Hi everyone! I’m sorry that nobody feels like blogging on this trip. Brian has a cold, Tim has been dealing with business stuff in the evenings, and I’ve retired from blogging these trips, as I get overly into it and it takes me too many hours and stresses me out. But I know people are clamoring for some content, so here is a quick update.
Everything is going well! Brian, Nancy and I made the 11-hour drive from Media to Bar Harbor on Saturday. Somehow those two found the perfect book-on-tape equivalent of all the middlebrow British detective shows they watch, and listening to it helped the time pass quickly. It’s called The Magpie Murders, and I think I know who did it.
Tim arrived early Sunday afternoon, and Tim and Dad biked up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. They said it was a tough but rewarding ride. Mom and I accidentally got onto the wrong bus in Bar Harbor and ended up going into the park, too, so we got to see some of it.
On Monday the guys rode from Bar Harbor to Belfast. They didn’t complain about the ride so I guess it went fine, though Dad ran out of liquids and was dehydrated. He drank four Cokes at dinner, approximately 64 ounces of Coke.
Yesterday they had a grueling ride from Belfast to Brunswick. Tim got a flat and Dad ran out of liquids again. It took them around nine hours, and I felt a little bad that Mom and I were sitting on rocking chairs on the veranda sipping gin and tonics, flaunting our luxurious life of leisure, by way of greeting them.
We had a fantastic dinner at the hotel restaurant, then moved to the bar to watch the Phillies game, which happened to be on TV only because the Phils were playing the Red Sox. Nola pitched well, and they won 3-2.
We seriously tied one on, though, and I can’t remember paying the bar tab. Mom blacked out as well, as she can’t remember leaving the bar or getting back to her room. I also don’t remember this picture being taken:
Here are some other photos Dad and I have taken so far. Tim also has some good ones which he’ll probably make me upload at some point.
The morning of our last day didn’t feel particularly charged or different to me. We went through our standard drill, watching political coverage on the news over bowls of cereal in another Holiday Inn Express breakfast lounge, same as it ever was.
I’m gonna miss this.
My dad had had an upset stomach overnight, so I offered him some off-brand Imodium I’d made a friend buy for me in a hotel lobby in Kansas City. Dad had never used such medication before (I learned with surprise), so I had a hunch it would be especially effective.
From the hotel hallway: It’s a mess out there
“Bye, Mom!” (sniffle)
The day began cool and only got cooler and grayer, a bummer for their very last southern tier trek. It was a short ride, though, and the guys expected to be in St. Augustine around noon. I kicked around in the room for a bit, then packed up and headed out of Palatka.
The drive was flat and cloudy. I tried to savor it, but my heart couldn’t fully comprehend that this was the last time I’d be doing this.
Final moments of cross-country solitude
I wasn’t sure where we would actually be meeting beyond “at the water,” but I tried to time my drive so that I’d make it to St. Augustine at the same time as the boys, checking Dad’s location through our GPS app. GPS tracking of other humans might be creepy in theory, but it’s also really useful, and sometimes I wish all my friends had it.
I made a quick stop at a small grocery store for beer and a bag of never-to-be-eaten chips. Most of the other customers were college-age stoners, probably students at nearby Flagler College. The person in front of me got carded and I did not, but I consoled myself with the memory of being carded the day before. When I got back to the car I saw that Dad and the gang were now in downtown St. Augustine. I still didn’t know their plan and was now a few miles behind them. I headed in their direction.
My first impressions of downtown were of congestion. Cars and tourists clogged roads; traffic crawled. Some of the crowded scene looked charming, some less so. I began to get antsy. The guys started moving away from town in search of the Atlantic Ocean. I continued my slow pursuit, eventually halted by a drawbridge.
The bridge is up
Dad finally called while I was stuck on the bridge and told me to follow signs for Anastasia State Park. They would wait there and we’d head to the water as a team. Finally I started getting excited. This was it. They had really done this. The chance of a trip-ending catastrophe now was essentially zero. They’d made it.
I arrived at the park entrance just as Dad was paying the fee. He biked alongside Onyx for a while and we chatted a bit, mainly about the miraculous power of Imodium. Dad was in a great mood, and it made me happy to see him feeling so good. After a couple minutes he appropriately broke away to rejoin his brothers and Matt for the very final moments of their ride.
Here’s a shaky video of the homestretch (culminating in me trying to get out of the car without having put it in park, then running to catch up with them):
I caught up with them.
Bringing the bikes to the water
The symbolic dipping of the tires in the ocean felt genuinely momentous. The brothers had left San Diego on March 2, 2012, four years and two days before, with no solid sense of what this experience would be like; they had yet to face chip seal roads, intense headwinds, nerve-wracking bridges, dog chases, falls, achy and sleep-deprived nights; they had yet to encounter the otherworldly beauty of the desert, the lawlessness of the southwest, the quaintness of Texan towns, the friendliness of Floridian bike routes, the singular charm of America as viewed by bicycle. The one thing they did expect was a lot of laughter, and laughs were certainly plentiful.
The bike trip sort of took place out of time, six stretches of eight or nine days punctuated by many months of not-the-bike-trip. Many people who cycle across the southern tier do it in a single go, and I imagine the physical accomplishment feels especially profound upon reaching the Atlantic after two straight months on a bicycle. But I think the passage of four years grants additional weight to the brothers’ accomplishment; they started out old and they were four whole years older by the time they finished.
Seriously, I am so proud of all of you. I know it wasn’t easy but you made it look like it was.
We took pictures on the cold beach and spent a few minutes admiring the coast and the clouds. The wind blew my scarf and hair around. I let the tide splash around my feet and found the water surprisingly warm. Finally we headed for the hotel. We were all famished.
When we got there, though, we learned our rooms wouldn’t be ready for a while, some for a couple hours. The guys got to work dissembling their bikes outside while I ate snacks.
Breaking down the bikes
The room delay made it so that we never got to have a proper post-ride beer, but we’d soon make up for it.
After showering with some shower beers, Matt, Tim, and Mark headed out to meet up with Matt’s father-in-law, who happened to be in town. Dad and I strolled around a bit and landed in an Irish pub for a late lunch. It was Friday during Lent. Dad wanted a cheeseburger and I wasn’t about to remind him of the no-meat rule. Mark showed up a little later and had his own cheeseburger, then we headed to Castillo de San Marcos, a fort built by the Spanish in the seventeenth century primarily to protect St. Augustine from the threat of British siege.
Castillo de San Marcos
Palm trees at the fort
We walked around the outside of the fort — I noted that two teenage girls who were taking selfies when we arrived were still at it when we left twenty minutes later — then met up with Tim and Matt. They were ready for dinner. So were Mark and Brian, despite having eaten less than an hour before.
We settled in to an empty steakhouse and enjoyed a very satisfying meal. During dinner I took out my audio recorder and asked the guys to talk about what they’d learned about themselves on the trip. I’ve got at least one more entry to write and will include some clips with my final reflections.
The sun sets on the cathedral
The weather improved as the day grew older. We meandered around the agreeably kitschy streets of St. Augustine, stopping for ice cream, taking in the tourist scene, eventually ending up in the lounge of our hotel, the Hilton. The Hilton was our splurgiest spot of the trip, but it was worth it (said the person who didn’t pay for any of this).
And then all of us except for wise Mark proceeded to get plastered in the low-key way that Sullivans do.
Fireside drinkfest — can you feel the energy?
We had a truly cozy and wonderful time. This picture doesn’t do the setting justice, but there’s a fire behind Dad and a TV in front of Tim, and the lounge feels like a wholly different space from the fluorescent hall in the background. The television was tuned to incessant insane election coverage, and it felt good to agree with these GOPers about the direction our country should (or at least shouldn’t) take. We talked about other things, too, but who remembers what now. Well, I do remember lighting into Matt for not being willing to divulge how much money he makes — sorry, Matt! — but aside from that it was all good vibes. It was a proper celebration of the cyclists’ grand achievement, and while I would regret it a little the next morning, I don’t in the long run.
My room at the B&B was nice, one of the nicest in our entire journey, with windows on two sides, a plush king bed, and a large sitting room that I didn’t want to mess up by sitting in it.
And yet, as I am wont to do, I awoke in the middle of the night. I had left my bulky suitcase in Onyx, taking a fresh change of clothes in my backpack, and at 1:00 a.m. I decided that I’d forgotten to lock the minivan and that High Springs was full of wily teens who like to check whether car doors are unlocked and grab whatever they find. Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself, but an hour later this thought still kept poking at me. I contemplated going outside to make sure Onyx was locked, but I didn’t want to own up to actually believing this silliness. So I did the next best thing and held the fob under my chin — I’ve heard this is supposed to make the signal carry farther — and hit the lock button three times. The car was a couple hundred feet away, but I thought I detected a faint locking beep in the distance.
The B&B lady graciously accommodated the guys’ requests for an early breakfast. I opted to have my breakfast later, though, because I could tell she wanted me to, and I didn’t mind waiting till a normal hour. The men had a feast — ham and egg sandwiches, fruit, tomatoes (which I know are a fruit), who knows what else. I wasn’t paying close attention as I sat with them and drank coffee. They were happy with it.
The whole gang. This is one of my favorite photos of them.
After I saw them off I settled in for my own feast: bacon, tomatoes, a muffin, some kind of savory bread, and an egg and cheese casserole. It was great. I wish I’d been able to eat the entire thing. I wish I could eat it right now. I took the muffin with me in a little baggie and a week later found it smushed in the bottom of my purse. Gross.
Breakfast of champion
A leisurely breakfast can be intensely relaxing; it establishes the tone for the day while postponing all serious matters, helping to render them less urgent. And though I often have no truly serious matters to contend with, I usually feel like I do. I fed myself cheese and read a local paper while a CD of piano rags played in the background. My life was right.
Eventually the lady came in to chat. I’d felt wary of her before, thinking she was, not to put it mildly, an uptight killjoy, but we had a good conversation and I hereby reverse my impression. She had been a trial lawyer in Miami before deciding to buy the bed and breakfast, and I admire anyone who makes a dramatic life change in middle age. She liked the slow pace of life in High Springs, but she missed the urbanity and culture of Miami. I asked her about the challenges of running a B&B, and she said it’s very hard to go out because she always needs to be available if a guest locks himself out or needs help. And because she and her husband live in the house, she feels like she has very little privacy. She said she’s ready for a move in the way I talk about making changes to my own career — the way that indicates one is not yet at the point of doing anything about it. We also talked a little about my experience on the trip, and it impressed me that she intuited and sympathized with the demands of my role as handler. B&B lady, whom I’m not naming because I don’t want to make you feel bad with my initial negative impression: I like you and wish you luck.
My horoscope in the paper said that someone would question my integrity that day, and I immediately decided that it had to do with the olive oil store. The day before, after having two beers and many tortilla chips, I accompanied the guys into town for their bike store run. But I didn’t go to the bike store; I went to the olive oil store, because it was an olive oil store, and that meant samples. Upon entering I was offered a full tour, and during the tour I learned that the store had just opened the very day before. It was a two-day-old olive oil store, and the owner was an extremely sweet woman in her 60s who was still learning how to operate a cash register.
I had buzzedly sampled some very, very good olive oil and vinegar and wanted to take home four tiny bottles of different varieties. The owner said that the tiny bottles were due in the next morning before the store opened at 11 a.m. I told them I would be back. But as I left I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be back, because by the next morning I might not feel the same beneficent desire to support a new business and the same intoxicated need for olive oil I wouldn’t have any use for.
But the day’s horoscope was meant to make me a better person, I decided — at the time it didn’t cross my mind that this meant someone else would question my integrity, once I eliminated the olive oil store owner — so, after checking out of the B&B, I drove into town with the intention to waste time until 11 a.m.
High Springs has a railroad museum behind its police station, so I headed there first. It was closed. I walked around a bit and took a couple photos of churches:
Then I wandered into other stores along Main Street, growing increasingly ambivalent about upholding my integrity. The stores were boring.
I wish I weren’t the type of traveler who values being on the road, being in motion, more than the stops along the way. When there’s a destination ahead, all I want to do is get there; I don’t like waiting or stopping. But so often I’ve whizzed by small attractions, fighting with myself to stop the car, sensing I’m missing out on something memorable. It’s a constant cycle of ambition, missed opportunities, chastisement, peace.
The world fascinates me. (Antique store, High Springs)
It turned eleven o’clock eventually, the way it always does, and I went back to the olive oil store. “You’re back!” the owner said. Integrity redeemed.
I asked about the tiny bottles. She said they were still in Jacksonville but would get there later that day. So I decided to buy a single smallish bottle of their Tuscan olive oil, which was just divine, and order other varieties by phone later, which of course I’m not going to do. I am intentionally not linking to their website because it is bad and you can’t buy anything there. The store itself is attractive and thoughtfully constructed and I hope it succeeds.
The short drive took me through Gainesville, birthplace of Tom Petty, and so I listened to his songs the whole way. As Petty has said in so many words, Gainesville isn’t so great. It struck me as congested and flavorless, one of the standard varieties of smallish American cities.
My route diverged from that of the bikers, so I didn’t stop to meet them along the way and made it to the Holiday Inn Express before one o’clock. The nice woman who checked me in had an intriguing and familiar European accent, but I couldn’t place it. I asked her where she was from. “Poland,” she said, and I felt ashamed of my ignorance, having lived in a Polish neighborhood for three years.
After settling in I made a quick drive out to the supermarket to pick up snacks. We were staying outside of downtown Palatka, and our part of town seemed quiet and just a little downtrodden. At the supermarket I hovered in front of the rows of beer, and another woman around my age soon did the same. She told me she was looking for New Belgium Snapshot (a wheat variety with an illustration of a vintage camera on the label) but they never have it in stock anymore. I told her to talk to the manager. “I bet they’d order it for you,” I said, wise in my knowledge of the workings of supermarkets circa 1997.
Next stop, pool time:
Matt has just told Tim to suck in his tummy for his beefcake shot
The water was cold, but that didn’t stop them from going in. Here, Matt shows off how he can kind of do a flip:
Sorry for the shaky camera, I couldn’t see what I was doing because it was so bright.
The evening’s early dinner took place at the Italian Latin Grill, a homey restaurant serving both Italian and, yes, Latin cuisine, run by a nice-seeming older couple. We drank glasses of wine. I enjoyed my plate of ravioli until I got full and gave the rest to Mark. It was starting to dawn on all of us that our journey was almost over, and we talked a bit about highs and lows — best and worst hotels, food, towns, roads.
Back at the Holiday Inn Express I recorded Tim’s reading from Crossing the Borderlands, which is not worth publishing but definitely worth keeping. It turned out to be the last one he did. We never entirely finished the book! I guess we have to redo it all again and get it right this time.
Hotel Art of the Day
La Petite liseuse, ou Jeune bergère assise et lisant
(Little readers,orYoungshepherdesssittingand reading)
1855-1861, Oil on canvas (print, of course)
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot B&B, High Springs, FL
Hotel Art Score
10/10. I was surprised and moved to encounter this. In my first assignment in my first high school art class, the teacher had us copy this painting twice, once in color and once in brown sienna. I will always feel attached to this work because it touched off an era of curiosity, growth, and self expression. Never have I felt more encouraged to make art, and specifically to make art in the way that feels natural to me, than in Archmere’s art building.
Art Art Score
7.5/10. I’m not really able to look at this objectively, but I find it pleasing. I like the brightness of the whites, the stripes on the skirt, the tranquility of it. It’s modest and peaceful.
I didn’t get the best sleep at the Best Western in Madison. I woke up early and cranky, annoyed at those @*$%! fat pillows and at having to use a 20-year-old bathroom with its ugly brown speckled sink and ugly old shower. Woe was me.
I went down to breakfast ahead of our scheduled meetup time and found Mark, Tim, and Matt already halfway through their meals. The Sullivans reverse the standard party arrival etiquette; it’s cooler to be at least 15 minutes early.
“Is your dad okay?” Matt asked me.
“Well, it’s still not even seven yet,” I said. Technically none of us was supposed to be here.
The night before, Chris Christie had stood awkwardly behind Donald Trump at a press conference, and Fox News — it still semi-astounds me that any establishment would make Fox News its default TV channel — was playing clips of the conference.
Dad arrived just as the others were finishing up. He expressed disappointment and surprise in Christie’s support of Trump and in the early birdism of his brothers.
The view outside my window was way better than my room; note swamp in the background
When everyone was in the parking lot prepping to head out, I received a sign from the universe that it would be a good day.
This big birdlike creature was hanging out by itself in a not particularly clean field next to the hotel. What a strange thing to see! I didn’t even know what it was at first (I’m terrible at identifying plants and animals) and guessed it was an ostrich. Matt jokingly proposed that it was an emu, and Wikipedia confirmed that he was right.
How could any day with an emu sighting turn out to be bad? Famous last words, I know, but I just had a feeling about this.
Despite the gloomy sky their future is bright
Hotel hallway shot featuring emu in its habitat
After the bikers departed I extended my hotel checkout time and partook in a conference call. Everything went smoothly because I was now operating on emu power. Here’s a secret thing about me: when I see a bunny rabbit out in the world, I think of it as equivalent to getting a power-up heart in a video game. It’s called bunnergy. I take energy away from the bunny when I see it, but not enough to deplete the bunny in any significant way. The emu equivalent of bunnergy was like a 10x power-up.
On the drive, which also went smoothly, I relistened to a chapter from The Acceptance World because of some technical difficulties, but it turned out to be fortuitous, because it was the chapter in which the concept of the acceptance world was explained, and I hadn’t really understood it the first time. You don’t care what it is now but I think many of you (is anyone still reading?) would enjoy this novel.
I met up with the guys around lunchtime. Just behind Onyx in this picture are some horse stables, and both Tim and Brian noticed them at different times and asked whether they used to be a motel.
Speaking of horse lodging, were going to be staying in a B&B that night, and it had a check-in time of 4 p.m. B&Bs, I’ve learned, are fairly inflexible about check-in times. The guys were going to arrive around two o’clock, so during our pit stop I decided to call the owner and see if we could check in early. I told her we really only needed one room by then so that the guys could shower. She seemed like a high strung sort of person and told me they couldn’t all shower in the same room. I said, “Well, not at the same time, obviously!” I’m not sure what her reservation was — maybe she didn’t want to mix up the towels? Too much water usage from one room? Anyway, she thought that four rooms would be ready by then, and that sounded fine.
I had to kill about 45 minutes when I got to High Springs. Fortunately High Springs is very quaint and walkable. The town’s population is about 5,500, but it draws visitors who like to scuba dive, canoe, swim, and fish in the nearby Santa Fe and Itchetucknee Rivers. It was about 75 degrees that day, and I would have been happy to canoe down a river, but I was just as happy to wander around the town.
SERIOUSLY, WHO DID WHAT
High Springs Playhouse
I dipped into one of the many antique shops that line the main street and took my time looking at stuff, eventually finding an old card game called Flinch for $2. It was created in 1905 and is still being produced, though I’d never heard of it. My version is from 1951 and has great type.
The B&B was on what passed for a busy street in High Springs, and I initially passed it and kept driving to see how far the historic district went. Not far. I looped back, pulling up at two o’clock on the dot. I was met by the husband of the woman from my phone call, an amiably smug fellow who predicted that by the time the guys arrived I’d be sitting on the front porch enjoying a gin and tonic. This sounded very appealing, but it was not to be. Midway through the house tour — soon after I met the woman and witnessed a tense exchange between husband and wife about where to store the bikes, after which she disappeared to her office and he put his arm around my waist and told me conspiratorially never to get married — the gang appeared. They sweatily but patiently listened to the entertaining but long-winded house rules, their need for beer growing more palpable by the minute.
Everyone’s bike had had some kind of problem that day, so our post-ride snack session turned into bike tune-up time. I cheerfully ate tortilla chips and fetched beers as needed.
Working on bikes in the backyard
We walked into town to get some bike parts, then settled into our rooms until dinnertime.
Dinner was at the just-right Great Outdoors Restaurant, which by five o’clock was already filling up. The atmosphere was great, the food was plenty good, and we all felt so glad to be outside on a warm night. A couple guys played country, Mark’s and my favorite style of music. Honestly, that was pretty good, too. Thanks, emu.
Back home for one of the last sessions of Tim reading “Conquering the Borderlands”
Hotel Art of the Day
Best Western, Madison, Florida
Hotel Art Score
7/10. The picture isn’t great so you can’t see the technique too well, but it’s got a nice illustrated style, and the background feels like an imagined mental space. The painting feels like a still from an arty animation. I like it.
The Home2 Suites breakfast bar offered the novelty of little wrapped sandwiches that could be microwaved and enjoyed. In normal life I eat a yogurt for breakfast, but when in Tallahassee I eat a sausage and cheese on English muffin in order to start the day with as many unneeded calories as possible. It was delicious, and it touched off a spate of Brad Pitt-style snacking that I’ve found impossible to curtail.
Today in hotel hallways
Tim has an angelic glow as he watches Brian and Matt affix a brake light to Brian’s bike
Matt has arrived to add a little color to the proceedings
Parting shot of the stylish Home2 Suites living room with unfortunate artwork
I made another Walmart stop before leaving town. The aisle with the big jugs of water was cleaned out, and I hesitated, trying to figure out which type of water to get, since the kind the guys usually get wasn’t there.
“Ma’am, look to your left,” a voice said. It came from youngish employee a few yards in front of me.
I have just now in sharing this realized I looked to my right in response. I thought he was telling me that there was a lot more water to the right, across from where I was looking. There was, but it was all in small bottles.
“No,” I said, “I’m looking for like, big…” I held my hands a foot apart to indicate big.
“No, there was a bird up there,” he said.
“A bird?” I looked to my right again, up at the high ceiling. I saw no bird, probably because it was to my left. “Crazy,” I said, even though I didn’t think it was crazy. You should see Port Authority, I thought, but I felt like I might have to explain too much. He started walking away but glanced back, I guess to see if I was going to say anything else. I felt bad for letting him down. He just wanted to share the bird moment with someone and I was too preoccupied to connect.
Today in pretty Floridian roadways
It was another good, though brief, drive. Florida, you’re so pleasant! Who knew! I timed my departure perfectly and arrived at the Best Western at exactly the same time as the bikers.
Our best lodging option in Madison was a Best Western. It could have been worse, but Best Westerns are my least favorite places to stay. They’re independently owned, so they’re very inconsistent — except when it comes to their pillows, which are of the dreaded puffy variety. Anyway, they usually feel stodgy and have weird furniture and outdated bathrooms. Madison’s Best Western was no different, though its warm paint colors tried to cover up its deficits.
Party time at the B.W.
Dinner was at a decent Mexican place in Madison proper. I ordered an enchilada and a taco. I thought the taco would be soft shell but it wasn’t, and I accepted it with silent grace. The men all ordered dessert, but I abstained because my non-stop snacking from earlier had left me with no room.
We strolled around downtown Madison a bit after dinner. Small towns throughout America almost all seem to be in a transitional place; you can tell they used to be thriving, but at some point in the past thirty or forty years, things went downhill. Now many of them are slowly climbing back to viability, but they each need to redefine what viability means.
Best restaurant in town
Best courthouse in town
Snap to it
Hotel Art of the Day
Words That Mean Home
Home2 Suites, Tallahassee
Hotel Art Score
1/10. This is an idiotic piece of crap and I completely hate it. The inclusion of the word “hospice” here feels especially thoughtless, though it might not have been intended that way. Juxtaposed against the “whimsical” paint treatment, though, it makes me think that the words were chosen almost randomly. The thing I loved about Home2 was that it was meeting a lot of needs I didn’t even know I was allowed to have as a traveler: it had a very effective blackout curtain, Kohler bathroom fixtures, a kitchen sink with dish soap, the aforementioned fridge and recycling bins. Everything felt carefully considered. I think this art is just a misstep; it’s got “groovy style,” with that wooden backboard and textured crackly paint, but it doesn’t have any humanity. I think I hate it so much because I’m afraid that stuff like this will proliferate in the culture until we’ve all forgotten what it feels like to have our hearts actually moved by a work of art. It’s a stand-in for real feelings, an avoidance of them.
Art Art Score
0/10. You heard me. I see that it’s signed but I don’t feel like trying to look it up.
Now that I’m a hotel veteran, my quality of sleep usually has little to do with the place — unless the pillows are especially puffy (Does anyone like puffy pillows? What is wrong with you, if so?) — and mainly to do with my state of mind. But I’ve noticed that I generally prefer rooms with the window on my left (mimicking my own bedroom’s layout) or, even better, facing me. At the Fairfield Inn in Marianna, an okay but entirely forgettable hotel, the window was on my right. Everything just feels a little wrong when the window is on the right. I woke up at 4 a.m., noted that everything felt wrong, violated my “don’t check your phone” rule, then fell asleep for two more hours.
Mark’s bright headlight helps keep everybody safe
Hotel hallway shot of the day
My first order of business after checking out of the Fairfield Inn was to head to Walmart to pick up supplies. It was a beautiful, warm day; I felt very happy and floaty while I was in the store, like I was gliding instead of walking. The older woman manning the self check-out (or rather womanning it) chatted with me about the nice weather and said she wanted to run barefoot through a field of clover. It took me a few seconds to understand what she’d said because a) it was an unusual thing to say and b) her southern accent was very strong. “You should!” I told her. Good luck finding a field of clover in Marianna, Florida.
It’s nice, on a road trip, to be able to mix music with someone talking to you. On Monday’s drive I listened to a recording Andy made of a chapter from A Dance to the Music of Time, which is very British and engrossing. And long. We’re on volume three of twelve.
Our lodging for Monday night was Tallahassee’s Home2 Suites by Hilton, a brand new hotel and a pretty brand new brand, as far as I can tell. It’s a competitor in the extended stay market, and it’s nice. It feels like it was conceived in this century, which ironically means it has a lot of midcentury modern design touches. I was particularly pleased to see recycling bins in the rooms; one of my biggest frustrations about hotels is that it’s impossible to know whether they recycle. I always assume they don’t and just carry a constant mild guilt.
I was also pleased to find that the room had a full-sized fridge. I’d been worrying that the beer I’d bought in Marianna would, by Tallahassee, be too warm for Tim, but when I walked in and saw the freezer, I thought, “Jackpot.” The beer would be chilled to perfection.
The rooms in Home2 Suites all look something like this
The guys didn’t have an especially long ride that day, and I hadn’t been in the room long before they arrived. While everyone else took a nap Dad and I headed downtown for some tourism. On my trip in the fall I passed through many state capitals, but I regrettably only made it to a couple of capitol buildings. I am a fan of capitol buildings; I feel like their atmosphere can’t help but influence the tenor of the proceedings within them, and seeing them gives me an illusion of insight into what it feels like to be an active part of our democracy.
The Florida Capitol building is an ugly Brutalist Lite structure from 1977, reminiscent of the reviled Verizon building in Manhattan, except with dolphins.
Dad and dolphins, Florida Capitol
It ain’t pretty, but it’s theirs
We peered into the disappointingly drab Senate chambers, then headed up to the main attraction, the wraparound observatory on the 22nd floor.
View of Tallahassee from the observatory
I found it an appealingly cold space
The Museum of Florida History was open for another fifteen minutes, so we headed over and walked through it briskly, exiting seven minutes before it closed. I think a broke a personal record for least time spent in a museum.
Early ads for citrus, from the Museum of Florida History
For dinner we walked across the hotel parking lot to Blaze Pizza, which is essentially pizza-based Chipotle. It was pretty good! I would definitely Blaze again.
Hotel Art of the Day
Fairfield Inn and Suites, Marianna, FL
Hotel Art Score
4/10. This makes me wonder how much money there is to be had in the hotel art business. I could make something like this out of my Instagrams and would gladly sell it to the hotel market. This piece isn’t someone’s personal work, I’m almost certain, but a melange of stock photos. I could do that, too! And I’d do a better job of it.
As a hotel art experience, it’s whatever. The main thing it has going for it is that it’s colorful.
Art Art Score
1/10? 2? I don’t know how to rate anything anymore. I’m looking at every individual shot and going, “Okay, okay, uh huh.” It’s like a game of Memory. I’ve got these down and am ready to go. But what does it all mean? Life is a marvel? Life is a meaningless array of patterns? Here are a few pictures I found on Getty?
I came into this trip with a very low opinion of Florida. Despite wishing unrelentingly that I could go to or live at Disney World from the ages of eight through thirteen, I currently find no romance in this state. It doesn’t have the otherworldliness of Arizona and New Mexico, the expansiveness of Texas, the Southern Gothic mythos of Mississippi. Florida, in my preconception, is old, sterile, corrupt, trashy, pastel, sad. It has some positives, sure — it’s the birthplace of Tom Petty, home to some interesting architecture, site of preseason baseball — but otherwise it’s a big, funny shape of wasteland.
I’m wrong, of course. How could it be mostly bad? (How could almost anything?) As a surgically modified but wise (I guess?) woman once said, “Beauty’s where you find it.”
On Sunday I found it out the window in the hotel hallway. Some of my favorite travel photos have been taken from hotel hallways, and I think such a project would make for a good coffee table book. Hotel Hallways: Windows to the Unexamined American Landscape would be the title, probably. Here’s what I’m talking about:
Early morning mist
Two hours later
Prettiest view of the day.
Second prettiest was the full team getting back on the road:
The full complement
Dad felt ready to ride, and so the men headed out for what might end up being their longest day of the leg, at over 90 miles.
Likewise, it was my first substantial drive of the trip. The journey is the thing, and I looked forward to getting back on the road for some soul-purifying solo time. It was a gorgeous day, warm and springlike. Onyx and I were pumped to be traveling together.
Given my anti-Florida bias, I wasn’t expecting its roads to be so lovely, to have such good foliage. It’s a little jarring, actually, to pass from beautiful roadways into dumpy towns and cities. If they can make this highway nice, why can’t they make everything else nice, too? It’s complicated, I get it. It just feels like a fakeout.
A lovely Floridian road
Brian and Tim during my pit stop along Route 90
Marianna is, or sure seems like, a dumpy town. We’ve passed through many a dump in our travels, but now that we’re in the east, the exoticism is gone. We’re from the east. We already know what everything is like here: slightly congested, slightly ugly, usually. There’s variation, sure, but it no longer feels like there’s anything new to discover. Surprise me, Florida.
Still, I landed at the hotel in a good mood. The trip was happening! My dad was okay! We were all doing this, this very last ride, together.
Hey, so where should we hang this? There aren’t many options… I guess behind the TV?
Chillin’ with my homies
We enjoyed a quick and hearty dinner at a local pub chain called Beef O’Brady’s. Afterward Tim (who was especially beat that day from being the pacer) and Mark retired, and Dad hung out to blog and half-watch the Oscars red carpet festivities. Then he went to bed and I stayed up for as long as I could. It was the first time in a while that I didn’t watch the entire broadcast. I was in Central time and still couldn’t handle it. So it goes in sleepy L6.
Hotel Art of the Day
Color print, ~30″ x 30″
Holiday Inn Express, Marianna, FL
Hotel Art Score
3/10. Inoffensive, but meaningless and very lame. Classic hotel art.
Thanks, everyone, for voting and for contributing all those name ideas. It was a very close race. Almost all of the options had two votes, and the winner had three.
The minivan’s name is the coolest-looking one: ONYX. It is pronounced ah-nix, in case any of the Sullivan Bros. need help with this.
Please claim credit for yourself in the comments if it was your idea. Or don’t.
Day 2: Pensacola to Crestview Saturday, February 27
On Friday night my sleep deficit combined with my massage after-effects to knock me out by 7:45, the earliest I’ve gone to bed in a long time. I figured I’d wake up around 5, feel spry, blog impressively for a couple hours, join the boys for breakfast, and head out into a sunny Pensacola morning for some tourism.
I woke up feeling ready to start the day at 2:15 a.m. Fine, I thought, I’ll get at least two-three more hours. Let me just check my phone first…
It is never a good idea to check your phone in the middle of the night. Just don’t do it.
I saw that my mom had sent me a message in our game of Words with Friends. Here is the message:
I have some not so good news – not terrible, but not good.
That was it. She’d naturally expected me to write back right away because it was so early when I last played her, and she’d made her next move immediately after I’d made mine. Still.
At first, in my half-asleep state, this idea of some not good news sat quietly on a stool in the corner of my brain. But of course it got up after a few minutes and started walking around. My grandmother had not terrible, but not good cancer. Something had happened to my niece or nephew. My mom had hit my car with hers. Something had happened to her car. What counts as not terrible but still bad?
To be fair, I didn’t just worry about the mysterious bad news. I had all kinds of thoughts for the next three hours, some of them of the “oh, that was kind of like a dream thought, I’m probably about to fall back to sleep, great, oh, but I just noticed it so probably not” variety. Technically it is not my mom’s fault that I never fell back to sleep. Technically.
The news is that one of my cousins on my mom’s side is getting a divorce.
Two on, one off
My dad decided to take the day off because he wanted to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. Over breakfast I agreed to go, too, but back in my room my bed seemed a lot more enticing than airplanes. I napped while he was at the museum. When he got back, we enjoyed a beer in my room while he told me about the museum. It was my favorite part of the day.
Dad and I went to Panera Bread for lunch before starting for Crestview. What I saw of Pensacola struck me as an unending stretch of strip malls, miles of bleak and disorderly commercial real estate. Much of America is like this, I know, but Pensacola takes it to a grotesque extreme.
After lunch we stopped at a Barnes and Noble and wandered around. Dad said he’d buy me something, and despite having over 100 unread books in my apartment, I couldn’t turn down that offer. I ended up with The Devil in the White City, nonfiction about the construction of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and a serial killer doctor who lured young women visiting the fair to their demise. Its author Erik Larson writes in that confident New Journalism prose style that everyone finds irresistible. I’m going to like it, even though sometimes I’m going to think, But how do you know that’s what he was thinking?
We arrived in Crestview and I promptly fell asleep for another two hours.
Yelp says The Wild Olive is the best restaurant in town, and I want nothing but the best for my uncles and dad, so I steered us there for dinner. The food had a fancy presentation, and it was good, but my working class dinners the previous two nights were actually better.
Hotel Art of the Day
A Musical Interlude
Photographs, ~12″ x 12″
Residence Inn, Pensacola
Hotel Art Score
4/10. Are you thinking about some really classy classical music right now? I should probably show the full array here, with the shelf that has two tasteful vases and model Woodie on it. Honestly I have nothing against these photos, or the wall display as a whole. It’s a simulation of a homey arrangement that just feels especially inauthentic. But so what!
Art Art Score
3/10. The photos aren’t bad, exactly; they just aren’t art. I find them amusingly dramatic.
For who knows what reason — work stress, old age, the presidential election — I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the past few weeks. On Thursday I woke up at 4:15, tallying five hours, and that was that. People’s bodies can get accustomed to lack of sleep, I know, but I don’t think it’s good for any of us. Eight hours or bust is what I always say!
During breakfast the Hampton Inn lounge played generic light pop and CNN at the same volume in a subtle commentary on media oversaturation. I read the Wall Street Journal, a paper I generally enjoy when I run across it, and have just now spent about ten minutes reading conflicting reports of its political bias. I detected no bias. Its crossword was fairly challenging, and by that I mean I haven’t finished it yet.
I hung out with my laptop till the guys arrived, then we headed for the Gulf Breeze Motel on Dauphin Island, speculating about the fates of Downton Abbey characters during the drive. Dauphin Island is a quiet coastal town; it reminded me a little of Chincoteague, minus the cutesy antique stores and coffee shops. For a chilly weekday in February the motel was surprisingly booked.
Time travel shot (TTS)
The guys got to work putting their bikes together while I ran out to a gas station for beer. By the time I got back twenty minutes later, Mark was all done and Tim was close to finished, but Brian was engaged in his standard bike-building struggle.
It’s never easy
We were all a little worried about my dad. He’d been sick for three weeks with a terrible cough that kept him from sleeping and thus getting better. He hadn’t exercised in a long time and had barely trained for the ride during the winter. He’d worked himself ragged and had reached a point where he didn’t even care whether he rode. At the motel he became increasingly frustrated with his bike, and eventually Mark offered to finish putting it together for him after we ate.
Dinner was at JT’s Sunset Grill, a modest family place with views of the water. I watched the sun set as Tim tried to slice a fried green tomato with a plastic knife (“Don’t fight it,” I told him). Our meals — delicious fresh fish, seasoned perfectly — were terrific. We talked through plans for the next day. It felt good to have the band back together.
Day 1 Friday, February 26
My mattress in the Gulf Breeze Motel was wonderfully firm and granted me seven decent hours of rest. Things had not gone as well for my dad, who was up most of the night coughing and worrying. “You don’t have to do this,” I said. But he needed to prove to himself that he could. So he headed out with his brothers, and I promised to rescue him if he needed it.
First day of the last ride
I just wouldn’t be able to rescue him between the hours of 11 and 1, because I’d booked a massage in Pensacola.
My massage therapist was a mild-looking man in his twenties, tall, black, with glasses. Was he cute, Beth? He was cute. But he seemed uncomfortable with the idea of saying words; he was nervous and overly formal, and I diagnosed him as feeling like he couldn’t be his real self at work. I wanted to ask him questions — “How long have you been doing this? Does it ever get boring? Does this music (it was distractingly bad) drive you crazy? Do people ever proposition you?” — but based on his distant responses to my initial attempts at small talk, I sensed any conversation would just make him feel more awkward. Maybe he went into this line of work in order to speak as little as possible.
I’d asked him to focus on my perpetually aching shoulders. He did, and I was grateful; sometimes massage therapists just run mindlessly through their routine. As part of this he asked me if I’d ever heard of Biofreeze. I had not. It sounded futuristically dangerous. He haltingly explained what it is — a menthol-based “cold therapy” gel — and offered to use it on my shoulders. All massage-related decisions need to be made before the massage begins, because you’re in no place, mid-massage, to have rational thoughts about anything. I felt myself tense up at having to make a choice while face down on a table, searching my mental Google for “Biofreeze death.” To stall for time I asked him if Biofreeze was an extra charge. It was not. In the end I agreed. Biofreeze was applied. For a few seconds my shoulders felt like they were on fire, and after the sensation passed they felt the same as before, but I have no regrets.
Despite the social weirdness, despite Biofreeze, it was a great and much-needed massage, and I left feeling relaxed and happy — especially after I checked my phone and saw a message from Dad saying he was doing okay.
As I was paying, a potbellied mailman entered and said to me in a deep southern accent, “Excuse me, ma’am, does this shirt make me look fat?”
I looked at his shirt, which barely reached the bottom of his gut. It had black smudges on it.
“It’s your fat that makes you look fat,” I thought. He would have liked it if I’d said that, I think, but my impulse to be polite is too strong. “No,” I said.
“Well, she’s a good liar, I can tell you that,” he said to the receptionist.
“He does this every time,” she told me.
Soon after I settled into the hotel the bikers arrived. My dad had gone though some tough moments, but he’d made it to Pensacola in one piece. We dined at the nearby McGuire’s Irish Pub, which had a comforting Towne House (R.I.P.) vibe, and enjoyed more delicious fish.
Hotel Art of the Day will return tomorrow. In the meantime I invite you to:
NAME THAT MINIVAN
It’s a nearly new Toyota Sienna painted in a sparkly black.
Here we are. The beginning of the end. The literal last leg. Let’s do this right, everybody.
I flew in to Mobile a day early, taking my dad’s bike with me because he was flying in from LA and didn’t want to truck it around on a business trip.
On my flights I listened to a few episodes of Desert Island Discs, a BBC show that has been on the air since 1942. From Wikipedia:
Guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, and to choose eight recordings, originally gramophone records, to take with them; discussion of their choices permits a review of their life.
It’s a great format for a conversation about life, and the current host, Kirsty Young, is sharp and thoughtful. The only downside is that the podcast version can’t play the complete musical tracks because of rights restrictions. Anyway, if you’re a podcast person you should check it out. The Dustin Hoffman episode is particularly good.
The plane in the distance and my plane touched down at exactly the same time and it was cool.
In Mobile my bag was the very last one to appear after a nervous-making delay. I waited hopefully for the next very last bag, the one containing my dad’s bike. The conveyor stopped. It wasn’t there. Another lady’s bag also didn’t make it. A gratingly apologetic representative ushered us into his office, gave us granola bars and tiny bottles of water, and took down our info. Dad’s bike would be on the next flight, he said, and would be delivered to the hotel that night. It was and it was, and all is well.
There are no signs for where to find taxis when you exit the Mobile airport. I walked around looking confused for a bit until a taxi pulled up and asked me if I needed a taxi. “I do need a taxi,” I said. The driver told me there used to be signs for where to find them, but the airport is privately owned and the board decided to remove the signs in 2014. And to make matters worse they decided to let Uber drivers in just after that. My driver complained about the woes of taxi driverdom for a few minutes, then told me felt better because he had “ventilated.” I told him I would email the airport and tell them to put up signs, then contemplated whether “ventilated” was actually an improper usage or just sounded funny. He was a native Alabaman, fifty-seven years old, I determined, after getting some of his life story out of him. When he didn’t know how to respond to something I said he whistled to himself. He seemed reasonably nice, and I considered steering the conversation toward politics — this election is fascinating and horrifying and I need a lot of comfort — but I realized it could get uncomfortable pretty quick. I was stuck inside a mobile, after all.
At the hotel I took my patented fake nap, in which I lie down for a while but never actually fall asleep. After an hour or so I got up, researched dinner spots, and landed on The Blind Mule, a homey pub half a mile away from my hotel downtown.
The walk to the restaurant was like being in a post-apocalyptic video game. It was six o’clock and dusky. Cars lined the streets, but most businesses were either closed for the day or closed for good. I saw one human in the ten minutes it took to get there, a man walking a dog in the far distance. I felt slightly on edge.
The Blind Mule was empty, too. The door was open, but no one was there. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was playing on the TV behind the bar, the way it will in post-apocalyptic times. I sat down. After a minute a bartender emerged, a cup of coffee in her hand. I ordered an IPA and a chili cheeseburger and read Donald Westlake’s The Hot Rock, a 1970 heist caper that feels a little phoned in. Luckily, lazy Westlake is still solid entertainment; I always get the sense he’s writing for his own amusement, and it makes for pleasant company. A few people trickled into the Blind Mule while I was there, but I decided to move on at burger’s end.
When I peeked inside the Alchemy Tavern, the other place on my list, and saw two bartenders but no customers, I sighed and kept walking, then stopped to think. The place looked welcoming, but I wasn’t in a center-of-attention sort of mood, so I found another bar, a sticky dive with some people in it, and read the news on my phone over another IPA. I had a brief conversation about Lionel Richie with the guys sitting next to me, then decided to give Alchemy Tavern another try.
Mobile street scene
On my walk over, a man standing on my side of the sidewalk called out from a few yards away to tell me not to worry, he wasn’t going to hurt me. By then I had already sized him up and made the decision not to cross the street. When I got closer I mentioned how dead the city seemed. He told me I’d just missed Mardi Gras; Mobile has the oldest celebration in the U.S. and it’s a big deal here. The man was homeless but not obviously so. He shook my hand and asked me for “a few pennies.” I used my standard line, which is that I don’t carry cash. But for all I know he had seen me twenty minutes earlier taking money out of a machine a few feet from where we were standing. I said, “It must be hard for you.” He looked down and said, “Oh, I’m okay,” and I realized he thought I meant being homeless. “No, I mean that no one carries cash anymore,” I said, wanting to know whether it (and people lying about it) affected him. He gave a shrug and I told him to take care.
I feel gross about this exchange now and wish I’d given him a few bucks.
Alchemy Tavern was busy by the time I returned, even though barely half an hour had passed. A bearded Brooklynesque bartender wearing an off-white henley, houndstooth vest, and newsboy cap approached and said, “Hello, dear. What can I get you?” Like nearly everyone in the bar he was at least ten years younger than me.
It turned out to be trivia night. I was psyched, and all set to go it alone — after three beers I was pretty confident I was going to win single-handedly — but then two guys walked in and another bartender suggested we team up.
The blank scorecard, full of winning potential
The guys were engineers with the navy, likable nerds who were surprisingly bad at trivia, though they did get a few answers I wouldn’t have. But I also ceded some of my own right answers to their wrong ones, so I’m not sure I would have done worse without them.
It was a great time. We came in fourth place, and we might have won if we’d been regulars and had a better grasp of the rules.
The guys left as soon as trivia ended, but I wasn’t quite ready to call it a night, so I ordered a Macallan, the Scotch I stock at home. “Classy lady,” the bartender said. Thanks, I know. It was about half of a New York pour, which was just right for the end of my evening but would have been annoying otherwise.
Then karaoke started up. I watched for a while, deciding early that nothing I’d want to sing would fly with this group of goofy Millennials. I clapped for everyone because I think it’s sad when someone sings and the room is completely silent at the end (ref: Beth’s performance of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” 2005). But often I was the only one clapping. Is that worse? One guy thanked me for my support.
Hotel Art of the Day
Wrought iron Photograph, ~30″ x 30″ Hampton Inn, Mobile, AL
Hotel Art Score
5/10. The piece is kind of interesting, I guess, in that it took me a while to figure out what it was actually of, because all I saw at first were shadowy contrasts. It’s actually easier to parse in this version. I like that it isn’t standard hotel art, but I find it cloying.
Art Art Score
3/10. Too many elements have equal weight. It just feels like a mess to me.