On May 15th, 2010, Kelly Wotjczak and Megan Anstrom embarked on a journey. A journey that some could only dream about. A journey that would be remembered forever. But only one of them returned...
Because Kelly was moving to Oakland. When Kelly decided to move, I did what any good friend would do and said, "Yes, I will take this free trip to California." Then, she took it a step further. Actually a few steps further. Kelly wanted to take a giant ass road trip before she settled in Oakland. We stopped in 9 different states, drove through 15 different states and had a hell of a time. Here are some tips we picked up through each state...
Our first stop was Graceland in Memphis. When pulling into the parking lot of Graceland, make sure you are listening to Graceland by Paul Simon. It makes it more exciting. Also, when you're going through the tour, don't listen to the headphones they give you. They're dumb.
From there, we drove to Nashville. If you go to a bar called The Twin Kegs, make sure you play some good music. Kelly won over the regulars playing cards in the corner when she played Long Tall Woman in a Black Dress by The Hollies. That's become our go-to jukebox song now.
Upon leaving Tennessee, if you happen to see the signs that tell you to go to the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Aquarium, be warned! It's about 30 miles out of the way in Gatlinburg! Also, don't distract your driver by yelling "Holy shit, Kelly, look! Ten dollar helicopter rides!" This resulted in a small accident, where no one was injured, but the gear shift in Kelly's car ... shifted. Park was reverse, reverse was neutral, neutral was drive, blah blah blah. We had to manually override the gear shift every time we started the car. EVERY TIME WE STARTED THE CAR.
Our initial plan was to go to Virginia Beach, but we went to Richmond instead. It was raining. Hot traveling tip #1: DON'T GO TO RICHMOND, VA WHEN IT'S RAINING.
I absolutely recommend researching highways and biways before going on a trip. I was the navigator on the way from Virginia to South Carolina and had the genius idea to go the scenic route so we could drive along the coast. The only problem is from Wilmington, North Carolina to Charleston, South Carolina, there are so many kitschy, touristy shops built up, you can't see the ocean! We finally got off the state route and drove in the general direction of the ocean until we saw it.
Hot traveling tip #2: Charleston apparently shuts down at 10pm. So if you've been driving for hours, and all you want is something to eat, you won't find it. During the day, Charleston is beautiful. The architecture is very charming and there are tons of old graveyards with pirates' graves!
Folly Beach is also a beautiful place. BUT, even if you're German, Polish and Irish ... the most pale person in the world ... the sun will still get you! I was so burnt after accidentally falling asleep on the beach, that some dude asked me if I even attempted to put sunscreen on. When I got into a bathtub filled with cold water, I saw steam. Hot traveling tip #3: Always, ALWAYS wear sunscreen.
Savannah was probably one of our favorite places. The weather was beautiful, all the trees were covered in spanish moss, there were parks everywhere and EVERY BAR HAD TO-GO BEERS. You walk in, order a beer and they say, "For here or to go?" There was, also, a bar that sold 40's for $5. They even put it in a paper bag for you for proper 40 drinking etiquette.
When traveling from Georgia to Louisiana, you have to go through Florida. Florida sucks. Don't go to Florida. I got pulled over for going 85 in a 70 and the cop gave me a $251 ticket. The price of this ticket is blowing my mind. Florida truly sucks.
New Orleans. Here's what I learned in New Orleans: Never stay in a hostel with a Brazilian woman. Don't let her Euro-charm fool you, she is nuts. This woman told both Kelly and I, at separate times, about her relations with the hostel night guy. She then told us that if he says anything to us, not to tell him that she told us anything... riiiiiight.
We quickly ran off to get away from her because we realized she wasn't going to stop talking. We made our way down to the French Quarter, then back to the hostel. Crazy Pants was still there. She was wandering around in her underwear, packing and unpacking her suitcases while telling us her life story. We made up some excuse to get out of there, and headed for a bar.
After a few hours of drinking, we made our back to the hostel. Thankfully, Crazy Pants was gone! Kelly and I climbed into our bunk beds and tried to fall asleep. We realized a few moments later that we wouldn't be sleeping any time soon because the other lady that was sharing a room with us was snoring sooooo loud. Hot traveling tip #4: When staying in hostels, it's probably a good idea to bring earplugs.
I do remember dozing off for a moment, but was awakened when Crazy Pants stumbled into the room with some guy. She was rambling about taking her medicine to help her stand up, when both her feet came out from underneath her! Then, the police showed up, shining their flashlights into our room, telling Crazy Pants that she either needed to leave or go to bed! Everyone that was in the room was clearly awakened by the noise, because Saw Logs McGee stopped snoring at this point. But we all kept quiet and pretended to be asleep so Crazy Pants wouldn't talk to us.
For whatever reason, the police and the dude left, leaving our dorm door open and the light on. A few moments later, the dude came back! He said he just wanted to check on Crazy Pants. She asked him to get into bed with her, which he declined, then she asked him to take off her pants, which he THANKFULLY declined. She went on about being scared for her life because of some other guy, but when the dude left, she asked him to leave the door open... There must be some sort of cultural difference. Maybe if a Brazilian woman feels threatened by someone, she makes absolutely sure that she feels the opposite of safe and secure. Maybe it helps them keep their guard up so their not vulnerable.
At this point, I could take no more. I finally got up and shut the door. I told her we were all awake and we heard what happened and that we all needed to go to bed. She informed me about the guy trying to kill her... uuuhh, whoever that is ...and I assured her that no one would do anything to her with four other girls in the room and with THE DOOR SHUT AND LOCKED. I crawled into bed and tried to quickly fall asleep but the Snore Queen beat me to it.
After about an hour of sleep, Kelly and I woke up and gathered our stuff together. As we were on our way out, Crazy Pants asked if she could come with us.
When traveling from Louisiana through Texas, that's it. You only go through those two states. The Southwest portion of Louisiana sucks, too. Kelly got pulled over going 83 in a 70, but her ticket was only $139. And then as the police officer walked away, he said "Keep it under 80" with a real thick, deep south southern accent. This made us giggle. Then we held a baby alligator, which made us pretty happy. I guess the Southwest portion of Louisiana isn't too bad.
After driving around for hours on I-35 in Austin, Kelly and I got a 12 pack of Coors Original, found a Motel 6 and watched Bring It On. The second night was much better. Kelly found a show to go to at a place called Stubb's. It was a band we both liked, and the bar had free beer for a limited time! We decided Austin was probably a great place to live, but a horrible place to visit.
When we were heading out, we took state routes the entire way and listened to Old 97's. The small towns we passed through were pretty weird, but everything in between was beautiful.
Hot traveling tip #5: DON'T GO TO THE ROSWELL UFO MUSEUM. It sucks. I got the stink eye from the old man behind the counter because I wanted to buy a ticket with my credit card. The museum is filled with old newspaper articles and X-Files posters. Oh, and a framed VHS copy of the made-for-tv movie 'Roswell' starring Kyle Maclachlan of Twin Peaks. To quote Kelly, "There's not even a shirt that says, I got abducted by aliens and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."
Albuquerque seemed to be a cool place. There is a very nice hostel called Route 66 Hostel. If you go to Albuquerque, stay there. This is a serious recommendation.
As soon as we hit the Arizona state line, we saw signs telling us about a dinosaur park. Don't get your hopes up, there isn't one. There is, however, a 20-foot tall paper-mache T-Rex next to a paper-mache ostrich that is probably 15-feet tall.
Here is another serious recommendation: if you're driving west on I-40 in Arizona and heading towards the Grand Canyon, get off in Flagstaff. Head north on state route 89 then head west again on state route 64. It's real puuuurty.
Hot traveling tip #6: Try not to get lost finding the biggest canyon in the United States. Kelly and I wandered for awhile before finally stumbling upon it. No joke.
Our first stop in California was Escondido, a northern suburb of San Diego. Hot traveling tip #7: When staying with friends, listen to them when they tell you to go out the front door. Kelly's friends, Amy and Jonathon, had gone to work early one morning. Kelly and I woke up around 9am and decided to go out to the car to grab our laundry. Against Amy's advice, we made our way towards the back door. As we walked through the kitchen door, into a pantry-like room, Kelly noticed the antique french doors leading outside could only be opened with a key. I did not notice this and shut the kitchen door behind me, locking us inside the pantry-like room. We did not have our phones, Kelly was not wearing her contacts and we were still in our pajamas.
We were trapped for eight hours. But it wasn't so bad. We began trying to send Amy and Jonathon psychic messages, trying to tell one of them to take a half-day and come home. We tried to nap on a linoleum floor, using big CostCo bags as blankets. We played Apples to Apples, but played like it was the card game War. We talked about our trip. There would be short silences that would be broken when one of us would start laughing and saying "I CAN'T BELIEVE WE DID THIS".
As soon as 5pm rolled around, I was up on my feet, staring out the window. When the car pulled up in the driveway, I told Kelly and we both were dancing around clapping our hands. We were like two puppies locked in a cage all day, excited for their owners to come home. That was probably the most ridiculous thing that happened on the trip.
Remember the accident that happened two days after we left that had Kelly's gear shift all in a tizzy? Well, Jonathon asked if we had thought about pushing the gear shift all the way down to L, to see if maybe that would knock it back into place. We had thought about it, but were nervous to try. He did it, and the car works fine now.
After a few days there, we made our way up to Los Angeles. We spent a few hours tooling around, then headed to Santa Monica to see more friends. Our friends, Kindra and Bill, took us around the town. Hot traveling tip #8: Wear super comfortable shoes when walking around Venice Beach. Bill figured that we had walked 9 miles, which resulted in me having to walk on the sides of my feet because I had blisters. The drive from Santa Monica to Oakland is beautiful. We drove along state route 1, which took us right along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Hot traveling tip #9: Don't get gas in the mountains. Or if you do, only get a little bit. I paid almost $5 a gallon!!
Finally after two weeks and three days, we made it to Oakland. Oakland is a pretty cool place. This statement is meant in both ways. It's awesome and quite chilly. The entire time I was there, it was in the upper 60's. I loved it, but Kelly is a true Midwesterner and missed her super humid days in Chicago. I kept trying to remind her that when we're all freezing our asses off during the ridiculous Midwest winter, mid- to upper 60's and non-humid days won't be so bad.
After 10 days, it was time for me to say good bye. It was quite bittersweet. I missed my family and friends back in Illinois, but as soon as I got back, I knew that I would immediately start missing Kelly! Right before I left, Kelly was chatting with her mom. She told Kelly that before I left, we should talk about our trip in case there were things that one of us forgot. For the rest of the time, and even still now, we said things like "Hey, remember when we found that cat in New Orleans?" or "Remember when we went to that A's game?" It started off as a joke, but it makes me smile every time.
So, now I'm back, safe and sound. Kelly and her boyfriend, Jordan are settled into their new apartment in Oakland, CA. The trip was a success. Lots of things went wrong, lots of things went right and everything was awesome. This trip (here it comes, here's the cliche comment) changed my life. It changed who I am as a person. Hot traveling tip #10: Do it. Take a ridiculous trip and let it happen. It's the best thing that could ever happen to a person.
My favorite "Hey, remember when..." from Kelly: "Hey, remember our road trip?"