Friday, January 21, 2011

The Great American Roadtrip: Day 4: EL PASO TO... SANDERSON? DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS

FRIDAY JANUARY 14, 2011, EL PASO TO... SANDERSON?  DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
It’s only our fourth day and I’m already tired of waking up early.  In fact, I’m just plain tired.  Rom woke up slightly earlier than me this morning so she could take a shower, and I didn’t even wake up to that.  When she got out however, she turned the light on, waking me up immediately and causing me to roll and groan.  I got up eventually though and we slowly moved downstairs, leaving our key at reception. A man held the door for us as he asked us where were headed and then told us we were lucky to have a car.  Thanks. 

The freeway entrance was right in front of us, but I thought maybe we’d stop at a gas station first, just to get some water.  I remembered seeing one somewhere, but I couldn’t find it again, so we just got on.  El Paso freeways, at 6:45 am, were the busiest we’d seen since leaving LA and I got easily aggravated at the asshole drivers who wouldn’t let me in.  Driving in LA is all about being pushy, but driving in Texas, this was even more the case.  I really had to be dominant to get myself in.  Rom laughed at me as I drove along the freeway, thinking I had turrets or some affliction by the way I was yelling profanities.  Nothing too out of the norm I suppose. 
When traffic lightened up a bit and cars began to veer off, we stopped at a gas station to get some water, a few breakfast items and use the bathroom.  I went into the bathroom, then walked back out.  When did this country get so many doorless bathrooms?!  There were two stalls in the women’s room, neither containing a door.  We’d have to eventually stop again to use the toilet.  For now we’d just get water, and ooh, they had bananas.  I picked out two that were slightly green, excited for breakfast, but when I opened one, it was so unripe it wouldn’t peel.  Somehow I thought the other one wouldn’t be as bad, but instead I just had 2 bananas that wouldn’t peel.  All I wanted was a banana.  
We drove a little while longer before stopping again, just quickly for a bathroom break, then back out onto the road.  Shortly there after though, there was a border checkpoint.  The usual question, “are you both from the States” appeared and once again Rom had to hand over her passport.  The tough demeanor of the officer had changed and the hard looking young man had turned into a pile of teenage mashed potatoes. 
“Australia.  Cool!”  He seemed to melt as he said this, a large sincere smile coming over his face, his eyes wide and a glow about him that wasn’t there 30 seconds back.  He waved us on and I told Rom she made his day.  She had missed all of that, too entertained by the fact that he responded to her as “cool”.    Now we could keep driving straight until we reached, what  might have been, our stopping destination for the day.
Fort Stockton was the largest city between El Paso and San Antonio, but it was not somewhere I wanted to stay.  Motel 6, Lazy 8, Holiday In Express and a few other cheap chains lined the freeway exits, as did every chain of gas stations and fast food restaurants.  We stopped at the first gas station to fill up and find out if there was a supermarket around.  I asked for directions hoping Rom would be listening, but she was so entranced by the first thick Texan accent she heard that she, completely bewildered by it, stopped paying attention.  The directions were simple.  Something about a left and a light, but I’m just so awful with them, that the two things she told me to do, I had already forgotten.  The city couldn’t be that big, I’m sure we’d find it.  
Sure enough we did.  There was a health food store across the street as well.  Rom figured this might be the only health food store in Texas so we parked the car and ran across the road when no cars were coming, feeling like we were in a difficult level of Frogger.  The health food store however, had shut down and the building was for sale.  I guess this wasn’t quite the place for a its business.  
Inside the store, we started off in the produce department, getting a couple of pieces of fruit, some avocados, tomato and lettuce.  I was in awe of one display they had, where tomatoes, chilis, tomatillos and limes were all sectioned together; it was like it’s own little salsa section.  I loved it.  How to spot a tourist, they take pictures of things like that.  Rom searched around for cereal and bread, while I, after pissing off a little mexican woman behind the counter for asking for 3 sliced of turkey, realized I hadn’t gotten enough.  I made Rom ask for more when she got her cheese and we paid and  hit the road, deciding to go to the next town on the map, hoping it would be better.  On the way out of town though, we had to stop to take a picture of the largest roadrunner in the western hemisphere.  A dog followed us while we did that, then we said goodbye to him. Rom drove from here on out, until we reached Sanderson.
I really don’t know how to describe Sanderson.  It’s something I think everyone should experience for themselves.  It’s one of those tiny towns we only imagined discovering on this trip.  It’s literally 1 long street, about a mile strip 4 gas stations, 4 motels, an R-V park, a tire and feed stop,  a few cafes, most of which were for sale, 4 markets, 1 of which was not open yet, and 1 of which was for sale, the other 2 being markets in 2 of the gas stations, and that’s about it.  The streets are barren.  If you do happen to see someone walking around, they look like cowboys; this was definitely taken straight out of a movie.  Driving down the main drag a few times in circles, the few local folks outside were beginning to take note of us, knowing (besides the fact that I had a California license plate) we were tourists.  I decided that the tire stop might be a good place to try for a tire check so we went inside. 
An electronic doorbell rang as we opened the door to get inside and two men were there.  One man in jeans and a jean shirt with work boots, a cowboy hat, a large  mustache, a few missing teeth and a hearing aid stood, while the other man as will with a cowboy hat, jeans, work boots and a mustache sat.  
“What can we help y’all with?”  He asked in a heavy southern accent.
“I was wondering if perhaps you could check my tires?”  I said in a very non-southern accent. 
“Have ya got 4?”  The man sitting down asked in an even stronger accent, laughing at himself, then looking over at me like I was stupid.  The man standing looked at me perplexed as to why I’d need a tire check, and after I simply responded, “we just do”, he got his pressure gauge checker thingy-mabobber and went out to check the tires.  The guy inside was reading the paper and looked up at us while we stood there.  
“nahrowma-dawaaaaanaa-something!” He said.  I thought he said something about perhaps letting a load off, but I just wasn’t sure.  I smiled anyway and said we were going to go watch how to check the tires.  He looked at me and continued to smile, but now it was one of those “You’re stupid” condescending smiles.  Aside from the fact that I was now embarrassed that this man thought I was stupid, I also couldn’t understand a damn word he said and thought that outside might be a bit less awkward. 
The man outside was checking the tire pressure in all 4 of my wheels.  His final diagnosis, my tires were fine.  He pointed to the front left tire and showed me some marks, saying this was a sure sign that I would need a new tire in the next few months, but for now I’d be okay.  Aside from having to concentrate extremely hard to understand him, he paused mid sentence to spit, right in front of us, and this severely distracted me as well.  I told him of our road trip, saying we were gonna head back to LA after we got to New Orleans.
“Where?” he asked.
“New Orleans.” I responded.
Blank face, “where?”
“New Orleans.”
Blank face, “huh?”
“Louisiana!” I decided to go with something new.  This he understood and just suggested I get it checked there before we headed back.  Great, day 4 and I already had to be worried about my tire. I thanked the man and we went to see how much accommodation would be for the night.  
We stopped first at a Budget Inn, the end of the town, from where we had started.  As we neared the office door, it was opened for us from inside, and an adorable little middle aged indian man, stood there, the phone up to his ear, holding up his index finger to indicate “1 minute”.  
“Sorry, I was on the phone with the IRS,” he said.  “What can I help you with?”  His voice was high and soft.  We asked him how much it was for a night.  He told us the original rate, and then said business was slow and he would give us a deal.  I looked at Rom and asked if maybe we should just stay.  We shrugged, and then I told him we would just go have some lunch, as we weren’t even sure at all that we were staying in town yet.  His face grew long, and he looked sad.  We left and he went back to the phone.  
Rom wanted to get some sort of bread for lunch, so we on over in that direction, turning into the wrong street.  Rom did a u-turn and then waited for a car to pass before turning onto the main drag.  He waved a thank you to us, then turned into the street we were going; where the market was.  It looked closed and so we parked in front of his driveway and asked him about it.  He looked up, then began walking over to our car. 
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear ya.”  His accent thick and his voice low.  Did he just apologize to me for not being able to hear me ask him a question?  He pointed us in the direction of Uncle’s, a small convenient store in front of  a gas station, at “the other end of town”.  We thanked him and then drove off, trying to hold in our laughter until we were out of sight.  Did he just say the other end of town?  It takes 65 seconds to drive through the entire town! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Great American Roadtrip: Day 3:TUCSON TO LAS CRUCES...SCRATCH THAT EL PASO. WAIT, EL PASO IS IN TEXAS?

THURSDAY JANUARY 13, 2011, TUCSON TO LAS CRUCES...SCRATCH THAT EL PASO.  WAIT, EL PASO IS IN TEXAS?
“It’s so early!” I thought to myself as I rolled over trying to block out the sound coming from the bed across from mine.  It was the older woman who fell asleep first last night, also waking up first.  It was sometime around 5 in the morning.  Who wakes up that early?  She must have had somewhere important to go, surely.  I managed to get a bit more sleep before our alarm went off.  Ahh.  It was still to early! 
I grabbed my clothes that I had laid out the night before and headed to the bathroom.  On my way I nearly bumped into an elderly man with a walker and passed the early rising woman, who sat in the kitchen reading.  She got up that early to do that?  Rom and I grabbed our bags, packed up the car and she got in. I went back to the room, luckily remembering I had left  my ipod under my pillow.  The happy plump woman was now up, looking at her computer, not quite as enthusiastically happy as she was the night before.  Good time for us to leave.
Making our way to the freeway, I sped up, trying hard to merge into the flow of traffic, but it was too heavy.  Why were there so many cars this early in the morning?  On the 8 East, there was a sign along the way for a turn off where we could take the back roads.  We both looked at each other.  Why not?  
The billboards and streets seen from our view before, turned to green shrubbery, mountains and flying birds.  The sun was just beginning to come up and we pulled off into an “emergency” stopping area.  My foot had a cramp, was my excuse for us to get out and take pictures of us with the surroundings.  A few minutes later and we stopped again for another photo op. 

Although a longer route, the back roads also provided more small towns for short visits. The first, was one that Rom had been talking of for the last few days; the eentsy town of Tombstone
Tombstone was like one of those old western sets you see in the movies.  Houses and RVs were sprinkled along the outskirts. The main drag, a small block of a street, consisted of a moccasin and boot shop, a Cowboy church where everyone was welcomed and a few torn small house like buildings, reminiscent of a school play set with wooden cowboys, old wicker chairs and bull skulls laid out for decoration.  It was dreadfully fantastic.  Who wouldn’t want to stop through this place?!
A few more hours of driving, we ended up in Bisbee.  This quaint hilly town, full of retirees and artists reminded us of a small european village.  With grey stone buildings, and little shops leading up windy hills, one couldn’t help but fall for Bisbee’s charm.  We drove up one hill, passing along a chocolate shop that, sadly, wasn’t open and parked in front of someone’s house next to a little market. 
We were both in much need of fresh air and a walk, so we passed by the market, saving it for later and headed down the hill to the center of town.  A few minutes into the walk, we discovered quite a few shops with mexican art, ceramics, paintings and jewelry, all closed at that moment since it was only 9 am. We circled the center, something that took less than 5 minutes and decided we both wanted a coffee.  We headed over to the Bisbee Coffee Company.  Rom held the door for a woman going in, who got quite excited by Rom’s Drexel hoodie.
“Drexel dragons ey?”  she said.  We began to have a chat with the woman as she stood against the door, holding it open for those coming in and going out. She joked that she would soon be applying for the position of the door holder.  She began telling us about the town, having moved there recently from New Jersey with her husband and how they loved it.   She told us to enjoy ourselves and held the door one last time for us as we all entered.  
Rom got a coffee, I got a Mexican hot chocolate; a hot chocolate spiced with cinnamon,. We took a seat inside trying to figure out what we were going to do next and watched the locals around us; everyone seemed to know one another.  Finished with our drinks, we walked back up towards the car, until  Rom discovered a long set of stairs.  Where it led, we didn’t know, so of course we had to find out;  168 steps later, we did.
We arrived at the top of a hill, next to artsy houses, decorated with wind chimes, sculptures, glass figures and unique doors, including a door from an old VW van.  We had the perfect view of the town, a road a little over the way and a giant B on a mountain directly in front of us.  This seemed to be a theme in Arizona; a mountain with the city’s starting letter mounted decoratively on it.   After a few pictures we headed back to the car, popping into the market on the way. 

High Desert Market and Cafe was just that.  A small market and cafe, with a small section for art, the rest being food.  They had already made food, including salads, sandwiches and these amazing looking scones as well as a little market section with foods from all over the world and fresh baked bread;  it was still warm!  So in this time of hunger and the fact that it was still warm, I caved into my desire for wheat. We bought some creamy cow’s milk cheese, a tomato, an avocado and a warm sourdough baguette stuffed inside with asiago cheese, heaps of minced garlic, and ancho chili powder.   The whole car was perfumed with the fragrance of garlic as we placed our lunch into it.  
Being that it was now 11 am, more shops began opening up, including that chocolate shop, Chocoláte (Spirited Artisan Chocolate), we passed in the beginning, so we had to make just one last stop before leaving Bisbee.  The chocolate shop was mini.  We peered into the case to see a wide variety of truffles.  Above the case was a plate full of chocolate dipped ginger cookies; that day’s special and to the right, a display of chocolate bars.   A girl, sporting a covering of tattoos and wearing a bandana over her head came to greet us, offering us a taste of their hot chocolate.  Um, yes please!
“Does anyone ever turn that down?” I asked jokingly. 
“Actually yes, but not very often.” She replied.  Who in their right mind!?  A minute later she came  back with two children’s tea cups of rich hot cocoa.  YUM.  Then we began questioning her about the chocolate bars, to which every question was answered with a sample.   I loved this place!  After settling on a Guatamalen and a Venezualen chocolate bar, we got back in the car on a major sugar rush, ready for the rest of our drive.  
Douglas was our next town.  It is a border town, being that it is situated directly on the US/Mexican border.  There wasn’t much to see and most  signs were written in spanish, a tell tale way of knowing you were close to Mexico.  Confused by the signs and thereby getting lost, we went back to the start of the town to figure out where we were going.  There were no tell tale signs of reassurance once we turned onto the main route.  Ten minutes into the ride, we were relieved to see a sign; yes, we were heading in the right direction.  
We continued down a long straight road with cacti tumbleweed, dirt and mountains surrounding us.  I began to grow sleepy as I started into the vastness of it all and it was decided it would be a good time to switch drivers.  My eyes were closing, but I kept trying to keep myself awake. Finally I nodded off.  Romilly making sure that I would not stay this way, drove quickly over a dip, yelling “WEEEEEE” in a loud high pitched squeal and allowing the car to bump, waking me up in an abrupt manner, to Rom laughing. Ok  ok, I’m up!  She drove for an hour straight before both of us began getting hungry, looking our for somewhere we could stop to eat our cheese and bread, but nothing appeared.  Finally as Rom was hitting her peak speed of the day, she saw an opportunity for a stop on the side of the road and hit the breaks, turning the car into the stop.  Not her smoothest, but it got the job done.  
We set up a dog blanket on the gravel beside us, and placed our spread on it; the bread, cheese, avocado and tomato.  I tried setting up the camera to take a picture of the 2 of us, but being that I forgot my tripod and there was nothing to place it on, I got us and a lot of gravel.  I still got us though! Rom broke off the bread and cut the cheese (ha!) while I sliced the avocado and tomato and we made delicious sandwiches.  Trucks kept passing us on their long drives looking surprised to see two girls sitting on the side of the road with a picnic.  We just waved and continued to enjoy our food. 
Tummies full, we got back in the car, Rom still at the wheel until we neared El Paso.  At a certain point, we weren’t sure which way to go, so I began checking the map.  What we found out made us both a little shocked and tickled.  Not only was El Paso not in New Mexico, but we were no longer in New Mexico either.  We had hit Texas, but when? 
Rom not good with driving in traffic and I am not very skilled with a map so we switched to the original set up. Rom directed me to somewhere, although at this point, neither of us were sure of where the hell we were or were going. We were getting lower and lower on gas.  The road continued on to some form of city and we finally saw a gas station, and civilization.  I decided to skip it though and kept driving, panicked that I  missed our only opportunity for gas.  
Thankfully, I hadn’t and we stopped at the next station for gas and and to find out our exact location, making sure we were in Texas and close to El Paso.  While I filled up, Rom asked for directions and ensured me that yes, we were in Texas, and yes, El paso was near.  Phew!  Now all we needed to do was find it and get accommodation.  
Driving into downtown El Paso, we passed by a street filled with Mexican restaurants, bakeries, shops, stalls and more.  It was like a mini Mexico, hustling and bustling.  It looked grand, but we were both exhausted and just wanted to find a place to stay first.  Rom searched the internet on my phone for hostels and we called up one, where the lady told me to check the internet for pricing.
“You can’t just tell me how much it cost?”  I asked.
“Well Maam, I can tell you the walk in rate.”  She responded.  We’d try somewhere else first.  I called up another place, figuring maybe it’d be at most $79.  Try $179.  No thanks.  Hostel/Hotel number 1 it was and we made our way around a block a few times until we finally found it, 11 hours later from when we had left Tucson. 
Rom went inside to ask about parking and she told us to park at a meter and ignore all the signs on it, not to worry about paying.   I pulled up to a meter, not very trusting of what she said, so I payed for a half hour until it was no longer needed, but I worried about the 2 hours in the middle of the night when we were not supposed to be parked there.  She assured me we’d be fine, so I hesitantly believed her, telling her I’d let them know if I got a ticket. 

We got our key for Room 117, asking her before heading up in an old elevator if she had any suggestions for a mexican restaurant near by.  She suggested a local dive bar called “Tap” so we thought that might be an idea for later on.  Walking to our room, it smelled like someone had just taken a dump and then tried to cover it up with some sort of bathroom spray, it was not pleasant.  Once in our room, we collapsed on our beds, taking a few minutes to just relax.  This was a bad idea however, for once we sat down, neither of us wanted to get back up again.  I went to the bathroom, where dried on piss stains lined the toilet seat and mysterious hairs lay in the sink.  Gross.  I’ve never been to a hostel, much less a hotel, where I felt I had to line the seat with toilet paper before sitting down.  Gross!  I hopped back onto the bed and we sat there, finishing off our bread and cheese, then debating as to whether or not we wanted to check this restaurant out or not, as neither of us was really hungry.  We decided to go for a walk anyway and pass it on the way.  
In the lobby, a large black man with a thick southern accent talking to the woman behind the desk said hello, then asked us to bring him something back. 
“I don’t care what it is, it can be a hot dog.  Whatever, just bring me back something.  Whatever. I don’t care.” He smiled at us.  Sure thing!
A short walk down the street and we saw the bright pink flashing lights of Tap. This must be the place to be?  We walked past it then by it again, debating as to whether or not to go in.  When was the next time we’d be in El Paso?  We went in. We walked passed the bar where old Mexican workers, young couples, small groups and anyone in between sat for a drink, a chat or a visit.  We sat down at a table where a dark curly haired woman wearing a tight platinum blue dress came up to us and asked what we wanted to drink. When we responded with water she asked if that was it or if we wanted a menu.  No, we just came to have water! ...or did we.
After a few minutes of looking over the menu, nothing really interested us.  Another waitress came to take our order, asking if we were ready, in Spanish. I said yes, assuming Rom was, but she didn’t even know what the woman asked.  So we told her we needed more time.  We tried to see if there was anything we really wanted, but there wasn’t.  It had been ten minutes and the waitress had not returned, so we quickly snuck out, the people at the bar looking at us as we left.  I guess we did just come for water.
Now the question was, did we want to walk around more?  There was no one out, not much going on and we were both extremely tired. We headed back to the hotel, to research our route for the next day, to watch Moulin Rouge  and eat trail mix.  It most certainly was not our most interesting night, but definitely our longest day.  We went to bed shortly after the movie ended. 

©2011 Jami Cakes  All Rights Reserved 

The Great American Road Trip: Day2: San Diego to Tuscon, PORTA LOO POO AND HANDMADE CORN TORTILLAS

WEDNESDAY JANUARY 12, 2011, SAN DIEGO TO TUCSON, PORTA LOO POO AND HANDMADE CORN TORTILLAS

I always do this, I know, but I really really was tired this morning.  I mean give me a break, it was 5:45 am.  
“Just 10 more minutes.”  I mumbled to Rom as she got up to get ready.  10 minutes later she told me, it was ten minutes later.  Damn.   I struggled this morning, I really did, but somehow managed to push myself out.   All packed and ready to go, we snuck out of the house and loaded the car.  Should we leave a note saying goodbye?  Neither of us could find a piece of paper, so decided against it and drove off over a bit of sidewalk out the neighbors driveway and onto the road, the freeway right in front of us.  So far, so good. 2 hours later making our first stop in El Centro to pee and see if there was anything there. 
There wasn’t.  The area stunk of what smelled like a bad mix of porta-potties and farm animal feces.  It was needless to say, unpleasant.  Back on the road we went, cruising along, until we hit a border control checkpoint. 
“Are you ladies both from the U.S?”  a young blonde guy in a brown long sleeved uniform asked us.  I smiled, nodding, yes, about myself, and pointing to Rom shaking my head, no. “Where are you from?”  he asked Rom. 
“Australia” she said as she rummaged around in her bag for her passport he had requested.  After asking a few questions and checking out our info, he waved us on and told us to have a nice day.   We stopped an hour later in Yuma to find some food, some gas station fare.  
Being that we were so close to the Mexican border, there was a whole little section in the gas mart with Mexican candies, snacks, and paletas (Mexican ice cream and fruit bars, my favorite!).  I even found a bag of roasted crispy garbanzos with a spicy coating on them.  I got those and a Naked juice. Rom got some cereal and we sat in the car and had breakfast before getting back onto Interstate 8 East.
It wasn’t long now before we exited the freeway again, but this time it wasn’t for gas or food or a bathroom (ok, well we did need one of those).  It was to see the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, whatever that meant, in the Gila Mountains, part of the Yuma County.  In all honesty, we just saw the sign as we neared the exit and decided to explore.  That’s what this trip was about, wasn’t it?  After almost 11 miles of driving, over a pretty straight road, next to cotton fields and cow farms, (and slowing down so as not to re-run over road kill), we made it to the rocks.  There were 2 cars in the parking lot and a few RVs camped out somewhere along the land.  One had laundry hanging outside of it, and an American flag next to it.  
“Do you think that’s their own flag?” Rom asked.  I honestly did not know.   
There was a large hill, piled with rocks in front of us, but before we went to see them, we needed a bathroom.  Lucky for us, there was one.  A lovely one that didn’t flush, but just had a long bottom like an extended porta-potty, so all dropping and bodily fluids of those who had gone before you could be seen.  Ewww. There was also a pack of lysol disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer in there; My dad would be happy. 
After a few pictures of Rom hugging a giant cactus, we went to see the petroglyphs.  Now what is a petroglyph?  I wondered the same thing.  Thank goodness we have wikipedia for these kind of questions.  Petroglyphs (also called rock engravings) are pictogram and logogram images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, and abrading.  The word is derived of Greek origin, petros meaning “stone” and glyphein meaning “to carve”.  Put em together and after a few modifications from the original French coined “pétroglyphe” you’ve got petroglyph.   Enough with the lesson already!  
Following the path around the small petroglyph mountain that was in front of us, we quickly made our way back to the start, looking briefly at the ancient carvings before us.    Back in the car we went.  We stopped sometime later, in the middle of nowhere, to get gas and switch drivers. Rom took the wheel, as I was getting tired. After a bit of fun, Rom yelling at trucks and turning windshield wipers on instead of turn signals (just kidding she did very well!) she turned off the road to switch places with me, so that I would drive when we got into the city. We found ourselves shortly in Tucson, or “Tooksaan” as Rom prefers to call it.  I missed our turn off, so she checked the map, and directed me to our hostel, passing a car wash that was selling tacos de lengua y cabeza.  I reluctantly drove on and finally at our hostel, we turned into the lot and parked in the only remaining space, the handicap spot. 
Inside, 2 guys sat around watching TV.  A man who looked dressed to hike, but wasn’t, ate a large bowl of steaming instant noodles on a hot day. A Hostel working man quickly checked us in, asking if we were Jami and “Romalis”, toured us around, making sure we knew that we were not allowed to bring any hard liquor inside.  This seemed to be a reoccurring theme.  He wrote us two name tags for our beds, continuing to write “Romalis” even after we had corrected him; something I would now call Rom for the rest of her life.  He told us he’d be around for another 5 minutes if we had any questions, but then he was leaving.  We set our things down, claimed our beds, one on top the other, and set out to explore, what seemed to be, a dead town. 
Just two blocks from the hostel, a group of high school boys hung out in, what to me, looked like, the edge of an alley way.  As we walked by, one kid chewing on a straw yelled out “Daaaauumm.”  We continued to walk.  
“Welcome to America Rom!” I laughed.  She made a face and rolled her eyes.  Onward we went, to what seemed to be downtown’s bus depot, where it appeared to be the hangout spot of nearly every person in Tucson.  They were crowded on benches waiting.  Standing around.  Leaning on posts.  Sitting on the ground.  Everywhere.   So this was where the cool people convene.  If this was what we came to do, I wanted to leave. 
We continued walking, viewing some cool graffiti here and there, but this city was like a ghost town. Bored and hungry, we asked a man walking past us where the nearest grocery store was.  He seemed somewhat stunned by this and couldn’t answer us clearly.  Finally he spit out his words and pointed us off somewhere to the left.  We went in that direction, stopping in, what we thought was, a movie theater on the way to see what was playing for that night.  Turned out it was an actual theater and nothing was on,  but the girl was nice enough to tell us a few things to check out. She pointed us in the direction of the University where Obama would be speaking  tonight in regards to the recent tragic shooting spree and where we later realized, the cool people hung out.  
We found a small boutique grocer, got some yogurt and sat around, trying to wake ourselves up; it didn’t work.  We were still tired, but went down to see the trendy section.  Tucson had started off on a bad foot with me, but this new bright light flare section that we had come to made me like it considerably more.  We stopped off in a used book store and both walked out with something and then just stumbled around looking in the little shops to see what was going on.  We asked one woman with a Mexican art shop where she suggested to get the best Mexican food.  She suggested Downtown.  We finished up the artsy street and headed back to the hostel to drop a few things off and check where the dinner place was.  
Turns out it was a more expensive sort of “gringo” fared Mexican restaurant.  I didn’t want to pay $12 for a taco when I knew I could get 1 for $1 elsewhere that would be ten times as good, so I did a little research and found a place a short drive away where they made their own tortillas.  Seven minutes, we were at Taqueria Pico de Gallo
It was a tiny little restaurant, owned by a Ignacio and Antonia Delgado. He took the orders at the register and made sure everything was functioning well around the front of the house.  She did the cooking.  For $4.40, I got 3 tacos on fresh corn tortillas; one of carne asada, one barbacoa and one cabeza. It was so good, that I figured I splurge on just one more.  Rom even got in on the action saying she’d get one more if I did.  Ah...I take back everything about not liking Tucson.  If just for these tacos, I’d come back.  They made my night and they made me very very happy.  The entire car ride back to the hostel, I could not stop talking about tacos.  I’m sure Rom was sick of it, but smiled anyway.  
Entering our room, one woman was sleeping with the lights on.  When we got in, she rolled over, smiled and told us we could turn the lights off if we wanted.  We didn’t want to, so she rolled on back over and told us she could sleep either way.  Great.  About an hour later, another woman came in.  I had seen her earlier running frantically around the hostel asking the guy who checked us in if he was working later, then sitting outside cross legged meditating.  She was slightly on the plump side, wearing a bright candy pink shirt, and I had thought earlier, she was a bit strange.  My opinion changed.  She was not a bit strange, but very strange.  
She walked in waving at us and smiling.  Sat on her bed, then looked at the 2 of us smiling and waving her hands in excitement. 
“It’s so good you’re all quiet!”  She squealed.  We smiled back at her, but more of a “uh sure?” kind of awkward smile.  Then she opened up her computer and began softly laughing.  When she got up later to get ready for bed, she looked at us and began to giggle.  We looked at her, eyes agape trying to figure out what was so funny.  She told us she had just done something, it was just her laughing at herself.  Yet every time she looked back at us, she began to laugh again.  Strange woman.  Rom on the top bunk, I was on the bottom, we facebook chatted to each other trying to figure out if she were a psycho who would kill us in the night.  Nah.  We’d just have to sleep with one eye open that night.


©2011 Jami Cakes   All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Great American Road Trip: Day 1: LOS ANGELES to SAN DIEGO, SQUEAKS AND SPILLS

TUESDAY JANUARY 11, 2011
Our plan of leaving at 6 am and driving 6 1/2 hours to Phoenix, Arizona had changed.  Instead we awoke at the early time of 8:30 am, finished our packing, had some “cereal cocktails” as Rom says (a mix of different cereals) and said goodbye.  My black box Scion, the car that would be our source of storage and transportation for the next 19 days, was loaded up with suit cases, our bag of free maps from AAA and goodies for munching on along the way, including that of some cinnamon orange and hazelnut chocolate bars, apples and pears, a bottle each of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and balsamic, a small container of kosher salt, dried fruit, and a few bags from the giant vat of trail mix I had made earlier.  I think that was about all we needed.  It was 10:22 am when we turned out of the driveway, listening to Sinatra, my Mom waving goodbye as she snapped a few on the move shots with her camera.  We were finally on our way.
It comes without surprise that within the first 20 minutes of driving, I had already made a wrong turn.  Was this a preview of what was going to happen over the next 19 days?  I (and I’m sure Rom) hoped not.  I had made an early left in the midst of Rom pointing to where the actual freeway entrance was and had to make a few U-turns to bring us back on track.  It all worked out in the end as we got on the 405 S.  After about 90 minutes of driving, we merged onto the 5 S, and saw signs for San Diego.  So far so good.  We stopped in Oceanside for a quick break. 
I know there’s more in Oceanside, or at least I remember there being more.  However we didn’t really take much of a look around, so aside from the Motel 6 that sat next to the freeway exit, there wasn’t really much to see.  We decided that following a man in his pick-up truck was a good idea, to see where it would lead us.  We ended up at the beach.  Perfect.  Then there was the free parking and in front of the free parking was a place that sold coffee, and in front of that, the beach!  Score!  
Rom treated me to a coffee on the beach and we sat on a rock wall atop the sand overlooking the water.  In my excitement (or should I say my natural poise) I happened to drop the coffee, spilling a bit on my leg and then knocking the rest on to the floor.  I made a sad face as I looked at my cup of joe splattered on the sidewalk and my clean jeans now spotted with coffee.  Rom sat across from me laughing in utter amusement.  She sipped her coffee and we headed to the bathrooms next to the cafe before leaving.  
Did I mention anything about these bathrooms?  Well, when we first exited our vehicle, before heading to grab a coffee, we went to the bathrooms.  You know those bathrooms down at the beach where they’re outside, and you enter them, knowing they are going to smell like a mix of piss, sea water and some mysterious stench where god only knows of what it could be?  The ones where there is sand everywhere, and I mean everywhere, somehow even stuck to the walls and ceilings?  How does that happen.  The ones my dad warned me about this morning before leaving, so that I would bring hand sanitizer, where the toilets were metal without seats, and the faucets rusty, no soap or paper towels to be found.  These were the bathrooms we were entering, however unlike most bathrooms, the 2 stalls were doorless.  Say what!?  Yes, I said it, doorless.  What kind of messed up society was this?  Having entered prior to coffee, I decided to wait until I became desperate for a pee, knowing if I really had to go, these (doorless) bathrooms would be suitable for me.  We entered now, the second time around, my bladder even fuller now with water and caffeine. I walked in first, quickly turning around, deciding maybe a gas station would be a better alternative.  Up until this point I had never seen a woman squat peeing over a metal toilet before and I don’t think I ever want to again.  We hopped in the car and headed to a gas station.  Surely that would be much better.
Now back on the freeway, we only had a bit left until San Diego.  As we neared it, I began to get paranoid that I had missed a turn off or taken a wrong road.  Had I?  Rom reassured me (she was going to have to get  used to that) that everything was fine and we soon exited to Downtown San Diego.  She lead us to our hostel on India Street right in Little Italy and we parked in the tiny drive way in front of the hostel house and knocked on the door.  A middle aged, African woman on the lighter side, wearing a pink San Diego hat and sporting bright green long nails answered the door holding a phone in one hand, speaking to the person on the other line at the same time that she was directing me to re-park the car.  
“Hold on girl!” she said, putting the phone down to concentrate on telling me where to pull in.  After successfully parking in a manner that suited the woman, she led us inside.  She introduced herself as Juliet and then held her hand out, as if to shake it.  However when we went to shake her hand, she only allowed us her fingers, as her hand was wet since she had just washed it.  Rom and I were busting to use the toilet, but she decided to give us a tour, first thing, not letting us get a word in edgewise.  This woman loved the sound of her own voice.  She showed us our room, then told us to pick a bed, then told us about the other woman coming in, pick a bed, other woman, which bed would we like.  The bathroom was the next stop, there was a piece of paper on the seat, and a bucket of cleaning supplies next to it, she was in the midst of cleaning the bathroom.  Damn it!  We were shown the kitchen where “you guys can cook if you want”,  she had explained.  And then we were led back to the living room so that we could fill in a piece of paper with our names and she could background check us.  
Juliet had us sit on the couch for a bit while she explained a bunch of stuff about the hostel.  There were no drugs and no hard liquors; that included vodka and whiskey.  I think she wanted that to be clear.  She then set us free for a moment so that we could grab our things from the car. After we placed them in our room, she asked us again what beds we wanted, told us about parking and sat us down to suggest what we should do that afternoon.  Oh boy.  After what seemed like an eternity of her talking about us down at the waterfront frolicking along (“watch me, watch me” she said as she set an example of frolicking by lightly skipping around her living room) and  checking out little shops, she paused.  “Then...” and continued.  We would hit the Hilton Hotel, which would be the end of the water front walk. After that we would turn and go to Gas Lamp, the Downtown district, which would not come alive until “late in the night, around 8 or 9.”   
Juliet had already asked what time we planned to leave the next morning, but was probably not listening the first time because she was busy thinking about what she was going to say next, and so, it was asked again.  
“We’re probably going to leave sometime around 6..” I said again, but before I could finish, Juliet had to have a word with me. 
“Wait, girl.  Six in the morning? No it’s vacation.  Stay! Relax! You don’t need to go that early.”  Actually we did and after more of her talking as we were, slowly creeping towards the door, we were out.  Free for a bit from Juliet and her blabbing mouth.
A few blocks down the street, there was an Italian food store and we entered hoping we would find something delicious for lunch.  Rom got a Caprese sandwich, which though simple, if the ingredients are fresh, the combination of them together on a sandwich will be good and it was.  I ordered a small ball of fresh mozzarella, a few marinated artichoke hearts and 4 slices of prosciutto.  Then I saw what I had been searching for.  The man on the meat slicer was thinly shaving pieces of mortadella.  That was what I wanted!  I changed my order to 2 pieces of prosciutto and 2 pieces of mortadella getting a weird look from the guy serving me, as he turned around shaking his head and did as I asked.  We took our brown bagged meals down to the Bay’s waterfront and sat on a bench, close to a homeless man who appeared to be doing 80’s aerobics; twisting from the waist to work his obliques, and ate our food.  
Lunch eaten, and a large sigh of satisfaction from us both, we got up and took a walk along the bay, as Juliet had told us to.  We pretended to frolic and gab, laughing at how ridiculous we appeared.  When we reached the Hilton, we followed an older couple up a large set of stairs, hoping they might know where they were going.  Turns out that they didn’t and when I asked the woman if she knew where we were, she snapped back that she was trying to figure that out.  Eventually we made it to the Gas Lamp district.
First stop, a bottle that  caught my eye.  Inside of an art gallery, that seemed to have a wine theme, was a display of wine bottles with metal sculpted around them to make them into characters.  There was a girl chef.  I wanted it.  Finding out that I could order one online, I decided to wait and we continued on our walk.  We passed a bar/ restaurant that I was almost positive I saw on the Real World San Diego addition years back and looked into a Betty Page store.  We wandered around a little longer, until both of us, very tired, went into a Border’s book store to read children’s books. 
I showed Rom’s some of  the classics I had grown up with, and then found a few for myself, one of which told the story of a farting dog who saved the day when robbers came into the house and the stench of his fart was so bad it drove them out.  I thought it was quite the odd children’s story, but none the less amusing. Reading however, always makes me tired and so I lay down in front of Rom as she continued to read and fell asleep.  I woke up a little while later, cold, and we warmed up with some tea and coffee before making our way back to the hostel, with Rom’s fantastic directional sense and by following the planes.  
We realized as we reached the front door, neither of us had a key, so we rang the doorbell where Juliet came and opened it.  
She told us we didn’t need a key, she “Would always be der. Even if it were 3 in the morning, just bang the door hard.”  Then scolded us. “You girls back already! Why!”  Then introduced us to the other girl who had finally arrived, before going back to the kitchen to talk with her.  At least it got her off our backs. 
We chilled out on the couch for a bit trying to decide which diner, drive in or dive we wanted to eat at that night, before Juliet interrupted us. First, telling us how she liked to watch the business across the street move cars because it amused her (this woman needed to get out!) and then asking what we were going to do for dinner.   We had told her we were going to go up the street.  She pointed down.  No, no, I believe we had said up.  
“No.  That part very dangerous!”  She pointed her finger in the direction of where we wanted to go and then at us.  “You should go here.”  First pointing down the street to Little Italy and then handing us a menu of the nearby Spaghetteria.  “You can get something like cheesecake and split it down the middle so it’s not expensive.  You do that.”  We nodded and snuck out shortly after, deciding to go to the so called “bad part” of town.  
2 minutes later we were there and the neighborhood was lovely, if not nicer than where we had been.  We parked the car and debated as to whether or not we wanted Mexican or seafood, but when the lady at the seafood place was rude, it made the decision very easy.  
El Indio, was recently seen on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and had a good sized line and an even bigger menu, as you entered the doors.  We stood in front of the menu debating what we wanted for so long, that the line had ended and the young guy behind the counter asked if we had any questions about the menu.  Apparently we looked “confused.”  We finally decided, both of us getting an enchilada and a taco, of different sorts.   We sat at a table and waited for our number to be called. 
Rom’s green sauced veggie enchilada and hard shelled potato taco came out first, followed by my red sauced chicken and cheese enchilada and my carne asada and guacamole taco.  Within the first bite of the enchilada gooey stringy cheese chains were made and I felt like a small child not knowing what to do with it all.  So I did what that small child would eventually come to do, I ate it! 
We debated over dinner as to whether or not, when we got back to the hostel, we should tell Juliet where we actually had dinner, knowing she would ask.  I still thought it would be funny, Rom, not so much.  She wanted no part in it and said she would walk straight to our room.  When we got there, Juliet asked us where we went and we told her the Spaghetteria.  She asked if we split something, we said yes and thankfully,  it kept the conversation short.  
In our room, sitting on our beds using the internet to look up directions and things to do for the next days trip, Juliet stuck her head in to ask if any of is needed to “go pee pee” before she used the shower. “No”, we replied, though the next day, Rom and I found out we both had really needed to go, but just couldn’t say yes to that question in all seriousness; It was too funny.  
We continued to plan out our trip for the next day, got ready for bed and put our ipods on so as to block out the trendy Mexican restaurant next door’s karaoke night and the airplanes flying overhead.  We tried to make it an early night, because it was to be an early morning.
 ©2011 Jami Cakes  All Rights Reserved