Sunday, August 18, 2013

5702 miles

That's a long drive.

You can see from my iPhone photos how far I've been

Of course, it wasn't coast-to-coast, as I'd be in the ocean but even round trip, that sounds like a lot.  I remember 2800 miles from the Orlando, Florida area to Los Angeles, California in 2005/2006.  My car (2012 VW Golf TDI) averaged just under 40 mpg with air conditioning, compared to the 1999 VW Golf 2.0, which likely averaged 28-29 mpg with some use of air conditioning.

My latest drive took me on:

U.S. 64
U.S. 71
U.S. 66
U.S. 60
California SR 99
California SR 58
California SR 46
California SR 152
U.S. Hwy 101

I believe that was the order.  I started on the edge of Ohio/Indiana, traveled into Illinois, through Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally into California.

A lot of I-40 crosses/replaced U.S. Highway 66 but not in the hearts and minds of those who were young at the time.  There seemed to be a lot of nostalgia from Arizona to Oklahoma--diners, casinos, museums, and gift shops.

I seem to remember my parents going this way (on U.S. 66, calling it the southern route, compared to taking U.S. 40 through Denver) when I was a small child, and we spent some time on I-40 in 1977 on a trip to/from Mexico.  I was surprised to see how Tucumcari, New Mexico had grown from a restaurant on one side of the road and filling station on the other side to something like 30 restaurants, including all the chains you'd expect.

It wasn't a bad drive, although rain and other situations caused my trip to be lengthened.  e.g., I stopped in Conway, Arkansas due to massive thunderstorms, when I wanted to be on the western edge of the state.  I had planned to stop in Albuquerque but the motel ratings were so low that I stopped in poor, little Moriarty, NM instead.

I had somehow planned that I could go from Albuquerque, NM to San Jose, CA in one 13 hour drive.  However, I wanted to photograph two Madonna of the Trail statues (one in Albuquerque, NM and another in Springerville, AZ).  I stopped in Gallup, NM at Plaza Cafe for breakfast since it was so highly rated and it was worth the trip, but photographing the statue in Arizona was a huge detour (100 miles each way, maybe), and I lost time, especially with construction, more rain, and bad roads.  Had there been flooding along those U.S. highways to Springerville, I'd been in real trouble.  So, I ended up in Barstow, California for the night.  That meant I'd have a 6 hour drive to San Jose.

Getting to Barstow was interesting because it meant crossing the Mojave Desert.  It wasn't a problem, but in fact, a delight to view the sunset behind the small mountains and other geological formations.  Of course, you could claim that I had been in the desert from about Oklahoma, so it shouldn't have been a big deal.

When people think of California, they think of Marina del Rey or the beach at Santa Monica or the palm trees somewhere in Los Angeles.  They don't think of farm country or desert.  For the next 6 hours of my drive, I saw practically nothing but farm country or desert.

My parents never drove from San Jose to Los Angeles, so I didn't know which way to go.  I used Google Maps to print a some directions for different portions.  I used a combination of Apple's Maps app plus Waze to get me where I was going.

North of Tehachapi, it became interesting as the mountains and canyons showed themselves.  Along SR 152/Pacheco Pass Highway, things moved very quickly and it was apparently a typical business route for big rigs, as well as people trying to take their boats and RVs to a state recreational area.  I'm not sure how they got across the traffic as it seemed no one slowed below 65 mph at any time, and some were probably going 90 mph in the occasional Audi or Mercedes-Benz or Porsche.

By the time things were flattened, I'd reached Gilroy and Hollister.  Despite the clothes company's marketing, Hollister, California is not near the beach.  It's a farming community, which may not be as glamorous but it pays the bills.  While traveling through the area, I was treated to many fruit stands offering apricots, pistachios, etc.  Unfortunately, I didn't stop.  It would have been a good way to get fresh pistachios, rather than those things in stores that could be a year old.

San Jose wasn't far.  It was just a trip up U.S. 101.  When I was young, that was the highway.  There was no I-80, I-280, I-680, I-880--or any other 80.  According to my parents, that was El Camino Real--the royal road, and we used it a lot apparently.  It was my first experience in the driver's seat.  I'm fairly sure it was re-shaped, as there was a Bayshore Freeway and Old Bayshore Freeway on this trip.

Finding my way to a motel on North First Street wasn't difficult but neither was amusing myself with the notion of staying in a bad area that didn't seem particularly bad.  The motel was particularly convenient as there was a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail stop just across from the motel.

It was a cheap motel using through (how many travel aggregators are there now?) which saved about $9.99 per day.  I hardly needed luxury since I wouldn't be in the motel most of the time.  As long as the air conditioning and plumbing worked, and I wouldn't be fighting with multiple-legged visitors, I'd be fine.  As with cheaper motels and smaller chains, internet access was an extra expense, but I have a mobile hotspot.

That first evening, I found my way back to the old neighborhood, and it was somewhat disturbing and reassuring.  I didn't expect to be welcomed.  I was too small and it was too long ago.  If anyone remembered me, that would have been shocking.  Even people from high school don't often remember me.  However, I stopped at a certain point, remembering where we were when Overfelt High School was being built.  It's odd to remember such things from a very young age.  There was a many washing his driveway and he was curious as to what I was doing, as I was curious about the house.

I finally walked across the street and walked over to the house, trying to find some fragment of familiarity.  I told him what I was doing to alleviate any concerns he might have.  He was friendly about it.  I couldn't remember the house number.  I'm not sure if I even saw it as an adult.  I commented about the palm trees on the other street.  He mentioned that the yards didn't go back that far, and I mentioned Darwin Way, which was the next street.  He didn't seem to know.  I walked around the block and paused at the intersection at Bermuda Way.  I remember sitting there in a stroller with my mum talking to a Japanese woman named Taka but it was opposite the end of the street, facing the opposite direction, than where I expected to have the feeling.  I never found the palm tree my dad helped plant that was in someone's back yard.  The trees on Darwin Way were out front of the houses.  Maybe, my parents told me differently, or I just didn't remember correctly.

I've had an online acquaintance in the area and he gave me some restaurants to try.  I also made an acquaintance on Yelp and she told me an up-and-coming area, San Pedro Square Market.  I tried my buddy's suggestion for tacos before going to the old neighborhood and it was okay, but such trouble getting there and there was barely any parking.  The next morning, I called VTA and had a little session on how to use their services.  30 minutes later, I was in downtown San Jose looking for San Pedro Square Market.  On the way, I could see multiple Bail Bonds offices.  Uh Oh!  I've been in those areas in other cities and they're not all that great...or safe.

Expectations are everything and expecting San Pedro Square Market to be like Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia was a huge mistake.  There wasn't really anything integrated.  I went into an entrance under the big sign and found a coffee place and a closed bar.  I talked to someone at the coffee place and he was genuinely friendly and interested and then, I got a reasonably-priced, mediocre coffee.  I guess I'm just not a hipster, as the coffee was supposedly really good.

The rest of the area was made up of bars and over-priced restaurants, so I think it's all about perception, and perhaps, how much alcohol you've had.  Of course, friends make the experience more entertaining.  If you don't know how to cook, I'm sure the food tastes better.

I found the whole area to be great, reassuring, and chill.  People were friendly beyond belief.  Los Angeles can be confrontational and to be certain New York City/Philly/New Jersey can be.  During my day in San Francisco, I didn't feel that people were close to friendly, except for a female store owner in Chinatown.

My day in San Fran was spent hoofing it here, hoofing it there, up, up, up, down, down, down and asking "where the hell am I?" far too much.  I ate Italian food in one of the apparently more impoverished neighbourhoods (Tenderloin), and the trick was that it was run by Chinese people.  I was saddened to see another baby formula scandal on the Chinese TV channel while I was there.  The food wasn't bad, especially for the price and the quantity, and every time I looked over at the TV, someone came to fill my iced tea, which was amusing.

I never found Ghiardelli or Apple or Fisherman's Wharf or Cliff House or those things that really make San Francisco.  Apparently, I missed Union Square when I was busy taking photos of a cable car across the street.  Had I turned right, instead of heading toward Tenderloin, I would have found Union Square.  I spend some time on the loading dock (Embarcadero), which was somewhat entertaining but by that time, my feet didn't work well (purple toe?!) and I got all the way to Pier 39 and headed back to the Caltrain station.

Caltrain went from San Jose Diridon station to 4th Street in San Fran for $9.00 each way.  That's a huge bargain.  Parking is more expensive.  Is it a wonder one of the world's larger economies (California) is in such trouble.  They take care of people.  Public transport is a wonderful thing and making it inexpensive is a wonderful but disastrous thing.  Until fuel becomes free, it's expensive to run.  Reading the reviews, I expected that Caltrain was horrible and smelly and it didn't turn out that way at all, but that was one day.

The highlight of San Jose came in two steps: meeting my online buddy, and finding a late night taco place in the old neighborhood that made tacos similar to what my mum learned to make in San Jose.  I only took a few photos and three of those were of the house and the high school and foothills in the old neighborhood.

After that, it was a road trip again.  I returned to the motel at Barstow to collect the pillow I left there.  That was quite reassuring that the motel cleaning staff were so helpful.  I then stopped at the craziest, busiest In-N-Out store to eat, and headed toward Indiana on I-40, once again, across the Mojave Desert.

I stopped at Flagstaff, AZ for the night, ate lunch the next morning at Plaza Cafe in Gallup, NM again, and stopped in Amarillo, TX.  The next night, I stopped early in Alma, Arkansas.  Since I photograph high school sports, a couple of athletes had asked me to consider photographing them during the school year.  Since it was along I-40, it was no big deal to stop to see the town.  It's about 13 hours' drive from home, which isn't terrible.

I used to think that Arkansas was the most backward state.  That's just not true--Indiana is more backward than Arkansas.  It was surprising in a town of 4700+ that they had 2 Mexican restaurants, 4 pizza places, Sonic, and much more.  Plus, they were close to the cities of Fort Smith, Fayetteville, and Bentonville--it was Walmart territory, for sure.

I made an appointment with a Volkswagen dealer for my free 20,000 mile service, thankfully, on Wednesday.  There was a defective part and they resolved it the next day at some loss of fuel for me, and loss of time for both of us.  It gave me time to see the town.  Their bad Walmart was better than any other I've seen.  The local Target store was not nearly as wonderful.  Fort Smith wasn't nearly as friendly as Alma, but overall, the area was quite friendly, neat, and clean--way ahead of Indiana.

I seriously thought about living there but it's not an Asian life, and it's too far from either coast.  I don't hunt or fish, unless you include "shooting" animals with my camera.  Taking two days to get to either ocean wouldn't be my preference.  I have a Yelp friend in Oklahoma City and I've learned a lot about that area and it seems to be full of fake Asian places.  i.e., Japanese places run by Koreans or Chinese, Chinese places run by VietNamese, etc.

I headed home on Friday without trouble.  The car did really well and now has over 22,000 miles on it.  That's about 17,000 considering that I got it around the first of February but it hasn't been nearly as much fuel as the gasoline-powered car, thankfully.  I congratulate Volkswagen on making a diesel engine as easy as a gasoline engine.  I still remember the days when you had to heat the glow plugs and wait (20-30 minutes?) and wait and wait.  Of course, at that time, the price of fuel was much cheaper than gasoline, but at least now, it fuels 50 state, Clean Diesel cars.

The trip averaged 38.67 mpg with a total of $565.50 on fuel.  It could have been $25-$30 less but for the fuel leak.  Considering that the gasoline-powered 1999 Golf GLS averaged a little over 30 mpg on road trips, there was significant savings with 8 mpg more.  It was certainly better mentally to have more range, as certain areas tended to have less of everything available--no restaurants, truck stops, fuel of any kind.

Update: 2013.09.06:  I took the car to the local dealer after the problem with the 20,000 mile service.  They said that they didn't find anything wrong but it still has an odd stuttering.  The service adviser and I were talking about the car.  I bought it around the first of February with over 5500 miles on it--it was a demonstrator.  The day I called for the appointment, I mentioned 23232 miles, as that had just happened and was memorable.  At roughly 18,000 miles extra in 7 months, that's a lot, about 10,000 of which were driven in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois.

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