Archive for June, 2008

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Day 1

June 30, 2008


I am headed to the NW states. 

I left Baltimore on Saturday.  After a whopping 30 minutes of driving, I just had to stop and walk around.  So, am unsure how long it will take me to get to the NW.

I am in Pittsburgh.  I really like it here.  The few times these last 2 years that I have driven from Baltimore to Michigan, I have gone by Pittsburgh, but never stopped in.  When I was in Houston, I re-connected with a guy who travels around the states with his boys to go to baseball games and to check out all the stadiums.  By far, his favorite stadium is in Pittsburgh.  He said the team colors are black and yellow [maybe gold], and they used materials and paint that are those colors.  So, it is really nice how the stadium matches the uniforms.  Also nice is the layout/setting where you can lookout and see downtown in the outfield.

So, I had planned on coming to Pittsburgh and spending at least Saturday nite…and seeing a game.  I had my mind set on this.  So of course for the entire 5 hour drive, it is raining and then not.

Once in Pittsburgh, as I’m driving downtown, it’s not raining, but it sure looks like it’s brewing up a big one.

Pittsburgh was settled on 3 rivers.  I’m not sure if one would call them big hills or baby mountains, but that is all around.  So, you have tunnels, lots of bridges [over the rivers, and also “regular” streets], and houses built on the side of the mountains/hills.  Looks really pretty.

I walked over the Roberto Clemente pedestrian bridge [just on game nites] and talked to some guys who were selling souvenirs re buying a ticket on the street.  They told me the guy to buy from…and got my $8 ticket in the bleachers [$9 at the window].

They have several tall bronze statues – probably 12’ high, outside the stadium.  Roberto Clemente. Willie Stargell.  Some Homer or Honer guy… When I talked to people, I asked the statues were life size, but people didn’t get my joke.

Inside they had the very stereotypic ballpark food.  Nothing new or interesting.  They have helpful people working there and a guy told me to go to the Hall of Fame Club, which is open to the public and they have better food up there.  So, I went there and the moment I got inside, the skies opened up and the wind and the rain came pouring down.  I didn’t care, cuz I was inside, and had my greek salad, which was unusually tasty.

After about 45 minutes, the rain stopped and they announced the game would start in 15 minutes.  I went and found a seat under the awning/whatever it’s called.

After the game started, it started to rain again, and rained the entire game.  Unsure when they call it [I’m sure some of my readers know], but thought it interesting that they never called it, and there were all these people sitting out in the open [NOT under an awning].

Several thoughts:
As mentioned above, they have regular food stands, except …they sell pierogies.  They even have a cartoon with pierogie characters that plays between innings and then people dressed as pierogies come onto the field and run around.

Chili pie = bucco pie

People here call the team the bucs, not the pirates.  Lots of bucs or bucco mentioned.

Now, the layout of the stadium is spectacular…you can see downtown and a bridge just above the outfield.  However, contrary to what I was told, the stadium isn’t black and yellow.  The back/outfield area is painted all green.  The stadium seats are midnite blue [per my childhood box of 64 crayola crayons].  Everything else is cement color.  And then the coolest thing happened, at one point,  it was as though someone flipped a switch…at a certain point the sun was setting and the reflection off all the downtown buildings was this yellow/gold color.  AND a rainbow.  Unbelievable.  It seemed surreal.  I have attached a photo. Doesn’t do it justice.

You know how in between innings some stadiums will “shoot” t-shirts out of the gun-like thing?  Well, here they shoot hot dogs.

Minimal signs/adverts along the outfield wall. 

On my way to the game, I went thru a little run down area and then a really nice area – big beautiful older houses.  The whole time everyone I saw had dark skin.  Of course, no big deal…just what I noticed.  Then, around the 5th inning, I looked around me…and the crowd seemed 100% Anglo.  I then searched the stands for people of color.  I found 4 [not together].

The lady at my hotel says NO ONE goes to the games.  I think the stadium was probably 40% full.  Of course, the threat of rain probably kept a lot of people away.

The game tied up in the 8th inning.  Still tied at the bottom of the 9th.  I was cold so I left.   It went for 13 innings, with the pirates/bucs winning.

I like Pittsburgh enough to spend another nite here.

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Fairbanks, Alaska – Day 7

Last thoughts on Fairbanks: Fairbanks has definitely grown on me. We found the cool coffee shop, we’re finding good food places, discovering more hiking/cycling paths, fun places where the locals hang out…

My niece Sara will be here for a few more years, and I can see myself coming back to spend next summer. However, my bike is a must. I can’t imagine living here w/o a bike.

Of course, if I think the drive to the NW is daunting, I shouldn’t even consider this!

We went to hike around Lake Chena today in the rain. We both liked the rain, however, there were swarms of huge mosquitoes. So, we had to cut it short. Too bad, cuz it was really beautiful. It would have been the perfect cycling moment…if I had my bike.

The Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline comes thru this area. In the perma frost areas it is above ground [approx 50% of it. Off the top of my head, I thought there were several 36″ lines. But in reality there is only one line – 48″. In a certain area there is a “viewing area” where you can walk up and touch it and walk all around it.

Pull Tabs – there is no lottery in Alaska. However, they have Pull Tabs. Which are these little cards, and you …pull the tab off, and there is something written underneath.

You can only buy pull tabs in these small buildings that only sell Pull Tabs. I decided to give the state of Alaska a buck. We went in one and it was crowded [it’s small] with 3 older Native woman pulling tabs. I waited to get waited on and watched as these women kept opening their wallets and getting $20 out. And they would just pull them off with gusto. They’re seated with those big plastic garbage cans next to them to throw the used tabs into. Then in between pulling, a woman leans over and spits chew/dip into the garbage can…inches from me. It was all around a sad sight, so I had to leave.

There are an unusually high number of people who chew here.

There are electrical plugs in parking lots so that people can plug their cars in, in the winter.

There seems to be minimal trash along the side of the roads here.

I was talking to someone and he asked if I’ve tried the moose. I said I was a vegetarian. He again asked if I’ve tried the moose. I laughed. He said that people up here don’t consider moose “red meat”.

They have transfer stations here, which are areas where they have a bunch of trash bins. People can take their garbage here to be picked up. They also have a free cycle tented area that you can put things for others to take.

It was 92′ on Saturday. Today was 68′ and rainy.

This is stating the obvious…and I know that I recently commented that some place had a high % of beater cars. Well…THIS place has them beat. Of course no one would have a “nice” car here, and I certainly haven’t seen any.

Most radio stations play 70’s music here. We got in the car today, and the DJ said “you may wonder what kind of rat bastard would play a song like that.” Now…when’s the last time you heard a DJ talk like that?

Off to bed. I’ll spend all day getting back to Baltimore, where I’ll be for a few days.

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Fairbanks, Alaska – Day 6

I am starting to see the draw of living in Fairbanks. Sara has said that this is a place that you can be who you want to be and that no one gives a sh*t. And that seems to be true.

We went to the summer solstice festival yesterday, which was downtown. Again, there were all kinds of people out and about. Oh…I forgot to mention that there were families at the Howling Dog Friday nite. Lots of little ones roaming about. At 10 pm they announced no more kids, and the families went home. Also forgot to mention that they had belly dancers dancing between set changes.

Anyways, I go to lots of festivals, including city/downtown fests. And when a band is playing, people don’t usually get up and dance. Here, the moment the band started playing, several people got up to dance. And it’s all kinds of people dancing with each other. There was a Native guy dancing by himself, and a biker chick got up to dance with him. Then a hippie woman started dancing, and a guy danced with her. An older woman started, and a young guy got up to dance with her… and again, just about everyone, men included, weren’t just dancing, but they were interpreting. It was really cool to see this happening.

We were going to meet up with our fire fighting – hot shot – guys, but thunderstorms sparked 70+ fires in northern California on Saturday, and they got sudden orders to go to California [they are always on 2 hour notice]. Hot shots go in after the smoke jumpers to put out the fires. If the smoke jumpers can’t control it, then they send the hot shots in. The guy I met in Ottawa when I was exploring the NE was a smoke jumper.

Saturday nite, Sara, Jen and I went back to the Howling Dog, but neither the bands nor the crowd were as good. So, we went to the Big I, which is an Irish pub, and a young crowd.

We dropped Sara off around 2.30 am and I pulled out of her drive way. It’s still light out. I know you know that, but it’s still real strange. Hardly anyone is on the road [we left “early”]. Suddenly, ** lights on behind me **. I got pulled over. I think the cop was just coming up with an excuse to pull people over. I was waiting for him to ask me if I’d been drinking, so I could tell him “I don’t drink…I’m the designated driver!” And he never once even asked!! On this nite…the drunkest nite of the year, and he doesn’t even ask me. I suppose I make for a very good sober person.

Yesterday we went hiking near the university. After a bit we came across some other hikers. They told us to hike over to the Large Animal Research Center, which has the largest goats in world – musk ox. Musk ox’s have been around since before the ice age – 20,000+ years. At the farm, they are housed in a big fenced in area [actually, there was a double, extra security fence] and all of them were off laying in the shade under trees in the furthest part of the area from us. So, we could hardly see them.

We hiked a mile in the heat, with huge dratted mosquitoes trying to eat us, and we couldn’t see them, except that to me, they certainly didn’t look like a goat. I looked them up, and they are part cow, part goat. They looked more like cow to me.

At the trailhead of the hike, they warned of moose, dive bombing hawks, and there was a bear sighting May 26th.

Friday afternoon we visited North Pole, which also happens to be where Sara is working on a DOT project. We had lunch and visited her project. North Pole has candy cane lampposts, the obligatory all year long Christmas store, it has the largest [42′] fiberglass statue [of Santa Claus] in the world. The USPS delivers mail addressed to Santa Claus here. They have volunteers who answer the Christmas mail each year.

We had been told that North Pole has more churches per capita than anywhere, but I didn’t really see that many churches. What they really have are more taxidermy shops than anywhere.

We had been driving around, and I forgot the name of the town, and kept thinking “man, these people really like their Christmas lights on their houses, and they keep them up all year”. Then realized…duh.

Sara had mentioned twice that we should go to the knotty wood store that is 20 minutes further from North Pole. You know how some trees grow a “goiter”? This business takes these and makes walking canes, big animals…out of them. Sara mentioned this place twice, so we thought we would check it out. We drove 20 minutes getting there, 3 minutes there, and then came back to Fairbanks.

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Fairbanks, Alaska – Day 5

We’re moving very slowly this morning … Oh goodness. Fairbanks has certainly taken a turn…we got home last nite at 5 am.

We decided to go the booze bar – Howling Dog. We left the house at 9 pm, which to me felt like 2 in the afternoon. The Howling Dog is having Foodstock, which is a 3 day music festival to raise money for the food bank. Across the street from the Howling Dog is the Silver Gulch, which is the beer bar. On the big touristy map we have, which shows most of the businesses in the area, it just says “beer”.

There was a stage/band inside, and we walked to the outside stage.

We finally found our characters.

There was Penny Lane from “Almost Famous”, and what could be her grandmother, hippies of all ages, shapes and sizes, Natives, offbeat people, biker people/Hells Angels, military guys…every type of person you can think of.

And then there were the woman doing their interpretive dance in front of the stage. I LOVED it!

We were having a blast and then we met these forest fire fighting guys!

On the summer solstice [today] people are supposed to stay out all nite. Before going out last nite I was wondering how that’s done. Now I know.

We had our sunglasses on til 11 pm, and then put them on again at 3 am when the sun came back up. It never gets dark, just slightly dusk-y for a couple hours.

Gotta go. We are off to hike, and then need to hit the solstice festivities.

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Fairbanks, Alaska – Day 4

June 21, 2008

Yesterday Jen and I went to Denali National Park. It is a 2 hour drive south of Fairbanks. We’ve been told, and I’ve read how busy the park is during the summer months. I was expecting a traffic jam, or behind RVs going super slow on the 2 lane road. However, to me, there were hardly anyone on the road – I think we saw less than 20 cars going our way, each way. So, if we were behind a slow moving vehicle it was easy to pass them.

I actually think WE were the slow moving vehicle, since we were taking our time, in order to take in the beauty of the scenery. The drive to Denali was just as beautiful as Denali. Very green, and so many shades of green. It really is “wow”.

At first we thought there were no mile markers along highway 3, which doesn’t make any sense, but then noticed the little signs along the other side of the road.

There is pretty much nothing, housing or business wise along the road…just nature. There are a couple very little towns…a gas station, one or 2 other businesses, and a couple houses. You do see a dirt road intersect with the highway, with either 1 or up to 4 mailboxes, but no houses [behind the trees]. But, overall, not too many of those.

Pretty much all mountains and trees.

Healy is about 12 miles north of Denali. We saw a gas station with $4.82 gas. And a mile or so further, we saw one at $5.22. I suppose if you’re in a bind…

At Denali , it was 60′, partly sunny with really cool cloud cover. The whole time I’ve been here there’s been cool cloud cover – different shades of white and gray and funky shapes. Very pretty.

We had full cell reception.

There is a bus service that can take you on various tours. There is a free one that is 2 hours. Then the next one is 5.5 hours. We chose the 2 hour so we can get out and have time to hike along the Savage River and other places. The guy at the visitor center was incorrect – one can hike [which only makes sense]. However, there were a lot of bear warning signs. And do NOT feed the squirrel signs. Actually a bunch of do NOT fee the animals signs, but separate signs specifically for squirrels.

The bus took off on time. It was near capacity. We saw about 15 dall sheep, 5 caribou and a baby moose along the way.

A lot of the area in the Park and along the way has what I would call these little trees. The bus driver said they are dwarf spruce and dwarf willow trees. Each moose eats 40 – 60 # of these dwarf trees a day.

The day was too cloudy to see Mt McKinley.

When we packed at the car for the bus/hike, I decided to forego my fleece jacket and raingear. BUT I chose to take my hat [I don’t want that dratted sun on my face!]. Sheesh…note to self: if in the mountains and getting on a bus to hike, take the fleece! And if the clouds look dark, take the raingear. So we get out, and it’s cold, windy and looks like it’s going to rain. But I have my hat!! Which did help keep me warm. But here I am hiking around as it’s about to rain with a straw, sun hat on!

The hike along the Savage River was supposed to be one mile along one side of the river, cross a bridge and come back along the other side.

The trail was a “maintained” trail, which means that it was a flat, paved path. We immediately were at the bridge. I looked at the time and we had been out for 15 minutes.

We kept going along the “un-maintained” path, and had a blast hiking all around and taking in the scenery. We hiked up to what I called a glacier that hadn’t melted yet, but Jen just called it a patch of snow.

We had so much fun. Jen is more of a daredevil than I and would climb/craw out of big boulders just above the very fast moving [savage] river just so I could take her photo on the edge. I’ve got sweaty palms right now just writing this, so you can imagine how I was when she’s doing this. I didn’t want to look, but then I’m the one who was supposed to capture this on film.

After we had our fill of hiking, and it was starting to rain harder, so I flagged down a bus and it took us back to our car. We started off on a hike near our car, but it was lame. We were tired and hungry, so decided to leave to eat at Rose’s Cafe in Healy, which was recomm to us.

On the way home at around 9 pm, the sun looked at though it was 2 in the afternoon. I had my sunglasses on.

Misc thoughts:

One of the kiosks/little buildings in the parking lot is “bun on the run”. It a cute building, and also has seating outside, in the parking lot. We were told that their cinnamon buns were good. Jen had one and said it was “friggin amazing”.

There are an unusually high number of Thai restaurants in Fairbanks.

I’ve been drinking “ice rages” here, and I do think they are better than sbux’s mocha frappes. They have a slight malty taste to them.

During the cold winter months, people here plug their cars in. The cord is in the front. So, a lot of cars here have the cord sticking out from under the front part of their car. It looks like a tongue hanging out.

Our house is colder than outside. I can’t imagine how cold it gets in the winter. In the bathroom, in the middle of the floor is a heat vent. However, it is a light weight aluminum [??] wall vent, not a floor vent. Did I mention that this is in the middle of the bathroom floor? Somehow Jen manages to miss this, but I keep stepping on it…and suddenly feel as though I’m going thru the floor! Needless to say it is very bent up. A stop to Home Depot is needed before I leave here.

Today we are going on a hike near Fairbanks, and then go to North Pole, looking for Santa Claus.

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Fairbanks, Alaska – Day 3

Jen and I got home a little bit ago. It’s after 10 pm and I’m tired. One word describes Denali: wow.

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Fairbanks, Alaska – Day 2

The high today this afternoon was 68′ and cloudy. Brrrr. Sara says “it’s SO hot here”.

I was up this morning at 5 am. Yes, it’s light out. They claim that today the sun will set around 12.45 am, and rises again around 2.45 am.

I am so glad my niece Jen is here with me, cuz a week here would be several days too long. We covered pretty much all there is to do in Fairbanks today…and we sat on our butts til around noon today [besides hitting the grocery store and going to the car rental place].

The rental car lady suggested we have lunch at the Iris Cafe, which is part of the Golden Nugget Inn, which is located downtown. There are supposed to be a lot of “characters” who go to the Iris Cafe. Excellent..we’re there! No characters. Had good halibut, though.

We checked out downtown. There are non-chain touristy stores along with several boarded up buildings. There is great potential for this downtown area.

The banks here have names like Mt McKinley Bank, Mt McKinley Mutual State Bank, Denali State Bank…

We checked out the farmer’s market, which had zero fruit, but lots of homemade crafts, bakery and lettuce stalls.

Apparently people in Fairbanks like their coffee and like ice cream. Remember back in the 80’s when there were those little film developing kiosks/buildings in the middle of a parking lot? They have something like that here…but for coffee. There is one on nearly every other street. They are everywhere. Most sell coffee, some also sell bagels. I had a mocha “ice rage” which is the anti-starbucks-mocha frappacino. It was tasty!

We also checked out “the” ice cream place – hot licks. It was just ok.

We checked out the cool bookstore.

We drove around checking out the trees, mountain and scenery. We checked out the “expensive” house area.

There are a lot of areas where black spruces grow. However, you’re not supposed to build houses where black spruces grow cuz that is a permafrost area. If you build, your house heats the soil, causing the frost to melt and your house will sink/fall in. So, we checked out houses that have caved in, in the middle.

Apparently it’s expensive to hook your house up to the city water [$40k]. And the city water isn’t too tasty. So, people don’t hook up to the city and have a big water tank in their backyard. A company can come by to fill you up, or you can do it yourself. So, you will see pick up trucks with the white-ish clear water tank in the back where people are hauling water to fill up their tanks.

There is no sales tax or income tax in Alaska.

Fairbanks has a golf course. You can play 24/7.

They like chain link fences here. On the busier roads, between the wide sidewalk/bike path and the road are chain link fences. I thought it had something to do with snow and removing it from the road and having it build up against the fence and not on the sidewalk, but Sara said that they don’t get that much snow and that the Natives [the PC word for the indigenous people here] have a severe drinking and drug problem, and that most likely the fence is there to try to ensure they don’t wander into the street and get hit by a car.

We have been looking for “characters” all day today, and haven’t found any. That is supposed to be one of the draws about Fairbanks …you can be offbeat, and no one cares. So, I was expecting lots of offbeat people, but people look like people anywhere. Ha…hopefully that makes sense.

They have large mosquitoes everywhere here. The car rental lady was telling us there are 5 types of mosquitoes, but didn’t go into the types. I asked for suggestions re places to eat, and when she describes the places, she also described the mosquito’s situation…this place is good at keeping the mosquitoes out…

We had dinner in a purple house/building – Ichiban Noodles. Jen had the most expensive won ton soup ever – $13. We tried eating dinner outside – it got up to 70′ around 8 pm tonight. But the mosquitoes drove us inside.

Tomorrow we will probably drive the approx 3 hours to Denali National Park. We have been told that they only let you go on bus rides inside the park due to too many bears.

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Fairbanks, Alaska – Day 1

12 hours in Fairbanks: I am in Fairbanks now. My niece, Sara lives here, and [my other niece] Jennifer flew in a few days ago to stay for about 6 weeks. Sara is working during the day, so Jen and I will be out exploring. Jen and I are staying at a friend of Sara’s house, who is working out of town for the summer [DOT].

I am here for the summer solstice, which is supposed to be a big deal up here. I have been to Anchorage a couple of times – when I worked in the Bering Sea on an offshore rig, we would fly to/from Anchorage. So, I have been here when it is daylight 24/7.

It is a 4 hour time difference from the Eastern Time Zone, and I’m all off. When I got in last nite, I was hungry so we ate something, which would have been 1 am EST. Then we drove around town. Between that and going to the grocery store and renting a car this morning, I think I know my way around Fairbanks.

I wanted to get this out, so here are just a few of my initial thoughts:

* school mascot is the malemute [or malamute]

* Gas is $4.34 – $4.36

* There are a lot of businesses here with the name Sourdough. We have been told they are named after the old saying of “I am sour on Fairbanks, but have no dough to leave”

* LOTS of people on bikes [all kinds of people – ages and shapes] and cycling trails everywhere

* Mountains are beautiful and green everywhere

* The car rental lady explained to us that there are 2 types of establishments: those that serve beer, and those that serve booze

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Roanoke, Virginia

June 11, 2008

I’m in Roanoke…a little more than halfway to Baltimore.   I should be in Baltimore later today, and leave tomorrow/Thursday morning for Michigan – to go to my niece’s wedding celebration.


I am officially staying at the worst motel I have ever stayed at…and I stayed at some dumps while in the NE.  Bottom line: I slept in my car last nite.


I have learned my lesson re staying at the cheapest place in town.  Ahem.


DON’T stay at: Knight’s Inn at 7120 Williamson Road


I have a buddy who has traveled the states for years playing in various bands.  He knows this motel and says: “it’s a sleazy area – crackwhores, pimps, drugdealers etc. – you were probably wise to sleep in the car – probably would have been wiser to sleep in the car somewhere else though”.

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Chattanooga, TN

June 9, 2008


A gfriend of mine is in Chattanooga, TN on business today. Chattanooga is relatively on my way, so I stopped to see her.


They have an electric shuttle that takes people from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo to the downtown area.  So, I checked out the Choo-Choo, for free.  The train depot is quite impressive.


The shuttle claims that it leaves every 10 minutes, and it seems that it does.


Last Friday at the D Day museum, I met a group from Chattanooga and they told me I HAD to walk across the pedestrian bridge.  The bridge is downtown and crosses the TN River.  There are shops, bars and restaurants across the river.  I wish I had my bike with me so I could have done this is 15 minutes and not the hour that it took me.  Nothing of note on the other side.  The view of the water was nice.


This time of year is the Riverbend Music Festival.  There is music each nite, except Monday…Monday is when they have “The Strut”.  I couldn’t get anyone to tell me why it’s called The Strut, cuz it doesn’t seem like anyone is strutting.  It started at 5 pm so I walked on over.  It is downtown along MLK ave.


It was a street festival like any place USA.  Food and drink booths, people selling crap [except here was a lot of male hat selling booths – hats for men], there were people preaching on each street, and bunches of cops everywhere.  There were groups of 4 cops on every corner.  And at certain corners, there must have been 12 along with a bunch of vehicles.  I asked if it was safe to be here [my radar always goes off when I see lots of cops hanging out] and they said that last year it got pretty rough after the sun went down.  BUT they weren’t expecting that this year.


Oh, I forgot…there were Obama people EVERYWHERE…and they were all Anglo [about 90% of the crowd was Anglo]. 


I took the shuttle back into downtown and my gfriend and I walked around and had a wonderful dinner.

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