Monday, January 30, 2006


So, a little birdie yesterday guilted me into posting more on this thing :) So here's a small tangent to the road-trip home, which will keep coming, I promise.

It's been about 2 weeks since I've been home. The first week or so, I spent sick as a dog. I can't remember the last time I was so incapacitated by an illness. I was feverish, and everything in my body hurt. I'm largely better now, and so I'm finally out dancing again in Pittsburgh.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to dance in Pittsburgh. As I went dancing across the country, I must admit that Pittsburgh has one of the most enjoyable dance scenes out there. Austin came close, but it still wasn't quite Pittsburgh :) It's really neat to dance with all my old friends, and to meet all the new, incredible dancers that have come into the scene. Mmmm...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Day 1

Day one of my cross-country adventure begins in sunny California. San Jose, in particular. At 5:30pm, Thursday, December, 29th, I am officially unemployed by IBM, and I am picked up at work by my partner in crime, Corina (pictured), who will be driving with me across the country.

As plans to cross the country go, mine was in pretty sorry shape. I knew I was West. I knew I needed to get East. I also knew I wanted to be in Denver, Colorado on New Years' Eve, to dance the night away. Why? For consistency. In 2005, I ushered in the new year swing dancing in Montreal, and in 2004, I spent it swing dancing in Paris. I wanted to continue the trend. The price for this objective, however, will be a grueling driving schedule from here until Denver.

Our first adventure starts brewing during the exit interview at IBM. My boss, Jacques told me a storm front was coming through that very night. To avoid getting caught in a raging blizzard in the Rocky Mountains, Jacques told us to get to Reno, Nevada by the time the brunt of the storm hit in about 8 hours.

You'd think that a man betting his future on a cross-country road trip over the Rocky Mountains' Donner Pass in the dead of winter would check the weather before the trip. In contrast, when I played the classic game The Oregon Trail, I learned that I'm the kind of man that has to sell his wife and typhoid-stricken children to Indians halfway along the trip in order to buy wagon wheels and ammunition. To my credit, however, I did think enough in advance to buy a set of tire chains for my car.

8 hours. We do one final idiot-run of the house to make sure that I hadn't forgotten anything, and we get underway.

5 1/2 hours. We are in Berkeley California, and we get gasoline, and decide to also stop for one last meal in California. We opt for the slowest restaurant possible --- the vegan sushi restaurant, Cha Ya. This place stands along Shattuck Ave, a little eatery which holds about 20 people at once. Outside, is a line of about 10 people waiting to get in. In the rain. It's vegan sushi. It's that good. Close to an hour later, we get in, and start to eat. Corina got a vegan sushi roll, and I got a bowl of "tofu custard." The tofu custard was the hilight of the meal for me --- it was vaguely like a creme brulee studded with vegetables, wherein the creme is replaced with tofu. The dish was savory and warm, and satisfying in a way I could not describe. The most fascinating thing was that it came with Ginkgo nuts on top, which were also amazing. Go to Cha Ya, and order the tofu custard. You will thank me later.

4 hours. We are in agreement. Vegan sushi is worth getting caught in a blizzard on Donner Pass. Besides. We've got tire chains.

3 hours. We drive through Sacramento! I really regret never making it up here to dance when I was interning in San Jose. Evidentally, the weather front that threatens us with snow has begun covering Sacramento with rain. We press onward.

As we make our way up the mountains, we stop at a gas station for more petrol, and to get info about the remainder of our drive. The woman working the counter tells us that the blizzard is coming, and that on a good day, the drive is about an hour to the summit, but in "this weather," "who knows how long it'll take you." The gas station is in the middle of nowhere, and we must be the only people who come in and chat, and she starts telling us about how she lived in New Jersey and that drivers out there can't deal with snow the way they do in the Rockies. As much as I want to stay and chat, I was mostly terrified by her "Oh yeah, the blizzard's coming right behind you. You are DOOMED" that it made idle chitchat afterwards impossible for me. I got us out and back on the road as soon as I caught a break in the conversation.

One thing we learned is that the roads have flashing signs and AM radio beacons that will tell you when you need to put on tire-chains, and so far, we were in the clear. I am a little disappointed I can't yet play with my new automotive toys.

With the rising elevation and dropping temperatures, the rain that followed us from Sacramento turned to freezing rain and snow. Driving was tedious, but I tend to be fearless in the face of snow-driving. The tires kept slipping, and applying the brakes was a good way to lose traction real quick. Even the road signs advised not to use your brakes.

In the long winding drive through the Rockies, there was only one moment where I thought we would bite the big one. Up ahead in the distance was a truck with flashing lights driving slowly. I figured it might be a salt or sand truck. Eventually, as we approached it, we saw about 6 cars pulled off to the side of the road. Then, a man standing in the middle road started gesturing "slow down" to us. The car just ahead of us quickly started slowing down and pulling to the side of the road. Ignoring all the signs, I applied the brakes. After a little skidding, I managed to ease the car off to the side of the road.

It was unclear to me what had just happened. Could this be some sort of road-closing? Are chain restrictions being put in place? I just sat in the car, waiting to see what would happen.
After a minute, somebody ran by from behind my car, and shouted "they're ok" and then went into their car ahead of ours. As best as I could figure, somebody got in a wreck, and everybody had stopped to see if they were alright. We proceed to Reno.

One of the highlights of the night for me is reliving my Oregon Trail days of youth. Yes. I'm travelling the wrong direction. And yes, I'm travelling in a white 1997 Honda Civic instead of a brown 1841 Conestoga Wagon. But the nostalgia comes rushing back nonetheless. While planning the trip, the standard joke is that only one of us is going to make it past Donner Pass --- the other suffering a horrible death. Perhaps it is still too early in our trip, but we both opted not to kill the other off as we left Donner Pass behind us.

Somewhere between 1:30 and 2am, we made it to Reno, Nevada. All we can see at night are the casinos. We drive around downtown for a few minutes, gawking at the casinos' lights and getting a sense of the city. We found only a few shady looking hotels there, so we backtracked, and stayed at a motel on the western city limits. The first leg of our grueling trek to Denver has been completed.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bon Voyage

I have just moved back to Pittsburgh from Sunny California. In the process, I drove cross country, hitting gobs and gobs of states in the process. Immediate updates to this blog will include the story, best as I can recollect it, of that journey...

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