RAFFI: SO… after twenty-nine days on the road, we made it back home. The drive from Chicago to Los Angeles—a four day trip—was mostly uneventful; there is literally nothing to do or see in Iowa and Nebraska, and, to be honest, Denver felt lacking in the depth that the other cities we saw possess. I wish I could have seen more of Utah—which is beautiful—but our car’s cooling system just needed to get home and be repaired as soon as possible; as a result, we were driving through most of Utah at night. And, on Las Vegas: the place just seems way too artificial and disgusting on so many levels to be of any interest to me. When we finally entered California, I felt one of the greatest senses of relief I’ve ever felt. Driving into Pasadena—Pasadena for God’s sake!—felt incredible, as did finally getting back to the garbage freeways and maniacal drivers of L.A. Who would’ve thought I’d miss these elements of L.A.? Then again, they are just part of what make the city what it is, and the city is my home. Of all the cities we saw, this one is, and always will be, my favorite. And when we reached home: I don’t think I’ll ever forget driving down the 110 into San Pedro, seeing the harbor, and blasting “Under the Bridge” with my good friends to end the craziest trip of my life—a trip that we will definitely never forget.
Friday, September 9, 2011
RAFFI: After a fantastic three-day stay in the welcoming and generous hands of the extended Conley family in Milwaukee, we set out toward one of the most iconic cities in the world, Chicago, known for such legends as Barack Obama, Muddy Waters, Richard Wright, Michael Jordan, Al Capone, Bill Murray, Kanye West, Ferris Bueller… And, of course, Mark Greenberg.
The initial reaction to Chicago that we—or at least I—had was, “This place is [expletive] huge.” No kidding. The Windy City was unlike anything we had thus far seen, with a cityscape that spans what-seemed-like five Seattles. To begin our first night, and, thus, the Chicago experience, we classicly went to a deep-dish pizza restaurant suggested by Greenberg himself, only to discover we didn’t particularly love deep-dish pizza. Afterwards, we walked around the city at night, an activity that, at this point in our trip, had essentially become an icebreaker for getting to know a new city. Chicago is so full of lights and huge buildings and more lights and huge buildings… it’s just so overwhelming, but in a fantastic sort of way. After the walk through the city and through crazy Millennium Park, we drove 20-some miles to Wheaton College to stay in the apartment of a handful of generous girls, of whom we knew only one—a friend of Horea’s sister. Their extreme hospitality seems to be, in retrospect, a recurring theme in our trip in which nearly every stranger we encountered was extraordinarily friendly and helpful, a stark contrast to the seedy bastards that make Los Angeles classic.
Our next day was pretty uneventful because we got a really late start on the city; however, we were able see a few landmarks: Navy Pier, Belmont Harbor, and the Willis/Sears Tower, the latter being the highlight. Basically a speedy elevator shot us 104 floors up the tallest building in the western hemisphere, where, upon arrival, we were able to look over the magnificent Chicago skyline at night. But the fun didn’t end there; this floor has these clear “skyboxes” that jut horizontally out from the building, which allowed us to look straight down at the streets below—a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
The following day, our final day in Chicags, was, by contrast, extremely eventful. We began the day by attending what Greenberg deemed the best museum in the country, the Art Institute of Chicago. Indeed, we found out that he might be right, because the museum was spectacular—everything we could’ve hoped for and more. Its majestic buildings housed—in addition to a myriad of art from every world region, art movement, and art medium—some of the most iconic works in the history of history; to name just a few: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon…, and Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. After spending four hours, which hardly seemed enough, in the museum, we felt in awe of and fascinated with art and its infinite spectrum. Certainly an incredible experience, and one of the more memorable ones of our trip. But we could never have known what the night had in store for us…
A few days prior, Greenberg had messaged us on Facebook with the offer of three free tickets to a Chicago Cubs game (apparently, his cousin has season tickets and was willing to let us sit with him), so we gladly accepted. After the museum, it was time to go to the game at Wrigley Field. Overall, we had a great time hangin’ with Cousin Jerry, eating hot dogs, and watching the Cubs win (which is apparently unusual). But the real fun started when we left the stadium and took a stroll down to a place known as The Weiner Circle. An unnamed party had previously told us to go there, explicitly instructing that we order a chocolate shake.
We assumed we were in for a really great milkshake.
After walking two miles from Wrigley Field, we were there, only a problem arose: this small burger joint’s menu didn’t list a “Chocolate Shake.” Duncan peeped up to the counter.
“Um, do you guys have a… chocolate shake?” Before answering, the tall black guy behind the counter looked to his left, then his right.
“Chocolate shake? Uh, yeah.” He slowly turned a tip can around to reveal the words “chocolate shake $20” crudely scribbled on top.
“Um, okay,” said Duncan, as he hesitantly handed the man a twenty-dollar bill. “Is this gonna be enough?”
“Oh, it’ll be enough,” the man shot back.
What the heck is going on? seemed to be the general thought going through each of our heads at the time. With puzzled looks on our faces, we waited in silence for this shake. About ten minutes passed, and, all at once, the lights were flickering on and off in a rave-like manner and repeated shouts of “chocolate shake!” began emanating from the direction of the counter. Simultaneously, we turned our heads in the direction of the noise, and, to our complete and total shock, an overweight black woman was jumping up and down with her top pulled off. She and the other workers—male and female—were hysterically screaming “chocolate shake!” After about ten seconds, the lights and the chants ceased, just as soon as they had begun, and the restaurant was returned to its normal state, but not before our original server popped his head over the counter and asked—sarcastically, might I add—“Was that enough for the three of you?”
I think our mouths probably stayed open for damn-near twenty seconds, as we tried desperately to process the sequence that had just unfolded before our previously-unscarred eyes. But life goes on, and so did we. As we left the restaurant and walked back to our car, I could not help but think about the person who told us to get the chocolate shake, and how, in his own devious and evil way, was smiling.
Friday, September 2, 2011
RAFFI: After too many days of being stranded in small towns and being caught in the wilderness, beautiful as it may be, we arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just another city of which we knew relatively nothing about. But we got to know the place soon enough, beginning our first night by walking through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden up into the prominent downtown section, a real lively area that is very pretty at night, due in part to Minneapolis’s skyway system, a widespread system by which what-seems-like every building is connected by suspended, climate-controlled tunnels. Many of the skyways are artsy and/or lit up, and, as a result, give the city more architectural flavor. The next day, on Mr. Hoeger’s advice, we ventured to Lake Calhoun, one of many sort-of large bodies of water that lies in and around the area—interesting because you don’t usually see such natural things in such an urban landscape. We walked around nearby as well in what can best be described as a hip collection of shops and restaurants, eventually walking two miles from our car to a record shop and, on our return, getting caught in a torrential thunderstorm. But everything turned out okay when a very friendly bus driver gave us a free ride and free passes to transfer onto other buses that would lead us to our car. On the drive home, I had a monumental realization that we were caught in the most opportune moment, with the rain and the Minneapolis, to play Minneapolis-native Prince’s iconic eight-minute-long ‘80s song “Purple Rain.” But one play wasn’t enough, so I played it again, then again, and again, and for the rest of the night we listened to “Purple Rain” on repeat. This didn’t sit too well with Hor and Dunc, but I had to milk this once-in-a-lifetime chance for all it was worth, and, in all seriousness, the song seemed to really translate the scene outside—that I suppose Prince had in mind—to the music in our car. We ate dinner that night after the rains had ceased in a very small, but highly-rated restaurant, where we were treated to two free desserts by the bartender and nearly seduced by a thirty-something-year-old drunken woman. Afterward, we trudged through the street puddles of the old Warehouse District and riverfront, whereupon we decided to cross the river, which happens to be the Mississippi, and then walk down to the University of Minnesota. This walk took longer than expected, but it was well worth it. The reflection of the rain-drenched cityscape on the river was magnificent; as were the various trains and colorfully-lit bridges we passed. By the time we got to the university, it was two in the morning, so we made the long trek back to our car, and drove home (Motel 6), blasting “Purple Rain” the entire time. The next day we went to the largest mall in the country, and, well, I’m not sure what else to say except that it was a really big mall. The day after that, our final day in Minneapolis, we spent our night at the city’s famed music venue First Avenue/7th Street, a venue that served as an important platform to success for Minneapolis-based acts like Prince and The Replacements. The show we attended was comprised of three bands, each of which had its own unique and, at times, quirky energy. The headlining band was Linkin Park/Limp Bizkit-esque, and the singer took himself a little too seriously; nevertheless, we had a great time to see these guys, virtually unknown, giving it all they had to appease a small crowd of maybe thirty people. In terms of quality, nothing beats live music in small venues; stadiums just don’t possess the same atmosphere as places like First Avenue, where the relationship between performer and attendee is so much closer. After the show, we walked around downtown again just to take in the awesomeness of Minneapolis at night one last time before we left. Upon our drive back to the motel, which was about five miles from the city, I put on some Replacements, which created a beautifully perfect vibe as we drove over the deserted streets from which the music drew its inspiration. But I couldn’t help but feel sad to leave this place that we had possibly grown, over the course of our four night stay, to really love; then again, I was comforted by the idea that I will one day return… And I don’t mean on vacation.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
HOREA: After taking a picture and thanking the crew in Browning once they had succesfully installed our new oil pan, we headed straight for Yellowstone. Upon arrival, we saw how popular Yellowstone really was: cars parked at every turnout, general stores and cafeterias full of tourists, and campsites virtually impossible to claim a spot in. This was an initial turnoff, as the tranquility of nature was sacrificed to the multitude of people driving their cars to catch America’s most famous national park. I soon found out why it was so popular. This 60 by 60 mile park is almost a safari; in one day alone we saw a black bear, a grizzly bear, countless bison, deer, and elk. Our first stop was the hot springs near our campsite. We ventured around the springs walking on the sulfurous grounds only to be yelled at yet again,” Get off there! What is wrong with you!?” The young mom’s child mimicked,” Yeah, c’mon” in a whinier voice than Alex Bemis from A Seasonal Effect. We continued admiring the hot springs which were boiling and producing an orange and white color; their odor was putrid but it was well worth it. Driving around the park took a long time, and there were so many places to stop. Next on our agenda were the waterfalls. Hiking down the trails we reached the “brink” of the fall as they call it in Yellowstone, and were able to stand a couple feet away from the breathtaking natural beauty and excessively loud fall. In an instant, just standing around the waterfall I heard what sounded like Romanian from a couple close by. We conversed for a little about the park and told us to go to artists point and that it was his favorite place in the park. Due to the fact that I had not gotten any exercise in weeks, I urged Dunc to run up the trail that led us to the waterfall. This must have been a climb of 200 feet and was much easier said than done. We ran past all the hikers and the Romanian guy uttered words of inspiration on my way up. Stopping a couple of times, we finally made it to the top of the trail feeling lightheaded and dizzy. So much for being in shape for the UCSD tennis team. The artist point was a spot to see all of Yellowstone’s beauty: the crashing waterfall, the vividly colored and jagged canyon, and the vivacious wildlife. We admired, took some quick pictures, and kept on exploring. Driving around the park was awesome. Traffic would be stopped by hordes of bison walking into the road and completely blocking off the intersections. They would just stand there, with their ball sack hanging out looking at you with their deformed face with their tongues out at all times. Not to mention they smelled like shit. Last on our agenda was to see old faithful, the mother of all geysers and the most famous attraction in Yellowstone. We got there past sundown and but still saw the steam rising up to the heavens. We decided we did not want to wait another 90 minutes, I packed a lipper with Dunc, and we headed back to our campsite. Now I know why Yellowstone is so popular. The park is home to things that will never be seen anywhere else in the US. Poooooooooooooooo. J
WARNING: THIS POST IS OBSCENELY ROMANTICISED
DUNCAN: Our second day in the town of Browing dawned and entrusted us with a single goal: kill time. This may seem a simple task, but being that we were stuck in a town of no more than one thousand souls it proved difficult and exhausting. We struck out first for Browning’s two main attractions: a native art gallery and a historical museum. Both were thoroughly interesting, and they painted a vivid picture of what life had been like for the Blackfoot Indians before they were defeated and subjugated by the settlers. It seemed that, while these people may not have always been at peace with other tribes, they were at peace with themselves, and with their surroundings; everything about their culture struck a balance between opposites. They were deeply spiritual, but also casual about their religion, they saw themselves as a part of nature, and their way of life seemed simple and full of contentment.
After we had finished with the museums, we alternated between lazing/reading in our crippled car and trudging up and down the town’s single main street over and over again, sometimes going to get something to eat, sometimes going to find a bathroom, and sometimes just plain going. As we went about our business, we watched as the native Blackfoot Indians went about theirs. Jim, Jeff, and the other workers at Jim’s Body works, all of whom were at least partially Indian, drove out to tow wrecked cars back to the garage or worked dents out of bumpers. Packs of Indian children ran across roads, sucking down soda and candy from the local gas station as they went, and were followed by stray dogs. Grizzled, homeless Indians sat and smoked on street corners. Drunken Indians stumbled aimlessly through the streets. Indians worked at pawn shops. Indians bagged groceries. Indians flipped burgers. About half of the Blackfeet were obese, and almost all of them had the same sad, slightly vacant look about their faces, like they were grieving but they couldn’t remember for whom or for what. I gradually pieced together an increasingly detailed picture of the reality of these people’s lives, and that picture formed a dark cloud that grew and boiled steadily in the back of my mind. This cloud was made partly of disgust, partly of pity, partly of disbelief, and partly of anger, but it consisted mostly of bitterness.
In my studies of American history, both recreational and academic, I discovered the white man’s conquest of North America to be nothing but a succession of atrocities, a sick parody of justice, and in my opinion, one of the darkest episodes in all of human history. Thus, I always reserved a particularly acute disgust for the story of the birth of this country. But that was just in theory. In Browning, I experienced it in reality; I experienced it today, in 2011. Sure, I didn’t see any American armed cavalrymen slaughtering innocent women and children, but I did see an entire people deprived of their land, flailing like fish out of water in their attempts to assimilate into a culture that, until 150 years ago, was completely alien to them, a harsh culture that their forbearers were forced to adopt. I saw a people that once enjoyed a level of civic and spiritual freedom that Western culture could never come close to providing, and I saw this same people forced to punch time clocks, to eat processed food, to pay taxes, to sever their time-honored cultural ties with nature, and to live the essentially imprisoned life of the Westerner.
And so I was forced to accept that this noble, admirable culture was mortally wounded by a savage, primitive one that happened to have better guns. I was forced to accept that this culture is now drawing its final, sputtering breaths and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I was forced to accept that this way of life will soon fade into cold, dead history, and that it will be remembered, but never again felt.
In a small, seemingly insignificant little town, I came face-to-face with a dark, even embarrassing element in the story of the United States of America that is seldom discussed and almost never appreciated. Needless to say, I left the place with much more than I had arrived with. I will not soon forget Browning, Montana
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
So here we are, at a small worn-down repair shop in the middle of Browning, Montana, desperately trying to call our AAA to cover our accident. As soon as we arrived, everyone at Jim’s body shop (the repair shop) treated us with hospitality: they handed us ice cream bars, and made fun of our accident numerous times. Trying to call different shops for an oil pan was a disaster; the closest shop was one hundred miles away and the fastest time that they could ship it to Browning was in 2 days. Great. We are stuck in the middle of Garberville, Montana, on an Indian reservation, with no car and two days to kill. Did I mention the population of this place was 1006? We then asked Jeff about a good, cheap place to sleep and he pointed at the front of an enormous 18 wheeler. “What?” “Oh yeah, you can sleep behind that truck, that should be good.” We went to investigate. There was about a 8 by 8 foot area of grass behind a couple run-down, broken trucks that was enclosed by a barbed wire fence and a tall shed. Nice. We uttered a “thanks jeff” without much enthusiasm, and realized that it was either this or the shitty motel down the street. Walking around town was quite the experience: there were stray dogs running everywhere, drunk men sitting on the corner of liquor stores slurring nonsensical phrases at us, virtually all the cars were damaged or beaten up in some way, and almost every eatery was closed because the water line broke so the whole city was without water for the day. That meant no bathrooms. We came back after dinner to ask Jeff about the town and what to do and he said the most exciting thing about the town was the 18 and over casino and a couple Indian history museums. That’s when I knew it was my time. By my first spin of the slot machine my dreams of winning a large quantity of money quickly disintegrated. I was clueless about the rules of playing and I felt like a complete outsider. I asked a couple attendants how to play and they were less helpful than Indian motel 6 receptionists. Watching others play, I finally learned how people won some money. I copied their technique and it was actually working! I was up 28 dollars! I decided to keep playing and I soon lost all 28 dollars. “Ahhh its fine, ill just win more money with this next 20 that I put in.” That soon turned into another 20, and I had just lost 60 dollars. My fun was over, and I left the casino with the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth. The journey back to Jim’s body shop was not a walk in the park either; most locals would stare at us and shoot us menacing looks. They knew we were outsiders. Back at the junkyard, around midnight, we were greeted by the stare of an old, crazy-looking lady sitting in her truck. Jeff had warned us about her, “There’s gonna be a lady sleeping in her truck. She sleeps at our shop every night, and I’m not sure why, she’s not homeless she just chooses to sleep here.” We got in the golf to plan out where we were going to sleep and were alarmed by the truck parked to the left of us. The mirrors were all fogged up, and there were visible signs of movement in the car. We examined the car some more, and decided it was most likely two people fucking. That’s when we decided to camp behind the truck and try our luck. Tip-toeing behind the cars to act inconspicuous, we quickly set up the tent and tried our best to blend in with all the weirdness around us. While setting up, a cute kitty jumped on to our tent and accompanied us. At first she was seemed like great company, an ally to our forces to conquer Browning, but by the end of the night, she wouldn’t leave and kept scratching and clawing at our heads through the tent. Not only that, but we were awaken in the middle of the night to an obnoxious catfight involving our “friend” a couple feet outside our tent. Not too shabby for our first night in browning.