Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: travel (page 5 of 5)

More from Minnesota

Another day in Minneapolis. Gwen and I started off by walking around Lake Phelan, just down the road from our hosts. Very pleasant, with a pair of trails for running and bike riding, both of which were getting plenty of use. The powers that be trucked in some sand and created a beach at one spot on the lake that nobody was using–but there were buoys marking off a swimming area too tiny for anything beyond a little splashing around.

After that, we drove into Minneapolis again to visit the Walker Museum. The first thing that caught my eye was something outside that I had read about before, the Mobile Dwelling Unit by Lot Ek. This is a 40-foot shipping container that has been converted to a living space, with almost all of one wall, and much of the opposite, converted into slide-out units, each for a specific function–toilet, shower, kitchen, bed, storage, TV viewing, dining–so when deployed, the center area is empty. The concept is quite clever. The thing itself seems incomplete–most of the interior was unfinished plywood, with pencil marks showing cut-lines and the like; the soft surfaces were raw foam. Curiously, surveillance cameras were everywhere inside, even though there’s nothing to obstruct your view from one end to the other (and, well, who puts surveillance cameras in their home?). A museum staffer explained that the idea was that the cameras would be on the outside in a real MDU. Apart from the unfinished quality, I have more serious criticisms of the MDU: it has poor connections to the outdoors, with very limited window exposure, none of which open, and only one door to only connect to the outside. My guess is that it has no insulation to speak of, and only a window-unit air conditioner, so it could become intolerably hot in a hot climate. But it’s still a very nifty concept.

After taking in the MDU, we wandered around the nearby sculpture and botanical gardens (which were fodder for my camera–I will upload pictures when I get back). The weather was especially nice, and I think none of us were in hurry to go indoors. Eventually we did. The current exhibit–of which the MDU is a part–is of cutting-edge industrual and architectural design. Some of this was high-concept wankery, like the chair that responds to electromagnetic radiation to make you conscious of the high-tech world we live in. Some of it was self-mocking, like bottles that look broken. Some of it was mind-boggling, like a presentation for “pig city”–a self-contained pig-farming skyscraper that’s designed for maximum efficiency. One of Shigeru Ban’s cardboard-tube emergency shelters (used to house victims of the Kobe Earthquake) was on display, and I was glad to have a chance to walk around in that.

The permanent exhibit at the Walker pretty much left me cold–navel-gazing modern art. Everyday objects presented as art. When Marcel Duschamp did it, it was a clever gag, but you can only get away with that once–you can’t build an entire movement out of it.

After we finished with the Walker, we fortified ourselves with coffee and snacks, dropped in on an old friend of Gwen’s, and then went to the home of the parents of my friend Jen, who just happens to be visiting the ancestral abode at the same time we’re up here. We all had a chance to catch up, her mom overfed us and guilt-tripped us about not eating enough (you’d think she was Jewish, but she’s Chinese), and we generally had an excellent time talking about disturbing movies and feral Chihuahuas.

Greetings from Minnesota

Gwen and I have begun a trip to Chicago and Minnesota. Two days ago, we flew to Chicago, met my parents (who were setting up for an antique show), borrowed my dad’s truck, a ’91 Ford, and lit out on I-90 for St. Paul.

I think my father has a predilection for vehicles that have loose front ends. This truck was also loud and primitive–possibly one of the last pickups that was built primarily for hauling loads, rather than for personal transport. Also very loud, and hard on gas–a fill-up cost $47. Cheaper than flying, though. Getting onto the interstate was stymied by construction, and we wound up going quite a bit out of our way before we actually found an on-ramp. Driving through Illinois, we encountered a frustrating pattern where we’d be backed up with road construction, get to a toll booth, and for about one mile after, the road would be clear. Then it would be down to one lane, more construction, and another tollbooth. Repeat until the Wisconsin border. After that, it was pretty much smooth sailing.

We reached St. Paul while there was still light and navigated with little trouble to the home of an old friend of Gwen’s, where we are staying.

Yesterday morning, we were up at a relatively early (for a vacation) hour to go kayaking, which I’ve never done before. We were right on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. An outfitter dropped us off at an upstream point, we paddled along for about 4 hours (with a few stops for snacks and sunblock on the way), and we got picked up near the outfitter’s storefront at the end. It was fun, though my enjoyment would have been greater if it weren’t for a comparatively mild migraine. We saw at least six bald eagles close-up–I’m pretty sure that was the first time I’ve seen them in the wild in the USA.

Today we drove into Minneapolis and wandered around Gwen’s old haunts. Her old neighborhood is an awful lot like my old neighborhood in Chicago–I felt right at home. We also spent some time downtown, looking at nifty old Art Deco buildings and walking through the human habitrail system. Tomorrow we’ll be getting together with a friend of mine, Jen, who lives in Philadelphia but was raised here–it just so happens that she’s visiting at the same time we are.

Road Trip–TX+AZ

Austin – Lubbock – Roswell – Carlsbad – Fort Davis – Austin

There are also photos from this trip.

28 June 2002: Friday

They say “Happiness is Lubbock in your rearview mirror.” That saying now has a visceral immediacy for me.

The drive into Lubbock on US 84 is utterly desolate. Not as bad as the Salt Flats, but pretty awful. No trees. No variation in terrain. You have to wonder what made some settlers look around and decide “This looks good. Let’s stop here!”

The town of Lubbock itself feels like a pathologically orderly suburb. All commerce is conducted in shopping malls, almost exclusively through chain stores. All lawns are meticulously manicured, watered, and chemically treated to the point of making astro-turf seem realistic by comparison.

While in Lubbock, we played putt-putt golf with Gwen’s family (her sister and was visiting, daughter in tow). Putt-putt is my least favorite variety of miniature golf. The courses are completely bare. No amusing features–no windmills, no lumberjacks, no Mt Rushmore dioramas…

On our way out of town, we stopped to try to get gas at a Citgo at the edge of town. The gas station itself is defunct, but misleadingly busy: it has taken on a new life as a venue for drug deals. We drove away quickly.

After Lubbock, we passed through the improbably named town of Meadow (pop. 658). More flat nothingness. It is a little north of the aptly named town of Brownfield, which tells you all you need to know about that place.

Sign spotted on a church in Brownfield: “To be almost saved is to be totally lost.”

The town of Artesia NM proclaims the motto “the sweet smell of success” on a billboard at the edge of town. In case you were wondering, success smells exactly like an oil refinery.

Roswell’s downtown is predictably tacky, with lots of silly alien-themed businesses and touches on non-alien businesses. The furniture store has gray aliens in the window. My favorite schtick: the old-timey streetlights have those big oval alien eyes on them. The rest of town (based on an inexhaustive drive-through) doesn’t pick up the alien theme at all, providing a bit of relief to the locals. Roswell seems to be the town people from the surrounding area visit when they need to go into town.

One aspect of the whole UFO schtick that I wonder about is the people who take that stuff really seriously. The downtown has a couple of libraries and museums of ufology that cater to them, but even they have their goofy gift shops attached. I wonder how the serious ufologists take that. Inwardly, they’re probably shaking their fists and screaming “You people just don’t understand!”. It must drive them nuts.

Spending Friday night in Carlsbad, a ways south of Roswell and a little north of the caverns, which we will see tomorrow. We’re down the road from a drive-in, where we plan to take in a show. (Regardless of the show–it’s just for the opportunity to go to the drive-in!) Our motel, the Carlsbad Inn, is a shabby place that seems as if it has never been new. It’s not unclean (indeed, the toilet had one of those “sanitized for your protection” straps), it’s just creaky and cheap.

We wound up seeing Starwars Episode 2 at the drive-in. I had previously seen this in digital projection at the Metreon, so seeing it at the drive-in was an amusing contrast. Each has its merits.

29 June 2002: Saturday

Saturday was the day of highs and lows, though both were high points.

We started the day with a visit to the Carlsbad Caverns. Spent about two hours walking down the natural entrance and through the big room. Really amazing. Sort of like visiting an endlessly ornate cathedral. It’s a shame that so many parents obviously think of the caverns as a good activity for kids, most of whom seem to stay interested for about 20 minutes, and then try to race through as quickly as possible. For that matter, there were a number of adults who seemed to be going through the motions. And as Gwen observed, almost everyone apparently felt obliged to fill the silence with chatter.

Entering the cave, there’s a huge colony of swallows, which I noticed fly a lot like bats, and could be mistaken for bats in flight. Since they both eat flyinh insects, and fill a similar ecological niche, I guess that’s not too surprising.

From there, we pushed on to our next destination. On the way, in Pecos, we bought some famous Pecos canteloupes. Three for a buck. What a bargain. One had a slightly odd tang to it, one was truly excellent. Haven’t eaten the third yet.

On the drive between Pecos and Balmorhea, we passed an amazing number of dust-devils. There were a few in sight at all times.

On our way through Balmorhea, we drove right past “the cutest restaurant in Balmorhea” without even slowing down. I should have gotten a picture.

Our destination for the day was the Davis Mountains State Park. This is a nice park, with all the amenities you’d need and almost 100 campsites of various types. There were a lot of big fifth wheels on one loop, and the owners had set up various patriotic paraphernalia for the upcoming 4th festivities. I guess they were there for a long-ish campout. There were a few big RVs, some trailers, and a number of people camping in tents (including a few guys who rode in on motorcycles). There’s even a pretty cool hotel on the grounds (though with a disappointing restaurant) that was built by the CCC back in the 30s, with massively thick adobe walls.

The park has a very dramatic landscape, and a lot of birds. A lot of buzzards and swallows. I noticed that there weren’t any dragonflies, but that swallows probably took their agile-flying, bug-eating place in the ecosystem. Dragonflies must not be able make it in the desert because they need standing water to lay their eggs (I think). We spotted a bird that’s apparently uncommon in those parts, the phainopepla. We identified it only with the help of a birder at a nearby site–we saw him studying a bird guide, and he let us flip through it until we found the bird in question. When we did, he was deeply envious–apparently he’d get bragging rights among his birder friends for spotting one.

Saturday night we went to the star party at the McDonald Observatory. They have a very nice visitor center there. For the star party, they have a couple of telescopes with 22″ mirrors available for viewing, plus there are a number of volunteers there who set up their own 6″ or 8″ scopes and point them at something interesting. I got a decent look at Venus, a globular cluster, and a pair of colliding galaxies (M51, I think). Apart from the telescope viewing, the naked-eye viewing is also pretty incredible. The observatory is at 7,000 feet, in a desert, far from even a small town, so the air is thin, clear, and with almost no light pollution. We got there at dusk, and watched the stars come out. It was great. Afterwards, we drove home in silence.

30 June 2002: Sunday

Sunday we hiked out along the park’s trail, covering a good few miles out and back. It was a nice, well-marked trail that seemed to get very little use–though on the bright side we didn’t see a single piece of trash. Back at camp, we saw the phainopepla again, hanging out in a nearby tree apparently with his mate, occasionally flying up to snag a fly (apparently). We dragged our birder neighbor over so that he could get a look for himself.

We were thinking of trying for the Marfa Lights on Sunday night, but after getting cleaned up and napping, it was still the early evening, so we headed into Alpine in search of food. Sunday night is not a big eating-out night in Alpine (it’s not a big night for much of anything, apparently). We did see a store selling rocks and books that was open, chatted with the proprietress briefly, looked at rocks, and marvelled at the extremely idiosyncratic selection of books she had on offer. We eventually made our way to a miserable diner called Penny’s, where everything was reheated, reconstituted, or otherwise prepared and prepackaged. Even the iced tea was made from a mix. Gwen asked me “Who makes iced tea from a mix?” “Yankees.” We both cracked up. The high point of this outing was picking up a copy of the local rag.

Plenty of time left, we headed back towards camp. On the way, we passed a small place claiming to have the largest live rattlesnake exhibit on the planet. And it was open! You can bet we were excited to discover something that was open. We swung around, got out, and paid our $3 admission. The place is run by an aging hippie who told us he was once the snake curator at the Fort Worth Zoo, but moved to Alpine 22 years before to get away from it all. He also mentioned having a Chinese wife, leading us to wonder “what does she think about living in Alpine, TX?” He had 16-20 different varieties of rattler and copperhead, many quite pretty, as well as a few gila monsters, tarantulas, horny toads, and kangaroo rats.

Having exhausted the entertainment potential of desert wildlife, we went back to the park, in search of real food at the restaurant in the Indian Lodge. This was less bad than Penny’s, but hardly great. It did have real iced tea and pie (which Gwen was hankering for). Afterwards we watched the swallows. We decided to bag the Marfa lights in the end and hit the sack.

1 July 2002: Monday

Monday we got up and got moving pretty early. Got packed up efficiently, fueled up with coffee (Gwen’s french press made camping vastly more civilized), and hit the road. It’s a long piece of driving from the Davis Mountains to Austin, but if you’ve got a car that can cruise comfortably at 80+ mph, it goes by a lot easier.

On that long drive back, we passed by an enormous wind farm strung out on a ridge in the Sonora desert just north of I-10, stretching out across Pecos County. The sight of all those giant 3-vane turbines turning slowly in unison is both appealing and eerie at the same time.

We drove into rain, which is pretty unusual for Texas in the summer, and which seemed especially so after the dry time we spent in the desert. Rain is certainly welcome–Austin was about 8″ behind in rainfall for the year. When we got past Fredericksburg, we bought a bucket of peaches and some fresh-made peach ice cream. Yum.

Pushing on into Austin we encountered really heavy rain, a weird welcome-back.

Maryland-Philadelphia trip

Gwen and I returned yesterday from a trip to Maryland and Philadelphia. The nominal reason for the trip was my cousin Josh’s wedding, but we wound up getting a lot more out of it than that.

It was, for one thing, an opportunity for Gwen to meet the family. In a pretty high-intensity way, admittedly: we all stayed in the same place, a miniscule house right in the old part of Annapolis called simply the House on Cornhill. My guess is that the whole house is less than 600 square feet, with very low ceilings, a funhouse staircase, and no right angles. Actually, though, it was quite pleasant.

We arrived at BWI on Thursday afternoon, a little later than expected because of heavy weather that kept us on the ground an extra two hours in St Louis. We picked up a rental car that we had reserved and drove in. Handy tip: if you reserve the super-cheap “economy” model, you’ll probably get the next class up anyhow. In our case, that meant getting a Dodge Neon instead of a Geo Metro. The Neon is no great shakes. I’m glad I don’t own one.

The wedding wasn’t until Saturday, so we had a fair amount of time to just hang out in Annapolis. One improbable high point was watching the Anna Nicole Show at the house. It was a bit like gawking at a car wreck.

The rehersal dinner was at the boathouse on St John’s campus, as it had been for both of Josh’s siblings. The ceremony was at the great hall on campus, as it had been for Josh’s brother Nat. After that, a bagpiper led us in a procession through the streets to the reception at a hotel a few blocks away. The ceremony was nice enough, though the rabbi made a few attempts at humor that wound up simply coming off as snarky to some people.

We all drifted out of the reception around 10:00 PM, headed back to the house, and changed. My sisters, Gwen, and myself went to a bar for beer and raw oysters, which was fun, but would have been better if we could hear each other talk.

Next morning we headed over to Sandy and Joe’s for a breakfast that consisted largely of bagels and various fishy things. That was fun, but we wanted to make good time up to Philadelphia, so we hit the road reasonably early.

The drive went by quickly and without incident. We stopped at a truck stop outside Wilmington DE and bought postcards. Delaware. What a silly excuse for a state. Texas has parks bigger than Delaware. Do those parks have their own senators? No.

In Philadelphia, we visited my friend Jen. She suggested we visit the Mütter Museum of medical oddities, which we enthusiastically agreed to. This was, obviously, another high point of the trip. Skeletons of conjoined-twin foetuses, a preserved giant colon, anacephalic foetuses floating in formaldehyde, etc. For entertainment, you can’t beat that with a stick.

Dinner was at a local seafood joint in Jen’s neighborhood, where Gwen indulged her craving for crab. King crab legs. I helped her out a little with those. Yum. After that, we made our way to the Nodding Head bar, where we had very tasty deserts. We were joined by Jen’s friend Vik, who hails from Annapolis originally. We talked about our trip, and he asked “Were you going to Lesley Donohoe’s wedding?” Yup. Small world. We participated in a trivia game the bar ran. We came in second, which won us a $25 gift certificate that covered more than half our tab. We would have won if my teammates hadn’t voted down a correct answer I suggested.

We headed back to Jen’s to crash. On the way there, walking up Van Pelt, a very old-looking street, Vik pointed out some of the historic features. Some of the houses had plaques showing a pine tree or what have you on their facades. Vik explained that before Philadelphia had a city fire department, it had private fire departments. Homeowners would subscribe to one fire department or another, and if you house caught fire or was at risk, your fire department would save your house, but if the neighbor subscribed to a different fire department, they wouldn’t waste any energy on that house. Vik also pointed out these mirror contraptions poking out from second-floor windows. These were used somewhat like security cameras today, to see who was at the front door.

The next morning, Jen, Vik, Gwen, and I headed out in the car to a restaurant Jen had pegged as a good breakfast joint. Closed Mondays. Plan B. That place didn’t open until 10:00 AM. Vik came up with Plan C, which turned out to be a tasty, homey little diner-type place called Sabrina’s. Walking towards it, we passed a bakery with irresistable smells emanating from it. We promised ourselves to stop their on the way back to the car. After stuffing ourselves on omelettes and other tasty morsels, we waddled back to the bakery, Isgro’s, where we picked up more yummies to bring with us to our next stop. The woman serving us at the counter encouraged us to have some of the cannoli halves they had set out as very generous free samples, but none of us had the room. We picked up some cannoli, crème brûlée, and something like a raspberry croissant.

We dropped Jen and Vik back on their street and set off. The drive back was almost identical to the drive up, and seemed to go by even more quickly.

Our destination was Takoma Park, MD, where we met up with Gwen’s old friends Sonya and Reed. They’re interesting folks, and we had a fun time poking around with Sonya. They have two young children, who inevitably required a lot of attention, and who are both very fond of Gwen.

Tuesday morning we headed out for the airport, made it there without incident, and were impressed by the zero-paperwork rental-car return. A woman waiting there with a handheld computer had punched up the license plate number, found our records, and printed out a receipt before we had even gotten out of the car. Gwen wound up spending at least five minutes at the BWI security checkpoint on account of a suspicious-looking perfume bottle (apparently because of its proximity to Washington DC, security at BWI is especially rigorous). I also noticed a guy with a badge of some sort, but in plain-clothes, being subjected to the whole shoes-off routine.

Our flight home was uneventful, and it was good to be back. Within two hours of landing, my allergies had bounced back. We had dinner at Guero’s to re-acquaint our tastebuds with spicy food.

Road Trip

I recently went on a road trip with Gwen. You can check out the words and the pictures.

San Francisco trip

Oh yeah. I’m home. It was a good trip. Good hanging out with Dave & Heidi for the last time before they have twins–good hanging out with them just in general, and likewise with Brian and Maureen. Good re-acquainting myself with San Francsisco–I love visiting that town, but it reminds me that I really like living in Austin too. Spent yesterday afternoon and this morning in San Jose, and then caught the Nerd Bird home.

Perhaps it’s just because I bought a new car myself, but I found myself attuned to the cars I was seeing out there. I continue to be amazed at what a car-oriented place California is. Not just the dependence on them, but the affection lavished on them. A lot of Porsches–everything from whaletail Turbos to bathtub 356s. But what struck me was the weird stuff–like an immaculately restored K-car of all things, with a show-car quality paint job and fancy racing wheels. Or a mint-condition 1984 Hurst Olds. Or a bizarre 3-wheeled podlet (evidently Brian knows the owner). And of course the aforementioned Hummer limo.

Posting from Alameda

Posting from Alameda

I’m staying at Dave & Heidi’s, across the bay from beautiful San Francisco. It’s been fun. I’ll be heading back down to San Jose tomorrow to spend another day with Brian & Maureen, and then back to Austin.

Saturday night, I saw the band Luna at Bimbo’s with a friend, Robin, and a couple of her friends. Good show–Luna has a sort of folk/rock style with quirky humor. Closed with covers of Bonnie and Clyde (originally by Serge Gainsbourg) and Season of the Witch (originally by Donovan). Thanks, Robin, for knowing who did those originally. That night I saw a Hummer limo–truly obscene.

Sunday, D&H and I went to an amazingly busy diner in bustling downtown Alameda. That night I was supposed to go to a fire practice in SF, but had left the exact address back in Austin (d’oh!), so I had to bag it. Today, I went in to San Francisco and just bopped around on foot for hours, which I love to do. Went to the Japantown mall. Consumed yukimi-daifuku (those of you have have been paying attention know how much I love these). Spotted Giant Pocky (remind me to tell you about Giant Pocky someday). Then I went to the Metreon to catch the digital projection of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. I don’t really like the Metreon, but I think it’s one of the only places with digital projection, and since Lucas made such a big deal out of how this movie was all-digital, it seemed like the aesthetically correct way to see it.

What do I think of the movie? Good special effects and good action sequences. Awful script, bad direction, and acting that generally failed to rise above these limitations (except for good old Ewan MacGregor, and perhaps Christopher Lee).

Newsflash: digital image quality still isn’t as good as film. The difference wasn’t so great that I was generally aware of it, but in some of the more statically shot scenes, if I looked, I could clearly see the jaggies.

Posting from San Jose

Posting from San Jose

I’m staying at Brian & Maureen’s, where spring seems to have come about two months after it came to Austin–star jasmine, wisteria, and such are in bloom, and the whole neighborhood smells incredible. Everyone here seems to have really nice gardens. Plus the weather is about 20 degrees cooler, which (early in the season though it is) already comes as a relief.

Tomorrow it’s up to San Francisco to visit Dave & Heidi.

Chicago: home for the holidays

I returned on Thursday from a 10-day trip to Chicago, Dec 24 to Jan 3. It was a pretty good trip.

There’s a longstanding tradition of Christmas dinner at the home of my high-school buddy Forrest’s mother. This is one of my main reasons for flying up to Chicago for the holidays. My sister Lissy and I went this year. It was kind of a let-down. None of my peers were there except for Forrest’s brother Hamilton, who I don’t really get along with. The tradition of going bowling after dinner was also broken, though Lissy and I did drive past the Waveland Bowl alley and made obeisance as we passed.

For much of my trip, I crashed at Lissy’s new apartment, a basement unit with heated floors in Old Town. Pretty cozy, and it’s fun mapping out the hot-spots in the floor.

There’s an exhibit of Van Gogh and Gauguin going on at the Art Institute right now (I am tempted to call this Van Gogh Gauguin a-go-go). I walked down from Lissy’s, got there at 10:30 AM, and discovered that show was sold out for the whole day. Oh well. I figured I could buy tickets over the phone for a later date if I wanted to. I decided to go for a walk instead. I wound up going for a really long walk, which is one of my favorite things to do in Chicago. I took a zigzag course all the way up to my old address at Roscoe and Halstead, then zigzagged down to the building where I grew up on St James Pl, and finally worked my way back to Lissy’s. I was back before she was off work for the day, so I stopped into a nearby coffee shop, found a copy of the Onion (cool!), and made myself quite content with that and a big latte. My feet were sore. My father estimated I walked 15 miles, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

Saw Lord of the Rings on this trip. Good movie. I was just finishing up the trilogy around the time I saw it, so that was good timing. It was uncanny how closely some of the images matched the mental images I formed reading the book–Gandalf, the giant statues on the river, Weathertop, Moria, etc. Some things were different than I imagined, but in many cases, more impressive. Also saw Monsters, Inc on this trip, which was a great movie. Finally, I went to an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s glass art at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. This was a high point of the trip–the art was fantastic, and the setting was genius. I took some pictures.

New Year’s Eve was spent at a friend-of-a-friend’s place. I was invited along sort of as a tag-along guest, I suppose. It was OK, but nothing memorable. New Year’s Day was my folks’ typical bash, with a vast quantity of good food. Chili, turkey, various salads, dips, and sauces, numerous deserts. I ate a lot.

Travel was uneventful, but had the strict security checks that are now de rigeur. I set off the metal detector at O’Hare even though the only metal on me was the zippers and rivets in my jeans and boots, and my eyeglasses–no keys or change or anything like that. Of course, there’s some metal in me too, but that’s never set anything off. I think the metal detector was calibrated to be too sensitive.

Anyhow, it’s good to be home.

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