Monthly Archives: July 2009

Road Trip Chapter 3: I Got the Finger in Manitoba!

We begin July 9th in Big Springs, Nebraska.  There, I stayed at a Motel 6 that was attached to this enormous truck stop.  This was not your average gas station/motel/convenience store kind of place! There was a movie theater, two restaurants, a casino I think, an arcade, and a store that was almost supermarket-sized.  As far as I could tell, there was not much else in Big Springs besides this truck stop (presumably there are also some big springs somewhere in the area), so I hit the road, off on I-80 headed east.

Once I got to North Platte, I hopped on US-83 to go north.  US-83 is a pretty isolated road, going through lots of sleepy little towns and some gorgeous scenery.  One of the things that has surprised me on this trip is that many highways go right through Indian reservations, which I sort of expected to look really different from regular towns.  They really don’t, and a lot of times the only way I knew I was on a reservation was that I passed a casino.  I realized that in general I know very little about Native American/Indian culture or life or history.  I’ve interacted with lots of different kinds of people in my life, but I don’t think I had ever seen or met more than a few Native Americans.  It’s embarrassing to admit I know very little beyond stereotypes and what I’ve seen in movies, but in this case, that’s true.

I drove north to South Dakota, and then into North Dakota (state #46: check!) on a road that was actually a lot hillier and curvier than I would have expected.  I got to Minot, ND just in time to hit a campground for the night.  Then I set off early the morning of the 10th to Canada.  My Canadian excursion began with a trip to the International Peace Garden.  After that, I had to cross the border at customs to get into Manitoba.  This took a lot longer than I thought it would, because I think I was like the 3rd person the guys working there had seen all day.  They had a hundred questions about where I was going, what I was going to do, how much money was in my bank account, what was in my car, what I did for work, and so on.  It probably didn’t help that I had no clear plan or itinerary of where I was going to go or stay.  My feeling, honestly, was “Calm down, it’s just Canada!”  I chose not to share this sentiment with them, however.

Eventually, they decided I was not a serious threat to Canadian national security and sent me on my way.  They even gave me a map and guidebook of Manitoba.  It looks a lot like North Dakota, in case you were wondering: lots of grasslands and cornfields.  The people’s accent doesn’t change much either; by then, I was getting kind of tired of people answering questions with “o ya.”  Regional accents normally don’t bother me at all, but I find that upper-midwestern hollow “o” sound to be very grating.

There’s not much I can say about Manitoba that would be positive or particularly interesting.    I was genuinely surprised how unpleasant Manitoba was, since I’ve rarely met a Canadian who wasn’t kind and friendly.  I was in a LOT of gas station restrooms on this trip, and the ones in Canada were by far the worst and grossest I saw.  Once I got to Winnipeg, it only got worse: these were some of the rudest and most aggressive drivers I have ever encountered! And I’m from Boston!  I had dinner at a weird organic French burger place where the waiter kept calling me “young lady.”  After that, I was ready to get the hell out of Manitoba and go back to the US of A.  It took me over an hour to fight my way out of Winnipeg; by the time I got to the border crossing (a different one from where I entered) it was probably 8pm.

There was a long line for customs, and when I finally got to the front, the guard asked me a couple of questions, took my passport and stuck a yellow flyer on my windshield.  He told me to drive to the “vehicle inspection” line and wait until an officer came to search my car.  Well, lovely.  I sat there, car switched off, in front of a closed garage door, wondering if they’d forgotten about me for probably 30 minutes before the mysterious garage door opened and I was waved into a huge garage type building.  They had me get out of the car, empty my pockets and hand over my cell phone; then I had to go sit in a room labeled “waiting room,” which was essentially a jail cell–a couple of benches, a window and cinder block walls.  It smelled like really bad BO.

There were three guys already in there, one of whom asked when I walked in, “What are you in for?” I replied honestly that I had no idea. Another guy said, “Yeah, you don’t look like a drug dealer.”  Then his friend (both of them were Hispanic and about my age) said “Totally, I mean we get this all the time because we have the drug dealer look goin’ on.”  The old man in the corner–who was holding an envelope full of what looked like several thousand dollars in cash–piped in “Well you know, studies show 99% of drug dealers have two legs.”  We sat in silence for what seemed like a really long time; they let the old man leave, and the two Hispanic guys started arguing about whether they would be driving to Chicago (a 12 hour drive) that night or not.  Then they got to leave and I sat there by myself for ten minutes or so before they decided I probably was not a terrorist, drug dealer, or spy; then they let me go too, finally!  I got my passport and cell phone back and drove away, resolving never to go to Manitoba again.

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Road Trip Chapter 2 (long overdue!)

So, I never really got around to posting again during my road trip, and I apologize for that….but you know how it is when you’re on the road.  Especially when you’re the only one driving, there’s not much time for typing!  You’ll be glad to hear that I managed to make it back to Massachusetts without getting pulled over again.  On the downside, I did call and find out how much the fine would be, and it was $146! Sheesh! I was definitely expecting under 100!

I’ll begin pretty much where I left off…this entry covers July 6th through 8th, 2009.

After I left Kim’s place in Colorado, I drove to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.  This place is absolutely incredible–it is so beautiful.  I have never seen scenery like this in real life.  I sort of thought it was just in movies! Unfortunately, I can’t quite figure out how to put pictures in these entries, but for now, click here to see the pics on my Facebook page.  They have beautiful red and beige/gray stone arches and rocks, and against the blue sky, it’s like you’re on another planet or something.  A must-see, definitely!  It was probably 100 degrees there the day I went, but I didn’t care.  I even hiked a little bit.  I also camped, in a tent on a campground, for the first time in my life.  Heat and camping do NOT mix, but it was a cool experience anyways, and way cheaper than a motel.

From Arches, I headed east on I-70 back into Colorado. That stretch of I-70 has to be one of the most isolated, desolate interstate highways in America.  There are like 50 miles between exits, and many of the exits are just for ranches and don’t even have gas stations or anything like that.  It’s very pretty scenery though, and you can drive pretty fast.  It was mid-day on a weekday, not the middle of the night, but a lot of the time I couldn’t even see another car anywhere around me.

I took US-50 through southern Colorado from Grand Junction to Pueblo.  That was another gorgeous drive!  Very different look from the desert of southern Utah; it was very green, with lots of trees and mountains and clear blue lakes.  I felt like I was in a commercial for a whitewater rafting expedition, because the river (the Arkansas I think) mostly goes right alongside the highway.  It was scary at some points because the road goes right along the sides of mountains, peaking at about 11,000 feet which is the Continental Divide.  In fact, coming down from the highest point (Monarch Pass) I was hitting my brakes so much and I was so tired that I became convinced there was something wrong with the brakes.  In reality, I probably just needed a break from driving, but I really, really thought the brakes were about to fail!  So I took it super slow the rest of the way to Pueblo.

I didn’t get into Pueblo until about midnight, and the next day I took the car to a dealer to get the brakes checked out.  It turned out they were fine and I was just being paranoid, but the $27 to get them inspected was worth it to me for the peace of mind, because I seriously was terrified.  I left Pueblo and hit Denver around dinnertime, where I followed my friend Melissa’s suggestion and had dinner at a brewery-restaurant on the 15th street mall (or something like that–I think that’s what the area was called).  It was a bit touristy but nice.  While I was having dinner at the bar, a guy came up and sat down next to me and said “Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Okay I lied, I do.” Um, yeah, okay.

I wanted to get out of the city before I stopped for the night, mostly because motels are cheaper when they’re in the middle of nowhere, so I drove from Denver to Big Springs, Nebraska (Check off another state I’ve been to! That’s 45 out of 50!) where I stayed at a Motel 6.  The Motel 6 turned out to be attached to the biggest, most insane truck stop I have ever encountered….but that’s another story.

To be continued!

Borders and Parallels

I wrote this while visiting the International Peace Garden on the U.S./Canada border north of Minot, ND two days ago.

Sitting here, it is impossible not to compare this experience to when I visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea in 2005.  Reflecting on this, I wonder if there will ever be a time when Korea will reunite, or at least develop a friendly, non-hostile relationship.

Along the 49th parallel between North Dakota and Manitoba, I can walk or drive across the border almost without realizing it.  When I leave this garden I’ll need to pass through a border checkpoint, of course, but within this park, the border is just a line in the pavement.  I sit here, in Canada, looking across that “border” at my car, which I happen to have parked in the USA.

It seems fitting to the atmosphere of both regions that I am at the US/Canada border on a warm, pleasant summer day, whereas I visited the DMZ on a frigid winter afternoon.  The DMZ is not a warm, friendly place (as you could probably guess).  Barbed wire, lookout towers, armed guards–that’s what you see from the South Korean side.  There are bridges and railroad tracks that end abruptly at the DMZ fence, with boarded-up gates and fences; literally now bridges to nowhere.  Ironically, the road I took most of the way here–US-83–is often called “The Road to Nowhere” because it traverses such empty plains and grasslands.  Yet US-83 actually continues, after a customs station, into Canada without barbed wire or military defenses anywhere in sight.

I hope one day the DMZ can be like this: not a place of guards and weapons, but a peaceful garden like the one in which I’m writing.  Here, there is a memorial to those who died in 9/11.  There, a park memorializing the pain of decades of division would be fitting.  If only the Korean authorities could come here and just quietly contemplate for a while what a border could and should look like.

I don’t know where I live right now…and that’s okay!

This has been an exciting week.  Last Monday I moved out of my apartment and left Atlanta behind, off on a road trip around the country before returning to Boston; then from there I will fly off to Abu Dhabi in mid-August.

From Atlanta, I drove across Alabama and just over the border into Mississippi, where I got a motel room for the night.  I stayed at Microtel, which I’d never been to before, and it was quite pleasant. No frills, and a very small room (hence the “micro” in the name I guess) but more than adequate for one person to spend the night.  It was not particularly interesting driving in Alabama and Mississippi, but since I’d never been to those states before, I wanted to be sure to check them off my list (family contest to see who can go to all 50 states first…I think I have now been to 44 out of 50!) It is also mainly for this reason that I took a detour through northern Mississippi to the southeast corner of Arkansas and then down through eastern Louisiana back towards I-20.

While driving through the Mississippi Delta in northeastern Louisiana, I was pulled over in a little town called Lake Providence.  The cop said I failed to completely stop at the stop sign.  I am almost positive I did stop, but I thought it best not to argue.  Just being in the town made me quite uneasy, and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.  It looked very blighted and run-down, as if a major natural disaster had hit years ago and everyone had just boarded up the buildings and left.  I did see some people walking down the street or sitting on the curbs drinking.  Overall, it just looked like a very crappy little town.  Later, I Googled it and found that over a decade ago, Time magazine did a story on Lake Providence, which had been found by census figures to be the poorest place in America.

By then I’d had a lot of time to think about the fact that I’d been pulled over (for the 2nd time in my eleven years of driving) and given a ticket (my first ever except for parking tickets).  Reading the article, which while 12 years old still seems like an accurate portrayal of my experience of this town, it all kind of made sense.  Of course I got a ticket.  I was a white girl with Georgia plates and a college alumni sticker on my back window, driving through what I’d guess is probably still the poorest place in America.  I had no business there and was certainly not planning on spending money in this depressing place.  The more I turned it over in my head, the clearer the picture became.  At the time I was quite angry over being given a ticket (my first one! ever!) when I had not done anything wrong, but I’ve sort of settled on thinking of it as my toll payment for driving through the town.  However, this revenue-raising technique by the local police also ensures that I will never drive through that part of the country again.  On the other hand, after seeing this area, I doubt anyone would ever voluntarily go there twice, ticket or no ticket.

So, ticket in hand, I drove off to Texas (having decided at that time that I hated Louisiana and wanted to get my butt out of that stupid state as soon as possible–I’m over it now by the way).  I spent the night in Longview, Texas at another Microtel.  In the morning, I drove to Dallas with two goals: 1) get my oil changed, and 2) have a burger at Keller’s Drive-in, which I read here has one of the 20 best burgers in America.  I succeeded with both tasks, although I was kind of confused by the drive-in restaurant concept, having never been to one.  I’ve been to drive-throughs of course, but it’s not the same thing.  I get the impression drive-in restaurants are more popular in the South and West (maybe because of the weather?) and I hadn’t ever been to a Sonic drive-in until somewhere in Mississippi I believe.  So basically, I just didn’t understand how they worked and sort of made an idiot of myself at both drive-ins that I have now been to.

I got stuck in a huge traffic jam going out of Dallas, but once I got out of that area, it was a speedy and quite boring drive along the Texas/Oklahoma border and across the Texas panhandle to Tucumcari, New Mexico.  Tucumcari is known for being a major stop along the now-defunct Route 66.  By the light of day when I woke up the next morning, I could tell its glory days had long ago passed by.  It had an almost-ghost-town feeling that was very creepy to me; lots of abandoned motels and stores, and big murals on the sides of buildings that were meant to be a tourist attraction, but without tourists just look kind of tacky and out of place.  I got back on the road and out of there pretty fast.  I did have to stop and clean my windshield though, because it turns out Texas has way more than its share of large, suicidal bugs that kept hurling themselves at my car, where they became gross bug-gut smears that were quite distracting and icky.

I drove up through New Mexico with a stop in Santa Fe–VERY nice town!–and took a long but incredibly beautiful drive through the mountains.  The scenery there honestly did not look real; I felt like I was in a giant movie set or theme park or something, but it was real, and gorgeous.  As I got to Colorado–passing by a road sign on my way that warned “GUSTY WINDS MAY EXIST”–the landscape turned greener and a bit less rocky, but still very scenic.  A few hours later I was here in Durango, Colorado with my sister Kim!  She is an awesome hostess and has been taking me to lots of cool places like Four Corners (where I got to check off another state from my list!) and Mesa Verde National Park.  We also went out to bars, restaurants and coffee shops and just hung out in this pretty little college town.  I forgot how much fun it was to just go out and have a good time on a Saturday night!  I definitely need to do it more often.

Sadly, I have to leave tomorrow and Kim has to go back to work, but the exciting thing is that where I go is totally up to me.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of complete and total freedom that I’ve had these past few days.  No apartment, no work, almost no responsibilities.  Since I’m driving by myself I can go wherever  I want, whenever I want.  My planned route has changed quite a few times already, and I’ve spent the last 24 hours or so giving some thought to where I want to go from here, because I can go whatever direction I feel like going!  Suggestions are welcome, but I’m not going to tell you where I’m going until I get there, mostly because I still don’t know for sure where my next stop is.

Goodnight from Durango, and stay tuned for the next chapter of my highway adventure, which shall be posted at some point in the future when I have internet access. Until then, take care. Also be on the lookout for the gusty winds,  because the New Mexico Department of Transportation was kind of iffy on whether they exist or not.