I suppose this would have been way more effective had I actually reported this as it was happening, but it somewhat seems appropriate to revisit this road trip four months later as I will be taking the return trip back to California tomorrow. Although this time around, it will only be from Dallas to California.
I distinctly remember leaving Dallas much later than I planned and driving through the night as far as possible through Oklahoma. Boy was it dark as hell with bright beaming lights darting at me on the opposite side with every turn of the road. I had horrible images of the worst things that could happen…like my car breaking down at 3 am and crazies coming out of the wild to attack us. Paranoia hit when a police car was following me until I finally won that game of cat and mouse. Enough was enough when my droopy eyelids could stand it no more. I finally pulled into a Days Inn at 5 am in Joplin, Missouri. This was of course AFTER making a few stops to check prices at other hotels (Mama taught me well). My co-driver was out cold until I parked the car in front of the bright lobby. The cheerful woman behind the desk thankfully made the process as painless as possible and the lobby actually looked quite welcoming. No continental breakfast? No problem! Waffle House was next door and was my incentive to wake up in a few hours.
Unfortunately, when we did arrive to breakfast hours later, we were greeted with thick smoke and thick accents! If I could pinpoint any city during my whole road trip as being as far from my San Diegan life as possible, it’d be Joplin. Who knew that restaurants STILL allowed smoking in restaurants?! Literally right at the counter blowing smoke into the cooks’ area (if you’ve never been to a Waffle House, the entire restaurant is usually visible from all corners, so we’re talking open floor plan here). I was so shocked. Needless to say, we stayed as our hungry bellies overruled our lungs. We ordered our simple breakfasts and took a seat at the run-down bar sandwiched between two elderly folks both smoking cigarettes. Every corner there was a smoker, an old one. We were the only colored people. I seriously had to stop for a second and wonder if we went back in time. A booth opened up in the back where we quickly relocated from the chatty smokers, though the air was not any better. Our friendly waitress came around and served us our lovely jalapeno-smothered hash browns, pancakes, and eggs. We had carried our nifty green Starbucks mugs in with us to fill with water for the road, but little did we know, these were a rarity in Joplin! Well, to our waitress at least, who innocently asked with a gaping smile revealing her missing teeth:
“Where’d you get them cups? They cool!”
“Umm, we got them at Starbucks!”
“Oh you don’t say! I’ve never been inside one of those before…just the drive-thru!”
We smiled politely telling her how convenient they are, but not sure whether or not we’d appear too pretentious. She let us carry on as we finish our breakfasts, we said goodbye to the chatty regulars, and dashed out of the building for a gasp of fresh air.
Later that night, Day 5, we arrived in Chicago, IL. Hugging the lake shore tightly, we found our destination: a friend’s downtown high-rise condo. Breathtaking views of the beautifully lit city and skyline at an incredible elevation (thank you so much Katelyn and Bill for putting us up — we are thankful till this day!). We were able to have one of the best meals of the trip at an Italian tapas restaurant, Quartino’s. Loved the bustling atmosphere, the wine, the waiter…everything was just so welcoming and perfect! We decided to make it a low-key night in and coincidentally watched the prequel to the movie we saw in Dallas, “The Girl Who Played With Fire.” While it was just as action packed as its sequel, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” I have to say the latter was filled with more…how do I say…girl kickassery?! (Note: the original title of this Swedish film translates to “Men Who Hate Women”) It was a solid night overall and we were well-rested to continue our trip the next day.
After sight-seeing a bit down by the Navy Pier, we let food dominate our day and followed our taste buds to Gino’s East Pizza — best deep dish pizza ever, hands down! Shortly after window shopping, we asked some locals what spots to check out from which we headed to Wicker Park to grab some refreshing watermelon drinks and fresh guacamole. Content with our meals, we pack up and hit the road again. Destination: Detroit, MI. A cool 5 hours later, we arrived in rainy Detroit, but at least to a place that felt closer to home, specifically, my co-driver’s cousin’s house. After hanging out with the kids, shooting some pool, and carelessly dancing and singing along to old-school Laotian karaoke songs in a living room, we crashed for the night only to realize we stayed up way too late and could not continue our road trip the next day due to built-up exhaustion. We responsibly took the “day off” (Day 6) and spent a second night in Detroit to recuperate, but at Thip’s aunt’s house this time. Wise decision as we were able to get a full night’s rest, plus got treated to dim sum and pho. What can we say…we like to eat!
Day 7, we finally arrived in Rochester, NY, my home for 23 years since birth. It was bittersweet dropping off my co-driver and friend, but we made seven days of memories to last us a lifetime! While in Rochester, I was able to catch up with a professor, some friends, and spend some quality time with my nieces and sister’s family. It’s strange being in Rochester…you hate it yet kind of feel this comfort in a way too. The clouds, the small highways, potholes, Tahou’s garbage plates, MacGregor’s with its 70+ beers on tap. Man, it was all I knew for quite some time but it’s just one of those cities where you feel destined to escape in search of more. Better weather, better jobs, more night life, lower crime rate, more intelligent people, etc. Regardless of the nostalgia, I always snap back to it and a couple days is all I need to remind myself of why I left in the first place.
Day 8: off to Pittsburgh where a new home awaited me! While I knew Pittsburgh wasn’t anything glamorous, I was not ready for the even worse roads and industrial landscapes “Stillers” town had to offer. I was surprised to see so many bridges too. Not to mention, my GPS was definitely off with the way the exits were renumbered. I just reminded myself though, if I could bear Rochester for 23 years, then one semester in Pitt would be nothing. Plus, I was there to study, not to live permanently. Little did I know, I left with a wealth of knowledge, an incredible experience meeting so many driven and talented folks, and even kept my appetite satisfied! Pittsburgh: while I will probably never call you my permanent home, it’s been fun but I’m glad I left before the real winter hit. More on my academic and Pittsburgh adventures soon.