Sunday, December 22

I put in a couple of hours at work to make up for taking Monday off, and probably Thursday morning, and around noon I began my trip. Well, first I stopped at the ATM, and then at Best Buy to pick up some batteries just in case I ran into trouble recharging my rechargeables. I also picked up Shania Twain's "Up" CD (actually two discs). I also wanted Alanis Morisette's "Feast on Scraps", but I didn't find it. By the time I hit 635, it was almost 12:30. I've usually taken I-35E to US-380 to 287 when heading up that way, but this time I looked at the map and decided that taking 114 all the way to 287 was shorter, and short enough to make up for the traffic lights and slower speeds. But when I calculated the distance on Microsoft Streets and Trips after the fact, it turned out to be a mile longer, and much slower because of the lights and slower speeds. I'll have to remember that for next time. Still, I made good time on 287 towards Amarillo, and it still seemed possible to make Albuquerque by 8:30 (taking into account the time zone), when the first of two stores closed, so I could visit them both and move on. On the other hand, it would probably be a better idea to sleep in Albuquerque outside a Kinko's so I could charge my batteries. Since I planned to shoot photos all day Wednesday, having the batteries fully charged was more critical than usual.

I was making good time, pacing a suburban doing 80-90. I need a pit stop, but don't want to give up the suburban. In Wichita Falls, I lose the suburban but pick up a Mustang going faster, a steady 90 at least. Finally I can't take it any more and take a pit stop in Iowa Park.

But soon after getting back on the highway I pick up a BMW going just as fast. Traffic slows in Chillicothe as we see a cop pull a u-turn and speed off out of view. A few seconds later we spot him having pulled over some truck sporting Christmas decorations and rally flags for some sports team. I wonder if they saved him from getting a ticket. I can still see the cop in the rearview mirror as we speed back up to 90 and pass up the clump of cars that built up through town.

Meanwhile, Shania sings on and on. Her new album has 19 tracks!

I notice a couple of rest areas on US-287, and can't remember if I've seen them before. The Hardeman rest area looks new.

I wanted to push on to Amarillo before stopping again but gave up once more and stopped in Clarendon.

Gas has turned out to be more expensive than I'd hoped at 1.39.

I arrive in Amarillo with just enough light to shoot the two stores without great difficulty. It's cold though, and my hands start to hurt. A precursor of what is to come.

The manager at the Soncy store is really cool and says she'll send me a Christmas shirt and a pin. She also insisted on giving me an anniversary mug signed by the partners on duty. I need to remember to send her a print of the photo of her store.

After chatting with the manager, it was now 6:30, and I had no chance at all of making it to Albuquerque by 8:30, but with four hours (including time change) I could still make the other store that closed at 9:30. But I had to leave right away, so I picked up a hot dog from Dairy Queen, the only quick place on the way back to the freeway (other than McDonald's--yuck!).

I gas up in San Jon across the new Mexico border, and there's plenty of ice, and boy is it cold. I make the mistake of not using the warm-air hand dryer before going back outside, and my hand damn near freezes!

During the last 200 miles to Albuquerque I develop a splitting headache, not sure why, and the glare from the headlights makes it worse. Maybe it's the hunger. I'm not sure. I have to turn off the music.

I'm pacing a car going too fast, 90+--the speed limit is now 75 MPH in New Mexico, with no lower limit at night.

I make it to the store in Albuquerque with fifteen minutes to spare. The partners on duty get a kick out of my project, and one asks if he can have the article. I tell him he can download it from my web site.

After wandering around trying to find the Kinko's, I finally spot it and leave my batteries charging, then get some sleep outside, which is tough because of the headache. Finally around 2:00 or 3:00 I decide I'm just too hungry and drive down to the heart of the city and to the Frontier Restaurant for some of those great pancakes! The pancakes are excellent as ever, though I drown them in too much syrup. But the OJ disappoints. As I leave I notice just about every cop on the beat hanging out at the place.

I head back up to the Starbucks, shoot both just in case I can't get decent day shots, and find a dark parking spot next to a dumpster by a beauty salon. I figure it won't open at the crack of dawn, giving me time to sleep 'til 7:00 or 8:00.

Monday, December 23

I get up around 8:00 AM, and it's cloudy, so I might as well have visited both stores at night and moved on, had I arrived on time. I lose too much time at Wal-Mart just to buy some cleansing soap for my face. I should have bought it last night when I bought the apple and banana. Stupid. I take photos anyway, visit the other store, and head up towards Pueblo. I-25 north towards Santa Fe, where I plan to cut across to Raton along the scenic route. Get some snowflakes, enough to be pretty but not enough to be dangerous. In Santa Fe I wait a long time in the drive-thru line at the BK online to find out they don't have any biscuits for the sandwiches. Gee, thanks a lot lady for tell me me before I wasted my %^$#@ time. And now it's 10:15, so I'll not have a chance to find another fast-food place. Glad I had my apple and banana.

Since I gave mself extra time by leaving on Sunday, decided to take the scenic route, and from Santa Fe took US-285/84 north, continued on 285 once it split off from 84, and at San Juan Pueblo took NM-68 east towards Taos. At some point, after I had driven too far too return to the interstate, I realized that winter was not the best time of year to take the "scenic" route, which wasn't so scenic after all when I was preoccupied with keeping my car on the road, and on the mountain. I should have stayed on I-25 and saved the smaller road for summer. Don't get me wrong... I love views like this. But the mountainous road became icy as the elevation increased (or seemed to increase) towards Taos, and I had to drive agonizingly slow. My worsening stomachache didn't help matters. On the other hand, I did pass a Buddhist monastery, which I wouldn't have seen from the interstate.

Meanwhile, I had this thought that maybe I could get a credit limit increase on my one remaining credit card ($300 limit almost maxed), but I had already left my Sprint PCS converage area. I hoped that I would reach the interstate in time for an increase to take effect while I was still on my trip, just in case it wouldn't be immediate.

On the other side of Taos, on US-64, I finally got a stretch of straight road, but it soon looked like this and I had to slow down. Then I entered the Carson National Forest, which I'm sure would have looked really cool during the summer. But now it looked like this.

I should have taken a photo, but I was cold, my stomach hurt, and I just wanted to get to the interstate. But the bathroom at the Diamond Shamrock at the junction of US-64 and NM-38 in Eagle Nest has the coolest caricatures. Cool enough that they have hardly been vandalized at all.

I get a roaming signal and decided to go ahead and call Capital One and discover I still don't qualify for a credit limit increase, because I went over the limit while on my 7-week trip back in September, and I have to wait a total of six months, so I won't be eligible 'til March. I have to decide whether to push it over the limit in gas so I'll have extra cash, but I really want that limit increase for things like rental cars and airline tickets.

Further down the road, I passed Philmont Boy Scout Camp and was reminded of a high school friend, Jeremy, who used to spend summers there. I had never known where it was until just now.

Past Cimarron the road got really straight, but with gradual up and down slopes. I was able to get my speed up to 80 finally!!! Further down the road, however, I notice flashing lights waaaay behind me and damn near freak out. No fucking way could a radar be tagging me from that distance, and there was no place for a cop to hide. So what was the deal? I slowed down to 70-75 MPH and sweated until the lights got close enough for me to see it was a maintenance truck, which I let blow past me and then sped up to follow him.

I finally arrive at the interstate, only to find it icy as well, but at least it's got snow blowers and steady traffic, so I can move a little faster. My hunger overcomes me and I stop in Trinidad for some Wendy's. As I approach Pueblo I highway sign reads--"WINTER DRIVING CONDITIONS AHEAD". So what the fuck have I just been experiencing all morning, huh?

I arrive at the Starbucks in Pueblo and discover that I had left my articles back in Albuquerque. NUTS!!! I call the store and tell them they can give most of the articles to that guy at the other Coor location who wanted one, and ask them to mail me the NY Post article, which is an original. I don't bother to introduce myself at the Pueblo store with no article, but I plan to print one out later at Kinko's.

I head up to Colorado Springs and for a brief moment I think my trip is over as I catch a patch of ice beneath an underpass and skid, but the patch is small and I regain control in an instant.

The sun has set already by the time I reach the newest C-Springs store at Woodmen and Rangewood shortly before 5:00, but it's to be expected in the winter.

I pass a Best Buy, stop in, and find the Alanis Morisette CD "Feast on Scraps".

At the Monument store, I mention that they are displaying the same photos as back at the C-Springs store, and the barista asks me, jokingly, if I'm touring all the Starbucks tonight. This gives me an opening to mention my Starbucks project, and they think it's cool and I get my free coffee.

I head up to the Denver metroplex and go to Kinko's first, to get my batteries charging, and to print out a copy of one of my articles. Then I go to the Willow and Orchard store, where a barista there had just recently stumbled across my site while searching for stuff about Starbucks. Then to Arapahoe and Peoria, where I notice a list of stores that will be open on Christmas day. I circle them on my map, so I'll know there's little point in trying to reshoot them. I notice one called 2nd and Fillmore, which I don't have listed, and for a while I'm confused and thing the store locator has omitted a store. But when I get to Monaco and Evans and inquire about it, they mention Cherrywood, and the mystery is revealed! It was called Cherrywood II on the web site, not 2nd and Fillmore. I am relieved. Whew!

I head downtown and scope out the new stores, and then find a supermarket, a King Soopers, so I can get some cash back. See, I had checked the Bank of America web site before I left and it listen many ATMs in Denver. But I couldn't find any, and the ATM locator on their phone service listed none. I had been paying for gas with cash, and was almost out. Fortunately, there's no fee to get cash back at supermarkets.

I stumbled across a 24-hr Fitness at Colorado and Alameda, where I slept for most of the night.

Tuesday, December 24

Around 5:30, when I guessed the new downtown Starbucks opened, I went back to Kinko's to swap out my batteries, and then towards downtown. But first, the drive-thru only on Santa Fe at Mississippi, where I wasn't charged for my half cup of coffee. Then the Writer Square store, and then the 18th and Champa store. Then I went to the Amoco Building store, which I had not been managed to visit after five previous visits to Denver. On this sixth visit, I was sure that it would finally be open for me. But I made the mistake of assuming it would be open for at least a few hours on the 24th, and... AAGHH!!! IT DIDN'T OPEN ON THE 24TH. I figured I had just arrived to early when I saw the kiosk closed, and I went inside to ask, and the security guards told me it would not open. You cannot imagine my disappointment. Why can't I manage to visit this store??? What's wrong with these people? It's not even Christmas yet!

So I moved on and drove up to the rest area just past the Ft. Collins exit on the interstate and slept for a few hours. Then got up and drove back about 8 miles to east to Greeley to reshoot the first store and visit the second... and BOOM--it was closed. It is located in a university building (but it corporate-owned), and closed for the better part of the winter break. Great. Two strike-outs in a row.

Oh, yeah, I had to put some air in my rear passenger-side tire, which had been going flat on me for weeks. It was probably not a good idea to even have gone on this road trip without having had the tired checked out. But it's too late to do anything now.

I drove to Longmont, reshot one store, and then visited the second store, stopping on the way for a croissanwich (no biscuits) from BK. Didn't bother to introduce myself at the Hover and Trade Center store because the line was too long.

Next was 64th and Ward, where I left my keys in my door. I got back to my car and almost panicked when I couldn't find my keys. I thought I might have left them inside when I opened the trunk, which is about the only way I can lock them in the car. But I was relieved, kind of, to find them in the passenger-side door. Don't know which is worse, locking them in the car or leaving them in the door.

Then I went to the Golden store, and I was pleasantly surprised to find movie posters on the wall, selected by the manager to complement the fact that the store was built in an old movie theater. She had heard of my project and seemed to get a kick out of it.

Then I moved on westward, towards Breckenridge. On the way, I looked out for this business alliance store that a couple of people had told me about, visible right off the freeway, which I was pretty sure was the Breeze/Max Ski/Snowboard Rental place. The web site listed Idaho Springs, but it was actually in Dumont. Since I had plenty of time (or so I thought), I got off the freeway to snap a photo and ask the manager about the place. Her name was, and I kid you not, Happy Day. She had heard about my project and was disappointed that I wouldn't be officially visiting her store.

The weather was great as I drove west into the mountains on I-70. Got to see great views like this and this. I exited Highway 9, where both the Frisco store, which I had already visited, and the new Breckenridge store are located. I was looking forward to dropping by Frisco again, just in case this cute barista from Wyoming might still be working there. But I had it mixed up with the Dillon store. So I just took another photo and drove onto Breckenridge, which was a nice store. By this time, it was mighty chilly as I took several photos.

Well, even though I had thought I had plenty of time, somehow it was almost 2:30 now, and I would not make the Avon store by 3:00. I was about to fall into despair, but I called and discovered it would not close 'til 8:00. I must have gotten bad information earlier, or called the wrong store. Relieved, I fought off my drowsiness and pushed on another 35 miles to the store. There was a rest area right off my exit, and I thought about napping, but I really wanted to be back out of mountains before nightfall. So I pushed on to Edwards, where I expected the store to be easy to find, on Main Street. But it turned out to be one of those fake corporate main streets that are part of a commercial development. So I called and they guided me in. I ordered an espresso to give me a kick back to Denver.

I drove exactly 100 miles back to Colorado Mills as night fell. Got to Colorado Mills just before closing, and found the Starbucks, only to spot the Food Brand name tags and realize it was a business alliance. I thought I had called to find out, but I guess I must have dialed the wrong store. Nothing in the food court appealed to me. I tried Popeye's, but they were only serving what they had left. So I passed.

I drove down Colfax, hoping to find something, but nothing stood out. Except cheap gas. Really cheap. So cheap that the pump was mechanical and the station didn't accept credit cards. Then stopped a King Sooper to get some more cash back. Drove all the way down Colfax and past downtown until I spotted Tom's Diner, and figured I might as well stop in for local flavor. Being closer to downtown, I expected the diner to contain some interesting characters. And I was right.

Let me tell you, this was the saddest bunch 'o character you ever saw. At 30, I was probably half the age of most everyone in the place. I walked in, and to my left a foursome looked like they belonged on the street. (And as it turned out, that's exactly where I saw them the next afternoon). The old timer at the end of the counter, and the rest, all looked light they weren't expecting to have the cheeriest of Christmas eves. The waitress asked me if I wanted a seat, and I told her I was thinking, which seemed to irritate her. Probably took me for a homeless youth. I had to think because of the signs that read "NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS" and "NO CHANGE GIVEN". I asked the waitress about these and she explained that customers could use the restroom, and no change was given out to panhandlers. So I took a seat at the counter and ordered up my usual eggs, biscuits, home fries, and bacon. While I waited for my meal, I continue reading "The Bell Jar". Periodically, the old timer at the end of the counter would make chitter-chatter with the waitress, and the occasional political commentary. Betty the waitress complained about how the foursome had left their cigarette ashes everywhere but in the ashtray. The old timer reminded her that she was on Colfax. Meanwhile, I directed the occasional glance at the one attractive person in the place, the other waitress handling the tables in the back. She was tall, dark-haired, and cute even in her glasses. I found myself wishing I had asked for a table. On the other hand, I was doing better than Esther (in "The Bell Jar").

All in all, I had been mighty hungry, and the meal did the trick. The biscuits, though they looked great, were mediocre to crappy, but the eggs, bacon, and home fries were decent. And I would need those calories to help keep me warm tonight that the temperature was predicted to drop to 12 degrees.

I went back down to Kinko's, which was closing at 10:00 PM and would not be open the next day, and checked on my batteries. Dang it! Still not fully charged. But then I went to the restroom, and when I returned, they were charged. I slept at Kinko's 'til nearly 4:00 AM, then got up to drive up to 120th Ave and Sheridan, where I planned to start taking photos. But when I got off at 120th, I got to thinking about the time I would spend finding a dark place to park, and then finding a "restroom" once it got light out, and I figured I might as well just spend the 30 minutes driving up to the rest area past Ft. Collins. Plus, I wanted another crack at photographing the Northern Hotel store. So I headed up there and slept until about 8:00 or 9:00.

Wednesday, December 25

Got up around 8:00 or 9:00 once I could see the sun breaking through the light cloud cover. I drove into Ft. Collins and re-photographed four of the five stores. At College & Horsetooth, I think I made some girl who was having car trouble nervous with my camera. She glared at me as she quickly got into her car and drove off, which was exactly what I needed, for her to get out of the way of my photo.

Also filled up that tire that keeps going flat on me, but had to go to two different Phillips stations to do it. At the second, as I'm filling up the tire, some guy drives up and asks me if I know of a gas station that's open. I reply "What do you mean. This one's open." Guess the guy wasn't very observant.

After Ft. Collins I raced down I-25 without having to fight too much traffic, as I would expect on Christmas Day, to 120th Ave and worked my way among several stores in that northwestern portion of the metroplex until about 11:00.

Then I headed downtown. I love driving around downtown on Christmas Day, as I've done in previous years in Portland, Los Angeles, and Houston. The streets are almost empty save for the occasional police car, and the plethora of homeless people, more evident on this holiday because they are the only ones out. I wait for them to pass before taking my photos, because homeless tend to be suspicious and might think I'm photographing them. But for the most part, I am free to drive around at will, park wherever is most convenient, and stand in the middle of the street if that's where the best angle is.

Unfortunately, it turned out that most of the stores were facing west, or near west, so I would need to return in a few hours, when the sun shifted to the other side.

I dropped in to the one downtown store, 16th and Curtis, open on Christmas, for some juice, but they were out. Then I went over to 6th and Lincoln, but they were also out.

From downtown I worked my way southward and reshoot as many stores as I can, plus the new stores that I had visited Monday night. I finally get my OJ at Cherry Creek II, and a danish. Also a DoubleShot that I would drink later, on the drive home. But then across the street I see a hot dog vendor. I have a fondness for hot dogs, and those from street vendors as well. And since this guy was working in 30-degree weather, I had to give him some props and buy a hot dog. And some Fritos. I hadn't eaten Fritos in years. Maybe as many as five years.

3:00 was getting closer, and it was clear I wouldn't reshoot all the stores I wanted to reshoot, but I definitely wanted another crack at Highlands Ranch and University. On the way I stopped for a coffee and some water for the trip home. I blazed down County Line Road, at about twice the speed limit, fortunately slowing down before a cop came over the hill. Whew! Dodged a bullet. The lights worked against me, and more cops, but I finally reached that store only to discover that I had neglected to account for something crucial. The grass! Yep, in winter, the grass wasn't the luscious green hue that I wanted for my photo. So I totally wasted at least 30 minutes or more, which would become meaningful later.

Because I didn't make it back downtown in time for another round of photos. It was only about 3:30, but the sun had already dipped below the buildings. Nuts. Well, at least I managed to get a few good shots, of not all the ones I wanted. Maybe in 20 or so years, after working my way around the other major cities in the U.S., I'll have another crack at downtown Denver.

And so I headed east on Colfax to Colorado, north to I-70, and homeward.

However, I still hoped to visit Tulsa before heading back to work, and I had about 50 miles during which to decide whether to continue east on I-70 or southeast on US-287. I passed up the first 287 exit. Then the 2nd. And then I started to feel tired, and I took the next exit and a small road which ran into 287 in Hugo. Glad I felt the fatigue before I had gone too far.

I hoped to drive all the way to Amarillo, but when I crossed into Oklahoma I got major fog, and icy roads. That sucked. I had to slow down, and it was just taking too long. I made it to Texas, and in Dumas I had to pull over and sleep. I got up around 5:30 and it was still foggy, but I managed to follow a van and made decent speed to Amarillo. On the other side of which the fog was slight.

In Clarendon, or maybe it was Claude, I tried to find a parking lot to catch a few Zs in before the sun came up. The first gas station seemed to crowded and busy. Then I came to an abandoned Chevron station, and I should have heeded the clumps of snow and ice and kept moving, but I pulled into the lot anyway. Couldn't see a path to the back, and didn't want to park out in front because in a town this small a cop was sure to hassle me. So I tried to leave... and promptly got my car stuck in the snow. I sat there for a while trying to forward and reverse to no avail. So I changed out of my pajamas and tried to see about pushing it, but of course I couldn't do it by myself. I got back in and saw the sherrif approaching, and I flashed my lights and honked at him... and he kept right on driving. "To serve and protect" my ass! Finally I was able to turn and reverse and forward and turn and managed to get it out onto the street and out of the way of oncoming traffic in time.

I kept driving, and then the sun began to rise. Saw a picnic area and got some sleep for a couple of hours, and pushed on. Made good speed, and was back in DFW by about 1:00. Trip over.