Tag Archives: transcontinental

Days Traveled, Unraveled: Home?

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After the best, most exciting time in Las Vegas, there was only one thing in my sight: “home.” But our next destination was Mely’s home: LA. We’d done it. Whatever you define “it” as. We saw 35+ states in two months. We made it back to LA.
I actually ended up back in Nevada just a few days later to drive Mely to a concert, which I was really ticked about, but ultimately had agreed to, so there was no room for my bitching. Although I wanted to bitch a lot. I was cranky and exhausted. I can’t emphasize that enough. Not to mention, I was getting texts from Julian every few days asking me about how I was or what I was doing. I knew he cared, I just didn’t feel like he did. Which isn’t the first person I’ve experienced this with. I was prodding him with annoying questions just trying to get him to feel something: anger, love, anything. Talking with him, while once comforting, became painful and pointless. We’d argued while Mely was at her concert and I was left alone in the shitty hotel in Las Vegas. I was begging him to tell me the truth about anything: new girlfriend, if he was out with someone, etc. He wouldn’t agree to it and kept asking why it mattered. I remember at the time being able to relate it to a Gilmore Girls episode–my best skill ever.

(See Season 4, Episode 11 “In the Clamor and the Clangor” when Luke & Lorelai are breaking the bells or just read a copy of the text here)

Luke: You know, none of this is any of your business.
Lorelai: It’s absolutely my business!
Luke: How?
Lorelai: Because! I wasted a week of my life adjusting to the idea that you had moved only to find out that you haven’t moved.
Luke: How much adjusting did you have to do? Nothing’s changed! I still see you everyday, I still cook your food, I still serve your coffee. What do you care?
Lorelai: I care.
Luke: Why?
Lorelai: Because I don’t want you to move.
Luke: Why? Why don’t you want me to move? (Lorelai stares at Luke and they are both interrupted when the Reverend walks in)

After that night, I finally decided that I had to stop talking to Julian. Being friends with him now was doing more bad than good–whereas in the beginning of our break-up, I needed him. I’m so happy he was able to still be there for me at the time. However I wanted to have one last good phone conversation with Julian before I ended it. His schedule was so busy, especially in comparison to the time zone difference in my schedule. So I told him I wanted to talk to him and we arranged that April 20 morning, we would. I had slept over Ali’s house the night before, and she wasn’t having a great night either. While I was actually looking forward to cutting myself off from Julian in hopes of freedom or severance or something, who knows, I also was very self-absorbed and couldn’t give Ali the attention she needed. So April 20 came around and I called him and told him I couldn’t talk to him anymore. He just simply asked, “why?” and I told him. I think he said he didn’t quite understand why now, but he said he’d respect my decisions or something. The goodbye was a little awkward.

15 minutes I called him back. In that 15 minutes, I had felt so shitty. I was expecting to feel liberated and relieved. Instead I just felt like I was broken up with all over again, even though this was my decision and I knew it was for the best. I hated feeling this way. I asked him how he felt about the situation–Are you upset that I’m cutting it off? What are you fucking feeling? I didn’t get anything from you in our last conversation. And his complacency and lack of answers just finished it off for me. Goodbye.

The rest of my “4/20” in California was a little weird. Mixed feelings about Julian. Trying an edible. Staying inside with Ali most of the day. It wasn’t anything cathartic nor miserable. It was a weird purgatory position and displacement of feelings.

But the next day I was going HOME. Back to New Jersey. I was too excited. To the point where it’s kind of sad. I never felt THAT strong of a connection to Belmar in terms of believing it to be the one place I’ll ever want to live. And I had lived in 3 different houses throughout Belmar, so it wasn’t anything nostalgic for me. I was oddly looking forward to having my job and that stability. I was looking forward to having my bed, despite how shitty my mattress was. I was looking forward to hanging out with my friends. But these things could also be found elsewhere–not just Belmar–so I shouldn’t have been that excited to go home. But I’m sorry to say that I was.

As I’ve stated before, I never want to give off the impression that I was unappreciative of my trip and the opportunities and experiences it has given me. It was exhausting and that alone was very consuming. Not to mention the break up, and the ONLY ONE friend traveling with me the entire time.

Now, almost a year later, I look back at my roadtrip with a complete romanticized version of it; I remember feeling shitty in certain places at certain times, but now I think I see it with rose-colored glasses. Which, I admit, is kind of weird. I crave the travel life again.

So when I actually got to the dumb, small town that I call home, I actually texted Julian. I told him I didn’t know why I felt the need to tell him that I was home, but I just wanted to tell him that really badly. I think part of me hoped it would change something in him. And I can’t remember how we ended our very brief conversation, but it was on good terms.

A month later, I was suddenly on not so good terms. I happened to discover that he had a girlfriend. I blew up on him very aggressively, saying that he lied to me that night we argued while I was in Las Vegas. He said he didn’t and that they had only just started dating. After long back-and-forth, we ended on good terms, with me joking that I wasn’t crazy. And that was the last time I ever talked to him.

So why do I mention Julian so much throughout these travel posts? And more importantly, why am I bringing him up in my final post when everything is over and it doesn’t really matter or affect my homecoming? Well, one, the point of ALL of these posts was to show my daily living in diary-like entries. To mark what actually happened on my trip. But two, I think I’m realizing now:

In the beginning of my travels, even when I was stuck in LA, no matter how frazzled, or messy, or all-over-the-place I felt, no matter what state I was in or how long I was traveling, Julian was my stability. That constant communication that we had grounded me, securing me with love, and comfort of knowing I was loved, and feeling loved. And on my birthday in Orlando, I missed Jess, Bobby, and my family the most, because they were my stability and love and support on my birthday each year in my past. And after Julian broke up with me, what stability did I have? That’s why my Northeast posts are all so upsetting and sad: I was with new faces nearly each night, no matter how well I knew them or not, it wasn’t consistent. And that’s why he wasn’t talked about much in my posts after that All-American Rejects concert in Indiana. The music became my stability between them, Circa Survive, and OK Go. After that, I just got cranky and anxious to get home.

And once I was home, I was settled again. I had that stability.

And it’s not that I can’t handle the inconsistencies of travel-life. It’s not that the grass is always greener. It’s not that I need stability of jobs, bed, home, etc. It’s just that you need to have those real, solid connections. Whether with friends, music, or to the city itself, you need to actually be able to immerse yourself in the thick of it. Why the hell would  Ohio be one of my more fun states? Because I had such good friends there properly showing me the Columbus or Cleveland way. I never expected St. Louis to be so fantastic, but we explored it in ways we couldn’t have imagined without weird resources on the back burner.

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So if you’re gonna take a trip–any trip–remind yourself: quality, not quantity. So I didn’t see the transcontinental 48 states, pshh. I can guarantee you, that when I finish up my remaining states (whenever that may be): it’s gonna be done really well. It’s not necessarily that organization is key. It’s the ability for connection and immersion. Within you, and without you.

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Nevada

After a brief drop in Bryce Canyon, we headed into the sunset toward Las Vegas. How vastly different Las Vegas would be from the rest of the cities and states. I had no idea how much of a perfect ending this would be to our roadtrip as a last stop. I wish I could tell everyone to make the same decision, but I know it would not have the same effects. It would not be the same trip. This last, lucky excursion was unique and could never be recreated. Here’s why.

Timing was just impeccable.

The night or so before Vegas, I realized I would be in Nevada around the same time as my friend Ali, since she would be there for her birthday celebration, gifted to her by her longest and best friend, Rachel. Mely’s and my original plan was to visit Vegas the following weekend since she bought a Brand New ticket for then/there months prior. But with Vegas as a stop before LA, and with the opportunity right there, I was excited to take it–and to see someone new and explore with them. Though it wasn’t Ali’s/Rachel’s/Mely’s first time in Las Vegas, it was mine. It was a scene out of the movie. I might as well have had my body out of the sunroof of a limo, with my arms outstretched in the night of the Vegas lights.

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Caution: Beware of Blue Meanies in The Mirage

My buzz about Vegas didn’t die when we arrived to our hotel, The Mirage. It was perfect for a huge Beatles fan such as Ali and myself. My Vegas-virgin eyes couldn’t believe the tall ceilings, the LARGE casinos in the lobbies, the restaurants in lobbies, the lavish expenditures. This was luxury. Especially after the trip we just went through. Although it wasn’t all–or anywhere near–tents and sleeping bags, the comfort of someone’s home is vastly different from the comfort of being a hotel guest. Not that one is worse or more or less comfortable than the other–just different.

And for me of all people? I’ve worked for two hotels and this was still blowing my mind, for some reason. I felt like I was big money–and getting the hospitality for free by staying in Ali and Rachel’s second bed in their room. The 10 or so floors up, I stared down and across The Strip’s lights from their window, with a Screwdriver in hand. Elated to be with a best-good-fucking-friend and to be drinking and partying, I was more than ready for this night.

Thanks to Ali’s superb friend-making skills, she was able to score us guest-listed spots for Skrillex at XS in the Wynn. After trying to get a little tipsy in the room, we made our way over, giving no fucks that I didn’t feel my prettiest. I still felt like a hot-shot. So the Vegas “The Hangover” stereotypes out there? Are at least true for me. This was the first time I could actually party since being broken up with a month and a half prior. I could get away from it.

And the pool behind Skrillex’s DJ stand distracted me enough. With a half inside/half outside setting, and deal on Pineapple and Rum’s, this venue told me I was going to have fun. (For those of you who don’t know, rum is my favorite).IMG_5536

While the DJ before Skrillex took forever, the beats were still good, and we were still drinkin’ and dancin’. Skrillex came on and Ali and I were in our scene. A guy started dancing behind me, and I let them. Afraid of what I’d see, I didn’t look behind me once, though he kept trying to whisper in my ear or something. Whatever, I still did my thing, enjoying my time.

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Not pictured: side of delicious turkey bacon

IMG_5572Somehow in all my excitement and hype about Vegas, that’s all that happened that night, but it was still so much fun. We headed back to the hotel, slept up, and ate a bangin’ brunch at the restaurant downstairs called Pantry (super good, super cute, overall A+) where Rachel confirmed that the dude dancing behind me was old. Then we checked out the incredible Beatles display and store and finally put our bathing suits on.

Growing up, my mom/family and I would always stop at places that had pools, lakes, rivers, etc. A bathing suit was always necessary and thankfully I was prepared. I always pack a bathing suit any time I travel, and always somehow need to remind others to do the same, even though it’s obvious to me. But I didn’t have to remind Ali or Rachel (I don’t think Mely swims). So we headed over to the 80-degree outside weather, bright sun, and paradisaical pool. Which, anyone who knows me knows that I do not like the sun or heat, but I do like swimming, so it made it worth it after just having been in snow in the Rocky Mountains a few days prior.

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Baking in the sun for the first time since 2006 felt good on my florescent and Vitamin-D deficient skin. And that was how we ended Vegas. And that’s how Vegas topped off my trip.

Like I said, perfect for me and impeccable timing.

Just a couple of Beatlemaniacs havin' some fun 👭🍓🎹💎🔨🐙 #beatleslove #themirage #fabfour #vegas #love

A photo posted by Alice Carson (@txicmelody13) on Apr 13, 2015 at 6:20pm PDT

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Colorado

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Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park (we got even closer)

Colorado was a long-awaited state for me, not only because it meant that I was closer to finishing this trip, but because I would get to see a long-time family friend, Alex. Outside of my immediate family, my extended family isn’t very big in numbers. And I even feel like my immediate family was too big, too busy, and too stretched out in ages, grades, sports, activities, over the country (sometimes world) to even have many family friends. We each had our own friends, but it was nearly impossible to have friends that 1. Knew each of my family member’s names 2. See them consistently enough. All of my oldest sister’s friends tell me the last time they saw me was when I was in a stroller. All of my friends didn’t even know I had many or any siblings other than Garth, because they were that much older than me. And any of my parents’ friends just weren’t really that close, except for select few. And Alex was one of those few.

Sure I hadn’t seen her in years, and our time together is always few and far between each other, but her mom and my mom had been friends since the 7th grade, so there was no doubt about reaching out to her, despite how crazy different we were.

The moment we arrived in Colorado, mountains appeared in the distance. It reminded Mely and I of when we desperately searched for a hotel near the Four Corners, and the closest one we could find was 40 miles out in Colorado. In the dark of that 40 miles, Mely looked to her right and noted how exceptionally dark it was in her window…until she realized it was the silhouette of mountains in pitch black. When we left Colorado that morning, we actually got to see the beautiful mountains. And that’s something that Colorado has better than any continental state in America. It’s gorgeous and proud.

Though the drive took a while, we still got to Alex’s apartment before she did. So her boyfriend let us in. We had never met. It was awkward. Not to mention, anybody could tell the large differences between our general interests. Here Mely and I were, clad in black, “alternative(?)” clothing, typically listening to indie, rock, and a dash of hardcore edge music. Here. In this apartment decked with hookahs, rapper posters, graffiti-printed cups, and other knick knacks that would never exist in Mely’s or my taste. So we kinda just hung back quietly to ourselves in the corner of their dining area, while he did his thing, too.

Alex came back, and she was very excited to catch up. We exchanged stories of our lives, and it turned out the last time Alex came to New Jersey, Mely was there too. They had briefly met, though Alex and I didn’t remember at all, but Mely only faintly did. It’s just really strange to me how it all connected to each other, somehow. Even though it’s clear why, it still is just funny to me for some reason. We asked Alex what Mely and I should do the next morning and she told us of Rocky Mountain National Park. Great! And here I sat, thinking that this girl and I had nothing in common, when really we both enjoyed hiking/camping. Neither of us did it a lot, but it’s what we grew up on. And although I was very involved with my music-loving, laptop-hugging, 21st century life, and she her very own seemingly rebellious life, we both could easily be extremely laid back hippies in a way. (Not just because we like camping/hiking, but we know what it’s like to rough it out, and can very easily manage without much of a care). You’d never be able to peg us for that, but it’s really neat that this was our bond.

IMG_5442So the next morning, Mely and I made our way. Like any National Park, it was gorgeous with sights and wildlife. We did very short, beginner trails around a little lake called Sprague Lake. I sat on a bench and took a good minute for myself just staring at the lake, the mountains, and the sky. The air was fresh. It felt good. It was brisk, but not too cold. Sounds corny, but nature always sounds like transcendental-hippie crap in writing until you do it yourself. Or at least in my experience.IMG_5451

 

We traveled up the mountains to find plenty of snow. We followed what we thought was a trail–and still was–but only just since the path and the nature didn’t differ much due to all the snow. The “trail” was more compacted and worn, but still feet high in snow. Mely and I danced around the ice as we walked with much needed walking sticks (branches that other nearby naturists had happily shared with us) .01 miles probably, to the lake. Which was also covered in snow. Had it not been for the inch of sign left (AKA uncovered by snow), and for the wide open space with no trees, we would have had no idea that a frozen lake sat beneath us. Happy snowmen greeted hikers from the lake, so naturally we took photos with our new nature buddy.

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We traveled further up the mountain where I found a very tall rock to sightsee some other mountains. I had Mely take my picture because it seemed impressive. But probably what impressed me most, apart from how high up I fearlessly was, was that alone: I was fearless. The fresh air loved my face, and the short climb up felt like real, solid work. Cathartic in a way. Rock climbing is a lot more brain activity than you would think, It’s a real mind game. And it felt good to practice best/easiest ways up and down with my head and my body. So it was me and nature, and the happy near-end of the trip, and the memories of rock climbing at Mohonk in New York with Alex, and the powerful, although lonely, fearless me.

I think a lot of people picture road tripping as an exploration of land, but also discovery of self. So much time with your own thoughts and with close ones can be very expansive, but in my case, I had a lot of other trips like that. This day with Rocky Mountain National Park made me realize that for a break–road tripping your own country isn’t always the best. You can (doesn’t mean you will) find yourself feeling just as stuck in your own head, no matter how many other distractions and new sights surround you. Road tripping is more than just gorgeous sights and exploration and culture. It’s work. And me climbing that rock–even though it took 2 minutes–was work. Me driving 10,000+ miles was just as much exhausting as it was work, but the exhaust took away from the pride. It’s like when you make something on your own; there’s a lot of pride in that. And I somehow found a lot of pride in some dumb rock (no Lion King reference/pun intended).

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Before we knew it, we were losing daylight. It was still the beginning of April, and though no other land beneath the high altitudes of the mountains didn’t have snow, we still were basically in Winter modes. Which is half of what made Nevada so much damn fun. But that is for another blog.

We headed back early since Alex didn’t live terribly close to RMNP. And we enjoyed some Buffalo Wild Wings in her town. We only slept one more night before we prepped for an early trip out. But what’s Colorado without Denver? I guess I mostly have a sense of that answer, since I hardly visited Denver…except for some claimed best authentic Native American fry bread place called Tocabe. The dessert fry bread, drizzled with honey and powdered sugar was a good breakfast for me before we headed out for Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Arkansas and Oklahoma

After a couple of surprisingly exciting days in Missouri, there was only one reach of hope nearby: some quidditch kids in Arkansas. Without them, we probably would have spent our next few days lost and extra-broke, or in Louisiana yet again out of desperation in need of a place to stay.

Thankfully I’m good at making internet friends, because the year prior, this kid from an Arkansas quidditch team posted on Syracuse’s quidditch team’s Facebook saying we were really nice at the World Cup and wanted to befriend us. Although I had not been in school that semester, I messaged him back saying that I wasn’t in school nor at the World Cup, but if he ever found himself in New Jersey, I could always help him out, and that I’d still like to be Facebook friends. So when I messaged him in desperation of shelter, I was relieved to hear he and his girlfriend say yes.

This was the only drive apart from Mississppi where I needed to pull over and sleep. Maybe Missouri had me riled up too much. Maybe I was just still anxious and tired from everything going on in my life. Or maybe that drive to Arkansas was boring and long. But towards the end of the drive with a sunset to our left of the winding valley roads, Arkansas proved to be a little prettier than I expected a hick-state to be.

And even without having any friendship history apart from the occasional facebook status read, Justin and Mandi served us greatly with casual Southern hospitality. If they were bothered by us freeloaders for a couple of nights, I will never know it, because they were friendly and warm and had pets for Mely and I to focus on and talk about. Not to mention we all had a love of Harry Potter. It always pleases me most to see fictional or distant worlds coming together in a loving way. And that’s what Arkansas represented to us.

They bought us a pizza and soda, we watched some TV, and fell asleep. We planned on using our next day to do some Arkansas touristy explorin’, even if it were some goofy town like Belmar, NJ, but even the Arkansans didn’t have any recommendations. Again, Mely and I realized that even the locals in these Midwestern states didn’t have anything to show.

They admitted there was nothing to do in the hick states, but rent was cheap. Living was cheaper than any other state we’d seen, but it was clear why. I tried deciphering if I would ever move out to the middle of nowhere, just for cheaper living; I would not. But I gave them props. And it’s probably one of the main reasons they joined quidditch to begin with!

So with no plans or attractions for Arkansas, we decided to have ourselves another rest day. The laziness in me was consuming. I couldn’t figure out if it was depression or laziness since these are my worst attributes, but hardly recognizable until it’s too late. Justin and Mandi still had much to do and they carried on with their lives while Mely and I tried figuring out how to go about our next few days. We didn’t even have a place to stay after Arkansas, but Justin said he’d try to help us out with some of his Stillwater, OK quidditch friends–just no guarantees.

I did have a “friend” in Stillwater that I “met” online through The All-American Rejects, but she was not getting back to me at all. Under the assumption she did not want to house us, I eventually dropped it–though it would have been cool. So instead, Justin’s friend Amy offered us an extra room at her place. Thank goodness!

So early the next morning, we said our goodbyes to our new Arkansan friends, and headed west for a new Oklahoman friend. It might be surprising to a lot that Stillwater, OK was already a city I had visited, purely to visit the hometown of The All-American Rejects. Their first DVD, Too Bad For Hell, featured them breaking into their old high school, a trip to Sonic, and home visits. So when 14-year-old me got the chance to drive through Oklahoma, I asked my mom to find the high school and a Sonic.

But this time, Mely and I weren’t there to relive some band’s memories. Apparently, we were there to eat at an Olive Garden, since it had been a topic of “fancy meal” discussion so often on our road trip. To eat at this Olive Garden was to treat ourselves–we had made it this far on our road trip and almost finished. It was feeling long, now. Being so close to LA just gave us a new goal. Just finish. Just a few more states. We knew we had a week or so left. Mely had a concert on April 17 in Vegas and then home. It might have been my day in Arkansas when I bought my plane ticket home from LA for the 21st.

So after our filling meal of Olive Garden, Amy still wasn’t ready for us. Mely and I got some work done at a Panera since the entirety of Stillwater seemed to be packed into a tiny Starbucks location. And eventually we made it Amy’s. Amy had actually been originally from New Jersey. And really liked Sailor Moon like Mely. And she had a cat for us to play with. So we were immediately comfortable even though we knew less about her than we did Justin and Mandi. Amy had an extra room for us, so we spent the night inside watching Sailor Moon and eating Olive Garden leftovers.

Next thing we knew, we were just one day closer to home. And this is how we began to see the remainder of our roadtrip: a countdown. Just like how I used to count down before the road trip. And although we were both excited to find a stable place, we were also surprised the end was near. It had gone just as slow as it had gone fast. Which I know makes no sense, but traveling can be a weird time-warp, especially when changing time zones.

Though we kept talking about our road trip’s end, the last week was probably the most dragged out. And I wasn’t getting homesick, I was just getting sick of being on the road with ONE person at all times. Though we had new sights every day, and as exhausting as it was to constantly be on the move, I needed a change of scene with a change of buddy now. I was getting snippier and anxious.

But we still had Colorado next.

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Missouri (Part 2)

Early next morning, those couches were still free. But everyone was still asleep from a long night of partying. Mely and I wanted to do and see so much. We saw City Museum, which was a giant playground for all ages, built from scraps of old buildings and metals. The entire place had nooks for sneaking into, crevices that led to other entrances or exits. It    looped and and intertwined within a structure of a whale. There were slides and windows and swirly stairs all tucked away in neat hiding spots. There were underground caves. A skateboard ramp. Ropes for swinging across half pipes. Old arcade games mish-moshed into a concession stand. Outside, there were old small airplane structures built between coiled metal for climbing through. I couldn’t help but think of that Always Sunny episode where Frank got stuck in a coil. It was the neatest “museum” ever. Totally hands on. And pretty cheap, from what I could remember.

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My POV inside the metal tube. Though I could see Mely much more than just shadow in real life.

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Somebody ACTUALLY stuck in a coil.

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IMG_5319Since Mely and I settled for a paid parking lot near City Museum, we figured we’d walk around town and get our money’s worth at the parking lot. So we walked to some nearby memorials which were definitely more like a museum. They accrued so much war materials from several different wars, all in sincere honor of our vets and troops. Then we headed for the Old Courthouse. Before the courthouse laid some green space, filled with plastic Easter eggs and a large fountain that poured water more like a waterfall, than a typical fountain. Some citizens dipped their feet in and walked along the steps of the fountain. Had I not been a tad too chilly, I would have done the same.

We grabbed Hardee’s which I had seen before, but suddenly now just realized was the same as Carl’s Jr. Literally just different names. Seeing that NJ has neither, it was a bizarre thing that didn’t make sense to me at all. But whatever, it was right there. Then we toured the Old Courthouse (fo’ free!) and took in the rosey colors and definitely old stylings that differed from Austin’s Capitol. And right behind the Old Courthouse, stands the only thing I knew Missouri for: the Gateway Arch. We learned that for a price, you can actually ride INSIDE the arch in a tram, but we had been on all kinds of heights, and saved our money.

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The only thing left to do on our list for St. Louis was an OK Go concert that night, and potentially a free Budweiser tour, if we had time. Already exhausted through half of our day, we lingered on the idea of sleeping elsewhere for the night. I flashbacked to that Best Western we stayed at on our second night near the Four Corners and remembered just how good it felt physically, mentally, and emotionally to be so cozy. Mely proposed another airbnb and I only agreed as long as the price was good. And damn was the price good once again. This house wasn’t far from our current location and the concert. This house was really well kept and pretty new, with a few rooms. The hosts were very nice and accommodating and were so enthusiastic about our OK Go concert.

The concert:

Mely had heard me play and overplay OK Go throughout our roadtrip, especially since I didn’t have a lot else in my phone library other than them, Simon & Garfunkel, and Fall Out Boy. And I had only raved about how innovative OK Go was and neat to see live. I only hoped they would blow her mind just as much as they continue to do to mine.

The venue, The Pageant, threw me for a loop with its upcharge of $5 to any one below 21 years old. Poor Mely now had to physically pay for her age on top of our previous experiences of denying bars as options. Then after sifting through all of these Missouri and Iowa licenses, they came across mine while carding. Though I had only just turned 22 a month prior, this was the first time anyone questioned my license. And though I answered my address and birthday adequately, he still persisted on asking more questions. I was slightly offended.

IMG_5347But we got barricade yet again, over to the left this time, nearby the bassist, Tim. Though I wouldn’t have been unhappy with any location, Tim was a good spot because my turtle’s named after him (Nordwind; his last name). (Side bar-I’ve told him this in at a previous show and he definitely thought it was cool AND later commented “love.” on a picture of my turtle on Instagram). Anyway, with massive amounts of confetti, digital shows and clips, GoPro cameras on mics, and absolutely good tunes, I converted Mely over to the amazing performances of OK Go. They’d often break the set for a Q&A session with anyone with a raised hand in the audience. They were charismatic. And they performed. And they danced. They remained the coolest dudes in my mind. And I still see visuals from their show when I hear certain songs.

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But alas the night ended. And we slept soundly in our comfortable and accommodating airbnb location.

With confetti in our sheets, purses, and hoodies slipping out, the next morning, I reminded myself how good St. Louis felt. How good OK Go is. How good life is. The roadtrip was nearing an end, but we weren’t done with St. Louis.

Our next stop was the Budweiser Factory tour, however it was closed. Our guesses was due to the Easter morning holiday. So we made our way for the free St. Louis Zoo. Though we saw a free zoo in Chicago, this was still a good experience. Getting to compare the two free zoos, getting to see animals once again, etc. (St. Louis Zoo was bigger and had more and better exotic animals). We toured the whole place which took a couple hours of our day and finally our Missouri experience was over; we had a full itinerary, and a larger experience. It was time to head on to the next state: Arkansas.

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We watched this orangutan put the blanket over himself

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Iowa and Missouri

The day was new, but I don’t know if I felt that refreshed. Especially with the long haul through Iowa (which is longer than you would think) and most of Missouri, the day felt just as tiring as a many other days of travel. Since Iowa was filled with cow garden decor and barrels, it’s safe to say we didn’t miss much. Other typical expectations of Iowa surfaced throughout the lag: farms, barns (and I thought I had seen a lot in my lifetime in Vermont), the occasional field of windmills, and even a sign for “Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan” at exit 49 off I-380. None of these things were even slightly memorable, so let’s be thankful I wrote a note on my phone describing my Iowa experience…yeah…thanks, me, for also including a bullet that says “dry farm.” I don’t know where my minds were going with that one, but that’s my Iowa summed up from a note into a paragraph. And what difference does my mind have from transiting from Iowa to Missouri? None. It all is forgotten. Until we got to St. Louis.

Initially, we were going to stay at my late brother’s ex-girlfriend’s place since her hometown was St. Louis, but since it was Easter weekend, she had other plans. I begged her for any inkling of a place to crash, and she described this hippie house, Bolo Zone, that houses artists and travelers. She told me to google it since it was a free-for-all and her friend stayed there the previous summer. Google searches found me an article from 2007 that led to clues of it being stopped by The Man that year, and some 2010 photos. But thankfully the article had an address. So it was with a leap of faith and trust in others that we could crash at 3309 Illinois Ave.

Arriving just at sunset, we were able to see the light just shine from behind the crooked, broken-windowed house on the overgrown grass, busted brick walkway, and stoic dog on the porch. A sign on property said “Beware of Dog” and Mely and I were unsure of whether or not to take it seriously. After all, usually travelers and artists were happy, loving, and soulful people. We carefully walked up, waiting for the dog to growl or pounce, but he just stood there with raised eyebrows. That’s right, raised eyebrows since they were drawn on with black Sharpie.

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You’re Gonna Just Tolerate This Home!

I slowly walked onto the porch and the dog ran inside the open front door.

“Excuse me?” I said, nervously. A group of eclectic 20-something-year-olds looked up from their intricate stick game that built upwards. Dreadlocks, colored hair, nail-polished boys, grunge-inspired fashion. I felt so out of place with these free spirits. My road trip seemed like nothing now. “Um hi. My name is Tobi and I’m sorry to just walk in. But my friend and I are on a roadtrip, and we had heard that we could crash here during our travels…is that true?”

A woman in her mid-20s finally spoke, “Who told you that?”

“Um my brother’s ex-girlfriend, Martha,” I said. They all mumbled amongst each other with shrugs.

“So we don’t really have a bed for you to crash. Actually this weekend we’re getting a lot of friends coming to stay. The whole winter, no one shows, but now everyone’s coming this weekend. So you’re welcome, but we don’t have space.”

I forget if I mentioned sleeping on the floor or if someone else offered, but that was our arrangement. We played a few rounds of the connecting sticks game, that is like Jenga, for fear of letting it all drop due to weight shifts, and made introductions, but we still felt out of place. We asked for neat things to do and they recommended City Museum and the free zoo. A kind man stood up and offered a tour, showing us the dilapidated house. The floors not only creaked, but the wooden panels would shift. The bathroom was all the way in the basement. Its toilet was dirty looking and the flush handle was replaced with a gross, skinny string. The shower draped a clear construction mat that typically would separate walls under repair. The roof was essentially another room with furniture hanging out. Holes were busted in the walls to make passage ways. Half of the windows were broken. Dirt, dust, and hair accrued in not only corners, but everywhere. I’m not a germ-o-phob, but I wished I had hand sanitizer.

And I wasn’t looking down on these “outcasts,” “delinquents,” or however else you would describe the folk with a disregard for common housing and hygiene upkeep. I admired their carelessness and unique way of living. I half-wished I were as much of a hippie with them, living in a house of art, graffiti, and welcome, and away from norms or rules. No doubt does their lifestyle get hard with money issues and a large collection of people/personalities, but I wish society could take a lesson from these guys. Don’t take life too seriously. However, how the fuck did they break so many windows? How careless are they getting? While a part of me wanted to take that lifestyle for my own, the other part of me was scared, since there seemed to be a lack of responsibility (and potentially care for others’ well-being and safety.)

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Open Mouth Resting Face. Hard at work at Foam.

So Mely and I asked for the nearest Starbucks. They all just looked at each other. We mentioned it didn’t have to be Starbucks, we just wanted WiFi. They mentioned this café/bar called Foam just a few blocks away. We got there just in time: minutes before a band started setting up equipment for a show they were going to charge for admission. Foam was a roomy cafe since it tripled as bar and venue. Framed photos lined the entire brick wall. Just when you thought the ramp was going to end behind the bar for bathrooms/employees only, it extended to additional laxed seating. Mely and I grabbed the tall table by an outlet, and I finally got to my writing work, which had been stressing me out. The vibe and scene was perfect: a little rustic-looking with light wooden tables and chairs, some couches seated by people with hipster hats (whether it be straw hats or beanies). We ended up at Foam for hours, just getting our respective things done. I’d go back again, easy.

We arrived back to Bolo Zone to a house FULL of people. Drunks were in every room and peeing on the front lawn. I grabbed my hard cider that I had stocked in the car, opened a Woodchuck, and let the rest sit for others as they pleased. I drove well over 550 miles; I finished my article and finally I rewarded myself with a cider (cold from the outside temps). This was my first one since Columbus, OH, but this one felt so much better. For I was better.

Then I finished that ONE cider and realized just how damn tired I was. What a long day. And it was only around 10PM. I asked Mely, who’s known to be a night-owl, if she was ready for bed and she said sure. We grabbed our sleeping bags and slept on the hardwood floor upstairs. But the night wasn’t over since everyone else was still up and parading through all of the rooms. Lights turned on frequently. Steps and talks were loud. It was cold since there was no heat nor anything to block the windows. Mely and I shifted uncomfortably all night. I had to pee so badly but hated the idea of getting up and then walking down 3 flights to get there. In the cold. Finally I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Mostly because I knew biologically, you’re warmer once you relieve yourself. I don’t know what time it was, but most of the party cleared out. Couches were free of people. Unsure if the remaining people called dibs, I peed in the weird, busted bathroom, and went back to bed–I mean floor.

(To be continued)  IMG_5280

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Minnesota

With yet another mutual friend from that oh-so-famous band site to which I keep referring, Sam (girl), living outside of Minneapolis, we thought we’d be set in terms of location and shelter, but she was not able to pull through for us. With no other last-minute back-up plans, we quickly resorted to http://www.airbnb.com. As Mely was a previous airbnb user, and as my sister had history using it as well, we knew it was a safe and relatively cheap option. Able to search in our price range, we found a quiet lady in the city who owned a two-bedroom rustic apartment. Her attention to soft whites/creams throughout her space and organization from key hooks to need-basis-toiletries made our stay comforting. She knew how to host without being overbearing. Especially since she had to dog-sit elsewhere and left us with the apartment to ourselves and her very cuddly and actually hugging cat.

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We quickly adjusted ourselves inside our respective beds and slept ourselves for the Mall of America the next day.

The Mall of America is exciting at first with rollercoasters placed in the middle of the mall. From an aquarium, to a mini amusement park, to some Barbie and Star Trek experiences, there were quite some options of tourism besides shopping. They also had some event signing of stars in The Longest Ride. The radio station was there hosting and a line of cowboy-hat wearers queued up left to right. But Mely and I continued with the rides and shopping:

IMG_5250The Spongebob-themed ride Rock Bottom is intimidating at first with it’s straight vertical drop. The angles and jags of the ride made it a slightly queasy experience, but nothing worth puking over. As an original Spongebob fan, I was enthused to ride it. Then we made way for the long line for the Pepsi ride: which seemed to have good coverage of the entire amusement park area. The slow-medium pace of the ride yielded to other rollercoaster “sightseeing” excitement. We did one last underwhelming ride that I cannot remember nearly five months later, so forgive me.

Suddenly starving, Mely and I heeded to the food court. Desperate for something simple and fast, we found no McDonald’s or Wendy’s or anything of the sort. In the Mall of America!!! What the hell?? They did fashion a long line for an A&W root beer fast food option (hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.) and a crammed Johnny Rockets, but all of the other options were just sub-par for these hangry first timers. We got upset with our options since everything either seemed not-pleasing or had a crazy long line. The food court seating was not built constructively, either. Lines from several counters seeped into the seating area, criss-crossing in between chairs and other hangry, sweaty customers. It was lunch hour, but we just sucked it up for the A&W. Which was definitely good, and a clearly midwest experience, since I have not seen A&W locations in any other regional area in America.

Finally, we proceeded with shopping. Each of the three floors longed on with very familiar stores. Most weren’t too out of the ordinary, except for the shop that pulled together local artists and producers/makers. It’s called Uptown.  IMG_5258 Its style for woodsy and creative works (shirts, prints, Minnesota-related knick-knacks) gave a mountainous atmosphere that made our Minnesota experience feel unique. None of these things could be found outside of Minnesota and that’s what made this store so enjoyable. It’s not the tourist, souvenir kind of kitschy items. It’s art and something to connect to. My favorite selection were these wooden journals, with different colored wooden Minnesota’s in the middle. The series was called Woodchuck.

It was in this mall that I first saw it, though: Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon in Build-A-Bear. You can stuff your own adorable Toothless. My heart dropped when I saw this for many reasons. I stared at the empty Toothless shells in the box for $25 per dragon and thought about how I never actually built my own bear (or other animal/creature). I once watched my best friend stuff her own teddy bear that she dressed in a dapper suit and aptly named Stinson (after Barney from How I Met Your Mother). Which her boyfriend bought. In that moment creating Stinson, I realized that if you’re not young, you’re a couple, building your bears together as a cutesy, loving couple. It’s the simplest, easiest, and best form of premature child-making, in a way. And my recently broken heart wanted to sob with the empty, heartless black dragon in my hands.

On the night that Julian and I first met, we watched the extended version of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. As if approximately three and a half hours weren’t enough, we put on How to Train Your Dragon 2. He knew I connected deeply to this movie for two reasons: (1) my Norwegian roots ravished in the viking, animated culture of HTTYD and (2) Toothless’s eyes and sometimes personality were insanely remarkable to my cat’s. So much that he called my cat Toothless sometimes.

So if there were anyone to help me create this Toothless, it would have been him. And I wanted one so badly in this moment. I wanted to make it myself, but I didn’t want it to be because I was hanging on to some false hope or as some constant, sad reminder of Julian. I wanted it for me. But I wanted to be absolutely sure that me building this was, in fact, for me. Besides, I wanted to save money for the remainder of the road trip. I knew I could build this “bear” in any other location, given that they still sold it. So Mely and I continued on. But I was sad. Thankfully, our mall excursion was nearly over anyway.

Cranky from our food court experience, we decided to just use our host’s kitchen for a frozen pizza. Tracing the aisles of a Walgreens over and over again, I picked out a bunch of candy, pizza, chips, and other junk. I forced Mely to find Interstellar online to stream, since I had been dying to watch it again since I saw it in theaters. And I angrily/upsetting-ly ate my snacks, cried at the movie yet again, and thought of when I first saw the movie on a first date with some guy…but later told Julian about it because we were just on friends basis at the time. I couldn’t escape thoughts of him. Just when I thought I was getting better about moving on, the Mall of America crushed that thought with a simple Build-A-Bear location. A(n) (intentionally) kids’ store drained the little strength I had left in my heart. I was hurt all over again. So I did what I do best: slept it off. In hopes of a better experience in another state the next day: Missouri.

 

**For the record, I did eventually build my own Toothless. There is a happy time involving this. I will write a blog about it sometime**

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