We didn’t have much time to spend in Portland. It was a short drive though and we had most of the day.

The best thing about this was that the motorcyclist was an older-looking woman (I’d say like 50+ years old).
Our couch surfing host for the day was Danica. She’s a student at Portland State University and a part-time actress. Kinda cool to meet someone who is an actress, even if only part time. She was actually in a local play that weekend that we unfortunately couldn’t attend due to our time constraints. Anyway, she did mention that two things we should know about Portland is that there are more breweries per capita and more strip clubs per capita than anywhere else in the nation. Sounds fun! Of course, we ended up not doing either of those things in our time in Portland.

Next time, maybe.

We did however go to Powell’s books, which is apparently the largest bookstore in the nation (and maybe world?). It takes up an entire city block and I guess one of Portland’s main attractions. Inside, it was more warehouse than bookstore though, so it wasn’t really my thing. Still, it was big. That’s something.

One thing we’ve learned in our travels: if your city has a “Chinatown” (and just about every city we went to had one) that has an official entrance arch (and many of them did), then it probably isn’t a great Chinatown.

Logan had a friend who used to work at this trendy knick knack store-cum-modern art gallery in Portland. So we checked it out.

Some of the art was cool enough that I actually considered buying something. I didn’t though, once I remembered that I don’t actually have a job right now.

Also went to go check out Washington park (at least, that’s what I think it’s called). We accidentally took the long way up and had to hike up a hill for 2-3 miles to get there. The way back took like half
that time once we figured out the shorter path.

They had this amphitheater in the middle of the park where they sometimes stage plays.

Strangely, this is only the third most effeminate thing Logan did on the trip.

Couldn’t get to a brewery, but we did make sure to sample some of the local brews in a pub (where we also watched the MLB all star game). The place we chose was not exactly our crowd, though the bartender was
super friendly and watching her fend off dirty old men was entertaining. I say that in a good light though, as most of the guys there seemed harmless despite their hard-luck appearance.

Danica took us to a close-by park to see an outdoor movie (The Fantastic Mr. Fox). After that, we went back to her place where all her neighbors were gathered outside drinking and talking about random
stuff. We met these two guys, whose names I don’t remember (and who were so drunk, I doubt they remember us at all).

Guy on the right is a somewhat professional skater (made some mention about a company sponsorship) and the guy on the left is his best friend and “videographer”. Anyway, they were drunk and laid back and
philosophical and generally just pretty funny guys (both intentionally and unintentionally). Just the type of people you don’t meet unless you’re on couch surfing across the nation.


Once the surreal experience that was Butte ended, we made our way to Seattle, Washington. Remember when I talked about how much I love driving now? Yea, that’s all done with. The drive to Seattle was our second consecutive drive of 9+ hours, and now driving is getting to be a bit of a chore. I just want to stay somewhere for a while now instead of jet-setting off every other day.

Washington is surprisingly desert-y. That’s Mt. Ranier in the background.

We decided to catch a Seattle Sounders game that night. Seattle and Portland are ground zero for soccer fandom in the US, and the Sounders have a great game atmosphere (despite being a very mediocre team). Unfortunately there are no pictures because they all came out bad for some reason.

Here’s one that didn’t. Seattle has the only stadium I’ve ever seen with a Thai restaurant in it. Remember, this stadium doubles as their NFL team’s home.

Seattle is just a cool city, in every way. The whole city is very car unfriendly. Parking is very scarce and bike lanes are plentiful. The public transportation system is the best we’ve seen thus far and very modern.

The weather the first day was sunny and bright, not at all what we expected for Seattle, even in July. Of course, the weather would change very soon. The next couple days proved to be overcast and chilly with sporadic drizzly weather.

We set out the next day (our only full day in Seattle) to see the city. I had read in the guide book about the Experience Music Project, originally a shrine created by Paul Allen for Seattle native Jimi Hendrix. The museum now is a bit more fully fledged and more or less features the entire musical history of Seattle (which is very storied, especially recently). The museum tickets also came with bonus access for the Science Fiction Museum, which had the nerd in me excited (but later disappointed).

Oh yea, both of the museums are located right under the space needle and the monorail.

The Experience Music Project (abbreviated as EMP) was awesome. As you first enter the museum, you see a giant video screen playing music; it had Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled banner as we walked in. There’s couch cushions that you can lay down on and watch moving sculptures on the ceiling as you listen to the music.

The original Fender Telecaster prototype.

Hendrix’s butterfly suit.

One of the guitars that Hendrix smashed during his shows.

Logan and I try our hands at music mixing.

Just some cool Hendrix exhibits, including a lot of his handwritten lyrics to famous songs of his.

Just pointing out one of the notable influences of Hendrix’s music. One of the things the museum emphasizes is that his harder drug use was grossly exaggerated—but they certainly didn’t hide all the weed he was doing.

Cool centerpiece of a ton of different guitars in one huge contraption.

The first ever electric bass. You can’t really see from the pic, but it’s actually bass-size (like, it looks like a cello).

I couldn’t help taking this picture. It had to be done.

The Sci-Fi museum sucked by comparison. They could have done so much more, but most of the exhibits seemed mashed together and lacking in many ways. They should make me curator.

But yea, here’s the stuff that wasn’t completely lame. Like Gundam Wing!

Sci-Fi has as a genre has a disproportionate amount of really hacky yet hilarious movies.

The original Star Wars poster. I have a question: if George Lucas really knew all along that he’d pull the Luke-and-Leia-as-siblings plot twist, then isn’t he a sick bastard for this movie poster of Luke playing grab-ass with his sister?

A pretty huge collection of Star Wars figurines. I was able to name 80% of the characters. Is that bad?

The funniest part of the museum was the Rollerball poster.

This skate park is right by the Space Needle and is apparently a hotspot for aspiring skaters. There were tourists surrounding it taking pictures, so I took a picture of the tourists taking pictures.

Later we walked around Seattle for a bit and ended up at Pike’s Market, a landmark in Seattle. It’s basically a cramped and partially open-air flea market type of place.

I love sugar cane soda (if you haven’t had it, you haven’t had good soda), but I think I love the label more.

We sat in this cramped alley to rest up a bit and listen to some (surprisingly decent) street music.

This bookstore was sitting in a small space in the market, and the sign made me want to check it out. It’s a hard core leftist, communist, anarchist leaning established “run as a collective by the workers” for 35 years or something like that.

Ok so I’m not really a liberal and definitely not a communist or an anarchist, but I do support independent bookstores. I read a ton and while most of what I read comes from the library, I do buy a book or two every couple months. I try to buy them from independent bookstores and not from Amazon or Barnes and Noble because independent bookstores are disappearing due to the competition from admittedly cheaper and more efficient large chains. This is just about the only dumb support-the-little-guy thing I do, but whatever. So this place seemed like a good place to buy a book, even though I’m not really part of their core clientele.

Logan didn’t buy this book. He probably doesn’t need the advice.

I bought a book called “Footnotes in Gaza”, a really unique book that tells a well researched and documentary style story in graphic (ie, comic) form. I’d heard good things.

Logan bought “On the Road”, a book that was suggested by Simon, our first couch surfing host, as THE original “go on a roadtrip to find yourself” book.

Logan’s friend Matt, also our host for the Seattle trip, took us out to a local place for some drinks and food. In only mention this so I can publish the following picture. Note the outstretched pinky finger. Classy.

Butte is one of the most historic cities in the Western United States. The city came into being as a mining town, mainly due to the immense copper stores found in the nearby mountains. As the country discovered electricity, the demand for copper wiring started skyrocketing, creating boom times for places like Butte. At one point early in the 20th century, Butte was the largest city between Chicago and California.

A lot of that boom went bust, and Butte has shrunk in the intervening years. What’s left is a cozy city nestled between the mountains of western Montana, marked primarily by the enormous mile-deep and mile-long hole in the center where many tons of earth have been mined out over the years. Called “the pit” by the locals, it is a stark symbol of old-school western America.

By 6 PM on day 10 we arrived in Butte and made our way over to Matt’s (our couch surfing host) place. So far on our trip, most of the people we’ve couch surfed with have been alone, just people who are willing to put up a couple travelers as we move across the country. Matt’s place was different.

The first thing we see as we enter his front yard is two large rottweilers barking aggressively at us. In the time to come, we’d see how really nonthreatening these two are, but the first impression was quite different. There’s also a tightrope thing strung out across the yard, and about 10 people engaged in various activities around it. Some are doing handstands, others are trying to walk to the tightrope, and others are taking pictures of the scene.

After a few seconds of gawking and trying to understand this scene, Matt walks over and introduces himself. He’s a pretty chill guy, with a really laid back personality and a drawling voice that makes you feel like you’ve known him for longer than you really have.

Matt kinda sounds like this guy:

So we didn’t know it prior, but apparently Matt is hosting quite a few travelers.

There is a Ukrainian/Belarusian group of seven who are on a (I think 18 month) cultural experience trip through all the continents. From what I could gather, they are part of a larger team of documentary film makers (or something like that). All seven travel together in a ford minivan with minimal supplies for the length of time they’re to be on the road (this particular leg of the trip will take them 3 months, I think). Most of them were staying in a camper on Matt’s expansive lawn.

Also present at Matt’s were two girls, Kimber and Alex, from Arizona and Colorado respectively. They’re also on a roadtrip, though instead of traveling across the nation like us they’re spending most of the summer in Montana. I have to say their plan sounds more rewarding than ours. They apparently chose to stay in a tent on the lawn, freeing the lone guest bedroom for Logan and me.

We didn’t get to really meet everyone however, as we soon piled into the Ukrainian’s minivan and Matt’s van to go to a barbeque at his friend’s place. The van is an old-school stick shift (where the shifter actually looks like a stick). It’s pretty beat up and rickety, and has only four seats, two in the very front and two in the middle. There’s a trunk space where two more sat and a bench on the side for one more. It also had a large sunroof. Overall, it seemed like exactly the kind of vehicle you’d want to use at a Folk Festival.

Matt’s friend’s place turned out to be your typical deck party: barbeque, beer, and blunts (I declined the latter, of course). Turns out that Montana is medical-marijuana friendly, and you can buy and smoke pot openly if you have a medical marijuana card. Of course, almost everyone has one and you could smell pot just about everywhere at the Folk Festival.

It didn’t take long before the Ukrainians broke out into song. No, really. Here’s a (very short) clip of it.

One of them, Marcel, is a yoga master and an overall pretty spiritual guy. He asked Logan to sing a song that “makes him happy” because apparently we (the Americans) are too closed off or something. After some hemming and hawing, I explained to Marcel that we’re not very good singers but he said that it’s not about the quality of the song, just the act of singing. All of this was in very broken English, making the whole experience feel a little surreal.

Anyway, Logan finally decided to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” (we’d just been to a few ballgames, after all), but I wouldn’t join in so nothing came of it.

After that scene, it was off to the folk festival.

The music there was, well, folksy. There was one dude who played his guitar with his tongue, which was cool. The crowd was definitely into it, and there was lots of Woodstocky kind of barefooted dancing and what not. The Russians were really into dancing, which they didn’t necessarily do well but were REALLY into the act of dancing enough that it was pretty cool.

Our next day in Butte, we awoke to a fantastic Russian breakfast. I didn’t catch the name, but it seems almost like French toast—though way better than any French toast I’d ever had before.

We left Matt’s house to go hiking for a while in the mountains. We couldn’t find any good trails, and mostly ended up hacking through underbrush.

We didn’t find any interesting wildlife, but we did see a ton of fresh-looking skeletons. Looked like mostly dog skeletons (Butte has more than its share of wild and semi-wild dogs).

After hiking, we went back to the Folk Festival where we first met up with some of the folks from Missoula that we would have couch surfed with if not for the Folk Festival. We spent much of the next few hours touring the festival with an ever changing collection of Montanians.

Monkee meat wasn’t what I expected (basically just teriaki chicken)

They had South Indian music there. I got Logan to meditate to it.

More interesting food choices. I had the Elk, Logan tried the Buffalo

We finally met up with Matt and (some of) the Russians at a local Coffee house. The Russians played some chess, we had some coffee and watched the local music act (which was surprisingly good).

Afterwards, touring the festival with some of the Russians, we were persuaded to play some street music with a couple of them. We used a wine box, the bag from inside the wine box, and a couple beer cans. I believe only one person told us to “shut the fuck up”. Most people just laughed. Not pictured here unfortunately is me rocking the bag later on. I think I totally owned it.

Afterwards we went and met up with the Missoulans again and more shenanigans ensued, though by that time I’d mostly stopped taking pictures.

After we woke and broke camp, we decided to make the short trip over to Mt. Rushmore since we were so close. Overall it was pretty boring, and I wasn’t thrilled with having to pay $10 for the privilege of standing under its shadow.

I ‘m not saluting here, just shading my eyes as I look out over the Black Hills (where we’d just camped). A more impressive sight than the mountain sculpture behind us.

I’m glad we packed sweatshirts. The temperatures range from 50 degrees during the night to almost 90 during the day.

These little info placards were the only real “exhibits” they had at the monument, other than the mountain sculpture itself. A bit of a rip-off for $10, considering all the great things we’d seen at, for example, the Philly Art Museum, for a similar price.

Logan encounters a random mountain goat.

After that brief excursion, we started the long drive from South Dakota through Wyoming and into Montana. We’d originally planned to go to Missoula, where there is supposedly some good hiking and outdoorsy stuff, but most of the people in Missoula who were couch surfing hosts said they were going to be down in Butte for the National Folk Festival.

Well, we needed to go somewhere in Montana because the distance to Seattle was just too great for a single day drive. So off to Butte for us. I had my expectations low (though Logan was excited about going to something called a hootananny (sp)). Those expectations were shattered however during the most surreal 36 hours of my life.

We got to Butte around 6 PM, and the craziness started immediately. But I’m going to save that story for another post.

South Dakota is the first really scenic drive of the trip. There’s rolling plains on either side of the highway, stretching as far as you can see. No farms, though there are lots of cattle dotting the landscape.

You thought I was exaggerating about the bugs? I couldn’t take any pictures out of the front of the car because of these things.

South Dakota landscape reminds me a lot of that one Windows background that everyone gets default with a new computer.

That is, until you get to Western South Dakota, when the landscape changes rather dramatically. Here is the Badlands, which looks fairly intimidating as it emerges out of the rolling hills. We didn’t get to go into Badlands National Park, but I hear good things.

And then there’s Wall Drug. So South Dakota has a ton of billboards advertising all sorts of hokey tourist-traps. Cowboy towns, random caves, something called “the world’s only corn palace”, and stuff even dumber than that. But nothing beats Wall Drug. They have these ambiguous adverts for this place ALL OVER South Dakota. Like the entire 300 mile drive through the state. We must have heard about this place on at least 50 billboards on the way through South Dakota.

Well, here’s Wall Drug. A crappy amusement park. Yay.

We wanted to camp out in Custer National Park, but we couldn’t secure a reservation. So we found another campground in the Black Hills (just a few miles from Mount Rushmore). The setting up of the tent did not go well in the beginning:

But we persevered and eventually victory was ours.

Setting up camp in the wilderness and then knocking back a few beers; about the manliest thing you can do.

I couldn’t get any pictures of it, but the stars are amazing out in the middle of nowhere. I actually saw the Milky Way for the first time, which was nice. Especially when you see it by accident at 2 AM when you stumble out of the tent looking for somewhere to pee and hoping you don’t run into a bear or something.

I’ve never enjoyed driving until this trip. It’s not that I hated it– it occupies the same niche as brushing my teeth or clipping my nails: not necessarily a hardship or even an inconvenience, but not something I’d do for fun if I the alternative wasn’t much worse.

Anyway, I don’t feel like that right now. On the contrary, the time in between our stops has been as enjoyable to me as the destinations themselves. Every time we stop somewhere, I get the itch to get back on the road before long and actually reaching a destination has far less significance to me than it seems like it should.

I can’t really explain why this would be the case, but I suppose the old clichés about the value of the journey being worth more than the destination applies.

So anyway, Day 7 and 8 were pretty generic and less interesting the beginning of the trip. We traveled from Milwaukee through Iowa to Missouri Valley, just a half hour outside Omaha, Nebraska where we met up with a friend of mine who lives out there. It was a chance to see a few cool sites, hit up small town USA, and take care of some stuff like laundry and planning for the rest of the trip (which is more or less going to be played by the ear in a few spots).

Bugs. Lots of bugs. Splattering the windshield, the rearview mirrors, the side mirrors, really just all over. And they’re hard to scrape off. Here we actually caught a butterfly on the antenna. Cool.

Iowa isn’t exactly what you would call scenic. But hey people, this is where we get all our delicious high-fructose corn syrup from.

This is Bob. Bob and I got along quite well.

People are free with the alcohol quantities in the Midwest. This blue moon cost $3. I approve.

So when I used to work in NY, co-workers would (good natured-ly) comment on the type of food I eat: a lot of pizza, burgers, various fried foods, my once-a-week chipotle, etc. People in NY make a conscious effort to eat well and eat responsibly; hell the city now mandates calorie counts to be printed on fast food restaurant menus.

Not so in the Midwest. The people here like to eat heartily and plentifully. And they DRINK. A lot. (And I love it.) You’ll soon see what I mean.

We got to Milwaukee pretty early in the day (it was only a 90 minute drive from Chicago). Having quite a bit of time to waste before the Brewer’s game, we naturally headed over to the first brewery tour we could find. Turned out to be the Miller brewery.

The complex where they brew Miller is called Miller Valley. Yes, I’m wearing the same shirt as Day 5. It’s a road trip, damn it. These things happen.

A few scenes from the rest of the tour. Not much to report there, the tour was free and we got to sample a decent amount of beer at the end. The tour guides were mostly undergrad students reading from scripts though and weren’t very funny. We only learned later that some of the microbreweries around Milwaukee offer paid tours that are far more fun than the free Miller tour.

Miller Park, home of the Brewers. The anti-Wrigley. Instead of plopped in a city neighborhood, it’s between two major interstate highways. It’s roughly twice as large from the outside as Wrigley. In addition to having an actual digital scoreboard, Miller Park has a huge retractable roof. The atmosphere inside the stadium features just as much booze as Wrigley, but is decidedly family-oriented, in contrast to Wrigley’s Frat-boy bleachers. The stadium has its charms, it’s definitely a great place to just watch some ball.

This is where we parked, next to “Hank Aaron trail” or somesuch. Free parking in walking distance from a major league stadium is no longer an urban legend.

Logan demonstrates how huge the stadium is, or something.

We got pretty close to the field and were able to watch warm-ups and batting practice. I liked watching Zito get in between-start work in. He was just tossing fastballs, until he finally relented to the shouts from fans and threw a few wicked curveballs.

The place was more packed than it appears in picture (most of the fans are refilling on beer). The Brewers have pretty solid local support despite being an underachieving team.

Being on a road trip means less food, less sleep, and more activity than you’re accustomed. So it’s always nice to be able to sneak a few zzz’s before a baseball game.

Remember what I said about Midwesterners and their food/boozing? I felt about taking these pictures, but hell here’s the downside of that. This is just a sample, by the way. It’s fairly prevalent.

We were sitting in the very upper sections of the stadium (being on a budget and all), which means you have to climb a fair amount of stairs to reach your seats. This woman’s face was just broadcasting pain and agony as she slumped against the stair railings and tried to haul herself up. At one point, just mere rows from her seat, she decided to sit in the middle of the staircase and recover for a minute. I kinda feel bad for picking on her, actually. Lets move on.

After the game, we stopped a tiny diner to eat some dinner. Four pieces of fried chicken, mash potatoes, stuffing, corn, cream of chicken soup, and a tall mug of beer cost me about $10 (tip included). Again, the culture of eating and drinking here is AWESOME. If you can work it off after the meal, I suppose.

$8.99 all you can eat meatloaf Tuesdays (with soup or salad and a complementary beer) sounds like the best thing ever. If it was for an uncomfortable lack of minorities, I’d move to the Midwest right now.

Big thanks to our couch surfing guest of the day, Jacqueline. Gave us more beer, took us to see fireworks, and then cooked a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and buttered toast the next morning to see us off.

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