Starbucking (and Scrabbling) the East Coast


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October 8, 2003

After my first day at Siemens in Princeton, I took a look a two rooms for rent, and then I headed down to visit the Starbucks in Yardley, PA. I first picked up some spaghetti at a nearby restaurant, and a soda at the Wa Wa (by far the coolest name for a convenience store ever!). Outside, a couple of youths (pronounce with a hard "th") asked me to buy cigarettes, and then made some wisecrack when I declined. Inside, a couple of girls paid for some snacks and then tried to sneak out with a bottled drink anyway, prompting the cashier to call them on it.

Things were quieter at the Starbucks as I ate my spaghetti and chatted with the manager, who still happened to be there, about my project Iand the store. The store was pretty cool, displaying photos of an older Yardley donated by a local historical society. The manager had to attend to some some business, and after a few minutes I heard someone exclaim "He's here?". It was a guy who worked in distribution or something like that, and he had a friend with whom I had exchanged some e-mails in the past year. He happened to have a digital camera with him and had the manager take a photo of us.

Meanwhile, an older woman had been shifting around and looking fairly impatient the whole time I was there. I suspected she was homeless, with the shopping bags and all. Turns out she wasn't homless, but had been out shopping (hence the shopping bags) and waited for a taxi for over an hour. So I offered her a ride home. On the way, I asked if she might have a spare couch, but not really expecting her to offer me a place to crash for the night. The way she replied that she really didn't made me suspect that her home situation was not the most ideal.

Of several new Starbucks to visit in the Philly area, I had chosen Yardley with the intention of sleeping at a rest area near the Yardley exit off I-95. But when I arrived at the rest area, I noticed a sign specifying a 2-hour parking limit, and a $250 fine for violators. So I moved on further south to the service area on the turnpike, where I saw no such sign. Sure, I had to pay, but only 60 cents at the next exit, and that sure beats the cost of a room. A few hours later, I was feeling restless, so I went a-wandering. Earlier that day, the coworker that gave me a tour of Siemens commented that I should avoid downtown Trenton late at night. So of course that's where I headed. I had not trouble, but I did encounter a girl that seemed to be wandering aimlessly. I offered her a ride home, and she was a bit, how shall we say, strange. But who am I to be talking about strange.

I didn't have to return to the service area because I stumbled across an AMC megaplex in Hamilton and found a dark corner in the back next to a creek. I was reminded of a similar AMC outside Ottawa--completely devoid of life once the last movie ended.



October 9

On the way to a famous Scrabble club in Manhattan, I visited 42nd and 11th. More...



October 10

On the way to a Scrabble tournament in Bayside, Queens, I visited a couple of new stores in Manhattan and Queens. More...



October 11

After placing second in a Scrabble tournament in Bayside, I finished early enough to head east on the L.I.E. to visit a few new stores. More...



October 17

On the way to a Scrabble tournament in Baltimore, I had time to stop in Cherry Hill and visit my first new Starbucks in Jersey since moving up to Princeton. While in Baltimore, I was able to visit the three newest stores that remained. More...



October 19

After the Baltimore Scrabble tournament, I headed back to Jersey. I detoured to Wilmington to reshoot a lousy photo of the store there. As I expected, cars were parked in front, but at least I got a better photo than before. I took I-495 north towards the Media store, and then proceeded to pass up my exit and had to take an indirect route. I was disappointed that the store lacked a T-Mobile connection, but the shift supervisor was really cute, so I forgave them. I waited a bit for a car to move so I could take a better photo. I took the Baltimore Pike towards Center City. As I entered Philly I passed through some seriously dilapidated communities, and made a mental note to take some photographs in the future. For some reason I'm attracted to abandoned or underserved communities, old factories, ramshackle houses and whatnot. Despite both a printed map and a laptop with mapping software I managed to get lost, but I turned around and found the Broad and Pine store.


October 25

After the day's Scrabbling I drove to Norwalk to visit the store there, that had still been under construction when I passed by in May. More...



October 26

The Scrabble tournament ended around 2:30, giving me time to drive some 30 miles from Stamford to Ossining. The manager there recognized me from when I visited the store in Rye. At the CVS across the street I bought some badly-needed deodorant. Then I drove into Manhattan and went first to the Trump Tower store. The manager of this store had seen me on the Food Network and was very enthusiastic. It's just a kiosk, but Trump Tower is worth visiting for its plushness and the water wall. At least plenty of other visitors seemed to think so. I didn't have to slink around to take a photo, because I realized that plenty of other people were talking photos around the building, and security didn't seem to mind.

I then headed to the 1675 Broadway store did went through my usual Manhattan deal of negotiating the traffic, one way streets, blocked-off streets, and trying to figure out the parking signs, all for just a few minutes spent in the store.

I was only happy to leave the car parked where it was and walk about 10 blocks down to 42nd street to to Loews that had a Bank of America ATM. On the way I spotted a marquis that advertised the RZA and ODB of the Wu-Tang Clan. What luck! The concert was tonight, in a couple of hours. There were a few tickets left, and only $25, so I decided to forgo the movie and see the show instead. After buying my ticket, I withdrew the limit, $500 from the ATM, and then put my wallet in my front pocket as I went back to my car to leave most of the cash in my glove compartment.

It started late, of course, but I enjoyed the excitement of a club show in NYC. In my previous visits, I was in such a hurry to catch up to all the Starbucks that I did not have much time to just do New York stuff, except late after the new Starbucks had closed when with friends or family. I figured there would be time in the future to start enjoying New York, and I'm glad that moment finally arrived.



October 28

I fought traffic down to Baltimore on Monday night in order to catch the final east coast stop of the Songwriter Tour, featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Dar Williams, and Patti Griffin. The acoustic show was wonderful, and completely made the drive worthwhile. I left thinking about flying to California to see them again (and visit more Starbucks of course). It's that kinda thinking that led to my financial troubles to begin with.

I crashed at a service area not far from the Delaware line, and in the morning I caught a bit of traffic as I detoured off I-95 to the PA Turnpike to visit the Dresher store. That's the only one I planned to visit, but I realized that to get back on the turnpike, I would pass by the Willow Grove store, so I visited that one too. A final stop to photograph the Yardley store that I had visited almost three weeks prior, and onto work.



November 2

Immediately upon finishing my final Scrabble game, I sped away from Falmouth towards Boston. On the way, I called Kinko's to try and find the one closest to my route in order to waste as little time as possible retrieving my list of stores to visit in Massachusetts and Maine.

My first stop was the new store in Cohasset. While I waited in line, I tried to peek around a customer to see if there were any business cards, which often have the store number. He finished his transaction and turned around to leave, and though I tried to move out of the way I kept moving into his path. He was not amused by the dance, and he gave me a look like he was going to hit me. Friendly, these Massachusettians.

Being in a hurry, I did not introduce myself. I was not charged for half a cup of coffee, but then I had to explain why I asked for the store number. Asking for the store number without explaining my project has tended to arouse suspicion or concern.

From there, I was so far from the freeway that it was shorter to stay on Highway 3A to Boston. On the way I spotted a Starbucks that did not look familiar. It didn't help to look at my list, because with my laptop non-booting, I didn't even know what city I was in. Just in case it was one of those stores not listed on the Starbucks web site, I quickly pulled into a parking space, hopped out, and asked a lady inside what city I was in. She replied "Hingam", but then gave me this look like I was some kind of pervert. Now maybe I am a pervert, and maybe I'm not, but there's no way she could have known either way just from the question. I guess that's why it's "Minnesota nice", and not "Massachusetts nice". In fact, that reminds of the night in Boston when I asked this group of guys coming from a bar if it was okay to park on the street, only to receive a rather rude reply. Well, the Hingam store was indeed on my list, so I drove on.

I spotted a Burger King, and debated whether or not I wanted to wait to eat something good in Boston or Maine, when suddenly the radio station I had just tuned to started playing a track that I had heard recently in the movie "Kill Bill, v1". I started to lose the reception, and I thought that was a great track, so I immediately pulled into the BK parking lot to order from the drive-thru so that I could continue\ listening to the track. When it finished, I listened intently to see if it was in fact from the soundtrack to the movie, but the DJ started chatting with some artist.


Rant

I backtracked on 3A to the CVS to find a Coke in a can so I could continue listening to that radio station. I listened for a few minutes to see if the DJ would announce the name of the song, and when it became apparent the interview would go on indefinitely, I rushed into the CVS. No Coke in a can, so I grabbed a Snapple. But some inept lady couldn't get her store card to work, and I ran out of patience. So I drove on, still seeking my 12-oz can of Coke. I stopped at nigh well half a dozen gas stations, but all I saw were 20 oz bottles. I was rather miffed, thinking "Fuck y'all Coca-Cola execs and all you super-sizing motherfuckers. All y'all conspicuous-consuming obsesity-promoting fucks can just suck my dick. I got yer super-size right here!"

After I calmed down, I settled for a goddamned 20 oz Pepsi.

Guess I hadn't calmed down enough, because I missed the entrance to I-93 north thanks to a combination of awful Boston-area roads and dumbass drivers.


Those Wacky Boston Roads Again

It took me forever to get to Kinko's because of difficulty of driving in Boston without a map, and construction. I began to doubt the I would reach Portland by 8:00. But I was so close to the Brighton Village store that it didn't make sense to skip it. And Somerville was on the way to the interstate, so it made sense to stop there too. At Brighton Village I asked locals for directions to Somerville, and received two different sets--one took me out of my way, so I chose the more direct route. But it required staying on the same road for more than a few miles, a task easier said than done in Boston. So of course the next thing I knew I was on some street I didn't recognize, and had to call the Somerville store for directions, which was tricky business because I didn't know where I was.

I made it, but I had lost so much time getting lost around Boston that I'd couldn't be sure I'd make it to Portland, and it just wouldn't do to arrive minutes after the Starbucks closed and have to return another day, wasting time and gas. I couldn't stay the night and visit in the morning because I just wasn't up for a 370 mile drive to work in the morning. Not that I haven't done those types of the drives in the past. Many times, and twice as far. But I'm getting old.

So after visiting the Peabody store (where I found a dollar--yay!), just minutes before it closed for the night, I turned around and headed to Acton. This was the store that I had missed in May by a day because a delayed inspection by the fire marshall delayed it's opening. Finished for the night, I relaxed for a while and chatted with a barista there who recognized me from my visit to another store.

I headed down to Providence and evaluated one of its gentleman's clubs, the first I had visited in Rhode Island. Strictly a scientific study, of course.

Before I left, I went downtown to Kinko's to obtain the addresses of three new stores near Hartford. I was debating whether to try and visit them early and then make the drive to work. In the end I decided to leave them for another trip. Truly am I getting old. So I should probably stop eating at places like Spike's Junkyard Dogs, around the corner from Kinko's.

I slept for a couple of hours at the welcome center in Conneticut before continuing on to my usual service area in New Jersey for the remainder of the night.



November 8

On the way to a Scrabble tournament in Bayside, I stopped on Staten Island to rephotograph the Richmond Ave store and visit the third newest S.I. store at Forest and Bard.

After the tournament in went into Manhattan to get some good grub and see a movie. Afterwards, I parked on some downtown street to sleep for a few hours because I was too tired to deal with the tunnel traffic. I made the amazing discovery that, even in 30-degree weather, I could still sleep in the car when covered by three blankets. I actually sweated a bit at one point. But when I stuck my hand outside my cave of warmth, the air was bitter cold.

Around 3:00 AM I got up and found an open Kinko's so I could make a list of the Starbucks I wanted to reshoot. Traffic was light into NJ, and I spent the rest of the night at my usual rest area.



November 9

In the morning, I visited a couple of the last remaining new NJ stores. First, Basking Ridge, and then the second Denville store. The route to Denville took me through Morristown, where I spotted a Starbucks I had forgotten about. I didn't want to waste computer power by turning it on so I could see if I needed a better photo of Morristown, so I just shot a bunch of frames for good measure. At the Denville store, the barista had heard about me from her manager who had e-mailed me a few months back when she found my photo of her old store, Rockaway, and was amused to see herself in the photo. I hadn't realized she had moved over to this new Denville store, or I would have tried to visit on a day when she was working.

I drove into the city and rephotographed the Harlem store, and then stores all the way down Broadway. For brunch I felt like a bagel, but some place called HM Bagels or whatnot did not prepare the bagels in any way. They wouldn't toast or even add cream cheese. So I went across the street to an interesting looking deli-type restaurant named Zabar's and had my first cheese blintz, and then half a Belgian waffle. The waffle was good, but I guess that small blintz filled me up. Zabar's has no tables, just a large counter in the center that was full nearly the whole time I was there, typically with a line of customers stretching around the counter.

After circling the block around 42nd and 5th a couple of times to find a place to park the car for a couple of minutes, I waited in line at the kiosk at the corner of Bryant Park so I could ask the barista and confirm what I had heard, that that kiosk, and the one in front of the New York Public Library, were licensed stores. Finally I could remove them from my list. I continued down 42nd, and to my surprise, the 42nd and Park store was open. That left only two stores in Manhattan to visit.

A couple more stores to reshoot on 3rd Ave and 2nd Ave, and then I movie at the Angelika, Shattered Glass, and then I discovered an interesting restaurant offering both Chinese and Latin cuisine. Not fusion, mind you, but completely separate menus. I'm not partial to Chinese, but the Latin food was exactly what I was looking for.

On the NJ Turnpike back to Princeton, my engine suddenly died. I immediately started the car again, and it immediately died. Repeatedly. I moved to the shoulder and let it coast to a stop, and I wondered what to do. I tried starting it again, and it immediately died. I thought about what to do for a minute or two, and then I tried starting the car again. It didn't die! I was nervous as I drive five miles to the service area, but I made it. I had heard the temperature was going to drop to 25, and what a difference that made. After about 4:00 AM, I had the hardest time staying warm from the waist down. It finally occurred to me to put another pair of socks. This helped immensely.



November 10

In the morning it occurred to me to check the oil. It was almost empty! The gas station at the service area had oil, and I added a pint and crossed my fingers that I would make it back to work. I made it back, and the car ran until Thursday without a problem.



November 15

On Friday afternoon I rented a Ford Focus for the weekend to avoid the risk of being stranded and missing my Scrabble tournament on Sunday. I figured that the Integra finally refused to start, and I was far away, like in Delaware for example, I could face a hefty towing charge.

I could have just slept at my room in Lawrenceville, but I had planned to drive up to Manhattan and catch a flick at the Angelika. But shortly after getting cash at the Menlo Park Mall, I changed my mind and headed over to the GSP towards Neptune. I always get up earlier when I sleep in the car, and I'd be closer to the stores I wanted to photograph. I stopped at the Cheesequake (what a name!) service area for the night. Though the Focus was a hatchback, it sucked for sleeping. Besides being smaller, the seat wouldn't go down all the way, leaving a portion of the space at an angle and unusable. I barely had more than the trunk space.

I was more than eager to get up around 7:30. I rephotographed several stores on the way to visit the new store in Neptune. I had a feeling that I could find a good place for breakfast in Red Bank, and I was right--the Broadway Diner.

I photographed a couple more stores, in Shrewsbury and Oakhurst, and then arrived at the Neptune (Ocean Township) store. The shift supervisor and a couple of other partners seemed pleased to meet me. Later, at the Southhampton store in PA, I discovered that I had left my articles back at the Neptune store. I called to confirm and discovered I had yet another fan who was disppointed she had missed me. But I wouldn't have time to return for my articles that day, and probably not anytime soon. I'd have to print out more articles, but unfortunately a couple of those were no longer available on the web without paying for access to the magazine articles.

Without articles, I didn't bother to introduce myself at Southhampton and groused at being charged full price for half a short coffee. But at Upper Moreland, a partner gave me the coffee to make up for another partner's having mistakenly told me the store had Wi Fi access, when in fact it did not. So I went in search of Wi Fi so I could finally upload an update to my site, and I ended up lost, looking for the Maple Glen store that had been misplotted by my mapping program. I finally found one, in Jenkintown, but I was running late for an informal Scrabble club meeting, so I didn't upload anything.

The next day, at the Walnut and 34th store in Philly next to U Penn, my Wi Fi card was causing the computer to freeze, so I couldn't upload any files. The new hard drive that Dell had sent had not solved my booting problem, so I was still having to boot off the CD. All these problems with a computer I had just purchased were really beginning to annoy me!



November 21

Having my final Scrabble-less Saturday for the forseable future, I decided I need to get up to Maine to visit those new stores. Once again I stopped in Elizabeth for dinner, and tonight's choice was Sam's Restaurant on US-1, specializing in Peruvian Cuisine.

On the way towards Elizabeth, I booted up my laptop and noticed that the boot sequence had frozen. I had thought it was the hard drive, but now I thought it was the old Wi Fi card, because I had not seen this problem with the new card. I had bought a new card thinking that my old one had been stolen back in Philly. Turns out I had only misplaced it inside a manila folder. When I found it again, I packaged up the new card to return it and left it back in my room in Princeton. So now I was going to be without my T-Mobile access for another weekend. Curses!

I stopped in Brooklyn to meet up with a girl who had posted an ad on Craig's List. She wanted to go for martini's, and we walked to the Blue Moon Cafe. I'm glad I stuck with trusty old Mike's Hard Lemonade, because her martini was way too sweet for me, as well as three times the price. The waitress was much prettier than Sarah. What's that they say about the grass being greener? I hope she doesn't find out about my Starbucks project, or at least that she doesn't read this log.

I didn't leave Brooklyn until 2:00 AM. It wasn't that far to the rest area in Connecticut. This was good, because shortly after crossing into Connecticut, I felt a sensation that was completely new to me. I find it hard to describe. It was lie a shuddering spasm. It may have been that I felt asleep for an instant and woke up suddenly, but I don't think so. It had been several hours since I had the one drink, but I wondered if it combined with the supposedly non-drowsy Benadryl I took earlier. Whatever it was, the sensation was so new that it scared the heck out of me. Thankfully, I was only 5 miles from the rest area. I put Dar Williams into the CD player and tried to focus on the lyric. Once or twice I thought I felt the sensation coming on again, but nothing happened. I made it to the rest area, and I was soon asleep.



November 22

I woke around 8:30 and figured six hours was enough. The day was sunny--absolutely beautiful, and I wanted to take advantage of every ray for my photos. I remembered all of a sudden that I had forgotten to call Nicole to let her know I wouldn't be crashing on her couch after all. I thought maybe I'd stop by her store and say hi, but I couldn't remember which one it was. But I looked at the photos of all the stores in southern Connecticut, and I remembered mentioning that I needed a better photo. Southbury wasn't much of detour, so I headed there first to say hello and take a new photo. Next was Plainville, where one of the baristas looked familiar. She recognized me too, from when I had visited the Homer Township store. I remembered the name Homer Township, but I drew a complete blank on the visit or what the store looked like. I wondered if all the memorization I was doing for Scrabble was affecting my ability to remember the Starbucks I had visited.

I then took a slight detour to the Avon store and said hi to a partner who had e-mailed me. I'm glad I did, because since I had originally visited the store, a custom mural had been put up, and so I got to update my caption for the store. The final new store in Connecticut was up in Granby. At least four four days, when a new store in Enfield would open.

I gassed up in Springfield, but it was expensive, and I thought I could do better. But I didn't get enough, and as I pulled out of the last service area on the Mass Pike my fuel light came on. Curses! As I suspected, no gas stations were to be found in downtown Boston, either on the way to the store at One International Place, nor on the way to the freeway. I got off I-93 at the first exit that seemed like it might yield gas and not get me lost trying to get back on. I pulled into a Getty's, but then I realized it was full service. I didn't want to the deal with the attendant--I was sick enough of not being able the mandatory full service in Jersey--so I head across the street to the more expensive Mobil. As I waited to cross, the attendant glared at me, like why the @#$% did I pull in to begin with.

Meanwhile, I had only eaten a donut and a banana. I had had my heart see on breakfast at Betty's Kitchen in North Hampton, NH. But it was already 3:00 in the afternoon, and I figured I'd never make it in time, so I just had another donut.

I made it to Kittery while it was still daylight, but it was darkening fast. A car was blocking my photo, and the line in the store was long, so I asked the lady in the passenger seat if she wouldn't mind moving it so I could take my photo before it got darker. I didn't mention that the car wasn't even supposed to be stopped in front of the store like that, not in a parking space.

By the time I reach Saco, it was already dark, and I had to break out the tripod. I didn't mind, because I had to wait for my pizza anyway, while getting my coffee and taking the photo. I was too hungry to wait to get back to the Cuban restaurant in south Boston. South Portland, and then Portland, and I was once again finished with Maine. I hoped they wouldn't build any new stores for some time to come, as Maine is pretty fucking out of the way for me.

I should have taken the exit as soon as I saw the traffic backing up on I-93 southbound into Boston, but I was afraid of being too far from my destination and having to navigate a mess of Boston streets. I ended up spending more than 30 minutes to drive about a mile to the next exit. I was thankful for the laptop, because I could work on my log while stuck in traffic. After I cleared the construction I headed to the Hard Rock Cafe to buy a t-shirt for a friend back in Houston who collects them.

After stopping at a club in Rhode Island, I crashed for the night at the secret rest area about 10 miles shy of the Connecticut line. I call it "secret" because, while there is a sign alerting drivers to a rest area/weigh station one mile ahead, the sign at the entrace ramp only specifies a weigh station, and that it is closed. There was no restroom, but that was fine, because there were only a couple of trucks parked there, and a bunch of trees leading into the woods. It didn't seem that cold outside, and I was for the most parm warm inside my cave of blankets, but my feet were cold when I stretched out, maybe because the trunk hood was letting a bit of air in. Not sure, but the solution was a trick I had discovered a few weeks back when the temperature dropped to 21. Double-socks! They kept my tootsies toasty warm.



November 23

I didn't see any cool places for breakfast in New London, but I did see this cool van. In New Haven a local pointed me to Clark's Dairy. The French toast was okay, but what I liked about the place were the photos of celebrities on the wall, like Bill Clinton and Peter Jennings. When I opened my laptop on the table the waitress told me not to get too comfortable, because she expected a large breakfast crowd of Harvard fans who stayed overnight after the previous nights game. Harvard had won.

I couldn't start my Scrabble tournament without my daily cup 'o joe. I stopped at the Rye store to get another look at the historical photographs. One of the partners recognized me from my visit last year and introduced me to the new manager, and I came away with a Christmas shirt and New York mug for my efforts.

My mapping program misplotted the location of the La Guardia Ramada, so I got off I-687 at 20th Ave and stumbled across the Whitestone store, and took another photo that included the offending McDonald's that it's adjacent to.



November 26

With Thursday and Friday off for the Thanksgiving Holiday, I had time to drive to Oshawa, Canada, for a Scrabble tournament, and visit new Starbucks in Albany, Vermont, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, on the way. I left work at 5:10, and it took me about 3 1/2 hours to drive 200 miles, which include a stop at the ATM, gas station, and a 5-mile detour when I got on I-287 southbound instead of northbound. It was good thing I gave myself plenty of time, because when I arrived at the Starbucks in downtown Albany I learned that it would not be open on Thanksgiving.

I had still forgotten to print copies of my articles to replace the ones left at another store, but I made my intro without articles, and one of the partners had seen my web site, so I had no trouble getting my half cup of coffee.

I headed to the Stuyvesant Plaza store and made my first real time photo and log upload with my Wi Fi connection!!!

Since I had plenty of time to reach Oshawa, I decided to make some headway on my goal of driving every US highway by driving a stretch of US-7 in Vermont. First I had to take SR-7 west from Troy, and I stopped downtown and was surprised to see plenty of people out and about. A girl in a car motioned for me to lower my window, and she asked me if I knew where I Love New York Pizza was. I motioned for her to cross the light and pull over. I displayed the pizza restaurants on my mapping program, and I Love NY was listed. I wasn't sure exactly where I was, though, so I couldn't give her directions. Instead, I just told her to follow me. I continue past the restaurant, and then I got to thinking that the banana and power bar weren't going to be enough, and it would be a cold night, so I might as well have a full stomach. Plus, the girl was cute, and might be dining in, and alone. I circled the block and parked, and I spotted the girl leaving with her order. Rats! Still, the chicken and parmesan pizza was pretty good. I washed it down with an Orange Crush from the market across the street. I hadn't seen Orange Crush for sale in a long time.

I guess that banana was more filling that I had imagined, because I could only finish 2/3 of the pizza. Still, that may have been too much, because not long after leaving Troy behind on highway 7. It was past 1:00 AM, and everything was closed in the small towns I passed. I didn't think I'd be able to sleep the way I felt, and stomach was feeling worse, so I was desperate for an open gas station. Finally in Hoosick (I'm sick, that's who!), I spotted a gas station open. I was just going to buy some windshield wiper fluid as an excuse to use the restroom, but then I thought about it and decided on some Alka Seltzer too. Right to the bathroom was a rack of porn magazines, and I didn't know how long I might be in the bathroom, so I bought one of those cheap three packs of assorted magazines. Maybe it was my upset stomach, or maybe it was because the photos were crappy, but I found none of the magazines appealing. I remembered why, other than the Starbucks issue of Playboy, and the Girls of Winter special issue, I had not bought an adult magazine in about eight years. Cuz they're mostly crap! So I left the mags in the trash for someone else to find. It occurred to me later that I should have geo-cached them instead.

State roads often lack lights, and it was cloudy and pitch black as I continued east. For kicks I turned my lights off, and immediately felt a surge of adrenaline, a fear response. A coworker once told me he used to drive for miles by moonlight on a stretch of New Mexico highway. Well, there was no moon to be seen, and this highway was curvy, not straight, so the lights came back on right away. I was now feeling the fatigure and longing for a place to pull over. Nothing looked good in Bennington, VT, and so I got on US-7 and started heading north, hoping for a turn out or rest area. Nothing through the third exit, and so I decided I didn't want to drive 11 miles to the next exit and pulled off. It was also started to sleet, or snow, very lightly. I had to drive a couple of miles towards Shaftsbury, and I spotted the corporate headquarters for Mack (the trucks, presumably). There wasn't a car to be seen anywhere, and I figured no one would be at work early on Thanksgiving, if at all, so I found a dark spot by the loading bays to camp out for the night.



November 27

I started driving after only 5 hours of sleep in the morning, and right after pulling out of Mack I spotted a turn out that I could have used, had I been able to see it in the dark of night. Then further up on US-7, another turnout. It felt like 5 hours wasn't enough, so I pulled into the turnout and slept for another hour.

In Rutland, I spotted the Seward Family Restaurant, for some basic eggs, bacon, toast, and home fries.

The drive north on US-7 in Vermont was slow, but I didn't mind, because I was in no hurry, and the day was beautiful. At the Williston store a partner from the Burlington store recognized me.

I had no trouble crossing the border, but I was disappointed that the shop advertising a good exchange rate was only giving $1.20 Canadian on the U.S. dollar, when the rate I looked up last night put the amount at 1.30. I passed a strip club on Iberville and stopped in to see if it took advantage of the full contact lap dances legalized by the provincial supreme court. But the exchange rate offered was even worse, 10%. No way would I take that, preferring to find a bank or some place that gave a better rate, like Starbucks, or many American franchise restaurants. Anyway, when I asked the dancer about lapdances, she said they weren't offered--only sex. I told her that's not what I was looking for. She gave me directions, half in English and half in French, to a bank, but I only half understood ended up leaving the town without seeing the bank. I passed a Dunkin Donuts/Burger King and stopped in to check out the exchange rate. It was better, 24%, which was good enough for me, and so with three separate purchases I was able to get a good bit of Canadian cash back in change without incurring ATM fees.

Shortly after crossing into Quebec I scanned my dial for a French station. While my comprehension is not good enough to understand ordinary speech, fast as it is, I do understand occasionally words and phrases, and I just like the sound of the language. And after hearing certain phrases over and over, like in the chorus of a song, sometimes the meaning just comes to me.

After a several mile detour east in order to get on the highway west into Montreal, I still arrived in time to photograph the two new outside stores in daylight. The two other new stores were in malls. At the Le Faubourg store I wanted to say hi to the manager but he was out. I had also wanted to confirm the locations of the other stores, and a very helpful and knowledge

Meanwhile, this piece-of-shit that Dells has the nerve to call a laptop is falling apart on me. The F12 key came loose this morning. That wasn't so bad, because I never use it. But now the period key came loose, and that really sucks.

At the Mont Royal store, I noticed a container of liquid sugar (sucreliquide)--interesting.

I was relieved that the Place Montreal Trust mall only had one kiosk--the helpful customer and the barista at Le Faubourg seemed to think there were several.


In the Lap of Lustful Cheries (Courtesy of the Strong U.S. Dollar)

Having visited the Starbucks, and with plenty of time still, I was determined to find out about these full-contact lap dances for $10 (Canadian!), so I went to a club on St. Catherines. As it turned out, I was mistaken--they were full contact dances, meaning that patrons could touch the dancers, but they were not lap dances, a-la Showgirls. I should point out that various web sites indicated that just about any erotic service was to be had in Montreal, legally. However, I happened to get it into my head to find what I couldn't get. Isn't that just the human condition, to want what we can't have.


Fal-awful

I located an Internet cafe where I could check my mail and do some research. Afterwards I just didn't feel like hunting to hard for good, so I went to an Arab cafe next door and, in the absence of bagels or pizza, ordered my first falafel. I hoped that I would like it, because I was starting to get really hungry. I did not like it at all, and I left before the owner could ask, because I did not want to disappoint him.

I'm barely out of Montreal when I started to get really sleepy. I had planned to stop at one more club, outside Montreal, in a town named Rigaud, and I was glad to get off the highway because it's harder to stay awake on the unchanging highway. This club had different rules than the ones in Montreal--different, in fact, from any other club I'd been to in any state or provice. Frankly, I was astonished.

I was also astonished to find a rest area, called an "Infotouriste", not too far from Rigaud. I wasn't bothered during the night, except by my own imagination. It seems that when I shift around, some part of my car makes a sound that sounds just like a cop knocking on my window to tell me to beat it.



November 28

Never a Cop...

Shortly before reaching the Ontario border, the group of cars I was pacing approached a police car in the median. Then suddenly, a car in the left-hand lane change to the right and would have hit me had I not been alert. I think the driver was on the phone. The cop must have witnessed my abrupt evasive maneuver, and I was hoping he would pull that other car over, but nothing happened. What are these cops good for, anyway?

It was a miserable day for driving and photograph, in sharp contrast to the previous two days. It was raining when I reached the one new store in Ottawa (Nepean, actually), and the rain intensified as I continued west towards Toronto. At the one new Starbucks in the Ottawa area I saw a sign for an exclusive Canada Starbucks card. I figured it would be neat to have and I planned to buy one with whatever Canadian cash I had left before heading back into the states.


In Search of Ham and Cheese Biscuits

Couldn't find anything that looked like a good breakfast place near the Starbucks, and didn't want to get too far from the highway to Toronto, so I just settled for Tim Horton's. Easier said than done. I had the urge for a ham and cheese biscuit that I had found at a Tim Horton's last year. After waiting in a long line, the first location didn't have it on the drive through menu. I went inside and asked if the location down the street was larger. Yes, it was, but still no ham and cheese biscuits, because they didn't sell well in the area. So I got on the highway and started looking for Tim Horton signs at the exits. I spotted one, but when I got off, I saw that the restaurant was some three miles off the highway. Not worth it, so I kept driving. Further down, the sign pointing to the restaurants was on the off ramp, but of course it did me no good because, at highway speeds, I need to know a few seconds beforehand so I can plan my exit. Finally, in Prescott, I got my biscuit, but it wasn't as good as I had remembered.


I called the One Financial Place store to find out if it would be open on Saturday, and when, and I chatted with the manager a bit about my project, because she was curious as to why I asked about the Toronto General Hospital store which, by coincidence, had just opened today.

Despite having my mapping program right in front of me, I passed the exit for the Oshawa Centre and had to double back. Then, when I arrived, I learned that it is a licensed store, operated by Chapters. Rats! Not that I want more Starbucks to visit, mind you, since I have plenty of new ones in Toronto to keep me busy. But I ended up wasting about 30 minutes. It's a source of continuing frustration that some Starbucks in Chapters are operated by Starbucks, but others by Chapters.

As soon as I reached the Don Valley Parkway, I was in slow traffic for the next several hours, no matter where I went. I visited stores at Bloor and Jarvis, the Hudson Bay Centre, and One Financial Place. I confirmed that the Eaton Centre and Toronto General Hospital stores would be open early Saturday morning, so I could visit them then. I was in traffic for about an hour getting to the Keele and St. Clair store, and as I listened to the news I heard them say that this Friday was one of the worst for traffic in a long time. No kidding, eh? Thankfully, I had my laptop and was able to work on my backlog of logs, as well as comic books for when I laptop ran low on power. I have a general purpose power adaptor, but it was complaining with a loud squeal, as it has been doing on this trip when in stop and go traffic. I don't know what the squeal means, but it can't be good.

At Keele & St. Clair I hung out for a while charging up my laptop. I asked a partner about the Latin restaurants down St. Clair, and he said he had seen a couple. I drove down a few blocks and spotted La Paisa, a Colombian place. Of course my favorite plate, la bandeja paisa, was on the menu--I had not had one in months, since my last time in Dallas.

I headed out to Missasauga and visited the store in the Square One Shopping Center. Canada doesn't celebrate the American Thanksgiving, so it doesn't make sense for them to have the big shopping day afterwards. But you wouldn't have known this from the crowds in the mall. I had to wait forever to get a photo with less than 50 people in the way.

I drove a few miles back towards the city--Etobicoke, maybe--to some back streets with wherehouses, office parks, and small manufacturing facilities. I parked next to a van, across from some railroad tracks. Not too far down I could see a door open, and sounds like of machinery coming from indoors. But I saw no people coming in and out, so I settled down for the night. I usually prefer it quite and dark, but my windows soon fogged up for privacy, and the sounds of industry were actually kind of soothing. At some point during the wee hours all noise was drowned out by the wind, beginning with a gust so powerful that it shook my car and woke me up. Then the temperature began to drop. Around 5:00 AM it was so cold that I decided to drive back to Missassauga, to the other new store, just so I could run the heater and warm the car.



November 29

Suspicous Minds

The Starbucks had not opened at 5:30, as I I had thought I remembered a partner telling when I called. So I killed some time in the grocery store waiting for the bathroom (washroom, in Canada), finally becoming frustrated and going back to the Starbucks, now open. I bought one of those nify Canadian Starbucks cards as an excuse to use the restroom. The barista asked me if I was buying it to sell on eBay--she had heard that people are buying and selling these cards. What will they think of next!

I went back to the car to try and sleep a bit longer until the sky lightened. I must have slept some, because I dreamed, briefly, of a friend mixing some chemicals in a test tube, then lighting a lighter, and an ensuing explosion that woke me. I went back into the Starbucks for my coffee. The same barista noticed my Starbucks t-shirt and asked if I was a fan. I should have told her that I was a bigger fan of fair skin, dark hair, and freckles. On second thought, it's best that I didn't--I'm just not the type who can get away with clever (or not-so-clever) pickup lines.

As I was leaving, I noticed the manager, a suspicous aura about him, giving me the evil eye. He must have noticed my taking the photo, and, without an explanation of my project, assumed that I was a corporate spy. Oh what a tragedy it is that we live in a world so full of suspicion.

As I drove back into town, I listened to classical music on a French language radio station. Gee, it sounds the same as classical music on an English language station.

I went back to the St. Claire store for a reshoot, and I was caught by surprise as I pulled a u-turn and skidded on some ice. Then when I got out of the car my feet nearly slid out from under me. It was most assuredly slower going towards town, and at the next major intersection I cut down to Bloor St., figuring that it since it was more heavily trafficked it would be as slippery.

I picked up a danish at a bakery, and I noticed some guy buying cigarettes, and asking for a specific box of Belmonts with a particular photo. I wanted to ask him if he was collecting them, but he struck me as the type that once you get going never shuts up.

No complimentary coffee at the Eaton Center store. How demoralizing. I blame the manager for my subsequent poor performance at the Scrabble tournament in Oshawa, where I headed after reshooting two stores on Queen St. East.



November 30

As the Scrabble tournament came to a close, I had been anxious about whether I could reach the Walden Galleria store Cheektowaga by 6:30. I thought it I left at 4:00 and traffic flowed smoothly, I might just make it. Then I remembered that I'd lose time crossing the border, and I began to have my doubts. I decided to put off the decision until I cleared the immediate vicinity of Toronto. I didn't have to wait even that long, because traffic on the 401 slow through Toronto, and I lost too much time. Ah, it was just as well--I could relax and visit a club and have a proper meal. Well, if you consider a burger from Harvey's a proper meal. Hey, at least it's a Canadian franchise. Local culture, eh?

As my final act before departing Canada, I stopped at a Starbucks and put the remainder of my Canadian currency on my Starbucks card. As I would confirm the next day, this technique provided a good exchange rate with with no service fee.

Between my dawdling in Toronto and the delay at the border, and finally arriving in the wrong part of Buffalo to find the Delaware and Kenmore store, courtesy of my imperfect mapping program, I lose so much time that I doubted I would reach Rochester in time to visit both new Starbucks. But that was fine, because I had a backup plan, which was to finally visit the store in State College, PA. And I was able to confirm that Harrisburg had also opened, so I could hit that one too.

The staff at Delaware and Kenmore were very friendly and had me sign a cup for them. Next door was a T-Mobile store, and I was surprised that my Wi Fi card did not detect a T-Mobile signal.

It wasn't that late, only around 10:00 PM, but I began to feel really sleepy not long after leaving Buffalo. Heading south on US-219, I passed through Springville, NY and spotted a Wal-Mart Supercenter, the oasis of rural America. I've never had a problem staying the night at one of these.



December 1

The night had brought heavy winds and then snow. The road to State College was slow, the smaller US and state highways not as well plowed or trafficked. I passed many small towns and would have liked to stop for a good breakfast, but I would already be arriving late at work because of the weather and detour through PA.

Not long after setting out from Springville, I witnessed a small black car traveling northbound skid into our southbound lanes and spin around several times. A pickup ahead of me blocked my view, so I didn't see what prompted the driver to lose control, but I could see that she was lucky not to go over the side. I reduced my speed even more.

When I reached Salamanca, or perhaps Carrollton, I missed a turn onto the highway and ended up on a road into Allegheny State Park. I did not realize my error until I reached the park gates. I turned around and drove extremely slowly and carefully down the icy, curvy hill to avoid skidding too much out of control.

After reaching State College and visiting the Starbucks, the trip to Harrisburg was smoother and faster. After recovering the keys I'd left on the counter of the Starbucks, I gave up on my deliberations about what to eat and settled on the Boston Market in the shopping center. The last time I ate at Boston Market, I ended up suffering from food poisoning later that night (on Christmas Eve, of all nights), and I'll never know if it was the Boston Market or the On the Border that did it.

Before getting back on the highway I stopped at Kinko's to look up an address, and I was surprised to discover they offered the T-Mobile service. I had figured Kinko's would not offer Wi Fi because it would cut into their Internet business, as customers can just use their own laptops for free.

The drive back to Jersey was without great delays, but I had already lost so much time that I doubted I'd arrive in time to fax in my time sheet, so I had to call a coworker to do it for me. This allowed me time to stop in Bensalem, PA, and pick up a couple of cases, from a wholesale/retail beverage vendor, of my latest obsession, TradeWinds tea.



December 18

Finding myself ahead of schedule at work, I decided to attend the Manhattan Scrabble club for the third time, and to give myself plenty of time to arrive on time. Despite having left Princeton just after 4:00 PM, it seemed that the crossing of the Lincoln Tunnel took even longer, and it was almost 6:30 when I reached Manhattan. Still, I was determined to finally visit 33rd and 10th, one of the two remaining new Starbucks in Manhattan I had not yet visited. Taking the photo was tricky, requiring me to put a stone column between myself and the security guard at his desk, which resulted in being too close for the photo. I'd have to return and see what I could do from the passageway in between the doors.



December 19

Desperate to recover Scrabble ratings points, I flew to Detroit so I could attend a tournament in Farmington. More...



December 20

I did so poorly in the Scrabble tournament that I didn't feel like answering questions, so I visited the remainder of the Starbucks in Michigan incognito. First the Village at Rochester Hills, where I had to hang out for a while to charge my laptop and phone, then Grand Blanc and Birch Run, and finally the new store in Lansing. On the way to Lansing, I heard a gun ad on the radio, and I was amazed. I could not recall ever having heard an ad for any firearm on the radio. Oh, wacky Michigan!

After charging up my laptop at the Lansing store and relaxing a bit while I planned the rest of my trip, I drove towards the center of town and stumbled across Theio's, offering breakfast all day and serving biscuits! They were okay, but I guess my loss took away my appetite, because I barely ate more than half.

I headed out towards Grand Rapids and stopped at a rest area on the way for another uncomfortable night in the cramped rental car. The sleep wasn't so bad actually, but the water fountain didn't work, and so I had to ration my water and woke up with a mighty thirst.



December 21

On the radio in the morning I listened to some local news about how Farmer Jack would be closing locations. But then where will I sleep in Detroit???

The weather was great to the new Grand Rapids store and back, and I had time to rephotograph several stores before heading back to the airport and back to Princeton. The only blips were wasted time trying to reshoot 8 Mile & Haggerty because a I forgot that cars would be parked in front, and later at the airport, when the national security alert changed from yellow to orange and caused an unexplained delay in passing through security.



December 24

Ah, the spirit of Christmas! I sit in a Starbucks in West Windsor, planning which Starbucks I will rephotograph on Christmas Day, when suddenly a lady becomes very excited and starts screaming at a barista because, from what I can gather, she has driven here to pick up some item, it is not available, and she was not notified. Isn't that what Christmas is all about, the consumption of merchandise, and the obtaining of the perfect gift at all costs.



December 25

An invitation to Christmas dinner with my cousins in Ashburn, VA, compelled me to cut short my traditional Christmas-day itinerary of photographing Starbucks location. I missed about an hour of good sunlight for not having gotten up as early as I should have, but I still managed to reshoot eleven stores between 9:00 AM and about 12:30, when I had to start heading down to Virginia.

It made sense to start with the store closest to my room in Princeton (and that needed rephotographing), in Yardley, and from there I did some stores on the outskirts of the Philadelphia metroplex, including really nice-looking ones in New Hope and Doyleston. Traffic was light, as I had expected, and yet in Doylestown a cop who must have had a crappy Christmas Eve took time out of his busy Christmas Day patrolling to tell me that my parallel-parked car had the tail sticking out a bit. I told him I only needed a minute to take a photograph, and he replied that if somebody hit my car, he would arrest me. I didn't believe he had any grounds to arrest me and was just abusing his authority, but I could not protest because he would simply write me a ticket and force me to avoid Doylestown until I changed license plates. After he left I remembered I should have made a note of his license plate so I could file a complaint.

Weather.com had predicted partial cloud cover, but it turned out to be very light, and the weather was great for photographs. I really didn't want to break away from my photography to head down to Virginia, but my cousins have always treated me well, so I felt obligated.

When I finally reached Ashburn, I was surprised to see a Starbucks that looked completely unfamiliar. It was not on my list, and so I asked at the Blockbuster and learned it had opened only three weeks earlier. Unfortunately, it was closed and would not open until 5:30 AM. The rest of the evening I waffled between leaving that night or staying until the morning, but I decided I'd lose too much time in rush hour traffic through Philly, and I wanted to put in some time at work before the Scrabble tournament that started at noon in Parsippany.



December 31

It took me hours to plan my New Year's trip. Originally, I had planned only to fly into Atlanta on Friday night, drive to Rome, GA, for a Scrabble tournament on Saturday and Sunday, and then visit a handful of new Starbucks on Sunday evening before catching a late flight, or an early Monday morning flight, back. But I could not find an intinerary that suited me at a price I wanted to pay, so I decided to expand my travel options and amoratize the cost by trying to catch up on the new Starbucks in Florida. Because all cities in Florida except for the panhandle are out of the way of my normal travel routes, I would have to spend the gas to drive around Florida anyway, so why not now?

After search Travelocity for fares around $200 from Philadelphia or New York to just about every city with a major airport anywhere near Rome, I finally found a suitable round-trip into Columbia, SC that got me back on Monday morning. I needed to be back on Monday to have my time sheets signed and faxed to the agency. Columbia was a fine choice for two other reasons, because it had two Starbucks I had yet to visit, and because the car rental was cheaper.

After having arrived at the airport so early that I waited almost two hours a week and a half earlier, I decided to cut it a little closer this time around. As it turned out, I could have used extra time, because I screwed up and left my power converter in the car, and my pillow at the economy parking lot shelter. And furthermore, I brought along my nail scissors and file and had to throw them away (after sneaking off into a corner to cut my TOENAILS (ELATIONS INSOLATE)).

The plane was a turboprop. I'm not sure if that meant it had another means of propulsion besides the propellers, but it was the first time I could remember being on a propeller plane in 6 years, and I feared a bumpy ride like the last time. From my seat I could see the propellers, and as they spun up I marvelled at how them became completely invisible. I'm not sure whether how close to the ground they reached, but they seemed like the could easily kill a man.

The ride wasn't so bumpy after all, and because the plane was barely half full, I was able to choose a more comfortable pair of seats. Before I knew it we were landing in Columbia under clear skies. I've grown to like smaller airports for being less crowded. The rental car counter was in the terminal itself, and within 20 minutes I was on the road. I had to detour to US-1 instead of heading straight into the city to find a Wal-Mart and provision myself for the night. There was a Radio Shack in the same shopping center, and it carried the power converter I needed for my laptop and phone, but the attendant wanted to convince me I needed a $60 one--I didn't buy his story and found one for $25 at Wal-Mart, and it worked fine.

The sun was going down fast, so I photographed the first Starbucks I encountered, then went on to the second (which was actually the first in the city). I went back to the first (which was actually the second in the city), and I was pleased that the manager there had actually seen my web site.

The drive to Jacksonville was fast and uneventful, and I was amused to spot an El Cheapo gas station along I-95 in Georgia. I had not seen one in eighteen months, and I still think it's the coolest name for a gas station ever! The smooth drive made it easy to make several New Year's Eve calls.

Around 10:30 I stopped for the night at the welcome center in Florida, resigned to being asleep at midnight because I needed to get up early to make the most of the time availabe. After about an hour of tossing and turning in the passenger seat, I finally decided to try the back seat. While it was far from comfortable, I was at least able to sleep most of the night. Every time I got up to use the restroom, though, I had a headache, and I worried that I might be getting sick. Also because I thought I smelled blood in my nose, which reminded me of the sinus infection I had earlier in the year. Not what I needed during a busy busy weekend.



January 1, 2004

I got up at 6:40 and was able to reach the first Starbucks just after 7:00 AM. I saved time by not introducing my project, but then I lost time having to wait for baristas to go back inside to take photo so they wouldn't give me the evil eye. I'm very sensitive to the evil eye.

I had not planned on reshooting any stores unless it was convenient, because of time constraints, but I couldn't pass up the chance to reshoot a couple of stores on Atlantic Blvd with the subtle morning sunlight. Also on Atlantic I found a restaurant, Famous Amos, open, after having discovered Burger King close. I would have expected the other way around. I was about to sit down when I spotted a biscuit sandwich on the menu and decided to take it to go and save time.

At the last of three new stores in the area, I discovered another way to obtain the store number without asking--I spotted another customer throwing away her receipt and managed to surreptitiously retrieve it and retrieve the number.

As I headed towards Orlando after the Daytona Beach store, I discovered that three of the stores on my map for Orlando I had already visited and somehow mistracked. This meant I only had two to visit around Orlando and that I might finish with the Miami area before the last store closed, if they closed late on Friday, like 11 or midnight.

Meanwhile, my nose was more stuffed up and starting to run, and I was starting to get a headache. I was also really thirsty constantly and going through a lot of water (and subsequent trips to the restroom). At a service area I buy some Tylenol Sinus medication (no generic available) and take all four pills. Further down the turnpike I see a sign about all four lanes being closed 34 miles further south, so I get off at the next exit and make my way to I-95 rather than risk being stuck in traffic for the 5 miles to the next exit.

With eight stores spread through the greater Miami metroplex, the traveling salesmen problem was once again in effect, with an additional factor, that of trying time my visit to a couple of stores so I could say hello to the managers who had e-mailed me. Fortunately, seven of the stores were in pretty much a line from north to south, and the only one sticking out was in Coral Springs, so I visited that one first.

Weird--called a new Miami Beach store to ask what time they closed, and the barista asked who was calling. I think that's the first time in all the stores I've ever called that I've gotten that response to a pretty standard question.

Heading down Biscayne Blvd (US-1) from North Miami to Miami Beach I spotted a Now Open sign. I pulled into the parking lot and checked my list--it wasn't there. It had T-Mobile, so I was able to check the web site--not listed. Nuts--it had closed a 8:00, and I could have made it in time if I had known it was there. Now I'd have to wait 'til the morning and delay my trip out of the area.

Despite some more pills, Nyquill equivalent this time, I still had a bad headache and just couldn't take another coffee, so at the two new Miami Beach stores I bought a DoubleShot and half a coffee to save for the morning, hoping the coffee would not spill as I drove.

As I looked for the 416 Lincoln store, I was reminded of the hostel that I stayed in in '99 in South Beach. I got online and looked up some hostels, figuring a bed would help me recover from whatever bug I had, but the two I reached were booked. So I found a street that seemed less traveled by pedestrians and across from some construction. After a few hours, I was disturbed by what sounded like commands over a bullhorn, like from a police car. In a moment of paranoia I imagined some cop could see me in the back of the car and was commanding me to come out.

After some time, I headed back towards the mystery Starbucks and tried to find a place to crash there.



January 2

After a night of very little sleep, I was relieved that my flu symptons had not yet returned. When I walked into the mystery Starbucks at Biscayne & 69th, I immediately noticed the Magic Johnson mural and realized it was a UCO store, which explained the appearance of the neighborhood and why I had had a hard time finding a place to crash that felt safe, eventually picking a parking lot where a cop was parked, preferring to risk being hassled by him than by evildoers.

I reshot the Miami Beach stores and made good time down to the Falls Mall, only to discover it did not open until 9:00. So I went to the final new store (that I knew of) and hung out until 9:00. Actually, a little past 9:00 because the manager, who had heard of my project, showed up and we chatted.

Finally (after a bagel sandwich) I headed west out of the Miami metroplex, but not on I-75, but rather US-41, the Tamiami Trail, which was a more direct route to the store in Marcos Island. Ordinally I would have been glad to drive a new highway, but due to my time constraint I was worried about delays on the highway. But I got lucky and made good time the whole 80 miles, thanks in part to a speedy pickup I was pacing.

It took me quite a bit of time to get through Marcos Island and the first two Naples stores, the first because of congestion downtown, and the second because I introduced myself to the manager in the hopes of scoring a t-shirt I'd not seen before. But the shirt was handed out at the open forum, so I assume there were no extras. And one of the partners had seen me on "Unwrapped" and had a lot of questions, and then they wanted to take a photo. Additionally, they pointed out yet another store not on my list, further up US-41. Oy, vey! I doubted I was going to finish them all before having to beeline to Rome.

As I pulled off the highway into a rest area outside of Naples, a wave of fatigue hit me. I decided I wouldn't be able to visit all the new stores, and started planning which ones I would visit, the ones closest to the freeway.

There were delays on I-75 northbound, and after visiting the Sarasota store I considered a couple around Tampa just off the freeway, but decided I would skip them and see how I was doing on time once I neared Gainesville. I made good speed to Ocala and had time to visit that store, plus the two new ones in Gainesville, and to get some grub to go. It was exactly 10:00 PM as I pulled out of the final Starbucks, which meant if I drove the 400 miles to Rome in 5 hours, I'd be able to sleep for 6. More...



January 3

As soon as I finished the final game of my Scrabble tournament, I sped away from Rome in order to reach the Starbucks in Phipps Plaza by 7:00. I had called earlier to see what time they closed, but sometimes I am given incorrect information so I called again. If it had closed at 8:00, I would have had time to visit the new Alpharetta store first and drive fewer miles total. It's a good thing I didn't try that, because I barely arrived at Phipps Plaza before 7:00 as it was. As I got close, I noticed it appeared to be a mall on my map, so I called the store once more to find out if they were inside, and which entrace was best. The barista that answered asked me if I had called for the third time, and then proceeded to interrogate me about whether I was coming to the store, whether I was going to buy something, and such. This was a new experience, and I felt it extremely inappropriate for her to take such a tone with a customer merely asking for store location and hours.

By the time I got out of there and up to Alpharetta I decided I wouldn't have time to visit the Conyer's store before it closed at 10:00, because there were a couple of things I wanted to do in Atlanta first. It didn't matter really, because I'd be back soon enough, and now I'd have time to either have some food at the Flying Biscuit, if it was still open, or maybe one of the Cuban Restaurants I had discovered during the month I worked in Atlanta.



January 4

After three consecutive flights that went smoother than I expected, I decided to cut my return to Philadelphia close in order to sleep as much as possible. Parked at the Wal-Mart Supercenter a mere four miles from the airport, I set my alarm for 6:10 for a 7:10 flight. As soon as the alarm went off and was off and driving, but I had forgotten I needed to fill the gas tank or be charged for the gas. I pulled into the gas station and experience some serious panic as I could not find the wallet I had had when I entered the Wal-Mart just hours earlier. I lost at least 5 minutes tearing the small car apart until I found it. Then when I arrived at the airport to return the rental car, I lost more minutes because I couldn't find a space to leave it. Then there was actually a delay checking in because the lady in front of me had some issue with a stroller or heavy luggage or something. Then the line through security was much longer than I'd seen it in my recent flights, or expected this early from such a small airport. Then as a group of us got to the front of the line we were pre-empted by a flight crew. Finally, despite the fact that my bag had not been searched the previous three times, this time they said there was something the x-ray machine could not identify and they had to search my bag. I overheard them say something about lines, and I guessed it was the box of pens I had bought--other than shaving cream and some Mach 3 blades for my razor I had nothing different than when I flew into Columbia. I was really worried now, and then I heard them make a final call. As soon as she finished I ran to the gate, but they had already closed the door!

There was a flight bound for DC leaving at 12:25, and three staff members worked feverishly with some older computer system to try and book me onto that flight and a connecting flight to Philadelphia that was scheduled for noon. I did not manage to sleep during the short flight, and we actually arrived early into Reagan. I bought a scone and a ridiculously overpriced banana and called a coworker to have him get my timesheets signed and faxed to the agency. Then I found a corner and some seats to crawl under to try and get some sleep. It was a good thing I dealt with the timesheets, because around 11:30 I got up and noticed that the flight had been rescheduled for 1:00 PM. I was cursing my luck unti l overheard another passenger explain the flight was late every week. An elderly couple headed for Fort Myers had bigger problems, because they had already missed one flight or something, and were only headed to Philly to catch a connecting flight back south. But now they would miss their connection and have to make other plans.

I finally gave in to my hunger and paid for an overpriced slice of pizza and a Mr. Pibb (no Coke or Pepsi available), and just as I walked back to the waiting area they started boarding the flight. I started wolfing down the slice until I was told I could bring it on board. The attendant seemed anxious for me to board--the nerve of them, after keeping me waiting all that time. Once on the plane I ate most of my pizza but threw away about a quarter because I had this feeling I should use the restroom right then. My instinct was spot on, because the flight attendant soon announced that special regulations pertaining to flights out of Washington, DC, required that passengers remain seated for the duration.

It ended up being nearly 3:00 when I got out of the airport, and as I sat in traffic on I-95 I decided to call in and say I wasn't coming in. I had planned on leaving early to catch up on sleep anyway, and there was no point in trying to debug anything in my exhausted state. Had I only known that those extra 5-10 minutes of sleep earlier that morning would have cost me $25 + a day of work!



January 8

FUUUUUUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK ! FUCK!!!

I left work extra early and actually experience no delay in crossing the Holland Tunnel, leaving me plenty of time to visit the long-outstanding Pearl and Maiden store. But even though I had my map on my laptop next to me, I still was forced onto the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn. I had to take the Brooklyn Bridge back and, in spite of my map, still had difficulty getting onto Pearl St. southbound. By the time I arrived, the sun had set, and I had to settle for a crappy photo.



January 10

After a Scrabble tournament in Bayside, I finally visited the new Long Island store in Syosset. I was pleasantly surprised that even though it had only recently opened, they already had T-Mobile. But I got a crappy nighttime photo, in part because it was too cold for me to want to set up the tripod, and I would need to return for another.



January 16

I took a turbulent trip (yes, the trip, not the flight) to Tampa, FL so I could visit the remaining Starbucks in the area before and after competing in a Scrabble tournament in Melbourne, FL.



January 18

After dropping a fellow Scrabble player off at the Orlando airport, I hurried back to Tampa to visit as many of the remaining Starbucks as I could before my flight. These stores were spread out among Tampa, Brandon, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, and I puzzled about which route would be optimal. I chose the one on Fletcher first, and on the way I spotted a Bank of America. I tried to deposit my Scrabble winnings, but the ATM did not want to take the deposit for some reason. This irked me, because I was running out of time, with lots of Starbucks still to visit.

After Fletcher, I headed down to Brandon, where there were two stores, one across from the Brandon Town Center, and another inside. After visiting those two stores, I tried another nearby BofA, and this time the ATM took my deposit. This was important because I would not be able to deposit the sizeable check back up in Jersey.

From Brandon I headed to St. Petersburg, stopping for a burger on the way. On 9-mile I-275 bridge across Tampa Bay, I was annoyed by a carful of unruly youths who kept driving too close to me, when I wanted space so I could finish my burger.

I would only have needed another hour to visit three more of remaining Starbucks on my list, excluding the one down in Brandenton. But after two recent experiences missing flights, I decided to be cautious and give myself plenty of time. After the two St. Petersburg stores, I called it a trip and headed back across the bridge to the airport. I was running 10 minutes behind schedule when I arrived at the airport to return my car when I realized I had forgotten to fill the tank. Hertz would have charged me over $5 per gallon, which would have totalled to more than the $25 change fee if I missed my flight, so I backed my car out of their and raced to find a gas station, about five miles away. I need not have hurried, because my flight was delayed. As I sat in the waiting area, I groused at having had to skip those Starbucks, and I worried that I would miss my connection in Cincinnati. If that happened, I would have to stay the night at the airport.

Luckily, I made my connection and arrived back at PHL in due course.



January 25

After a Scrabble tournament in Atlantic City, I stopped back at the Starbucks in Monroe to take another photo.



January 30

In a burst of Scrabble-obsessed madness, I made a last-minute decision to fly to California for a 1-day tournament in Newport Beach. I landed at LAX around 1:00 AM (4:00 AM eastern) and reached San Clemente around 5:30 AM. Across from the Starbucks at Pico and La Pata there was a Wal-Mart, and I slept for only a handful of hours before starting my Starbucking marathon.


January 31

I figure I slept four hours at most before it started getting light out, around 6:30. I wanted to try and break my record of 28 stores in a day, so I needed to get a move on despite how tired I was. But with all the caffeine I'd be drinking, I figured the fatigue would pass soon enough.

I tried to let it get a little lighter for my photo by shopping for groceries first, but because of the labor dispute I'd been hearing about on the news for weeks, the Albertson's would not open until 7:00 AM. I decided to try and shop at smaller markets, out of solidarity for the workers that I didn't really agree with. Because if they had waited until having a good-sized nest egg before having families, then they could have told the big bad grocery store chains to go fuck themselves for trying to exploit them. But they didn't think about that, did they?

Pico and La Pata was easy to find, because I had been there before, when the store was still under construction. And most of the stores in the Southland (Southern California) are located along primary arterials, so I didn't anticipate having a problem finding many. But I stumbled right away, as I couldn't find the next store on my list, in Laguna Niguel. I called for directions, but I still ended up at the wrong one and lost precious time. However, when I found the new one, I got free coffee for my trouble without having to give my spiel.

On the way to the next store I decided to give my new e-mail pal and fan of my project a vicarious thrill by calling her up and letting her follow me around via telephone. Gotta take care of the fans, you know. Unfortunately, I had forgotten car power adapter and had to cut the call short before my phone ran out of power. I'd was still able to charge it at a normal outlet, but I planned to be on the move all day.

I started to get hungry and fished around my duffel bag for the banana I had brought only to discover it was all squished and yucky!

From Bristol and MacArthur I headed west to Harbor and then north to Westminster. I don't know when I passed from Santa Ana into Garden Grove, but along the way I passed a dubious-looking area lined with adult bookstores, topless clubs, and homeless. I wouldn't have expected a Starbucks in such close proximity, but there it was anyway. Still, another clue about the area was the guy that game me a suspicious stare when I photographed the store. I've often found that people in lower-income communities, and downtown where there are plenty of homeless, tend to be more suspicious and often glare at me when I'm photographing.

At Euclid and Chapman some guy cut in front of me in line, saying he needed to cut ahead because they screwed up his order. I didn't react in time, and as I left the store I found myself cursing at myself for not having stood up. I should have been assertive, I thought. I wondered what would have happened if I had pushed him out of the way. A scuffle? Getting my ass kicked? Getting kicked out before I could get coffee? An assault charge? Still, I found myself hoping someone would try it again so I could have another chance. I needed to stop thinking about the consequences and just act. Man, these are the things that stay with you for a lifetime. Of course, as I write this from my notes, about five months later, I'm pretty sure I had forgotten about the incident by the end of the day. Which is probably why I've never been in a fight, and still have all my teef.

I continued to look for a grocer not part of the Ralph's/Von's/Albertsons chain--easier said than done. Finally I pass some place called Food Land. Nearby is a smoke shop in a plaza with a street address of 420. Clever.

In Anaheim I passed a Peruvian restaurant, and I was tempted, but it was too early for lunch.

At Euclid and Crescent they displayed photos of the partners. This is not unusual, but in this case they looked like mug shots! Also, the community board proclaimed that "Love is in the air" which reminded me that we were only a couple of weeks from V-Day, about my least favorite holiday. And I don't like many holidays.

By the eighth store I had reached the point at which my first task at every additional store was to find the restroom. Then when I got in line, I'd be jittery and dancing around and in some cases making other customers nervous. The caffeine was also making me scatterbrained--it was hard to focus, and hard to remember to ask for the number of each store or find a receipt and copy it from there. Or to remember it so I could write it down when I got back to the car. The caffeine made me scatterbrained and seemed to affect my memory--I had to keep repeating the store numbers over and over if I couldn't right them down right away.

Needless to say, I didn't need any more caffeine than the minimum, so I was irked when the barista at Cherry and Wardlow gave me a doppio instead of a solo. Had I downed the whole thing without paying attention--whoo-hoo, I wouldn't been flying even higher! Even with just the one shot, after thirteen stores I was starting to feel uncontrollable shaking and also tingling in my fingers and even my face. I was at the point where I dreaded the thought of the next coffee, and so I didn't mind so much that Normandie and Carson was still under construction because I got a respite from caffeine for a few minutes, however long it took to detour.

Several stores later I ended up in Rancho Palos Verdes, which juts out to the southwest of the L.A. metro area between Santa Monica Bay and Los Angeles Harbor. As I drove along the coast I picked up a cool public radio show, A Way With Words. When it ended I learned it was from a station in San Diego, KPBS 89.5, and this surprised me because San Diego is 120 miles away! But by land. A straight line across the water was shorter, and perhaps the lack of obstructions in the way allowed me to pick up the signal. I've never quite figured out how this radio reception thing works.

I got in the mood for a burger, but from a local place. I found Steve's Charbroiled Burgers. Well, not all locally-owned restaurants are better. The burger was bland, so I spiced it up with some chili from Togo's.

Frequent trips to the bathroom, and more time spent in each one, started to slow down my pace. Which was good, because I had reached the espresso phase, the point at which I just couldn't fit even four ounces of liquid in my stomach, especially not after the burger, and had to do shots.

It was with a little dread that I revisited the store at Western and Slauson (because it had relocated from the strip to a free-standing building at the end of the parking lot), where the manager had looked at me with such suspicion when I first visit. Thankfully, he wasn't there.

I guess I'd gotten behind the times, and I started to feel like a fogie, but I was surprised to see that the radio display on my rental car showed the name of the song and artist on some of the stations.

Around 9:00, after 25 stores, I gave up on trying to break my record of number of stores visited in a day (28). I got my coffee from Carmenita & Telegraph but saved it for later, and I camped behind a bowling alley adjacent to the shopping center. My headache was massive, and I had run out of Tyenol, so I used Nyquill caplets and Tylenol sinus medication. I didn't need the decongestant, but my head just hurt too bad for me to go find a drugstore.

Finally I decided I had to get some Tylenol. It was only around midnight, and I decided I had enough time to head over to the Hawaii Theatre in City of Industry, my usual strip club when in the area, barely ten miles away. By the time I got there, the Tylenol had taken effect, and by the time I left I was feeling much better and was able to sleep more soundly back when I returned to the same parking lot.

Behind the bowling alley there was a building with a dark corner where I could deal with the effects of the caffeine combined with all the water I was drinking, but every time I approached some dogs went nuts with the barking and freaked me out.


February 1

The flip side of its being so difficult to sleep in such an uncomfortable condition is that it's really easy to get up. Once there was a hint of sunlight I went ahead and rephotographed the store I had visited the previous night and set out to visit as many new stores as I could before Scrabble. I managed five, and then the tournament.

I didn't win any money (not that it would have compared to what I spent getting out there), but I did well. I didn't have time to enjoy my success, however, because I'd spent a lot of money flying out there for both Scrabble and Starbucks, and I needed to make the best of the time that remained, and of the light. But by the time I made it to the next Starbucks it was pretty much gone . I pressed on, and managed four more stores before heading to return the car and then to the airport, where once again I almost didn't get my duffel bag on the plane because of the broken zipper.

For all my hurry, American ended up screwing me. My flight was delayed, and by the time I got back to Philly it was nearly lunchtime. On the bright side, I got to visit a new store in downtown Philly, but I really just needed to get to work.



March 6

I spent the weekend at a Scrabble tournament in Queens, and after Friday night's games I drove out to Long Island to spend the night, and on Saturday morning I visited the new store in Miller Place. I had planned to rephotograph a bunch of Long Island stores, but it was raining on and off, and overcast regardless.



March 13

After months of waiting for a Scrabble-free weekend that coincided with free time in her schedule, an old friend from Dallas (I call her my pseudo-non-girlfriend) and I were finally able to work out a meeting, about halfway between Princeton and Norfolk, VA. I chose Rehoboth Beach, DE, because it would give me a chance to visit a long-outstanding Starbucks. It was colder than I would have preferred, but otherwise the weather cotoperated with sunny skies, and I had a great drive down US-13/SR-1 from Christiana, DE down to Rehoboth Beach. There was a slight backup a few miles before the Starbucks, which was puzzling because the busy season was months away, and the town seemed otherwise dead.

After meeting at the Pier 1 next to the Starbucks, we went in search of victuals. After running into a couple of locked doors, restaurants closed because of the off-season, we settled on the Rusty Rudder. I'm not a fan of seafood, so I settled for a mediocre burger and fries. Once more Dawn spurned my offer of marriage, but I had faith that it was just a matter of years, or decades.

Then we went to visit the Starbucks and plan what to do next. Dawn chose Cape Henlopen State Park, a few minutes away. We walked through the dunes down a path to the beach, where I walked as close to the water as I dared without letting it get my sneakers wet. Winter doesn't do water.

A coworker later told me that Rehoboth Beach gets really packed during the summer. But since we were a few months away, the beach was nigh well empty. As we walked, Dawn was on constant lookout for shells and stones. I spotted pretty purple ones, and she encouraged me to take them, but I explained that I've gotten away from the collecting mentality. I prefer to own no more than I can pack in thirty minutes and be on my way in case "they" catch up to me. I preferred to simply take photos of anything that looked mildy interesting, like the patterns in the sand.

The walk back was less pleasant, as the wind was in our faces, and neither one of us had brought caps. We returned to the Starbucks so I could retrieve my car and take a photo, but to my displeasure there was a big honkin' van blocking my shot, despite plenty of proper parking spaces available. I ended up having to wait about 20 minutes for that worthless strumpet to move. I finally got the shot, and we drove back down to Dewey Beach to wait for the sunset. I had hoped to check my mail while waiting, but the wireless access advertised at the coffee shop was not free, to my further displeasure.

We walked down next to the pier next to the lighthouse for a better view. It had been a while since I had watched the sun set, let alone over the water, so it was quite an enjoyable experience.

Dawn headed back to Norfolk, and I made my decision to drive into Maryland after all to visit a newer store in Prince Frederick, and possibly some stores in the DC area in the morning depending on time. I took US-9 west for a short distance to an unimpressive Georgetown where I picked up SR-404. I was in the mood for small town food, but there was nothing to be had in Georgetown or the next town, Bridgeville. In Denton I saw an exit for Gay Street--it wasn't the only Gay Street in the country, but I could not resist taking the exit. I expected to see businesses and eateries, but I only saw residences and some dubious looking characters spread out across several corners. On the next street over, I could see lit neon signs, so when I reached the other end of town (in about 15 seconds), I turned around and took Market Street back in and quickly spotted the Market Street Cafe.

I parked and went in to see if anything on the menu looked appealing. The corn fritters and meatloaf looked interesting, so I retrieve my computer and papers from the car, and I took a seat next to a power outlet and plugged in. The waiter took my order, and as he walked away a very serious-looking owner, or perhaps manager, look intensely at me and told me he would add a surcharge to my bill for the use of the outlet.

"You must be kidding," I said.

"I'm serious," he replied, and explained that the outlet wasn't for public access, regardless of how much or how little electricity was used.

I had never encountered such treatment in a restaurant, and I was stunned. So I replied, "Tell you what. I'll just find a restaurant that doesn't mind." As I picked up my things, he added that it was customary to ask before using an outlet, and that most restaurants had signs posted allowing use or not. I replied that I had traveled all over the country, to 48 states, all the time looking for local restaurants to dine in, and that I had never once received such treatment.

As I left, I became convinced that there was no way that guy cared that much about a few pennies worth of electricity used by a customer buying a $10 meal. I suspected he just didn't want a "nigger" in his restaurant. In fact, I was sure that he was thinking just that, and "good riddance" as I left. Heck, even though there were plenty of minorities just one street over, there were none to be found in the restaurant. And come to think of it, the first thing the waitress said to me when she gave me the menu was if the order was to go, as if I wasn't welcome to stay. Yeah, maybe the guy had something against computers, or was a control freak about how things ran in his restaurant, but I think that racism is alive and well in America.

There was nothing else in the way of food to be found on Market Street, so I left Denton in disgust, my thoughts turning towards a Colombian restaurant in DC. Still on SR-404 towards US-50 and the Bay Bridge (of the east coast), I was amused to see a sign for state highway 404 with a US highway shield--I've seen the same type of mistake around the country. I suspect few people notice the discrepancy.

I crossed the Bay Bridge, exited Maryland highway 2, and drove through Annapolis. I called the Starbucks down in Prince Frederick to find out where exactly it was, as my mapping program couldn't find the address. Nevertheless I managed to pass it up. But it worked out for the best, because I spotted a Bank of America and remembered that I'd be able to deposit my winnings from the previous weekend's Scrabble tournament in Bayside. I also passed an Ick-fil-shae, and I decided I'd be too tired and hungry to make it all the way up to DC for dinner, so I went for the greasy yuckiness. I could hear the spirit of my friend Michelle exclaiming "Nasty!" As usual, the first few bites satisfied my craving, and then the remainder of the sandwich made me wonder why I had ordered it to begin with.

I walked into the Starbucks and set a DoubleShot on the counter. As one cute, busty, red-haired barista was ringing me up, another, smarter, barista asked me if I had been the person calling for directions, and then put two and two together and asked if I was the guy visiting all the Starbucks in the country. She remembered me both from my previous visit to the Lexington Park store, as well as from a recent reairing of my Unwrapped appearance. I made a point to tell her I was going for the world, not just the country, and I thanked her for recognizing me. I was glad my Unwrapped episode was still getting airplay.

I saved my DoubleShot for the morning and left to find a secluded part of the parking lot where I could crash for the night. It was not even 10:00, but I wanted to get up early so I could visit a few more new stores before driving up to Philadelphia for a Scrabble tournament.



March 28, 2004

After competing in a Scrabble tournament in Hudson, OH, I snatched my fourth place prize money and rushed out the door, having 2 hours and 5 minutes to drive 113 miles to visit a store outside Pittsburgh, and then another 18 miles to a store in Pittsburgh. Oh, and to stop at a new store in Akron and another in Kent on the way.

After visiting the store in Fairlawn (is that an Akron neighborhood or its own city), my map showed no direct way to get on I-76, so I took the relatively slow route along Highway 18 through central Akron. As I passed the historical district I wished I had more time to look around. Finally I got on I-76 and it was a short distance to the exit for Kent, home to Kent State, a university that I always associated with the Vietnam-era protests and student shootings. In fact, I couldn't tell you a single other thing about Kent State, except maybe that at the moment one very cute journalism student attends the school. On the way into town I noticed a Tops grocery store, and suddenly I realized that I could not remember seeing the chain in my previous trips through the Cleveland/Akron area. Was it a new chain? Renamed? Or had I simply failed to notice?

Despite being in a hurry, I had to look around the Kent store because it had interesting decor. I made mental notes and rushed back to the car. And then, in a display wholly typical of my ever-present clumsiness, I dumped my entire grande coffee onto the seat and the floor. Unbelievable. I quickly grabbed a towel and tried to absorb as much as I could, and then I rushed back into the Starbucks for a replacement coffee, and some soap with which to try and clean the coffee from the seat, and as much from the floor. Thankfully, most of it was under the seat where no one was likely to notice. The coffee smell, however, was not likely to go away anytime soon.

As I rushed away from Kent, I feared that the time I had spent there would make me late for Pittsburgh. As I approached the interstate again, I took notice of the interstate highway shield for some reason, I thought about how it gives me comfort. Each red, white, and blue shield represents a number of possible destinations, and I love the feeling of having a full tank of gas, some money in my pocket, and the freedom to just drive away if I really wanted to. I imagined that feeling was quite the opposite of the oppressiveness of being trapped in a slum with no education and a baby on the way.

After a DoubleShot and a 16 oz coffee, I couldn't hold out 'til Pittsburgh and had to stop at the service area just before the PA border. When I entered I noticed a Bank of America ATM. I made a mental note, because BofA had not yet reached Ohio, and ATMs along the service areas could save me time and an ATM fee. Then I noticed that my ass was wet--I had forgotten to put my other (dry) towel on the seat after I wiped off the coffee. Nobody likes a wet ass.

As I drove on, I listened to some classic Wu-Tang, and after having listen to a particular song, "Incarcerated Scarfaces" maybe over a hundred times, I finally figured out one of the lines "get lifted in the staircases". Though rappers', and especially Raekwons, lyrics tend to be hard to understand and filled with pop culture references, many obscure, I avoid looking up the lyrics for these songs because I enjoy the kick I get when I finally figure out a line after so many years of listening to the song.

Just past the PA toll plaza, I noticed that the Saturn Ion emitted a loud chime when the turn signal had been left on for a some time. As much as I dislike American cars, I had to admit this was a good idea.

I finally reached I-79 and headed south towards Bridgeville. I feverishly tried to compute the possibility that I would have time to go back to Pittsburgh to visit another store by 9:00. I imagined C3PO giving me the odds. I finally decided it wasn't going to happen, so I aborted and decided to just head to the Pittburgh store, leaving Bridgeville for another time. When I reached the Pittsburgh store, I learned that it would not close 'til 11:00! D'oh! I coulda been a contender.

I drove as far as the service area just before Harrisburg, where I stopped for the night. At some point during the night, when I entered to use the restroom, I was startled by a shrill warbling come coming from above the door. I was reminded of the cry of the brain-leeches that I had once encountered in a cave on a remote island in the south Pacific.

I got up around 7:20 and resumed the drive straight into work. As I had expected, I made much better time during daylight than the previous night. Seriously, if I never drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike again it will be toon soon. It's just too hilly and curvy, and at night when it's drizzling it's just plain treacherous.



April 4, 2004

After visiting two new Starbucks in Connecticut on the way to Westford, MA, to play in a Scrabble tournament, I then visited two new stores in the Boston area after Saturday's games, leaving just one more in the area.

There used to be one more listed, in Hanover. It was still in my database, but no longer listed on the Starbucks web site, and the discrepancy was driving me nuts. I called a nearby store to check, and the manager said there was nothing in Hanover. I guessed it must have been a store that was planned and then aborted for some reason. It happens sometimes, though my paranoid side has to wonder if somebody at Starbucks is doing it on purpose just to screw with me.

Stoughton is in Massachusetts, which meant I could still get lost getting out to the interstate, and I surely did, even though I had my mapping program right beside me. I drove the drivers behind me crazy as I approached an intersection straddling both lanes with my hazard lights on, unsure of whether I needed to turn left, right, or go straight. Finally I went straight and pulled over to try and figure out where I was, and an lady in a suburban pulled up next to me and had me follow her to the interstate. So maybe not all Mass. residents are mean and grumpy.

I made a quick stop in Providence to continue my search for Conelica, but all I found were ordinary names like Jade, Tyler, and Victoria.

From Providence I needed to head west to pick up that last CT Starbucks, in Colchester, and on the way I got lost a total of four times. First I missed the exit to US-6 and ended up on I-295 and didn't realize it until I saw the signs for I-95 again, and Warwick. So I got off, got a consolation donut, and got back on I-295 heading the other way and promptly missed the exit for US-6. So I got off at US-44 to get back on I-295 and missed that ramp, ending up on US-44 heading west. I gave up on the reversals and just took a smaller road, SR-116, down to US-6. Then when I got into CT and on I-395 heading south, I missed the entrance to SR-2 heading to Colchester. And all this with a map right in front of me.

Colchester was pretty small, and the barista at the Starbucks wasn't very hopefully that I'd find a local eatery, but I spotted something unsual, an outdoor walk-up burger stand, Harry's Place. The burger was tasty, but hardly bigger than a White Castle Slammer, and technically difficult to eat because the bottom bun was too small and almost falling apart for the grease and juice. I was reminded of the old Jack-in-the-Box commercial in which a focus group of men agrees that they would like the burger with just the meat and the cheese. Word.

As I drove back, through MA, RI, and CT, I was impressed by the quality of the radio. Bomb-ass stations, usually college radio, playing eclectic music I'd never hear on those commercial stations. Eliza Gilkyson, for example. What the commercial stations and major labels offer is such a small percentage of what's out there. Tired as I was, I sat in the car for a couple of songs, transfixed by the power of the female singer, wondering who she was. If I had all the time in the world, my idea of a great time would be to sit in a quite place and listen to good music, with a bottle of cold Tradewinds tea in my hand, of course. I look forward to a time when I'm not "all Scrabble, all the time", and I have time to start downloading music and outfitting my car (when I finally get one) with it.

When I went into the bathroom I took a look at myself in the mirror and marveled at how, despite not having showered or washed my hair since Friday morning, just run water through it and a comb, my hair actually looked pretty good. In fact, though I'm usually convinced that I'm rather the ugly duckling, I so like how my hair looked, more or less kempt with just a touch of chaos, that I looked at myself in the mirror and said, "yeah, you one fine looking brother, yeah."

After a few hours I continued driving, but it wasn't long before I stopped again and slept for a few more hours. I continued driving, through New York, where I got lost when I accidentally got off I-95 and wandered through the Bronx before finding my way back onto the interstate. I stopped on more time, at my "home" rest area off the NJ turnpike, and there I stayed until morning.



April 13, 2004

I finally bought a car of my own, on eBay, a '97 Honda Civic DX, for four grand. Nervous and cautious about the risks involved in buying a car over the Internet, I wanted to travel to Cleveland to pick up the car as quickly as possible to avoid having to send any money without seeing that the car even existed. After exploring numerous travel options, I settled on renting a car one-way from Hertz, for about a hundred bucks. Still cheaper than a one-way flight last minute, and I avoided the expense and hassle of traveling to the airport after returning the car I'd been renting for weeks.

I cut the night's Scrabble club short so I could get on the road. I stopped at Target and buy some pajama bottoms to replace the ones I currently had, which had an ever lengthening slit down the side. Drafty. The new ones weren't flannel, but then the weather was getting warmer. The bright red plaid design made me chuckle at how I'd look when I walked into a rest area. I also bought some socks and briefs to replace the ones I had abandond in the suitcase in Japan. I could not find the Hanes briefs I've been wearing for years, all white with a white elastic band. These new ones had a grey band. I was troubled at first, but I decided that maybe it was time for a change.

I left Princeton about 9:40, and, despite, the darkness and rain that made the Pennsylvania Turnpike even more of a pain to drive, I made good time and was able to travel over two hundred miles before finally stopping at a service area about 70 miles from Pittsburgh.


April 14

I had already called the vendor and told him I probably wouldn't make it by nine, and since I wasn't going to be able to hit Pittsburgh before 7:00, I decided to get some more sleep and avoid the rush hour. This would mean missing the full day's work, but I was getting too old to be pushing myself so hard.

As I drove on, I noticed something like "U FOOL" written on the back window of the rental (a Ford Cavalier). I guess somebody had decided to have a little fun with me while I slept.

Upon hearing on the radio that traffic was pretty heavy into Pittsburgh, I decided to alter my route and take I-70 past the I-76 split and visit the Bridgeville store first, coming at it from the south and avoiding heavy traffic. My mapping program misplotted the Starbucks and had me get off several exits too early, south of Bridgeville. For once I didn't curse it though, because I got to pass through the center of town and the Bridgeville Diner, where they made a pretty good bagel sandwich. The egg was fried true, and they didn't skimp on the bacon. It stuck out of the sandwich in all directions, reminding me of an octopus.

I should add that while waiting for my muffin at the diner, I plugged in my computer (because my car adaptor had decided to stop working), and nobody said anything about tacking on a surcharge.

When I arrived at the Starbucks and went to the restroom, I noticed that the new underwear I had changed into earlier felt rather comfortable. I love it when an unexpected change of plans works out.

Next I had to venture into downtown Pittsburgh to visit the new store in the city's tallest building, the U.S. Steel Tower (also known as the USX Tower), and then back to the Forbes and Craig store I had visited a few weeks prior to take a better photo.

I finally set out for the Cleveland airport, making good time. Jeff from the used car dealership called yet again (as he had done all morning) to check on my progress. I guessed he wanted to make sure he wasn't dealing with a deadbeat bidder, which seems to be a problem on eBay. I arrived ahead of my projection, even with a couple of delays. First, I got off to gas up the rental car and went the wrong direction. The bright side of this was I got a chance to take a better photo of the Brooklyn (Ohio) store. Then I passed up the airport exit. So when I arrived, Jeff was waiting for me, and calling me yet again.

During the drive I had been making plans not to give over any money without driving the car first, even if I this resulted in going back home emptyhanded. But once I saw that Jeff worked for a real used car dealership, with plenty of cars on the lot, I figured they wouldn't sell me a car that wouldn't start, and that I'd not be able to tell much by just driving it. If it was going to have problems, I wouldn't find out until I was far away and it was too late to get my money back.

The steering seemed hard, and the clutch seemed looser than I expect, but the engine ran smooth all the way down to Columbus. I headed towards Columbus instead of back towards Jersey in the hopes that my schmoopie would be able to meet me somewhere around Dayton. But as it happened, Schmoopie's uncle, who remained in the hospital after having foolishly and recklessly injured himself in a motorcycle accident, was to be removed from his respirator, and she wanted to be there for him. I was beginning to think that the fates were conspiring to keep us forever apart.

The new car gave me no trouble all the way to the newest Starbucks in Columbus. Across the street from the store was a Skyline Chili, only seen in Ohio near as I can remember. I seemed to remember having liked the chili, so I ran through the drive-thru. I took my food across the street to the Starbucks, and I was very disappointed. The hot dog was tiny, the fries were think and stringy, and the chili was awful. Just before I left, I witnessed a customer coming in to complain about the carmel machiatto she had received at the licensed kiosk in the supermarket across the street. I piped in and commiserated, and then discussed with one of the partners how the overproliferation of licensed stores was bound to affect the Starbucks brand.

Still no T-Mobile at Starbucks in Ohio, but at least there was a Kinko's heading away from the city, in the outer suburb of Reynoldsburg. Since I had already missed the day's work, and since I had failed to find a lap dance when in Ohio two weeks prior, I decided to see what was available. Since I did not want to double back towards Columbus proper, the next major town was Zanesville, and beyond that Wheeling, WV. I had only recently discovered that the free review site at http://www.stripclublist.com included comments, many of which could be quite scathing and amusing. After discounting a number of clubs because of the comments, I picked one in Zanesville, the Fox Hole, about 40 miles down the interstate. It was all but dead, with only three dancers present, the fewest I had ever seen, and I quickly left.

I drove as far as the first service area after I-70 merged with the PA turnpike, which was further than I expected, because, unbeknownst to me, the New Stanton service area was only for westbound traffic. Though the Civic's hatchback was similar to that of my former integra, the bump at the joint where the seat folded back was more pronounced, requiring me to pad it with everything available--all my towels, my spare shirts, and my coat. And yet it jabbed into my back. Plus, the back of the car about about two inches to short to allow me to spread out comfortably. I had to hang my head beyond the edge and angle my feet up when I needed to stretch. And the steering felt harder during the night every time I moved the car from the dark corner of the parking lot up to the entrance. But still, for $4000, it was a good deal.


April 15

I didn't start driving until after 8:30, which would have put me at work a bit after lunch. Construction on the turnpike was bugging the heck out of me, so I did some quick match and calculated that the 70 mile detour through Maryland to visit three Starbucks wouldn't be that bad. And in spite of some contruction on I-70 I made pretty good time all the way to Gaithersburgh. When I crossed into Maryland on I-70, I saw a sign marking the Mason-Dixon line. A coworker told me the next day that there was another such sign on I-83, but I couldn't remember seeing it.

I lost time finding the Starbucks in Kentlands, a large shopping center development with adjoining residences, built to look like a town. And then getting cash from the Bank of America which was in the opposite direction of the interstate, and supposedly the only one in the area, according to a very helpful young lady. But as I headed back to I-270 and stopped to reshoot a store I happened to pass, I noticed an ATM. So much for helpful locals.

On the Beltway to Silver Spring, traffic soon slowed all the way to the Georgia Ave exit. Then it sped up again, but that didn't help me, because I needed to get off on Georgia to get to downtown Silver Spring. So I lost a ton of time making my way to the Starbucks and finding it, then getting back out towards the remaining one on New Hampshire Ave.

On the way I spotted a Salvadoran restaurant, Puerto el Triunfo, and figured I'd already wasted so much time I might as well waste 10 more minutes and get some good takeout. More time gone as I passed up the UCO store New Hampshire and had to double back. I was rather relieved when I finally got on the interstate headed back up to Princeton, but my relief was short-lived, as I discovered that those crumbums had forgotten the beans I ordered. Aargh!

I arrived at work mightly late, only to suffer the chiding of Mike, the clownish coworker in an adjacent cubicle.



April 16, 2004

The weekend's Scrabble tournament was in Saratoga Springs, NY, and I decided to take a detour of several hundred miles to visit some outstanding Starbucks. Now that I owned a car, I no longer had to worry about any mileage limit. It made sense to knock these stores out while I was heading north, because my contract would end in mid-May, and I expected to head due west immediately after my cousin's wedding in Fairfax, VA.

After a last-minute shower and shave, to maximize the duration of my cleanliness and stave off the funk as long as possible, I left work at 3:30, giving me 7 1/2 hours to reach the two new Rochester-area Starbucks. It seemed like plenty of time.

I had so much spare time, in fact, that I thought about taking US-206 from Princeton all the way to its termination point in Milford, NY, and thus check that stretch of highway off my list. Though not quite rush hour, traffic was so heavy on the primarily two-lane highway that it took me 1 1/2 hours to travel the 38 miles to I-80. I feared it would take too long to drive the 48 miles to I-84, so I just hopped on I-80 and sped west as fast as the curvy, hilly, interstate, and rush hour traffic, would allow.

I cruised into Dickinson City, PA, (just outside Scranton) with no problem. But then the delays started. I missed Commerce Blvd and pulled into some hot wings place to ask if anyone knew the Starbucks. One of the employees gave me directions, and furthermore he recognized me as the Starbucks guy from Unwrapped. I got a kick out of that. I also got a kick out of the green flag special advertised in conjunction with the start of the NASCAR season. Must be NASCAR country. I recently heard on NPR, by the way, that NASCAR just happens to be the second most popular sport in America. A Google search yields similar, though not identical, conclusions.

I turned around and headed back down Main towards the interstate, and once again I missed the mysterious Commerce. I had been paying close attention, and I was sure there was no sign for. Finally, after consulting with a couple of ladies who, though from out of town, still had an opinion to offer, I took the street named Viewmont and let fate take its course.

The street turned into Commerce, but my frustrations were far from over. I nearly passed up the Starbucks because I couldn't see it for the glare of the sun in my eyes. I asked a carful of youths if they knew where it was, and they pointed straight to my left. I had to straddle two lanes in other to make the left, and as I waited for the arduously long light to change, I could see a couple in a suburban in the opposing lane chuckling at me. I was, like, fuck y'all motherfuckers. Let me drop your asses in the middle of Boston and see you find your way around.

Earlier, as I approached Scranton, ATC ended and Fresh Air began on the local NPR station 89.9. I was able to listen to the portions of the interview with They Might Be Giants that I had missed earlier during lunch. One of the perks of traveling is being able to catch a show in one city that I missed in another. As I went back out to the car, I hoped the station's reception would hold up long enough for me to listen to the end of the review of Kill Bill, Volume 2 that I had missed as I left Princeton.

Turned out I wouldn't be leaving that soon anyway, because inside the bright orange Starbucks, I had to wait in line behind a trio of teenage girls who, though young, had that slutty ignorant small-town look down pat. Ordinarily I would have had interest, but since they, evidently not having ever been to a Starbucks, were taking a long time ordering, I was just irritated. Then I noticed one was wearing high heels and I had to dismiss her. I just can't respect a female who wears high highs, for being willing to do damage to her feet for the sake of fashion. I also cursed the stop light, which, had it changed sooner, would have allowed me to beat the girls into the store.

As I ordered, the barista proceeded to explain to me what the different blends of coffee were. This irritated me, because, for the love of god, I was wearing a Starbucks shirt! How could I not know? She clearly confused me for a local, many of whom had probably never seen a Starbucks.

The out-of-date map cost me time, but at least it was also wrong about Commerce Blvd dead-ending, and I was save a few minutes out the back way to get on US-6 and then I-81 without having to backtrack.

Just out of Scranton I saw a sign, 56 miles to Binghamton. I retained hope that I might get a photo with some sunlight still, one of my reasons for having left work so early. Barely a mile down the interstate traffic came to a stop. It wasn't looking good.

Ahead of me three guys in a metallic green Honda Accord flicked cigarette butt at passing truck. NASCAR fans, probably.

I started sniffling again and my worries that I might be getting sick resumed.

It was getting dark, and I was going to be cutting it close to Rochester anyway, so of course the map screwed me again and had me get off the freeway nearly ten miles too soon, costing me precious minutes that I could have used to find some decent food. By the time I finished with the Starbucks I calculated I'd be luck to reach Rochester, so I settled for Dunkin Donuts right next to the Starbucks and rushed to the freeway.

As I got on the freeway I had my mapping program plot the distance to Rochester, and I then noticed that it had plotted a route taking a state road across NY, not back to I-81 like I had assumed. It was 40 miles shorter! But I was heading the wrong way! I took the first exit and promptly got lost, having to backtrack to get back on 17 heading west towards Owego, where I needed to pick up SR-96. In Owego I got lost again and ended up at the end of some dark country road knocking on somebody's door trying to figure out where I was. Nobody was home, so I just backtracked and flashed my lights at a passing cop--she told me where to turn. I had totally missed the sign.

I prayed that 96 would have decent speed limits and not too many slowdowns through towns. It did, and I pushed the 55 MPH speed limit as much as I could, taking care through the towns, though. Nothing I could do in Ithaca, however--too much traffic on a Friday night. As I approached Ithaca, which must be in a valley, the descent was so steep that my ears stopped up.

One more blip as I passed Romulus, when 96 and another highway split up. A sports car behind me obviously wanted to go faster, so I tried to let him pass. Three times I had to move over and slow down before the dumbass got the hint that he was supposed to pass me. When he finally did, a pickup tailing him passed me up to. I didn't want this because the larger profile of the pickup blocked my view. I had to downshift and floor it to pass the pickup, and in the process the two highways just happened to divide and I ended up on the wrong branch. So I had to pull a dangerous u-turn, not knowning how far the next turnout point would be.

Finally I made it to the NY Thruway, and here I really cut loose and pushed 90 MPH, looking at the minutes ticking on the clock. I called the Starbucks in Fairport to make sure it was where the map had placed it. Good thing I did, because it was completely off. A barista gave me the correct intersection, or so I thought. When I reached, 31F and 250, just minutes after 11:00 PM, there did not appear to be a Starbucks. I pulled into a gas station and asked a cop. He said it was all the way down 250. I hauled ass as best as I could, arriving at SR-31, not 31F, at almost 11:10. I pulled in front of the store just as a pair baristas and a pair of Chapter One bank employees were leaving. I thrust one of my articles in the baristas and quickly explained my purpose, and how I needed to get a drink, and how I would have arrived on time if the other barista hadn't given me the wrong location, and how if I waited until 7:00 AM I wouldn't reach Saratoga Springs in time. She repeated several times that they were closed and there was nothing she could do, but finally, perhaps due to the despair and frustration on my face, or perhaps just to shut me up, she rushed back in and got me a DoubleShot. I thanked her, though she seemed more glad to get rid of me than grateful.

I figured the staff at the other store, in Brighton, had left, but I rushed there anyway just in case. Everyone was gone, but at least I confirmed that the store would open at 6:30 AM, making it theoretically possible for me to reach Saratoga Springs by 9:30. I went to the Wegmans down the street to get as much sleep as I could before speeding to my Scrabble tournament in the morning...



April 17, 2004

After the aforementioned tournament, I finally visited the new store in Yonkers, and two new Manhattan stores.