Since I volunteered to drive Sola back home to NYC after Axel's going away party, I figured this would be a good time to head down to Baton Rouge to visit with Twilight. I collected hugs and presents to bring her and Sola and I set out Tuesday morning after I packed up my car with camping gear, determined to make this the cheapest trip possible.
Because I still hadn't been able to get a good copy of my key made so that Jason could come in and check on Scooter, I decided to make one last try with the new key they gave me when the original old one stopped working in my apartment lock. So I was up at 7:30am and got everything packed and was at the Mall at 10 to 9. It didn't open until 10. So I drove back towards home, but spotted a hardware store that was open and that cut keys. One copy cut later, and I jumped back in the car and drove home to test it. It didn't work. I pulled my good key off of my key ring and put it on a spare with the working building key and grabbed the food, pet the cat one last time and headed out to Jason's work. He wasn't in when I arrived, just before 10am, so I left the key and a note with the secretary - I added a post script letting him know that the apartment key was my only valid one and that he should leave the place unlocked on the next Friday, when I was due back.
I made it up to Siobhan's house easily, the main rush of downtown traffic having calmed, and found parking right in front of her house. Carla wasn't quite ready to go, so I sat in the kitchen and had some water while waiting for her to get ready. I wished Siobhan a good flight down to Florida, and we took off to begin my drive down. We were on the Gardiner by 10:30am, and were rained on lightly as we made our way north on the Don Valley and onto the 401 eastbound, heading for the Thousand Islands border crossing.
We stopped before reaching Kingston, at the Big Apple, so that Carla could see the bunnies. There weren't nearly as many wandering around the grounds of the attractions as last time, probably due to the damp. We climbed up the apple after passing in between the two bunny guardians sheltering in the shadow of the apple. The large animatronic apple was just as scary this time. Carla picked up a hopping bunny in the store to use up the last of her Canadian money, and we escaped with only the stuffed bunny as a lasting reminder of a unique piece of Canada.
I was hoping that Carla would get to see the islands in good light as we crossed the bridges to the border, since we crossed in the dark on the way to Toronto, but the rain reduced visibility quite a bit. The border guard was inspecting almost all of the cars, so we had a bit of a wait in a queue. She asked me how I knew Carla, and gave me a bit of a blank look when I said through the Internet. She quizzed me on where I was going and after stating that I had quite a bit of driving ahead of me, let us through without running our ID. We saw a flock of wild turkeys by the side of the road as we entered New York state.
I managed to miss noting Watertown, it was quite misty the whole drive getting south of Lake Ontario. I stopped in Syracuse for gas and to eat at the Denny's. The cheese fries were horribly greasy, the hot cakes were really pancakes and I got hash browns that I didn't want. The refill on the raspberry iced tea made up for it though. Carla succumbed to the Oreo cake, getting it packed up to go. I made it around Syracuse without getting onto highway 90 and headed down to Binghamton (Carousel Capital of North America - I still wonder how the pictures that nothing took of us on the way back from the Sisters show in Philadelphia, sitting on the carousel horses in the street, came out). We had a short but intense discussion about following 17 to NYC, but I decided that I'd rather go the way we went last time so that I had the route set in my mind. It rained hard in the Catskills, but once I hit Manhattan and the Bronx, there were no problems. I parked across the street from Carla's and we lugged our stuff in at around 9:30pm. I put the car in the driveway after her mum moved hers over just a bit, but I still managed to bang my door on the stone steps. I finally made it up to the guest room, after eating some rice and beans, and the cat let me know that the windowsill was his personal perch, jumping up on it and sliding a bit at regular intervals during the night.
I woke at about 7:30am, but rolled over and slept again until 9:30. I checked my map book and found the distances between NYC and Charlotte (613 miles) and Charlotte to New Orleans (about 700 miles). I decided to hit Charlotte that night, but to camp before hitting New Orleans the next day and take some time to recuperate before driving the rest of the way to Baton Rouge. I'd get within 5 or 6 hours of Twi's place so that I had a nice relaxed morning's drive.
But to get there, I had to start, so jumped in the shower, getting a missing sock back from the ghost after I'd locked the door, and left at around 10am or so, as Carla's mum was leaving for work. It was very hot, but I got through the city with no problems. Unfortunately, my sneaky plan to avoid the toll roads got me stuck on some secondary roads in New Jersey on Highway 1. I gave up and jumped back on I95 and proceeded south on the toll road. I navigated around Baltimore on the 695, but got caught in traffic which turned out to be a rubber-neckers jam before rejoining 95. I stopped around 3:30 at a rest area and made myself a sandwich and wrote a bit in my trip journal, at about 30 miles before Washington DC.
Rain started right after I passed through Richmond, it was like being submerged in a waterfall. I had to slow down to about 80 kph in order to allow the wipers to clear the water from the wind shield. I stopped for gas before I hit 85 southbound, and the rain stopped while I was taking my rest break. It stayed clear from there. The drive to Durham was quite nice, the two directions of the road split in half by a border of ever-greens (spruce I think). I stopped for a rest break, a stretch and some hot water to make up a cup of ginseng tea at a Wilco service centre. Lots of truckers were wandering around, and one asked me if I was lost while I was checking out the newer edition of my map book.
The road turned very very smooth as I crossed the border into North Carolina, but it turned back to shite soon after. I made it to Charlotte at 11:30pm and stopped on highway 16, which cuts into the city from the north west, in order to get gas and to call TSM. It didn't strike me as the most savoury part of town, so Will told me to find my way to the Econolodge where Siobhan and I had stayed the last time we came through, and he'd find me there. It turned out to be easy to find, I just continued down 16 to 77 and it was the second exit. While I was waiting for him to show up, after mistaking a car who almost merged into me on the highway for his, I asked the front desk if they had any single rooms available for that night. There were, and non smoking to boot. I went back out to my car to wait, and he showed up soon after. I decided at that point that it would make the most sense to check in and spend the night there, so he helped me carry my suitcase into the hotel. The night clerk ended up giving me a double room for the price that he'd quoted me earlier, since while I was waiting for Will someone had claimed the non smoking single, and all that was left were smoking rooms in that size. I took a quick shower to get the layers of sun block off and then he drove us to Cafe Dada, who's huge teas I'd been craving all day. Unfortunately, they had just closed down, so after a bit of brain storming, we headed off to San Romeo. I had a Greek salad and was much confused by the fact that they included a weird sort of dressing on the side. Will explained that if it doesn't have a sauce, it's not food to a Southerner. I left the mysterious liquid in it's bowl and had my salad northern style. More iced tea was consumed. He drove me back to the hotel and we ended up talking until 3:30am, at which point I kicked him out since I had to be checked out and on the road by 11am. If I'd had more time to stick around, we'd have gone for East Indian food, but the restaurant only opened at 11. His good bye hug almost cracked my ribs, but I forgave him due to the good conversation. :)
I was woken up by noisy people checking out and loading up their car right outside my first floor window. The cleaners were also tapping their way down the hall, and the dripping bath tub faucet was annoying. I got up and closed the bathroom door, put the Do Not Disturb sign on the outside room door knob and tried to get back to sleep. No dice. I got up and actually got my free continental breakfast, after the staff restocked it following a raid by a young woman I passed going back to her room with a stack of toast and doughnuts up to her chin. I went back to my room and updated my journal and got packed up to check out. I called Will twice and ended up leaving a message for him. After I loaded my car up I tried again and he answered, but since he'd just woken up I decided to get on the road south, knowing I had a long drive ahead of me. After passing into Alabama and gaining an hour, I realised that I could have stuck around a bit. *sigh*
I was able to get out of Charlotte easily enough, though rain threatened all the way to the border and started as I crossed into Georgia. I stopped at an outlet mall strip, lured in by a billboard promising all sorts of boots. I couldn't find a pair I liked among the sea of cowboy boots, though there was one style that would have done if it had a decent sole. I tried on a full length duster coat, but the small was too long for me. The sales lady directed me to the half length ones, but they were too long, so she went up to check the stock to see if they had any extra small in the long. I went back to the rack of long ones and tried on a different one, just to double check if it could be lived with, and that one fit. Since they were half price, I couldn't resist buying one, especially since I'd wanted one for a while, and the rain looked to warrant a new rain coat. The down pour had started again, so I snipped off the tag with my swiss army knife and wore the coat out to the car. The rain and traffic remained heavy as I approached Atlanta, and I missed the turn off for the bypass around the city. I managed to duck onto the 75 north to the 275 when the traffic slowed to a crawl and I could inch myself across the lanes to the exit. I got onto the 20 west to Birmingham in the end, though I would have liked to make a detour to visit the Little Five Points Mall, but since I didn't have directions, I decided not to chance it.
I stopped just inside Alabama, after gaining an hour, at the welcome centre and made myself a sandwich. Back on the road again, Birmingham was fairly pretty, there was a mosaic mural on a building by the side of the highway, and a tall building with huge round stones perched on the corners of it's top most tier. An accident slowed down traffic going through the city so I had lots of time to appreciate it. I ended up behind a guy in a white truck and kept seeing him on and off for the rest of the afternoon. The traffic cleared up and I made it into Mississippi, but their welcome centre was closed up and I wasn't able to check out camp grounds in the state. I hit Meridian and turned south on I59. It was dark, but the stars made enough light to make out some of the details of the area I was passing through, but it was very lonely. I made it to Hattiesburg and had to try two exits before I found a gas station that was open, I was getting low on fuel and a bit worried at that point. Eventually, at Picayune, a station was open just before the Louisiana border. I turned on 12 west to Baton Rouge, and took a side road down to the camp ground that I was aiming for soon after. The state park had closed at 8pm, the gate was barred against me going in, though the exit was still open. I decided to retreat and drove across the street to the hospital where the security guard directed me to the Texaco and the Cracker Barrel which had a pay phone. The CB turned out to be the convenience store attached to the gas station, as a sticker on the phone proclaimed. I dug out my address book and managed to get through to Twilight on the first try, though I had to go through an operator when the phone refused my calling card number. She vetoed my idea of getting a hotel room for the night and ordered me to drive on over to her place. At that point, in Mandeville (which brought back memories of my Jamaican visits), I was only about an hour away. It was 11:30pm. I managed to get back up onto highway 12 and to Baton Rouge no problems, though construction slowed me in BR. I followed the winding roads to get to her place and buzzed in at the gate. She came out on the balcony to see me drive in and helped me carry stuff in to her apartment. She attempted to engage me in conversation, but lack of sleep and driving through another 6 states left me incoherent. I ended up forgetting that I hadn't eaten supper and collapsed on the couch in the living room.
I half woke as Amy was getting ready for work in the morning. Slept a while longer after she was gone, then made myself some toast and had a shower. I read for a while until my eyes started to drift closed, then took a nap. Her phone rang and her mum left a message as I stared in sleep shock at the phone. Amy came home a bit after this, at around 2:30. We started in on the weekend long gossip session, she freshened up after teaching, and she drove us out to deposit her pay cheque. Traffic was already bad due to homecoming weekend. We went through the drive through teller, which actually had a live person behind a window, instead of just an ATM that it's always impossible to reach from the drivers seat. We'd planned to get Thai food, but the restaurant that she was thinking of, under a raised part of the interstate, wasn't open. We ended up in a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant and I began my adventures in amazing Louisiana cooking. We had shrimp egg rolls in rice paper, and foo nang and lemon grass chicken. We popped next door to Baskin Robbins after we were stuffed, and managed to fit in some Creole Cream Cheese ice cream, which was divine. She gave me the driving tour of LSU, which was very pretty, with lots of Spanish style buildings and trees everywhere. We went back to her apartment and took a short nap, until angsty poet boy called and Twi spent some time talking to him, inviting him to go out with us that night to the club. He showed up and Hillary came over too, one of Twi's good friends. Hillary drove Amy and myself to the Spanish Moon, dropping us off and promising to come back after she'd gone home to change. Joe drove himself and was waiting for us in the lobby of the club. I met a few people who looked familiar from my previous trips to New Orleans and we settled in to the bar. It was a three sided affair, with the bartender presiding over her bottles in the middle. It was often hard to get her attention, so we grabbed glasses of water whenever she looked our way. Molly, a clothing designer, was one of the first on the dance floor, and she was fun to watch. Twi and I wandered out to a few songs. Hillary and I became tired first and I dragged Amy home, getting Joe to drive us. He didn't stay long and I comforted Amy, trying to dig up some good advice for her. We pulled the spare futon into the living room and I stretched out on it, soon asleep.
Amy called Joe's place and talked to his mum, who assured us that she was going to drive him into New Orleans. We figured he'd get in touch with us via Amy's cell phone in order to arrange meeting up with us to go to the Crystal, and promptly ceased to worry about him. We had a quick breakfast and threw club clothes in backpacks, then she drove us to her old job to pick up her last pay cheque and then to Walgreens where I picked up a roll of film and some snacks to eat in the car. Traffic was already bad due to the football game, despite it being a few hours still to kickoff; the tail-gaiters were starting early.
We drove towards New Orleans on highway 10. The 12 Mile Bridge over the spillway was very impressive, and the towers holding up the electrical lines marched regularly across the bay towards the city in the distance, solid on their concrete stepping stones. Amy explained some of the flood control measures in place. She shared her chocolate covered macadamia nuts with me, and I enjoyed my creamsicle in a bottle.
We hit Metarie cemetery almost as soon as we passed the city limits, after the airport brought back memories of flying in and out for Convergence. We drove through in the car, stopping often so that I could jump out and take pictures. We covered more ground than I had in my first visit during the conference, since I was there on foot, though at about the same time, around 4pm. I saw the sword in the stone again, as well as the pyramid guarded by sphinxes, and Amy managed to find the grave of the voodoo priestess on the second to last road before the edge. I changed my film after finishing the roll in my camera. She wasn't able to find the hands parting the curtain on one crypt she remembered finding once. We were somewhat worried about getting lost, and even after we decided to head out we had a few disagreements on which way was out. After realising that I was heading us towards the foot gate I'd come through the last time I visited, we left the grounds through the car gate at around 5pm.
She drove us to her parent's place on the West Bank of New Orleans. A pile of patio chairs fell off the back of a pickup driving in the lane to the left of us on the interstate. They skidded on the road for along time in that lane, and we were able to stop before they veered into our lane. We managed to get around them at a crawl, but both of us were a bit shaken up by the near accident. We made it to her parent's house with no further adventures and sat for a while with her dad, watching football and trying to track down her mum. She was finally brought to the phone and promised to be home in half an hour so we could go out for dinner. The house was airy and cool, and we sat in her bedroom for a while chatting, until Amy wanted a smoke. As we were settling in on the bench outside the house, Twi giving her father a cigarette, her mum drove up. She pulled around into the garage to park and came in to freshen up. We all piled back into the car and Amy's father drove us into New Orleans. We took some small back streets, avoiding the traffic and ended up at a tiny restaurant near the naval yards, Jack Dempsey's. It was in a converted house, with standard diner tables with four chairs each. The ceiling was still festooned with Xmas garlands and a St. Patrick's Day green plastic bowler was still tacked to the wall. Rudolph glowed down at us from the nearest post. Despite the kitsch, the food was amazing. Twi and her father shared the seafood platter for two (a huge amount of food) with the snow crab legs on the side. We all had gumbo and salad, and her mum and I had the stuffed crab shells. I loved the gumbo but the stuffing had a few pieces of shell left in it, so I was eating it a bit too tentatively to enjoy it. The baked pasta and cheese was divine, the glass of iced tea was huge and I enjoyed myself immensely. We packed up our leftovers and her dad drove us along Rampart St, past the French Quarter and into the edge of the Garden District, to a C&Cs cafe on Magazine. I had a wonderful raspberry tea and the rest of them had various coffees. Two toddlers were playing in the grass around the tree growing up from the middle of the patio, but there were only a few groups of people at other tables. The temperature was just right for sitting outside and enjoying the evening, but Amy's dad was a bit impatient to get going. He drove us around the Garden District a bit, circling around Anne Rice's St Elizabeth's orphanage, and past the cemetery she uses in her books.
We made it back to the west bank eventually, and Twi and I both decided that we didn't feel like changing for the Crystal, so we put the left overs in the car and headed back to the Quarter. We made a quick stop at the grocery store for coffee and seasonings for me to take back home with me, and I pinned her dress strap with one of the safety pins I keep on my courier bag. She put on some rhinestone bindis in the car and we drove back over the bridge and into the Quarter. We had to circle around for a while in order to get a parking space, but found one on Decateur eventually. We paid the cover at the Crystal and stuck our heads in, but upon seeing that no one was really there yet, we headed out to get a drink at Kaldi's. The wrist band annoyed me as much as I remembered it doing from the times I went to the Crystal during Convergence.
I dragged Amy into a couple of tourist trap stores on the way to Kaldi's, and picked up a black feather boa for my flapper costume. Kaldi's ended up being closed, but I took a picture of her in front of the door anyway. We walked back to the Crystal to stay this time. We sat at the bar for a while, but the music from the dance floor was too loud, so we shifted to a table by the wall. The upstairs wasn't open. I tried her drink, a cranberry and amaretto and made a note of it for future drink buying. Heather Spear was DJing some good industrial sets, though she and I were both bummed that she didn't have a copy of Sexbat's Auslander-Halloween mix. Robert was doing the more gothy sets, and spun mostly stuff I'd never heard before. We talked with Fuschia for a bit, and Amy talked with Misha/Shadowplay too. Jocelyn arrived just as we were about to leave to make the drive back to Baton Rouge, but at least I got to say hi to her. Twi found another English professor, and her dress broke too, but I didn't have any more safety pins to contribute to the cause of dress-keeping-togetherness. I danced quite a bit to the EBM sets and had a lot of fun. We made our way back to the car around 1 or 1:30am and I just managed to stay awake to keep talking to Amy as she drove us home. As soon as I got in and washed my face, I crashed on the futon in the living room and was dead to the world at 2:30am.
I woke up around 11am, after Twi had been up and putting together the package that I was to bring home with me. I picked up a sandwich type wrap thingy for breakfast and she went out to pick them up, since no one would deliver to her complex due to the proximity to a bad neighbourhood. After I'd eaten, I sewed a few things back together for her, read the Comic Buyers Guide article on Neil Gaiman that I'd picked up yesterday and wrote in my journal. She had some work to do before we went to meet her students at Highland Coffees. We drove over there for 3pm and I bought a mango smoothie and settled in at a high table and stool at the back of the shop, near the exit to the patio where Twi was sitting to meet her students. It was just a bit too hot for me to sit outside, so I enjoyed my cold drink and worked a bit on some writing I had with me. Hillary arrived and I got her sister's email address to give to my sister, since there's a possibility that they know each other, and if not mine can visit hers in Sydney at some point if she wishes. Hillary and I both needed money, so she offered to drive me to the ATM. We waved bye at Amy who was involved with a student and took off across campus. We detoured on the way home via a drive in and got yoghurt smoothies that were much better (and cheaper )than the one I had at Highland. Hillary popped into a clothing store to get a top for working in, and we rushed back to meet Amy before 5pm. We were a bit late, and I apologised copiously when we were caught trying to sneak our drink cups past her to the trash can. :) We started debating where to have supper, I took a few moments out to check out the cards I had considered selecting from in order to send my parents an anniversary card, but none seemed appropriate. We finally settled on going to Chimes, just across the street, stopping in at an accessory boutique for a bit. They had to interrupt the gossiping ear piercer to ring in my order, but we eventually got into the bar. I had a delicious but huge shrimp and pasta salad, getting most of it as take-away.
Amy drove us back to her place where we took a bit of a nap and read for a while. We both got hungry again at the same time and she called Hillary to meet us at Straya's for cheesecake. We ended up giving her a lift and made it to the restaurant just before it closed. The concoction that Amy had was impressive - a pile of shortcake and berries held together by skewers, towering above her plate. The cheesecake that I had wasn't as good as the Creole Cream Chese Ice Cream I'd had the day before, so I was somewhat disappointed. Especially when I converted the price to Canadian funds! We dropped Hillary back off at her place and got to sleep at a decent time, after I threw a few things in the car to lessen the chaos of the morning. Amy had to work for 10am so I was planning to leave then or just before to get on the road to Florida.
I woke up when Amy's alarm went off at 7, easily audible from the living room, and ended up shaking her awake since she was able to sleep through it, even though she was right next to it. The snooze button was abused heartily, but we finally woke up for good at around 9. I took a quick shower and packed the last of my stuff. I gave her the hugs I'd been instructed to carry from Toronto and headed out.
I made it out of Baton Rouge with no problems, getting onto highway 12 which would take me right to an hour north of Gainesville. I listened to the radio on and off as my CDs finished, and after passing through Mobile, I found out that they pronounce it Mo-Beel instead of Mo-Bile as I'd been doing. Very odd. But the city had some nice bridges over the Gulf of Mexico, and the Navy ships moored at Pensacola were visible from the highway, with vintage war planes parked around them. I stopped in Tallahassee for gas and a drink, grabbing a Gatorade like vintage from the cooler. Big mistake. It upset my stomach, leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth for hours.
I made the turn south onto I75 and noticed that the north-bound lanes were packed. A bit later, I turned off the highway in Gainesville and called Jealousy to warn him I was almost there. There was no answer, so I left a message and continued on, navigating through the university and into his apartment complex. No answer at the door. I walked around a bit, then dug out my backpack with my book and decided to write a note saying I'd be waiting at the near by coffee shop so that I didn't make his neighbours nervous. As I was digging out paper, a car pulled up and it was him, and he let me in. We watched the weather channel to see what Hurricane Floyd was up to - land fall was predicted in Florida the next night. Anne came back from driving Siobhan to the airport for her flight back to Toronto, late due to being stuck in evacuation traffic. She puttered around, getting ready for the storm. My stomach calmed down enough by this point to have some chicken pasta salad. More CNN and Weather Channel watching ensued, with some footage from the hurricane hitting Barbados becoming available. I crashed on the futon in the living room, more tired than I expected from the drive.
I woke up as Ann was getting ready to go to work for 11am. The TV was still giving out dire warnings, and J thought that if I didn't leave then, I'd get caught in the evacuation and not be able to leave. I briefly considered sticking out the storm there, but their building owner wouldn't allow them to put plywood up on the windows, though otherwise they were as ready as they could be. My stomach started doing it's nervous ache as I tried to make a decision to stay or go, but finally I decided that it would be prudent to get out of the reach of the storm. I promised to phone J when I got back to Toronto, and headed out.
I made it onto 75N, though the traffic around the university was a bit insane at that point. I passed a personalised mini school bus with a guy sitting in front of it holding up a sign: "Need help fleeing Floyd - need gas and water." I made it up to highway 10 no problems, heading over to Jacksonville. I turned north on 95 there, heading up towards Savannah. Regular convoys of electrical trucks and school buses passed me heading south. I finally figured out that the buses were full of troops. There were state troopers and army personelle at each exit from the interstate, standing ready to help. For some reason that made it worse for me, since it underscored how seriously everyone was taking the approaching storm.
It took forever to move along 95 north to Savannah, as people were exiting there to get onto highway 16 to go into the interior. I was caught in traffic for a couple of hours, but thought that once I got past Savannah it would clear up. It was still heavy when I was approaching Charleston, so I decided to try taking 21 up to the highway that went inland to Columbia. It turned out to be stopped dead. I turned off onto Deliverance Rd, stopping and taking a picture of the road sign, and turned around, heading back to 95. Highway 76 was the only main route from Charleston to Columbia and it was jammed solid. I decided to detour and continue north on 95, with a wistful glance up towards New York state that I knew the highway would eventually lead me to, but too far east. I'd take the next interstate west to Columbia and from there head up to Charlotte. I tried to get on another highway, 78, to take it west, but it was also stopped dead. By this point I was getting a bit frantic, having been stuck in traffic for hours and knowing that the hurricane was still approaching, even if it was only at 14 miles an hour. A quirk of the Southern accent had made me hear a radio commentator say: "It's better to sit and traffic and be killed by a hurricane" instead of "than be killed". *sigh* I needed to calm down a bit. I turned around and pulled into a service complex. There was a line up to use the phone outside the Waffle House so I had to wait a bit before calling J. His line was busy. I wandered into the convenience store attached to the gas station and got myself some hot water to make tea, and a chocolate bar. I advised a guy thinking about taking 78 to Columbia that it was dead, and he suggested that 95 would clear up after I got north of the cut off to Charleston. I went back to the end of the phone line and tried Will's number and got through to him. He was willing to stay on the phone for longer than I needed to tell him that I was going to be late getting into Charlotte, but I was too aware that there were people waiting behind me. It was good to hear a friendly voice though. I estimated from overheard conversations that I was about 2 miles and 2 hours from the highway from Charleston. I pulled my car into the gas islands, but the pump wasn't working, so I gave up and pulled back onto the highway. It turned out that there was an accident, with semis and army personelle blocking all but one lane of traffic two miles up the road. I got past the obstruction in about an hour and a half, and from there north it was clear driving up to 40. I made it onto 40 and dipped into and out of Columbia, turning to travel north east on 77 to Charlotte. I got into Charlotte at around 3am, and pulled into the Econolodge, confident that I could get a room. No dice. No rooms at any of the hotels at that exit, nor the next one, nor the next one north of the city. Nor the next one. I tried about 10 or 15 hotels running into most of them to be told they had no vacancies, though a couple had signs up, until finally one desk clerk advised me that there wasn't a room to be had in the state. My only choice seemed to be to keep driving, and I made it about an hour into Virginia by 5:30am when I had to stop for gas. At that point I was shaking and couldn't stay awake a moment longer, so I pulled my car into a parking space at the service centre, and curled up in the back seat to sleep.
I woke up at around 10:30am with my foot spearing pins and needles up my leg. I walked it off, and got a sub at the Subway that was part of the service area. I slowly woke up as I sat and ate it, sharing the space with a few bleary eyed truckers. I got back on the road, but stopped a bit later at the Tamarack service center and washed my face, brushed my teeth, and changed my clothes.
I made it up into West Virginia and was thinking of stopping and camping soon in order to get some real rest and to adjust my trip so that I would arrive in Pittsburgh when I said I would, the next day. My car laboured over the hills, but I was almost through them when construction brought the highway down to two lanes. A Floyd Flee-er was driving in front of me, the Florida plates not my most favourite thing in the world so see right then, having had a surfeit of them while stuck in traffic. Suddenly the car swerved and what looked like a chunk of tire tread flew up from under their tires. I turned slightly, and closed my eyes involuntarily as it headed for the wind shield. I heard a thunk, like rubber hitting glass or metal, and was very surprised when I looked over at the right side of the window to see that it was heavily cracked. Pieces of glass were scattered on the dashboard. I slowed down and pulled over into the pyloned off lanes, the crews having not pulled up the paving there yet. Florida guy kept on going, but the guy behind me, from North Carolina, stopped and asked if I was okay. I was shaking but unhurt. He left, and I sat in my car for a bit, trying to decipher my insurance policy and decide what to do. A highway maintenance truck going the other way pulled over into the median and gestured questioningly at me, so I waved them over. They inspected the glass, advised me that I couldn't drive with it like that, both layers had been cracked, and noted some rust on the centre of the damage. One guy drove back and picked up what had hit me, and it turned out that it was a chunk of metal, not rubber, probably from the wheel drum of a semi. They gave me a plastic bag and I wrapped it up, stowing it in the trunk in case the insurance company wanted to see it. They wrote me out directions to the nearest glass repair shop, just across the street from their workplace as it turned out, in Gassaway. I found it no problem, driving slowly to the second exit on the highway with my hazard lights on, certain that if I went too fast, the whole crazed mass would land in my lap.
Steve Rollins himself was manning the shop, which also sold and serviced chain saws, go figure. He let me use their phone to call the local company that was supposed to deal with my insurance company, but they were clueless. They called back after checking the database but couldn't find any mention of The Personal, advising me to call the Toronto offices directly. I did, and was informed by the local colour that it was lucky I could get through to them at all, one guy had waited three days. They also regaled me with tales of other things that they'd seen go through wind shields around here - deer that went through the car and were never found, wild turkeys that did the same amount of damage that the metal had done to my car, deer that caved in hoods by planting their hooves there before crashing into roofs.
Steve didn't have the new glass in stock, so he sent me off to Sutton to settle into a motel there, The Elk Motor Court. It was right by the road to the highway and big rigs de-accellerated down the hill all night. The mountains surrounding this bend in the interstate were quite pretty though, and the Elk River meandered by just across the street. I almost disappeared into the bed when I sat on it, and determined that the place was clean enough I could bunk down on the floor to save my back. I went back to the office for some change for the pay phone (no phone in the room), and instructions on how to turn on the TV (an old style cable box with a cryptic on button on the remote was thwarting me) and I called Steve to let him know where I was and to check when I should come in in the morning to get the car worked on. He hadn't heard back from the warehouse yet, so I went back into my room and watched more coverage of the hurricane. At least I was inside four solid (or mostly solid) walls, but it didn't even rain at that point.
I went back outside to the pay phone and called my parents, reassuring them that I wasn't killed by the hurricane. I called and left a message for Will explaining what had happened and promising to stop for Indian food with him the next time I came through. I got through to Xthlc and spent a while talking to him, being interrupted at one point by an old guy looking for the office (which was clearly signed *sigh*). A young guy on a motor cycle parked as I was on the phone. It's odd being so exposed like that, I'm used to using my own phone, where I have a place to sit and guaranteed privacy. Steve was able to tell me to come in around 9-9:30 in the morning and he could start work on my car. One advantage to needing repairs in a small town, not much competition for resources.
I walked over to the restaurant next to the motel - it was in a converted house, very informal, with lots of salad dressings on offer at the salad bar. I ordered some honey chicken, and was a bit surprised when it arrived deep fried. It was okay though. The old guy from the motel arrived soon after me, disappeared for a bit, then got into an argument with the waitress about being able to drink the wine she'd directed him out to buy. He said that since they didn't serve it, it was his own bottle, he should be able to drink it. She countered with the local laws, and offered to pack up his food to go so he could drink his wine with it. I paid my bill and left at that point, never finding out the result of the argument. The old guy looked somewhat like one of my university professors, it just added to the surreality of the whole experience. I made a brief foray down the road, checking out the river and the houses built right on the edge on the other side. A signpost explained the history of the town and pissed me off a bit when they ended with two of the first settlers fate being "killed by the Indians". No mention of tribe of course. *sigh* I retreated back to my motel room and watched TV for a couple of hours, Law and Order, a bio on William Holden, and a pseudo documentary about life in prison. They were far too intent on the brutality of it, seeming disappointed when they couldn't get graphic footage. I was asleep nice and early.
I woke up before the alarm went off and almost ate my toothbrush when it did, it was set a bit loud. I took a shower and packed up the car yet again, having taken the time to reorder things a bit. I made my way back to Rollins Glass and Saw and left the car there while I walked out to pick up some breakfast at the Krogers. I wandered around the aisles of the supermarket for a while, trying to find croissants for breakfast, but had to resort to asking the stock boys. They directed me to another part of the store, where I was informed they were all out. I grabbed a blueberry turnover to console myself, as well as a couple of bags of apples. They didn't have any cold drinks, so I popped into the drug store next door for a creamy blue berry drink. I sat outside in the strip mall, on a bench conveniently located for people watching. It was distressingly normal. :) I walked back to the shop and sat and read while they were finishing up the installation. He used a quick setting glue so that I could get on the road quickly, and he put the new washers that I had in the trunk on the arms, one having been lost when the metal broke it off, and the other I didn't trust not to have glass embedded in it.
I managed to get back on the interstate, but made frequent stops in order to draw out the drive so (a) I wouldn't get too nervous of flying rocks, and (b) not have so long to wait in Pittsburgh for Matt to get off work. It rained lightly, on and off. I noticed a woooooing sound and pulled off at Lost Creek and noticed that the molding had come up from the glass along the top of the wind shield. I tried to push it back on, but the glue hadn't set properly. It eventually settled into a compromise position, not making a sound at least, but pushed back onto the roof and leaving tarry deposits there.
Just before I got into Pittsburgh proper, I spotted one of the traffic advisory signs flashing, and as I was tuning in my radio to the signal, the traffic began to slow in front of me. The advisory at least told me that it was a tractor trailer that they were fishing out of the ditch that was delaying me. The delay wasn't all that long, but I got caught again when more construction appeared. I managed to thread my way through downtown Pittsburgh after going through the Fort Pitt Tunnel and across the bridge and made it to Xthlc's place at 4:30 or so. No parking on his street, so I put my car near by and called him at work. We made plans to meet at 6pm at the Deli on his street and I did some window shopping in Shadyside. The prices reflected the prime location of the shops, so I didn't buy anything. As I wandered back down Matt's street, someone was walking to their car and opened the door. I ducked back to the street my car was on and managed to snag the free spot just a half block from Matt's apartment. At that point, I grabbed my book and adjourned to the deli to wait for Matt to show up. I had time to eat a brownie and sip on some iced tea when he arrived, and then we ordered actual food. The waitress gave him a free cookie since his sandwich took so long. It was saved for later, and Matt bought two things of beer. We stopped at my car so I could dig my stuff out for the night and we dropped things off in his living room. I let him trade up his gift from Twilight since he'd raved about how much he liked the coffee, so I'll shuffle his over to Stephanie. I pounced on his copy of I Feel Sick but he dragged me out to the video store (in his power steering impaired car, left turns optional) where we rented two movies, Zero Effect (which I'd fallen asleep watching in Gainesville the last time I'd gone) and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (that I hadn't seen but wanted to). He vetoed my choice of My Little Chickadee with W. C. Fields and Mae West so I'll have to try and find it in Toronto somewhere. A bag of ice was acquired and we went back to his place to wait for people to show up. He popped out to pick up Margo since her bike was still broken, and I settled in to read the comic. I had just finished when Mikey and his girlfriend yelled up at the balcony doors since the doorbell didn't work, so I ran down to let them in. Matt came back soon after, and found upon testing the door bell that it did work. Kelly and her boyfriend arrived and the beer and tea were distributed. Bradley never showed up to claim his gift since he had apparently gone to Phoenix for the weekend.
Matt and Kelly performed some wizardry and got the DVD player to stop crashing his computer, and we watched Zero Effect. By the time it was over and we'd critiqued a bit of the directors commentary, everyone was tired and decided to head out. We made up the futon in the living room for me to sleep on and then I did so.
I sort of half heard Matt's alarm go off and the shower start, but I didn't wake until he started saying cheery good mornings to me, earning a glare and a yawn. It did turn out to be a bright, clear day, with wonderful fluffy clouds drifting across the sky, a nice change from the intermittent rain of the day before. I eventually woke up, had some toast and orange juice, and got him to draw me some maps. I threw my things in the trunk of my car, and rummaged around a bit for the stereo faceplate, but couldn't find it before he pulled up in front of me. I followed him to the garage where he dropped off his car to get the steering looked at, and then drove him to work for 9am or so. I still couldn't find the stereo faceplate and resigned myself to a musicless last leg home. Matt promised to look around his place for it, I just hope that it didn't fall out on his street as I was packing up in a rush.
I, as usual, managed to get lost in Pittsburgh, going on 279 north instead of south back to the Fort Pitt Tunnel, then turning around on a cute little road that wound by a stream, and then realising that if I'd just gone on straight I'd have hit I 79 again anyway. *sigh* I finally made it out of Pittsburgh (the worst city to drive in - they put stop signs at the on ramps to the highways), with a shudder at the Incline making it's way oh so innocently up the escarpment and struck out for home.
I stopped for gas at a tiny little town in Pennsylvania where
the staff were busy yelling at each other and at me to move my
car so some truck could gas up at the pump. I moved it around the
corner, and almost got run over by a dump truck, and so moved it
to the Dairy Queen across the street. I popped in there and got
some hot water to make tea, then braved the gas station again,
not talking to anyone this time, in order to use the washroom. I
stopped again at the Angola service center (the one in the middle
of I90 on the way to Buffalo, in New York state) but was scared
out by the screaming kids and fighting parents, opting to eat
another apple in the car rather than wait in line at the
McDonald's for a snack. I navigated around Buffalo and breezed
through the border yet again, declaring my new windshield to the
non plussed customs agent. Traffic was heavy around the lake to
Toronto, so I amused myself by trying to remember all the words
to Oh Canada (I got stuck after a certain point and began just
making fun of the other drivers instead). By this point I was
getting very cranky, and almost jumped out of my skin when a rock
flew up to hit my windshield. I drove very carefully, and enjoyed
the glimpses of the Toronto skyline as I approached the city. I
managed to pull in to Jason's workplace in one piece and ran up
to get my apartment keys from him. I had to wait a bit as he was
paged, but he showed up and asked after our friends in the path
of Floyd. I reassured him somewhat incoherently and promised I'd
talk more tomorrow at the list meet. I drove the short distance
home and pulled into the parking garage, turning off the car,
finally, with a sigh. I loaded myself down with the first of
three loads needed to empty the car and hauled myself upstairs.
The cat eventually came to say hello, I forgive you, and hasn't
left my side since. I went back down for the other loads and
managed to get everything put away, not finding the stereo
faceplate. I noticed that the metal chunk that hit me had bounced
on the car roof and chipped it also. Messages are checked, phone
calls made and now I'm typing things up as I wait for phone calls
to be returned. I'm not going anywhere major until after
Hallowmas when everyone will come visit us here in Toronto. I'm
going to Detroit next Saturday for the detgoth party, but it's
only 3 hours so it doesn't count. :)
Back to my diary page.