Roadtrip 2002

Saturday, July 19 2003 @ 08:55 AM PDT

Contributed by: matt

As you may imagine, because I've just started this whole venture, but have been thinking about it for over a year, I have something of a backlog of stories.

This one is actually a reprint. It was written (if I remember correctly) in early March of 2002, but I figure that it's amusing enough to still be worth reading. You may disagree.

What follows is a travelogue of sorts from a roadtrip I did in February of 2002. It's worth pointing out that the associated images are probably not safe for work.




The events that are recorded here are true to the best of my recollection, and while they may depict me as something of an alcoholic, I can assure you that I suffered for my sins, and isn't that enough?

February 12, 2002, 5:30 PM
We left the apartment in Brighton for what was to be a very long drive. Somewhere in Pennsylvania we hit a snowstorm. The rest of the states we went through were pretty boring. I stopped at South of the Border just to piss Austin off (he hates the billboards).

February 13, 2002, 8:30 PM
Arrived on Singer Island, near West Palm Beach, Florida. Checked into the hotel, grabbed dinner, slept.

February 14, 2002
Austin and I went out on the town. We met a pair of traveling nurses, played dice for dollars, and I inhaled a record number of margaritas. There I was, playing dice with my best friend and two good looking, potentially morally versatile nurses, and I was so drunk that I needed to remove myself from this situation because it was too hard to concentrate. I was literally barely able to balance on the bar stool. I ended up face down in bed having lost my dinner over the thirty square foot area that comprised our bathroom and exterior sink. I had had a very good Mahi-Mahi dish with green beans as the vegetable for dinner. Not pretty.

February 15, 2002
I woke up very late, choked down lunch and enough cokes at the tiki bar that the bartender lost track. I laid down for a couple hours. Finally my stomach settled enough to clean up the mess from the previous night. If I wasn't so hung over it would've only taken about fifteen minutes. It took almost two hours. We were too hung over to even think about going out, despite the fact that we were supposed to meet up with the nurses again. Besides, we had to drive in the morning.

February 16, 2002
We drove up to Daytona Beach. More accurately, Austin drove to Daytona Beach because I still had a hell of a headache. This was the first of the 24+ hour hangovers.

Upon arrival we fought our way through traffic for the Busch race, and met up with Rudy who had just driven down from Atlanta. The three of us headed over to the beach itself (by way of a supermarket) and parked on the sand, where I took the requisite pictures of the Jeep against the backdrop of the ocean. While I was doing that, the boys headed over to a beach bar to watch the Busch race, and once my photographic needs were fulfilled, I joined them.

When the Busch race was almost over we headed over to the track (by way of Wal-Mart) and got in line to park in the infield of the track for the race the next day. With the exception of a close call with an empty gas tank, we got into the infield with no major issues, found a campsite and set our stuff up.

After dinner and a couple of beers (emphasis on 'couple' for my part), we tried to get some sleep, with limited success. There were several parties going on around us, there were cars driving around until the wee hours looking for campsites, the temperature dropped about twenty degrees, and at some point there was me, snoring like an aural caricature of a large bear. Sorry guys.

February 17, 2002
We spent most of the morning walking around, buying souvenirs, hanging out on the track itself (What other sport lets you onto the field until an hour before it starts?), taking pictures and eating lunch.

At 1:00, the race started. We ran a few bets amongst ourselves, cheered on our various drivers, and I took a hell of a lot of pictures, mostly of the attractive female fans. If you're looking for a full account of the race, I'd say check the periodicals section of your local library. It'll have a better account than I can give since we couldn't see crap compared to the reporters (despite the kindness of a family from South Carolina who let us up on top of their van). Once the race was over, we settled in for another long winter's nap in the infield. More parties, and cars leaving all night, and probably more snoring on my part.

February 18, 2002
One of the first things you should realize about this road trip is that we had no set itinerary before we started. Other than going to the race, it was all up in the air. The visit that Austin and I made to Singer Island was nothing more than something to do to kill time because we left Boston a couple days early and made it down in one shot. It's not a bad way to travel if you have the temperament for it.

The decision had been made (I think between the end of the race and bedtime) that the next stop was going to be Panama City Beach, and if it sucked we could always keep going West to New Orleans, which never sucks. That being said, we made our way north and west, and arrived in Panama City in time for lunch at Hooters, not even having made a phone call about finding a room. Believe it or not, this actually worked out in our favor. While munching on wings and beer, we did a little asking around and ended up at a condo complex that was willing to rent us a three bedroom, three bathroom, 1700 square foot condo with a wraparound porch on two sides, huge living room, full kitchen and dining room, for $140 a night. That price might seem a little steep budget-wise for three guys on a road trip, but after two nights of three guys in one tent in the freezing cold, it was well worth it.

After we checked in, we got cleaned up, I took some more pictures, and we went out for a steak dinner. Unfortunately the whole friggin city was closed for remodeling (spring break was a week and a half away), so we ended up at an all you can eat seafood buffet. Surprisingly, it wasn't too bad, especially given my lingering memory of Mahi-Mahi and bathroom tiles.

Once dinner was over we drove around for a really long time looking for a bar, any bar, that had more than six cars in front of it. After a few minor missteps we ended up at what can best be described as the last place I ever want to drink at again. It was a drive-through liquor store with a bar inside. I can count on my middle finger the number of times I have been in a place like it.

Given the environment, the only thing that seemed appropriate was to order the strongest drink they had, and make an attempt to enjoy myself. I think I managed to do so, but I'm not positive. At least I didn't puke this time.

February 19, 2002
After sleeping off what I could while Austin and Rudy were playing football on the beach, the three of us cleaned up and made our way over to Hooters, which was the one place that seemed somewhat normal in the midst of the ghost town atmosphere. While we ate lunch, we planned out the next leg of the trip, which would take us to New Orleans. Since we had booked for two days in the condo, we had nothing in particular to do that day, so upon completion of our midday feeding we ordered another pitcher. Then we ordered another. It being a nice day out, we moved out to the deck which overlooked the beach and promptly ordered another pitcher.

At some point, still at Hooters, we ordered dinner. After eating again, I noticed that we were about a half hour away from a very nice sunset, we had a very attractive waitress, and there I was without my trusty camera. It took me about twenty minutes to drive back to the condo, grab a couple things (including the camera), feed Bob (Rudy's turtle), and get back to the restaurant. I was just in time to get some shots of the sunset, the reflection of the sunset in Rudy's sunglasses, and our waitress, who seemed a little embarassed at the way I was making her pose (nothing lewd, just going for a nice photo instead of the usual Hooters snapshot with the guys). At some point thereafter, we finished another pitcher, and I finished off the roll of film. We paid the bill (under $200 for about six hours of drinking and two meals for three guys!), and headed out. After a brief encounter with another, more upscale drinking establishment, we decided to say screw it and go to bed.

February 20, 2002
When we set out for New Orleans I had a headache. I'm not entirely sure whether to count this as the second 24+ hour hangover or not. On the one hand, I know that I never really recovered from the drive through liquor store, but on the other hand we did go through a bunch of pitchers at Hooters. I guess I'll let the reader draw their own judgement.

After a few more hours in the car, we found ourselves parked on Decatur St. Calling just about every damn hotel in town, looking for a reasonable rate. We finally settled on the Clarion on Canal St. The hotel is located about five blocks up from Bourbon St., and was only looking for $89 a night, where most of the places down by the river were in the $140+ range. We checked into the hotel, had the valet take the cars, and got ready for a real night on the town.

We walked down to Decatur St. for dinner, and ended up at the local Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company franchise. If you've never been to one, it's a seafood restaurant themed around the movie Forrest Gump. The food's decent, the waitstaff was pretty cool, and I guarantee you that you'll never find another place where one of the dinner entrees is called "Bucket of Boat Trash."

Since it was our first night in a town that was the antithesis of the place we'd been the previous night, and we'd had a couple of drinks with dinner, it was a moral imperative that we see as many naked women as possible. What do you want, we're guys. We started off slow, finding a spot on the balcony of one of the bars, hoping to spot some women who were looking for beads. We didn't have beads, but the guys around us did, so it was all good.

After we'd been harassed a few times by the bar staff (actually not us personally, but the general throng of people that had gathered on the balcony), we headed out to find a nudie bar. The first two we went to were pretty crappy, but the third one, The Gold Club Cabaret was definitely worth the visit. Suffice it to say that, within the legal constraints of the great state of Louisiana, it's everything a man (or certain minded woman) might want in a strip club. It's clean, comfortable, and spacious, with multiple stages, and ladies that are fit, trim, and actually know how to dance. After we left the Cabaret, the only thing I was interested in was bed, though I would have preferred that it wasn't an empty one.

February 21, 2002
After looking around a bookstore for a little while, we had lunch at a brewhouse on Decatur St. across from the old Jackson Brewery (which is a mall, much to my disappointment). I wish I could remember the name of the place, but it should be fairly easy to track down, since it was recommended to us by two or three people in the course of two days. The food at this place is really good. Austin and Rudy had the ribs, which seem to be the house specialty, and rightly so. I started out with the louisiana crabcake, and had the duck as my entree, which I think I ordered solely because it was the food least resembling anything we'd had thus far in our journey. The crabcake was fantastic, and the duck, at the risk of sounding like an overzealous food critic, was absolutely sublime. It was an entire half of a duck with the skin on, and I made it through almost the entire thing without picking up my knife.

We each had the sampler of the house beers, and they were good, but there are so many damn good microbrews in and around Boston that I think I've been spoiled for life in judging the quality of a given beer.

During lunch we decided that we were going to suck it up and be tourists, so after we left the brew pub we booked ourselves for one of the many ghost tours that were operating. Since the tour didn't leave until after dark, we headed back to the Hotel to digest and rest up for our last night before starting the long journey home.

It didn't take too long for us to get bored in the Hotel room, despite catching a very funny movie on cable (The Closer You Get), and we headed out to see what kind of trouble we could get into until our tour started. Having nothing better to do, we headed over to the casino. I'm sure at some point or other you've been inside a casino, and the Harrah's on Canal isn't really any different than any other casino I've been to, so I'll only say that it was fairly dim, very clean, smaller than some I've been in, and laid out as confusing as possible. As I said, no different than the other places I've been.

From the casino we walked over to Bourbon St., and to be honest I don't remember a damn thing we did at that point. I assume we just walked around a bit, since we still had a little time to kill. At the appointed time (about 7 or 8), we walked to where the ghost tour was going to start, which wasn't where the ghost tour was going to start, but at least there was a guy there (who turned out to be the tour guide) to direct us to the new starting location, which was a bar a block over called "The Morgue", appropriately enough.

The Morgue is, as a bar, more interesting in history than in current fact. They do have a coffin as part of the decor, the sign outside glows a very spooky green, and the house drink is called embalming fluid, but other than that it's your basic smallish bar. The real charm that the place has is that as recently as the sixties or so (nobody there was really positive of the date) it was an actual mortuary. Where the bathrooms are now located was where the embalming used to take place, which makes sense if you think about it; both functions require the disposal of bodily fluids.

We were a little early so we bellied up to the bar and ordered a couple of embalming fluids, which is a very sweet, moderately alcoholic beverage with tons of Midori to make it a predictably greenish color. Once the tour was ready to get going, we got some fresh 32 oz. "to go" cups (only in New Orleans), stuck on our stickers, and headed out.

The guide was a very good story teller, and I'd do a disservice if I tried to reproduce the stories he told, but there was enough vampires, ghosts, and graphic descriptions of despicable human acts that one of the other members of our tour group almost got ill, and had to sit on the curb for a few minutes.

At the end of the tour we chatted with the guide for a few minutes about all kinds of things, from his thoughts of relocating to Boston or Miami, to the local laws in New Orleans and why federal statutes don't necessarily apply in that city. Suffice it to say that you should never get arrested in New Orleans, and you don't want to give the cops there any grief, especially if you're outside of the quarter.

We made our way back to Bourbon St., where we did the one thing on the entire trip of which I am at all ashamed (and only slightly at that). Many women on Bourbon St., given enough alcohol and enough coaxing, are willing to show their breasts to the world in exchange for some cheap plastic beads. While this works out great for the guys, I can't help but wonder if some of these women wake up the next morning feeling something like the natives that sold manhatten island to the dutch for a few boxes of similar items.

At any rate, we had my camera with us to capture these, er.. transactions.. for posterity and our own personal amusement. When you're on the street, as we were, trying to get a picture of a woman baring herself is like participating in a feeding frenzy. People, mostly guys, mostly wielding cameras, surround the woman three or four deep, jostling for a clear shot. This is one of the major reasons that the second floor balconies that many bars have are very popular, since you can watch the women from above, but even those get two or three deep during the feeding hours (from about 9PM to 2AM).

After a couple of attempts in normal street mode, we ran across these two guys, Brian and Ben I think is what their names were, one of whom was in a wheelchair on the sidewalk, with the other one canvassing the street looking for women who were willing to give the first guy a close up, since he couldn't see over the crowds of people. We hit upon the idea of standing behind the wheelchair with the camera, and taking pictures with relative impunity. Quickly, we developed a somewhat symbiotic relationship with the pair, supplying them with beads we'd find on the ground and untangling or fixing other beads that they had, and in exchange they were happy to keep the women coming right in front of us.

After we went through almost two rolls of film, the pair had to get going because the guy in the wheelchair was supposed to meet a stripper from the club we had been to the previous night when she got off work. Given that reason for departure, we were happy to watch them go, and we went to find a nice place to get good and drunk.

At some point during the picture taking, Austin had run over to a bar on the corner called "Tropical Isle" that sells these drinks called "Hand Grenades". This is one of the most evil conconctions I have ever seen. I had been introduced to them on a previous trip there, and had insisted that the other two needed to have at least one, and possibly at most one, at some point during our stay.

The drink comes in a nifty little souvenir cup thats about 32 oz., and looks like someone shoved the top half of a yard glass into a plastic hand grenade. The beverage itself is green, very sweet, and though the recipe is a trade secret we're pretty sure that it amounted to something along the lines of grain alcohol, green Kool-Aid, and some Midori. One will make most mortals at least tipsy, and two will end your night. I started mine after a total of approximately 80 oz. (that's over half a gallon) of the aforementioned embalming fluid, and the other two guys were on no better footing.

At the time that Brian and Ben left, we still had a good ways to go on our drinks, and none of the other bars would let us in until they were empty, so we went to the bar we'd bought them from to sit down for a little while and sip in comfort. Also in the bar were these three women who looked like they were having a good time, and at some point we introduced ourselves. Their names were Melinda, Spirit and Vanessa, and they were self-proclaimed "biker chicks" from Pittsburgh.

We took multiple pictures, bought more drinks (good God!), and generally had a good time. The six of us ended up going to another bar once the band was done at Tropical Isle, and we danced, drank beers, chatted, and had some more fun. I won't go into precise details on the off-chance that I ever become an elected official or something, but I will say that all three have their nipples pierced, all three wore thongs, Spirit has a tongue ring, and Vanessa seemed to need convincing that she didn't need implants.

At some incredibly late hour (somewhere between 3:30 and 4:30 AM) the girls took off and we went in search of a cab. Finding a cab wasn't that hard, but we had several stops we wanted to make, and the cab driver wasn't interested in the extra money for some reason, so he dropped us in front of the hotel, where we flagged down a more accomodating driver.

We found the cigarettes at a 24-hour A&P (which, out of nowhere and much to my surprise, brought into my mind the short story by John Updike), and our next stop was the Krystal on Bourbon St., where the boys felt it necessary to get thirty cheeseburgers, which sounds like a lot until you see how small they are (which is just before you smell them, at which point you realize that thirty of them is, in fact, twenty-nine more than you ever want to be exposed to). With food in hand, on seat, on floor, on face, on pants, we headed back to the hotel to sleep it off.

We had some more driving to do.

February 22, 2002
Much to our chagrin, the checkout time at the Clarion was 10 AM, so we dragged ourselves out of bed, showered and made it to the front desk by about 10:15. I think it's safe to say that none of us were real happy at the prospect of a six hour drive. Birmingham reminded both Austin and I of Hartford. Other than that, the drive was boring as hell.

We got to Rudy's house around dinner time, so after deciding that we didn't want to wait in line at the Hooters in Douglasville (from what I saw, the place is packed on Friday nights) we went to his house and ordered a couple of pizzas. The delivery got screwed up, so we ended up waiting about an hour for the things. We ate, watched some of the Olympics, and went to bed. I think all of us were still hung over. I know I was.

February 23, 2002
We woke up at around 11:30 or so, got cleaned up and spent about a half hour shoehorning our gear into the Jeep. For lunch we went to a nearby steakhouse, which was pretty good despite my continuing hangover. We said our goodbyes to Rudy, and headed on down the road. After a quick oil change, we got onto the highway, destination north.

Just south of D.C. I took over driving for a bit. In Maryland I watched a cop pull over the guy in front of me whose speed I had been matching for about twenty minutes. In Philidelphia another cop got pissed at me for an (admittedly) illegal lane change and nearly caused me to run a car off the road by hitting me in the face with his spotlight from across a median. We had a little excitement in New Jersey when we found ourselves merging onto 295 southbound, when we had been going north on 95. We had missed the exit for the Turnpike. If you look at a map of New Jersey and the loop around Trenton, you can probably figure out how the mistake happened. Otherwise, it was yet another uneventful trip on America's Interstate system.

February 23, 2002
At about 5:30 AM, we crossed the George Washington Bridge and headed into Manhattan. Our goal was to take a look at the WTC site, and maybe take a few pictures. I knew that there was an observation deck where you could get a good view, and I knew that you needed tickets that you could get for free to get onto it, but other than that, we didn't really have a plan. It turned out that, on that day at least, the observation deck opened at 8, but the place you'd get tickets from didn't open until 10, so after a couple of attempts at pictures and a few minutes in front of the tribute wall, we headed out to Long Island to meet up with my friend Gary.

When I had last talked to Gary on Saturday afternoon from somewhere in Georgia, I had thought we'd find something to keep us occupied in Manhattan until late morning, and we'd probably see him about lunchtime. Since we'd made good time on the road, and hadn't found much of anything to do at 7:00 on a Sunday morning, we were slightly early. I figured I'd just call Gary, drag his ass out of bed, take him to breakfast, and when we left he'd go see his girlfriend whose birthday I knew it was. It would've been the perfect plan if he hadn't crashed at her house that night.

I called at about 7:30 from ten or fifteen miles down the highway from his exit. He explained to me the situation, which turned out to be unnecessary since I'd guessed what was going on when I had asked where his house was and he said, "I'm not at home." He was lying in bed next to the woman who he was dating, and whose birthday it was, and they had planned to spend the whole morning together before I showed up. It worked out because about the time I was supposed to be getting there, she was supposed to be going to her sister's house. Personally, I hate making somebody choose between their friend and their girlfriend. It always does more harm than good. Especially if it's her birthday.

He pointed us toward a breakfast place where we could get some food while he was figuring out how to handle the monkeywrench I'd thrown at him. Just as we were finishing, he called me back and I told him not to worry about it. We'd just catch the next ferry out of Port Jefferson, and I'd catch up to him some other weekend. He's only three or four hours away, and I'm currently unemployed, so I told him it's no big deal.

I got directions to the ferry from him and we were on our way. Of course, our timing that day being what it was, we watched the 9 AM ferry pulling out of the harbor as we drove into the lot. We got in line (we were the second car for the next ferry) and slept for an hour or so waiting for the next boat.

When the boat arrived, we boarded and made our way upstairs where I ran into a couple of friends from my old job, JP and Nancy, who had been, unfortunately, in town for a funeral. We chatted for a little while, walked around a bit, and just generally killed time until we arrived in Connecticut.

Being in Connecticut meant that we were practically home. On a trip like this, I measure being almost home by the standard of towing. If the car were to break down, would you be willing to pay the mileage for the tow truck to bring you and your car all the way home. Needless to say, this is a scale that changes depending on the trip and the degree of desire you have to get home. In this case, if we had broken down just outside of New Haven, I would've done it.

On the way back to the house we stopped off to see Kent who was at the start of his last week at the used car dealership whose shop we had been using prior to the trip. After a little while, we headed home to sleep for a few days.

Twelve days, almost to the hour, from when we left, we pulled into the driveway behind our apartment. We had put roughly 4500 miles on the Jeep, and even though we were stationary for days at a time, we still averaged about 15 1/2 MPH for the trip as a whole. Kids, don't try this at home.

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