. Grand Coulee Dam? No longer the “Mightiest thing ever built by a man,” but still a landmark. Dinner in Spokane, where we realize we’re desperately behind schedule. We had planned to get to Missoula. But it was already getting dark. We started calling ahead to hotels and found Missoula is totally booked. We settle for Wallace, Idaho, arriving at 9 pm. The only room left is the Presidential Suite – huge and overpriced (essentially like a room in a Days Inn with enough square footage for leg-wrestling) (which we did not attempt).

Sitting on a piece of petrified forest.