Go West!

On Wednesday, June 27th 2012, Snickers, Meeko, and I officially made it to the state of California!

I spent the morning packing up the car and trying to figure out what I should do with myself for the next few days. Ashwin booked a hotel for us in San Diego on Friday night, where we would start our journey driving along the coast of California. So, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning were totally up to me. I decided to go to Palm Springs, California where my Grandparents on my Mom’s side lived until they passed away. I have many happy memories from my visits there, from swimming in their condo’s pool all day to hiking at Joshua Tree National Park with my sister. Knowing that the next two weeks were going to involve more living out of hotels and suitcases and frequent moves, I wanted to find a place where the dogs and I could just relax. I booked a two night stay in Palms Springs, not bothering to check the weather.

It turns out that Tuscon, Arizona is very hot in the summer. I’m talking 100+ degrees. The Southwest is in the middle of an intense heat wave, and Palm Springs is not exception. I met my cousin and her boyfriend for lunch near University of Arizona’s campus. My cousin is completing a PhD there, studying deep space. I’m not sure exactly what her degree title will be, so rather than be wrong, I will just leave it at that! At our family get togethers, it’s always clear that none of us even come close to understanding the work she does– it’s very impressive!

We figured we could eat outside on a patio in the shade, so my dogs could come along. I really underestimated how Snickers would feel about the heat again. Even with plenty of water, it was clear she was uncomfortable. To make matters worse, the waitress informed us that dogs were not allowed on the actual patio, but we could tie them up to the gate surrounding the patio, and then sit next to them. Poor Snickers spent the whole lunch trying to squeeze herself through the bars to get closer to me. Meeko seemed okay eating ice cubes and greeting passersby. My sandwich and half salad were perfect, and it was fun getting to catch up with my cousin.

We walked back to campus to sit in some shade by the student union to chat a bit more before I headed out. They both recommended that I take I-8 rather than I-10 as passing through Phoenix would slow me down. There was only a 20 mile difference, and some of I-8 ran along the Mexican border. “It’s a much prettier drive,” they assured me, “and maybe you’ll get to stop for a border check!” I took their advice and found myself driving through huge cacti forests, sand dunes and two border stops. These are random checkpoints where all highway traffic stops and you get questioned one car at a time about where you are coming from, where you are going, and if you are a U.S. citizen. My cousin told me that the questions tended to be light if you looked American. As in, if you didn’t look Hispanic.

The first border check asked if the car I was driving was mine. I almost said yes– I’ve spent so much time in Ethel she’s really starting to feel like mine! “Um, no, it’s my boyfriend’s.” Then they asked if I had any plants or animals. I reflected briefly on my time with my lucky bamboo plant, then pointed out the two crates in the backseat. “I’ve got two dogs with me in the back.” I was waived through. The second border check was a bit more intense, and the van in front of my got put in neutral and pushed over to the side for more inspection. But still, I was waived on through fairly quickly.

When we were finally greeted by the “Welcome to California” sign, I was ecstatic. We’d made it! After almost a month of traveling, we were finally here. I started thinking about all of the things I hope to accomplish this year. New ways to make money, all kinds of writing endeavors, going through another application season, and really just finding myself and what I am meant to do with my life. I am so excited for this year, and cannot wait to get settled in our new place in San Francisco.

Getting to Palm Springs took longer than I thought due to all the border stops, and by 9pm I knew I needed to get some dinner. I stopped at a travel center for their Subway only to find the place crawling with flies. I wasn’t taking any chances, so I left that store. In the same plaza, there was a drive through Starbucks. There is something about drive throughs that I really dislike– it’s weird ordering things when you can’t see them, and the whole yelling to the speaker is weird. In this age of technology, why have we not been able to improve on drive throughs?

I ordered a small hot chocolate and an oatmeal, or “Perfect Oatmeal” as Starbucks calls them. I’ve had both things from Starbucks before and have never had any problems. Both items tasted fine when I ate them. Well, by the time I got to the hotel, I knew something was wrong. I was up until 3am waiting out food poisoning. My best guess is either the water for the oatmeal was contaminated, or the person preparing everything just had dirty hands. Pretty scary considering they shouldn’t really have been touching anything!

My current location is at a Panera Bread in Palm Springs because the “free WIFI” at my hotel does not reach my room. I’m still not 100%, but I think a nice hot soup will do me some good, despite it being 102 degrees out and climbing. The dogs and I probably won’t do much today unless it cools off this evening. But they are having a great time snuggling on the bed with me watching National Geographic in the air conditioning. Lunch time!

Location: Palm Springs, California

Cross country road trip: The Plan

I’ve given a lot of thought into how to approach this road trip. My conclusion is that this is a perfect opportunity for me to explore the Southern states that I have never been to before, and to really take my time. I realize that cross country road trips are usually “once in a lifetime” ordeals, but this is actually my second cross country road trip.

The first one was the Summer of 2009, driving San Francisco to Pittsburgh with my boyfriend, with the express purpose of getting his car to Pittsburgh and going to Lollapalooza. With limited time and money, and no doggies, we took the Northern route, camping at the Grand Canyon without a tent and arguing over who had to drive through Nebraska. This time around, I’ll still have money in mind, but with no job to get to (or concert to be at) I can take all the time I want. I also know that driving by myself from Raleigh to San Francisco, I have to be realistic about how many hours I can do each day.

There are a few places that I know I will be staying longer than one night. The first is my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding in Raleigh– I’ll be there from May 30th until June 4th.  We are staying at a family friend’s house, who I’ve heard also has a dog. Maybe Meeko and Snickers will make a friend?

From there, I am heading to Mt. Juliet, Tennessee to visit my Aunt and Uncle and my cousins. One of my cousins has started a family, but I have never met either of her little boys. I’m very excited to meet my new second cousins! I haven’t seen this side of my family in about six years, but with the potential of being in the South for grad school, perhaps I will get to see them more often.

After that, I’ll be on my own for a bit, going through Arkansas and Mississippi. I’ve driven over the Mississippi river once, but this time, I’m going to find a place to stop and hang out by it. Maybe there is a state park along it so I can dip my feet in? If it’s not too out of the way, I plan to drive through the campuses  of Ole Miss (University of Mississippi in Oxford) and University of Central Arkansas as they are potential MFA programs for me. In my head, living in these places for three years would be a grand adventures, but the realistic side of me says you’d better go check these towns out before you sign any leases!

I’ve never been to Louisiana, and being a huge Anne Rice/Vampire Chronicles fan, I have this image of Louisiana that a mix of the forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and James Bond’s Live and Let Die. I’m very curious to see New Orleans, to see how reconstruction is going and to find Lousiana State University, one of my dream MFA programs, and University of New Orleans. Continuing west, I’ll stop and see McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

After a few days in Louisiana I’ll drive further south to Corpus Christi, Texas where my sister lives. She’s just finished one part of her schooling to become a Navy Pilot! They are deciding which of the planes they want her to fly, which will determine her next step of more specialized training. By this point, I will probably be sick of driving, so staying at my sister’s for a week will be a fun mini-vacation for all of us!

Driving through the rest of Texas, I’ll head up to the University of New Mexico then west through Arizona. I love the landscapes of the Southwest, especially all of the rock deserts.

What happens next is still undecided. Do I drive along the coast of California along the famous Route 1? Or do I avoid any traffic jams by driving through Nevada? Ashwin votes for California, but I know it would be cheaper and less congested to go the other way.

I plan to make posts each night, and there will be lots of picture taking for each of my stops. I’m very curious to see how this trip will go, especially with two doggies with me, but at this point I’ve done all of the planning that I can!

Next stop, West Virginia!