Three Reporters and a Schmoopie


Phase I
Phase II
Phase III


Winter v Northern California QUICK STATS (June 11-13): 47 stores in 31.25 hrs (excludes sleep and skulking) Winter v Southern California QUICK STATS (June 13): 13 stores in 7 hrs

Final update June 19, 11:12 CT

Days (excluding Scrabble, wedding, and Schmoopie)17
New stores visited173
Miles driven8835
Recognition ratio31/142
Times recognized from TV1
Most stores visited in a day23 (Cazalifazornia)
Amount spent on coffee$43.17
Amount spent on gas$437.09
Most days sans shower6 + 7 hrs
Encounters with po-lice5 + 1 (in dream)


May 14, 2004

It was with excitement, and a bit of anxiety, that I finished packing up my things on Friday night, after having finished my last day at Siemens just hours earlier. Two Scrabble competitions and a wedding stood between me and my big road trip, which I hoped would be my longest since my two-month trip in 2002. I was anxious, though, primarily about Scrabble, but also about whether the money would last, gas prices, whether the new car would hold up all the way out west, what would happen when I finally met my schmoopie in person, and a host of other things.

And about my biggest media event yet, my planned six-day trip with a journalist. I had a week to kill before meeting him, and I planned to study for Scrabble and rephotograph stores as the opportunity presented itself.

And the countdown began...


May 16

I awoke in an office park in Bowie to a country tune, and images of the video I was dreaming about. It had to do with a lonely lady on a tractor trailer, and in the video there was a lady dancing around on something that might have been a tractor trailer, orange. What was odd about the dream was the vividness of the melody--I can still rememer it now. I want to say that it must be a tune I've heard before, in a real country song, but I can't place it.

Anyway, my plans to reshoot stores in downtown DC were ruined by rain and overcast skies. Instead, I went to College Park and reshoot that store, and then hung out and studied for Scrabble.


May 17

Good Cop, Bad Cop

I had my worst encounter with an asshole cop in Exton, or maybe Lionville, PA. I attended the Exton Scrabble club on Monday night, and because the Lionville Starbucks was only five minutes away, I decided to hang around the area to rephotograph the store. I considered driving out to the service area on the PA Turnpike, but I didn't want to spend the time and money to get out there and back, and more importantly I had developed a splitting headache as the night progressed. I just wanted to lay down, and a nearby abandoned movie theater seemed like a good place.

That particular parking lot turned out to be a lousy choice, because when I woke up around 2:00 and went around to the back of the car to try and improve the padding under my "bed" with some towel, I saw a police car coming across the lot. The officer shined his bright light straight at me as I dug around in the trunk and loudly commanded me to step away and approach the patrol car. Then he put me through the most intensive interrogatation I'd ever experience from a cop. He explained that he was investigating break-ins in the strip center, but he asked me irrelevant questions like if I was on any medication, why I wasn't home, if my family knew where I was. I wanted to protest, and I felt like, unless he was going to do me like Amadou Diallo, I would have been within my rights to refuse to answer. But I also knew that he could have held me up for a long time, probably hours, and I just wanted to go back to sleep.

While he was retrieving my wallet and driver's license, another officer, an older gentleman, showed up, and started making with the nice talk. He engaged me in polite conversation, and I had to wonder if this was some sort of routine he and the other guy had cooked up. Maybe to keep me distracted. Or maybe the other cop was just truly an asshole.

When he finally finished his interrogation, he said I could go ahead and spend the rest of the night in the lot, but that I'd better move on the next day. No way was I going to hang around and risk being hassled again, so I had to head out to the service area, which turned out to be much further than I had thought. There I slept fine, but I had to take some back roads to get back to Lionville to avoid paying the toll yet again.


May 19

S It Begins

My trip trubles started already, as I awke at yet anther f the many service areas alng the Pennsylvania Turnpike t discver a nail in my rear passenger-side tire. n the way t the Willw Grve Starbucks, I passed a Pep Bys, where a service manager tld me that the tire culd nt be fixed. $65 fr the cheapest replacement. That wuld represent hundreds f miles I might have t cut frm my trip.

Just in case the manager was nly selling me a bill f gds, I decided t remve the nail t see what wuld happen. The tire started leaking air. I quickly replaced the nail and hped the air pressure wuld hld until Pep Bys culd take me, in the afternn.

I drve dwn t the Starbucks, and the trubles cntinued. The '' key n my lapstp went n the fritz. I had t press it cmpletely and slwly fr it t wrk. This Inspirn 4100, withut questin the shittiest cmputer I've ever wned, seemed determined t fall apart befre I reached Texas.


May 20

Curses, Foiled Again!

After one of my "sources" informed me that the Piscataway store would open on May 20th, I got excited about camping out to be the first customer. Yesterday, I realized I did not have an address or phone #, and I spent about 15 precious mobile phone minutes obtaining the info. I then called the store and asked if the store would open in the morning, and was given an affirmative. The barista didn't realize what I was really asking (because it's an unusual question, of course), and so did not explain that the store had already opened.

So I arrived in Piscataway around 3:00 and debated over where to camp out to minimize the chance of being hassled by five-oh. I finally settled on parking right in front of the Starbucks, and I was bound and determined not to cooperate with an cop that might hassle me for my wholly legal action of waiting for the Starbucks to open.

Before I knew it, I woke up to see the sky lightening, and my first thought was "Oh shit my alarm didn't go off I missed it!" But it was only 5:12, so I was okay. I quickly dressed and then sat outside the door to study. Though near the end of May, it was chilly enough that I had to return to the car to put another t-shirt under my two layers. Another customer in a silver suburban parked towards the back of the lot, presumably waiting for the opening. I thought this strange, because I would have expect him to at least try the door or come up to find out when it opened, unless he already knew.

Just a minute or two past 5:30 the manager let me into the store. No DoubleShots, so I ordered a short coffee, which I did not plan to drink, because I needed to go back to sleep. I hoped to get a refill later. As it was brewing, I asked about a grand opening, and the manager replied that the store had opened last Thursday and would have a grand opening this weekend. I was dismayed! I asked if he had said the store had opened last Thursday. He replied that it had, and my heart sank. He was pouring the coffee, and I almost stopped him and asked to cancel the other. But I figured I'd just let it go and get that refill later, hoping to get it free.

I left feeling like I had missed an opportunity. I could have been the first customer the previous Thursday and then gone to work. Crap. Oh, well. I had to sleep. I moved to a different parking lot behind a restaurant. Around 7:30 I awoke, and because it was light outside I couldn't go behind the Old Navy across the street and instead had to find a dumpster to hide behind. I never feel bad about going behind a dumpster, because it smells bad anyway--it's trash! Anyway, in more civilized countries like France people urinate out on the street in front of everybody.

Around 8:30 the sun had come out and I was starting to bake. I had to drive around and find some shade, next to a wooded area, and strip down to shorts in order to sleep. I managed sleep until about 10:00, when a recruiter called about a job description he was e-mailing me. Time to get back to business.


Due Diligence

My contact informed me that the new Times Square store would be opening not on Saturday, but on Monday, and that it would be a big event. To avoid another mishap, I fought the traffic around Times Square, popped into the store and spoke to a gentleman in store development, and he confirmed that it would be on Monday, and that the press would be on hand. I started to get excited about being the first customer, and made plans to wait pretty much all night.


Downshifting?

I have doubts that the analogy makes any sense, but I call the process I'm undertaking "downshifting" my metabolism. My intention is to get my body used to subsisting on much fewer calories than I'm used to, so as to make my remaining money last longer. It might seem like a few bucks extra on food might not make a difference, but if I'm out of work for 3 months, 5 bucks a day versus 10 bucks a day makes a big difference. I was rather proud of myself today, because I managed to go until 3:00 without eating, and then I bought a $5 meal at a Dominican restaurant in Elizabeth, NJ, which served as both lunch and dinner.


May 21

I had spent the night, with some trepidation, at the parking area on the LIE. Trepidation because the last time I tried to spend the night there I was creeped out by a creepy looking creep I suspected of being there for some illicit encounter, so I moved on. But last night I saw no creeps, and I was exceptionally tired, so I just covered myself under a blanket and hoped for the best.

I had expected to need more sleep, but around 8:00 triple-anxiety prompted me to get up. Anxiety about meeting the reporter at the airport for our little project, about the prospects of media attention on Monday morning at the new Times Square Starbucks, and about my last-chance Scrabble tournament.

I approached the Central Terminal at LaGuardia Airport just as the reporter called to say he had touched down. I found the arrivals area, and I pulled next to the curb to wait. A cop knocked on my car and asked to see my license and paperwork for the car, and then proceeded to interrogate me. I told him I was getting tired of getting pulled over all the time. After returning my paperwork, he told me I had to circle around until my passenger showed up. After circling several times, I finally exited the airport and waited alongside a street until the reporter called again.

Traffic was horrible to the first new Starbucks of our trip in Brighton Beach (Brooklyn), but that just gave the reporter plenty of time to ask me questions. Actually, I asked the first question, wanting more of an explanation of why a reporter who done stories about places like Tangier would be interested in my Starbucks project.

The barista at Brighton Beach was very nice (I hate that word, but I'm tired), explaining about the Russian menu, the community, and the chess tables. Afterwards we walked down to the beach, from which was visible Coney Island, for a while, and then the reporter bought me lunch, a sandwich which I split in half so I could save the rest for dinner. If I managed to survive on just that sandwich, plus the bagel from earlier, my day's food budget would be only 65 cents.

More traffic into Manhattan as I dropped the reporter off in front of a Kinko's and then fought traffic to rephotograph two stores, and then to find a Starbucks where I could park and check my mail.


May 23

The reporter met me at the Scrabble tournament, where fate cheated out of winning much-needed prize money, and after squeezing a second passenger into my little Civic and dropping him off at the train station in New Brunswick, we set off. Our first stop was in Princeton at the house where I used to rent a room, so I could drop off a knife I had borrowed, and so the reporter could speak to my landlady. But she wasn't there, so we sped on towards Howell so I could photograph the store there while there was still some sunlight. Then on to Atlantic City. I thought about doing some gambling, but had to abandon that plan because a barista at the AC Starbucks asked if I had visited the one in May's Landing. The name sounded famicular, but I couldn't specifically remember having visited it, so jotted down the phone # and returned to the car to check my database. Not there. I was puzzled. I called the store and they would close in about 35 minutes. It was less that 15 miles away, but I had seen traffic building up on the Atlantic City Expressway, doubtlessly gamblers heading back to Philly, and so I worried that I'd be cutting it close. But we made it on time, and I got my coffee and checked that off my list.

I tried to eat the rest of my $5 wonder-plate of beans and rice, but it tasted funny, and I worried that I had left it sitting too long and didn't want to take any chances, so I tossed it out. Still, I had gotten two meals for $5, so I couldn't complain.

I debated whether to take US-9 all the way to NYC to save the toll, or whether I'd end up burning the same amount in extra gas, and finally I decided to just take the expressway and turnpike. It's good that I did, because after a long delay at the Holland Tunnel, it was about 12:30 when we reached Manhattan. We stopped at the new Times Square store to see how it looked, and it didn't look good. It didn't look like they'd be ready to open at the crack of dawn. If they didn't open by the time I had to move my car, I'd be very disappointed, because the trip up to Manhattan had cost $10 in tolls and also gas, and then the same amount to head all the way back down to turnpike towards Maryland.

I dropped the reporter off at 107th and West End, and that I drove around and found a parking spot on Riverside Drive and slept.


May 24

Around 4:00 I decided to head down to see if anybody was working on the store. Nobody. I drove around and found the closest parking spot to the store where I could park for free until 8:00 AM, and then I went over to the store. The reporter showed up at 5:30, and we went back to the car to drop off his bags. Around 6:00, still nobody at the store. I sat down to write, and then I had to move across the street because the sidewalk was being washed. A cop, politely, asked what I was doing and said they couldn't have people sitting around Times Square. I explained that I was waiting for the Starbucks, and he looked like he was going to let me stay there, but I decided to get up anyway and go to the europa cafe across the street and have a bagel and some juice and plug in my laptop.

Around 7:00 I decided that even if somebody arrived to work on the store, it would not by 8:00, so I decided to head out. We first went over to the 42nd and 6th store to check e-mail, then back to the new store for one last try. An electrician and a plumber were out in front waiting to retrieve their tools--they couldn't get in because the alarm was set. I asked the plumber if he new anything, and just then he got a call, and when he hung up he said "Tomorrow."

I was disappointed, but too exhausted to be really upset. Thankfully traffic exiting the city was not bad. At the service area on the NJ Turnpike where I stopped to shave (in anticipation of a photo shoot in DC), I had to pop half a caffeine pill, because I was close to crashing.

I made decent time down to Hanover to visit the Arundel Village store, and then onto DC to meet the photographer. There was a little mix-up, though, because when we arrived at 13th and U and did not see the photog, the reporter called and learned he was at 16th and K. So we headed over there, where the manager was quite helpful. It was hot and muggy though, and by the time the photographer finished with me, out in front of the store on the grass, I was sweating.

We lost some time in DC traffic as I headed over to 19th and M to replace a photo I had lost, then over to the Chinatown store for a better shot of the Chinese language "Gourmet Coffee" sign. I wanted a better photo of Liberty Place, but there was just too much traffic and people. It was a task for the early morning.

After some traffic on Constitution heading to the bridge to Virginia, we made good time to Vienna. But we lost time when I got confused and stopped at the old Vienna store. It was actually the reporter that noticed first that the store looked old, because of the floor and frayed carpet. I was confused, but once I saw the store number, 706, I knew it was old. But I couldn't recall having visited it, or why it was listed as not visited in my database. The reason was I was confusing Vienna with Vienna Marketplace, barely a minute down the road.

Before reaching the store, I spotted a Whole Foods and decided that bagel from earlier just wasn't going to cut it, so I went for fruit and yogurt. There was a cutie sitting in the cafe, and I later saw her at the Starbucks. I ordinally would have taken as a sign from above to pursue her, but I was just too tired.

Upon leaving the Vienna Marketplace store, I discovered I had left my debit card back at the Kinko's in DC where I had needed to print out a form to sign and fax to a recruiter. Thankfully, I had a replacement, and the manager at the Kinko's claimed to have the card and to be putting it in the mail.

We lost some additional time while the reporter was in Bank of America trying to get cash, because he had left or lost his debit card. It wouldn't have mattered, because prior to 3:00, there was construction on I-95 south, and after 3:00 we had to deal with the residual effect. It took forever to drive the 45 miles to Fredericksburg, and I was about beat when we arrived. A barista there who works for the DOT called the delay the "accordion effect", and said it could last for hours after construction ended.

At the Frederickburg store I discovered I had left my AP article back in Vienna, so rather than introduce myself I just asked for a half cup of coffee, and the partner obliged. I was headed over to Kinko's to print out a copy, but then Dawn called and said she had time to meet down in Norfolk, so I turned around and got back on the interstate. Most of the traffic had exited to Fredericksburg, so I just flew down I-95 and then I-64 and made great time to Norfolk, arriving at the Hummingbird, the Carribbean restaurant from before just a few minutes after 8:30. But it was closed. So Dawn suggested a place in Ghent, and we followed her over there.

The reporter went off to walk around, so I got some quality time to try and seduce the unmovable Dawn. To no effect. She made me sleep out in the car outside her apartment, but at least she let me use her shower, and an hour of sleep in her bed in the morning after she left for a meeting. And she bought me a burger, half of which I saved for lunch the next day, and sent me off with some snacks. And some marijuana from the garden she was cultivating in her tiny back porch.


May 25

I decided to get up just past 8:00 and called the reporter to let him know I'd soon be on my way to the hotel. I had slept just fine in the car, but even better for an hour on Dawn's bed, and the second shower hit the spot.

After picking up the reporter we headed to Kinko's downtown to print out my AP article, but it had closed down. So we headed to the first Starbucks of the day, also in Ghent, and on the way I spotted Charlie's Diner. I had not had a good breakfast in a long time, and it was worth the money for a greasy meal of biscuits, eggs, potatoes, and bacon. And earthy charm, like the sign on the door stating the patrons on a cell phone would not be served. Then I went to the Starbucks, and while I caught up on web stuff and writing, the reporter went over to Rite Aid to buy a blood-pressure kit so he could track my blood pressure as I visited 9 planned Starbucks that day.

I IM'ed my schmoopie for the first time in day's, and we maybe sorted out some issues about her uncertainty of whether we would finally the following week. I was worried that she would flake out, as other women have done in the past, and so I was trying not to think about the meeting, but rather focus on my present travels.

After another store in Norfolk, a stop at Kinko's to print out my AP article and fax a form to a recruiter, a store in Virginia Beach, and other in Chesapeake, we headed back across the bay towards the final new store in the area, in Hampton. On the way, we got to a point in the ongoing interview at which the reporter was not satisfied with my answers and frankly stated that if he could not get the answers that he needed to write the type of story that he was aiming for, that there wouldn't be a story. While I had considered the possibility that the Post might kill the story for not being interesting enough, it had never occurred to me that the reporter might not ever write it. I told him that I would work with him, and that he might have to help me make the connections that he was after, but I feared that all this effort might be wasted, because if what he was seeking just wasn't there, I wasn't willing to make it up.

I hung out at the Hampton store a while and wrote while the reporter got something to eat. Before we headed out towards Richmond, I decided I didn't want to let the other half of that burger sit any longer, so I stopped at Exxon to get gas, a soda, and heat up the Burger. The attendant didn't seem to care either way. I ate as much of the Burger as I could take, and even the nasty day-old fries, just trying to focus on the free calories.

During the ride to Richmond, the reporter seemed to be a bit more easy-going with the questioning, and the topic of how my comic-book collecting related to my Starbucks project.

A partner at the new Broad Street store had heard of me, and presented the most enthusiastic reaction to my project of the trip so far. Meanwhile, the reporter continued to check my blood pressure. He was amazed that had actually been dropping as the day progressed, despite the coffee I'd been having. I didn't think the 20 oz I'd had so far over the course of some 5-6 hours was enough to affect me.

I had to examine the map closely and decide whether to visit Lynchburgg and Charlottesville or just Charlottesville. Then I realized that there were no new stores for me to visit in Raleigh/Durham, and that US-29 went straight from DC to Charlottesville to Lynchburgh to Greensboro, NC, where there was a new store for me to visit. I decided that it would make more sense, gas-wise, to wait until after the wedding to visit the those two VA stores. So we just headed to the final Richmond store, and then called it a day.

I raced up towards DC as fast as I could, which was not too fast because a trooper was setting the pace and holding up traffic for at least 20 miles. Then went we were finally able to cut loose, it began to rain and traffic got heavy all the way to the Motel 6 where I was taking the reporter. I was in such a hurry because the season finale of 24 aired at 9:00, and after 23 episodes, I didn't want to risk missing it because something went wrong with my recording arrangements. We had to reassure the desk attendant that I was not sneaking into the room, but would only be there for one hour. I was surprised that Motel 6 had a no-visitors policy.


May 26

The plan was for me to meet the reporter at the airport and introduce them to my parents when they arrived. But despite leaving early for the airport, I missed the exit off the Beltway and ended up far away. By the time I made my way back, the reporter was calling me to report that the flight had actually arrived at 2:44, and I was already late. However, I guess reporters are good at figuring things out, and so when I reached baggage claim I discovered he had already located my aunt and my parents.

The reporter rode with my aunt and my parents while I followed in my car. Actually, I led initially, because my aunt was confused about the best way back to Bethesda from Reagan.

Later, my mother reported that she had given him a wealth of information, and was curious to see what he would write.

I experience another dent in my budget as my Wi-Fi card stopped working, perhaps because I dropped it. I had to spend about $40 on another. A tire the previous week, and now the card--that was a hundred bucks fewer I'd have to spend on gas.


May 27

This has nothing to do with my Starbucks project, but it's worth mentioning. I dropped my parents off in downtown DC and headed uptown to find a Starbucks where I could park and access T-Mobile. I went back to the 14th and U store and found a parking space just down the block. The store didn't have T-Mobile, so I returned to my car to find a patrol car blocking my exit. I didn't mind, because I was listening to a radio show. But I was amazed that when the officer returned, he apologized for blocking me in. Most of my experiences with cops have not been so pleasant. Perhaps it was because he was Howard University Campus Police, and not municipal police or state.

This, too, has nothing to do with my Starbucks project, but I saw the movie Coffee and Cigarettes. With a title like that, how could I not see it? The commentator on the Kojo Nnamdi was correct--it was hit or miss. But several of the 11 vignettes made it worth watching.

And earlier in the day, Super-Size Me. It's kind of relevant, because Starbucks is often included along with McDonald's and Wal-Mart in discussions about globalization. Unlike others who have seen the movie, like this visitor to my web site reports in his journal, I did not feel moved to change my lifestyle, because I almost always limit fast food consumption to when necessary, typically when traveling and in a hurry, or when all my time is consumed by a particular project, like Scrabble, and I never eat at McDonald's. For no particular reason.


May 28

Five months after traveled to my cousin's in Ashburn and stumbled across a new store, closed for Christmas Day, I finally returned. This store, presumably named Broadlands, is still not listed on the store locator, even six months after opening, and I find this very frusticating, in part because it offends my sense of order, and in part because it means that there are probably other stores out there I don't know about. I am comforted only by the knowledge that, sooner or later, one of my field agents will inform me about those secret stores.

Anyway, I had purposefully skipped the store on Monday when traveling with the reporter on the expectation that circumstance would take me to my cousin's house, and it did on Friday, when I had to deliver the mother of one of my other cousin's, and the baby, there, because everyone else was occupied with the wedding rehearsal.

Two more stores to go in Virginia!


May 29

Hold the phones! After two weeks of looking every few days, new updates were finally posted on the Starbucks web site, and they include new stores in DE, MD, and VA!!! Are they open for business, or will they open in a few days, right after I leave???

My post-wedding plans were shifting like loose sand. My father's cousin had come to American with a return ticket for June 19th, and with no idea what he would do for those two and a half weeks. Since my schedule was flexible, I offered to take him somewhere, and he and my father's aunt decided that he would ride with me to Chicago. I had planned to head down into North Carolina and Tennessee before the mid-west, but that would be too long a trip to drag my father's cousin along on. So I toyed with the idea of leaving during the wedding reception and taking Sunday to visit those stores. I packed up my things when I left my aunt's just in case I decided to go.

I was minutes from my car after having eaten dinner when my father told me that a favor was requested of me, that I take my deceased cousin's kids back to North Carolina, because they had school on Monday, and my other cousin who had brought them up would not be leaving 'til late on Sunday, or even Monday. This put a crimp in my plans, but family is family, so I stuck around the reception and then left early to get some sleep so I could leave with the kids early on Sunday.


May 30

I had planned on getting up at 6:00, but I set my alarm for 6:30, and then I reset it for 6:58 and ended up waking at 6:57 anyway. I was at my cousin Carlos' place 10 minutes away in downtown Bethesda at 7:35, right on schedule, but then a monkeywrench was thrown in the plans. The kids had left their bags in my other cousin's car, and so we had to detour to Ashburn from our path to North Carolina. My cousin Yanny, the sister of Johanna who got married, was not there--they were all at a hotel. Thankfully, they, like all our relatives in the area, had family staying over, and so somebody was there to open the door so we could retrieve their things.

Because of this delay, by the time we visited the Lynchburg store, and then a new store in Greensboro, and then headed to the rendevouz point with the kids' mother, it was just past 2:30. Besides many stops to use the restroom (me, not the kids), part of the delay was due to my spotting Biscuitville and having to stop. I couldn't pass up a place with a name like that. My cousin Matthew said they had a couple in Winston-Salem, but I'd not had a chance to drive around that city much, despite two Starbucks. No great loss-the biscuits were merely passable.

I received disturbing news at the Lynchburg store, when a barista told me that several other people had come into the store since it opened in December with newspaper articles and claiming to be trying to visit all the Starbucks. Yo! Goddamn wannabes biting my style! I gots to put a stop to that!

Ronnie, the kids' mother, warned me that I might hit heavy traffic due to a race down near Charlotte. I think I had passed that racetrack before--probably NASCAR. I was a little worried, but once I split off onto I-85, I sliced through the distance between Greensboro and Charlotte like a hot knife through butter. At the Woodlawn store in Charlotte, I got my first request in a while for an autograph, and for the first time to autograph the clear plastic cups. Upon leaving the store, I had a decision to make. Start heading back, or head to Asheville. I had a jones for new Starbucks market's, so Asheville it was. On the way, I tried to calculate whether I could reach the Blacksburg, VA store before it closed at 10:30. Having started out heading away from Ashville on I-85 didn't help.

On the way, something that had been on the back of my mind for months suddenly came to the forefront. Johnson City, TN!!! I had seen the store listed on a newletter distributed to Starbucks stores, and I had seen it on the store locator, and I had thought about it every time Johnson City came up at Siemens (they have a large facility there). But for some reason, I had forgotten to add Johnson City to my database of cities to search, and so I did not have an address or phone #. I had to call three different Starbucks in Knoxville before I got a phone #. But there was no answer, and so when I reached Asheville I lost time logging on to retrieve the address from the Starbucks web site.

As I rushed north on US-19 from Asheville towards I-181 (and Johnson City), I debated whether to get off the highway to try and find the store in the hopes that it was open, which might mean not arriving in Blackburg on time, or just to leave it for later. But as usual, the gravitational pull of a new Starbucks was just too strong, and I got off in the downtown Johnson City. When I looked at my map to confirm the street address, I discovered that it had not been plotted correctly. Curses! I asked a crazy-looking old man on a bicycle if he knew where the Starbucks was on Roan St. I was not expecting an answer, but I had misjudged. Though he mispronounced the name, he pointed me in the right direction and said it was about five miles up the road. Drat! I had gotten off the freeway too soon.

Just like at the two Asheville stores, I bought a DoubleShot to save time, and I hauled ass out of there and got on I-181 up to I-81. I still had foolish hope that I might reach Blacksburg in time, but by the time I crossed into Virginia and remembered that even once I reached exit 118 I still had a ways to travel off the interstate, I gave up. Getting old, I suppose.

I drove a while, and then I called my parents and told them I wouldn't be making it back to Bethesda that night, that I'd have to sleep on the road. The agreed to pack up the rest of my things to take back to Houston.

For the second time in eight months it was the trusty Super Wal-Mart in good ol' Wytheville that provided a secure parking lot for the night.


May 31

I wasn't going to reach Chicago at any decent hour--I already knew this. So I just went ahead and got as much sleep as I could, 'til about 7:20 AM, before heading up towards the new Starbucks in Blacksburg. The upshot of the delay, I expected, would be that I could visit that new Charlottesville store after all and be complete for Virginia, at least for a short period. Don't know why it really mattered, since "completeness" never lasted.

A goddamned cop wasted my time again, finding a new reason to pull me over. This time, in Christianburg, VA, because supposedly in Virginia the temporary tag is supposed to be affixed to the bumper. That just seems stupid to me--it would get wet and fall off. Anyway, I had been driving in Virginia for days, and I had not yet been pulled over. I didn't believe the cop--I think he pulled me over for being non-white, and non-Christian.

At the Blackburg store, one of the baristas had heard of my project. She said she had heard about it during training. That was the first time I'd heard of that. The manager arrived while I was there, and was very supportive, and located for me the phone # of the store in West Virginia that had not yet shown up on the store locator despite having opened in December. I was able to call the store later and obtain an address, but my mapping program wouldn't plot it. It didn't matter--despite my desire to visit all the new markets, I was already running behind schedule and simply could not detour to Barboursville.

Traffic north on I-81 seemed heavier than what I was used to and was particularly frustrating because I was running so far behind. During the drive, I had this memory of a restaurant somewhere, where I had dinner and read a Powers trade paperback. Though my memory of the place and the exterior was still vivid, I just couldn't remember the city, and this bothered me. I was supposed to be able to remember everything. I was getting old.

After visiting that last (I thought) store in Virginia, jiggy was going nuts all along US-29 to the interstate. I saw at least ten Virginia state troopers either laying in wait or pulling somebody over. Must have been the holiday weekend. I couldn't help but notice that not a single one pulled me over for my temporary license plate not being on my bumper, and this reinforced my suspicion that the cop in Christianburg was just a racist motherfucker.

I arrived at my aunt's back in Bethesda shortly before three and was able to beg off eating because of the sandwich I had had at the mall. I explained and if me and my father's cousin left immediately we could still reach Chicago before midnight. Still, it took him until 3:30 to get ready, and once we left I still had to stop at Starbucks to log on and register for the National Scrabble Championship because the fee would increase by $30 the next day. So by the time we got onto the interstate it was already past 4:00.

Traffic was moving at a good clip, though 80-85 MPH, and by the time we passed the I-68 split off I-70 I calculated that at 75 MPH we could still reach Toledo before the Starbucks there closed. We lost some time approaching the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and gassing up, but we were much luckier than the poor eastbound bastards for whom traffic seemed at a standstill.

At the Exxon station where we gassed up I was pleased to find the heavenly Tradewinds Tea, which I had not had in about two weeks. It was just as delicious as I remembered and complemented the meal my aunt had prepared for me. My father's cousin took over the wheel so I could eat, and then I tried to shut my eyes for a bit. I managed to fall asleep, just long enough to dream that a van had passed us up and cut in front of the car. As we hit it, I woke up with a start, to learn that we had passed up the service area. I strongly encouraged my father's cousin to pay closer attention to the next one, because I simply cannot sleep if I have to whiz.

I took over the wheel when we crossed into Ohio and tried to make up for the time we had lost, still hoping to reach Toledo by 11:00. After about 100 miles, I finally decided that it just wasn't going to happen. Another sign that I'm getting old. In younger days, nothing would have stopped me from reaching that Starbucks on time. So I gave over the wheel, told Jaime that there was no longer a hurry, and tried to get as much sleep as I could. With the time change it was exactly 2:00 AM when we passed through Chicago Loop on Lakeshore drive, and we reached my aunt's a few minutes later.


June 1

After much wandering the previous night, I finally had to park in front of a meter a few blocks from my aunt's, which meant that I had to cut my sleep short so I could move the car by 8:00 AM. Thankfully I had gotten some sleep while Jaime was driving--that and the three DoubleShots I had had enabled me to get rolling with no problem and begin phase two of my big tour.

At my first store of the day the manager was very interested in talking to me about my project and wondered out loud about the possibility of having me attend the leadership conference. Surely I'd be curious to see what goes on there, but I expressed my doubts that Starbucks would be interested. Still, I appreciated his enthusiasm.

At the next store, the manager was busy, and I had to wait a bit, and having the laptop came in handy, because I could continue to work on my web site while I waited.

Leaving Wheeling, I stumbled across Tradewinds tea again at a Speedway, and I wondered if they had a distribution deal. I'd have to be on the lookout for Speedway from now on.

I decided to head up into Wisconsin, and I took advantage of the drive to eat the remainder of the food my aunt had packed for me. I stopped at a Speedway near Wheeling to heat it, and I was pleased to see Tradewinds tea! I remembered seeing it at another Speedway in Michigan, and I wondered if they had some sort of distribution deal. I'd have to be on the lookout for Speedway from now on.

Shortly after crossing in Wisconsin, I saw a sign for the "Bong Recreation Area". Heh, heh.


Tragedy and Triumph

Mishap and fortune befell me in Racine as the wild Wisconsin wind took hold of my AP article and blew one of the sheets into a puddle of sewage. Yuck! I'm cheap, but not so cheap as to carry nasty sewage-soaked paper around. By coincidence, there happened to by a Kinko's right next to the Starbucks, and I was able to print out another copy. But I didn't need it to get free coffee at the Starbucks, because, for the first time since last September, I was recognized on sight, by the manager. I got a real kick out of that. But what was even better was that she was talking to a customer, an artist, who told me that she was an artist "too". This statement implictly put me into the category of artist, and I was truly flattered, because I aspire to create something artistic out of my project. Before I left, I was stopped by another customer who asked me what type of art I did. I explained that I wasn't really an artist, and we got into a short conversation. It's good that it was short, because the gentleman had an odd manner about him, and seemed to say things that I didn't quite know how to respond to. For example, when he mentioned he was studying for the LSAT, I wished him good luck, and he replied that he didn't need luck. Oookay.

Up in Milwaukee, I asked about T-Mobile at the first store I visited, and I learned that, like Ohio, T-Mobile had not yet been installed in any Wisconsin stores. I was disappointed, because I was making an effort to keep up with my log, and I was eager to keep uploading it. I was becoming a blogging junkie!

As I drove to the next Starbucks, the topic on Talk of the Nation was the declining fertility rate worldwide, and the new book The Empty Cradle. The problem of overpopulation has been central to my philosophy for years, and though the global population is still growing, I would have to educate myself fully on the issue of declining fertility rates in order to refine my arguments.

As I listened to the show, a gaggle of Midwestern farmers' daughters, virgins all, entered the Starbucks. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

At the next store the manager invited me to return at night for a store meeting. It sounded like it could be fun, but I had to move on, and hoped to be finished with Wisconsin by then.

Next was a mall store, and with security guards all about, the Mission: Impossible theme ran through my head as I ducked behind vending stands and columns to avoid being spotted with my camera.

At the Red Arrow store, the manager had the most pronounced Midwestern accent I had encountered so far that day. I just love that accent! It's rather charming and amusing at the same time. Straight out of Fargo, but without the "You betcha." I'd love to date a girl with an accent like that just to hear her talk.

Art... beasties? Why "beasties"? Did they run out of real animals?

After I visited the next store, my twelfth of the day, I was feeling exhausted and loopy at the same time. I once again assumed the persona of an overcaffeinated parrot exclaiming "Frappucino, Frappucino" over and over, in a parroty voice.

At the next store, I got curious (killed cat) about the new test "chocofino" drink, and I ordered one. I hoped it had a lot of calories, because, at $2.81, that was pretty much my dinner budget. The "drinking chocolate" was soooo strong. I had to cleanse my palate with water after every few sips to avoid a sensory overload. I was glad I had a reasonably long drive to West Bend, because I wasn't going to be touching the coffee from the store (chocolate doesn't count) for a while yet.

< br> Don't Believe Everything You Hear

While searching for the Starbucks in Fox Point, I passed a Borders, and I spotted a T-Mobile HotSpot sticker. The T-Mobile representative back at Mayfair Mall had been wrong when he told me there were no T-Mobile hot spots in the state! I was relieved! I was finally able to get my blog on!

I had to take a break, so I hung around the Borders for a while and caught up on some comic books. I considered buying Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban so I could read it before the movie opened on Friday, but eight bucks seemed a little steep. When I left the Borders I passed a Half Price Books, but they were out of the one I wanted.

As I headed towards Oshhosk after visiting the West Bend store, I spilled my coffee after having drunk about two ounces. According to the rules, I could still count the store as visited, but I had to make a good faith effort to return and drink another two ounces in the future. I also had to fill out form EXP-265SP and file it with the Advisory Board. Grrr... paperwork!


You Betcha!

Aw yeah! I finally got the "You betcha!", when I called the Wisconsin Dells store to see when they closed for the night. You don't know how long I'd been waiting for that.

Oshkosh was a ways away, and by the time I reached the Starbucks I was exceptionally tired and wired and zoning out big time. I received a warm welcome at the store, and the baristas took a couple of photos, but I hardly noticed--I was just trying to stay awake and maintain some measure of lucidity. By the time I reached the Appleton store my headache had intensified. The partners there offered me a muffin, and I think it helped. Since I could not reach Wisconsin Dells by 10:00, I relaxed and sat down for a while and chatted with the barista. The baristas also pointed me int the direction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, and I decided to head there and call it an early night. It turned out to be a good thing that I didn't start heading out towards Wis Dells right away, because when I woke around 3:00 AM I realized I had forgotten to take a photograph. Rather than heading out of town like I had planned, I stuck around so I could take a daylight photo.


June 2

Though it was light out before 5 AM, the sky was overcast, and the weather was rather cool, so I was able to sleep until nearly 8:00 and catch up some. I missed most of Morning Edition and had to listen to a regional show on Wisconsin public radio instead. The host was clearly from the Midwest, and she used a regionalism I'd never heard before--she announced that "after 9:00" and "after 10:00" we would listen to a particular topic, instead of using the word "at".

A caller mentioned obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the guest agreed that if the condition was interfering with one's function, that one should seek treatment. I don't think that I have OCD, but I see how an outside observer could conclude that I did if he did not realize that, at the moment, my Starbucks project and my Scrabble is my function.

The route to Wis Dells took me through Waupun, along Main Street, and I decided to stop for a good breakfast. I had to choose between the Chit Chat Cafe and the Golden Cup Cafe, and I chose the Chit Chat because it was smaller. But when I entered, there wasn't the type of earthy charm I was hoping for, and the menu lacked home fries, so I decided to just take a biscuit sandwich to go. The waitress seemed visibly disappointed that I had changed my mind about staying (because of the lost tip, surely, not my stunning good looks). The menu did not actually include a biscuit sandwich, but the cook said he could make one. This turned out to be a mistake, because the biscuit was small, and the egg and bacon overflowed, and the result was a messy drive.


Opposites Attract?

I drove through a town named Portage, and as I headed out of town, I spotted an unusual sight. A girl, 20s, cute, walking along the road with a backpack. In all my driving I'd see few girls walking out on the highway alone, probably for the obvious reason that it can be dangerous. I had to offer her a ride because, well, because you never know when a girl might be feeling "friendly", and opportunities to meet girls are limited for itinerant Starbucking Scrabblers like me.

A small town in central Wisconsin was not where I would have expected to find homeless, so I was surprised by the pungent odor that greeted me when she got in. I said nothing about the smell, and I'm pretty sure that I didn't turn up my nose or react in anyway--nevertheless, she explained that she had been walking all day. As it turned out, this Kelly wasn't homeless, but rather worked for a homeless shelter in Milwaukee, where she needed a ride to. It wasn't that much of a detour for me, so I was game.

Kelly had found herself stranded in Portage when, upon finishing a project and deciding to have an adventure, she tried hopping a freight train for the first time. She brandished a scrape on her finger from an unsuccessful atttempt to board a rail car moving too fast. I found myself amazed to have actually met somebody that had hopped a freight train, something I had fantasized about in younger years.

But the most amazing thing about my meeting with Kelly was the coincidence that revealed itself at the Starbucks in Wisconsin Dells. I excused myself before giving my explanation, as we approached the Starbucks, that I could not risk leaving her in the car while I photographed the Starbucks. I found the moment awkward, but having my car or money stolen was just too great a risk. If she felt offended I'll never know, but anyway she came into the store with me. I obtained my drink, and then she waited in line. I asked if she was going to get a drink, and she replied that she was just going to ask a question, if we had time. She was the one that needed to be back in Milwaukee by 4:00--I was running ahead of schedule, so I didn't have a problem.

I had not idea that what she had wanted to ask was whether Starbucks was doing anything to expand the quantity of fair trade coffee purchased, explanaing to the barista something like that only one percent of third world coffee growers received a livable wage. "Aw, jeez!" I thought. I eased away from the counter and went outside. I hesitated to take a photo because I didn't want the staff to think I was involved in any kind of anti-Starbucks activity. I was relieved when Kelly finally came out so I could take the photo and we could leave. As we left, she revealed that on Saturday she would be participating in a protest against Starbucks back in Milwaukee! Amazing! Of all the girls I could have picked up, I, Mr. Starbucks Everywhere, had to run across a Starbucks protester. Who was anti-car to boot.

As we left Wisconsin Dells, I spotted this real cool-looking wooden horse, presumably evocative of the Trojan horse, part of an amusement park named Mt. Olympus, I think.

At the Starbucks in Middleton, she spent a long, long time in the bathroom, and I hoped she wasn't doing anything that would reflect poorly upon me. I thought back to the time I visited a Starbucks in Pinole, CA, and some protesters vandalized the bathroom while I was there.

Despite our differences, Kelly did not seem to hold my photography (that's all I explained, not the whole shebang) project against me, and was actually fairly affectionate on the ride towards Milwaukee, and in fact offered to give me the massage she somehow sensed I needed (I seemed tense) and let me use her shower. I didn't want to waste too much of the available sunlight, but I couldn't pass up that offer. It wasn't professional-quality, but free is free, and a shower is the one thing I truly miss when I'm living out of my car. Maybe cable television too.

As I drove towards Rockford on I-43, ahead of me on the freeway was a car with Illinois plate number 517 and the word "REPOSSESSOR" below the number--I wondered what it meant.

As I approached Rockford, I wondered if the city had any relation to The Rockford Files. I kept forgetting to google it.

Before I entered the first Rockford store I had a close call. Next door was a combined Pizza Hut/Taco Bell, and I entered, trying desperately to block the Taco Bell portion from my mind. Despite knowing that I would likely regret it, I set out to order a personal pan pizza. Thankfully, a lady cut in front of me to exchange the drive-thru order they had gotten wrong (beef instead of chicken), and while the cashier went to take care of it I came to my senses and left. Whew!

Heading towards the interstate from the Cherryvale Mall store, I saw something new--a DQ Grill & Chill. Some type of Dairy Queen variant?

Yes! I stopped at a Speedway in West Dundee, and, sure enough, it had Tradewinds tea! Once more, the cashier failed to share in my enthusiasm. At the Starbucks, I had a mixed experience. The staff was cool and hooked me up with the new Cranium game, Zigity. But there was this customer, seemingly a regular. He had heard about me, seen me on Fox News. At first I got a kick out of this, as I always do. But then he got weird, like when he said that he hoped I wouldn't fail, and that if I didn't hit 100% I'd have failed in his eyes. Then, when I sat down to update my web site, he asked me if I was of Hispanic descent. Okay, no problem--I explained that my father is from Colombia and my mother from Panama. I asked him if he was Hispanic--a natural question. He replied with a blank stare and asked why I was asking. Okay, creepy. When he started talking about Christian martyrs around the world and asking why I had abandoned religion, I had to cut him off. It was time to upload and boogy.

My craving for Fuddrucker's must have been divinely inspired, because as I ordered I spotted a $50 bill on the floor! That's, like, over 1000 miles worth of gas right there! My schmoopie could hardly believe it. I was on the phone with her at the time, and the excitement of finding the money distracted from the awkwardness of having to deal with her having read about my encounter with Kelly earlier. I was in completely new territory with regards to my relationship with Jodi, in that she made it a point to read everything I wrote, and I had to write about all my encounters, even with other women.

From the Fuddrucker's in Schaumburg I headed to Itasca, reaching the store just before it closed at 9:00. Then I called Addison, and that store closed at 9:30, and also Lombard, and Warrenville at 10:00. So it was a race, race, race for the next hour, requiring me to forgo my introduction at Addison to save time. But I reached Warrenville with a few minutes to spare, my final store of the night. There I got a few suggestion on places to sleep, or not to sleep, from a partner.

As much as I hate Bank of America's customer service, I was relieved to see that they now had actual branches in the state. I wouldn't have to hunt down Loews movie theaters to get cash anymore.


Aaaaaagh!!!

After updating my website, I headed west to the Meijer's where the barista had suggested I could sleep. It's a good thing I stopped for gas first, because I was able to more quickly discover the greatest impediment to my trip thus far. I had left my wallet back outside the Starbucks, on the sidewalk where I had set it. I raced back, thinking of how I would explain not having my license if I got pulled over. I reached the Starbucks. No wallet! The three baristas were still closing the store, and there had been no customers when I left (it was late), so it must have been noticed and taken by the one who had been working on the QDoba (is that right?) cafe that would open the following day. I hoped he would make an effort to return it. I slipped a note under the door with my phone number. Then I concentrated on what I needed to do if I couldn't get the wallet back. First I got online and went to the Texas Drivers License web site to get a phone number to call about a replacement. Then I called and blocked my one credit card, and my bank check card. That was all I could do for the moment. Thankfully, I still had plenty of cash. When I withdrew it on Monday before leaving Bethesda with my father's cousin, I had told him I liked to have cash in case of emergencies. I had not expected to run into an emergency so soon!

I guess it was anxiety that got me up, shortly before 3:00 AM, and spurred me to drive on into Chicago. I hoped that once in downtown I'd be able to find that one of the new stores opened at 5:30 or even 5:00. I avoided the toll by taking 75th St. east and then I-55 into the city, and at that time of night I was moving pretty quickly. Every time I saw a cop I worried more about getting pulled over now that I was without my license. It wasn't even 5:00 yet and it was already starting to get somewhat light as I found a parking spot on Milwaukee where I could get more sleep near the first Starbucks I would visit.


June 3

Escape from the Loop!

I had set my alarm for 6:20, but I woke up just before 6:00, and it's a good thing that I did, because in spite of having only four new stores to visit in and around the Loop, I barely got out of there by 7:00. The first store turned out to be a licensed one. The store locator listed it as "Courtyard", but it was actually Courtyard at Marriott. I didn't mind so much--I only lost a few minutes.

I lost more time negotiating the one-way streets to the next store. Actually, what happened was that, despite having my map in front of me, I got confused and forgot I wasn't inside the Chicago Loop. So I was expecting to cross South Wacker, but I didn't, and I ended up going to the Clinton and Washington store first. All the nearby streets were no-standing zones, so I had to park right in front to rush in and get my coffee, no time to introduce myself. 6:20. I needed to move the car to take the photo, but traffic was already getting to heavy for me to just stop the car in the middle of that street, so I decided to leave it for later and go visit South Wacker.

I spotted the South Wacker store on the other side of the street, and I had to drive around the block several times to figure out where I could stop the car. Traffic and pedestrians were getting heavier. 6:27. I rushed to the store trying not to spill my coffee, which I had not had time to drink. I chugged it in front of the barista and got a refill. Damn! I had forgotten my camera. I had to rush back to the the car to retrieve it, and I left my coffee so I was able to sprint back to the store with my camera. 6:31 As I took the photo I wondered if the security guard had spotted me and was coming for me. I sprinted away. I was starting to sweat when I returned to the car.

One store to go, and still another photo to take, and I was running out of time. I wondered why it was taking that long. I remember having visited eight stores in downtown Chicago in about an hour one time. Was I misremembering? Was traffic heavier? Crap, I added too much sugar!

I was able to get to the Van Buren Relocation store pretty easy, just a turn from South Wacker to Jackson. I couldn't stop on Jackson, had to turn on a side street. I couldn't see the Starbucks. I asked the security guard. It was on the other side of the building, closer to Van Buren. Crap. I rushed across the lobby, trying not to sprint and attract attention. Plus I had coffee in my hand. I couldn't see the Starbucks. Crap. I asked another security guard. Around the corner. Finally I saw it. I asked the barista if she could top off the cup because I had added to much sugar, and she pointed me to the self-service dispenser. Didn't charge me. Easy. Rushed back to the car doing my duck-walk. I developed it in grade school while playing eraser tag. Basically, it was a sort of squatting walk that allowed me to keep my head from moving so I could better balance the eraser on my head as I tried to tag the other player, or avoid being tagged. Now, when carrying coffee, I can do the same duck-walk to keep my arm steady and avoid spilling the coffee yet still moving faster than walking, though not quite running.

I moved the car closer so I could take the photo. Aw, jeez, somebody had parked right in front of the store. I tried to find another angle. Behind me, a security guard for the building across the street seemed to be eyeing me. A delivery truck parked in front of the store, but then moved up some. Whew. The lady came out with her coffee and was about to leave. Suddenly another car pulled in. I let out a loud "Nooooooo!" The security guard asked if I was okay. I had a rather frazzled appearance. I pointed to the store and said they're blocking my shot. He asked if I worked for Starbucks. I said not, but I was going for an artistic photo. He left me alone. I settled for what I had and rushed back to my car, very poorly illegally parked.

I was really sweating now. I still had to go back to Clinton and Washington and take a photo. 6:46. Traffic and pedestrians seemed to be increasing exponentially. Took photo quickly. 6:54. Okay, had to get to the freeway. Heavy traffic.

It was exactly 7:00 AM as I drove onto I-290 west, and then a minute later to I-90/I-94. The interchange to I-55 was heavy, but once I got on I-55 southbound traffic was, as expected, light. Traffic for those poor sons-of-bitches heading inbound was killer. I drove towards the Cicero exit and wondered if I would have time to detour towards Indiana before heading down to Springfield.

I made great time to Springfield. I even had time to stop and shave, which was a good thing, because the first item on my agenda was to meet a reporter and photographer for the local daily paper, the State Journal-Register. The photog wanted to shoot inside the fake Starbucks in the Hilton, but she had not gotten clearance, so we had to sit outside. The Hilton, however, allowed the reporter to sit in the lobby so that she could interview me. She expressed irritation at companies that didn't allow photography on their premises.

The reporter for the Washington Post Magazine was also meeting us in Springfield. He was interested in the Schmoopie angle. It was amusing to watch him taking notes as the SJR reporter interviewed me. Kind of surreal too, to have one reporter observing my interview with another reporter.

After the interview, Schmoopie led us to Kinko's and went off to her meeting. I had to deal with trying to get the driver's license office in Texas to overnight me a temporary licensed to Indianapolis, where I would be on Saturday. Then I took the reporter back downtown and returned to the Hilton to get online and play some Scrabble--I had not studied in two weeks and would be competing basically cold, except for some online playing. While playing, I also read a thesis written by a graduate student who had interviewed me two years prior. Only a small piece of his paper dealt with my Starbucks project, but the entire paper made for a very interesting read.

After dinner with Schmoopie's mother and coworkers (and the reporter of course), I followed her back to her place where I would leave my car. She'd be doing the driving to St. Louis, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis. I experienced not a small measure of separation anxiety as I transferred personal effects to her car and left mine sitting in her driveway. And after all the time spent making sure I hadn't forgotten anything, with Schmoopie staring at me impatiently, I still forgot the Wu-Tang.


The Driving Factor

Now anybody who knows me knows that I drive fast. But this girl, Schmoopie, this girl was just insane. I think the reporter in the back seat shared my fear that we were going to end up splattered all over the highway as Schmoopie floored and seemed not to see the slower-moving cars that we were constantly hurtling towards. I tried to lose myself in the music, playing songs from CDs that I'd been missing for the past six weeks driving around without a CD player. I was quite relieved when we reached Hazelwood, outside St. Louis, where we were spending the night, at the luxurious Extended StayAmerica next to the airport.



June 4

Pressing the Flesh

Schmoopie got up way early. I tried to sleep some more, but finally I got up and waited for the bathroom. Checking out earlier gave us time to head out to the grocery store, my first trip to Schnuck's, a favorite of Schmoopie's. Then we picked up the reporter and headed to St. Peters, arriving around 10:30, late to meet Louie, a fan of my web site who had e-mailed me months prior and asked me to tell him when I'd be back in St. Louis.

We hung out with Louie for over an hour, then headed up to the Borders so I could log on, the reporter could try to replace his smashed mobile phone, and Schmoopie could find some smaller jeans. Then we headed into St. Louis, into the Delmar Loop area, for lunch.

Somehow the time got away from us at Blueberry Hill, a well-known restaurant, but the reporter was picking up the tab, so we couldn't pass that up. Plus, breakfast anytime! And really cool decor. But by the time we left it was almost 3:00. We parted ways with the reporter, and I felt some relief at the prospect of finally having Schmoopie all to myself.

As we headed out to the interstate, I fielded a call from Fortune magazine about meeting me out in California for an interview. The reporter asked if he could ride around with me, and when I mentioned that another reporter had just been doing that, the Fortune guy expressed concern that it was a competing magazine. But he didn't have a problem with the Washington Post Magazine, which doesn't compete with Fortune. Coolio.

But the race was on once again, to reach Indy by 7:00 for Scrabble, yet stopping in Terre Haute to visit the first Starbucks there. Fortunately, Schmoopie once more drove like a demon. I was appreciative, but I had to ask her to back off the speed several times, because we were ahead of schedule and thus risking a fiery death was not necessary.

Something happened when we crossed into Indiana and I neared the Starbucks. Even though I had only had one cup of coffee earlier that morning, I shifted into high gear. At the light waiting to turn left into the strip mall, I startled Schmoopie by jumping out of the car and almost getting pancaked as I ran across the other side of the highway into the Starbucks. And the barista. And the customer in front of me as I paced back and forth and fidgeted. Finally I got my DoubleShot. Schmoopie looked stunned as I chugged it and implored me not to drink it. I rocketed in and out of the bathroom and then went outside to pace impatiently waiting for Schmoopie to come out so I could take the photo and we could go, incognito-like. We had 70 minutes to drive 80 miles.



June 5

I dragged Schmoopie out of bed around 7:30 so we could visit several new Indapolis-area Starbucks before I had to go back to Scrabble tournament. I forwent introductions to save time, and I grumbled at Indiana's lack of short (8 oz) cups. Wasted money!

After visiting the next store in Lawrence, and then stopping for a bagel, it was clear that we couldn't make it out to Greenfield and back, but a store on the far south side was still a possibility, though we'd be cutting it close. I thought quickly and decided it wasn't worth the risk of being late to Scrabble, plus aggravating Schmoopie with my need for speed. Once again, another example of how I'm getting old.

After the Scrabble tournament, where I failed to win any traveling cash, we headed up to Kokomo. On the way, Schmoopie became rather excited wehn we passed a group of llamas on a farm. Llamas are cool.

When we pulled into the drive, I remembered an e-mail from a partner telling me about the store, but I couldn't remember her name. The barista I spoke to guessed it was the manager, but it was actually another partner, and she happened to be working.


To Russiaville, With Wuv

The new West Lafayette store was the last I'd have a chance to visit in Indiana, and on the way, along SR-26, I spotted Noth'n Fancy. I liked the name, and we were both hungry, so we dropped in. My meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and homemade bread were excellent, but the lemonade on the menu was Country Time (yuck!), so I decided to let a little bit of my inner rebel loose. I went outside to take a photo of the restaurant, and when I returned I snuck in the bottle of Tradewinds tea that I had bought earlier at the Speedway (yay Speedway!) Schmoopie was amused to no end by my skullduggery, as I hid the bottle under the table and brought it out periodically to "get my swig on". She thought it was a little too much, however, when I shoved the bottle down my pants to hide it when we left. I ended up paying for my misdeeds, though. As I left the bathroom, I slammed my head between the door and the door jammed by getting my foot stuck against the door as I left.

While I answered a barista's questions in West Lafayette, Schmoopie talked up my project to some customers sitting outside. When I came out, we got to chatting, and the group of them, plus some kids that showed up, donated over $33! By some amazing coincidence, this was the same amount I had guessed was in my wallet (excluding the $50 I had found at Fuddrucker's) when I lost it. Talk about cosmic balance! I even got an offer of a place to stay in Atlanta, though I wouldn't need it because I had cousins there. Anyway, including the interview with the SJR and now this, Schmoopie was proving herself to be a hell of a promoter.

I started to feel queasy, and I put my life in Schmoopie's hands by allowing myself to fall asleep while she drove. She said I got a couple of hours, as well as doing some strange twitching with my leg. Still, when we got back to her place I was still tired, and I crashed right away.



June 6

In the morning, I felt better, but after I was up for a while I started to get queasy again, and I worried about how I'd drive the long distance to Sioux Falls. I hoped brunch would help. We went to Cafe Brio around 9:30, but it did not open 'til 11:00. So we went to Speedway and got a couple of Tradewinds teas and went to the park to watch families feeding the ducks. Brunch at Brio wasn't that great--it was too trendy for me, with stuff like pecan pancakes. Just give me plain ol' pancakes, dammit!

Schmoopie and I said our goodbyes. She said she had promised herself not to do it, but she cried. I would miss her, but I didn't cry. I was much too accustomed to leaving. I wasn't the type of guy to stick around, so I never let myself get too attached. Still, I would look forward to returning to Springfield, and not just because of the Starbucks that would be opening later in the summer.


Phase III

Earlier that morning I had decided to change my plans. I didn't want to risk driving without a license (it's that getting old thing again), so I looked up the closest office in Texas, and learned that most were not even open every day. I'd have to go to Amarillo. I'd have to skip SD and ND, but I'd get to visit a bunch of new stores in CO, and I'd be less likely to get ticketed or arrested. Jail bad.

Either route would have taken me west on I-72, a new stretch of highway for me, until it ended in Hannibal, MO, but instead of heading northwest I headed southwest on US-24. I made pretty good time, despite a slight detour when I accidentally got on US-36 west at Monroe City. Just east of Waverly, I crossed a cool bridge over the Missouri River--I've found bridges over US highways to be generally more interesting that bridges over interstates. During the drive, I called the new store in Hutchinson, KS, and learned that it would not open until Friday. Good think I called. And for the best, really, because I was running out of time with the detour to Texas.

As I neared KC, around 22 hours after my last dose of Starbucks, I started feeling the beginnings of a withdrawal headache. I hoped to wait until I got to KC to cure it with coffee and food, but it got too strong and I had to break out the trusty acetaminophen. In KC, 8600 Ward Parkway turned out to be a shopping center. I saw the Starbucks logo next to an entrance to the mall, but when I tried the door it was locked! The sign said the mall closed at 5:30! I was about to have a cow, but I called the store and learned they were indeed open--it's just the entrance was on the other side. One of the baristas seemed particularly receptive to my project. She smile at me a lot. It gave me the warm fuzzies.

The other barista asked me if I had been to the stores in Springfield yet. Missouri? Yes! What!!! I quickly checked the web site, and sure enough they were listed. Crap. I wouldn't have time to detour.

I had called the nearest stores in Wichita and most all closed by 10:00, so I found myself in a hurry. I had to settle for the only acceptable fast food on the way to the interstate, nasty greasy Popeye's. Everybody else in KC seemed to have a craving for them, and I lost a lot of time. I had to haul ass once I got on the freeway, but thankfully traffic moves pretty fast through Kansas. I reached Harry and Rock with only minutes to spare. The next store north of Rock (of three), at Central, kept the lobby open 'til 1:00, and I was able to update my site. And it's a good thing I hung around, because I found out that there was a seventh store, at Pawnee and Seneca, that was not listed on the store locator. Whew!



June 7

Inside the Wal-Mart, a pair of giggly girls chatted with the equally giggly cashier about how little sleep they had gotten the previous night, or the poor quality thereof. I had slept fine but not nearly enough after having worked on my web site until the Starbucks closed at 1:00 AM. But I expected time pressure reaching Amarillo, so I couldn't let myself sleep past 7:00.

In sharp contrast to Chicago, the rush hour in Wichita seemed non-existent, and I faced no delays visiting the five stores that remained. Still, by the time I checked my e-mail a couple of times and grabbed a bagel, it was past 10:00, and I knew I had to hurry. I called an old high school classmate, whom I had IMed the previous night about possibly meeting in Oklahoma City, to say I wouldn't have time.

Speaking of bagels, I thought to ask the calorie count and learned it had a whopping 330 (blueberry). The 32-OZ oj from Wal-Mart had 500, and the yogurt had 170. That was 1000 calories already, an amount that I had mentioned to the reporter earlier I was shooting for, to save money. I hadn't needed to stick to that for the past couple of weeks because I was with family who fed me, and with Schmoopie. But for the next week I'd be on my own. Hungry as I felt after having already consumed 1000 calories, I doubted I'd be able to stick to that amount.

Microsoft Streets & Trips, as usual, plotted a route to Amarillo that favored the interstates, I-35 to I-40. I figured out that US-54 would be 48 miles shorter, though there would be delays. I figured it would balance out, and it would allow me to check that stretch of U.S. highway off my list. For about 30 miles west of Wichita US-54 (also US-400 'til Mullinville) moved as fast as an interstate. And beyond that, between towns, I was still moving around eighty. My only significant delays were in Pratt, a 20 MPH construction zone, and a flagger in Minneola. And stopping to use the restroom many times. So many times I passed up the same dark green mud-splattered Malibu LS three different times. Still, I was on track to reach Amarillo before the DL office closed.

While on US-54 I crossed US-281 and US-183, and each time I had a memory of Texas (one leads to San Antonio, and the other to Austin). I also passed Meade a town seemingly dedicated to the Dalton Gang, and I wished I had time to stop and check out the museum and hideout.

I'm not the biggest fan of Oklahoma, but after three hours of desolate western Kansas highway, I was thrilled to see the sign proclaiming the state line to be 28 miles away!

In Oklahoma, I couldn't help but be amused when I passed through a town called Hooker. I also saw my first state trooper of the day in OK--none at all in KS.

It was 2:34 when I crossed into Texas. Yee-ha! It had been eight months and 3 days since I had left.

I made it to the DL office on time and didn't have to wait very long. The only annoying part (besides the detour itself and the lack of a sign clearly delineating the DL office) was that the attendant, after I showed her both my passport and Social Security card, decided to ask me if I had gotten any tickets, and where. Man, I was scared she was going to deny me. She said she was just verifying my identity. Seems like a pretty sadistic way to do it if you ask me!

On the way out to the Starbucks to see if they had Wi Fi I spotted something interesting, a Conoco station accepting credit cards only. The storefront had been closed off. I'd never seen such a gas station before, but it made perfect sense and appealed to my sense of automation.

Before I left Amarillo, I finally said fuck it, this 1000-calorie thing is for the birds. My trip would be ending early because of the car registration requirement, and I figured I could spend more on food. Though it's debatable whether the chili dog and fries I got from Wienerschnitzel should properly be considered "food". Later, I also said screw it on water alone--the lukewarm water just wasn't doing it, and the heat was giving me a mighty thirst. I had to get something with some taste. I knew I wouldn't find Tradewinds, so I settled for Arizona Iced Tea. But whaddaya know, I couldn't find it in three different places, so I settled for Gatorade. Damn if it didn't hit the spot though, parched as I was. I went through 32 ounces in a heartbeat.

As I left the gas station in Boise City where I bought the drink, a heavy-set Rob Reiner-looking motherfucker kept staring at me. I was, like, fuck you motherfucker. Ain't this piece-of-shit Okie town got any other minorities you gotta stare at me like that? Man, fuck the war on terrorism--we need to round up all the fucking bigots and send they asses to Guantanamo.

The really sucky part, besides losing a day, about my detour to Amarillo was the drive from Stratford along US-287, because I knew I'd have to come right back up that highway later. But the worst part was that the northbound return during the sunset meant the sun is once more beating down on my left arm. During the four hours driving west earlier my arm and leg had been burned pretty good. My arm especially was hurting like a sonufabitch. So to have the sun blazing down on it again was almost unbearable. But I ain't no wussy boy, and I took my punishement like man.

I spoke once more to the reporter from Fortune and made plans to meet in Phoenix on Monday morning. Then I got a call, a followup to an e-mail, about a job, a job which needed to start immediately. I was thrown into a state of having to possibly juggle my plans, but I couldn't pass up a $70/hr job if I got it. Even for four weeks, that would be enough money to go back to California later and even overseas. Oh, and to pay my taxes--I guess I should do that.

As I tried to wipe the nasty hot dog chili residue off my hands and clean up the mess I'd made, one of those evil truckers tried to pass me. Don't get me wrong--most truckers out on the highway seem to be cool, but once in a while you get one that's traveling way too fast, like 80+. Because I don't want to get stuck behind it if traffic becomes congested, I'm forced to go faster than I'm comfortable with. And I'll just bet you that if I sent a bill to the trucking company they wouldn't pay it. Nobody wants to take personal resposibility these days.

I debated whether to push past my fatigue and try to make Pueblo before the new Starbucks closed. I thought I'd only make it if it stayed open 'til 11:00, until I realized the time difference. I was sure it would stay open 'til 10:00, but I still needed to call. It turned out to be moot, because my fatigue was getting the better of me, and I decided to stop once the sun went down. I spotted a rest area, but I couldn't stay there because it had no water fountain and I was down to half a bottle--I knew I needed more.

So I pushed on, and in the absence of radio I started composing these songs in my mind that I wanted to use to serenade my schmoopie. I wished I had talent for musical instruments so I could do that, and I fantasized about taking her to a restaurant and making arrangements to perform a song that would not only profess my devotion but bring the house down and get me a recording contract.

I had my thoughts set on a Wal-Mart I had seen once along US-50, during a weekend trip to Colorado with a buddy from Starbucks. But I started to have doubts that this supposed Wal-Mart would even be between I reached Pueblo, remembering that Sean and I had started on US-50 west of Pueblo. I spotted a Safeway in La Junta and just pulled in there, but I noticed it would close shortly at 9:00 PM. My headache was really bad and I had to lie down anyway. I immediately found it difficult to get comfortable because I had the sunburn on my left arm and shoulder, and a bruise on my right hip from a fall the previous day, so whichever side I slept on it hurt. I managed, and after a short while I heard the grocery carts being put away and saw the lot empty and decided I didn't want to risk the attention of the local PD, so I moved up the street to a Sinclair gas station. I did manage to get some sleep, but when I finally decided to spend money some bottled water I discovered the store closed. I thought that was my last chance in town, but as I was about head out I spotted another groups of stores and pulled into a Conoco. I bought the water and parked in the last space and hoped I would not be noticed.

Just past midnight I heard some activity outside. Some guy's car was being towed. My first thought was that I was next. I went inside to buy something as "defense", and I noticed a cop. I hoped he wouldn't think to question me if he had noticed me. They cops left, and the cashier asked me if I was the guy sleeping out there in the car. I asked him if he had a problem with it and he replied not really. I decided to leave anyway.

Shame about the Kit Kat though--I guess I bought it for nothing.

I drove the rest of the 60 miles to Pueblo and found the Kinko's so I could get online. I opened a window and noticed it was much chillier here in Colorado than the temperatures I'd been seeing across the country, even in Chicago. I found it a refreshing change. By coincidence there was a Wal-Mart Supercenter nearby where I could sleep. There's no point, really, in pointing out that I also spotted a Tinseltown USA, a Ruby Tuesday, a Motel 6, a Souper! Salad!, and basically the same type of cookie-cutter development found across the country. Because I don't have a problem with that, really. If I wanted to see local atmosphere, I could always go downtown. But what I wanted was to get online to to get some sleep, and the ubiquitous national chains fit the bill.



June 8

I awoke at 5:45, and I wanted to sleep more, but my phone gave a low battery beep. I was expecting a phone call regarding a job at 6:30, so I had to get up and drive in order to charge the phone some. I walked into the Wal-Mart to wash my face and noticed my left eye really bloodshot. I don't know why, but that's always creeped me out.

As I had hoped, the Starbucks opened at 6:00, and by 7:00 I speeding towards Colorado Springs. Well, not speeding that much actually. The limit out here in most western states is 75 MPH, which means 85-90, but my poor little lower-horsepower Civic was struggled to maintain 80 as the interstate climbed.

To reach the second store I visited in Colorado Springs I took Colorado Avenue from downtown and passed through a cool part of town, Old Colorado City, a historic district. Up until now, except for the downtown store, all the other stores had been in relatively bland parts of C-Springs (or The Springs, as the radio calls the city). I was glad to get to drive through a cool part of town.

I scored at the next store, a scone that is, my first pastry in a while, since Appleton. Actually, I had been offered at one of the Chicagoland stores, but I had just had Fuddrucker's and was full.

I've said before that Starbucks tends to hire attractive young baristas, and Colorado Springs was no except. But at the final store before I headed out of town, there was one that exceeded the standard of cuteness. This one had exceptional good likes, like model or glamour magazine quality looks. Oh, why couldn't I hang out at that store?

The manager, too, though older, as managers tend to be (for obvious business reasons) was attractive, but I don't think she liked me. I got my coffee, sure, but it seemed like she just wanted to get rid of me. I didn't relish the thought of asking her for the store number, and I was glad when I spotted it inside the (clear plastic) purse of another patron and was able to get her to read it to me.

Meanwhile, as I sat outside and update my site while hoping a car parked next to mine would move, some guy kept staring in my direction. Maybe he was really staring past me at something, but he was creeping me out regardless.

Whew! That was a close one! Driving towards Denver, I had just finished speaking to a recruiter about an interview he had scheduled for later in the day, and I was about to call my bank, having given up on getting my wallet bank, when I saw the exit for Monument off I-25 and remembered I had visited the store at night and needed a daylight photo--since it was just off the freeway, it was worth the delay. What wasn't worth the delay was the store in Woodland Park, and I decided to skip it for the moment, preferring to reach the West Coast sooner and visit more stores.

I guess I'd been lucky before in Wichita and C-Springs, that I hadn't had to wait too long to speak to a manager or shift supervisor. But Denver is a larger metroplex, and at the first store I visited, in Aurora, there wa a steady stream of one or two customers in line for about fifteen minutes, and it all began with a fool lady who doesn't understand that it's inconsiderate to write checks when there are people behind you in line.

I guess I've finally crossed the line of having played too much Scrabble, because as I was leaving the store I experienced an auditory hallucination, the "chirp" of a message on ISC, Internet Scrabble. I looked around, and there were no computers in sight, nor birds inside the store. Uh-oh, I'm losing it.


Annoyances!

At the next store, I waited another 15 minutes waiting to get the manager's attention, and I considered forgoing intros for a while to make up the time. But what was worse than the delay was the manager told me of some girl that was going around photographing the new stores. Dammit! More shark-biting niggaz! Shit, man, I was gonna have to enlist the RZA to deliver a message to these punks biting my style.

I'm almost scared to say it, because there are always those who will respond with an accusation of racism to a mere statement of fact, but my next store, a UCO one, was another example of how at the UCO stores, and other stores in lower-income neighborhoods, I tend to be met with suspicion instead of amusement. I was in a hurry, so I just asked for a refill, and the partner, with a look of suspicion on his face, questioned me about where I had bought it and explained the policy, even though I just asked for half the cup. I can't say whether it might be because they receive different training about being more strict, or whether the lower-income clientele tries to take advantage to get refills over and over, and frankly its an unpleasant topic I'd rather not have to deal with.

The next store also happened to be a UCO store, so I held off drinking my coffee until I got to the store, right in front the barista, and it worked--I got my free half refill.


You Get What You Pay For

I was in such a hurry because I had schedule a massage. I hadn't had one in over a month, and I knew I could find reasonable prices in Denver. I wasn't expecting to find a $20/hr offer, for first time customers. I sometimes feel bad when taking advantage of these offers, since I'm always on the move and will likely never return, but then I think, nah, it's no different than taking advantage of those introductory rates on a credit card and then transferring the balance over.

Anyway, a $20 massage I couldn't pass up! You can't go wrong for twenty bucks. Or so I thought. I knew I stood correct as soon as I saw "her". I swear to god either "she" had had a sex change, or "she" had some serious issues with testosterone. Because no woman should be sporting that much facial hair. It just isn't right! I was hoping that skill would make up for looks, but I struck out on that front too--lousy technique. Oh, well, only twenty bucks.

As I headed to the next store, in Westminster, I saw a sign for breakfast all day, and then immediately that it was a Mexican restaurant. Nah, I never cared for those huevos rancheros.

At the Starbucks, I think one of the baristas, really cute, was giving me the eye. She said maybe she'd see me again at the new store that would be opening, and that would be just fine with me!

As I left the store, this lady, with an okay, but not great, face, was seriously shaking her groove thang like they say in the rap songs. I mean this thing was swishing back and forth like it could churn milk to butter! I couldn't take my eyes off her, and as a result I bit into my thumb instead of the apple I was holding. I wasn't the only one who noticed--at the bus stop were a couple of adolescent girls, and they were mock imitating the lady's walk.

As I headed towards downtown, I was amused when Vivaldi's Winter came on the public radio station I had on. As I approached downtown, I was not amused by the name of a sports stadium, Invesco Field. Yuck!

The next store, on Colfax, one Denver's principal streets, was also UCO, and here I introduced myself and the shift supervisor was pretty cool. Outside a security guard kept pacing in front of the store, but I got a break and she went around to the back of the building just as I needed to take the photo.

Finally, after five years and about six or seven trips to Denver, I was able to visit the Amoco Building store, now known as the UMB Bank Plaza store!!! My excitement was muted a bit by the fact that it was mid-day, and I had to risk a ticket parking. And there was a line, too. I just asked for half a refill, and the partner just let me have it, to my great relief, so I could rush back to the car.


Struggling

As I headed west on Colfax and sugared the coffee, I was really feeling the buzz from the 11 other stores I had visited. Half-coffee or not, that was still 44 ounces in about 12-13 hours, a hefty amount. And still 13 listed in the immediate area! I had to take a break. I passed Pete's Kitchen, and I stopped in and looked at the menu. Breakfast. Mmmmm... but I couldn't do it. My stomach was so full from the coffee, I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the meal, and it just wasn't a good investment.

At the next store, further down on Colfax, the manager had heard of my project, my first such recognition of the day. I had to chill out and let the coffee settle, so I played some Scrabble and worked on my journal. But I waited too long to leave, forgetting the interview scheduled for 5:00, so I rushed and got heavy traffic to the Iliff and Buckley store, where I wanted to take the call. I arrived right on time, but the call didn't come. So I headed towards Lakewood, and I got the call while on the way. I reached the Lakewood store and finished the interview, then visited the store quickly and rushed down Wadsworth to Scrabble club. Just played a couple of games, to keep in practice, and then headed to Union and Alameda.

My head was hurting soooo bad. I had already had two acetaminophen, and I had to take two more. I also had to stop at get a power bar, because the hunger was contributing to the headache. At the Starbucks I got the coffee but took it with me to the new Wheat Ridge store, where I had them put their 4 oz in the same cup (acceptable according to my divinely inspired rules) to same until later. I was so ridiculously thirsty. I kept drinking more and more water until my stomach couldn't take it, and yet my thirst persisted.

One of the baristas showed me a photo taken by a customer, of a Starbucks in Harvard Square. It was such a good photo compared to the crappy one I'd taken. I was so jealous. I longed for the day when I could take photos like that.

I started to work on uploading the day's photos, but I decided to just sleep. Then my schmoopie asked me to hang on for a moment, and I just went ahead and posted the photos before heading over to Safeway. One of the baristas had told me it was 24-hours, but when I woke up shortly after midnight it was closed. After 64 ounces of coffee and mad crazy water, of course I needed to use the bathroom. Like every hour or so. So I had to move on and find the nearest gas station. I didn't want to stay in that parking lot, so I headed towards my next Starbucks and ended up in the parking lot of the Sleep Inn.

As I drove, I worked out the distance to Seattle. Aagh! Almost 1400 miles from Denver. Much further than I had thought.



June 9

I slept as much as I could without traffic worries, as I'd be heading north away from the city. As I was almost certain of, my intense headache had been due to caffeine overdose, fatigue, and hunger. After a good night's sleep, allowing time for all that caffeine to metabolize, and for my body to get adjusted to lower caloric intake, I was feeling much better.

Ooh, ooh, ooh! Chick-fil-a! Chicken biscuit! Didn't know they had any in Colorado.

I kept changing my mind, deciding to go to Seattle, then deciding to go to Portland, then deciding to head straight to California via Salt Lake City. Then I cycled through the cities again. I was glad I didn't have to decide until I reached I-80.

Whew! Close call in Longmont as I was almost denied coffee to break my streak. But the manager gave in to my puppy dog eyes. Then had asked me where I was headed, and I mentioned the stores in Greeley--he told me the University of Northern Colorado store would be closing, or had already closed! AAAAAGH!!! I became anxious and desperate to call and find out, but I showed remarkable patience and held off, saving the phone minutes that were now dangerously low in supply after the previous day's job interviews.

I introduced myself to the manager of the first Greeley store on my route, and I asked her the burning question--was the University of Northern Colorado store still open? It was! Yes!! It must have been fated that I should visit that store, because if I had not lost my wallet I would not have detoured to Amarillo to replace my licensed and would not have visited Colorado during this trip.

I was pleased that, by coincidence, the final new Starbucks in Greeley was close to a Wal-Mart Supercenter with lube services, so I could get my overdue oil change done while I visited the store and perhaps played some Scrabble. When I was informed that the wait might be as long as 1.5 hours, I really hoped the Starbucks would have T-Mobile. I packed up my electronics to juice up and walked over and was disappointed to learn it didn't. Oh, well, I could still get some things done and upload them later, and maybe study some Scrabble.

Then it occurred to me that I could sleep! I walked back to the lube center and retrieved my keys and lay down in the back, windows down to let some cool air in the warm car, until it was time for my car to be serviced. Then I lay down on some benches in the waiting room, but I didn't manage to get real sleep. I felt like crap as I paid, and I hoped I wasn't getting sick.

I visited my final Colorado store, in Fort Collins, and headed up into Wyoming, stopping at the first travel plaza for cheaper gas. The cashier said I was looking pale, and that there was a serious flu bug going around great. As I continued north, I saw a sight new to me, a truck carrying these big-ass tires.

I had pretty much abandoned my plans for Seattle much earlier, so I took I-80 west and planned to stop at the first rest area and try to get some sleep, hoping it would help if I was indeed getting sick. I knew it would mean I wouldn't reach Salt Lake City by the time the new Starbucks closed that night, but avoiding sickness was more important. I had a headache, a different kind than the previous day, a kind I associated with a cold or flu. And maybe the beginnings of muscle aches.

Though the sun was overhead, there was some cloud cover, and the air temperature was cool. I managed to get some sleep, shifting myself around in the back to avoid the sun when the clouds passed. I got up shortly before 5:00 and decided to get a good meal, so I drove into Laramie.

I've known Wyoming is the least populous state per square mile, but I guess I had imagined Laramie a busier city, so I was surprised that downtown seemed so dead. I drove around and couldn't find a good choice of restaurants, nothing that seemed appealing. So I settled on a crappy biscuit and bland juice, shit grits, and merely passable eggs from the Chuckwagon Restaurant. As I left, I was surprised to see a gas station sign specifying that no cash was accepted, only bank cards and credit cards. Who'da thunk it? As I reentered the interstate, I was treated to the sight of the hills to the east made to almost glow by the setting sun.

The last time I drove I-80 west through Wyoming it had been nightttime, limiting my speed. This time around, I was able to keep it between 85-90 most of the way, and the miles and miles of nothing evaporated. I decided not to push myself, so shortly after 10:00 I spotted a parking area and decided to call it a night. Despite not having restrooms, parking areas are sometimes better than rest areas because they are dark, and it's easier to sleep. And because they are so dark, it's really not a problem just taking a whiz out in the open--no one can see anything anyway.

The night turned out to be colder than any I had seen since leaving Jersey. I actually had to put on an undershirt (under my t-shirt and pajama top) and use both my blankets to create my amazing "cave of warmth" that sealed in my body heat.



June 10

I awoke at 6:20, and, because the parking area lacked a restroom, was able to start driving immediately. Well, actually after the windshield defrosted, which took a few extra minutes because I initially had the air blowing out the wrong vent. It's probably best I don't start driving immediately after waking, as I'm never truly awake for a few minutes yet.

I hadn't remembered where the road got steep, but it's as one approaches the Utah border. The grades were steep enough that my poor little Civic was really struggling. As I climbed, the rain hitting my windshield began to look more and more like soft snow. Snow? In June? Maybe this high, sure, but I had my doubts. As I drove on, I saw that the rocks and grass had a whitish appearance, and I decided it had to be snow.

On the other side of the mountains, I had to take extra care because the rain was really coming down, and I couldn't be sure of how well the Civic handled. As much as I hated to do it, I let other cars get past me so I could take it easier.

The rain let up a bit and made my drive into Park City smoother, thankfully. After all that driving I needed to hang out for a while, plus to wait for the line to subside so I could hit up the manager, and I happened to chat with some guy about the snow that had come down over night. He mentioned that the local mayor was over in the corner. How about that, the mayor of Park City hangs out at Starbucks. I wondered if the cop next to him was the police chief, but he was just a regular cop.

I had planned to clear out Utah while here, but after seeing that Riverdale would be a 65-mile detour, I decided to leave it for another day, for when my route would take me from SLC up I-84 towards Portland.

I rushed to update my site because a queasiness came on strong and sharply. I hoped it was nothing more than SHW (sudden hunger weakness). I went out to the car to get my camera and the urge to vomit came over me just as suddenly. It didn't reach the threshold of actually vomiting, but I wished it would, because I've always found it better just to get it over with. I thought about just sticking my finger down my throat, but I held off and made it to the Albertson's. While I looked around for groceries, I started to feel chills. At the checkout counter, I was shivering. I rushed out to the car and started wolfing down the yogurt while I returned a message--it was about a job interview.

The drive down into Salt Lake City was, as usual, fun, yet tinged with danger, as the downhill grades are steep and curvy, and now that I was well into the day, there was plenty of traffic, and plenty of drivers willing to take those curves at much faster speeds than I was comfortable with.

The yogurt seemed to help, and I started feeling better. I had to hurry, though, and finish up the two new Starbucks south of SLC in order to be ready for a phone interview at 11:00. In fact, I needed to make it to Kinko's and see if I could get them to call me on a Kinko's phone because I was almost out of minutes.

Of course, just like last time, the call didn't come for a few minutes, and then it was from the recruiter to say it had been postponed until Friday. Okay, that was a nice waste of time.

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Chick-fil-a!!! Didn't know they had Chick-fil-a in Utah! Nasty grease for my arteries!

Target didn't have Coke in a can and the Chevron was on the other side of State Street, across a median. At the 7-11, the only cans were Diet Coke and Mountain Dew, and as I left I shouted to the cashier, "Super sizing is evil!" He probably thought I was a nut. Strike out at the Phillips 66. Meanwhile, my sandwich was getting cold. Finally, Sinclair saved the day!

As I drove up State Street, I passed all these interesting looking restaurants, and I regretted having bought the sandwich. Especially since after just a few bites, the sandwich was starting to taste nasty, and the Coke was making me burp. Why did I buy that? It almost never failed. I'd see a Chick-fil-a and get a craving, and then a few bites into the sandwich I'd regret it. I had to force myself to keep eating it so as not to waste the money.

My departure was delayed once more by an e-mail requesting I call a recruiter about a position in CT, requiring me to head to another Kinko's. Actually, it occurred to me to try a pay phone on the way and it worked, but the wind made it hard to hear.

I started feeling sleep right away, and I still had a bit of a headache, so at the first rest area I took advantage of the cloudy sky to try and sleep. The clouds passed, but the sun was directly overhead and only a sliver came into the car. I had the windows open just a bit, so I got a combination of warmth at the very back of the car where the sun hit plus wafts of cool air. I slept maybe and hour and a half, popping four pain relievers and an antihistamine, and then I started driving again and downed the DoubleShot I had bought at that last Starbucks I visited. With almost 600 miles to my next Starbucks, unless I detoured to Lake Tahoe, I was worried about withdrawal.

Nevada. Yay! Only 410 miles of nothing to reach California. If I had more money, I could at least have stopped at a casino to try and make more gas money, or even at a brothel, assuming there were any along the interstate. But I had neither the money to spare, nor the time. At least I had long stretches of straight highway during which I could work on various web site related tasks.

After 500 miles of driving 80-90 most of the way, I was like to throw a fit when I saw traffic coming to a stop as I was almost out of Nevada, in Sparks (just east of Reno). I quickly pulled off the interstate, deciding I'd be better off sleeping until the traffic cleared rather than yelling and screaming in vain. Further frustration ensued as Sparks on that Thursday night happened to be home to a Farmer's Market with live music and stuff that attracted large crowds, and so all the nearby parking spaces where either full or specified no parking. And the gas station restroom was closed, probably for the same reason. So I had to drive up the street to a quieter gas station where I asked the attendant if she minded if I napped, and she said okay as long as I wasn't there in the morning.

Oh, I almost forgot. I had realized when looking at my map back in Park City that once I reached Winnemucca, NV, I think I would have completed all of I-80, coast to coast. I would have to verify my map to make sure I hadn't missed any stretch within a metroplex by taking a loop or surface streets, but I was definitely at 99%! Yee-hah!!! And though that stretch of highway ain't much to speak of, and I could die happily without ever doing it again, I at least got to see some cool white-sand-looking-type stuff. Whoa, and this was even whiter!

I started driving againt shortly after midnight and, though the lanes on I-80 were still closed through the city, traffic was much lighter, and I was soon in California. California!!! Yes!!!



June 11

Morning Whoops!

After another chilly night requiring my "cave of warmth" and producing frost on the roof of my car, I got up shortly after 5:00 AM and started the day off with the typical Winter clumsiness. I had to defrost the windshield, so I decided to use the time for a much-needed shave. I had almost finished, needing only to smooth out any rough spots and clean up my upper lip, when I dropped the Mach 3 blade down the drain. Crap--those are expensive! I didn't feel like going out to the car for another, so I decided just to do the barely-visible mustache thing. As I put my shirts back on, I took extra care to grip my car key very tight so it wouldn't somehow be sucked in by the drain of death, for that would have truly screwed me.

More silliness as I exited the interstate and immediately became puzzled as to which way to go. I pulled into a 76 station and asked a couple of local yokels if they knew the way to the Starbucks. They pointed right behind me, and, sure enough, there it was. D'oh!

6:15 AM, and I had my first 4 oz of the day--how many could my body take, I wondered? 20? 25? 30??? Being Friday and California, I probably had until 12:00 AM or 1:00 AM to visit new Starbucks.

The new Auburn store had T-Mobile, and I logged on to discover that my cookies had disappeared! How'd that happen? I noticed because I had to reenter my user ID for my Bank of America account, and for my Monster account, and for my ComputerJobs account. It made no sense, as I had logged it the previous day from Kinko's in Utah and not done anything freaky with the computer since.

While I worked my journal and massaged my inexplicably sore neck, my day was brightened when the manager arrived and introduced himself. He had seen my site and was very welcoming and pointed out some cool things about the store I had missed. And more swag for the Winter legal defense and/or retirement fund--a mug!

By the time I left the Starbucks, it was already 7:15, but I was still on my planned pace of a store every 30 minutes. Of course, at that pace, I might end up at 36 stores, and I wasn't sure my body could handle that much coffee. I actually looked forward to distractions and delays to take up the extra time and save me from caffeine poisoning.

As I headed from Auburn to Rocklin and entered a few more thoughts into my log, I discovered that the left shoulder was such that if I kept one tire on the shoulder and another on the road, my car more or less went straight. Of course, if a cop saw that, I'd be soooo busted.

The delays began right away, as the next store, in Rocklin, had been misplotted, and had me double-back and again along the wrong stretch of road. I finally found the store and noticed a pair of patrol cars in the parking lot, with cops in those silly-looking shorts. I ran through my mind what I would say if questioned about why I was photographing the store. With false bravado, I imagined myself to be looking forward to a confrontation with a cop somewhere in California. I hoped that I would actually stand up for my civil rights when the time came, now that I had my temp license and title for my car to remove justifications for a ticket.

Before I left the Starbucks, I used ny need to find food as an excuse to talk to a midriff-baring cutie, asking her where I could find a bagel shop. She told me about a Noah's Bagels that happened to be in a direction I'd probably be heading to visit a new Starbucks. I fantasized that she might had overheard about my Starbucks project and become interested enough to chat with me a while and then invite me back to her place to use her shower. Between coppers and cuties, my imagination was just running wild!

At the next store I ran into the Californially inevitable line that didn't shrink, so I couldn't talk to the shift supervisor. I killed some time by shaving that leftover fuzz from my upper lip. Still a line, so I just took the fifty cent hit for the faux refill so I could move on and find that Noah's Bagels. Ended up taking me about 15 minutes of wandering around that part of Roseville, and then nearly as long to get my bagel sandwich and juice from the original Roseville Starbucks next door. But I wasn't complaining, because the delays meant I was easing my way into the copius amount of coffee I'd be drinking, and thus letting my body get adjusted, rather than shocking it all at once. Like a marathon instead of a sprint.

At the next store the manager recognized me from a visit to a previous store, and while chatting he gave me some disturbing news, my third report in the past three weeks of somebody else trying to visit all the Starbucks. Like the manager back in Colorado, he wasn't able to give me details. Had I started a movement? And why weren't these people asking for my blessing? Huh? Actually, given the five coffees I'd had already, plus the bagel sandwich, I needed to start a "movement" of a different kind.

Speaking of the toilet, I had gone into the bathroom to brush my teeth after finishing my bagel. I was deeply engrossed in thought, and the next thing I knew, I had spit out the toothpaste into the toilet bowl instead of the sink. I have no explanation for this. I've been brushing my teeth for decades and never done that.

As I drove towards Citrus Heights it seemed that the pain on the right side of my neck was moving down towards my shoulder. Not good.

As I reached the city, I noticed street signs that were purple with red trim. They must have been new, because I couldn't believe I wouldn't have noticed them before, since purple is my favorite color. Anyway, CH gets the thumbs up for that. But a thumbs down for the "No Crusing" signs, as well as the u-turn prohibitions doubtlessly related to the ban on cruising.


It's All About the Fans (Especially in this Heat)

Just before I was about to lave Citrus Heights for Sacramento, the street name Greenback triggered a memory of a fan who worked at the Orangevale store and had e-mailed me. I had missed her the previous July, so I called the store to see if she was working. The partner who answered said she was, and I hung up, to save phone minutes, wondering at the same time if the mysterious call would freak her out. Across from the Starbuck was a Bank of America, so I replendished my supply of cash, and by coincidence as I walked out, who walked in but the very partner who had answered the phone. How did I know she was from Starbucks? I recognized the Starbucks "uniform", of course. Or maybe I just had a supernatural "Starbucks sense". Anyway, I had to wait a while for the staff to get my fan from the back, but it was totally worth it, as she was excited that I had visited, and I just love that kind of attention. We took a photo and chatted for a bit, and then I had to be on my way. I thought about asking her if I could use her shower, but then though it would seem too creepy.

By the time I made it to the Downtown Plaza and found street parking and then located the Starbucks and got out of there, I was running late for my 1:00 phone interview. I made it to the Kinko's downtown right at 1:00, but they didn't have a phone. Aw, nuts! I was going to go over my minutes and end up paying 40 cents per minute overage. I took the call anyway and tried to concentrate on talking to the engineer (or manager, I wasn't sure) while looking for the next Kinko's. I circled around the address a couple of times, but it just wasn't there. And my minutes continued to disappear, in vain it seemed, as the engineer seemed to be asking all the wrong questions. Finally I just parked.

I ran into my first not-yet-open store of my trip, at Stockton and T. It wasn't kind of on the way to Elk Grove, so I didn't really care. On the way to the next store, I got that call from the other engineer and had to sit in the shade for 40 minutes. By the time I was done, I noticed that I was running really behind schedule. I was really craving a massage and associated shower, but besides the difficulty in finding something at the right price point and location, I had also gone over my phone minutes and had to limit my calls, and I wanted to get back on track for at least 20 stores.

I tried to do my good deed for the day at the next Starbucks and look up an ATM location for a lady that tried to get cash back from her purchase (snicker), but she left for the movies before I could. Isn't it the thought that counts? Meanwhile, I overheard the partners talking about The Stepford Wives. Did it open today? I was really missing out on movies. I still wanted to see Troy. But the one I was really worried about was a smaller movie, Saved and hoped it would still be playing when I returned to Houston.

Oh... my... god!!! I have never in my life burned myself so badly. I knew I was going to peel and itch after that drive from Wichita to Amarillo, but I had no idea it would look like this! It looks worse in person, and it feels pretty rough and nasty. If I came from a society that didn't know about sunburns I'd worry I had caught some dread disease. It was starting to itch. I knew I wasn't supposed to scratch. But then, I know a lot of things I'm not supposed to do. For example, masturbating while driving 100 MPH, at least not with one hand busy holding a skin mag.


Nasty as It Wants to Be

Around 48 oz of coffee must be some kind of magic number, because, just like back in Denver, I started feeling the effects, and the headache started to come on. I got my coffee from the Ripon store, but I needed food. I was still trying to make up time and just needed grab whatever. I decided to make it a cultural experience and go for Carl's Jr., which we don't have back in Texas. I first went to the Chevron hoping to find Tradewinds, because I had originally found it at Chevron in Lebec.

I got back on 99 heading towards Modesto and started eating my bacon cheeseburger and criss-cut fries. Oh... my... god! That was a seriously nasty burger. That was the nastiest burger I can remember having tasted in a long time. I was pretty much loathing Mr. Carl Jr. I wondered why I continued to eat that stuff. I had money in the bank still. I could have tossed the "burger" and gotten some real food. But so deeply ingrained was my cheaptitude that I just couldn't bear to waste the money. My stomach would hate me later.

I resumed eating the burger as I drove to the next Modesto store. After a few bites, I began to feel sick. I decided enough was enough. I held a chewed up chunk in my mouth until I got to a red light, and then I spit it out. I didn't throw up, but I was reminded of that infamous scene from Super-Size Me. I can only imagine what the lady in the minivan behind me was thinking.

It was just past 9:00 when I reached the final new Turlock store, and the southernmost point of my journey along 99, at least for this trip. I figured I could reach Livermore by 10:00 and visit several new stores by midnight or 1:00 AM. Still, I was feeling truly knackered, and I just wanted to quit. But I got a second wind and got back on the freeway. I got a break, however, because when I called that new Livermore store it turned out they had already closed.

I didn't want to double back to visit that store, nor did it make sense to start depriving myself of sleep so soon, as I still had several days to go, and then a race to Houston to register my car. Plus, I would eventually need to return to reshoot those Turlock stores in daylight. So I was able to logically justify calling it a night and remaining in the Turlock area without feeling like a wussy boy.



June 12

I awoke at 5:21, and it was light enough for better photographs, but I wasn't sure if I needed more sleep or not. If I started driving too early, I'd feel like crap for the entire day and it might affect might overall performance. I was feeling anxious, though, and unsure if I would fall asleep again. My left arm and shoulder sunburn felt almost like it was on fire with itching. I laid back down, and the next thing I knew it was 6:35, and the sun was bright. I must have fallen asleep while in the process of deciding whether or not to go back to sleep. It still wasn't sure if I was ready, but enough was enough--I had to get a move on and make up for the quota I had failed to meet the previous day.

As I drove from the rest area back to Turlock, Weekend Edition was reporting on Criterion, a company that sets the standard for transferring films to DVDs. The interviewee was recounting a tale of how when they interviewed legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson he would periodically let out a loud screech. I could relate to this.

I blazed towards Livermore, pacing several cars going really, really, fast. On I-205 I let a gray Porsche pass me so I could follow him. I maintained several seconds between us, and this put me right next to the state trooper that suddenly entered the freeway. I backed off immediately and started praying that the Porsche would get pulled over. The trooper must have been preoccupied with other things, because he didn't pull anybody over, even though the Porsche must have been doing 85.

I parked in front of the Livermore store at exactly 8:00 AM, and the race began anew!

At the Hesperian and Winton store in Hayward, I experienced a rare display of human decency as an arriving customer, noticing my attempt to take a photo of the storm, chose to park on one of the spaces not in front of the store. In most cases, drivers had either failed to notice me or just didn't care and parked in front of my shot anyway.

It might have been due to the cooler morning weather, but I was no longer craving a shower. I guess I had decided that since I was not sensing a dramatic increase in my funkiness even after six days, that it really wasn't necessary. I wondered if everybody else I encountered agreed.

I couldn't pass up Norman's Family Restaurant, especially since they had biscuits. But I compromised for time and money by taking the order to go, and skipping the artery-clogging bacon. Still, I had to go for the pricey OJ because they claimed it was squeezed on ordering--it was all right. The food was very filling, and as a result I switch to espresso for a couple of stores just because I couldn't bear to pour any more liquid into my stomach. I expected to start feeling the buzz sooner, once the caffeine worked its way past the food in my stomach.

Another brief reprieve in Santa Clara, as I encountered my second store that had not yet opened for business. Then the next one in Sunnyvale--now I had wasted time. Next I passed a store that I did not recognize, and that was not on my map. I thought that the scales were balancing out by having me stumble across a store not listed. But then, when I got back out the car, I discovered it had simply been misplotted.

Only ten stores, but three shots of espresso, in 5 hours and 13 minutes, and I was starting to feel oobly woobly. About fifteen minutes later, that last shot had really kicked in and I was starting to feel queasy. I never researched the topic, but I had always hoped that prolonged overcaffeination over several days would cause me to build up a tolerance. When I felt like I was feeling, however, I had to consider the possibility that instead of a tolerance, the effect of so much caffeine over several days was actually to make me more sensitive, so that smaller amounts would trigger discomfort. I needed doctor's like that Morgan Spurlock guy. I also needed a laptop with an LCD screen that didn't flake out all the time! Anyway, at the eleventh store of the day, in Redwood City, I had to sit a spell and chill out, and play some Scrabble.


A Brand New Man

After a couple more stores in Redwood, I finally found a massage place that met the four conditions--it was along my route, it had a shower, it had flexible and/or walk-in availability, and an acceptable price. Hijinks began right away as I forgot to ask for a washcloth for the shower, and I ended up having to use a corner of my bath towel, holding it cautiously so as not to get the rest of it wet, standing half outside the shower half the time, a ridiculous sight to be sure.

The massage itself was okay, but shorter than I expected (and paid for) for the reason that the girl was expecting that I'd want a hand job for a $40 tip, and I wasn't buying. Once she understood that I wasn't going for it, she hurried up to finish early, and then she had the nerve to ask for a tip anyway. Riiiight. Anyway, I left feeling refreshed, like a brand new man. Heck, I had scraped off so much old dead sunburned skin, replaced by fresh newly-minted skin, that I practically was a brand new man!

While on the way to the new Burlingame store I called the five new San Francisco stores on my list. All were open, which was good, but one closed at 6:00, in about 80 minutes. Aw, nertz! That mean't I wouldn't have time for Colombian food before heading downtown, and a meal certainly would have helped delay the impact of visiting five San Francisco stores in quick succession.

I experienced a feeling of warmth as I entered San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. The last time I had rolled through the Bay Area, almost a year ago, when my alternator went bad, I had not had time to cross into San Francisco proper, and I had left disappointed.

I popped a quick shot at 4th and King, which was the one that closed at 6:00, and then set about photographing the other four, intending to come back to visit them proper after dinner. By the time I got to Market and Fell, the shot had settled, so I decided to go ahead and get coffee from that one. I'm glad I did, because I had a chance to witness a true angel, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful baristas, and women, and I had seen in recent memory. It made sense that she turned out to be a Japanese-German-Jewish blend, because every single part-Japanese woman I had ever met I'd found incredibly attractive. I chatted with her as long as I could, just so I could keep looking at her, and it took all the strength I had to pull myself away before I started to creep her out. I left with a sense of deep longing and sadness, as upon discovery of the existence of a previously unknown treasure that promised to remain ever-unattainable.

My love-sick daze was broken when I was accosted by an angry man asking if I was taking pictures of people. This might happen more often, especially at downtown stores which are often patronized by the homeless, many of which are reported to be mentally ill and paranoid. Except that I generally take the photo last thing and leave, but this time because of the wind and because I'd parked my car down the block I left my article and coffee inside the store and had to go back to retrieve it. For a second I thought the guy was going to get physical. I said I was just taking a picture of the store, and he seemed to be satisfied and left me, albeit with a leer.

I used CitySearch and found a listing for a restaurant named Platanos. Since I love plaintains, I was sooooo there--I just had to call and confirm they served green plantains (tostones or patacones). It took me a while to find parking, and then the host said it would be about 5-10 minutes for a table. I worked on Harry Potter until it dawned on me to check the menu posted on the window. Ah, nertz! One of those trendy shi-shi menus. Not authentic. I wasted all that time for nothing. So I wandered around the Mission District looking for green plaintains, all to no avail. As I ran around, I kept having to remember not to sprint and get sweaty and spoil the cleaning up I had so recently done. Thankfully, the weather seemed rather cool for June, chilly in fact. I finally decided I had wasted enough time and went back to those last two Starbucks to get coffee for later consumption. I managed to find a place to stop the car in front of a Starbucks with T-Mobile and got back on CitySearch and kept looking for Latin or Carribean or Cuban restaurants. They all seemed trendy and unauthentic. Finally I settled for a Cajun place for beans and rice.

The place I chose, the Cajun Kitchen, turned out to be clear on the other side of San Francisco, almost next to the ccean, and it took me quite a while to get there. I had phoned in an order so I was committed. I was hemmoraghing time. Had I gone straight for the Starbucks, I could have been at 19 by 6:00 PM and almost back down in San Jose. As it was, it was past 9:00 PM by the time I picked up my order, and then I managed to take a particularly slow route, the wrong part of the Great Highway, the part with stop signs, back out to the freeway. But you know what--I didn't care that much that I was missing out on the opportunity to further poison my system with 5-10 more coffees. It's not like I was really making a dent in the 200+ I had to visit in California. If I got 60 or 70, what was the difference really?

Because of my delays, I missed visiting one in Cupertino by minutes, but got one more, in San Jose, for a total of 20 for the day. I decided to stick around 'til morning so I could get a daylight photo, then visit some more in the area before racing down towards SoCal, skipping the beach towns. It was a change from my original plan, and really if I wanted to drive down the coast I was better to wait until I wasn't in such a hurry. With 700 miles to Phoenix plus trying to visit 20 Starbucks, Sunday would be really busy. I went ahead and went to sleep at a nearby Safeway.

Skullduggery and skulking as I searched for a dark corner after having failed to find a gas station with an open restroom. I had already bought an apple and a banana at Safeway and spent time in the bathroom with each purchase, and the single guy working the register all night was starting to notice me. My outlandish mismatched pajama combo might have had something to do with that. I figured I was due another use of the restroom with a yogurt purchase, but I didn't want the yogurt until morning otherwise it would get warm. So instead I wandered around until I found a suitably dark area behind a building, all the while scanning for cops.

Later still, I figured I'd get an early start on breakfast and popped into Denny's and ordered a biscuit, primarily because I needed to camp out in their bathroom for a while. Mistake. Denny's biscuits have never been great, but these were just oversaltet and nasty. And I think she gave me and charged me for two, when I only wanted one. Still, calories are calories, so I kept them, hoping to mask the taste with coffee later.



June 13

Up at 6:20, feeling like I needed way more sleep, but had to get a move on. After shooting Winchester/Stevens Creek and gaasing up, I hit my first store at 6:45. Along with the coffee, the biscuits were at least edible, if only marginally.

At the next store, in Campbell, the shift supervisor I spoke with had actually e-mailed me about his old store. I wished I had let him know I was going to be in the area, but I just had not developed a way to track fan e-mails with my travels. At the next store there was a line, and though the partner cleaning the condiment bar was not a shift supervisor, I decided to take a chance and show her my article anyway. And whaddayaknow, she had seen my web site, and so I got my coffee and out of there quickly!

So many new stores had been built in San Jose and neighboring cities that I had visited four before an hour had passed, and had to do a shot at the fourth. So much caffeine so quickly jolted me into a frazzleblitz-frenzy mode peppered with Tourette's-like verbaculations as I struggled to both wake up and keep from bouncing off the walls. Heute ist es sontag! Scree! Scree! Scree! I was reminded something Schmoopie told me on the way to Indianapolis. She hypothesized that when I alone, I still made strange noises. Boy, was she right!

5 stores, 70 minutes. 6, 92. 8, 130.

By the Blossom Hill and Winfield store, I was in a daze. As I chatted with the partners, I avoided looking them in the eye, to avoid creeping them out with my frenetic gaze. I wondered if this was how the autistic looked.

Outside the Starbucks and bank, in the Oakride Mall parking lot, a cop was parked. I half hoped he'd mess with me, so I could try out my civil rights defense.

Amazingly (or not really, given Starbucks' track record), there was another Starbucks in the mall, right next to the drive-thru Starbucks/Bank of America. I caught my breath there while chatting with the partners, and then with a customer who seemed really interested in my project. Then I figured out what to do next. I wouldn't have time to head down 101--I'd have to take I-5, and only visit two stores along the way, in Gilroy and then Los Banos. And then when I reach the outer reaches of the L.A. metroplex I'd visit as many as I could just hopping off and on the freeway, in order to reach Phoenix in time.

I updated my web site, and while I waited for the laptop to shut down, I paced and fidgeted to such a degree that I alarmed a kindly Pierce-Brosnan-looking gentleman who asked if I was okay. I explained that I was wired off 10 coffees, and that there would be no sleep 'til Houston. I've no idea whether he got the reference.

I didn't have to take 152 back to I-5, because 65 cut down from Los Banos to the interstate. That was my first time on that highway, and it was a cool experience driving it, because off in the distance I could see traffic moving along I-5 as I sped towards it at 80-90 MPH, the speed of the one car ahead of me.

Aw, nertz! I shoulda gassed up back in town, except I wanted to wait until after the Starbucks to heat up my leftover beans and rice from the previous night. So I ended up paying about 20 cents more, a whopping $2.569/gallon, the most I had ever paid in my life. Later, down around L.A., prices were still around $2.30, so I figured I was getting gouged because that was the only gas station in the area off the interstate.

The first rest area I encountered was too soon--I hadn't finished eating yet. By the time I reached the second one, around Buttonwillow, I really had to go, and it was going to to a torrent. But the stall was infested with flies, and I had to do a sort of dance to try and keep them off me, resulting in spraying everywhere. Managed to keep it off me though, I think.

Just north of Lebec I spotted the travel plaza including the "Chevron" station where I had discovered Tradewinds Tea, and I had to stop to get my swig on, as it had been much too long, a week. First of all, I learned it was not a Chevron, but a Mobil, and the convenience store actually a PetroStop. Second, they had stopped carrying Tradewinds!!! Aaaagh!!!

About 3 1/2 hours after leaving San Jose, I rolled into Santa Clarita, at 2:43. The first store went quickly, but the second one was on a stretch of The Old Road not on my 2002 mapping program, which plotted it south of where it needed to be. So rather than just crossing the freeway on Valencia to find the store a less than a minute away from the other one, I got on the freeway and headed south, then proceeded to look around for it until I realized what had happened.

I needed to visit stores as quickly as possible, and I could afford no delay to headache, so even before I started feeling anything strong I took two premptory pain pills. And shortly after that, two more. And later still, two more, along with a banana, each time trying to stay ahead of the headache.

In Glendale a partner recognized me from my visit to her old store, far away in Clayton, MO! I was really feeling the buzz of several quick stores in succession and talking a mile a minute. I must have been a site, the way I paced back and forth and gazed off into the distance and spurtted off sentences like machine gun.

I sliced through stores along my route to I-10 like a hot knife through butter. As the visits continued, I found myself unable to stand the taste of further coffee, having to follow nearly every sip with water to get the taste out of my mouth. I was probably drinking twice as much water as coffee!

Small world, eh? At a store in South Pasadena the barista recognized me, but not from a Starbucks visit. From a social occasion, and I couldn't remember where it was, or even if it was back in Dallas or in California. It had something to do with Lilith Fair maybe? It bugged me that I was getting so old that I was forgetting meeting cute girls.

With barely a few minutes detour, I chilled for about half an hour and let the caffeine metabolize at my usual Southern California den of sin, the Hawaii Theater in City of Industry. Then without missing a beat, I continued eastward, stopping at stores in Walnut, Pomona, and Ontario to reach 21 for the day, my high for the trip. Well, that's not exactly true--the store in Pomona was in proximity to a march protesting the INS profiling and stopping of Hispanics, and I lost time because of the march watchers in front of the store, and then getting out to I-10 because of the closed streets.

At that same Pomona store, I had a puzzle to figure out. Even after my break at the Hawaii Theater, I still couldn't bear to drink any more coffee quickly, feeling almost an aversion. But I already had an 8 oz cup in the car full, with coffee from two other stores. So I thought of doing super-comingling, which I had never before tried but is allowed by the rules. Basically I mixed the coffee from this third store with that from the other two in a tall cup, for later drinking. And then from a fourth store, all combined in a venti cup! It was strange trying to explain this to the partners.

I didn't pass any grocery stores for a power bar, so I decided to go for Pollo Loco before getting back on the freeway. What the heck, I'd never tried it before. Given my frenzied state, it should come as no surprise that I got into the mode of repeating "Pollo Loco", "Pollo Loco" over and over in different tones and pitches.

I only had one store to go to make 23, and meet my minimum quota of 20/day while in California. But the exit for the new store in Rialto was closed, and I didn't have time to double back. Fortunately, there was one last chance, 70 miles east in Palm Desert. But it would be race to reach it before the lobby closed at 9:30. I could use the drive-thru and count it as visited, but I would have to make a good-faith ever to enter the lobby in my lifetime. I didn't think I was going to make it, but inexplicably the other drivers on I-10 were just insane, and many cars raced along the slight downgrade at 90-100 MPH. Of course I tried to keep up, and I made it to Palm Desert with minutes to spare.

I only got about 30-40 miles further east before starting to feel really, really bad, like I was going to pass out. A few miles past the Chiriaco Summit exit, I had to take the next exit availabile, whatever it was. There was nothing there. Thankfully, it also ended, kind of, in one direction, seemingly in construction, though it was hard to tell because it was pitch black, save for the running lights of a parked semi truck, and the lights of the cars on I-10, and the stars! Soooo many stars, a sea of them above me. Not a sight I was used to seeing, but it was beautiful. I enjoyed it for about two seconds before passing out as my body tingled and twitched.

I think I was out for 2-3 hours, and I felt soooo much better. My eyes stung when I applied the rewetting drops, but I could see. I downed a DoubeShot and lowered the window and floored it.

Closed ramps on I-10 delayed me, and I didn't get back to the Avondale store until 5:00 AM, and it was already light. I downed what I called a nap-timer, a DoubleShot muted by a donut. The idea was I'd fall right asleep, and then wake up after a short time. Sure enough, an hour later I was wide awake and feeling better, and a little shaken because the dreams I'd had had been crazy, the final one being of being pulled over by cops. The female one was looking through the back of my car, and I told her she didn't have permission and asked for her badge number. This prompted the two cops to bust up my VCRs and claim that I'd have no evidence against them, and that they were doing to tell other cops in the area to hassle me. Then I woke up.

Daylight now, I took the photo and update my site and set off for two more stores before picking up the reporter from Fortune.



June 14

I visited a store in Peoria and in Glendale, then got some groceries, then headed over to the Sheraton Crescent to pick up the Fortune reporter. Like the Washington Post Magazine reporter, he rode with me from store to store and interviewed me in the process. He also used a recorder, which was new. And unlike with the other reporter, because I was already so tired and wired, it was hard to focus, and having a reporter next to me threw me off, and I had to concentrate harder to remember all the things I had to do at each store.

At the first store we visited, the bathroom was unusually large for a Starbucks, and the door did not lock, allowing multiple customer to use it at once. I went in, and after a few seconds an elderly gentleman entered with a loud moan of seeming relief, which he repeated once he got into the stall. I wondered if he had been driving for a long time without a bathroom, like I'm used to, or if maybe his urination pills had finally kicked in.

After seven stores, plus a stop at the bank for me and a Wal-Greens so the reporter could replace his batteries, we were running ahead of schedule, so agreed to his offer of lunch. I got online and found a Cuban restaurant up not too far in Phoenix (we were in Mesa). We decided I'd visit the final two stores, to the south, by myself, as I didn't plan to introduce myself, just to grab DoubleShots for the trip home.

Lunch, a Cuban dish named congri, was excellent, and abundant, providing leftovers for dinner, along with tostones (which don't hold up that well, I know).

After lunch, the temperature seemed to have risen 10-15 degrees, by 1:15 PM, and the car was sweltering. Daniel's water had become too hot to drink. He pitied me for my impending drive. I dropped him off at a Starbuck so he could log on, and I headed off to those other two stores.

I visited those two stores quickly and set off on the road to Tucson, still hoping to visit two stores there and reach El Paso by 10:00 or 11:00, in time to visit the new store there. But I pooped out, sooner than I had expected, and had to pull over at the rest area to sleep, which was tough because the car was so hot. Thankfully, the air was cooler, and a breeze entered the car, and the sun was overhead and not pentrating. But when it shifted and started to enter the car, maybe an hour later, I had to start driving again. While I was out, the heat must have been hitting my spare Chapstick, because it melted!

Downing on of the DoubleShots helped, and I made it to Tucson. I experienced no delays, but it just took time to visit two stores and gas up and drive through the city, and by the time I reached the second I knew I would not reach El Paso in time. There was still hope, if the store opened at 5:00 AM, and if I got solid sleep to enable me to drive straight from the store to southwest Houston, 758 miles. Aw, nertz! It opens at 6:00 AM, which equals 7:00 AM in Houston time. No way to drive that distance in time, best I can hope for is 10:00 hours. I'd be late!

Since I abandoned hope to reach El Paso in time, I dawdled and got one more last quick massage as both a cool down and warm up for my mandatory stop at Tens. Tens is the home of the six-dollar lap dance. They don't actually, advertise that on the marquee, but I think they should. And pay me for coming up with the line. Anyway, the masseuse said that I had some kind of spasm in one leg. I replied that I had had 74 coffees in 3 1/2 days--I suspected that might have had something to do with it.

and then stopped at the mandary Tens. I was so pleased to get out having spent only $25. Actually, make that $24.99, because I found a penny outside. Anyway, my satisfaction quickly faded when I stopped to gas up and heat up my Cuban leftovers. I overheated the container, and as I carried it out some superheated steam escaped and burned my finger, caused me to drop the container and spill that precious food! Zun of a bitch!!! I had been soooo looking forward to the congri and tostones! Instead, I had to settle for a crappy chicken sandwich from BK. Ugh.

I had dawdled too long, and the pressure would be on to reach Houston register my car. There was no guarantee that I wouldn't have to pay the penalty anyway, because technically my temp tag ran out in several at 12:00 AM. I thought it was pretty cheap for them to not give me the extra day, but what could I do? They might let me slide, but if I hauled ass to Houston, skipping sleep and the El Paso Starbucks and a stop in Austin, I'd be really pissed if I had to pay those extra $25. So I finally decided, spurred on by the need for sleep really, to have an eaiser time of the drive and just chill out. I slept.



June 15

I started driving around 5:30 and reached Las Cruces by 9:00, stopping to check my e-mail in case the new El Paso store lacked T-Mobile, and to get a bagel from the Durango Bagel place I'd found during my last pass through. By 10:00 AM I was in El Paso and visiting the Redd Rd. store, where I learned the new Lee Trevino store was in fact open, so I headed over there.

Where are the country music stations in El Paso??? Had to cycle through the dial about four times to find a country song. I thought every Texas city was required to have at least three country stations!

I was looking at 560 miles from that second Starbucks two Austin, and the radio reception soon became staticy and annoying, so I turned it off. Out of boredom, I started whacking the passenger seat, and to my surprise, thick clouds of dust were released to blow all around the front of the car. Holy jeez! My passenger seat must have been the dirtiest cushion in creation! I was clearly in desperate need of a Hoover (for my car, of course).

I had plenty of time to think during the drive, and one of the things that occurred to me was that the Fortune reporter always seemed to manage to place his recorder on the counter to record my introduction, but always without my noticing. He was a magician!

I also relieved boredom by using the time to shave. I'm sure everybody has seen morning commuters shaving with electric razors. Well, it's tougher with an ordinary razor, though I suspect my Mach 3 is a good bit safer than, say, a straight razor. The trick is to remember that you are still driving. And, since the rearview mirror is tilted for the best view of your face, to remember to keep looking at the side mirror for traffic behind you. But it's not that tough, really.

As I washed out my coffee so I could fill the cup with water to wash off the razor, the wind outside caused the water to spray widely. Some of it splashed on my arm, and it felt pretty good. I wondered if I could angle the cup to create a fine mist, like the misters back at the Starbucks in Phoenix. I put on my Mr. Wizard cap and started to experiment by angling the cup in different ways and with different amounts of water, but all I got was a splash, not a spray. So much for my science skills.

I used the drive time to start working on my photos from the past few days, and I discovered I had forgotten to photograph that second new store in Tucson. Aw, nertz!!!

When I finally reached magical exit 477 off I-10, the junction to US-290 to Austin, I experienced a great sense of relief, but also puzzlement, because my odometer seemed to be off by 11 miles. Even with the store for gas, exit 29 to 477 was 448 miles, but the difference in my odometer reading was only 437--wazzup???

As always, as I drove into Austin I felt a warm feeling of comfort, association with my college years no doubt. The trip to Houston through Austin was actually about 10 miles further than through San Antonio, but those extra miles were well worth it. At a minimum, for the chance to listen to KGSR, one of my favorite radio stations, for at least an hour and a half or however long it took me to pass through the city. I arrived too late for beignets at Crescent City, but that was okay since they had one in Houston, and now Dallas. I had planned ahead while leaving El Paso and scheduled a massage with a girl I'd seen before. I arrived just in time to catch her before she closed up for the night, and I'm glad I made it because it was the best massage I'd had since leaving Jersey, definitely what I'd been needing for over a month. And then it was on to Kerbey Lane Cafe for an informal Scrabble match with an up-and-coming player whom I considered a rival. He won 2 out of 3 before I pooped out and had to leave for Houston, but I got some good biscuits out of it, and I got to check out the newest Kerbey Lane location, right down the street from the University of Texas. That location had not even existed when I attended the school.



June 16

The time was after midnight when I left Austin for Houston. At that hour, I did not expect to encounter a cop that could read my temp tag. Cop-infested Houston in daylight would be a different matter, though, and so I thought it prudent to drive all the way into Houston and park outside some place that performed auto inspections. But really, even as I left I knew I wasn't going to make it. I started looking immediately for the first picnic area. I soon began to struggle to stay awake, and once I pulled in I fell asleep immediately, mildly concerned that a trooper would drive by to inspect and see my expired temp tag, but not really caring as I wasn't in any condition to keep driving.

Around 5:30 I started driving again, and not a minute had passed before I felt sleep intertia hit me big time. Even though I had slept 4-5 hours, I was having more trouble keeping focused than before having slept. As much as I had worried about getting hassled by a cop while asleep, I was really worried about all the weaving I was doing. I took every ounce of my concentration to make it out to I-10, where the additional traffic was actually a good thing, giving me more to focus on. Still, I didn't risk trying to make it out to the rest area, plus I was running out of water, so I stopped at a Shell station and then moved over to the Wal-Mart lot to sleep some more.

It was past 8:00 AM when I started driving again, and nearly 9:00 when I started approaching Houston along I-10, yet, as expected, traffic was pretty slow on I-10. I wasn't really a hurry though, as I had already blown my timetable, but there was always the possibility that in slower traffic I'd get stuck behind a cop. And once I got on Westheimer, sure enough I ran up on a cop and probably looked suspicious as I tried to keep from passing him. In fact the previous night on 71 towards Bastrop the same thing had happened. Most cars pass cops if they are going more than 5 miles under the speed limit, so any car that doesn't is likely to stand out. Fortunately he turned off on another road. Anyway, I spotted a Jiffy Lube and pulled in, but the inspector was off for the day. They directed me to a Firestone down the street, but that particular location did not do inspections. On the way I passed a Borders and tried to log on and check my e-mail and discovered I could not, and figured it was because the credit card used for billing I had blocked when I lost my wallet. The Capital One rep told me automated billing would still go through, but I guess she was wrong. So besides the inspection, I had to deal with getting my T-Mobile reactivated. Oh, and the same thing had happened with my web hosting--I had to fix that, too. Anyway, on the way to another Firestone, I spotted another place at Fondren, and it was across from a Starbucks, which was convenient. I dropped the car off and went over to a pay phone to call T-Mobile, and while there the inspector caught up with me and told me a brake light was out. Crap--another ten bucks.

Inspection done, I headed for the local Harris County tax office. The lady was hard to hear, but helpful, and she walked me through the form. Thankfully, they took cash, because I was short about $20, with the tax, penalty, plates, registration, fees, inspection, and all. But I was mighty relieved to have that taken care of. One more stop, for gas, to round out my trip statistics, and then on home finally to rest.

Actually, my plan had been to do laundry and then drive up to Dallas for Scrabble club. I started feeling tired, though, and debated whether it would be wise to leave. My decision was made easy, however, because the photo editor for Fortune needed to schedule a shoot quickly, and wanted to shoot the cups I had at the house, so I had to stick around until morning.



June 17

A Morning Dose of Objectification

I think my father takes some sort of perverse pleasure in the way he has always woken me, with a sudden opening of the door and barking of my name. The morning was no exception, and the occasion was a phone call from the photographer who was on her way. I quickly showered, checked my e-mail, and sat down for breakfast. I hadn't quite finished when she arrived, but it wasn't a problem. I did learn later, though, that the magazine was on a time crunch and that she wouldn't be riding up with me to Dallas to shoot at new stores there.

The photog and her assistant took quite a while working on the lighting in the room, focusing on the stack of cups in the corner. We ended up moving much of the mess out into another room to provide space to arrange the cups in another corner, where she had me both sit and stand, and then stand holding three stacks of cups. It was one of the more involved shoots I could remember.

I hardly noticed the passage of time, however, because I spent most of the two hours fixated on the incredibly cute photographer. Most every moment was consumed my my either trying to get a better view down her shirt or trying to avert my eyes. It was like the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. My thoughts were also consumed with wondering whether she noticed my attempts at surreptitious gazes. And whether her assistant, Josh, noticed my gazes, and whether they were "together". I mean, she wasn't exactly stacked, but she definitely had something going on there, and for a 36-year-old she looked damn good. I made it a point to ask her questions about photography to try and deflect the guilt of such blatant objectification. But it's not like I asked her to wear a low-cut shirt, or to let her nipple show through the shirt, or to let her panties peek out from her jeans. At least she wasn't wearing a thong--that would have been just too much. At one point she got close and swung forward, causing a jiggle that exposed the most cleavage seen thus far, and I about went nuts. When she twisted around to find an angle for a shot I also got some great views, which made it difficult to keep my face pointing where she wanted. It occurred to me that this was the most attractive woman I had ever had up in that room. I was anxious to get on the road to Dallas, but mostly I wanted her to finish up so I could breath. But the shoot continued, and after several hours she had begun to perspire a bit, which turned into a kind of glow that only made her more attractive, as did her ever-mussier hair.

Criminy, but that was a long shoot! Four and a half hours nearly, my longest ever by far. I think previous shoots had last no more than 2 hours, if that long. Before the photog and her assistant left, she handed me a few bucks for coffee because I had mentioned I was starting to jones, and that I wouldn't be having any until I got to one of the new stores in Dallas where I could get it free. Cool--that money came in handy for beignets and coffee before I left. And she also gave me her number and a promise to buy me a coffee the next day. I wondered if she just wanted to get some more photos, or...?



The Saga Continues...



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