Road Trip – Part 3

At last – the furthest East and South I had ever been. Even in the North, Louisiana looked swampy and mysterious. We crossed the Mighty Mississippi, one of many rivers I would have given my eyeteeth to be floating down on a raft or a in a canoe. A short easy drive day with no drama, which is exactly what we needed, and a welcoming reception in Pearl, Mississippi, the new home of Sergio’s sister Elena and family. It was great to see them on their home turf and we had the added bonus of the Elder Chavez’s being there as well, on their way back home from Chicago. Christian and Gabriel were a hilarious team of brothers and great fun to hang out with. And we were spoiled by everyone, including a much needed and much anticipated book “The Road” by Cormack McCarthy. Thank you all!

All too soon we had to head out. I had read about a restaurant called Niki’s West in Birmingham, AL, tucked in amongst the produce warehouses. We pulled in and it was hopping. People in the South are indeed friendly and hospitable but when it comes to food, you better know what you want, no time for questions. Niki’s is set up like a cafeteria, you get in line with your tray and a line of servers hustle you along. What do you want? A meat and three veg is a good choice – but then you have to choose the meat. I got baked chicken and Sergio got catfish. Then our vegetables: but there were dozens of dishes, no labels and no time to find out. Collard greens and fried okra seemed like a good choice (they were!) and what do you know, mac n’ cheese counts as a vegetable. Black eyed peas taste a little like the English mushy peas. The whole thing was delicious. Waitresses circulated with pitchers of sweet tea, refilling when needed. My only regret was not snagging a piece of chocolate silk pie on the way out.

One of the reasons Sergio got me the digital camera is because I take so many pictures of food and he was getting a little tired of developing whole rolls of film taken of a bowl of strawberries. So of course the next picture is from the next day, when we made our way from Atlanta through South Carolina. Another recommendation from Road Food, Beacon’s Drive-In in Spartanburg, SC was another restaurant where you had to hit the ground ordering. Another long line, a man saying “Call it!” and you had to spit out your order and move right along to pick it up as dozens of people in the open kitchen fried burgers, made onion rings, scooped BBQ. They have a car-hop there who has worked at Beacon’s since 1957. They still have car hops, even. This is a picture of my Pimento Cheese A-Plenty. I’d been reading about the Southern food pimento cheese, basically a cheese mix with – yes pimentos – and the A-Plenty meant a heap of crispy, slightly sweet onion rings and fries piled on top. Far more than you could eat in one sitting, even washed down with my gallons of sweet tea. And so my Pie Jones remained unfulfilled again.
And suddenly, we were in North Carolina. And the road trip was almost over. And our new life was starting.

Road Trip – Part 2

Sergio had warned me that the road to Dallas was dull. It was indeed hot, but not at all dull. I-40 takes you straight along old Route 66 territory and rather than a view of concrete and other cars, you actually get to see small Texas towns and businesses. Hardly a chain in sight, except for Dairy Queen which Texans seem to adore. We stopped in Amarillo for lunch, at The Golden Light Cafe, recommended by Road Food, where we had great greasy diner food, old cranky regulars at the counter, young waitresses who still called you “Hon” and a bill of $11 for two meals, two beers and an endless refill of iced tea over chipped ice. The thrift shopping was just fine in Amarillo too. Much cheered, we hit the road again and made good on our promise to stop when we felt like it and not become driving machines. The sack of peaches in my lap shown above was the result of a quick stop at a little farmer stand. Summer air and fresh peaches – is anything better?

We were happy to see some gathering clouds on the horizon, wanting a break in the endless heat. But little did we know, we were hitting the Tornado Alley of the Texas Panhandle which in our case just brought severe thunderstorms. I’m from Alberta – I know thunderstorms. Or I thought I did. With bolts of lightening and thunder crashing all around us, the wind suddenly whipping heavy rain every direction, the visibility was literally nil. I’ve rarely been more scared in a car. We crawled to a stop on the highway along with the other cars and semis and finally spotted an exit where we could wait out the storm. It put us directly in front of a hotel. This, I realised later, was a sign from the universe: Stop Now, Sleep, Have a Shower. We didn’t listen.

When the storm passed, we soldiered on to Dallas, hitting their very frightening freeways in the dark, tired and sticky, Sergio haven driven for over 12 hours. I literally have to close my eyes on Dallas freeways – the German autobahns have nothing on them or their drivers. Reckless lane changes, speeding cars, no signals, multiple merge lanes – it’s barely controlled chaos of the automotive kind, which is my least favorite kind of chaos, it turns out. We were within one exit and 1.25 miles of Jaime and Jeanne’s home when the inevitable problem occurred: two speeding cars had passed us earlier, racing each other, and we ran smack into their fresh accident, police not even on the scene yet but the lanes blocked so we had to get to the side of the road. And our big heavy car ran over some of their accident debris. And immediately got a flat tire. The 4 minutes spent maneuvering our car off the freeway and onto the nearest exit rivalled the thunderstorm for adrenaline production. It’s after midnight. We have a flat tire. We’re parked in the driveway of a very odd and sketchy apartment building. Mosquitoes are eating us alive and I’m stripped down to my camisole, too hot to care who sees me in my virtual underwear.
But look at Sergio! Still smiling, though I assuredly was not. Sergio’s brother Jaime to the rescue! He has an excellent jack and a spare tire – which doesn’t fit our car. He goes home for another. The police cruise by. Jaime comes back with spare tire #2. It doesn’t fit. We concede defeat and unpack the jigsaw puzzle of our back hatch to unearth our own spare tire, then put everything back again. At 2:00 am or so, we make it to bed.

We had planned to leave the next morning for Mississippi but clearly that was not to be. New tires had to be found, the oil had to be changed and we had a new nephew, Anthony Cooper to hang out with. He was a little busy sleeping and eating so we spent considerably more time with in the world of Daniela which was great. We don’t get to see our nieces and nephews enough. Here’s Jaime and Jeanne and Daniela.
It was lovely to spend more time with them, though they were in the middle of their own packing and remodeling – but Dallas was a tad unwelcoming. Besides the flat tire. The flooding and heat created swarms of mosquitoes which bit all exposed areas immediately and I even managed to get some crazy fire ant bites on my foot that are still blisters. This made me fear North Carolina – if the mosquitoes are bad in Dallas, what would they be like out there? We were on our way to find out, via Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Road Trip – Part 1

Let’s begin with The End, okay? We made it to North Carolina and we are here in one piece and a little startled to find We Live Here Now. But it’s only been 3 days, so give us some time.

To the left you will see a picture of our car, outside of our former apartment the morning we left Portland. I wish it was a close-up so you could see how entirely Hillybilly’ish the back of the car looked – stuffed to the gills with all the leftover stuff you find yourself with after the bags and boxes have been packed, things you probably don’t need exactly but don’t want to throw away either and that don’t have a natural place to put them: guitar straps, shoe polish, pillow slips, etc. Also, enough clothes to last us a month. And food. And some kitchen stuff and a quilt and pillows and an airbed and all our cleaning supplies…you get the idea. It was a mess. Look at the top of the car – there is a hastily strapped on storage container that only our good thoughts and about 18 bungee cords kept on top of our car. And look on the back – a bike rack holding Sergio’s sensible modern mountain bike and what’s this? My rusty Red ancient Schwinn with two flat tires? Who would drag that across the country, bouncing perilously with each pothole? The morning we left ( a day later than scheduled, exhausted and sore with seriously dishpan hands from all the scrubbing) we installed the bike rack for the first time and discovered that modern bike racks don’t take into account the gloriously curved crossbars of 60’s era purple Schwinn Hollywood’s with streamers and I had to leave my bike behind in the custody of a kind neighbor. A few tears were shed, let me tell you. Perhaps it is the universe’s way of telling me to finally get that Euro-style commuter bike I’ve been pining after for years now. We also had to leave behind our vacuum and our beloved yellow kitchen step-stool thingy that I hope to replace, along with the rest of our shed furniture.

Anyway! We were on the road, creaking along in our heavy and hot car. Oregon is beautiful but long. Idaho is not beautiful and long. We hit the final stretch of Idaho, a barren and dark road of over 120 miles, with very little gas and a raging forest fire glowing eerily on the horizon. Things improved little in Utah, where the first 7 hotels we hit, many miles apart, had No Vacancy. Finally we found a very fancy Best Western and 6 or so hours later, we were on the road again.

Southern Utah, usually so beautiful with the mountains and the rock formations, was blanketed in smoke from forest fires. It was terribly, terribly hot in the desert. And there was endless stretches of road work, where we had to wait in long lines in the baking sun to follow the pilot car at ten miles an hour. We had never truly tested our cars AC ability and it turns out it doesn’t work so well when a) it’s too hot and b) idling in a road work line. Too bad for us! Thankfully Colorado doesn’t have as much money to spend on road improvement and the construction ended right at the border.

In New Mexico, we headed straight for a Green Chile Cheeseburger at Blake’s Lottaburger (Actual slogan: “If you are what you eat, you are awesome”) and on to a quick sleep at Sergio’s parents deserted house, as they were on vacation themselves. Later, a concerned neighbor would report to Mr. Chavez that ” a strange bearded man had been seen going in and out”. I would hope an actual robber would choose a far less conspicuous get-away-car than our swaybacked Subaru, but it’s nice to know that Neighborhood Watch is alive and well. The next morning kind friends (Hi Nick and Amy!) and family (Hi Grandma and Patsy!) rose at the crack of dawn to watch us eat breakfast (for me, cheese enchiladas with green chile at The Frontier, likely my most favorite meal, ever). And so, on to Dallas.

Carolina on our mind

0ur newly empty apartment

What is Idea Jar Inc.’s long awaited new project? Let’s see: We’re moving across the country to North Carolina for starters, leaving our true love city Portland on July 8th. Kyla will be attending Grad School at UNC, going for her Masters in Library Science. Sergio has a job in IT at Duke University and looks forward to not sending Spam anymore. And oh yeah, a Baby Idea Jar is due in January. So in other words, not much, the usual.

Boy will we miss Portland. We’ve spent time at some of our favorite PDX haunts over the last few weeks like:
The Laurelhurst and Bagdad Theatre (who knows when we can have beer and a movie again?)
The Hedgehouse for a PABST sandwich and a pint of C-Note.
Right next door to Pix Patisserie for an Americano and a delicious chocolate treat.
Amnesia Brewing for the sausage platter and the Copacetic IPA (Ethiopian Iced Tea for Kyla).
My Father’s Place in memory of hungover breakfasts with Bloody Mary’s in one hand, coffee in the other and chicken fried steak served by the best waitress in town.
Powell’s Books where we made a commemorative last purchase, including a print showing the bridges of Portland.
Sauvie Island where we picked blueberries and the best strawberries on the planet, Hoods.
VooDoo donuts for a Bacon Maple Bar and a latte from Mojo’s, waving at our old neighborhood bar The Goodfoot as we left.
Another commemorative wave to The Bar of the Gods.
The Basement Pub for a final round of trivia. We did not win.
A final good-bye to Kyla’s school, Portland State University, home of the mature student.
Cancelling our holds at Multnomah County Library, a sad, sad day.
Pok Pok, which has the most amazing green papaya salad, cool and spicy at the same time.
A final practice of Knife and Son, complete with clove cigarettes.
The back garden of the Pied Cow for a summer sundae.
The gift of treats from the Pearl Bakery, courtesy of Matt. Thanks Matt!
A trip to Bagby Hot Springs.
A hike in the Gorge with a picnic next to a river and a beer outside at Edgefield.
Just walking around the Buckman and Sunnyside neighborhood, the best houses and yards and porches we’ve ever seen.
We are so glad that so many friends and family could come visit us and the city before we left and share some of these memories.

We can only hope Chapel Hill is one-tenth as cool as Portland. And we’ll be letting you know about our trip out East and what it’s like to settle in the South right here on this blog. Stay tuned for posts from the road and wish us luck!