Sunday, December 1, 2013

US Route66- Day 7, Sept 23, 2013 Monday. Bottle tree ranch, Santa Monica pier

I woke up this morning feeling good. Today is going to be the last day of my epic road trip. Tonight, I'll be sleeping in my friend's place. Its going to be a good day.
The only place to visit today was the bottle tree ranch. I came to know about this place when seeing An Idiot Abroad, a British TV show made by Ricky G and Stephen M with Karl P. They are absolutely funny guys. They are the sort of guys who exhibit typical British sense of humor which I admire a lot. The bottle tree ranch was definitely in my wish list when I sat down a week ago, planning 66.
I had my breakfast in a nearby cafe. The ranch is couple of hours drive away, so I started driving again, on the road, on the highway. I entered California soon and the first thing on the road was Mojave county and Death valley. Funny thing about Death valley that I was watching an episode of Roadies, the Indian version of The Amazing Race and similar. There are bunch of people, doing tasks, vote outs, politics, bad mouth, friendships and betrayal. To keep the episodes interesting, there are some crazy people thrown in of course. And in this season, there was this one dumb girl. I don't remember the name, I think Divya or something but important thing is that she was dumb stupid girl. In this particular season, the roadies, as the people were liked to be called, were visiting USA and stopping at major cities, doing tasks and moving along. And in this episode they were doing a task and the setup was in Death Valley. This is what the girl said in the episode...

"This morning we received a scroll in which we were asked to get dressed and head to Death Valley for our next task. We were all clueless about the task and then the location, Death Valley! I didn't know what to expect but I was a bit scared. Will we be dead in Death Valley?"

And that is forever itched in my head. She butchered Death valley for me. This place is never going to intimidate me in my life because every time I'd hear the word Death valley, this would remind me of this stupid comment and I'd laugh. Yeah of course having a task setup in Death valley must be a ploy to kill the contestants, because the name of the place says it all. Idiots!

I kept thinking of this scene every time I saw a sign board saying Death valley, take this exit, Welcome to Death valley national park, Mojave County, the place of Death valley, driest place in the world.....funniest comment in my head.

One can clearly see the difference between California and other states. As soon as you enter, its valleys all around. One hill after another. One time you are pushing up a hill, another time you are sliding down a downhill. Remarkably different. Some stretches were so steep, there were sign boards saying to turn off car a/c to avoid engine over heating. I need not worry because I rarely used it in my trip. Slide open the windows a bit, and its natural a/c. I must say that I did use the a/c between 1-4pm, thats when its the hottest. But the morning drive was bit cooler. Good thing that my car came off the hill drive fine. I was already assured of my tires, wise thing that I replaced all, but everything else went ok.

I arrived at the tree ranch. There were 2-3 people knocking around taking pictures, but otherwise it was a quiet place. I like places like this. It brings peace of mind. Serene. But here were interesting things to see. First of all, there are all sorts of garbage bottles in there, plastic or glass. And I think as a mark of leaving their impressions, some people bring in there own bottles, and stick them up on the hangars, instead of throwing them in a bin. I don't know if it can be called an art. I mean, it is some form of it. But its  just a buildup of waste. Apart from the bottles, there were some old typewriter, wind speed indicators, campus, nails, maps, broken furniture. There was a shady cabin but nobody was in there. I don't expect the owner of the place living here, let alone someone else. You don't have a pleasant backyard to look into if you live here, right.

Gotta move on now. Few more hours of driving and I'll be in Santa Monica. As I approached the nearby bigger cities, there was heavy traffic. I was used to two lane highways with scant vehicles ahead and behind, for past 5 days, but now suddenly there is 5-6 lane highway with hundreds of cars around. The flow was still good, I wasn't going below 50mph anytime, but there were lots of vehicles. Welcome to California.

Bright sunny days, packed highways, hot and humid, polluted air, expensive gas and lots of beaches. California here I come. Soon I was in Santa Monica pier. It was monday after noon, yet there was a decent crowd. I couldn't find a parking spot nearby so had to park a little further. I walked to the pier and found the Route66 sign board. This is it. I've made it. There was a crowd and people were piling up to take their pictures. And most of them didn't even deserve to take the picture with the 66 sign because they didn't do the drive, did they? I, most of them all, deserved it. They should've made way for me. They should've taken my picture. I waited for couple of minutes and found a free window. I handed the phone a nearby spectator and he obliged to take my picture. Job well done! 66 is done and off my list.
Now that I'm on the other side, I reminisced my train of thoughts before I started on the road. I'm although very safe driver, but I do not trust others. There are many assholes out there. This being a 2400 miles trip spanning over a week, I was very worried that I'll be in a road accident. Thankfully, except for the burned out tire, everything else was fine. Also the tire incident happened outside the highways which was a blessing.
I thought to keep an email ready to be sent to Ritesh, my Chicago friend, in case there is an emergency, and the email would contain my family member's contact number and addresses along with username/passwords of my various accounts. I trust him that he would do the right thing because if I were in his place, I'd have done the same. I was hugely relieved that I will not be needing this email now, at least till my next such big adventure. I was very pleased with the trip, personally and I look at it as an achievement. Something that I'll cherish for a long time. Very few people fortunate enough get to do 66 and now I belong to that club. The trip was over about time when I was getting frustrated. It had been a week already and that too, alone.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

2 days in the California DMV office

I've just moved from Chicago to California and I needed to change my car's title and registration, as well as get me a California licence. I read online that one has to do this within 20 days of taking residency in the state. My current Illinois plate is valid till Feb next year, and its only October, so I thought to delay my registration work as much as I can. Typical Indian mentality, you know. I try to extract maximum benefit out of everything :)
Considering that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is very busy for any American office establishment, with most of the employees taking vacations and all that, I thought it'd be safe to get these things done just before the holiday season kicks off. So I booked the appointment for 21st Nov 2013, Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving. I picked 3pm as I thought, I'd be in office that day and if I leave around 2pm, I'll beat the traffic. See, not only am I an astute planner, I'm cost effective too. I always look out for ways to save money and time. Important. Great. Booking is done, and I couldn't be more proud of myself. I thanked heavens for bestowing me with intelligence. What'd I've done, if I were a moron!

Its Wednesday, the 20th. I prepared my paper works, looked up online for the list of required documents, arranged them in the order of preferences. My backpack contains my work laptop and a folder of documents. I knew I do not have to give a driving test but I'll need to pass in my written exam. Something that I've been through already, when I moved from Florida to Illinois. I found out the CA driving manual pdf. It was a huge file, as usual. I did started studying seriously first few pages but then soon started to quickly glanced through the pages, hitting 'page down' key after every 5 seconds. What information I read from the initial pages were very ordinary and usual stuff. Like pedestrians have right of way when crossing, bikers and motorcyclists have same rights etc etc. I'm smart enough to know such things already, plus I boast of being a very safe driver. One speeding ticket being an exception, my record is otherwise clean. Plus I'm a very nice guy. I care about pedestrians, bikers and motorcyclists and their interest is always on my mind when I'm driving :) Its a shame to my smartness that I need to study such trivial things. So thats it. I went to sleep.

Its Thursday, the 21st, 2pm. I dropped an email to my team that I'll be out of office rest of the day, and then left. As planned, there was little traffic. At 2:30, I'm in the DMV office. As I went in, I saw a familiar scene. Typical office hustle bustle, loads of people, both old and young. Then there were two lines. One for appointments only, one for without appointments. I smiled at myself and took my place in the appointments only line. I condescendingly looked at the people in the other line, with a mischievous smile. Yeah bitch! I'll be out of here before you even see the service lady at the other side of the desk. My chest automatically taking in few extra ounces of oxygen, the only thing missing was my fist thumping on it. I noticed a placard, "The wait time for non-appointment holders is approx 1hr 50mins". Did somebody say I'm a genius?

The lady at the counter greets me. She checks my papers and tells me to get my car checked by the DMV officer. I drove around the building and at the back, was a lane for vehicle inspection. I had 3 cars in front of me. The second car had two motorbikes in a trailer and it took the DMV officer forever to get that checked out. The officers couldn't have been more confused. There were people going in and out of the building and nobody seemed to know what they were doing. Anyways, the car in front of me was blocking the view. It took 40 minutes before my turn came. The officer was an Indian middle age guy, possibly south Indian as evidenced by his mustache. Or it could have been Movember thing, but I doubt at his age, he has got the appetite for this sort of thing. He followed routine process, check odometer, VIN, licence plate number and registration etc. I think the officers were thrown off their comfort zone when they saw trailer with motorbikes. Like a robot who is programmed for making coffee in a particular machine but gets confused when it sees a different machine. I went in the building with my papers. I went to a corner and filled out my DL forms and noticed that the car verification form that the officer gave me outside, at the bottom was a place for owner's signature. Me being meticulous, I signed and dated it. Took my bunch of papers and the lady at the counter gave me a ticket. F-169. I love a number which has 69!

Currently F-165 was being served. Soon, I heard the magical words. "Now serving F-169 at window 13".
I looked at the tv screen and it said window 18, at the end of the row. I thought may be its a mistake. I went to window 18 and the the lady there was surprised to see me.

"Did I ask your number?" She wasn't expecting anyone as she hurriedly put down her coffee mug.
"Yes. Its F-169 and Window 18 as the screen shows".
"Are you sure? Because I didn't call ..."

Before she could finish, the announcer went off, "Now serving F-169 at window 13". Hmm, what is going on? I looked up at the tv screen, the end of the row now said window 8. I do not believe this. Is this some joke the dmv is playing with me. Is there a hidden camera somewhere? I looked down, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and .....naah, nothing.
I just looked up at the tv screen again and this time, I looked close and found out the problem.

Ticket     Window    Ticket     Window
F-169      13            B-132     8
F-169      13            A-65       18

Fuck! Embarrassing. Some dude decided to use two columns. I tried to find a hole big enough for me to hide into. I apologized to window 18 lady and headed straight to window 13, before anyone else could notice what a moron I am. I'm sure the non-appointment queue people were happy. I cannot say 'Fuck' enough times to vent my frustration. As it turned out, the day wasn't done.

So here I am, being serviced at Window 13. Sat behind the desk was a pretty women, I'd say in her mid 30s, probably Latin american, with a cute accent. And she was pretty. She had a very soft voice and sweet smile. Great! Better than some old ladies and older men sitting behind some other windows. We were having small talks, like "I need to see your passport", "Ok. Please sign here and here" etc. And I was pretty involved in trying to make more than small talks with her. I had my reasons. I had seen in the website that the written test can sometimes be waived off only if the dmv officer deems fit. I had in my mind, a plan. A plan to talk my way through it. Enter the smooth and charming me. May be with my charm, and deadly smile, and smooth talks, I'll talk my way around the written test. And it certainly helped my plan to see a beautiful women on the other side. Had it been a dude or granny, I'd have to think hard about it :)
The flirting I tried, didn't help, probably because I wasn't good at flirting. I was occasionally drawing blank coming up with some killer one liners but Ramiaza, as she goes by the name, was in fact giving me opportunities. Fuck again! Smartness but not flirting enough, I'm such a waste. I ain't Joey with 'How you doin?'

R: "Ok. So lets do the registration part first. All the paper work looks good...oh wait. Oh you were not supposed to sign at the bottom of this verification form without me telling you so"

With her fingertips she showed me the section and my signature, and I was thunderstruck. Being too careful cannot be a bad thing, right.

Me: "Oh I'm sorry. I didn't know that. I saw an empty field, and I filled it."
R:  "Oh, so you'll sign wherever you'll see the signature field?" She said with a smile that pierced my heart and thousand more. With her soft voice and a hint of flirt in it, I knew I've salvaged something of mine, even though I'm an idiot for her.
Me: "I'm truly sorry. I didn't know."

She smiled to acknowledge and the dim light of hope lingered on in my mind. Time to kill...
Me: "I was wondering if you could waive the written test for me, please."
R: "Well, I've already waived the driving test for you but I cannot waive off written."

Oh, with the faintest of smile and softest of voice, she declined but it didn't feel like it. In other words, she just said "Look, dude, if I can call you that, but here's the thing. I gave you couple of opportunities to remain permanent in my memory, instead you turned out to be a moron, idiot, confused and boring. Not funny or creative but just like some other guy, may be worse. Please give the written test and don't press your luck too much else I'll put you for driving test too".

I collected my new plates from her and my DL slip. She pointed me another section of the office with two lines, Line C and D, and asked me to be in C for my new DL work.
I get my picture taken, and the granny there handed me the test paper and pointed me to the test area.
The less I speak about the test, the better it is. There were basically three categories of questions in there, for me. Easy, 50-50 and utterly confusing. I ticked off the easy questions first. Speed limit in residential area, I know is 25, because a good 3 mile stretch from my home to office goes through it and my eyes were bored of seeing the signs "Speed Limit 25". Body Alcohol Limit is 0.08 because I've undergone a DUI test once, I was driving too slow at 3 in the morning. The 50-50 questions were something the answer to which were not obvious straightaway. But after carefully going through the options, I could make a reasonable decision. Then there were utterly confusing questions. What to do if a person with cane is starting to cross the road but then he pulls back? I mean, is it a test of how nice of a person you are? And the answer options left me totally clueless. Should I continue driving because he is not ready, should I wait for him to cross? I decided to use my best behavior. I thought what would a nice person like me, a person so caring, gentle and selfless and so intelligent, will do? Of course I'll wait for him to cross first. Just because I've a used car, doesn't mean I'll forget my roots. I used to be a pedestrian too :)
And this was just one example. 36 questions, and 3 categories, with more or less, the same distribution. You do the math. I didn't expect the test to go like this. I thought this would be a piece of cake but it wasn't. While standing in another line, to get my answers checked, I was cursing myself for being lazy and over confident. This was just casual, wasn't it. I am an atheist, but at times like these, I just pray for some supernatural force to get me to the other side.
The same granny checks my answers. Boom, boom, boom, tick, tick, boom, boom....and so on went the sequence. After 3 mistakes on the first page of the test itself, I had given up hope, while she turned over the page and sprinkled salt on my open wound. Total of 7 mistakes and I had already known the verdict long before. I have read online that you fail the test if you get more than 3 wrong so there was no point, isn't it?
And by the way, I am supposed to cross the road because the fucking pedestrian with the fucking cane is not ready to cross. What the fuck! This is the reward for being a nice guy on the road? Failure, a looser. She torn off the right top corner of the test paper and gave it to me along with my other documents. She told me I can retake the test and I need to be in Line D now, however its already 4:30pm and written tests are not allowed now.
Fuck me! As a consolation of my day's effort, I need not take an appointment or stand in the start line again. I can straightaway come and stand in Line D instead. Yeah, thank you for that. Geez...
I left the dmv, head down, and a big 'L' written on my forehead. Miserable. Tomorrow is Friday, and I'll try to come again and get this thing right.

Its Friday, the 22st, 2:15pm. I leave the office again, this time without dropping any emails. I'm already carrying a looser tag around my neck. I used to feel sarcastic for friends who fail dmv written and now I'm one of them too. What goes around, comes around, with some extra baggage of humiliation :)
At the dmv, I went straight to Line D and the Asian lady does my paperwork. While standing in the line for my written test, I was feeling confident I'll crack it this time. I had gone over the test questions of yesterday and have memorized the ones that I got wrong. As soon as I get the paper, I'll tick the boxes and get done with it, since I already know the questions. My turn came.
"Ok. so this is your second attempt, take this and go to the test area", said the granny while handing me the test paper.It was a different set of questions. What the hell is wrong with me? How can I be so stupid to think that the dmv is so stupid that they will use the same questions for every attempt? I felt like I never left the dmv yesterday. I'm back to where it all started. And my self-pride and (over) confidence had prohibited me to study the manual pdf.
I took my time. Almost 45 minutes. I targeted the easy ones first, for the ones which I was confident I couldn't go wrong. Then the 50-50s with making some reasonable logic. The came the confused questions part. After much head scratching, knuckle cracking moments, I finished all questions. Then while standing in line, I thought I'll use my smartphone to look up one question that was really confusing. Confining myself between the person ahead and behind me, and keeping my hands closer to my chest, I did a google search, and as it turned out, I was incorrect. Oh my God! And I am an atheist. Fuck! Whatever little of confidence was left, deserted me. I came out of the line, and back to the testing area. I corrected my answer, but know I wanted to know more. Since I've already spent nearly an hour on this, I didn't have time to look over all the questions. So I marked the ones that were utterly confusing, and started looking them up in my phone browser. Smartphones are amazing, aren't they. And they definitely suggest the person using it is smart too. Boom, another revelation, another incorrect answer. Change it quickly. Scratch off the old tick and replace with a new tick mark in a new box. I moved my cube few times, kept an eye out, to not attract attention. Another query, another search, another incorrect answer. Fuck!
After the painful exercise, I finally corrected my confused answers. Stood in line then handed over my paper to the granny. My chest automatically swelling....but wait....what!!!!
Boom...boom...boom..tick..tick...Boom.. went the sequence again. What the fuck! And this time, not the confusing questions, but my confident questions were wrong answers. Fuck me! I cannot be this bad. This is horrendous. Just bury me here. Kill me now, kill me!
First page, 4 incorrect answers. While she turned over the page, I readied my backpack, checked that I've got my wallet, car keys and house keys. I knew I've failed again so lets just grab my papers and get going. I'll come again on Monday, or may be never. May be I'll never drive again. Just take cab or stay home.
Second page, 2 incorrect. Granny draws a circle over -6 and then below it, a circle over -P. Hmm, what happened here? She handed my papers back and told me to stand in line D. I asked her if I passed but she kept yelling LineD, LineD. Alright, alright. I'll move grandma. Keep calm.
There was a dude in front of me and I wanted to know whats going on. I asked him how much did he miss. He had missed 3. There was a circle over -3 and -P in his paper. I knew there, that I've passed. Oh you beauty. What a smart guy am I? Brilliant. Genius. Cracked the dmv test on 2 attempts and by the skin of my teeth, had failed in one and passed in another. As I found out later, the pass limit was 6 incorrect answers.
Phew....job well done, isn't it...

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

US Route66- Day 6, Sept 22, 2013 Sunday. Petrified forest national park, Meteor crater.

Another day on the road. Same usual story to the start of the day. Checked out of the hotel around 9am after grabbing some breakfast and headed straight to Petrified Forest national park. Pranay, my friend in Chicago suggested me to include one state or national park and drive through it because it would be really cool. I agree and I had already done so.
I went into the visitor center, got myself a map and brochure of other details and headed straight to the scenic drive through the park. Paid $10 for the entrance and headed in. It was all very nice. There were some scenic points where I stopped occasionally and took pictures. I could see the flat out desert, and the petrified rocks on the hills. The rocks have been petrified for the past million years and its an art in a way. It was aesthetically pleasing to the eye. There were scattered clouds in the sky. The sun was playing hide and seek and the clouds were proudly leaving their shadows on the rocks. The rocks were bright red or orange. Very beautiful. It was a particularly windy today. It was slightly difficult to stand still and once in a while there will be heavy gusts which would just swing you sideways if you are not holding firm on your ground.


Things were looking perfectly setup for a pleasing day but it wasn't meant to be. I've hardly covered a third of the whole scenic drive when I heard a heavy rough sliding noise from the back of the car. I thought it must be because of the road being rough. After having driven 5 days on the highways I've noticed that such noise do occur because not the whole stretch of the highway is brand new and smooth. There are rough gravel rough roads, stretches with cracks and holes, big or small but it must be because the road is rough. So I kept on driving. After 5 mins, I smelled something burning. It was as if a rubber is burning. I immediately stopped on the road side, put my parking lights on and came out. There was a car behind me with an old couple, who also stopped. I saw the damage. The passenger side rear wheel, it was gone. The rubber had worn off completely with may be a thin strip left sticking with the drum. The old man came out of his car and stood beside me.
"Yeah, we saw smoke coming out of the rear for quite some time but we just couldn't catch up with you", said he with very slow pace, all the time his body was little bit shaking.
"Oh. Ok. I thought its the road so I kept driving. This is shit."
"Yeah..ha ha.. it is. Do you have a spare tire?"
"Yeah, I do. I've got my luggage in the trunk which I've to take out first then get on with the spare donut."
"We would have loved to help you out but unfortunately we have an appointment at an art center further east."
"No. no. Please do not worry. I can take care of this. Please go ahead. I'll call the visitor center and sort this thing out. Please carry on, and thank you for stopping."

They left while I made a call to the visitor center and explained them the situation. She got the park sheriff on his way to help me out who soon arrived at the scene. Before the sheriff arrived, I had taken out my luggage out of the trunk and chugged them, some on the back seat, some under the passenger seat. I thought I might need to take out the spare wheel so better to keep the trunk clean. The sheriff arrived and assessed the damage. He inquired about the car, owner, insurance and licence and I duly obliged. He took my DL and went back to his car. I do not understand what would he do with the licence. Its not like I was breaking traffic laws or similar. I guess my DL record states I had a burnt tire on so an so date. Utterly useless.
"Do you have a spare tire?" asked the sheriff.
"Yes I do but I'm not sure I want to go ahead with it. I'm carrying some heavy luggage in the car and I don't know the spare would be able to hold it. It might again blow up few miles further. Its a risk."
"Ok. So do you want to tow it then?"
"Yes. I'd like that."
"Do you have AAA or similar?"
"I've roadside assistance from my insurance, Geico. I think I can use that. Do you know any towing service?"
"Sure. I can call them up and whoever next is available will be on its way. Do you want me to do that?"
"Yes please. That would be great. Thankyou."

He went to his car and made some calls. He told me the nearest town is Holbrook, AZ and a towing car is on its way from there. It will be here in 45 minutes.
I thanked him for his service. I later realized that I should have called up Geico and asked them to send me a tow car but at that time, I thought, lets just do this any which way I can and later on I'll reimburse the expenses from Geico. Anyways, atleast I didn't have to explain my location to the tow company, the sheriff did it all. All I had to do was to wait. I saw people passing by me, some were very kind to stop by and ask if everything was okay with my car and if I need any help. I was happy to see such kindness. All kinds of people, whether old or young, stopped to inquire what happened and if I'm waiting for some help. This is one great thing about this country. People are kind and helpful.
After an hour, the tow truck came. He pulled my car up, tied with chains, secured the locks and off we went to Holbrook. This is a very awkward moment for me. Driving with a stranger for a while and you know you have to keep the conversation going. There is a lot of pressure on both parties I guess, more so on me because English isn't my first language, not even second. Add to that, I am not that funny like some people are. I breathe a sigh of relief if the other person is a talker. Some girls I have been with are like this. For people who talk a lot, I just need to feed them questions regularly and just sit back and let them tell their stories, advises, thoughts whatever. Just inject small questions about their work, make them go into the details, ask them about their family and household problems etc. I pretend to listen intently and with my detail oriented questions, the other person feels the same too, but in most cases, I couldn't care less.
The tow guy wasn't much of a talker, neither shy so it wasn't too bad. Plus I had topics to talk about. I started off with questions related to towing charges and how my insurance can come in, then ask him about his business and economy, then his family and weather and Holbrook weather. Then I shared my reasons for being in this place and by the time I was out of topics to talk about, we were in the service center. The mechanic took a look and told me to replace other tires as well because they were showing signs of wearing off. I knew it is a common ploy to extract money off me but I had two things to help make up my mind. First was that I'm in this huge road trip and still close to 1000 miles away from my destination. Add to that I'm carrying extra load. It may be safe to put all new tires and buy some peace of mind. It would be a shitty feeling to drive in the fear of some other tire popping out or worse, its coming true. Secondly, my new company, VMware, is paying a decent amount of money towards my relocation and I'd still be left with  a big chunk of money if I spend 350 quids on new tires. I agreed and within minutes I was on my way again.

This was an unplanned delay in my trip. Going back to Petrified forest was foolish as then I'd miss the meteor tour because it closes at 5pm. It is 2pm now. So with a little bit of grudge and a tiny bit unsatisfactory feeling, I moved on to Meteor crater.
The crater is around 7miles off the highway, to the south of it. And its a private property. I don't know how it came to be private. I believe initially all the desert land was federal property but then some private firm bought the land. I bought the ticket and went in. I had thought that the crater formed sometime recently, like past 50 years but I was surprised to know its 50,000 years old. And it was a huge crater. A whole city, like Chicago or San Francisco could fit inside the crater and it was so very deep that there were telescopes installed at the top to see some models that had been placed at the bottom of it. I liked it very much. In fact, if I can be so bold, I'd say this was the best attraction of my whole 66 trip. I was glad I decided to include this one. Inside the building was a rock put in a glass box and it said the crater was created by a similar size rock. It would have been nice to see the actual guilty rock but since its 50,000yrs old, people shouldn't even be looking for it. The rock wasn't big, definitely not the size that you'd think would create such a huge crater but the power of gravity is massive, isn't it. You get a sense of it when you see the size of rock and the crater behind it. You'd think no way this rock can make a hole like this but its true. Bigger size space ships burn out before they even cross the atmosphere because of the gravity pull and the friction. If indeed a rock which has managed to cross the atmosphere, it should be given respect.

I wonder what other damage the impact would have made. Did it cause a minor earth quake, did it disrupt a lake/sea which was at this place, did it destroy a forest and living life forms? I cannot imagine what would happen if it were to impact now. I wish it to fall in the ocean but then the kind of tsunami it would cause can only kill loads of people. Anyways, I think its better that it has not happened now or will not happen anytime soon.

I left the crater, thoroughly pleased. The only attraction left was Elmer's bottle tree ranch before my 66 trip comes to end at Santa Monica but that was too far away and it will get dark in couple of hours. I decided to stay the night in Kingman, AZ. There is a bit of excitement that I am feeling at this time, because I know tomorrow is my last day on the road, atleast for sometime. I checked into a motel, I don't remember the name. But it wasn't good. It was owned by an Indian couple, who were in their 50s. While the wife was watching Television, the husband got me the room key. I went into the room and smelled a strong alcoholic odor, whisky I'd say. It was so strong, the smell, that I got a headache. The carpet felt soggy a bit and I thought may be the previous occupant spilled all the booze in the carpet. I was not sure if I should try to change the room. I didn't want to be rude and besides the room was dirt cheap and I said to myself this is what you get for the money you pay. I didn't know the wi-fi password, nor was there any pamphlet for it. I went back to the front desk and asked for password and took the opportunity to ask if I can get a different room. I explained to the guy about the reason and invited him to check the condition himself. I came back to the room and repacked my stuff hoping that the owner will swing by soon and if possible, give me another room.
He did arrive 10minutes later and came into the room. As a typical owner, he tried to defend the room but I kept insisting that how can he not smell the strong stench of alcohol in here. Half halfheartedly he gave me the keys to another room and it was definitely better. Atleast it smelled like a normal room. Nothing shitty. I took a shower and went to bed straightaway.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

US Route66- Day 5, Sept 21, 2013 Saturday. Cadillac Ranch, Midpoint Cafe, Mesalands and Auto Museum

Woke up at the usual time, i.e when I wanted to get up. The sun was out. I think it was around 8. Packed up my clothes again, showered, then left the motel after grabbing some breakfast. I couldn't find my sun glasses in the room so I thought it must be in the car. Checked the car but didn't find it. Got a bit tensed because I liked the shades even though I got it for free.
It was Maui Jim, pretty expensive one, around $180. And it was free! Well, between December'12 and Apr'13 I had been to San Diego at least 4-5 times, every time for 2-3 weeks and sometime even 4 weeks. This was because BlackBerry was developing QChat for NII and Qualcomm was providing the chip-set. One developer has to make trips to Qualcomm office in San Diego for integration purpose. Every 2 weeks Qualcomm will release their part of code and BlackBerry would release theirs and a BlackBerry developer and Qualcomm developer would sit together to integrate both sides' code. Since barring Apurv and myself, everyone else in the team had family so they couldn't be out of Chicago for a week or two. And since Apurv had just joined, it was down to me to do most of the travelling and integration and train Apurv too. I had no complaints. I thoroughly enjoyed my trips. It was a way to get out of the cold Chicago winter for one, enjoy San Diego for two, and then its all on the company's expenses, flight tickets down to daily lunch/dinner etc. And every time I visited San Diego, I stayed in Hilton. I had signed up for Hilton Honors program of theirs and was accumulating points for my every nights stay. Soon I had so much points that I ordered a Maui Jim sun glasses through their rewards store and I still have close to 150000 points left.

I went back to the room to check for the shades once again. Didn't find it. I resigned myself to the thought of spending the rest of the road trip without it. I thought of all the pictures of mine without my sun glasses, and now there was no strong reason to put on my contacts too because I want to protect my eyes from direct sunlight. Sunlight is a major contributor to my poor eye sight, according to my eye doctor back in India. That is why I wear photo chromatic lenses which go dark in sunlight then back to normal inside home or in shades. I left my contact number and sun glasses details at the hotel reception with a faint hope that if they happen to find it, they can send it to me.
On my way to the car, all the time I was thinking of the places where the shades could have been. I'm ususaly very careful with things like this and I was pretty convinced that the glasses must be around somewhere with me, either in the car, or in my luggage but just hidden. I remembered that I usually leave my shades on top of the big kitchen box that was on my passenger seat so there is a possibility that it must have slipped under the seat when I applied brakes. I looked under the seat and there it was. Bingo! Everything is normal again. The world order is restored. I quickly went to the reception and let them know that I've found my glasses and I was on my way.

The first stop was Cadillac Ranch. A typical 66 attraction, much like the Blue Whale but I liked this one far more than the Whale. The Whale was devoid of any artistic touch or feeling. Here it was a huge ranch with bunch of Cadillacs half buried in the ground, slanted vertically a bit and all sorts of graffiti drawn on them. There were few spray cans lying around. People can help themselves to leave their mark on the cars, anyway they want. I took few pictures. It was a bright sunny day which is good for pictures. There was a couple with bunch of kids who were making graffiti on the cars. There were two ladies, one of whom I approached if she can take a picture of mine. Because I wanted  the sun on my face while she would have her back to it when taking the picture I asked if she would walk with me to one end of the row and she happily obliged. She was nice. She was on her way to LA with her friend to meet with her parents. She was from Virginia, West I think.I told her this was going to be my Facebook cover picture and that she shouldn't mess it up. She laughed. I offered to take her picture if she wanted. I was happy to snap few of for her. Then we parted ways.

Next stop was the Midpoint cafe. Its the mid point between Chicago and LA. The place was barren except for the cafe. I went in and ordered a salad. The inside of the Cafe was an attempt to make something out of the location. There were pictures and buttons pinned to the walls and some travelers thought its cool to take snaps of those. While gazing through the walls from my seat, I noticed that I've carried a bit of mud underneath my sandals from the outside. I remembered a muddy patch that I walked over to the Cafe, just outside. Ah Damn! Embarrassing. I tried not to move my legs much and whatever mud had come off the sandal, I tried to swipe them under the table. The salad was okay. I have faint hopes of such a business running for a long time with profit. Look at the location. Sometime in the past, granted, it was a place to be but now I don't think many people would fancy a stop over at this place. The server was the owner and he had recently purchased this place. I didn't speak much to save him some awkward questions. Outside, I met two British middle aged ladies who were doing the 66 on their motor bikes. I asked them to take a picture of mine. All my drive, I've been listening to Ricky Gervais podcasts and I told them how huge a fan am I of him. They weren't. They think of him and his sense of humor a bit weird. I wished them luck and drove on.

Then came Tucumcari, NM. I wanted to see the Dinosaur museum there. I went in there but it wasn't like the usual huge museums generally are. It was a small place, more like a mid size Trader Joe's, or a fancy restaurant with some models thrown in here and there. Most of the samples weren't the originals but plaster or paris or metal casts of the original. I like to come to a museum to see authentic stuff, not duplicates. When I see a genuine dinosaur tooth I appreciate the time span the planet has lived through, I believe in the existence of them creatures and imagine their size. When I see a cast, it takes away that feeling from me. Sure, I can admire the minute details the technician put in to make it but thats it. It was a $5 entry fee which wasn't much so I didn't mind. It would have been ridiculous to charge $20 for this.

50 miles further was Auto museum, the Route66 Auto museum. The name of the place isn't original. 'Auto museum' describes the place and Route66 is, well, perhaps helps with the directions.Another auto museum for me. Its one thing gazing at cars and admiring the evolution the auto industry has gone through but another thing to drive one of these oldies.It had similar cars which I had already seen in the Country Classic cars museum back in IL. It was 4:30 in the afternoon when I was done with it. It was a small place but lots of cars cramped in it. It didn't take me long to have a tour of my own.

I had not anticipated I'd be done by my day's attractions this early. But it was good. Now I could decide where to crash for the night. My next attraction was Petrified forest national park and I had definitely not planned to do it towards the end of the day. This is the kind of attractions that are best seen first thing in the morning. I decided to stay the night in Gallup, NM. Small town, just the way I like it. I was once asked if I prefer to stay in a big town or a small town and I was happy with my answer. I said while I'm young, like in my 20-30s I wanna stay in a big town, like Chicago or NY. I like big town just because of the the people. The crowd, all the beautiful women window shopping, restaurants lined by the streets, parks and beaches and women sunbathing. Wonderful. However when I'm old, like 50-60s, I might like to stay in a small town. Its quiet, cheap and I'd be happy minding my own business. When I'm old, I won't have energy left to bungee jump or skydive so I'd be taking care of my backyard. Sigh.

I went into Super8 again, in Gallup. It was decent. After dinner in a nearby restaurant, I just came back and slept. I was very tired and dropped the idea of hitting any bars. I was one more day closer to my destination which made me little happy even though I've been enjoying myself so far. Petrified forest and Meteor crater were on the cards for the next day and the day wasn't restricted to sightseeing only. Unaware of what lies ahead of me, I slept peacefully.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

US Route66- Day 4, Sept 20, 2013 Friday. Oklahoma City and Big Texan Steak Ranch

I woke up around 5 but didn't really wanted to get out yet. I raised the thermostat settings hoping to make the room warmer but it was only 10 minutes when I woke up to burning smell. I turned off the AC right away. Soon, the fire alarm went off. Fuck!
My first task was to put on a trouser. I like to sleep in minimal clothing. Then I took bunch of papers that were lying on the table and tried to clear the air around the smoke alarm. Then opened the main door. The alarm went silent. Phew! But the room was filled with burning smell, plastic burn smell and it was burning my head as well. I went out for a while, leaving the door wide open. I thought to put the dumbbells back in the car as I'm up anyways. I can't go back to sleep in that room. Few rooms further, a dude was loitering outside. He would go in and out of his room, sometimes smoking, sometimes on a phone call. I didn't want to bring out dumbbells from the room and load in the car while he is overlooking. He would think I'm crazy, some fitness freak that I carry my dumbbells around. I waited for him to go in his room when I'd quickly transfer the weights. By this time the stench had subsided a bit. So I took a dump, brushed my teeths, showered and packed my bags. I left the motel around 8am with a fear that I might be charged for the AC problem, I cursed myself to have used my credit card when I could've used cash to pay. Although they'd have asked for my credit card for security purpose as is common with other hotels.
Alright. First stop was Oklahoma City. The national cowboy and western heritage museum was the one on my list before I started for 66. Went in there after couple hours of driving. I had trouble finding parking spot which was strange to me, considering this was Friday morning and that too, its a museum! The museum was okay. There were some cowboys stories, models, paintings etc none of them interested me that much. It was a huge place. I don't know if we have too much of cowboy stuff to occupy this huge place. I didn't learn much from here. It was a decent stopover, for my restroom needs.

It was lunch time when I came out of the museum. I found out a decent mexican restaurant in the heart of Oklahoma city downtown and went there. After lunch I took a wee bit of stroll in the downtown area. One of the best things I liked in Chicago was taking a walk down Michigan Ave. The 2mi stretch from the loop to the Oak street beach is the pulse of Chicago. Such a vibrant street, full of life. Always bustling with people. After Times Sq in NY, this is definitely my favorite place when it comes to taking a stroll. The best thing of living in a city like Chicago is that you get to walk a stretch and feel the beauty of the place. There never goes a day when I've not regretted living in the heart of Chicago. It was only during the weekends that I'd visit the City, stay in Ritesh's place, and explore. Chicago can never get boring for me, even if I had to walk down that stretch of Michigan Ave everyday. Its a new feeling everytime. I can't really explain whats so amazing about that street. Is it the loads of stores lining up on both sides of it, is it the skyscrapers gracing over it or is it the thousands of people, young and old, beautiful and more beautiful, who walk on the sidewalks, tourists and citizens alike, all sorts of fashion, summer fall winter or spring or may be its everything together. Ah beauty.

I took a walk in the city downtown. Skyscrapers, parks, traffic, alleys, hotels, banks. Mom called me while I was enjoying the city. I got into a little bit of heated argument with her. She kept asking me about any marriage proposals and if the girl I'm currently talking to is a cheat and probably wants my money so I need to be careful. The argument didn't end well. Mom is very suspicious of everyone while I give people the benefit of doubt first until they do or say something that breaks trust. After the call, I thought to swing by a nearby Bank of America ATM to get some cash on my hand. Almost all of the places I use the card but just to be safe, I like to keep some cash around especially during travelling when there are chances of toll roads.

Next stop was The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX. It was another 3-4hrs of drive with nothing in between. I filled up the gas, stocked myself with some water bottles and gatorades, some nuts and snacks etc and started the drive. Again the weather was excellent. Cloudy. Just the way I want for a long drive.During driving, I'd manage to take some pictures. I had two cameras on me. A Samsung digicam which I bought when I worked in Samsung, back in 2007. Its 7.2MPixel which was enough for me for general purpose stuff. I'm not much of a photographer, I manage to take shots as and when I see a nice view without much care about the lighting, angle, zoom etc. The second camera was from my smartphone, again Samsung Galaxy, 13mpixel. Taking pictures from the phone while driving was not comfortable and not safe at all. I have to keep one hand on the steering wheel and take the picture with the other hand. The tap button in the phone camera is at the bottom and it was tricky to tap the screen while holding the phone. Only if I had few more fingers, additional thumbs, it would've helped. With that regard, the Samsung digicam was handy. I could take snaps with one hand as the way to hold the camera allowed me to press the click button which is at the top.

I reached Amarillo around 5pm. I could've driven few more miles but looking at my plans I decided to stay the night here. Many of my next attractions were nearby and it was getting dark. I don't think they would have looked pretty in dark so thought to stay the night and visit them the following day. For dinner, the Steak Ranch was obvious choice. Talk to two birds in one stone. I stayed in Super8 again after my first night experience. No more experiments staying new places. Took a shower, browsed the internet a bit and then headed to the Texan Steak Ranch.

It was a mixed crowd there. Young and old. I took a seat in the bar and the serving lady passed me the menu. She was very very pretty. Caucasian, clear skin, not a single mark. Blonde with blue eyes and blood red lips. She was a beauty and with that southern accent, she was killing me. This the thing about accents though. Florida has a bit of accent but I didn't like it much when I was there. But talk about the Southern accent, it gets me. My favorite accent is British by the way. I can't explain but I have an affinity for it. If there is a damsel who speaks British, I can just listen to her talk all day without getting bored for a moment. The British variant accent like Irish or Scottish accents are pleasing to my ears too. After these definitely comes the Southern accent. Of the accents I don't fancy would be Russian or Spanish people speaking English. The English is barely understandable and the words are heavy with accents. Indian or African accent is average category, at least they pronounce the English words stressing the 'R' and 'T' or 'D' etc so the words sound a bit clear hence its better understandable. The Australian/New Zealand/South African accent would come net after Southern, which gets me. Beautiful women, and with an accent, that's a perfect life, isn't it.

I just ogled at the serving lady while eating my dinner. I lend her all my ears whenever she talked with any customers. I appreciate beauty and women are the epitome of beauty. I finished my dinner and thought to strike a conversation with someone but all around me were old people. Also, no one took the Steak eating challenge while I was there. This was the specialty of this place. If you could eat the 72oz steak in an hour, you can have it for free. I didn't know how much it would cost otherwise. I should have checked the price in the menu but I guess I was just distracted by the beauty at the other side of the bar.

Came out of the Ranch and thought to visit a local bar. I don't remember the name. I went in there. The place was alright. Not much crowded but not barren as well. There were four ladies serving. Two were behind the bar while the other two were roaming around lounge and pool area taking orders. They'd come to the bar, ask for so and so drink, pay at the bar to the lady there, then take the drink to the person who ordered. That person would pay her then. I thought this was a nice system. The older lady in the bar did indeed looked like a Big Boss figure. She would hand out the drink and take the money from other ladies, and the other ladies, which looked much younger than her, indeed looked like serving the Big Boss. Paying her the money meekly.

I took a picture with the Big Boss, had a few small talk with other ladies, then left. Time to call it a day. So far the trip has been going good.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

US Route66- Day 3, Sept 19, 2013 Thursday. Meramec caverns and Blue whale

I woke up around 7am. I had a good night sleep. I've noticed that my sleep doesn't get bothered by the location or type of bed. I've seen people who do not sleep comfortably when sleeping in their friends place, or motel beds or on the floor. Thankfully, I get a decent continuous 6-8hr sleep no matter where I'm sleeping. The only thing I can think of is the temperature. If its too cold and I'm not properly covered in blankets, I can't sleep. When I stay in hotels, I usually turn up the temperature a bit and keep the room warm and then tuck myself under the blankets. Ah, the peaceful sleep that I get.
Today's first attraction, Meramec caverns, was mere 10miles away from my motel. I left my motel around 9am. The cavern is inside Meramec state park so it was a very pleasant drive when I exited the highway. Flora and fauna on either side of the road and overcast weather. Perfect. The cavern was the hideout of robber Jesse James. I don't know much about him except I saw the movie "The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford" and I liked it. Brad Pitt was amazing in it.
I went in there and got my tour ticket. I still had 10mins before the tour would begin. I saw only old people in there. I thought of taking a picture of mine in the cavern and asked an old lady who was also waiting for the tour to begin. Her body was shaking a bit all the time. I've seen this condition in old people. As soon as I saw it I knew I've done a mistake. But kind as she was, she obliged and took the phone from me, and tried to take a picture of mine. I checked the picture and it was hazy. I thanked her nonetheless. She didn't knew that she had butchered the pic.
In we go with the tour guy. The place was beautiful. Typical cavern with water streams here and there. They had done a good job with the lighting and stuff. It was pretty cold too. They say it remains at 65F round the year.

The cavern was alright. Lighting was good. Good location. Enjoyed my visit. There was a musical light show at the end which was good. 
My days attraction included the cavern and Blue whale and 4hr of driving between them. So I headed off to Catoosa, OK, for a visit to the blue whale.

The whale is a whale made out of tins and wood, in a pond. Its nothing special except that it has been there for a while alongside 66 hence became a famous stop for travellers. Something to cheer their kids while they take few minutes off from driving. The pond was dirty with some fish and few tortoises knocking about. The sign said its a catch and release pond. I don't think I'd like to fish in this dirty water. I don't think I'd like to take to dip in it either even though it had sliding boards into the water. The whale is painted blue which I don't know why. I've not seen a blue whale in real life or in tv and I don't know if they are this stark blue. I just had to swing by this place because it's like the Illinois Giants, something symbolic of 66. 

I then drove to Tulsa, OK. I decided to stay in Trade Winds Central Inn which was a bad idea. The room that I got didn't have a working TV so I switched rooms. The next room had the same problem and so I moved to another one. Thankfully this one had the TV working. TV wasn't a big thing for me. Its just for one night and I can definitely manage but I thought if I'm paying money for it, I should have the option. In case if I get bored, I'd like to turn it on and browse. The money included that. It took me an hour before I finally got to undress, and relax. Took a shower, setup my clothes and laptop, put my phone on charge and turned the tv on. It was already 9pm. I thought I should leave if I intend to have some dinner as most of the places would close in this small town. By the time I was out it was 9:30pm and I was driving around looking for a decent place to eat but everything was closed already. Just then Ritesh called me. He was out in Omaha for work that week and on his way return, his flight got cancelled due to bad weather so he took a rental and decided to drive. That was a bad idea because he had already started to feel sleepy. He called me up to chat a bit and get over his sleep. I kept him engaged for 15-20mins. I pulled over for a 'subway' sandwich and kept talking to him while I put my order. I then wanted to get into some bar and have a beer. Pulled into one nearby. I don't remember the name but it wasn't what I had expected. The place was barren with 3-4 dudes chilling out. Pretty depressing. Since I'm here already, I ordered a Guinness. Finished my drink and left and behold. rain and thunderstorm. Drove to another bar but it was even worse. From the outside, I could see, there was nobody in there except bar tender and a couple. Frustrated, I decided to go to a nearby strip club.
In my time in US, I've been to couple of them. Going alone to such places definitely sucks and gives out a signal that your life really sucks. With friends, its a different deal altogether. Plus, in my opinion, small town strip clubs are different than bigger cities in the sense that they are cheap plus the girls don't show attitude. They seem to be humble and understanding. Cities like in Chicago, the girls are kinda rude. If you don't give out enough money, they won't even bother. Anyways, its a nice experience to see strip clubs across the country, big or small town. This was a small one with $10 entry fee. The girls were okay. Not breathtaking or raunchy type as in Chicago. When I'm in Tulsa, I didn't even expect much so I was quite happy. Had a drink and a lap dance. Not a bad climax to a day of mixed experiences.
Came back to the motel. I had a pair of 25lb and 30lb dumbbells loaded in my car and I thought I'll give a break to my car's suspension for the night. I took them out and kept them in the room as the room was on the ground floor and my car parked right in front of it. My car must definitely be happy. 

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Friday, October 25, 2013

US Route66- Day 2, Sept 18, 2013 Wednesday. Illinois giants and Springfield

This was the most eventful day if I consider the number of attractions I ticked off. I had already beaten the Chicago traffic so I knew I have plenty of time to cover most of the sights. Getting stuck in traffic around major cities in US is in my opinion the worst way to waste your time. Its frustrating. I hate it. I'm moving like a snail, and smoking gas like crazy. A quarter of gas tank burned and I might have only moved 5-7miles. Not to mention the pollution. I cannot roll down my windows so I'm totally on the mercy of my car air conditioner. Did I mention the gas wastage? There have been occasions where I was stuck. After I've bought my car (pre owned '07 corolla) I offered to drive my friends to Chicago auto show and boy will I ever forget the worst traffic I saw that day. It was 2hrs before I picked up speed above 20mph. Horrible.
At the end of my 66 trip I was stuck in LA's traffic, around 5pm. The matter was made even worse by an accident on the highway. Anyways, glad to have beaten Chicago traffic on this day.
With goodbyes to Siddharth, I left Bloomington and the first stop was Atlanta's Bunyon Giant.

Second of the trilogy checked. Nothing special here too. Just the
Bunyon Giant
usual giants one would expect after seeing the first one(Launching pad). This one is Red and Blue though. There was a park near the giant with murals painted on the wall and various signals depicting
aspects of 66.
Atlanta is a small town. I was there early in the morning so did not see much crowd. Took some pictures to remind me I was here and a wee bit stroll.
It was cloudy today. I like a weather like this. I don't like bright and sunny. The sun is always on the eyes. But I find the scene much more beautiful when its cloudy. The darker the clouds the better it is. Its not too hot or cold. Just the optimum. Moments before a thunderstorm is the time I'm talking about. My eyes don't hurt, I don't need shades, neither am I sweating. Perfect day for me. Although the sun did come out after few hours but until then,
I couldn't have asked for a better day for a drive.

I usually prefer to take a long drive in such weather conditions but
unless you are with your girlfriend or wife, this drive is missing
something. May be it brings out the romantic side of you. May be its the rain thats romantic. No wonder that poets usually write about dark clouds, rain and winds when describing love. I don't recall bright hot sunny day being compared to anything romantic.
sweat and heatt is always associated with irritation and frustration in my mind.

Lincoln Tomb, Springfield, IL
Old state capitol, Springfield, IL
Lincoln Home, Springfield, IL

After the Atlanta Giant, I drove to Springfield, capitol of Illinois. I had few attractions lined up to see there. First stop was the Lincoln Tomb. Its a cemetery and of course Lincoln's grave is there too, inside the Tomb. Some sculptures, paintings, a huge US flag and tall Tomb. More than the Tomb, I enjoyed sitting in there and enjoying the weather and calmness. It was peaceful, away from traffic and noise. Cloudy weather was cherry on top. It made it even more enjoyable. Not too cold not too hot. Just perfect. As much as I wanted to stick around for few more minutes, I had to get going. I like to think as if there is some place which can be even better than this so I move on. It is this feeling that drives us all. May be that has led us out from the jungles into the present human civilization and I agree its better. The other day I heard on some podcast about a tribe in Papua New Guiana which has been untouched by modern civilization. They still live in jungles, dressed up in leaves, hunting for food and what not. One may ask why someone from this tribe didn't think that I should seek a better life than this and ventured out to the world. It would have taken one man from the tribe to be adventurous and then the whole group would have followed. I'm not saying to leave jungle and start living in the city right away but a touch of modern world is a good start. Instead of walking, they could use the wheels, a bicycle  may be. Instead of stone, use a sharp metal to hunt etc. They are different than the Amish people though because the Amish live by a choice. They know there exists automobiles, electric bulbs, highways and runways but they choose to live a life like theirs. I'm sure the tribe in Papua isn't the only tribe. There may be thousands more. I think may be its a matter of time. When they encounter food shortage because their hunting methods are no longer effective, may be they'll come up with something which is one step closer to modern world.

Next stop was the Old State Capitol building. It used to be the administrative offices back in late 1800s. It wasn't too exciting. I mean what exciting stuff can one expect here anyways. At my age the bars, pubs, clubs, tennis courts, soccer fields hold the excitement. And I did notice a huge number of oldies visiting places like these. Post retirement folks, yeah this is decent place to hang out and spend the weekend. Plus they relate to old things better than me since they were lived closer to this era. I hurried myself to seeing my next sight, which was Lincoln's home.

I was kind of frustrated at this place. Its free of charge so thats good but they have a strict policy that if you want to see the house, you have to accompany a tour group. One cannot just visit the house of their own. This was ridiculous. The next tour wasn't going to start for another hour or so I didn't know what else I could have done but wait. I thought of having lunch but feared that I might miss the tour and then would have to wait another hour. I just don't have time to waste around. Time is more than money. I like to say that I'd rather spend my time sitting at home watching nonsense over internet than be stuck in traffic jam. That in my opinion is the worst way to waste your time. I hate it even more when I'm in the driving seat.Anyways, so I waited for my time. The tour guide comes along. She is in her late 50s. She opens the lock on the main door and lets us in. We were 8-10 people in the group. I was the only one bringing down the average age of the group. Everybody else were between 55-65 age group. It was awkward to say the least. The next frustrating thing was that you've to stay with the group. What the hell!! This old lady would visit one room and start giving a lengthy history lesson about the room, the drapes, the carpet, the chairs tables and mirrors. How long does one take to assess a room? Hardly 5 minutes? Right, but you cannot move on to the next room because this lady is still flapping her lips and my God, everybody else are deeply listening. I noticed the men in the group becoming restless after 10 minutes of lecture but the women were listening like there is an exam tomorrow. And boy, did they have questions after the lecture. Did the future first lady used this mirror to comb her hair? Are you kidding me! The tour took 1 hour 30 mins. When it would have hardly taken me 20-30 minutes to wrap up, I (wasted) spent and more than hour either side of it.
Had I been the authority here, this is my 2 cents to make a visit worth everybody's time. This is free of charge, so no need to spend government money on tour guides' salary. Secondly, for people who really want to take a proper tour, sure, keep few tour guides handy but there must be option for people to explore the place of their own. We are all adults here and know we are not to touch or spoil the things in there, but to make the point clear some placards, notice or poster doesn't hurt.
After the house tour, I went straight for lunch as I was dying of hunger. Found out a lunch place using google maps. I'm a foodie and like to try new things but I'm not too fussy about it. I don't like to remember a restaurant and menu if I had an excellent lunch or dinner there. Eat and move on.
Next stop was Lauterbach tire Giant. The last of the three. As I mentioned earlier, I had to be here else the first two wouldn't have mattered. This completed my trilogy.

So far so good. Next stop was the Country Classic car museum. There were two dudes working on a car in a garage there. I think they own the place. I asked them where the entrance was and headed in their pointed direction. There were 4-5 huge sheds holding all sorts of car, from Chevy to Ford, from 1920s to 1990s. Almost all of them were for sale. I think the dudes outside repair a car, make it drivable for may be 5000-10000miles at least, and sell them. I liked this place. Not too much crowd and at your own leisure pace, you can see the cars and take pictures.

Some people do get a thrill out of driving these vintage cars. I haven't driven one although I would definitely like to try one day. I am just not enthusiastic enough so haven't really gone out of my way to get me a rental or something. Automobiles have become such an integral part of American life that it is common to see people's interest in Auto shows and museums. It was only appropriate that I stop by one such place and see how the automobile has evolved over the years, in terms of design and performance. In India, a car is a luxury. In US it is a necessity. I think slowly, young crowds are finding the motorcycles to be more convenient and affordable than a car. It has been in India, in fact, even a small nuclear family can do away with a 2-wheeler. I like 2-wheelers more than car personally but because of safety issues I stick with car here. For office commute only I think I'd prefer motorcycle. There is one paragraph in 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance' where the author describes how he likes driving a motorcycle compared to car because you are totally connected with the outside world. There is no door or glass window to separate you. This I couldn't have agreed more and the thought has stuck with me ever since.

My quota of today's attraction was done so I found out a place to crash for the night. Super8 in Sullivan, MO seemed alright. I usually check in google maps about motels and their ratings and reviews etc and this one wasn't bad but some reviewers had described some horrible experiences there. Still, I went in there and I must say that this was the best motel experience of my whole trip. The room was big with clean bathroom, TV and other essentials. I threw my stuff in there, took a shower and headed for the nearby sports bar.
The place was called Boomer's Sports bar. Decent place. Not many people were in there partly because it was Wednesday. There was one girl and one middle age dude serving drink. There were couple of folks sitting around a table and sipping beers while 2-3 were sitting in the bar and smoking. Back in Chicago, I had never seen people smoke inside the bar. Usually there was a designated place outside but here they were smoking inside. I guess the place wasn't too sophisticated. I took a seat in the bar but soon I realized my mistake. There were two dude sitting on either side of me and guess what, both were smoking. It was obnoxious. Smoke from both side and I was inhaling it all. I don't like the smell of smoke that much. Its funny because I do smoke but very very rarely. I can practically count on my fingers how many times I've smoked and how many cigs. I take good care of my body and try to stay fit and smoking is definitely something that I avoid. However, when you are in the company of friends and having a good time in a bar/club and if a friend is smoking and asks for company, you can't say no. So my smoking is restricted to social occasions only. I don't smoke when I've no reason to. I don't get cravings for it, which is good and hopefully it should stay like that.

After picking my Guinness, I excused myself to a nearby empty table. Much better. Ordered some fish and chips as I was starving. The girl there was beautiful. And she was the only female there! I wanted to take a picture with her but feared that the other server might be her father and may not see this gesture friendly. Plus everybody else in the bar seemed to know each other and I feared they might gang up on me, beat me up, rob me and what not. Its silly I know but when the mind wanders off, it can think of impossible extremes. I summed up my courage. When she dropped the check, I asked her if I can have a picture with her. She obliged instantly and guess what, the other server came out and ... offered to take the picture. I didn't ask her if he was her father or not. I got the picture that I wanted, paid my money and left. Went back to hotel and crashed. It was a good day. Looking forward to Day-3.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

US Route66- Day 1, Sept 17, 2013 Tuesday

Its finally time. I had initially thought to start on Wednesday morning but two things led to change my mind. One of my friend who lives in Bloomington, IL, failed to visit me over the weekend because he got stuck with work. It'd still be okay for me to leave Illinois without seeing him because we met the previous weekend but I thought what the hell, lets meet him for one last time because I don't know when will we see each other again. Bloomington is 2 hr drive away from my place and its actually on 66 as well so doesn't hurt to pay him a visit. I could have started Wednesday morning, stop by his office, have lunch with him and then leave but I thought if I leave Tuesday evening, not only will be able to stay at his place for the night, I'd also beat the Chicago traffic in the morning, thereby saving me precious travel time. Great. So I decided to leave Tuesday evening.
Most of the day time was spent on packing my stuff. My roommate, Sreejit, helped me pack. He then also helped fill up my car with my stuff. I had two big bags, a chair and table which can be dismantled and put in box, kitchen stuff in a big box, exercise equipment like dumbbells, door gym etc. I was little worried looking at those heavy dumbbells that these might break down my car's suspension. Driving few miles with these weights loaded up is one thing but driving 2200mi over 6 days is completely different. For a moment I had given up. I had plans to leave those weights behind and take only those stuff that are absolutely necessary but then these weights are crucial for my daily exercise routine too. Aahh!!! What to do?
Anyways, I thought I'll carry them with me and will deal with things later on, if anything happens. I put some cushions on the car floor like pillows and comforters and wrapped my dumbbells in there, plus I spread them over both sides (driver and passenger) as well as front and back row. Cool!
All set, I took a picture with my roommate and started the drive. The traffic was very light so the drive was without much frustration. Filled up my tank before I touch Chicago city and then moved on.
The first stop was Launching Pad drive in where we have the Launching pad giant, one of the three giants in Illinois. Some iconic figure representative of 66. I knew that if I include Launching pad giant, I've to visit the other two giants too. I cannot afford to miss even one. Then it will always feel incomplete. Very much similar to the trilogy of movie or book. If you watch or read one, you gotta finish the other two too. One hour of driving and I'm there. It was around 8:30pm. Not many people were around. There was a gas station across the road. I went in there, got myself a bottle of water but couldn't summon the courage to ask the cashier lady to come out with me and take a picture of mine with the giant. Came out of the store and saw a dude filling up his tank. I asked him to take a pic and he obliged. First attraction done. It wasn't so bad. The giant is nothing special. Its glittering green and, well, a giant.

In the meantime, my Bloomington friend, Siddharth has been calling me up and inquiring how far am I now. He was waiting for me to arrive so that we can have dinner together. As soon as I left the giant, I saw the route 66 sign. I had to stop and take a picture. I knew I'd see such signs throughout my trip but I thought I might not have time to stop and get out of traffic etc to take a pic so might as well do it now when its 9pm and there is no traffic whatsoever for miles. A pic using the front camera of phone and I'm done. I've got evidence for myself, that I've done it. This should be enough to remind me of my epic trip that's going to happen.

Anyways, I reached Bloomington at 11pm, had dinner with my friend then gossip for an hour before retiring to bed. Long day ahead and it starts at 9am.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

US Route 66 - Chicago to Santa Monica.........Prologue

66 is epic. Its the mother road. It used to be the sole most important highway connecting two of the most important cities of US, Chicago and LA. From gangsters to cobblers, everybody used this road until the 70s when I-40 came along. A interstate highway running parallel to 66 for the most part but better constructed. 66 started getting ignored, its roadside businesses going out. However, it still retains the essence of US and has drawn road trip enthusiasts from across the globe. I cannot say that it sums up US but I'd say that it has its own charm and one will definitely get the feeling of what US is about.
The 2200mi stretch is in itself a bit of a challenge. Its not surprising that I've been fascinated by it. I've always had the eye for an exciting road trip and a cross country trip is the pinnacle. An ideal trip would have been NY-LA but CHI-LA isn't much less to me anyways.
So here I was coaxing my friends in Chicago to come aboard for 66. I live in Chicago so I've got the start covered. A continuous driving would finish in 2 days but I don't want to do that. Its of paramount importance that I enjoy the trip, spread it over a week or more, drive from dusk to dawn with long breaks for food, gas and route attractions. The most ideal choice is 6-8 days one way. This means my friends would have to take 2 weeks off from work which is difficult. Even it would be difficult for me to take 2 weeks off but since my manager was uber cool guy, I thought I could pull this off. Because we usually want to save our vacations for India trip once a year. This thinking applies to me too. So I know I'm asking too much from my friends but still now and then I'll just throw 66 on the lunch or dinner time with friends when we were deciding on our next long weekend plans. With constantly mentioning 66, my friends had gotten the idea that I really want to do 66. Anyways, long story short, we all knew 66 isn't going to happen anytime soon and with ease.
Time went by. Few months later, first week of Aug, my employment with BlackBerry ended. The company wasn't doing well for past 2 years, reporting losses after losses every quarter. It had been laying off people to reduce costs. Then came a time when managing remote offices in US became expensive (Blackberry HQ is in Canada) so in Aug the company decided to shut down its Chicago office. There, me and my team and other teams in Chciago, were told we are no longer required. They paid us severance and other special payments etc, which I must be honest, was decent.
Anyways, what to do when you are jobless, you find a new job. So I started applying to Microsoft, Amazon, Google etc and finally after 4 weeks, I had accepted an offer from vmware. Vmware is in Palo Alto, California, some 350mi north of LA. Accepting position in vmware means I now have to relocate from Chicago to Bay area. Then, it struck me, why not do the 66. I must do the 66. This opportunity is not to be missed. I don't have to worry about taking time off from work because I'm not working, plus I get to relocate thereby saving myself some money and enjoying 66. Its a win win idea.
Then I started planning for the trip. I decided to start 2 weeks earlier than my start date in vmware. That would give me enough time to finish 66 with plenty of time to stop and see attractions. Plus San Diego is only 2hr drive south of Santa Monica where Apurv lives. So I'd have plenty of time to visit him, stay at his place for couple of days, recharge my batteries, rest and relax, meet other San Diego friends and then finally drive 6hr north to Palo Alto.

This has a very philosophical touch to it. For long I've dreamed of doing 66 and right when it seemed like this isn't going to happen anytime soon, the whole universe conspired to make it happen. I must have wanted to do 66 from my heart and the wish was so pure that everything else fell into places to make it happen for me. A window automatically opened for me. Its funny that I'm an atheist.

So I started my route66 adventure. First thing was to draw a list of attractions that I fancied. I took notes from and made a list of sights I want to visit. I decided driving an average of 350-400mi per day should be enough. A google map plan I made is here.

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