Saturday, August 8, 2009

Before We Left…

Why’d we take this trip? Well, Vince and I had been throwing around ideas for a trip for awhile. Finally a few months ago we said, “Let’s go for it,” and started thinking about what we’d like to do. A trip to California seemed like a logical choice as we’re both huge fans of comedy and music, many of which comes from the area. And throw in my fear of flying (or fear of crashing, really) and the road trip was born.

We started brainstorming ideas and before long we had a trip figured out. Vince had been to San Francisco, but nowhere else in California, so there were many things neither of us had seen. Big thanks goes to Vince and all the planning he did. He did way more than me. Plus he spent a lot of time figuring out routes that might’ve taken us longer to drive, but offered breathtaking views. Whether our breath was taken by an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean or the fact we were this close to falling off a mountain, well, we’ll just have to figure that out later.

Day 1: Saturday July 25th, 2009

Overland Park, Kansas to Albuquerque, New Mexico

Quote of the day: “It’s like Medieval Nights [medieval themed family restaurant], but with fanny packs.”

In my Toyota Sienna mini-van I picked up Vince bright and early at 8:00 a.m. We had a long drive ahead of us, and we had planned early on to get moving at an early time rather than sleeping in everyday.

Our mission for the day was to make it to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The drive there was fairly dull, except for a couple incidents. One could be the guy who tried desperately to barge in on Vince in the men’s room at a gas station. Apparently not deterred by a locked door, he kept on pushing and pushing.

We stopped for dinner at the Big Texan in Amarillo, Texas. It’s a big tourist attraction and on the highway there are signs advertising a 72 ounce steak that is free – if eaten within an hour. There’s an excellent Simpsons episode about the very same thing, which I reminded Vince of several times. In the episode Homer challenges a trucker to eat the 72 ounce steak. The trucker, having won before, easily wins, though dies in the process. Homer, in a call to duty, takes over his trucking route and from there, hilarity ensues.

Anyway, the Big Texan is a huge restaurant, maybe the biggest I’ve seen with a definite cowboy theme. They had a gift shop, a firing range (fake guns as far as I know), giant buffalo heads, and various other things. We got seated up on the second level with a perfect view of two unfortunate young men who attempted the 72 ounce steak on a small stage on the first level below. Both finished, but I’m guessing are dead now.

The food seemed okay, though was not without incident. First, Vince’s steakburger was the reddest burger I’ve ever seen. They happily made him a new one though. My chicken sandwich tasted fine, but I drove the remaining four hours slightly hunched over in pain. Maybe we got them back when Vince accidentally knocked over his full cup of raspberry tea. A couple employees with full cowboy outfits came over and cleaned up the mess. But I don’t want to put the restaurant down. It was some of the nicest and most attentive staff I’ve ever seen. The manager came by twice and checked up on us, and our waitress was incredibly friendly and talked up a storm with us, while we made lame jokes, like “Just a bunch of guys from Kansas City!” to cover up the spilled drink and steakburger complaint.

Back on the road we made it to Albuquerque by about 10:00 p.m. their time, which meant we had left 15 hours before. A long day. We stayed the night at a Days Inn and enjoyed the complimentary breakfast in the morning.

Day 2: Sunday July 26th, 2009

Albuquerque, New Mexico to San Diego, California

Sunday was another long day of driving. The drive through New Mexico was fairly scenic, though I got a little tired of seeing billboard after billboard of “Turn right for authentic Indian goods!”

Arizona was very pretty, though very hot. It got up to 112 degrees. I mean, that’s overdoing the heat, don’t you think?

When we got into California we were stopped by the border patrol. A sign advertised their achievements including confiscating more than 3600 pounds of drugs. An officer engaged us in a quick conversation to see if we’d slip up and admit we were hauling several illegal immigrants across the border or that the box of food in the back was actually full of cocaine. The conversation ended in one of our favorite quotes of the trip.

Officer: “What were you doing in Yuma?” [We drove through Yuma to California.]
Vince: “We stopped and got some Arby’s.”

Maybe because he hates roast beef, he backed away and waved us through.

We made it to San Diego by 9:00 p.m. and checked into the Harborview Inn, which offered us a nice view of downtown. We were happy when we were upgraded to a suite for no extra charge, though when we got in our room we were disappointed to see instead of the two double beds we had before, there was now only one bed. I offered to take the couch and then saw there was a bed inside of it, which made for an okay sleep, minus metal poles jabbing me in the back.

We quickly made our way to the Gaslight Quarter area, a hip part of downtown. It gave me that college downtown feel that I love. Despite being a proud graduate of KU and loving Lawrence, I also love the downtown areas of Mizzou and the University of Nebraska. No hatred for those places.

Comic-Con was wrapping up in the downtown area. That would’ve been fun to attend. This year’s guests included Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., people from the Simpsons, and many, many more. Nearby the San Diego Convention Center was an art gallery showcasing prints from Chuck Jones and other animated TV shows/movies including Batman, Superman, The Simpsons, and more. It was very neat to see. Too bad I didn’t have $700 to part with, or else I could own of those.

We walked up and down the streets checking out the area. We both really liked it. We got a slice of pizza from a disgruntled employee at a pizza stand. We stopped for a drink at a place called Rockin’ Baja. A guy was singing and playing songs on an acoustic guitar in the corner. I don’t think anyone was paying attention. I feel your pain. He was playing covers, which included “Fluke” by Jack Johnson, a summery pop song. Not really a fan.

After this we made our way to Henry’s Pub, which was fairly crowded. Karaoke was going on, but weirdly enough, the people participating could actually sing. That’s a rarity. About two songs in, a guy in a Rancid shirt [popular punk band] got up there and started singing, “Fluke” by Jack Johnson. Please, no more!

Though we did like San Diego, I think hearing “Fluke” by Jack Johnson twice was really a sign we would just not fit in there as we don’t really fit in with the beachy vibe. Still, it’s a nice town.

Day 3: Monday July 27th, 2009

San Diego to Los Angeles

Quote of the day: “I wonder if we’ll see any big celebrities.”
“Yeah, like Dom DeLuise.” [Yes, we know he’s dead.]

We got up fairly early and made the three hour drive to Los Angeles. On the way there some girls close to our age pulled up beside us and started dancing and making flirty eye contact. Sounds good to me! I’m still angry they eventually changed lanes and exited. We could’ve been something!

About an hour or two into our drive (and I should thank Vince for putting up with me blaring The Beach Boys), we stopped at Laguna Beach. Due to the show with the same name, I assumed this wouldn’t be a nice place, but it was actually very pretty and seemed like a cool town. We got several good photos there. We then continued up to Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, not stopping, but driving through. It seemed like a really nice area.

Around 1:00 we got to El Segundo, which is slightly outside Los Angeles, where we’d be staying with Meredith, a friend of Vince’s family. We talked to her for a little bit and then we were on our way to experience Los Angeles. This would be the only time we talked to her all trip, even though we were in Los Angeles until Wednesday, as she left for work before we woke up and we returned home past midnight both Monday and Tuesday.

First we drove to Amoeba Records, one of the most amazing music stores I’ve ever seen. They had everything! I’ve never seen a better collection. After browsing for half an hour, we walked back to my car. Wait a minute. Where’s my car. We parked right here. But it’s gone. There was plenty of money in the meter. We were within the lines. The sign said we could park here! Right!!?

I called the impounded number on the sign. After a long time they told me that my car had in fact been impounded. We’ve been in L.A. for three hours and my car has already been impounded! It both bothered me and I could laugh at it. What a story to tell my friends! I eagerly texted my friends, Aaron and Katlyn, informing them of my horrible luck.

We made the long walk to Hollywood Tow and picked up my car. In addition to the $243 impounding fee they had told me about on the phone, there was a ticket from the police for $150. Jeez! I showed a picture I took of the sign to the officer, and he gave me an appeal form. I was sure we had done nothing wrong. In fact, today (August 6th) I filled out some forms and mailed them in to contest the ticket, though further research tells me we did park where we shouldn’t have, so I don’t think I’ll be getting that money back. But heck, California is bankrupt. Consider it a donation, an effort towards good karma.

We then ventured down to Hollywood Boulevard, which contains the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and many other landmarks. The Michael Jackson star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame had a big crowd around it. It had been turned into sort of a memorial.

Despite what sounds like an awesome area, it was one of our least favorites of the whole trip. Every other store was a sleazy place selling Elvis license plates or Michael Jackson R.I.P. t-shirts. Plus it was hard to walk without someone hitting you up for money or handing you their hip-hop CD. And then there were all the people dressed as Spiderman or some other movie character who would take a picture with you . . . if you pay them. It’s definitely a tourist spot and though we were tourists ourselves, it just wasn’t our cup of tea. Perhaps it was the cup of tea that Vince spilled at Big Texan. Okay, lame metaphor.

But at least I did see the star for one of my favorite actors, James Cagney:

For dinner we went to the Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill. We went there mainly to see a weekly stand-up comedy show called “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” which is hosted by Maria Bamford, one of our favorite comedians. She’s done some Comedy Central specials, bit parts in movies and TV, and is a fairly successful voice actor (something I’d like to get into) and has appeared on shows like Hey Arnold! and Word Girl.

Unfortunately she obviously can’t host it when she’s out of town, which we knew she would be. I mean, come on, so you have a gig doing stand-up in Dublin, Ireland—you can skip it for one night, can’t you? Still, we were excited to see what comedians would be there. It’s a fairly random event. You don’t know who will show up, unless if you get on Twitter that day where some of the lineup is posted. It’s not something that draws big-name comedians at all, but if you’re in tune to the comedy world, you might see a face or two you recognize.

The crowd was very small, about 30 to 45, many of which were comedians. We stayed for about six, before we had to leave. Three weren’t too good, but the other three were, all of which either Vince or I recognized.

The first one we really liked was Matt Besser. I didn’t recognize his name, but immediately recognized his face. He was one of the founders of the popular sketch comedy group, Uprights Citizens Brigade (other founders included Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz from Saturday Night Live). He did characters that an audience member pulled from a pile of 3 x 5 cards. He was very funny, my favorite of the night. One of the guys where anything he says gets a laugh.

After this we were told the next comedian was going to be appearing on Conan the next night. It was Jimmy Carr from Great Britain. He was also very funny with mostly one-liners. I believe he’s been on Conan several times.

Later was another face I recognized, but didn’t know his name. It was Jordan Carlos. Another really funny guy. Looking up his credits I see he’s been a regular on The Colbert Report where he plays Alan, Stephen’s “black friend.”

After the sixth comedian we had to leave to get in line at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. On the walk there we talked about how excited we were we got to see some fairly successful comedians in a small, intimate setting.

The Upright Citizens Brigade opened a theatre and training center in New York and then one in Hollywood in 2005. They teach improv/comedy classes and put on nightly shows of sketches and other things. The theatre is very small, about 150 seats around a tiny stage, and tickets are just $5. The area the theatre is located in is a pretty hip part of Hollywood, much better than Hollywood Boulevard. It had a couple bars, cafes, and bookstores nearby.

The show we were going to see was called “Doug Benson Loves Interrupting Movies.” It’s a show done once a month hosted by, you guessed it, Doug Benson. The premise is Doug invites a few other comedians and they watch clips from movies (the theme for this night was “summer blockbusters”) and make fun of them.

I was not familiar with Doug beforehand, though quickly realized I had heard of him from his documentary called Super High Me, a spoof on Super Size Me. I have not seen this movie, but had heard of it for some reason. Doug makes no secret of his love for marijuana and was even named the 2006 Stoner of the Year by High Times Magazine.

Taking a seat, it was obvious right away that this was our type of crowd. Most of the people looked around our age and dressed similar and obviously were there for a lot of the same reasons we were – fans of comedy.

Doug came out and talked a little bit to the audience, promoting his new CD. Like Matt Besser from the stand-up thing, almost everything he said, whether intentional or not, got a laugh. He introduced his first guest, another guy I immediately recognized. It was Samm Levine who I know from one of my favorite dumb comedies, Club Dread. You can currently see him in a small part in the new Brad Pitt/Quentin Tarantino movie, Inglorious Basterds. He and Doug carried on a conversation for awhile just about movies and so on, and we learned several of Samm’s scenes in Inglorious Basterds had been cut. The movie they chose to make fun of was a scene in Speed, which received many laughs. Doug then picked Con-Air and they laughed at the ending from that, the ending which showed Las Vegas, where we’d be going in a few days.

Next was Scott Aukerman who I wasn’t familiar with, but I learned has written for some TV shows and has done some small acting roles. He too carried on a conversation with Doug and then they watched a scene from Jaws and The Dark Knight, getting laughs from both.

They also told the audience they were trying to get Zach Galifianakis (the big bearded guy in The Hangover among other movies) to come down for the show, but instead he was going to be at tomorrow night’s sketch show, which Vince and I were sad we’d miss. Zach, he’s a huge name! Very funny. Good stand-up comedian too.

Simply put, it was a great time. Vince and I were pretty energized after that. It was a hilarious time and in particular, a very intimate show. As audience members we felt a part of it.

Day 4: Tuesday July 28th, 2009

Los Angeles

Tuesday was our day to explore the various districts of Los Angeles. First we stopped in Silver Lake, which is supposed to be a pretty cool part of town and it definitely was. It had that cool college-town vibe I’ve mentioned. Some notable residents (at least at one time) include Parker Posey, Ryan Gosling, Beck, and many others.

We mostly drove around the town, but stopped at Rockaway Records, which, in addition to records and CDs, had an amazing collection of autographs, old magazines, photos, and more. They had several autographs from all members of the Beatles, Beach Boys, and more. All of these autographs were for sale. In particular there was a Hofner Bass Guitar signed by Paul McCartney. Got $18,000? Well then the autographed bass guitar can be yours.

Next we drove to nearby Los Feliz, which had a similar feel to Silver Lake. I liked it a lot. I imagine if I lived in Los Angeles, which has been an interest of mine, I’d probably choose the Silver Lake or Los Feliz areas.

Just down the street is the Griffith Park and Observatory, which offers a great view of the Hollywood sign among other things. In particular I wanted to see the bronze bust of James Dean that is located outside the observatory. Many important scenes in James’s classic film Rebel Without A Cause were filmed outside and inside the observatory. For those that don’t know, my obsession with James Dean borders on creepy. Whether it was freshman year in college where I tried to style my hair like his, the monthly calendars of him I’ve had on my wall for the last several years, the multiple posters I’ve bought, the numerous books I’ve read, or the fact I was thrilled when the last girl I tried to date (tried is the key word) had the last name of Dean (perhaps if we got married I’d take her last name!), there is plenty of evidence to prove this fact.

Next we drove to Burbank where a lot of the television studios are, but we learned many didn’t offer tours, or they were just too expensive, so we decided to pass on this.

Driving a couple miles we ended up at the historic Hollywood Bowl where the kind woman working the museum informed us we could walk through the seating area if we wanted to. That was neat. To be near the stage where so many amazing concerts have taken place. The Beatles, Monty Python, and hundreds more.

Our major event for the day was attending a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Meredith (the woman we stayed with) knew someone who worked there and arranged for us to get tickets. We had some time to kill before this so we went back to Hollywood Boulevard and ate at Pig n’ Whistle. No idea where the name comes from. Our waiter was extremely enthusiastic and very funny. When we ordered Cokes, he bolted with electricity and said, “Have you ever had Mexican Cokes? I’m gonna get you two of those. You’ll love them.” They tasted about the same, but have less “evil” things in them or whatever. When we both ordered this one chicken sandwich, he again was excited. “Your face will love it! That's my favorite thing.” And wow, he was right! It tasted great.

Next we went to the El Capitan Theatre, where Jimmy Kimmel Live is filmed. We got to be near the front of the line due to being called “houseguests,” something Meredith’s connection got us. Eventually we were let into the theatre and were given seats in the 5th row.

Before the show a warm-up comedian came out to entertain . . . no wait, that’s not the right word. What is the one I’m looking for? Oh yeah: annoy the crowd. Sorry, but I could not stand this guy, prancing around the stage making fun of people in the audience and trying to act over-the-top. Eventually Jimmy came out and we gave him the standing ovation we had been instructed to do beforehand. Not that Jimmy is undeserving. While I’ve never watched Jimmy Kimmel Live, I’ve always thought Jimmy was a good, entertaining guy.

We were disappointed to learn one of the night’s guests, Leslie Mann (you might’ve seen her in Knocked Up, Orange County, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and many other comedies) actually taped her interview the week before, though it’d be airing in that night’s show.

Finally the taping began. Jimmy seemed very funny as he delivered his monologue and commented on the various clips and other things. The one guest we did get to see in person was Eric Winter, a guy who I had never heard of, but learned is a star on Days of our Lives.

The musical entertainment for the evening was a young band called Parachute, who sounded like a million other bands on the radio these days.

So while not a highlight of the trip, it was pretty neat to see a live taping of a popular show. Big thanks goes to Meredith for making that happen. Plus on the broadcast that night you can see us pretty well in the audience for a couple seconds!

The taping got over at 8:15, so Vince and I decided we wanted to see another show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Sadly we wouldn’t be able to make the 8:30 sketch comedy show featuring Zach Galifianakis, but when we called the theatre they told us the 11:00 show would feature two people from Saturday Night Live, two of the newest cast members, Abby Elliott and Casey Wilson.

Before the show we got a drink and snack at Birds, a restaurant and bar next to the UCB Theatre. Then we went to the two bookstores that were nearby. At Counterpoint Records and Books I bought a novel by Dawn Powell. After making the purchase, Vince chose to wait in line by the theatre while I took the book back to my car. Rounding the corner walking behind a few people my age, all of a sudden a door opened up and out he came. Out came Zach Galifianakis! Obviously just having finished his show at the UCB Theatre. He was shy and quiet, like I’ve seen him in interviews, but he gladly signed autographs and posed for pictures.

This photo was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. And as you can see he’s much more capable of growing a beard than my disappointing attempt:

When I met back up with Vince and gloated about my photo, he said while waiting in line someone had bumped into him and quietly said sorry before continuing to walk away, and that after turning around, Vince had realized that was Zach himself, so we both had “run-ins” with Zach, though obviously in different ways.

As for the show itself, it was again amazing! Vince and I had a great time. I didn’t know what to expect, but was blown away by how creative and hilarious the sketches were. I’ve been writing some sketches lately, and this was definitely a great learning experience. It was very inspiring. So once again Vince and I felt right at home at the UCB Theatre, one of the definite highlights of the trip.

Day 5: Wednesday July 29th, 2009

Los Angeles to Seaside, California

Wednesday was our final day in Los Angeles and we still had a few places we wanted to see.

We started the morning off by going to the Venice district, and more specifically Venice Beach, another really interesting part of town. Zach Galifianakis lives there along with one of my favorite actors, Paul Giamatti. Near the beach were several small shops selling a variety of things. As Vince described it, felt like a place reggae music should be played.

Then we drove to Santa Monica, which felt like a more upscale version of Venice. It was very clean and just seemed brighter than the somewhat gloomy Venice (though that was also due to the misty weather that was in Venice). We checked out the pier there, which had a few rides.

And to close out our L.A. part of the trip, we drove to Topanga Canyon, a woodsy area with winding roads where we were only able to drive 25 mph. For the celebrities that want to get away, this part of town has housed Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, and more. It took us forever to find a restaurant that was open for lunch, but finally we settled on a roadside place called Pat’s Topanga Canyon. There were only about 10 people in there and one time we were asked to move to a smaller table so some people that had been sitting outside and were getting bothered by bees could have it. The food wasn’t the best and I was a little mystified when I ordered a $2.25 coke and just got a can and a cup of ice, a can I could buy here for about 30 cents as part of a 12-pack (this same thing happened in San Francisco).

But then one of the weirdest things of the whole trip happened. Vince started to whisper to me, “Is that Taylor Hawkins, the drummer for Foo Fighters?” I looked around and realized it probably was. Finally when he walked by, Vince tapped him on the shoulder and asked if it was him. It was! (For those that don’t know, Vince and I are both drummers). We proceeded to carry on a friendly conversation with him for a couple minutes. He asked about our trip and told us more about what he was up to and said one of the guys eating with him was the bass player for Foo Fighters. We didn’t bother asking for an autograph or pictures, but that was fine with us. I’ve been lucky to meet dozens of well-known musicians, but he was honestly one of the nicest and most personable ones I’ve encountered.

After this we embarked on a seven-hour drive in an attempt to make it to Monterey, California. Vince had chosen an alternate route to get there, one that took the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, which like the name suggests, is right on the Pacific Coast. What we didn’t realize is this meant we were driving on the side of a mountain on a winding, extremely narrow road, where we could only go about 30 mph, or else we’d crash, and that we’d be on this for about four hours. Along the way we took several photos that are some of the most scenic I took all trip. Still when we made it to an Econolodge in Seaside, California (basically Monterey), we couldn’t stop talking about how thankful we were to finally be off the road. It was neat, but I think we’d pass if we drove up California again.

Day 6: Thursday July 30th, 2009

Seaside to San Francisco

Getting to Seaside put us about two and a half hours from San Francisco. On our way there we decided to take a quick detour and stop in Santa Cruz, a city we had heard nothing but good things about. I really loved it. It was one of my favorite cities. It seemed very laid back and cool and gave me a similar feeling to Venice or Silver Lake, but maybe even better.

In particular we stopped at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a small, but very fun amusement park. It’s free to enter and you pay by the ride, which worked fine with us as I wasn’t planning to ride anything (most rides make me sick) and Vince mainly wanted to ride the historic wooden roller coaster, the Giant Dipper. Vince is a “coaster enthusiast” as they call them and didn’t want to pass up this one, the sixth oldest in the United States (it was build in 1924). While he rode it twice (he loved it), I walked around, took photos, and bought a hot dog for $3.82. It was awesome. While I’m too scared to ride most rides, I really love the amusement park atmosphere, which helps explains the hours and hours I’ve spent playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, a computer game (I believe I spent an entire month playing it everyday, all day, the summer after 8th grade).

A couple hours later we were in San Francisco on a cool Thursday morning. We checked into the Oasis Inn and made a plan for the day.

We first ventured into the Haight-Ashbury district, known for its importance in 60s music. Right away it was apparent that San Francisco is loaded with people a lot like us (in their 20s, into music, bad posture, etc…). We then stopped at Amoeba Records, which I believe is the original one. They also had a great selection and we each bought a CD. I bought a self-titled album by The Postmarks and Vince got a Mother Hips CD he had loaned to a friend that was never returned. Next we stopped to see the house where members of the Grateful Dead lived for a few years in the 60s.

Next we went through Delores Park, which is apparently a prime spot for drug deals late at night. Then we made it to the Mission District area, which was one of my favorites. Lots of cool bookstores everywhere. I bought a Joan Didion novel at one of them. Next we stopped at 826 Valencia, a writing center for kids that was started by one of our favorite authors and a San Francisco resident, Dave Eggers. It now has several locations all over the country. Because of a city ordinance that said any business in the area had to be retail or catering, the front of the store sells pirate-related goods. It’s really neat. Eyepatches, compasses, skull flags, treasures, and more. It’s a really popular place.

Following this we made it to the North Beach area, a pretty upscale part of town loaded with Italian restaurants. We both liked this area a lot. We ate dinner at L’Osteria del forno. The food and atmosphere was pretty solid and not too expensive. Though again I got my $2.25 can of coke and glass of ice. I guess my complaint is when you get a can, you wonder if you still get free refills. Oh well.

After dinner we walked over to the City Lights Bookstore, which was a popular hangout for a lot of the Beat-era writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. It had a great collection of books. I would’ve bought a ton, but I prefer to buy used (just cheaper), and they only sold new books, so I walked out empty handed.

Right next door is Vesuvio’s, a bar that was frequented by a lot of Beat writers too. This place was great. Vince and I got a couple drinks there, including one called “The Jack Kerouac.” It was two stories, but still very small and for lack of a better word, cozy. We had one drink, decided to scout the area more, and then came right back for another one. The door guy even said, “Were you just here like an hour ago? Or was that yesterday?”

We also stopped by the Beat Museum. Because it was late, we couldn’t actually take the tour (and it cost money), so we just looked around the small collection of books that included one by Hilary Clinton, which obviously seemed out of place, but maybe she wrote several “anti-establishment” poems or something, though I doubt those were in the book they had for sale there.

Day 7: Friday July 31st, 2009

San Francisco

We tried to start off our day eating breakfast at the popular spot, Dottie’s, but a line down the street convinced us to try the Olympic Flame CafĂ© instead, which offered a nice meal as well. During the meal I noticed a phenomenon where if there’s a TV at a restaurant I’m compelled to watch it, even if it doesn’t contain something I’m interested in. At home I’m not a big TV watcher, but there I was eating my scrambled eggs and watching none other than The Martha Stewart Show with Joan Rivers as the guest.

Then we drove down the Golden Gate Bridge, which was awesome, except for the $6 toll you have to pay on the way back. But anyway, just past the bridge are the Marin Headlands, which offers a great view of the bridge. We took several photos there.

Following that, we went to North Beach again and Vince got coffee at CaffĂ© Trieste, the spot where Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay for The Godfather. Pretty neat place. We then walked through Chinatown, which is pretty cool, but we mostly just walked right through it. And then we made our way to the Coit Tower, but didn’t go up it, because it cost money, and it wasn’t that intriguing to us.

But man, walking was hell. It’s San Francisco, so incredibly steep streets are everywhere. My legs and feet were killing me. Perhaps I should’ve engaged in months of training like I did before my hiking trip with the Boy Scouts to Philmont (in New Mexico) in 2001.

Despite my legs begging me to stop, we went over to the Mission District again and checked out a few more bookstores. While there we were stopped by an enthusiastic girl trying to get Vince and me to sign up for Greenpeace. That’s what we get for both wearing green coats. We said we’d check out their website and consider joining after that (okay, so I lied, I’m sorry!) and parted ways.

We spent a long time trying to find a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Finally we found a place called Taquero. After two years of Spanish in college, I’m still not that good at it, but I believe that translates to “frequent bathroom visits.” The food tasted great, but my night was spent in a revolving door of bathroom visits, and taking two shots of Pepto Bismol. That’s something I learned from Boy Scouts – be prepared. Or more specifically, be prepared for what may come of eating a large burrito.

We ate the food in our hotel room and then around 7:00 I drove Vince to a nearby BART Station so he could take the public transit system to Berkeley to see one of his all-time favorite bands, the Mother Hips, play at the Starry Plough Pub. A lot of the trip had been planned around this event. The Mother Hips fall into a lot of genres, but if I had to classify them I’d say Americana with Alt-Country, Rock, and more. The band broke up a few years ago, but has been playing some shows mainly in California the last couple years, so Vince hadn’t had a chance to see them.

While Vince was at the concert I hung out in our hotel room, engaged in the revolving-door thing I was talking about earlier, read, and relaxed. It was nice to get off my feet. I watched a video online of comedian Jimmy Carr’s performance on Conan from a couple days before. This was the comedian Vince and I saw in Hollywood on Monday. I recognized all the jokes.

Around 1:00 I picked up Vince who was full of enthusiasm after a great sold-out concert. He got his photo with three of the band members who were blown away he had come so far to see them.

This basically concluded our stay in San Francisco. Sometimes it just felt too busy and crowded for what I prefer. Walking was extremely strenuous and driving could be a nightmare. Still, like Los Angeles, I felt like I got pretty good at driving it after a couple days. I started to understand more how everything was laid out. So while it was not my favorite of the trip, I still enjoyed it.

Day 8: Saturday August 1st, 2009

San Francisco to Las Vegas

We left our hotel bright and early and got on the road to Las Vegas. On the way there Vince got a call from Greg, a friend of ours from high school. Greg also played in my band in high school, the one that did a week-long tour of the Midwest in 2004. We learned one of our high school classmates would be transferring in a week or so to UC Berkeley for law school, so we had missed him by a week.

We got into sweltering hot Las Vegas around dinner time. We stayed at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. Everywhere was posters for the dazzling “Magic and Tigers of Rick Thomas.” After eating at the buffet in the hotel, we decided to make our way down the Las Vegas strip. Strip is an appropriate word, considering everywhere are men and a few women handing out cards for strippers you can call to your room. Similar to a promise from a pizza restaurant, they’ll be there in twenty minutes or less. So we called and arranged for a couple to come up around 9:30. Okay Mom, I’m just kidding!

Vince heard a man yell at the people handing out these cards:

Disgruntled man: “They’re just hookers!”
Man handing out cards: “Hey, don’t insult my boss!”

My legs and feet were still killing me and this walk certainly didn’t help. I didn’t make it all the way down the strip, but very close, and then made the grueling walk back, which took well over an hour just to walk back. But anyway, along the way we stopped at a few of the casinos and played some slots, before concluding the night at the casino in our hotel. We gambled at a few places. I don’t exactly remember which ones, but I think we stopped at Caesar’s Palace, the Palazzo, and a couple others. We each just gambled about $20 and came out of it losing about $15.

It was a fun time, but we both agreed one night in Vegas was enough. I think if I ever go back, I need to learn to play blackjack or other games, because all I was really able to do was slot machines.

Day 9: August 2nd, 2009

Las Vegas to Denver

This was another really long day of driving. Overall, I didn’t mind the long drives. After long days of walking they were a nice break, and if it was Vince’s turn to drive, I was able to jot down notes from the trip or read in the book I brought along, Jay McInerney’s How It Ended.

Our destination for the night was the house of an old friend, Henry Willis. Henry was on the drumline with Vince and me at Shawnee Mission South High School and moved to Denver about five years ago. We hadn’t seen him in three years, so we were definitely excited.

We got to his house in Lakewood (about 10 minutes from downtown Denver) and laughed and told stories for about an hour before deciding to get a drink at Pifler’s, a nearby bar. There we met up with his girlfriend. I wish I could remember her name, but anyway, she was super cool and very funny. We had a couple drinks and just laughed and had a great time. It was maybe even my favorite night of the whole trip. While seeing sights, shows, and celebrities can be great fun and very memorable, it’s hard to beat catching up with a great friend you haven’t seen in years.

That’s something that gets me excited about being the age that I am (23). A lot of friends are moving all over the country, and I will soon be too (planning to move to Chicago in a couple months). It’s sad to see people leave, but also exciting to know I have friends all over the country, and living at the time I do, with Facebook and other websites like it, I’m able to keep up with them easily and on a road trip like this, maybe even see of them.

That’s definitely something I’d like to do more of on future road trips, see various friends around the country.

Thanks to Henry for putting us up for the night and showing us a great time!

Day 10: Monday August 3rd, 2009

Driving home

The drive back to Kansas was fairly non-eventful, but there was plenty of discussing the trip. Oh and then there was that guy on the motorcycle who flipped off a middle-aged woman, but yeah that’s about it.

We both deemed the trip a big success. I think we covered a lot of ground (4400 miles to be exact) and everyday when we weren’t driving was filled with lots of cool things. That’s the trip I like. Sitting on a beach for hours doesn’t really interest me. I prefer to keep moving. I don’t think the trip would’ve been as fun if we had just gone one place and stayed there for a week. Really, I felt like we got to experience the cities just fine in only a day or two. It forced us to fill the days to the fullest and really try to find out what each place had to offer.

Wow, are you still reading? That’s awfully kind of you. Thanks a lot.

More photos can be seen here: More Photos!