Wednesday September 29th, 2010 16:46 San Francisco

I stepped out onto the arrivals/pickup loop of SFO and in a matter of minutes, my chariot had arrived. The car was practically full of my pals from Icrontic! Ryder behind the wheel, Bobby sitting shotgun, Dan and Charlotte in the back seat. After tossing my bag in the trunk and jumping in the back, we were off.

Our first destination was BevMo!, which is essentially a candy store for adults. With an ungodly selection of all forms of booze at stupidly cheap prices, I’m kind of amazed that BevMo hasn’t spread like wildfire across America. We made our way back to Bobby’s apartment in Sunnyvale when I realized my plans of making it to my friend Steph‘s birthday beach bonfire bash later in the night wasn’t going to happen unless I made a move and made it quick. I threw a daypack together as quickly as possible and got dropped off at the Sunnyvale Caltrain stop in just enough time to make the 8:14 train. An hour later, I arrived at 4th and King street.

My original plan was to take a cab to the beach, which was conveniently on the other side of SF. Rob, my old friend from high school decided to pick me up instead and we headed straight for the beach. We got to the beach after a 30 minute semi-scenic ride. That made me realize that Rob probably saved me from a $45 cab ride. The police were in the parking lot sending people who had parked alongside the beach home. The beachfront still had a few bonfire pits which were still lit up so we headed down. When we got closer to the nearest bonfire, Rob realized that our party had upped and left. I had missed out on the birthday beach bonfire bash… damn.

On another note, the night was still young and the party wasn’t gone. They had just moved to a bar. On the way way there, we made stop at Magnolia for a quick pint and for Rob to say hi to some friends. Magnolia was in the Haight-Ashbury area which was always talked up to be like the super awesome bohemian punk-rock neighborhood. Although brief, my observation is that there was nothing that special about it. Maybe all the mohawk magic faded away?

After spending way too much time trying to find a parking spot, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed to meet the remnants of the birthday party at The Page. With cheap Anchor Steam on tap and plenty of friends and strangers to annoy, I had a great time. After last call, we headed over to some dude’s apartment for a hot minute and then ended up at Rob’s apartment for the night.

The next morning we met up with Steph and her friends for brunch at Toast Eatery. After gorging on chicken fried steak a second morning in a row, Rob took me to Bernal Heights Park. Driving up absurd inclines we parked and walked up the steep red earth to the top. You could see the whole city from up there. With a huge grin on my face I snapped some photos:

The Sunday tradition in San Francisco is to get yourself a blanket, some beer and maybe some sunscreen (if you are a pasty white boy like myself) then head over to Dolores Park. The park is really a treat if you enjoy yourself some good people-watching. According to Rob, the park is further broken down into subsections like “gay plateau” and “hipster hill”. I’m sure none of you will find it shocking that we ended up on hipster hill. We joined Steph and friends along with some others who probably only remember me as ‘the guy who spilled beer all over us’. Whoops! Anyways, my plans differ per city, but I usually have a couple things on my agenda that I like to do. In San Francisco, it was to go to the Cartoon Art Museum and to go to the Golden Gate Bridge. From my position at the park, it would take me a significant amount of time and money to get to both. I was just having too much fun hanging out in the park and I realized that I’m on vacation, I don’t have any obligations except to have a good time. So we sat there for hours, napping, sunning, chatting, and daytime drinking. It was wonderful.

As the afternoon turned to evening, Bobby, Dan and Charlotte finally made their way up to the city. They joined us at the park for a while and I had the pleasure to be the person to give Bobby his first PBR. He was actually surprised when he realized it wasn’t awful but still far from amazing. Bobby suggested that we head uptown to The Buena Vista Cafe. We split off from the group and drove up to the marina district. The Buena Vista accredits themselves for bringing Irish Coffee to America. The four of us grabbed a table and ordered a round of Irish Coffees. My stomach was rumbling so I also ordered a children’s chicken tenders with fries meal. The coffees came and they were delicious! The ratio of coffee to whiskey was absolutely perfect! It was smooth yet strong. As we drank, Bobby regaled us with an epic tale of him chasing a girl. (Bobby, if you are reading this, I hate to say it but you’re probably permanently friend-zoned by now. At least you live in the bay area! I saw no shortage of cute girls there. Also, since you are freakishly tall, girls probably think… you know… roll with that!)

Afterwards, we headed down to the waterfront by Fort Mason. I looked across the water and there it was, the Golden Gate Bridge. I tinkered with my camera’s exposure settings for a while as I attempted to take a few photos. Sadly, none of them came out to be worth a damn. It was getting late and both Dan and Charlotte still had to get back to LA in time to be productive the next day, so we were off to Rob’s apartment. It was amusing to watch as Dan had one hell of a time throwing his car up some of San Francisco’s most treacherous hills. I made it back to Rob’s to catch the tail end of his dinner party and then I was off to bed.

The next morning, I packed my bags up, said my goodbyes and headed to the airport. Taking the BART to SFO was painless yet absurdly expensive ($8 for a one way public transit ride? really?). The flight back to LGB was quick and easy but when I got off the plane, I was in for a real treat. Los Angeles was experiencing a record high of 113 degrees! Getting off the plane and walking down the jetway under the direct sun in that heat was an experience. On top of that, as hard as they ran the A/C, the terminal was still at least 85 degrees inside (due to the airport’s silly indoor/outdoor nature). I boarded my second plane, kicked back in my ‘even more legroom’ seat and watched a ton of SportCenter then the first bit of Monday Night Football until we arrived in Portland.

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Monday September 27th, 2010 19:27 Los Angeles

The plane lands and a jetway is wheeled up to the airplane. I was a bit confused since every flight I’ve ever taken had landed at an airport with a jetway that was attached to the terminal. Regardless, I grabbed my bags, got off the plane and started my way down the jetway. Long Beach Airport is really something else. It was a bunch of smaller buildings connected to each other with outdoor walkways. At first I thought it was probably just started as a tiny airport that kept growing and turned into the abomination that it was. It took me a while to realized that I was in California and everything here was semi-outdoors.

After navigating a confusing gauntlet of exitways, I found the rental car lobby and picked up my reservation. It was a newer Ford Focus sedan. Not the most luxurious of automobiles, but I really wanted something compact for weaving through LA traffic and easy parallel parking.

Once I got on the road, I found the nearest In-n-Out Burger to the airport and headed straight there to see what everyone who lives on or has been to the west coast has been bragging about. Well, they were right! It was a damn tasty burger! However, I had been to Shake Shack and Kuma’s earlier but in fairness, those tasty morsels were in a league of their own. The fries however, tasted “like dirt” as Cheryl later described.

After participating in that piece of west coast Americana, I headed towards Crystal’s apartment near USC. On the drive there I noticed a ton of strip malls, which reminded me of home, those stretches of road off the highway didn’t seem to be anything uniquely LA. I just just seemed like everyday America.

I arrived at Crystal’s, and we soon headed off to Santa Monica. We parked and walked through the 3rd street promenade. The promenade was like Somerset Collection meets Downtown Birmingham with the exception of the street musicians were actually talented instead of a handful of rich high school douchebags playing Dave Matthews covers.

The pier was a lot cooler. I’m pretty sure it was mostly populated by tourists and people on dates but to my surprise there were a ton of fishermen on a Wednesday night. The amusement park was closed but they left the lights on to stand out in the night. We made out way down to the beachfront and there I was, staring at the Pacific Ocean. Since it was late, it just looked like a never-ending dark blue abyss.

The next morning Crystal and I rode bikes down to USC for breakfast and for Crystal to give me a mini tour of the campus before she headed to class. Afterwards, I cruised around the campus for a while before returning to her apartment and jumping into my rental car.

While on the bus to Philadelphia, I met an LA native who told me that since I enjoyed my hike in Connecticut so much, that I had to hike Runyon Canyon. The entrance to Runyon is in Hollywood, so I was excited to drive down Hollywood Boulevard on the way there. To my surprise, when I turned off the highway and onto Hollywood Boulevard, it was a dump! You’re presented with this image of how incredible this part of America is and boy was it far from it. The street was dead for the most part until I rolled into the tourist trap area where I spotted some city sightseeing buses and Guinness World Records Museum.

Arriving at the gate to Runyon, I have no idea what I was in store for. Lucky to find a parking spot right on front the entrance, I took it as a good sign. Grabbing my water bottle and camera, I was off. You can let your dog wander almost the entire park off its leash so there was a lot of dog owners and their dogs wandering the park. Wandering blindly onto a side path I made my way to a dead end, however I had also accidently discovered a neat spiral of rocks someone with the time and patience put together. Heading back to the main path, I realized I had no idea where the hell I was going and that it might be a good idea to ask. I approached a woman sitting on a bench with a black lab. Regrettably, I didn’t catch her name but we chatted a short bit about the park, my trip, what to do in LA. She gave me two pieces of advice, one I’m not so sure of and the other, well I’ll get to that later. The advice I’m not so sure of was “from someone who had lived in the Chicago/Midwest for most of her adult life”, is to move out to California ASAP. I thanked her and headed in the proper direction of the main trail. As I climbed, the view got more and more unbelievable. I could see downtown LA, the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood hills, all of it. The brush growing on the side of the mountain was also incredible and was in all different colors; red, silver, green and blue. I snapped some photos and moved on. Every twenty minutes, I got to a higher point, looked around in amazement, took photos, rinse and repeat. The trail looped itself back to the gate in which I entered.

The second piece of advice the woman I had met earlier was to make sure I went to The Getty Center before I left Los Angeles. Thus began my drive from Runyon and through Beverly Hills. The houses in Beverly Hills were large and beautiful, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen living in Oakland County and biking through Bloomfield Hills. Arriving at The Getty, I parked in the parking structure and took an elevator up to the unknown and unexpected. Exiting the elevator I found myself at a tiny tram station, so I hopped on the tram and was on my way up the mountain.

The Getty Center is one of those places which makes me wish I had a broader vocabulary so I could really describe it. It is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have seen on this trip so far and perhaps even the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my whole life. The architecture of the complex itself is stunning and then you walk into it to find the works of art it holds are just as incredible. Inside-Out this is a must see place when in LA.

After the Getty, I headed back to Crystal’s apartment in south central. The time was about 4:30pm PST and I was about to get my first taste of LA’s traffic at it’s finest. Essentially, as a motorist who has driven only in the midwest I hated it. However, after driving in it for a few days I finally came to the conclusion that it sucks but its not much more terribly inefficient than driving around the midwest. Since everything is so spread out in the midwest, it takes a while to get there. Everything in the LA area is much closer yet takes a similar amount of it. That and there is nothing like the first time a motorcyclist splits a lane and blasts by you. I picked Crystal up and we headed over to Sunset Bouvelard. On Sunset, we ate at a Jitlada, a Thai restaurant then moved onto a build-your-own frozen yogurt place called Yogurtland and then grabbed a beer at the Blue Palm. The Blue Palm was on that dumpy strip of Hollywood Boulevard I had described earlier and I felt bad for Lucielle Ball and Gregory Peck for having their stars all the way out there. On the way back, I drove through downtown LA. It reminded me of driving through the Chicago Loop on a weekday night. It was a business district and was fairly empty with the occational gathering at a corner bar or outdoor event.

The next morning I set out to do something I had only daydreamed about. Parking just south of the Santa Monica Pier, I kicked off my shoes and began walking up the Pacific coast. On a side note, the weather has been on my side this entire trip. From the day I left Detroit, it has been sunny and warm with the exception of an hour or two of rain as I camped out in a brewpub in Baltimore. Back to the beach! An hour or so had passed and I had made it to the north end of Venice Beach, having walked a few miles up the coast, I walked the way back down the Venice Beach walkway. Venice Beach was ridiculous! Vendors selling all sorts of crap. It was like Coney Island on crack. The most hilarious part was I had to have passed at least five different “Doctor’s Offices”. Places where you could see a “doctor” to get a prescription for a medical marijuana card. Passing the Muscle Beach was weird because there was only one old dude working out. I kind of expected a ton of meatheads instead. Making back to my rental car right as my meter expired had a nice feeling, but I realized I only had 35 minutes to get to download LA if I wanted to catch the Kogi truck.

Trying to jet down the freeway, I was met with typical midday LA traffic. Nervously weaving through lanes, I managed to make it downtown in just enough time to see the truck still parked on the street. Quickly parking in one of those large “event parking” style of lots, I ran across the street and made it to the truck just as they were about to close. Kogi is a vietnamese/mexican fusion taco truck. I first heard about Kogi from my friend Sara who insisted if there was one thing I eat in LA, it had to be from the Kogi Truck. My order of one Spicy Pork taco and one Beef Short Rib taco was up in a few minutes and after a few squirts of Sriracha, I ran to my car to devour them. These tacos were so damn good, its been four days since I’ve was there and my mouth is watering at the very thought of it.

Later in the afternoon, I headed over to Carson to meet up with Bobby, Cheryl and Carlos. We sat down for a quick bite at Five Guys then made out way to the Home Depot Center to the LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls game. The stadium was gorgeous and once again I was taken back by the whole “everything is outside” California experience. Yes, I know Comerica Park and Soldier Field and so on and so forth are outdoor stadiums, but when you run the concessions, they are indoors. Here everything was legitimately outdoors. The game was supposed to be a particularly exciting one for a few reasons. One, David Beckham was off the injured list and back on the field. Two, The LA Galaxy have the best record in the MLS. Three, The NY Red Bulls are one hell of a team so this was a great matchup. Sadly, the Galaxy lost 2 to 0. I did however snap a good shot or two. We then headed to Culver City for a late-nite snack at Tito’s Tacos on Carlos’ suggestion. Any place that has strawberry soda is alright with me.

Getting to back to Crystal’s I tried very hard to try and hold a conversation with Crystal, but was so exhausted I fell asleep mid converstation. In the morning, Crystal and I headed to one of her favorite breakfast places and walked through neighborhood flea marketing looking at well, junk. What else do they have at flea markets? :) Crystal and I said our goodbyes and I drove back to Long Beach airport making a quick stop at the same In-n-Out burger for a snack. After returning my car, I was given an early birthday wish by the ID/boarding pass checking girl before flying a very painless hour to San Francisco.

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Thursday September 23rd, 2010 00:28 Chicago, Part Deux

I arrived at my brother’s house and got started on my laundry as soon as possible just to get it out of the way. When I had gotten everything folded, I made my way to the Lincoln Park Whole Foods Market. For those who’ve never been here, its enormous! On top of a grocery store, it features two bars (one beer, one wine) and a couple restaurants! Jay and Erin awaited me at the beer bar with a cart full of groceries, apparently they’re making me dinner. Score! I had a Pale Ale and took my sweet time picking out a bottle of wine.

Monday Night Football was on and I found myself spending more time in front of the TV than in the kitchen watching as Jay and Erin cook. They made me a three course meal, starting with a yam and spinach salad with a ginger dressing, following by baked ziti with meat sauce and then followed up with a dutch apple cheesecake. I sure do like it when my friends spoil me. When I was finished with dinner, I was spent, so I made my way to the closest Brown Line station and strolled through and eerily quiet Chicago to my brother’s house.

The next morning, I decided to skip breakfast and go straight to lunch at a Chicago food destination I had yet to make it over to; Kuma’s Corner. I get this feeling like this trip is partially like my own personal travel channel show. Watch out Zimmern and Richman, here comes Ayzenberg! Anyways, I met Jay and Erin once again and we jetted down Belmont Street to Kuma’s. With hot tattooed girls and burgers name after (mostly) metal bands, I was definitely digging the atmosphere. The burger I had was called the Black Oak Arkansas which was a 10oz patty with aged white cheddar, homemade red wine barbecue sauce and fried shallots. The burger came with waffle fries and good god was this thing amazing.

During my lunchtime feast, I got a text message with some bad news. My friend Melissa was laid off today and was sitting at home upset. Hopping on two of the CTA’s finest buses, I eventually got to the Ukrainian Village neighborhood where Melissa lived. Melissa and I took a walk around the neighborhood and ended up at Stella’s, which was a pretty solid dive bar with a great jukebox and an even better Guns’N'Roses pinball machine. After several hours at Stella’s, We grabbed a slice of pizza then I walked Melissa home so she could take a much needed nap, I hung out for a moment and chatted with her roommate then headed back to my brother’s for the night.

I got up way too early the next morning, so I fell back asleep for a bit but it really didn’t have much of an effect. After a cup of coffee, I packed my bag up and began to waste time online. My brother proposed the idea of getting some lunch before I took off so we ended up at Green Tea Japanese Restaurant for some sushi. Afterwards, We went back to pick up my luggage and then he drove me over to the Blue Line and I was headed back to O’Hare.

The line to get through TSA was ridiculously long, but luckily I had gotten there early enough that it didn’t matter. I had forked over an extra $35 to be upgraded to JetBlue’s “Even More Legroom” seating which is essentially a slight upgrade of the already great coach seating. For that long of a flight it was nice to have the extra leg room. The highlight of the ride was listening to this old woman behind me tell the girl sitting next to her how dangerous Logan Square was/”still is” and that she still walks with her keys in her hand in dangerous neighborhoods because the only way to take a threatening man out is to stab him in the eye with a key!  :)

I peered out the window several times throughout the trip and although it was mostly cloudy, there were some incredible sights. Over Kansas, the land looked like a patchwork quilt of different flat terrain and farmland. Over the Rockies, you could all the chasm and canyons that had eroded over time. Over Arizona, there was this red color to the earth that really brilliant. Lastly, as we got ready to land at Long Beach Airport, you could see the entire LA area and it was a giant sea of lights.

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Tuesday September 21st, 2010 21:28 Washington D.C.

Awoken by a few of the guys fumbling around the kitchen, I wandered in looking for a cup of coffee to find Eli and Andrew making a giant breakfast for the crew. We all ate and eventually got ready to head into DC for the day.

We parked by the Kings Street station and headed up to The Motley Fool (Anne and Eli’s employer) to check out their offices. The Motley Fool is one of those companies you hate to not work for. From the stories told by Anne and from the look of their TEMPORARY facilities you can tell that it was a well managed company with very very happy employees. On a side note, they actually have an IT budget and the proper tools in place to manage their resources. From my cowboy/wild-west experiences this is an incredibly sexy employer.

In the recent months, I’ve ridden on the TTC, CTA, MTA and SEPTA. To my experience, they’ve all had a flat rate, swipe-in/pay once and exit freely. The D.C. Metro wants you to swipe on your way out and for some reasons annoys the hell out of me. I’ll have to see what the other mass transit systems have in store for me later.

The group walked to the National Museum of the American Indian, not learn about the culture that the formation of my country obliterated, but to eat at their cafe, the Mitsitam Cafe. I wanted Ben’s Chili Bowl, but I ended up with Buffalo Chili and fry bread instead. It was still pretty damn good! After lunch, the group split into two: one group went off the Museum of Natural History and the other to the Air and Space Museum. With the notion of how awesome jet packs and space lasers are/will be, I joined the later group.

I’m not sure how to elegantly diss a national museum, but the Air and Space Museum sucked. I snapped a few neat shots but I really expected more out of the whole experience.

After our respective museum tours, the groups reunited. After a train ride back to Alexandria, we grabbed our luggage, some Chipotle burritos, some goods from a neighborhood liquor store and headed to Anne’s parent’s house in Deale, Maryland.

As the drinking and miscellaneous shenanigans began, a handful of us decided to sit down and play a little poker for a small buy-in. There is no better feeling than taking out two people first hand by completing a flush on the river. However, what goes around comes around and I successfully donked out when I tried my luck on another straight flush. If only my friend Chad was there to tell me to “fold my way into the money.” I made my way to the living room where there was a little bit of “real talk” going on. A lot of us shared our awkward/wonderful stories from adolescence. Somehow, I managed to pass out on the couch in a room with 10 people. That didn’t last too long, so I found a bed and called it a night.

It was no shock to find myself the first one awake. I started a pot of coffee and made myself a bagel with cream cheese as the rest of the crew eventually awoke. Today was a big day, we were off to the Maryland Renaissance Festival. My first experience with a renaissance festival was a few years ago in Michigan. I didn’t know what to think of it at first, it was totally foreign and overstimulating. Since then I’ve made my way to a handful of renfests and have come to the following conclusion; in good weather, the renaissance festival is hands-down one of the best eating and day-drinking experiences you can have.

The group gathered round to start off renfest “Baynes Style” which is with a round a shrimp shooters; a single peeled shrimp in spicy cocktail sauce with a shot of beer to chase it down. The group eventually split up and I was on my way to find some of my favorite treats, mainly a scotch egg. After I got my fill of delicious foodstuffs, I made my way to the jousting match and did some window-shopping with the gang.

Post-festival, the gang headed to Old Stein Inn. Anne really wanted us to sit outside in the bier garden area, however we ended up inside a somewhat private room. I was in the mood for the closest thing I could get to a home-cooked meal, so I ordered the Potato Pancakes and Wurst Platter. The food was great but I’m always judgmental when it comes to potato pancakes. They weren’t as good as Mom’s. Nevertheless, I had my fill of Slavic-style meat and potatoes. The restaurant was supposed to have a live band but tonight had just an accordion player. She really fit the bill for what you’d expect an older female German accordionist to be. Wearing traditional German clothing and with a thick accent, she waltzed into our room and played us and Oktoberfest sing-a-long song. Later as she was passing by, we decided to yell “Happy Birthday” at Andrew in order to coax another song out of her. Overhearing this, she halted and said “Vat? ve has a burrrthday?” , then we proceeded to serenade Andrew with her accordion’s song.

The night ended with our return to Anne’s parent’s house where almost everyone passed out within an hour or so of arriving.

I spent the next morning in the sun-room, awaiting the others to awake as I sipped on coffee, updated my blog and fumbled around with my fantasy football team. Moving into the kitchen, I began to assist in making breakfast for the group. I knew I had to do what I do best and thats making bacon in the oven.

There were two specific things I wanted to do in D.C. and I hadn’t done either so I recruited Jackie and Sarah to come with me and we were on our way back to our nation’s capital. The first stop on was to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The first exhibit we went through was the children’s exhibit but it was more of a story and less fact-filled. The second exhibit we saw was a special exhibit on propaganda which was really amazing. Eventually we got lost and upon trying to find the main exhibit, ended up at the end of it. So we started walking backwards through the exhibit until we found our way to the beginning, where we were told the museum was closing and that we had only 30 minutes to make our way through. Sadly, we only got about two-thirds of the way through before the museum closed and we were herded onto the street. Maybe next time I’ll do it right.

The whole Kwame Kilpatrick ordeal is pretty ridiculous. However, if there is one thing that dude knows how to do, its what to eat. So when I spied “WE ARE AT BEN’S CHILI BOWL. HIT ME WHEN YOU GUYS ARE LEAVING” while reading over the text message scandal. I knew I had to dine there. I ordered a Chili Dog, Chili Cheese Fries and a Vanilla Shake. The chili dog and shake were tasty but the chili cheese fries was the highlight of the meal. I couldn’t even finish them since they were so absurdly portioned.

After a little ride on the Metro, the three of us rejoined the group for a fairly low-key night of pizza, board games and movies. I was sure to repack my bag first thing so I didn’t have to worry about it the next morning. I did have the pleasure to see Bio-Dome for the first time and it really makes you wonder how Stephen Baldwin went from The Usual Suspects to this. Sooner or later, I passed out on the couch.

In order to make it to my flight in time, I had to get up around 7:30ish. Anne and I were the only ones up so early and drove over to the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts for a cup of coffee before the hour long ride over to Dulles Airport. Outside the terminal, Anne and I said our goodbyes and once again I was in the air.

My flight once again was awesome and in almost no time I was in Boston for a short layover. I sat at Johnny Rocket’s where I ate a sub-par $10 hamburger and listened to a couple airport employees talk in a real Boston accent. This made me look forward to my adventures in Boston in the coming weeks.

When I boarded my flight to Chicago, I realized that I was flying on a smaller plane and with a smaller plane comes a smaller overhead compartment. After a few attempts at cramming my bag up there, I walked in defeat to the front of the plane and checked my bag with one of the attendants. It was a perfectly clear day and it was awesome to gaze out of my window to see the Toronto skyline. Soon after, we were flying over Michigan, which was the closest to home I’ve been to home so far.

The plane landed at O’Hare and I quickly ran down to the baggage claim to grab my bag off the luggage carousel and head down to the CTA stop. The Blue Line train I was on ran into a mechanical issue and halted in the middle of the tracks. The passengers all sat there prisoner until the train started moving again. Hopping off at the Western stop, I jumped on the eastbound Armitage bus as “Civil Twilight” by the Weakerthans came on my iPod. I rode the rest of the way to my brother’s house with a smile on face for finally, I were to relax and take a break from all this travel.

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Sunday September 19th, 2010 08:25 Baltimore

The Chinatown bus stop in Philly was exactly what I thought it would be, a god damn dump. I arrived about 20 minutes early and within a few minutes bus after bus started to appear. The masses began to migrate to the unmarked buses and after some mass confusion and broken english, I made my way to the back of the bus and sat down next to my new friend.

I met Nanna in line at the bus stop. We were both trying to find our (DC/Baltimore) bus and happened to start chatting. Nanna had this really great accent, it was a mix of british and american english. I had assumed she was a kiwi, but I was very wrong. Nanna was from Iceland but is currently living in London. We talked a lot on the bus ride about almost everything; life, school, work, family and future travel plans. Nanna has been many, many more places than I and recently had been in Montreal which made me very jealous. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet up with her when I am in London next year.

The bus pulled into a rest stop somewhere halfway between Philly and DC. The driver turned off the bus, stood up and yelled “breaka! ten meenut!” There was a faint pounding noise but nobody thought anything of it. As some of the passengers exited the bus, one kid about 12 or 13 started walking towards the back and opened the bathroom door. Inside was a passenger, repeatedly hitting the bathroom wall with his head. The poor dude was having a seizure. There was that moment where everyone yelled “Is anyone here a doctor?” then expected someone ELSE to run and get help. Ahh, the social dynamics of panic. Regardless the police and an ambulance arrived quickly and we were on our way soon after that.

We arrived in Baltimore and by arrived in, I mean that I was dropped off at a Travel America rest stop 2 miles from the harbor. I flagged down a cabbie and made my way to Fell’s Point.

I grabbed a snowball and took a walk around Fell’s Point for a bit until making my way over to Max’s Taphouse for lunch and an excuse to day-drink. The beer selection at Max’s is unreal! So much good stuff, so little time and money! I ordered a Dogfish Head Punkin’ Ale and a Crab Pretzel before going to work on getting my NYC blog post online. What was a gorgeous day turned grey fast as a storm rolled in, cancelling my plans to swing by the Natty Boh Gear Store and post office. I did what any other red-blooded America would do, I turned to the bartender and ordered another drink.

At quarter to six in the evening, I grabbed my umbrella and headed towards the inner harbor to the Panera on the corner of Pratt and Market to meet up with Jessica. It was nice to catch up with her. We chatted for an hour and a half until Anne, my beautiful chauffeur showed up to whisk me away to Hampden.

We headed to Holy Frijoles, which had this feeling that reminded me of a tex-mex version of the WAB at home. The food was nothing to get excited over but they had cheap beer specials. Anne and I proceeded to split a pitcher of Dos Equis try to eat their Nachos Grande which was so gigantic that we barely put a dent into it.

We finished our meal and ran to the liquor store to buy some Natty Boh just in time for it to close in front of us. FAIL! Oh well, theres always Yuengling! Onwards to BWI to pick up Ryan. After the usual airport traffic clusterfuck we nabbed up Ryan and headed to Alexandria.

Meeting up with Eli and Matt at Anne and Eli’s apartment, we dropped off our lugged and headed over to the Light Horse in downtown Alexandria to play some shuffleboard. $6.50 pints of Bell’s Two Hearted and the place was crawling with douchebags, definitely not my scene. Plus, my lack of sleep from the previous night was catching up with me making me even less of a happy camper. We eventually made it back to the apartment and I finally got to sleep… sweet, sweet sleep.

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Friday September 17th, 2010 08:04 Philadelphia

One thing I’ve realized is that I’m really getting comfortable with public transit. Planes, buses, trains, etc… However, there are always those few wrenches in the gears here or there. On the bus ride to Philly, this really, really annoying woman sat across from me (4 seats around a table) and she wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

Sitting kitty-corner to me was a girl my age and since she was some kind of brown, this woman sat down and tried talking to her about Native American stuff. Turned out this girl is a totally mutt and identified as Creole. That didn’t stop this woman from her non-stop verbal shitstorm about Native American museums. Two hours of misery later, we arrive in Philadelphia. There are two bus stops, 6th/Market and 30th street station. I chose 30th street as my destination since it was closer to Adam’s house and the Mutter Museum. After Ms. Creole left at 6th street, I had to endure twenty minutes of “Look at this!” and “Look at that!” from my most hated passenger as I am wishing for the traffic to clear so I can just get the hell off that bus.

Within a few minutes Adam was there to pick me up, hold onto my luggage for me and drop me off at the Mutter Museum.  The Mutter Museum is one of those “you have to see it to believe it” kind of places.  It was one hundred perfect amusing, a little disgusting and a tad frightening. Upon entering the museum I was greeted by a display case wall full of skulls, ancient speculums, and books bound in human leather. My favorite item which is sick in twisted in its own way is the skeleton of Mary Ashberry, a dwarf prostitute. There is more to the story, but I’ll let you do the research.

It was about this time when I started getting a bombardment of texts, IMs and emails about my suitcase packing video going viral. I started to ponder what I should do with my 15 minutes of internet fame but quickly came to no conclusion. If only I had sang in that video, then I could have been auto-tuned by the Gregory Brothers.

Once I finished up with the museum, I knew what I had to do, I had to conquer a Philly Cheesesteak! But not just any cheesesteak, one from Pat’s King of Steaks. Getting to Pat’s required navigating Philly’s “subway” system. Looking up the directions on my phone sent me to the nearest staircase underground. I excitingly ran down to find the stop, but something was wr0ng. The stop was way to small and there was no turn-style. All of a sudden a little trolley appears. In total confusion, I just stared at it as it came and went. After staring at the SEPTA route map for a minute I figured it out and hopped on. I eventually transfered to a ‘real’ subway and made my way to south Philly. As I walked down the street staring at rowhouses after rowhouses, I had finally gotten to my destination.

All the stories you hear and TV shows telling you that you must order correctly, doesn’t mean shit on a Wednesday evening. Within a minute, I had a delicious cheesesteak with cheez whiz and onions in front of me. Within another minute it was gone. It was so damn good, I’ve driven all around the metro Detroit to find the best cheesesteak in the area and the closest I’ve come in a place called Big Mouth’s in the hood. Needless to say, this blew Big Mouth’s fare away.

I had an hour or so to kill before I joined Adam and Kari for dinner so I wandered the streets of Philly looking for a bar. Using Google Maps on my phone, searched around the area I was in for a bar and I found “The Bike Stop”. Upon clicking on the name of the bar to get the address, Google was so kind to give me a review of the bar: ”Four floors of increasing decadence make The Bike Stop a gay bar for every “” Oh, that’s not my scene, time to keep moving.

Passing Irish pubs and sports bars, I finally stumbled upon a place that seemed worth of my business, the establishment was appropriately called “BAR”.

I had to start off with a Yuengling, but as soon I finished that I turned to Justin (the bartender) for a local craft brew recommendation. He poured me a pint of PBC Kenzinger and we chatted about beer, Chicago and derby girls.

A little while later, I was on my way to meet up with Adam (who is the best person I’ve met on my trip according to himself) and Kari at Aki Sushi. We dined with a handful of their friends who’s names I can not remember. One however was pseudo e-starstruck when he found out that I was “packing video guy” and immediately snapped a photo of me on his iPhone.

We finished dinner and I got a ride to my hostel from Adam and Kari. I quickly checked in and headed to South street. My first stop was Atomic City Comics. You know a comic book, table/card game or video game store is legit when you walk in to see a bunch of dudes circled around a Sega Dreamcast playing Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike. The classics never go out of style. Regardless, the store was pretty awesome, if i had any room in my bag I would have picked up some trade paperbacks. The only bummer of the store was realized most of their awesome arcade cabinet selection was turned off. Apparently there is some nonsense law that doesn’t allow for them to have more than 3 arcade machines on in their store without a special license.

My friends Anne and Noah both insisted I check out a place called “Tattooed Mom”. I walked into what was almost a full bar when I noticed Bob the bartender clear a space for me and wave for me to come sit down. After a few $2 draft specials, I was chatting with some of the natives. One guy by the name of Chris was super nice. We chatted about my trip, things I should do out west and football. To show his condolences for Matthew Stafford’s injury, Chris bought me a shot. A little while later I was talking to Alice. Alice and I discussed our musical guilty pleasures. Hopefully none of her friends read this blog so they wont know about her love for My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Saves the Day.

I walked by zipperhead before snagging a giant slice of pizza from Lorenzo’s and headed back to the hostel for what has been the worst night of sleep of the trip so far. I maybe managed to get 2 or 3 hours in before giving up, taking a shower and heading to the greasy spoon down the block for breakfast.

With plenty of time to kill in the morning, I went for a scenic walk through the old city are and snapped a few photos:

I was running short on time so I headed back to the hostel to check out. The girl working the counter was extremely cute and I told her about my trip and newfound internet fame. She was not amused. I told her I was heading to Baltimore next and it turned out that she was originally from Baltimore. She told me “You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Baltimore.” I whistled for a cab and when it came near The license plate said fresh and it had dice in the mirror. If anything I could say that this cab was rare, but I thought, “Nah, forget it. Yo, holmes to Baltimore!” I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8 and I yelled to the cabbie, “Yo holmes smell ya later!” Looked at my kingdom I was finally there, to sit on my throne as the prince of Baltimore.

But really, I made my way to the Chinatown bus stop for what would be my most interesting ride of the trip so far.

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Thursday September 16th, 2010 13:12 New York City

As I begrudgingly dragged my suitcase down the stairs, I wondered who in their right mind would live so far away from New York City and make that hour plus commute everyday just to get to the office by 9am. I strolled into a local coffee shop right by the train station where I was told the coffee was free, care of a local restaurant. Fifteen dollars, some loud jerk-off on his phone and an hour later, I pulled into Grand Central Terminal.

This time marked my 4th visit to NYC in the last five years. I made my way out of the train station, onto the street and for the first time, I didn’t have that feeling of wonder when I saw the zoo that is Manhattan.  I guess people everywhere is now “that old familiar feeling.”

I had a cup of coffee in Bryant Park then met Brooke to pick up a key to her apartment and was off. Brooke’s apartment is pretty amazing. She lives in a building called The Brooklyner which is located in Downtown Brooklyn and after a short nap I went up to the rooftop deck to see this:

It was time to eat and I was on a mission, get to Katz’s and get a pastrami with mustard.  Hopping onto the subway I realized how amazingly close everything was to Brooke’s apartment.  In the past, the places I had stayed were always at least 45 minutes to an hour to get to Manhattan or wherever I wanted to go.  It barely took me 20 minutes to get inside and devour a delicious $20 sandwich/can of Dr. Brown’s combo.

After eating, I popped into Uniqlo in Soho but then realized that my suitcase was already ready to explode and buying anything is a bad idea, so I headed back up by Grand Central to meet Bryn for a cup of coffee and a mini-tour of her office in the Metlife building.  Bryn’s office was on some ear-popping (40+) floor and the window in her office faced the Empire State Building. Sadly, the price of having such a nice office is having to work like crazy, so I left Bryn to finish her 15 hour work day and headed across the street to meet Brooke and her friends.

We ended up at a 9/11 tribute bar called The Bravest.  There was this sweet irony of a bunch me drinking with a bunch of Yuppies at what clearly was a blue-collar kind of place, but $2 pint in Manhattan! Who can beat that? We made our way to another bar for a drink and were off in hunt for Ray’s Pizza but settled for cheap pizza instead. A couple of slices and a cab ride later, I was in bed watching Monday night football.

The next morning I had originally planned on going to The Cloisters, but Brooke’s road bike was staring me in the face and I decided to do something non-touristy for a change.  I rode to Prospect Park and then Coney Island. The weather was perfect and the sites were great.  The ride was about 20 miles total and I took a few nice pictures.

After a shower, I was starving so I headed to Madison Square Park to see what this Shake Shack business was all about.  The wait in line was 20 minutes alone but it was well worth it. After I polished off a Double Shack Burger, Fries and Strawberry milkshake all the obscenely domesticated birds were just flying around me everywhere like I was in Mary Poppins. Sitting there with a full stomach in that perfect weather I realized at that moment that my life is awesome and this trip has just started.

Swinging by my old company’s (Vectorform) New York office is always a treat.  They had just moved into some new office space so I decided to check it out and say hi to my friends and old coworkers. A few of them were out on a business trip but I got to catch up with Alex and then completely disregard all his ridiculous “where to go” suggestions.

My friend Seth had just purchased a new home and wanted me to come check it out.  Its on Broad Channel so it was a hike to get out there. On the train, I had a lovely conversation with a “real new yorker” about my trip, unemployment and Wyoming. Apparently, Wyoming is “god’s country” and I should derail all my plans to go there. Maybe next time bub!

You know those kind of nightmare TV shows where a couple buys a project house, hires a contractor and everything goes south? Welcome to Seth’s house.  It’s a nice little house in need of some work, but when it is all done I’m sure him and his wife will be very pleased with it.  Seth and I walked down the narrow sidewalks of Broad Channel towards Aqua House, the neighborhood sushi and hibachi place.  We had some sushi on the oceanside patio and went for an MTV Cribs style tour of the neighborhood.  Seeing a 2 million dollar home next to a 800 square foot fishing bungalow from the 1930′s is really something else, especially when the owner for the lavish home decides to park his Benz not in but backed up in front of the garage on an angle. We said our goodbyes and I was on my way to await the hour long A train ride back to “real” NYC.

One would think being out in the middle of nowhere like Broad Channel, you wouldn’t find any excitement. But, once in a blue moon you get to experience it and tonight I was that lucky.  I had noticed a squad car outside of the station but thought nothing of it. I was reading a book and waiting for the train to come when the eastbound train appeared on the tracks. Out of nowhere some cops appear and then hide around the corner. The doors to the eastbound train open as the westbound train arrives.  Looking through 4 sets of windows, I see the cops just nab a dude right then and there. New York’s finest at work!

I eventually made it back to Brooke’s place as my phone died. The last text message I sent was to her asking where I could get pizza. By the time  I got inside and my phone plugged in and powered on, Brooke told me she was bringing me Ray’s Pizza. Score!  After annihilating a few slices, I passed out to a happy/exhausted pizza coma.

I woke up the next morning, re-packed by bag and headed to Penn Station just in time to be first in line for my bus to Philadelphia.

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Sunday September 12th, 2010 21:00 Connecticut

I landed at JFK late in the afternoon on Saturday and was almost immediately (aka 30 minutes due to stupid NYC traffic) picked up by Dustin. We were off to swing by his place and then on to Hartford to stay at Whitney’s apartment for the night. I can’t fathom how people who live in and around NYC deal with the traffic here, yet surprisingly the NYC area isn’t in the Road Rage Top 10 (City)!

After some sub-par middle eastern food (that was surprisingly highly rated by Yelpers), we were headed east. I was breaking down the contents of my luggage when Dustin brought up the fact that I had overlooked the fact that with the exception of my shoes, I didn’t quite have the appropriate gear for the hike we had planned to go on the following day.  Nothing a couple hours of wasted time cant fix!  A few hours and stores later, I had picked up a pair of REI’s Adventure Pants on recommendation from Andy Mesa (a fellow AYCJer).

We eventually made it to Whitney’s place and unanimously decided to stay in and have a low-key night because we had to get up early the next morning to drive out to Mt. Riga State Park.  The drive the next morning taught me a few things: The exits on the highway in Connecticut are based in order and have nothing to do with mile distances like they do in Michigan. There is a ton of farmland intermixed with the residential areas of Connecticut. The state is very small and you can make it halfway across it in a matter of hours. Lastly, so many of the roads out here are gorgeous and tree-lined  like this

The highlight of being in Connecticut was hands-down climbing Bear Mountain. The first hour was rough and tiresome, but once we got over our initial exhaustion we made great time. Under 3 and a half hours we did the whole thing which was about 7 miles in total but absolutely nothing can top the feeling of getting to the summit and looking down at this:

Heres a video:

The rest of the day was spent resting and watching football.  Oh and I totally crushed Fabian today in our fantasy league.

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Saturday September 11th, 2010 20:43 Chicago – Part One

Click-click,click-click.  This was the noise Mike’s car was making as it sat in my driveway with the luggage in the trunk, all ready to  go.  After staring under the hood for 10 minutes, I decided to turn to Google which didn’t end up being too useful.  On a whim, my next door neighbor decided to try to jump us and we were back in business!  After a quick stop at Livonia’s finest chinese food restaurant, we were on our way to Chicago.

My plan was simple: get to Chicago, get a bite to eat, a few drinks with friends but most importantly, get to bed early… and of course that didn’t happen.  One awesome night with friends at the Town Hall Pub, a team urination in an alley and a late-night train ride back to my brothers place, I finally laid down to sleep at 3:30am.

Five sweet hours of sleep passed, but after a little Chicago Bagel Authority and a cup of coffee, I was ready to roll. Mike dropped me off at the blue line, we said our goodbyes and I was on the way to O’Hare for the first time in my life.

I had this assumption that there was a stigma about flying on September 11th and kind of expected the airport to be slower than usual.  That was definitely not the case, but I eventually made by way through TSA and into the concourse.

I had heard a lot of good thing about JetBlue, but it was a really pleasant to actually experience it.  The plane was nice and new(er), every seat had screen with DirectTV and XM Radio.  I didn’t feel uncomfortable or cramped in coach. You had your choice of one of six snacks and mock me for this all you want but you do not have to ask for a whole can of pop, they just give it to you.

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Tuesday September 7th, 2010 05:47 The Stats…

27 Days

1 Car Ride

9 Flights

2 Trains

5 Buses

8,637 miles by Plane

1041.9 miles by Car/Bus

216.5 miles by Train

Random Fact: The distance between Detroit and Tokyo is 6418 miles

The Map:

Note: Chicago is 2, 8 and 16. Seattle is 12 and 14

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