I had been meaning to write this much earlier. things like a cross country road trip happen to you and you’re supposed to write about them. but then I went full time at one of my internships from the summer, one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer, work picked up, and here we are, a few months removed.
September 17-23: Seattle
I return home to Seattle. this was my first real adult homecoming. up to this point I hadn’t been somewhere long enough to have real friends that it hurt like hell to leave. so I didn’t really know how this was supposed to go. for whatever reason I always feel like every experience has a process, when properly executed means absolute happiness.
but fuck the process. no use being anal.
Without getting into the minutiae of what I did every minute, and as trite as it feels to say it, it was so good to be home. I missed my friends much more than I thought, and being back with Nathan and Brendon, two people who I count as my brothers, was more necessary than I realised.
during that week my friend Jini surprised me with a free ticket to see The National with her, Richard, and Emily. it meant a lot to me that she would do that, and reminded me that the year I spent working at Uptown slinging coffee wasn’t a total waste of time. friendships endure. the show itself was an experience I won’t soon forget. I’ve never smiled so much while singing a song about sorrow.
around these nights were a few I’ll always hold dear, whether it was the night Brendon and I stayed up super late listening to Radiohead records or when Nathan, B, my father, and I went to a Mariners game, or my good friend Jenny’s birthday. coming home should be about things like that.
eventually it was time for me to follow through on the plan I had been telling people about for months: drive cross country in my father’s white Honda Civic with all of my worldly possessions. loading the car was not as difficult as I had imagined, and somehow I was able to fit everything in there.
September 24: Seattle, WA —> Bozeman, MT (676mi)
my alarm goes off at 8am. it’s time to go. I rub my eyes a little, trying to wake up and push myself out of bed. waking up tired is not the best way to start a cross country road trip. get dressed, and make sure I leave the key to Brendon’s place where I should, and get in the car.
a few more stops for coffee: to say goodbye to Nathan one last time at Uptown, then meet my friend Ashley at Ladro downtown for one last Seattle coffee before the road.
while playing Macklemore’s “The Town” and almost on the verge of tears at how much I love Seattle and how much it hurts to leave it so permanently, I follow the signs for “I-90 Spokane” and start what will be a pretty longterm relationship with that particular interstate, which I will take through most of the northwestern end of this country.
the drive itself was pretty straightforward, at least after I got out of the mountain passes Ben Gibbard sung about on Transatlanticism. I decided that Volcano Choir was the perfect soundtrack for driving a highway carving it’s way through the Rockies, and only when I had left those roads behind did I get gas and switch it to Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone.
Jim Dale’s voice guided me through the Palouse of Washington and the tiniest bit of Idaho before I arrived in the biggest state I’ve ever driven across: Montana. on some state signs, they actually try to welcome you. Montana makes no such effort.
the sky is greying and it’s getting dark. Professor Quirrell is getting closer to getting the Stone and I’m hoping that I might be getting nearer to Bozeman. the tricky thing about Montana is no matter how fast you’re driving (me: 75 mph) it never feels like you’re getting anywhere. everything looks the same. they even expect you to go 75 on mountain roads.
eventually as I drive through lovely old towns like Missoula and Butte, I finally see the sign for Motel 6 in Bozeman and I drag my tired ass with my suitcase upstairs to my luxury Montana room with spotty wifi. If I was ever going to feel like a character who had walked out of a Kerouac book and into the real world, tonight was that night.
FB Status: the fact that throughout most of the state of Montana the speed limit is 75 miles per hour shows an incredible sense of self awareness a few other similarly uninteresting states ought to adopt. (I’m in Bozeman, MT now guys. and I listened to the entirety of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone today).#TheGreatKleingration.
September 25: Bozeman, MT —> Fargo, ND (748mi)
my alarm expires at 8:00am. I’ve lost another hour in the switch from Pacific to Mountain, and I will again today from Mountain to Central. I threw on a plain old red t-shit, jeans, black sweatshirt, and my grey sambas, and throw the rest of my clothes in my suitcase. the road’s calling me, but first breakfast at McDonald’s and a smoke.
every time I got off the road, I would think about what it would be like to live there. towns like Coeur de Lane, Idaho, Bozeman and Superior, Montana, all seemed like terrible places. I exhale the final drag of my American Spirit (what better brand for a cross country trip, I ask you), deposit the butt, and head off to drive what I had expected to be the hardest section of the drive.
if I thought Montana was hard the day before, it was nothing compared to what I experienced today. Montana is simply endless. I would check my GPS several times to confirm that I was actually still in Montana and hadn’t mistakenly taken up with a different state. I was always still in Montana.
then I got to thinking: what if I am in North Dakota, but no one put up a sign to let me know? maybe those North Dakotans were a wily folk, not telling you you were in their state until things got interesting. but no, I was always still in Montana.
during the drive my friend Jenny’s grandfather would call to check in on me and see how I was doing. his name is Wally, and he’s the nicest old man I’ve ever met. I was staying at his house that night and the man was doing his due diligence. at one point I was pulling off I-94 (I left the I-90 around Billings) to take a piss and I get a call from Wally.
after what feels like 15 minutes pacing outside the men’s room underneath a roof protecting me from a driving rain listening to Wally talk about the coal mines in North Dakota, I mention to him that I really need to use the washroom. he lets me go and I do, and I call him again when I drive through Bismarck.
but before that, I finally arrive in North Dakota. I was no longer still in Montana. and I’m not sure if anyone has ever been that happy on that section of I-94. gas became cheaper and Ginny Weasley had opened the Chamber of Secrets. the road itself is very pretty, having changed from mountain foothills to crusty red plateaus with tall blades of grass.
I drove through towns called Dickinson, Custer, Bismarck, Jamestown, and Valley City before I finally reached Fargo, North Dakota, a town of nicer people I did not meet. Wally and his wife Judy made me dinner of egg salad sandwiches, salad, and some store-bought chocolate chip cookies. Wally told me some good stories about Jenny as a kid, and we agreed that never had there been a nicer girl than our Jenny. eventually I was able to extricate myself from conversation to get to sleep. I feel kinda bad about saying it, but being a courteous guest while also being responsible is a tough line to walk.
eventually Jenny herself calls me after talking with Wally and lets me know I’ve made a good impression on her grandfather. Strangely (or perhaps not) I am the first of her friends to come through Fargo. it was nice telling her about my trip so far and I enjoyed retelling her grandfather’s stories. I like talking to Jenny on the phone, I should do that more. finally, I set my alarm and pass out in preparation for my drive to Chicago by way of Minneapolis.
FB Status: I’m not sure why there are two Dakotas but the northern, less traveled one is pretty cool too. a special thank you to Jenny Littlefield who made this leg of the journey from Bozeman to Fargo so much better. Chicago by way of Minneapolis tomorrow. #TheGreatKleingration.
September 26: Fargo, ND —> Chicago, IL (639mi)
the sun rises over the cold and empty town of Fargo. I get up around 8am, as today will be the second longest day of driving during the trip. Wally and Judy get up to see me off, and I take a detour through the main street of downtown Fargo (actually called Main Avenue) to dig a Seattle themed coffee shop Jenny recommended.
I rolled in there with my Seattle Mariners hat expecting a royal welcome, only for the the staff to be a little weirded out by me asking if I got a discount for being from Seattle. It was worth a try, right? At any rate, I leave with a decent tasting americano and a banana, ready to hit the road for Minneapolis to see Katherine.
The drive to Minneapolis was relatively simple. I was disappointed to lose the 75mph speed limit upon crossing state lines, and there was not really much to look at either going southeast on I-94. eventually I arrive at Katherine’s school (Hamline) and meet up with her and her roommate Damaris. Katherine drives us to lunch, and I get to check out a bit of the area around her school and hear about school. It was nice to see her school and meet her roommate. Minneapolis-St. Paul seemed like a neat place as well. I made a mental note to come back soon (and I will be there this weekend, actually).
at around three something I get back on that road, heading further south, bound for my first vacation-y part of the trip, Chicago. I played Bon Iver and Volcano Choir while driving through Wisconsin, making it a priority to exit the highway in Eau Claire to see where Justin Vernon is from.
the worst part about Chicago is driving there. especially if you have never done it before. google maps does a pretty negligent job of telling you if you will encounter tolls on your route, and as I pulled into the state of Illinois I started seeing signs for a toll road. and when I approached the first tollbooth, I thought to myself “Now would be a good time to randomly have cash in my wallet” and lo and behold, I had just enough to pay the toll. eventually I pulled off the highway at an “oasis” to withdraw cash and pay for the rest of the tolls.
and, probably to the surprise of no one, I started playing Kanye West’s Graduation as I got within Chicago city limits (I did also listen to Chicago’s own Chance The Rapper earlier). for a big city, the speed limit on the interstate was remarkably low (45mph). then the skyline of Chicago appeared as I rounded a bend of interstate, and it blew me away.
given that I am fairly well traveled, and have lived in major cities, the fact that Chicago’s skyline impressed me should indicate how awesome it is. but before I got too close, it was time for me to exit and navigate my way to my friend Julie’s apartment, with whom I would be staying the next few nights in Wicker Park.
if you have never been to Wicker Park, you are missing out on a great neighborhood. had I not been obligated to do touristy things, I would have spent all of the day and two nights I was in Chicago hanging out there. I somehow manage to get street parking right by Julie’s apartment, and she meets me outside and walks me up to her third floor place for me to drop off my things before we go out and meet up with some of her friends.
it’s someone else’s birthday and the gang we take up with is already well on their way to thorough inebriation. Julie and I go grab a beer (a Goose Island 312 draft for $3.00) and head back to the group. One of Julie’s friends keeps asking me what my name is, where I am from, and what I do for work. after being asked for the second time I finish my beer and go outside for a smoke.
at a certain point we decide to leave that particular bar and head over a few blocks to another one with pricier beer and arcade games. I have an evil twin hipster ale, make nice with some of the male members of the gang, and we go outside to have a smoke and shoot the shit. eventually it gets to be too late for the employed and we walk home.
September 27: Chicago
Julie and I both get up early, she has to go to work, and I have to pay for a few hours of parking. she gives me her keys and tells me where I should go get coffee (and coffee recommendations from Julie should always be acted upon, well, all those that don’t involve Starbucks). and does Julie know my taste or what? the place she recommends is called The Wormhole, and if you’re ever in Wicker Park, you have to go. the place is sci-fi nerd themed, with a cardboard cutout of Han Solo and old nintendo games. the coffee is excellent as well.
after getting an iced americano and a croissant, I decide to take a little walk around Milwaukee Ave. a few blocks down the road from Wormhole is an awesome record store called Reckless Records. and what made this place great wasn’t that it had records, but that it included a justification for why certain things were priced the way they were. thoroughly respected that.
two hours had about passed and it was time for me to move my car. like I said, the worst part about Chicago is driving there. but at first it wasn’t really a problem. the first place I decided that I had to go to was Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs and the oldest baseball stadium in America. it has always been a goal of mine to visit Wrigley for Cubs game (hopefully I will do that next year) and so to finally see that marquis was pretty great.
after I finished my circuit of Wrigley, I headed downtown to dig Millennium Park and Sears Tower. the directions took me along Lake Shore Drive, and it was a beautiful and warm day, so I drove with my windows down blaring The College Dropout. the Lake Shore Drive gets two thumbs up from this young humma.
so remember how I said the worst part about Chicago is driving there? ok so I’m going to get into that now. maybe I have been spoiled by parking in other cities, or that I am more like George Costanza than I previously thought, but it was impossible to find street parking by Millennium Park. What’s more, the garages wanted $14.00 for every half hour. after driving around for a while, I caved and paid about $30.00 to park.
thankfully the garage I chose was right by the towers photographed for the cover of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, so I walked over to them so I could take a few pictures and listen to the album. I swear Wilco makes much more sense listening to them in Chicago. but with the clock ticking, I needed to shift my focus towards Millennium Park and the bean.
put simply, the bean is super cool. I took the necessary tourist picture of my reflection on the bean before settling down on a bench to just take it all in. a girl approaches me to shoot the shit, and we do for a little bit. she’s from Dubai, but going to school in Iowa (I seem to meet the weirdest people). I’ve never met anyone from Dubai before, so I have all kinds of questions. but unfortunately the conversation was cut off by a call from a coworker, and it was time for me to go back to my car.
after paying way too much for parking, I put on some King Krule and head for Gino’s East, and inso doing make one of the best decisions of my life. the deep dish pizza I ate was worth the hour long wait for it to be made, and the ensuing food coma, which was so intense I almost fell asleep at my table.
to throw off the impending food coma, I head back to Julie’s in need of cheaper parking and a nap. thankfully I get my old parking spot back, and I successfully manage an hour and a half long nap. still feeling a little sleepy, I walk out to my car, refill the meter, and grab another coffee from Wormhole, and post up outside a tattoo parlor in a chair to have another smoke and observe the wildlife. Wicker Park’s hipsters are by far the worst of any I have observed this calendar year (a period of time in which I have been in Seattle, PDX, Nashville, Allston, and Brooklyn). at around 5 or 6 Julie gets home from work and meets me at Wormhole for another round.
we then head back to her place to properly hang out for the first time during my visit, and catch up on old and current business. I like Julie a lot because she’s matter of fact about people and things, and she’s different from most of the girls I’m friends with. we get tacos (one of my all-time favourite activities) at Antique Taco (mine have pork, avocado, and BACON) and beverages.
Julie tells me she has plans to meet up with some friends of hers downtown at a bar she doesn’t think I’ll like, and offers me the option to stick around Wicker Park, an option I take her up on. This gives me an opportunity to meet up with an old friend of mine from GW, and to drink in a cheaper part of town.
on my ten block or so walk to meet up with Andrea and her boyfriend Alden, three or four people compliment my Amoeba Music t-shirt. this tells me I’m in a hipster part of town. the bar I meet them at is pretty cool. they’re playing some mix of alternative music, all songs I recognize. Andrea and I get to catch up a bit, and I also shoot the shit with Alden and a couple of his friends.
one of Alden’s accomplices is the guy who goes around the bar trying to make friends with strangers so he can grab a slice of their pizza, get a girl’s phone number, or someone to buy him a drink. I just observe, laugh at how mad he is, and buy the man a drink.
overall, the evening has gone well and lives have been caught up on, memories remembered, and I get a free cab ride back to Julie’s apartment thanks to Andrea and Alden. it’s been a successful day of mischief managed in Chicago.
September 28: Chicago, IL —> West Milford, NJ (784mi)
now comes the part of the story that probably doesn’t make any sense to you. at first I was going to just drive back to DC from Chicago, but then I realised that I had an extra day, so why not use it? so instead of following logic, I decide to visit another old friend, this time it’s my friend Keith who I have not seen since I visited St. John’s in 2009. this was probably going to be the best opportunity I’d have to see him for a while. so I drove 14 hours, by myself, to make it happen.
the drive took me across Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and most of New Jersey. both Indiana and Ohio cost entirely too much to drive across, with Indiana specifically offering nothing interesting to look at along my way east, as did Ohio. Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban helped me negotiate this most boring and fatigue-inducing section of the trip. Once I finally got into Pennsylvania the terrain wasn’t too bad to look at, with the leaves changing into something more orange and red.
but like Montana, Pennsylvania took an absolute age to get across. I’d keep checking my gps to make sure that I was even going the right way. about three quarters of the way through the state I pulled off to get some caffeine and have a smoke, and texted Keith that I was getting closer.
after negotiating a lot of interstate and a super windy country road, I eventually parked my car on the street outside of Keith’s house around midnight. the man is just as snarky, lanky, and self-deprecating as all hell, and within a few minutes and drags of a cigarette, I remember why we were such close friends in college.
Keith and I just have a natural rapport. somewhere in the emotional spectrum we just get each other, and don’t have to explain the reasons behind the things we say, we just get it. we catch up on each other’s lives, he tells me he can now call his boss ballsack in a genial way, while his dog lays quietly in the corner.
September 29: West Milford, NJ —> Washington, DC (258mi)
Sunday rolls around, and Keith makes us breakfast of bacon and eggs, with coffee. eventually we’re out on his back porch smoking again, talking about football. soon it’s 1pm and time for football. in spite of how much we talk about the game, this is the first time that I can remember actually watching football with him. and we enjoy the meltdown of the Giants, and the OT win of the Seahawks. eventually it gets to be around 8pm, and time for me to make the last part of my road trip back to DC.
I play a lot of Bruce Springsteen and Titus Andronicus driving through New Jersey before arriving in Delaware, then speeding through nondescript Maryland, easing my way through the Harbor Tunnel by Baltimore, before finally finishing my drive in the nation’s capital.
September 30-Present: Washington, DC
so that’s everything I can remember from my cross country trip. I have to say it was as big a life event as I expected it to be, but not as difficult as it felt during the time leading up to it. during the drive I discovered a love for being on the road, to the point that now when I think about it I miss being out there alone, somewhere in America, something old behind me, and always something new in front. such is life on the road. I can’t wait to get on that road again.