Catsy (amezuki) wrote,

Well, it's nice to know that my sporadic LJ-updating habits have nothing to do with my free time, and everything to do with my usual cyclic attention span. This is the first post I've even begun to write since the day we set out from Bellevue. To be fair, at first it was circumstances--I was doing most of the driving on the trip out, which left Jess with more time in the copilot's chair to write her LJ posts, and left me exhausted at night's end. In addition, after we left WA we encountered almost no usable WiFi hotspots until we stopped for the night. At which point most of my limited computer time was spent plotting the next day's journey and doing the finances, not writing content.

But still. If you want a blow by blow account of our vacation, I recommend bayushi's LJ, as she has been writing more or less daily, and in far greater detail than I have the wherewithal to put forth. For my part, I've been taking pictures, and lots of them. I'm trying to put together a photo essay about certain parts of our journey; we'll see if it actually happens. In the meantime, some thoughts, factoids, and lessons learned in no particular order:

  • The Smithsonian kicks ass, but if you go, either smuggle in your own food or plan to eat elsewhere. We ate at one of the themed cafes in the Museum of Natural History, and it was hands down the worst cafeteria-grade dogshit that I have ever been overcharged for the dubious privilege of choking down. It made hospital and school food look good, and had worse fuck-you pricing than a movie theater. I was very close to taking it back to the counter and demanding a refund, it was so bad.
  • If you want to see the Space Shuttle and the other cool things in the hangar portion of the Air and Space Museum, they're not on the Smithsonian campus in D.C.--they're in an annex near Dulles, and are a completely separate exhibit.
  • Microsoft Streets & Trips with the GPS fob is invaluable. I never want to do another road trip without it again, without question. It has saved our ass more times than we can count, allowed us to adapt and adjust without poring over paper maps in the dark, and allowed us to wander around strange cities at will with the confidence that we can always find our way back to where we're supposed to be.
  • That said, MS S&T is spectacularly awful at correctly estimating driving time. If you are planning a long road trip, drag all of the driving speed sliders to the left (slower), and tell it to end your driving day at least two or three hours before you would actually want to be off the road. We started our first day at around 7:30 AM, and ended it at around 1:30 AM, putting in almost 1,000 miles. S&T seemed to think that we could start at 7:00 AM and arrive at our destination by 10:00 PM. You live and learn.
  • Virginia drivers are so bad, they make everyone in Bellevue look like Sears driving instructors. Nobody signals, every other person runs stale yellows and even reds, stop signs are optional, speed limits are an afterthought, and basic road courtesy is nonexistent. We ran into some pretty bad drivers across the country, but the people in my home state take the cake.
  • If you want to truly test your abilities as a driver, volunteer to drive the three hours home at night from a place you've just visited for the first time, across three sets of mountains with unlined roads, no guard rails, and switchbacks so severe that most of them are marked at 15 MPH, in an unfamiliar car that you've never driven before. If you make it home alive, and you haven't had to change your shorts, you can probably safely assume that you're a decent driver.
  • When a hotel, gas station, rest stop, or other facility advertises WiFi or "high-speed internet", the details matter. The gas stations with WiFi are usually subscription-based and require a login, the rest stops usually require you to be inside the building and not just sitting in your nice air conditioned car, and the quality and nature of a hotel's internet access varies with the phase of the moon. Our first hotel had no wireless in the rooms due to someone knocking down their repeater, and only had access in the lobby; the second night we had quality high-speed internet in our room but it required me to put down a $200 deposit for a bridging device that plugged one end into a power outlet and the other end into an ethernet port; the third night we had relatively acceptable WiFi in the room.
  • If you're searching for hotels on, the lowest rate that displays on the site may not be one for which you are eligible. Check the details; half the time when searching for hotels the lowest rate it showed was an AARP/Senior rate, despite my never specifying in my search criteria that I was a senior. Expect me to bug this when I get back.
  • You can drive from one coast to the other in four days if you speed like hell and stop for an average of six hours a night. But realistically, allow for five.
  • The Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia is breathtakingly beautiful. But if you can't stand bluegrass music, either skip the dinner train or bring earplugs.
  • Don't assume that you can easily replace the ice in your cooler the next morning. Most hotels don't allow you to refill your cooler anymore; instead of an ice bin with a scoop they now have the kind of single-serving ice dispenser that you find in fast food restaurants, with a sign prohibiting you to refill your cooler from it. I think on the way back I'll see if we can get away with it anyway, because it was a coin flip as to whether or not we'd find a gas station with ice, another coin flip as to whether or not their mini-mart was open when we set out in the morning, and a final coin flip as to whether or not they had any ice stocked.
  • You can sometimes mooch WiFi in a city if you know where to look. At the end of our second day, we had a pretty good idea of where we were going to end our driving day, so we stopped in Rapid City and found a bagel shop with WiFi. It was closed, but I was able to stand in front of one of the windows long enough to login to Expedia and check for hotels a hundred miles down the road.
  • If you don't have your day's destination pre-planned and reserved, find a place with Internet a few hours before you want to stop and check what's down the road. If you can, book a hotel in your estimated destination in advance. The Econo Lodge in Wall, SD was the only hotel I didn't book in advance, and when we arrived there I took their very last room for the night--beating another woman and her family into the office by around a minute. It would've sucked to have had to try and find another hotel after we got there, as there was nothing after Wall until Sioux Falls, over 300 miles away. (That said, I did just that--when I found out I'd taken the last room, I fired up my laptop in the lobby and helped her find another hotel in town.)
  • Hotel prices are fucking retarded. I don't know when it happened, but at some point over the last decade the average price of a crappy-ass Motel 6 or equivalent has gone from around $50 to around $130. The only way I was able to find lodging for less than that was by having a laptop, finding WiFi, and using Expedia.
  • Our interstate highways are in really, really bad shape. For folks local to me, you think I-5 in the south end is bad? It's got nothing on I-90 in the nation's breadbasket. Between Bellevue and Sioux Falls, I ran out of fingers to count the number of times the highway was closed down to one lane while they tore up the other side, slowing traffic to a crawl for miles at a stretch--and that was in the areas where they were actually doing something about it. About half of the rest was two potholes short of off-roading.
  • You can revisit your childhood. Don't let anyone tell you different.
And wow, the new LJ post interface is even more horrible than I previously thought. It just managed to utterly butcher a simple lj cut, linked user, and bulleted list. Please revert this worthless piece of shit, it's choad code.
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