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Sunday, May 31, 2009

TORNADO CHASE: Week 1


So there I was... Oklahoma City, OK, arriving at the Orientation Breakfast for my 1st week storm chasing; more specifically, Tornado Chasing. A very good old friend, Gregg Potter, is a full time meteorologist (no, that has nothing at all to do with meteors). He runs F5 Tornado Chasing Safari's, a company that charters tours in search of wild summer weather and the elusive twisters during tornado season yearly. He has been running it for 10 seasons now and this year I was lucky enough to snag the videography position. I was originally going to do only 1 week, but situations worked out to where I was able to attend the final 2 weeks of the chase season.

So I brought my trusty camera, a suitcase full of clothes, and my hunger to see America and its wild weather, and bussed my way out to Oklahoma City, OK. Despite the problems with Greyhound, I made it on time for the orientation breakfast. Unfortunately, the weather for this week looked horrible so far, and in storm chasing lingo, that means it was sunny with very few clouds. Totally not optimal for chasing storms, much less tornadoes.

We weren't the only ones on the chase, however. A team of scientists called Vortex II was out and about as well, bringing with them 40 total vehicles, 10 Doppler Radars, 15 support vehicles, television crews, and tag-along chasers who saw them on the weather channel. This risks clogging the roads with a traffic jam in a tornado. We hope to not see much of them, as the sheer number of vehicles adds a new element of danger in the event of severe weather.

This post will describe my travels during the 1st week of my 1st chase, but I am writing it on the 1st day of the second week (May 31st). I am currently in a Ford Explorer hammering away on my laptop. We just left the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, OK and are moving to bed down in Woodward, OK. There is potential for severe weather tomorrow in the Kansas/Nebraska area or the Texas Panhandle, and we are positioning ourselves to be able to get to either area depending on where the most severe storms hit tomorrow. This week was originally the only week I was going to be able to be on the tour, but I was fortunate enough to be able to hit last week as well.

Last weeks adventure is what this post is about. It will be rather long, but my chase posts will also serve as my personal journal since I do not keep a diary and we covered 5 states on week 1 alone. My memory isn't all that great, so I will have these posts to consult later down the line (if i survive week 2).

So with no weather to see, at least for a couple days, we switch to tourist mode and visit tourist and roadside attractions as this is a chartered service and serves as peoples vacations as well. Gregg is really good about making sure there are things to do when the weather doesn't provide, so we left Oklahoma City with our 1st stop in Dallas, TX (aside from gas, bathroom, and food stops, that is).

In Dallas, we went to the X in the middle of the road, on Elm Street. The X signifies the point where John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. I took video from where the Zapruder film was shot, the grassy gnoll, and from the point where he was killed looking up to the 6th floor of the Texas School book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly fired the fatal shots. I cannot post the videos as I do not own them as I was commissioned by F5 Tornado Safari's to take them and they are not my property. Also, several clients are on the videos and even if they don't ask for anonymity, I am going to give it to them. I will not refer to them by name either for the same reason.

There is plenty of activity near the site of the assassination in Dealey Plaza, and we were given a tour by a gentleman who presented several alternative views of the assassination, from the official to the conspiracy. When he asked us all who we though was responsible for the death of Kennedy, I replied "Bigfoot." He replied that it was as good a guess as any.

We also went on a tour of the 6th floor of the School Book Depository and looking down from just next to where Oswald officially fired the deadly shots (the window he was said to have used is protected by Plexiglas), I admit it was a clear shot... but it was pretty far. Surveying the scene, I have to say the area behind the fence of the grassy knoll was the place where I would have shot from, as it was clear, covered, and very close. Much Much closer than the 6th floor window.

Either way, my opinion is that the spot he was shot at was dead center of a perfect ambush. If you have never been there, it isn't like there are one or two places with a perfect shot; literally every spot is a perfect shot and the X marks the dead center of what would be optimal crossfire from many different locations and angles. It was eerie being there, to me, because seeing the spot seemed to offer more alternatives instead of clearing something up. Even if you don't want to pay the $6 or whatever to go upstairs to the book depository, if you are in Dallas... check it out. It is worth seeing.

If you do go upstairs, check out my favorite part of the exhibit, the display featuring some very famous pictures snapped just seconds before the bullets were fired by normal people, as well as the cameras that were used to snap them. As a cameraman, I must say that there is something really intriguing looking into a lens that witnessed history. It may be meaningless, but it sets my imagination going and I can almost hear the chaos in the crowd when our president was killed.

After a bite to eat at a Mexican Restaurant, we loaded up and moved on to Austin, where we bed down for the night at a La Quinta Hotel. My attempts to get people to go out to a bar or a strip club were in vain, but I did find a client party in one of the rooms and had a few vodka-sevens before falling to sleep.

The next day was Memorial Day, and we head down Congress street in Austin to do some shopping and sightseeing. I wasn't keen on spending any time in Texas, but the stores there sold me on Austin. Although I did not get to see any live music or titties in Austin, I do understand and firmly vote to "Keep Austin Weird."

After Phish tour, if the weather isn't too hot, I want to take Imaya to Austin as it is a very cool city and I would love to spend more time there soaking up the local scene. After finding Imaya a cool gift from Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, I went for a quick Arrogant Bastard Ale at a local music bar and grill called Trophy's and we were off.

The next stop was described to me as a small town that Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson sang about. As we were looking for it, someone mentioned it had a population of 3 and people stole the road signs. When we pulled into the town, it had very old buildings, a lot of people in cowboy hats, a bull with huge horns, and parking in a muddy grassland. "You have got to be kidding me," I said in disbelief knowing that we were going to spend the day in this back country redneck hillbilly cowboy manure farm.

I couldn't have been more wrong as the town of Luckenbach, TX remains my favorite spot to have visited on the first week of the chase. They were having a Memorial Day Party & Benefit for one of the local gentlemen, and there was music, beer, food, a silent auction, and fun to be had even for a California Dood like myself.

For those of you, like me, who are ignorant to what Luckenbach, TX is, let me try to describe it. There is a music hall that featured live country style music from different artists all day. The music hall is very "western," and the music wasn't "crying in your beer" country, it was the cool "outlaw country." There is a food service building attached to the side of the music hall.

Across the road is a public bathroom covered with license plates, and the general store/saloon/post office. Apparently you cannot drink in the post office area of the building, so one of the locals painted a line down the middle of the general store portion to show where you can't pass. There is what looks like a private house in one direction and a little bridge crossing a creek that leads to a fire pit and some old machinery.

We spent a few days in Texas, and I can honestly say that Luckenbach changed my way of looking at Texas (as well as Austin, to a lesser extent). I can wholeheartedly recommend Luckenbach as a place to visit if you are in Texas, or perhaps the reason you venture into Texas. You can read more about Luckenbach here and here.

I still have almost a full week of storm chasing and Americana to go, but I will be very surprised if any location can charm me in such an authentic way as Luckenbach. I am NOT into tourist traps, I want something real, and I can say the experience I had partying with those good folks (a few hundred on Memorial Day) was real and more fun than I ever thought I could have with a bunch of people in cowboy hats.

Anyway, late afternoon, it was time to leave my new home town, and head to the hotel. A holiday Inn express in Fredericksburg, TX a few miles up the road would be our bunk for the night. We checked in, and a few on our tour hit the pool where we found a gigantic beetle corpse that soon found itself hanging from the rearview mirror in one of the chase vehicles.

Then we went to the Railroad tunnel batcave, where at dusk, we were greeted by our 1st vortex... of about 1.5-3 million bats leaving the cave and flying out to feed in the local forest. Afterwords, we closed down a hidden gem, about 10 miles off the main road we discovered a little burger shack that boasted "The Best Burger in Texas." "Inconveniently located in the middle of nowhere," We had a large group that was certainly skeptical of the claim, especially as this place was so far away from, well, anywhere. The fact that they had sold out of both the daily special and the fries convinced us that they were popular enough to deserve a taste.

We were not disappointed in The Alamo Springs Cafe and I can honestly say that I never had a better burger in my life. Not only were they amazingly tasty, they were huge, weighing in at about 1/2 pound. Well worth the drive if you are in the area. Just watch the road for the many deer that wander out at night.

In Luckenbach, the town slogan is "Where Everybody is Somebody." At the Alamo Springs Cafe, the Slogan is "Where Nobody is Anybody." Being Somebody and Nobody, or is it anybody, either way, on the same day along with the burger and the bats was a hell of a topper to an amazing memorial day. We sat on rocking chairs at the front of our hotel before bed that night.

The next morning, we had a quick shopping trip in downtown Fredericksburg, and we hit the road for Abilene, TX, where we had the chance to see some severe weather, although it most likely wouldn't produce any twisters. On the way, we stopped to watch some cloud formations and found a true Texas gem... a drive through beer shack. Of course we had to buy a case of beer at the drive through, which looked like a converted drive through car wash. We drove in, gave our order, and the guy dropped it into our car. Only in Texas.

We arrived in Abilene, checked into our hotel, and as we were about to leave for dinner, were hit with 50 MPH winds, torrential rain, and an amazing Texas sized lightning storm. Sadly, it would be our only storm of that week.

The next morning, we got up, had our breakfast and moved on to the next tourist destination. Every place we had stayed in Texas that had continental breakfast had a waffle iron that you could make yourself waffles in. It made waffles in the shape of Texas. Just thought it was worth mentioning.

Next stop was Shreveport, LA. This was my 1st trip to the Bayou State, so I was kind of excited. I didn't realize it was going to be a ghetto, wannabe Vegas though. The clients on the tour were into gambling, so it was good by them, which of course, was what we were there for. I on the other hand, don't gamble and was pissed off when I realized we were staying at a Casino. I wanted to experience an authentic night partying and drinking in Louisiana, so even though our clients liked the hotel, I was pissed off immediately and consider Sam's Town a shithole.

We had no choice but to valet park, had no choice but to get a bellman, and when we went to the room, it was $10 a day for in room internet. It was $20 for a shitty buffet, and much more for the steakhouse. I wanted to leave but I felt trapped at a retarded riverboat casino without the internet to find a fun place to escape and party. I remarked to my room mate that the ridiculously huge bathroom was the best part of the hotel, which oddly enough, foreshadowed the end of the night.

So with no idea where I was going, I started walking. I found a half opened outdoor mall place with a bar and Mexican food that closed at 9PM. It being like 8:30, I kept walking. I went around a corner and noticed a bristling bar and grill. I asked what time they closed and what kind of beer they had on tap. They closed at 6 AM and had bass on tap with huge pitchers. So I went in, got a pitcher for myself and had some blackened chicken sandwich. I was in for a good night at The Blind Tiger.

I was joined by the 2 meteorologists and a driver for the chase, but they left after they ate to go gamble. I stayed and moved my half emptied pitcher up to the bar where I chatted with a couple local hippies. They told me the chicks arrive when the Karaoke starts at 10. At 10, like clockwork, the college girls arrived, but a beautiful girl at the corner seat at the bar caught my eye. She looked late 20's and seemed to stare when I caught her eye. When she went to the bathroom, I leaned my chair back blocking her return. When she came back, instead of asking me to move, she moved in and said "what's your name." It was on!

We clicked well, and after a few drinks I called Imaya and asked permission to have some fun with her. Permission granted, and we got a little cozier at the bar. When we got back to my hotel room, we realized we were short one crucial piece of protection. I headed down to the lobby to go for the gift shop, but it was CLOSED! I then proceeded to harass every employee and even some guests trying to buy just 1 for $10 while my room mate tried to keep her awake. After 20 minutes, a brother sold me a Magnum. I exclaimed "But I am white!" to much laughter by him and the hotel staff who were using radio and word of mouth to help me out. I didn't have much time to wait as it was getting very late and she had to leave at 5 AM to pick up her daughter, so I grabbed it and hoped.

Back at the room, my room mate told me he tried to keep her awake, but she passed out. When I climbed into bed, she awoke, and we head off into the huge bathroom for some fun. I knew that bathroom was the best thing about that hotel. Although I was quite drunk and not really performing up to snuff, I WAS pleased that I was able to fit in the magnum and we had a good time together. Before we went to sleep, I videoed her giving me her number and email as I tend to lose scraps of paper, and she even sent Imaya a video greeting, which Imaya said she appreciated. I slept well next to my chocolate treat and when the alarm woke us at 5, I walked her to her car, under the watchful (winking) eye of every employee that I had harassed for what turned out to be the worlds most expensive rubber.

I would like to give a shout out and mention her by name, but she has a right to privacy so out of respect for her and acknowledging the details I have already given, I won't. But if she ever reads this, I want her to know she made my stay in Louisiana memorable and made my visit worth having. As far as I saw, she was the best thing in Shreveport. And if I head back, I hope to see her again and perhaps even introduce her to Imaya. I also want to thank the night staff at the hotel as they mobilized like it was an emergency and tried to help me for no reason in the middle of the night. Thanks guys, I hope someone helps you guys in a pinch with the expertise that you helped me with! Oh yeah, and for my room mate, who was a 1st class wingman. Thanks!


Next stop after breakfast was Arkansas. I had heard the jokes and expected inbred banjo players on porches of falling apart mobile homes. What I saw by the time I left the state the next day was the most beautiful countryside that I have ever seen in my entire life! I am still so amazed by how gorgeous the place is that I hope to take Imaya there for some romantic time while we camp this summer if possible. It is truly spectacular, and I don't understand how Arkansas got such a bad rap, unless the locals are just trying to keep the rest of us out. I just need to remember bug spray for my next trip here.



Anyway, we headed off to Hope, AR next to visit the birthplace of Bill Clinton. The folks who ran the museum were very friendly, and we enjoyed our stay, but we soon were back on the road heading deep into the Ozark Mountains.

We soon arrived at our destination, the historic Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, AR, vacation destination of Al Capone. The building we stayed at was completed in 1924 and reaked of history. Elegant and ornate walls, doors and fixtures took us back to another time. Lucky's Bar & Grill served as my local watering hole as I once again split with the tour group after check in and was treated to 2 lesbians making out in the seat right next to me at the bar. $2 drafts were just what was needed as a wonderful nightcap.

The next day, the decision was made to head to Branson, MO and we hit the Natural Bridge in Arkansas. A severe ice storm earlier this year destroyed large portions of the forest, and a sign in the parking lot where you catch the trail informed us the path was too dangerous for people to use. Since we did not get any severe weather so far and it takes a certain type of person to try to chase a tornado, we went anyway. 50 foot trees had fallen and ripped up huge holes in the path with their roots making the relatively moderate hike a bit treacherous. We made it to the bridge however and got in a hike through the amazing Ozark mountain forest, so it was all good.

On to Branson, MO we went. Since I hate tourist spots, I got in touch with a friend, some of you may know him from WoW or Second Life Under the name Eolly or Scylloga or Ryan69 Odetts. We met up and he treated me to dinner, introduced me to his adorable daughter and nephew, and we headed out, per his daughters suggestion, to the Branson Landing, a cool "City Walk" type place with shops and hotels and docks along the lake. We got there just in time to check out the Fountain Show, Water and Fire. A little while later, he had to get the kids to bed, so after a brief tour of Branson, I was back at my hotel.

The storm we were hoping for in Kansas on Saturday, our last day with this group, wasn't going to materialize. We were in position to head through Kansas anyway. So the next morning we started to head out of Missouri into Kansas. We just happened to stumble on a small community west of Carl Junction, MO while traveling down County Route YY that appeared to have recently been hit by a tornado (we discovered later that it hit on May 8th, 2009 by a Squall Line followed by a Wake Low).

Almost every house we passed showed signs of damage, with blue tarps covering gaping holes in most every house. We saw about perhaps 4 houses that were completely exploded with fresh debris and fallen trees everywhere. At the border of Kansas, as we stepped out for our photo opportunities, I was exploring some brush and downed trees and I discovered the cover of a bible. It was a bright color and reasonable clean, so it hadn't been there long, but the pages were torn out clean. I looked for an inscription to see if the owners name was on it, but I couldn't so I left it be. The houses, trees and debris, although not from a tornado, was a sobering look into the power of what we were chasing. It certainly tuned me into the reality of what severe weather and mother nature could do.

We head through Kansas on the way back to Oklahoma City. We stopped at Big Brutus, a 160 foot giant whose dipper held 150 tons worth of earth, enough to fill 3 full railroad cars. We saw it on the horizon miles before we arrived, and it was freakin ridiculous huge.

We also talked to a local and found out that last year was a record breaker for tornadoes, around 180 twisters ripped through Kansas in 2008 alone. This year was also a record breaker, but for the extreme opposite reason. For the locals, it was good news. For the chasers like us and scientists like Vortex II, it meant we had to head back to Oklahoma City after spending a full week in tornado alley only seeing one minor storm.

While I am happy the locals escaped the destruction that goes along with a tornado, I am disappointed that we didn't see anything on my first week of tornado chasing. And I am sad the clients did not see any either. However, out of 9 clients on this tour, 7 of them have already booked for next year. Hopefully, I will be able to join them as well because once you catch the bug, you follow it. So I hope I will be on the chase again next year.

But we have to get through next weeks chase first...


View Larger Map

Here is a Rough Map of our travels the last week. While the destinations are correct, the routes are possibly dramatically different as we stopped all over at roadside attractions and opted for more scenic, rural areas. For viewability, not all diversions are mapped. Total actual mileage was 1950 miles for the week from Oklahoma City to Oklahoma City.

Friday, May 29, 2009

GREYHELL: Reno to Oklahoma City


So, I was getting on a Greyhound bus for the first time in 15 years. I have flown only slightly more in that time, generally preferring to drive. I was leaving Reno and heading to Oklahoma City, OK.

The trip was scheduled to take about 38 hours or so. I had stocked up with a bunch of cheap, non perishable food from the dollar store, and some meds and tissue, as the cold I picked up at the dead show had morphed into what google told me was likely a sinus infection. I have a hard time sleeping in moving vehicles anyway, so I was hoping the bus would be less than full and on time, as I had 4 transfers to make in order to make it on time.

My departure time was 7:30 PM on Thursday and was scheduled to arrive at 9:30 AM in Oklahoma City on Sunday. Here is a map of where my bus trip led me including all 4 transfer stops.


View Larger Map

Due to the current construction on that crazy ass mountain death road, 80, to the west of Reno (that goes through the Donner pass, yeah, THAT Donner pass), my very 1st bus was an hour late, immediately throwing my trip into turmoil. With 4 transfers that had only approximately 30 minute layover in each spot, I was not confident that I would make my 9:30 AM Saturday arrival. That was OK, as I had until 9 AM or so on Sunday to make it to Oklahoma City or I would miss my trip.

What trip you ask?

Stay tuned for the Oklahoma City edition of my blog to find out...

Anyway, the good news was the bus was so late Imaya was able to get off work and come say goodbye again at the bus station by the time my bus arrived. The bad news was my very 1st bus was late, potentially throwing the rest of my journey into disarray.

Well, when the bus finally arrived, my hopes of finding two unoccupied seats were dashed when the driver kept coming in and counting all of us in line to board... presumably to see if he had enough seats for everyone. I am not sure if everyone made it on, but I did.

Upon boarding, I looked for the best possible seatmate who would be next to me for the next 13 hours or so... no, not the woman with the baby... no, not the guy who hadn't bathed in 14 years, no, not the drooling woman... hey, an empty seat... it had a backpack and water bottle... I have a backpack and water bottle, he is prolly in the bathroom but surely we had some things in common, I will take that seat! I am sure will have a lot in common and share interesting stories and many laughs during our journey!

Well, he came out of the the bathroom, told me I was in his seat and announced he was an alcoholic the minute he sat down after he realized we were sharing a seat and there was no alternative. He was going from Reno to Florida, and whispered to me that he only had $1 on him for the trip. He wanted the window, which was fine by me except that he got piss drunk and had to pee every 5 miles or so. He then shared that he just got out of prison, not jail, but PRISON. I didn't ask why (I am not sure that I wanted to know) but I did ask for how long. "A few years" was all he said and I left it at that.

He said he had a headache, and having stocked up on dollar store meds, I gave him some aspirin. Since he only had $1.00 and no food, I gave him some of my dollar store food to help him out as well. He ate it and then proceeded to throw the trash right on the ground under me :/

I almost expected him to shank someone during the 1st hour so all the other passengers wouldn't fuck with him...

He then tried to sleep while I pulled out Imaya's Gameboy advance to kill some time. It didn't seem to matter to my seatmate that JR. hip hop star 2 seats ahead was playing some rap from his phone out loud and singing along boisterously, the guy in front of us was playing his video game as well, but my seatmate, at 9PM rudely and loudly asked me, 5 minutes after I started playing my game, "ARE YOU GOING TO PLAY THAT DAMN THING ALL NIGHT?"

I took my first risk of life and limb less than an hour into the trip by risking getting a shiv in the neck by saying "Yes." I paid for my seat and was hardly the most disturbing person on this very packed bus.

I wished that I didn't have a fear of flying at this point as plane tickets were only about $30 more from Reno to Oklahoma city, but I would have had to go from Reno to San Fransisco to Dallas, then finally to Oklahoma City. Even though I flew from LA to Norfolk, Virginia and back this year, that was 3,000 miles and only had one stop. 3 take offs and landings and layovers might have shaved 15 or so hours off of my trip, but I couldn't fathom that kind of air trip again so soon (with no phish Payoff), so I went with the bus, which was starting off on the wrong foot. Also, due to the amount of alcohol and tranquilizers I ingested to fly to Virginia, I almost was refused boarding on one of my flights, and only Imaya kept me steady and took care of me enough when I was oblivious to my surroundings.

So, being an hour late, at one of the truck stops we landed in for food (which would be the only type of food, save for one McDonald's, that we would be able to eat during my journey), I asked the bus driver if I would make my connection in Salt Lake City. He said that the driver of my next bus was alerted to our schedule and would be waiting for us due to the amount of passengers who were transferring to his bus. Well, it looks like I will be making my first transfer despite the late start... things were looking up!

And this time, indeed it was looking up! When we got to Salt Lake City, I was quickly ushered to my waiting bus. There were less than 1 person per 2 seats, which meant that I had my own seat all to myself. And I took advantage of my sinus infection to cough like a tuberculosis patient every new passenger we picked up to ensure I kept that seat to myself. I even threw in a snort here and there to simulate the terrifyingly deadly swine flu that all the kids are catching these days. And it worked, I had the seats to myself the entire trip from Salt Lake City, UT all the way to Grand Junction, CO.

I was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt that was semi covert, and a dude in his early 20's named Andreas picked up on it and was traveling on the same Route as me through Amarillo, TX, and we shared many a story about the shows we went to, the good times and the ordeals of traveling. He was heading back home to Texas from a 2 year stay in Oregon. He was an excellent traveling companion made better by the fact that he had his own seat and I had my own. Things were looking up, briefly.

Now the first bus driver out of Reno was a very pleasant gentleman who went out of his way to make the trip comfortable for his passengers, even going as far as singing "On the Road Again" when Jr. hip hop star demanded he turn on the radio from far in the back of the bus. The bus driver out of Salt Lake City was the exact opposite, nasty, sarcastic shit talker who wanted to make his passengers suffer. A real first class dickhead. At every stop he would give the precise time he was leaving and then just to hammer in the point, mention that "it will be 8 hours until the next bus comes around if you are not back on the bus," just to be a dick.

Well, I knew we were still behind schedule, so about half way between Salt Lake City and Grand Junction, I asked the driver whether we were going to make the connection. He replied that there were 27 of us picking up the bus from Grand Junction to Denver, so they would hold the bus for us. Things were still looking good!

I should have realized that this guy was too big of a dickhead for things to go well by the reaction I got from some of thew passengers on my way back to my seat. "He talked to you?" questioned one timid looking young man. "All he did was yell at me and tell me to sit down" said another, less timid looking dood. "He is a fucking asshole" said pretty much everyone else on my way back to my seat. "He isn't so bad" I naively thought to myself, "after all, he is holding our connection bus for us."

Arrival in Grand Junction was greeted by the driver warning everyone to quickly exit the bus and run into the station because this was an incredibly dangerous station and people have been killed there followed by the cold hard slap of reality just as I saw the driver quickly leave the bus and scurry quickly into the back while we were waiting in line at the front counter. "Yes, I know there are 27 people who needed to be on the Denver bus that just left," said the woman at the Greyhound counter, "but your driver didn't radio ahead and the Denver bus left 15 minutes ago. You will have to wait 5 more hours for the next one."

The asshole had found a way to royally fuck 27 people, apparently, just because he was a 1st class asshole with an incredibly small micropenis. I really hope karma kicks the living shit out of him, because I was unable to find the bastard to do it myself, and believe me, I would have not only because I hadn't slept yet and was sick, but because that fucktard deserved it... badly deserved it. If there is any justice in this world, I will meet that driver again sometime in this life in a very dark secluded alley where even the buzzards won't hear his screams...

Not only did 27 of us have to wait 5 extra hours in Grand Junction, but my connections in Denver and Amarillo were missed for sure and my deadline of 9 AM Sunday in Oklahoma City was now in question. I had scheduled myself to arrive in Oklahoma City almost 24 hours ahead of when I was required to be there because I am responsible and understood shit happens on Greyhound. Even then, somehow, one singlevevil vindictive douchebag put my arrival, even just on time, completely at risk.

Andreas and I charged our phones and my laptop at the station while we discussed what we were going to do for the next 5 hours. I wanted to find a bar, but Andreas was nervous that they wouldn't let us on the bus if we were drinking. I tried to convince him that bringing booze on the bus was prohibited but nobody said anything about drinking prior to getting on the bus.

I was so confident we could get hammered prior to boarding as long as we were not carrying, when I couldn't visually locate a bar, I asked one of the Greyhound employees where the nearest bar was. "In the alley behind the station, blue building," she said. And there we found Snowflakes bar and pool hall, which was bristling with activity that Friday afternoon. It looked like a giant warehouse converted with a giant bar, a blaring jukebox, a few tables and a few busy pool tables. Andreas went to go check on pitchers while I watched our beer at the table.

An old timer immediately came up to me and tried to sell me some weed. I asked him what kind and how much. "Kind bud," he answered, $20 an 1/8. It sounded too good to be true as that was at least $40 less an 1/8 than it should cost. Plus, I take risks but bringing herb into Texas was a bit too much of a risk for even me to take, so I offered to buy a joint for $5 which quickly ended our conversation. But still, I was impressed that even at my advancing age and short hair, I can still score pretty quickly in a strange town.

Anyway, after some pitchers of keystone (???), Andreas and I were back at the station and soon on the bus to Denver. The bus ride to Denver was kind of fun, with a seat for myself alone again, and a beautiful view. I sat behind a gentleman who had come to Colorado to shoot a rap music video. He astounded me by telling of last week, when he shared rehearsal space with Steve Kimock's new band, who Imaya and I had just seen in Hampton after Sunday night's Phish show. The driver let us know that the bus from Denver to Amerillo would be waiting for us. Almost back on schedule, and on my way, I was finally enjoying the trip, although still sick and unable to sleep.

The bus from Denver to Amarillo was the most empty yet, approximately 8 seats per person, which was funny, since when we tried to sleep, we all laid our legs across the aisle making the trek to the bathroom quite difficult for anyone at the front of the bus. But Denver to Amarillo was a great ride, where Heidi joined the party with Andreas and I. We enjoyed the trip through Colorado, New Mexico (I saw my 1st dormant volcano), and Texas. They were great traveling companions, but all good things must come to an end.

Amarillo arrived, and and my 2 new friends both headed to the bus into Dallas, I was headed on the bus to Oklahoma City. They had a 1 hour layover, I had a two hour layover. The broken down bus station in Amarillo soon filled up with a mostly unfriendly seeming group from a bus that emptied. I hadn't slept in 2 days and it was starting to take it's toll on me. I soon found out that that was my bus to Oklahoma City.

Being one of the last people on the bus, I had limited choices on seating. I tried to sit next to a woman, but she appeared to have 57 variety's of carry on bags. As she started adjusting the pile to apparently make room for me, I saw 2 out of 3 open seats in the last row. I went there and the dood invited me to sit. We were on our way.

Arrival in Oklahoma City was rather smooth at around 6 PM. I grabbed a cab to the hotel, where the driver informed me that I was in a 3.2 beer state. A quick diversion to a liquor store to pick up some real beer, Sierra Nevada, and I was at the hotel.

I was concerned that there would be issues checking in as I was relying on my boss for the next 2 weeks to reserve my room and he wouldn't be in until 10 PM or so, but there was my room, in my name, ready to go. I ran into Jason, one of the drivers fairly quickly, and he told me the group from last night's tour was going to dinner next door in about an hour. Since I was planning on going next door as well, I was invited to join the party. I was loopy from lack of sleep and a few beers, but the steak and lobster dinner was a welcome escape from the truck stop food I had been forced to survive on for the last couple days.

The Wyndem Hotel in Oklahoma City was interesting. Nice room, and a decent bar, but a couple of things were noteworthy. Laughter and screams of children were heard immediatly outside the window of my room. When I looked "outside," I realized that my window was not looking outside at all. It had a very large indoor pool on the interior of the hotel that the inisde rooms looked in on. Very interesting indeed.

The other notable thing about my room was that it had a big red warning card describing exactly what to do in the likely event of a tornado.

I was there, in the epicenter of tornado alley in the heart of tornado season. Logic be damned, if there was a twister... I would be one of those going towards that which makes people hide and run away.

The next two weeks could be very interesting indeed...

Stay Tuned!

Monday, May 25, 2009

UPDATE RENO: Better Late than Never


Well, on April 20th, 2009, I arrived in Reno, NV to begin a new adventure with my darling Imaya. I know this post is over a month late, but I was too busy loving life with her to play on the innernets. Right now I am in a Holiday Inn Express in Fredericksburg, TX about to go to a real life batcave. How did I end up here? We shall get to that later, I have a ton of steps in between to cover first.

So let's start with going to stay with my darling Imaya in Reno, NV.


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Above is the map of where I traveled after my Coachella weekend in my freshly repaired car. I arrived at about 8:30 AM on April 20th, 2009 (no kidding, I got there on 4/20)

Imaya welcomed me into her home, and we kept busy. She was finishing college and working; I was learning about Reno. One of our 1st adventures was to Terrible's Rail City (my choice) to eat their famous 1 pound ham steak and eggs (I had a terrible's experience in Vegas before). While there we had some brews from the Ale House.

She showed me around, and took me to where she drums and fire dances at the River School. While it was very cool, it really made me feel old. I didn't know what fire dancing was until Imaya told me, which will come into play later. Her home is actually a dorm type place near the college, so to make me feel older, there were college kids everywhere. The bonus was the local gas station which has an enormous variety of good beers.

She also introduced me to her very good friends, Crystal and her family, Angela and her boyfriend Char, and all the while we sampled a wide variety of very good brews and tried some nice vegan food from the Pneumatic Diner.

Since I keep mentioning the beer, let me note that my favorite beer is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale... which is difficult to find in most places in this country. If a town has a 15% chance of having Sierra when I go out, it is considered very high odds. In Reno, it is the STAPLE beer, which made me very happy. Some places I went did not have Budweiser, but did have Sierra... I was very happy indeed. It seems like Reno is to Sierra Nevada as Coors is to pissbeer Colorado.

Anyway, I finally met Imaya's parents... I was quite nervous about meeting them as I told her, "I am a little old to be 'meeting parents,'" however, it went quite well as they seemed to like me and I liked them. They invited me over for a couple of excellent dinners (her dad is an awesome cook) and out for sushi. I helped them get ready for Imaya's graduation party.


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The week of her graduation was hectic, to say the least. On the Sunday prior, Imaya and I headed down to Mountain View, CA to the beautiful Shoreline Amphitheatre to see The Dead. It was her 1st time seeing them and we tested our business plan for making money during Phish tour. We had a blast, selling our wares (more about what we were selling after tour), I had no ticket but got in, and we made enough money to pretty much break even, pay for gas, grass, tickets, beer, and garlic fries. So we are confident that we will be able to support ourselves during the Phish tour. I had purchased a $5 straw hat for shade prior to Coachella, and was wearing it in the show and as I was leaving my seat, a dude offered me $50 for it. I told him OK, but all he had were 3 $20's and I had no change on me, so he bought my $5 hat off my head for $60... I can't even make shit like that up.

We would have made more money, but we kinda snuck backstaqe at the end of the show. We ended up in the hospitality section of Shoreline, next to the fire dancers who performed during that nights Rhythm Devils portion of the show. Yes, Imaya had out cooled me and, right after my arrival in Reno, she fire danced for me when I didn't even know who it was, and here were the Dead featuring some amazing fire dancers. We even gave an old timer hippy named Kelly who sold beads a ride to Berkley after the show. It was a LOONG day as we left Reno at about 9 AM, arrived in the parking lot around 2 PM, left shoreline around 1 AM and went back to Reno.

And yes, we saw the google campus while in Mountain View... we are geeks after all.

And we will be back for Phish in August.

Imaya had a lot of work for finals, and Friday night was her graduation party. I met a ton of her family and family friends and she had a great party. I ended up with her, her cousin, her brother and her sister at a hookah bar in the middle of the night. It was cool.

Saturday had her walking in her graduation and had us attending a family friends graduation party. By the end of the week, I had attended 3 graduation parties with her family and let me tell you, her family and their friends can party down!

All good things must come to an end, and so it was with us. On my last night in town, I met Imaya's good friend Stephanie when she invited us to watch the improv comedy show performed by the Utility Players in the Cabaret at Studio on 4th. Afterwords, we tried in vain to find some food still open and ended up drinking very good beers at Silver Peak Grill and Taproom. The food was great, Imaya had the Ahi salad, I had the crawfish jambalaya. They were both delicious.

And then we had my final day in Reno, which was spent running around trying to get a bunch of shit to do. I went to Imaya's work and said goodbye, and took a cab to the bus station. Why a bus? I hate flying. Although, after this experience, I now hate buses too. Where was I going? How was my trip? WTF is Mulch doing in Texas? The answer will arrive soon. To be continued...

 

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