This is less of a “nuts and bolts” post and more of a “bigger picture” post. As such it is long and will be less exciting—possibly boring for those not inclined to really consider what I’m saying, so skip it if you like. You have been warned.
After a round of visiting family this holiday season, many in my mom’s side of the family were surprised with the seriousness and scope of the adventure that we are planning, having not yet heard the entirety of the plan. I live just outside Philly, after all, and have a huge, somewhat geographically scattered family. The vast majority of it is no less than three hours away, and the less immediate members I now get to see less often than I would like--most visits are during the holidays. What a range of reactions they had: from getting excited just thinking about it to the quick but potentially crushing—and I quote—“what the hell would you do that for?” This post addresses the latter viewpoint.
For me, a semester in London planted the seed for this adventure. London is a major travel hub of Europe and I was privileged to be able to travel most weekends. Seeing all those different European cultures, complete with individual languages and histories much older than our own, made me look at my home surroundings in a much different way. America is, more than any other place in the world, a glorious mash up of cultures, but unlike Europe, our people have enough in common that we feel a great kinship with each other. This includes a long history of free trade between states that enhances us all, a common government, common historical victories and setbacks, and perhaps most important, a largely common language.
These similarities will assist Sarah, Tom, and I in meeting a wide variety of people during this trip; our differences are what will make it interesting. Faced with the same comment from my dad and maternal grandmother, that people are basically the same wherever you go, I feel a need to point out that while people have the same basic needs including sustinance, shelter, security, and others that are (and create) common traits, collectively we form vastly different cultures. I am talking about the real stuff. I am talking about the stuff of passion. I am talking about music, art, religious beliefs, types of food, hobbies, traditional cultures and subcultures. I am talking about the stuff that makes some areas’ political systems corrupt and some clean, the stuff that creates movements, the stuff that goes down in history as the passion and purpose of a people, and the stuff that fits into the top of Maslow’s crazy triangular stack of priorities. This stuff will not be the same from one place to another. This is what I am looking for.
I could wait until I am retired, another suggestion and more conventional approach from the pragmatic members of my family. In doing so, I fear that I may trade in my sense of adventure for a desire of comfort. Regardless of where I travel to (if I travel) I will stay in a three star plus hotel, watch CNBC or CNN in the morning and I will have dinner and drinks in bars that are full of people just like me in the evening. When someone comes to me to suggest an adventure to explore culture, I will decline, suggesting from my experiences that “people are the same wherever you go anyway.” To be clear, I do look forward to the prospect of aging, learning new priorities, establishing new hobbies, having a family, trying to thrive in the corporate landscape, and experiencing all the adventures that come from the life that I see myself as likely to live. But not yet. Right now is the time to for exploration, and to seek things that would challenge my beliefs before they are too firm. I don’t think that the land or cultures will change but I certainly may. At the very least my priorities will.
Because the internet makes us all creators and consumers of entertainment, we have the opportunity to do something that others seeking this realization in the past have been less able and likely to do: share it with the world.
Joey and I (pictured here, among a bevy of women during our freshman year of college) met under convenient circumstances, having been selected as roommates in our inaugural semesters at Susquehanna University. This pairing was not exactly random; during the summer preceding our arrival, we were issued brief surveys which included some lifestyle questions, such as, "How late do you stay up," "Do you drink" and "What kinds of music do you like/dislike."
So I filled it out and sent it in, and come school time, they stuck us together in Smith 319. And sure enough, Joey turned out to be a late-nighter, drinker, messy room occupant and fan of the same great music that I generally enjoyed as well. Really, the only difference was the fact that I scored 10 points higher on my SAT's than Joey did, which I will never, ever let him live down. But we spent that year living (generally) peacefully and harmoniously, aside from Joey's brain-melting snoring at night, and enjoyed plenty of good music in our room, from Pink Floyd to the Grateful Dead, to a Dave Matthews solo album that Joey turned me on to. I never really caught that pesky DMB bug, thank god.
Eventually we moved out but stayed friends, and somehow became concert buddies somewhere along the line. I can't remember the first show we went to together, but the most memorable by far was Gratefulfest (at right).
Gratefulfest is an annual music festival held every summer at beautiful Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Garrettsville, Oh. The one we attended in 2006 was, I believe, the seventh of its kind. The headlining band was Dark Star Orchestra, a magnificent band dedicated to recreating the Grateful Dead experience through song and style, playing four full shows during the festival. Other acts included Keller Williams, Rusted Root, David Gans and plenty more artists playing music written, performed or inspired by the Grateful Dead.
In the meanwhile, this festival takes place on some of the most beautiful grounds of sand, quarry and woods that you'll ever come across. The campsites are packed, overfilled with people my age, families with children, old men with tie dye and everyone else imaginable. The whole ordeal takes up the better part of a week, so for a lot of these people (myself included), this was their summer vacation. So everyone was just so happy to be there.
I've been back once since then, and Joey and Sarah have gone to a few other festivals since then. But this summer, with a trip across the country ahead of us and plenty of time to spread around among specified locales, we're going to be on the hunt for music like it's our job.
Of course, obstacles arise to this effect, such as the price of attendance, and the difficulty of hitting an event at just the right time in just the right place. Sure, we might pull a few strings here and there, but we can't venture too far out of our way. We've got places to be, for cryin' out loud.
In the months to come, we'll be wrapping up a tentative schedule of when we'll be where, and wait for concerts, festivals and shindigs of a similar nature to be announced - all the while, with our fingers crossed, of course. We'll keep you posted.
Our logo, with which you're all familiar with due to its permanent presence directly on the right, wasn't just something that fell out of the sky. This brilliant little image was designed by one Eric Perinotti, whose artistic genius and technological prowess were commissioned at the behest of Joey, his fraternity brother from their ol' Phi Sigma Kappa days. It was done out of the kindness of Eric's heart, and spectacularly so, if I may say so.
That said, Eric has inadvertently painted us into somewhat of a corner, in his selection of landmarks for the backdrop of the logo. In choosing these specific sites for their general recognizability, he's also selected seven structures that we have no choice but to pay visits to during our trip.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, Eric picked out some real winners, and we won't have any problem finding our way to them. Let's look into them a little more, going left to right as we English speakers tend to do.
The Golden Gate Bridge. This is a San Francisco landmark, all the way out on the west coast, and therefore the last of these destinations we'll be getting to. But this very famous bridge is the main (only?) thoroughfare into this city full of love and hippies. There's no way we'd avoid San Fran, so this one will be a snap.
The Sears Tower. This monstrous edifice finds itself in Chicago, Il., home to windy weather, deep dish pizza and a hilarious baseball team. The building itself is the largest in North America, and was the largest in the world until 1998. So at least it won't be too difficult to find.
Chicago is a definite must for us, a city that we'll dive into near the halfway point in the trip. Look for a grand ol' photo op with this impressive edifice.
The Gateway Arch. Here we have an unmistakable vista, this magnificent burst of steel and concrete that reaches more than 600 feet into the air. The arch is in St. Louis, home of the blues, where we'll be eagerly milling about for hopefully a couple of days. It is symbolic as the "gateway to the west," which is awfully appropriate for our own intentions. Expect us here in July.
The Capitol Building. You might be wondering how these were spaced out. Thus far we've talked about the last three sites we'll encounter, and now we're at the first one we'll see. Joey said it makes perfect sense, as the left side of the logo represents the west coast, and the right the east. Smartass.
Anyway, at this point we're in DC, touring our nation's capital and scouring around inside any such awesome buildings as this one that we're allowed to enter. I understand security is a little tight these days - we can't exactly walk up and ring the bell. But if we're lucky, we might be able to score a walkthrough.
The Washington Monument. Scratch what I said earlier about the Capitol. Nothing wrong with the Capitol, but this might be the most recognizable structure in the country. This monument, which was once the tallest in the country in the early 1900's, is the symbolic starting point for our trip in Washington, DC. Our journey starts here, on May 31.
The Empire State Building. Here we're in tender, loving New York City, at the building where Buddy the Elf's real father once called his place of employment. This building is particularly famous for its height, the tallest skyscraper in this massive metropolis. Tours are available and may induce a fair amount of nausea on my part, so look forward to that, because I sure don't.
The Statue of Liberty. This beautiful woman was the first glimpse of America for many European immigrants on their way to Ellis island, a gift from the French many, many years ago. Ahh, those were the days, when you'd tell someone you loved them with a statue instead of flowers or jewelry. Those French folk sure do know the way to our hearts.
Lady Liberty has a place in our travels in the second week of June. Look forward to this, and all these other photo ops, when we hit the road.
(From top) Photo by Aslak Raanes courtesy Wikimedia Commons; photo by Kelly Martin courtesy Wikimedia Commons; photo by JNEM Media Services courtesy nps.gov; photo by F. Malotaux courtesy Wikimedia Commons; photo by Daniel Schwen courtesy Wikimedia Commons; photo by P. Banks courtesy nps.gov.
Being a lifelong suburban Philadelphian, I've been an avid Phillies phan since I was a boy. It was their 1993 World Series defeat that got me into the sport in the first place, which eventually led me to sign up for little league baseball and play for almost ten years.
The Phightin' Phils have seen some lousy times in the year since then and now, but let's be honest, so have the rest of us. I've spent countless days, weeks, months standing around restaurants as a server, so often idling around with all the time in the world to waste. And all the while (at least from April to early October), the Phils have been there on TV, working hard every day to fulfill my entertainment needs.
Of course, this is something I've taken for granted as a Philadelphian. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure everyone has taken this team for granted at some point. But once we hit the road, it's not going to be the easiest thing in the world to find the Phils game on TV as we venture further away from home. Despite any bump in coverage and viewership that they may enjoy as the reigning World Champions (high five), I don't know how good my chances are of catching any of the game when we're out in, say, San Diego. Unless they happen to be playing the Padres that day.
No sir, it's going to be a task to track down the Phils game on the road. But I will make a point to do just that when the opportunity arises. Should we find ourselves in any kind of bind about where to go for a drink or something like that, you can bet that the situation will turn into a Phillie Phinding mission.
And furthermore, it's always been on my to-do list to see the Phils play in a city other than Philadelphia. I've dropped my share of insults at visiting fans inside Citizens Bank Park and old Veterans Stadium before that, so I'm intrigued to be a visitor rooting for my home team.
Phinding the Phillies. Expect a fair amount of it during the trip.
For as long as I can remember I've been a beer drinker. Starting with stolen sips from my mother's Miller Lite, through a five-year tenure working on and off from college at a brewhouse, through all the disgusting, all-night bouts with Natty Lite and the likes - beer has been a true friend to me, as well as a mortal enemy in the more egregious of circumstances.
In my money-saving for the big trip, I've cut back on a whole host of items that might usually be a reasonable part of my life, but have instead been cast aside for the sake of saving cash - big things like a new laptop and new glasses, or little things like Red Bull every morning. The one exception to this rule which I will never abandon is my beer. I buy my beer in town here in Conshohocken, at A. Piermani & Son, where there is always a fair selection of domestic microbrews from as near as Victory in Downingtown, to as far as Stone Brewing Company out in San Marcos, Ca. When I buy my beer I do so not with cost in mind, and buy whatever I decide looks best on that particular day.
But as is the case with most consumable products, beer becomes less fresh as it travels further away from its birthplace. God knows I've never had so delicious a potato chip as the one I ate straight off the line during a Herr's factory tour when I was a kid. So with this in mind, we'll be making an effort to visit a handful of breweries, both micro and macro, so that we might taste the beers of America at the finest and freshest.
This goal will be slightly impeded by the fact that most breweries only conduct tours on one or two days out of the week, and only for a few hours on those particular days. But on the upside, many brew tours come with free admission, and I can't possibly imagine a brew tour that didn't culminate in the tasting of at least one beer. I would throw my hat down on the ground (assuming I was wearing a hat) and stomp out as theatrically as possible if someone gave a brew tour and no brew.
So look forward to some heavy, hands-on research in the field of American brewing. It should be nothing short of delicious. And, naturally, no drinking and driving - we can't afford it.
(From top) Photo courtesy samueladams.com; photo courtesy stoneworldbistro.com; photo courtesy greatdivide.com.
The other day, I was having a conversation with Miguel, the head chef at the restaurant I call my place of employment. He feigned a conversation with a patron from a party I was working, noting that our holiday season ends after everyone else's is already over. Hit the nail square on the head.
This week, and last week, are both splendid examples of what Miguel was referring to. With so little time left before Christmas and the New Year, people have jampacked my restaurant with parties, get-togethers and other such lucrative activities for a waiter such as myself. Unfortunately, this detracts considerably from my ability to update America in 100 Days as often as I'd like to be able to.
Of course, every thorn has its rose. With all this activity at the restaurant, I've been able to enjoy a surge in my own personal fundraising, which will be quite a boon in preparing for the greatest trip ever conceived. Granted, I have to spend a portion of that money on holiday gifts, and unfortunately, another portion to inspect my car, change its oil and replace its recently deceased, back left tire. But after all that, the trip fund will notice a solid bump.
In the meanwhile, sit tight. I've done a pretty good job giving people something to read on a fairly regular basis, and I will continue to do so. In the meanwhile, make sure to pay close attention to Where We're Going, our trip preview section that continues to grow and improve as we get closer to game day.
That's it for now. More soon.
January 3rd, 2007, 1:58a.m: Joey looks over at me as we sit on the couch at my parents house.
We pull ourselves off the course orangie pink fabric and head to the backdoor.
The early morning is cold and dark so we rush to the car.
I’m wired. We’re well prepared to drive aimlessly for days; a bed of cushions and blankets stretches out in the back, cans of food stacked neatly next to it, a GPS mounted firmly on the dash set to 100 Main Street, anywhere, U.S.A.
I forget who drove first. I forget if anyone slept for the fist leg of the trip. I remember the dark of the night slipping into the sleepy grey of morning and then waking to a productive sun.
We saw a sign for Niagara Falls.
”Should we stop there?”
We’re giddy as we glide into a parking space at our second official stop on the drive as far as we can get before we have to turn around and come home.
Joey and I stayed on the road for twelve days. In four we made it to San Francisco California, and in another eight we arrived back at school 2a.m the day spring semester started. The road was unknown, the trip was unplanned, the weather was in our favor but right behind us the whole way. The trip of a lifetime. Or so I thought…
* * *
“I would do it. Would you guys?” Tom looks at me, both of us sitting back sunken into his big blue couch in Conshohocken.
“I would go. Joey do you want to?” Joey bends his neck to look at me as he makes his way down the stairs.
“Hell, why not.”
Tom smiles widely.
“Would you live there?” Tom poses the question to both of us.
I say it thinking it could never actually happen. I say it thinking about how amazing of a story it would be.
“Yea, I’ll live out there, want to drive around for a month?” Joey tests his audience.
All of us quickly agree and sit back- each lost in their own vision of what it will be like.
Maybe I’ve been dragging my feet. Maybe I’m not much of a planner. Maybe I think it would be better to just get in the car and go, but somewhere in the back of my head I know it’s high time I get prepared for this.
The boys have both taken on projects of their own working on the website and the map and how to make this an awesome trip… and I have lamely tried to interject with my lists of “important things’ and requests for direction. My mother brought me up to be strong and assertive, so get your head on right and buckle down Lovelace.
Here’s my direction: Who is going to look at our website? Who cares that we’re on this trip besides us? I’m looking for you, just so you know, so expect a business card in the mail, my friend. Expect me to convince you that this is a trip you want to put your name on.
After we recently conducted a rough runthrough of our timing during the trip, and how long we're planning to stay in each stop on our route, we discovered that we had a considerable amount of time to expand upon. 36 days, to be exact, we left unaccounted for in our initial count. This large block of time seems absolutely perfect for a deepening venture into the woods, caves, mountains or whatever natural edifice we might be within the vicinity of.
Ahh, nature. Its innocence is a constantly diminishing thing in my life, as I've grown up in Chester County, Pa. watching piece upon piece of beautiful, unspoiled land disappear into office complexes, housing developments and golf courses. But I understand that there is still a rather expansive portion of our lovely United States that has not yet been touched by the cold, dark hand of "the developers."
I wouldn't begin to brag of being any kind of outdoors type of person. Quite the contrary. I'm a lazy, lazy man, when I'm not working or writing. If I've got time to myself, with absolutely nothing to do, I don't strap on hiking boots and hit the trail. I bought a bicycle back around April that has been used four times, maybe.
But that's not the intention here. We're not going to have couches to lie on, televisions to watch, or other such generic leisure activities available to us on a regular basis. And we'll be spending a healthy amount of time in campgrounds for shelter, especially in strange, unusual cities where we're unfamiliar with the people as well as the territory.
But from humble beginnings in sprawling Valley Forge, I'm looking to blast courageously into plenty of nature-heavy areas throughout the country. As I mentioned last week, we're rolling our way through Badlands National Park in South Dakota during a considerable expansion of our original route. On top of this, however, we're decided upon a glorious "Canyon Tour" day near the end of the journey, when we'll visit Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyons all in a row. This specific sequence has been described to me by my roommate's father as "the coolest [expletive] thing you'll ever do in your life." I can't really argue with a diagnosis like that.
In the meanwhile, it'll be a top priority for me in my planning sessions to pay particularly close attention to nature - in places like Yosemite National Park, the Adirondack Mountains and...who knows? Maybe even distant Acadia in Maine. A possibility, but gonna be a hard sell. I'll keep you posted as our Where We're Going page expands.
(From top) Photo by Ray Mathis courtesy nps.gov; photo courtesy visitadirondacks.com
Hello, everyone. It’s Joey. Though Tom will be providing most of the narration for our adventure, Sarah and I will be poking our heads up every now and again to offer a different perspective. I don’t know if my posts will be as easy on the eyes as Tom’s but hopefully most will be just as substantive. No promises.
After weighing fuel efficiency against car space, Sarah and I decided that we would be taking my Nissan X-terra. Every time Tom suggested that we take his car we just sort of looked at him and delayed the conversation until he realized that planning would stop until he submitted to our competing priorities.
Doing so allows us many luxuries that a smaller car would not provide. This includes sleeping on the move, bringing a variety of camping and possibly hiking supplies, planning for a wider array of weather or event types with a greater variety of clothes, and bringing more food and having a greater choice when eating. We will also sit a little higher and can use four wheel drive if necessary. On top of that, my car has a nice aftermarket stereo, amplifier, and speakers as well as a loud out-of-tune horn.
However, all of this pales in comparison to the opportunity I am going to get to trick out my car like an ludicrous space-car from the future. That’s what I really want to talk about. The portion of this post above was just to get you caught up. The list below is the real meat and potatoes of this blog post. If you were lucky enough to skip to this paragraph ignore everything above. These ideas are all conceptual at this point, and some of these items may not turn out to be useful enough to justify the time or money that they would require. Then again, we are obligated as human-beings to err on the side of awesomeness, so I might install them anyway. Without further delay:
The Car To-Do List
1. Install a camcorder mount near the driver to be able to capture the experience while driving. Also install a microphone somewhere inside the car.
2. Install an enclosed roof rack and hitch mount carrier.
3. Add in secure, enclosed shelving units or some other (possibly hanging) storage system to take advantage of in-car vertical space.
4. Semi-permanently position a cooler to act as a limited refrigerator—explore cooling systems as well as ice packs.
5. Install a computer desk/mount. I was thinking an adjustable TV mount may do the trick. It is important that it is accessible without posing a safety hazard.
6. Explore mobile internet laptop cards to allow for continued blog and video posts.
7. Install a citizens’ band radio (CB) possibly carry a handheld ham radio.
8. Install a power inverter to accommodate the charging of cameras, computers, and any other electronics –or– find suitable adapters for 12 volt charging of each of these components.
9. Add additional and reorganize current pockets and storage areas in the car to allow for the greatest number of needs to be met with the limited amount of movement and distraction.
10. Install a water storage area somewhere in the car, possibly inside the cooler, and attach a water pump and hose for easily accessible drinking water and light hand or face washing. The hose should come out some place unexpected. There would also have to be some provision to catch the used water.
I’m extremely excited. I will keep you updated.
Some of you may be wondering, "Hey guys, how on earth do you expect to pay for such a glorious excursion as the one you're planning?"
Well, it's not an easy task. For us to spend 100 days driving, eating, being tourists, sleeping, and eventually arriving in Portland and, of course, needing a place to live upon arrival... we each need a pretty hefty chunk of change. Which, of course, we've been preparing.
We three travelers have been setting money aside for our trip since the earliest stages of our planning, way back in June. The original plan was to bank $10,000 each, which would be accomplished by putting aside $200 each week. That's quite an amount, one that would take some sacrifice on all our parts, as well as more than a modicum of discipline.
For Joey and Sarah, the logistics of the money-saving plan seems a little simpler than for me, in that both of them are paid a salary. They get the same amount of money every week, and will continue to do so without fluctuating downwards, for the remainder of our planning stages.
I, on the other hand, am not afforded such a luxury. I work two jobs, and the one that I rely on to support myself is as a waiter in a restaurant. And as we all know, there are slow nights and busy nights in the restaurant industry. During the summer, some nights were especially sluggish, as everyone and their mother seemed to have abandoned us for the Jersey Shore. And given our nation's current economic misgivings, it's clear that fewer people are going out for casual dinners, in lieu of eating at home and saving their money.
Thus, Joey and Sarah have been on a pretty even keel, ponying up their cash on a paycheck-by-paycheck basis. I, on the other hand, have been somewhat more sporadic, dropping in large amounts of cash on what seems to be a monthly basis, based on my bill-paying schedule.
Just a few days ago, we passed the six-months-until-we-leave mark. All three of us seem to be just slightly behind, but not by much. I have just over $4,200 put aside, and Joey and Sarah have just over $4,300 each. And we have 25 weeks remaining. Our remaining numbers - what still needs to be saved - look like this:
Tom - $5,785 remaining ($231.40/week)
Joey, Sarah - $5,675 remaining each ($227/week)
So please, wish me good fortune at work, and let's hope the holiday cheer brings out some heavy tippers this season.
P.S. And don't think about robbing us or anything, as Joey and Sarah have been cleverly putting all of our money into CDs. Good to have finance guys.