The Magical Schmoopie Tour

Final Update July 14, 8:23 CST
New stores visited: 40
Current Location: DFW
Site Hit Count Before slashdot (10:41 AM): 60,293, after 8 hours: 89803
Personal best hours sans food (due to flurry of publicity): 32

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Schmoopie and I had been discussing the possibility of her flying down to Houston to visit. After several talks, it occurred to me that it would be cheaper for her to pay for my gas to drive up there, and she agreed. She said I wouldn't have to worry about any expenses if I went. Truly it was a proud moment for me, to have found a girl willing to support me. That's just what I had looked forward to all my life. I'm sure my parents were proud. When I told my mother, she asked when I would return. I said when Schmoopie got sick of me and kicked me out. My mother replied with a look.

I wasn't sure when I could go, because I still needed to have cash for food and miscellaneous expenses, and like most trips I planned, there were hiccups. I had discovered a nail in my tire, my second since buying the car in April. Fortunately, it was not in the sidewall, and fixing it only cost $15. Still, my money was dwindling, so every unnecessary expense made me grumble. And the clutch was making a strange noise, but there was nothing I could do--a new clutch would be waaay too expensive.

On top of all that, I had no luck selling comics at the local store. I had been hoping for around $100, and I really could have used that money for any emergencies on my trip. Heck, even just to eat better. I had some pending sales on eBay, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. I made my decision to go because of a call from Flavor Dave up in Dallas saying tickets were still available for a midnight screening of Spider-Man 2. I had decided I couldn't afford the gas to drive up there, but since Dallas is on the way to Springfield, and Schmoopie was paying, why not?

So I had a hurried Tuesday morning running errands and getting ready to go ASAP because the news kept talking about flooding in the Dallas area, and I feared delays. The rain started just as I was leaving, and it slowed me down, but I still arrived in time for Scrabble club. Then I went up to my original hang-out Starbucks in Plano to meet Dave, and we headed over to the movie I'd been waiting for all year, Spider-Man 2, just a small posse of old Starbucks comrades. By the time the midnight screening ended it was around 2:30, and I rushed to a nearby Wal-Mart in Plano to get as much sleep as possible.

June 30

A call from a recruiter woke me around 7:30, and I had trouble getting back to sleep. I gave up around 8:30 and set about my business, the most important item of which was to mail off five packages of comic books sold on eBay for about $40 bucks. Not a lot, but any extra cash helped. After grabbing some food I headed up to Allen to visit a new store. During my last trip to Dallas I had purposefully skipped several stores around the area, preferring to save the gas money until I had another reason to travel to those areas. With my job prospects uncertain, I had to stretch out those pennies as long as possible.

The Wal-Mart where I spent the night was at the intersection of Park and Preston, where I lived for several years. It is a magical intersection boasting no fewer that three Starbucks, and I found it amusing to have had occasion to visit all three within a 12-hour time spam. It was like a mini-tour within a half-mile radius.

While at the Kinko's in Allan, I planned ahead and called stores in Edmond (OK), Springfield (MO) and Hot Springs to see if they had T-Mobile. It hadn't gotten to those markets yet--I'd have to wait 'til St. Louis or a Kinko's (or Borders) to feed my e-mail monkey, update my site, and play some Scrabble. My plan had been to study as much as possible for the NSC, and I didn't want the trip to be a complete interruption from practice and study.

T-Mobile aside, I had to decide which route to take to Illinois, either north through Edmond or northeast through Hot Springs. Both routes would involve a detour. The latter was about 50 miles farther, but the former would require taking a turnpike (I-44) into MO, so I figured the cost to be the same. But, but, but the former route would take me through Tulsa, where I remembered a massage studio, Chinamoon, that had advertised an hour-long massage for only $20 (plus a tip), the best deal I had found anywhere in the country. Would they still have that special, though? I let my fingers do the walking and was told that the special actually required a coupon from the Sunday paper, but that if I went in the same day they'd give it to me anyway. Cool. Then I remembered another reason to go through Oklahoma, to visit with an old high school classmate, Myloe Wilson. We had missed each other during my last two trips through OK, so it was try, try again. I called and left a message, and when she got back to me we made plans to meet at a Starbucks near her work.

Despite my dwindling funds, when I spotted the DoubleDave's Pizzaworks along US-380 in Denton, I had to stop in and order a couple of peproni rolls. I wasn't hungry, because I had just eaten a yogurt, but I couldn't resist--DoubleDave's peproni rolls had become a favorite of mine back at UT, and I hadn't had one in at least a year. Actually, I can verify that from my records. Aha! December 31st, 2002--long enough that I had almost forgotten about the rolls, except for in a dream about being back at the University.

I reached the Starbucks at Pennsylvania and Memorial right on time and sat down to write while I waited. Around 4:20 Myloe called to say that fate must have decided we were not to meet because her car wouldn't start. Tag, she's it.

I headed over to Edmond to visit that new Starbucks, another one along Route 66, and then sped on to Tulsa for my much-needed massage. It was pretty good, and at the end of it the girl told me to call her at 11:00 PM. Hmmm... what was this now? She liked me? She wanted to make more money? Or...? I was intrigued. I had planned to head straight to the rest area on the interstate and catch up on my sleep, but I couldn't resist my curiosity. I killed time at Borders, figuring if I played Scrabble I could ignore my hunger and inevitable fatigue. I still had a Power Bar, apple, and banana in the car, but I felt I'd gone over my limit with the Chick-fil-a breakfast biscuit and then the peproni rolls, so I wanted to save the rest of the food for the next day. After about an hour, I gave in and paid $1.07 (too much!) for a bagel. I figured I wouldn't feel so guilty for sitting there and mooching off their Wi-Fi and comic books. The bagel was crappy, but at least it was filling. And I found another street for my Route 66 collection, 11th Avenue in Tulsa.

Of course it was too good to be true, that she might have just wanted to hook up with me. No, she just wanted to tell me she ran an escort service. I wasn't buying. Ah, well, it was disappointing, but a little amusing, that I had stumbled across a madam, former stripper and KGB agent, givng a $20 massage. Who'da thunk it?

Well, at least I hadn't wasted my time, as I had gotten some good Scrabbling in. But with my "curiosity" gone, fatigue set in, and I didn't feel like driving to the next rest area. While thinking about how far to drive, I randomly passed a Wal-Mart Supercenter and decided to gas up. Even without the 3-cent discount for using the Wal-Mart shopping card, the gas prices were the lowest I'd seen in months. But the pumps had closed at 11:00. I figured prices would only increase in MO and IL, and I couldn't think of a good reason not to wait, so I stuck around.

That particular Wal-Mart, however, must have been in a dubious area (Memorial and Admiral). In addition to a security guard there was a Tulsa police officer in front of the door, and later another arrived in the parking lot. And when I entered to add money to my shopping card so I could later get the gas discount, the security guard seemed looked at me as he wrote something down. When I went back to the car, I could feel his eyes, and those of the cop, right on the back of my next. At first I parked up front close to other cars, so mine wouldn't attract attention, but cars kept parking next to mine with their boom boxes blaring. That wasn't going to work. So I moved off to a side lot next to a truck, and I was able to sleep through the night.

July 1


I tried once more to catch up on my sleep, but once the sun started to beam into the car around 7:30, I just tossed and turned. So I got rolling and took care of a few things around Tulsa. I left later than expected, and as I headed towards the interstate I noticed I had a message. It was about a phone interview scheduled for 1:00. Crap, I thought--I had forgotten. I had meant to be situated in an area with good reception, but I doubted I could reach Springfield in time. When I encountered a construction zone I knew it wasn't going to happen. I would have had to maintain 90 MPH all the way. Besides this, the fatigue that had built up over two days finally caught up with me, and I had to pull into a rest area.

I was immediately amused by a small doggie , perhaps a stray, with no owner in site, that persisted in trying to catch the small birds flying about, barking excitedly as it did so. The amusement quickly wore off, and I went into what passed for a bathroom. It was little more than an outhouse, and infested with flies. I've never liked doing my business into those deep holes, not because of the smell, but because of the fear of dropping my keys. That would suck. But what really sucked was that the rest area in general was also fly-infested. This meant two things--first, I had to struggle to shoo several flies from my car before I could lay down in the back. And two, I could only slightly crack the windows. I did in fact manage to sleep for a bit, but when I awoke a little over thirty minutes later, I was dripping with sweat.

The doggie was still at it, and as I left the rest area a lady pulled up in a truck with another similar dog in the passenger seat. Poor dog looked so anxious to get out and play with his species-mate, but that mean old lady kept him cooped up.

Because of my nap, I ended up in an area that had really bad reception when the interview call came. The manager and development lead could not hear me, and so I had ask them to wait about five minutes for me to reach Joplin. I hoped that wouldn't cause them to nix me as a candidate, but as it turned out, based on the questions I asked, I didn't think they'd want to pursue me.

I finally rolled into Springfield just after 3:00 and quickly visit the two Starbucks and found a Kinkos. Besides checking my e-mail, eager to see the progress of my remaining eBay auctions, I dispatched a message to a Scrabbler who lived in St. Louis about playing a few games. He replied immediately, and I called to work out a plan for meeting. I specifically specified a local coffee, not a Starbucks. I was in the mood to try something different. Well, a different atmosphere at least. I figured the coffee would probably suck. Andy suggested a place called Mokobes, and he prefaced the suggestion by asking if I was homophobic. I was almost indigenous, as I abhor all forms of bigotry, prejudice being wholly incompatible with reason.

No, the only problem I have with hanging out in a place with lots of lesbians is that I'm never sure which ones are straight, and so any lust I might feel could be a complete waste of emotional energy. Life is just too short to be wasting lust!

As I sped towards St. Louis, a muscle in my right arm, just above the elbow, started twitching. It felt weird, but looked cool, in a weird kind of way.

I played a few games of Scrabble in St. Louis then drove to the next rest area. In the morning, I drove up to the other Springfield to hang out with Schmoopie for a few days. As usual, it took a while for us to get used to each other. I was coming close to getting on her last nerve by ragging on Springfield (a farming community) and expressing my desire to leave. Meanwhile, I just had to tolerate being in such a small city as well as her friends, some of which were the type of people I wouldn't really hang out with. The type of people that don't know how to use the word "hypocrite" correctly. I began to think this could be a problem, having to tolerate her friends.

But it wasn't all tense times. Food makes things better, and we shared a good breakfast at a local diner, B & G's Cafe one day, and a decent spaghetti dinner at Mario's another day.

July 4

Oh, those sneaky devils! They got me good this time. With a couple hundred Starbucks in Chicagoland, I missed the fact that the Woodfield Shopping Center Kiosk listing was a renaming of the Woodfield Mall Kiosk listing, and not a new one. So Schmoopie and I detour from our route towards Chicago up to Schaumburg for little reason. Schmoopie got some good shopping in, but the detour cost us the chance to have brunch at Toast, my favorite breakfast restaurant in Chicago.

After the They Might Be Giants set of a free concert in Grant Park and fireworks at Navy Pier, I drove us into Indiana where the rooms were cheaper to get rest before visiting some Starbucks the next day. I was giddy with anticipation of what the Valparaiso Motel would look like. A few phone calls had revealed it had rates, at $33 (plus tax) about half of what the other hotels, national chains, were offering. Schmoopie is used to staying in nicer places, but the costs of supporting me during the past few days was adding up, and she was amenable to the idea of saving money, albeit with some trepidation about what a cheap-ass motel out in the Indiana boonies would look like.

Before finding the motel on US-30 I spotted a Speedway. Speeeeedway!!! That meant the possibility of Tradewinds Tea! And sure enough, they carried it--yay! I could satisfy my craving. Probably not the best of ideas, sugar and caffeine right before bed, but I was jonesing. I needed the stuff. In the convenience store I asked a Valparaiso University Police officer if the cheap motel was safe, as far as leaving the car out at night. He said we wouldn't have a problem, and I felt better (for Schmoopie's car).

The Valparaiso Motel (daylight photo) turned out to be not so bad. Small, sure, but Schmoopie said she kinda liked it, that it kinda looked like a cabin. Although at first she said it reminded her of that movie with John Cusack (Identity). Since we were both just ready to crash out, size and amenities didn't really matter. There was a shower, and hot water, though the soap sucked. But both of us had brought our own--great minds thing alike.

July 5

It was Schmoopie's turn to catch up on sleep as I took the car keys and went into town to visit the Starbucks. In the shopping center next door was a Barnes & Noble, and I entered excitedly looking for the new issue of Fortune. But because of the holiday there would be no deliveries. Phooey! I was sooooo eager to see what the photograph would look like.

At the next store in Portage it was my turn to wait while Schmoopie ran off to run some errands. Clearly I still have trust issues, because I couldn't help but feel a twinge of concern that she would not return, leaving me stranded with nary a few bucks in my pocket and nearly maxed-out credit card (but no ID). I suppose I'll have to deal with those at some point. But not now.

After Calumet City there were two more stores listed. The first, a new UCO store, had a phone # listed, but the automated system reported it was not yet connected. For the second, at Chicago and Wabash, I had to call a nearby store, and I learned that the location was operating as a Seattle's Best Coffee. I had heard that Starbucks had bought out SBC and that the locations would be converted, but I didn't know Chicago had any. I wondered just how many of these locations there were around the country--hundreds? That would mean a new wave of stores in certain markets. Whew!

July 6

Which Way Do I Go?

Eager though I was to get the heck out of Springfield, Schmoopie talked me into staying a few more hours by inviting me to lunch. Couldn't pass up a free meal on my budget. So I took my car to Wal-Mart for a (very cheap) oil change and then walked across the street to the conveniently-located Kinko's to hunker down and escape, virtually, from Springfield into the world of online Scrabble. While I waited, I debated whether to head straight back to Texas via two new stores in Tennessee and Arkansas, or southeast to visit 10-15 new stores across several states. It wasn't just the call of the new stores that drew me, but the call of the road. No matter how much I travel, I find myself chronically afflicted by an near-insatiable wanderlust.

While I sat outside the Kinko's, mooching off the power outlet that happened to be located on the outside wall, I took a call from the Gainesville Sun. At first I assumed the reporter had read the Fortune article, but as it turned out she had heard about me a while back and contact me now in regards to an article the paper was doing about Starbucks in general. Just a coincidence, then. As far as the Fortune article went, I was still eager to see the photo, but the Barnes & Noble still didn't have the new issue. What's up with that?

The oil change took so long (grrr... Wal-Mart) that Schmoopie arrived to go to lunch, and I had to pick up my car afterwards. Mexican... crappy--I would have expected nothing less from the midwest. But it was free, so who am I to complain. I tried to get Schmoopie to lend me a couple of bills so I could have a more enjoyable trip if I decided to head southeast, but she decided she didn't want to be my sugar momma. Rats! The search continues.

She dropped me off at Wal-Mart, then I went back to Kinko's, delaying my decision a bit longer. An e-mail from a recruiter was disappointed--the company that seemed a sure thing declined to interview. So I didn't have to rush to Texas. The temptation to head east increased. I decided, what the heck, I can afford $40--just need to list more items on eBay. I sent a message to an old Dallas friend Sarah in Indianapolis, and I checked to see if there would be any Scrabble--yep, a club met roughly between two of the Starbucks I'd have to visit. Convenient.

Ah, but the spirit of Mr. Waffle was strong that day. I got on the I-72 east towards the I-55 south interchange and promptly changed my mind. I couldn't afford it. Best to get home quickly. I drove a mile and then changed my mind again. A mile to make up my up my mind--what would I do? Left? Right? Left? Right? Finally the call of the open road overpowered me and I stayed on I-72 eastbound, eastbound, eastbound!

I-72 to I-74 towards Indianapolis, and shortly before reaching the I-465 loop I remembered I had shot the Avon store a night. In terms of miles, it was hardly a detour, but I had to drive through Brownsburg in slow one-lane traffic. But I didn't really care if I missed the first Scrabble game. And when I got to the new Girls School Rd store (love that name), it turned out I would have missed the first game anyway, because one of the partners told me about a new store, in the opposite direction, that had opened just a week prior. Had to go, of course, and then visit one more store near Greenwood, but I still got a game of Scrabble in (albeit against a very weak opponent) before meeting newlyweds Sarah and Cody for dinner. They offered to treat, as usual, and who was I to decline? If it weren't for the gas prices, I'd just drive around the mooching free meals off acquaintances from coast to coast. Oh, BTW, the Elbow Room Pub, downtown, served up a decent sandwich and chili.

On the way to Indy I realized I had forgotten to do my laundry while at Schmoopie's. To pass the time, I did an inventory. Two washcloths. Nine briefs. Seven and a half pairs of socks. A ridiculous number of towels providing padding for my cushion. Two t-shirts unworn, and one only slightly funky. One pair clean oversized jeans, one pair right-sized, but slightly funky, jeans. I would be okay. My supply of clothes would outlast my food and gas budget.

I also fielded a call from MSNBC about a possible news segment. While I had the (producer? reporter?) on the phone, I asked her how feasible it would be to obtain press credentials so I could get a visa for Saudi Arabia, which doesn't issue tourist visas. She replied that no news orgnaization would give me credentials for a story unless I actually went to work for them from a journalism background. She did suggest it might be possible with an entertainment organization, like the Food Network or a travel magazine.

We finished dinner with plenty of time for me to reach Greenfield to visit what I call a "blip" store, because it was briefly listed on the store locator, showed up as a blip on my map, and then disappeared. The store was located just south of I-70 on State Road 9, and I continued south on SR-9 to I-74 to Cincinnati. But when I reached US-52, just on impulse, I decided to try a road surely less traveled and took the US highway to Rushville. It was only 20 mile stretch with no traffic and only a few slowdowns through towns, but at Rushville I decided to head back to the interstate because my map showed the next stretch of US-52 to be curved, and I didn't want to deal with that at night. Plus there was a rest area on the interstate about 43 miles from Cincy where I slept for a few hours.

Between downtown Indy and the interstate I passed this Safeway, which caught my attention because the sign is different from every other Safeway I've ever seen. Is it even affiliated with the national chain?

My plan was to photograph the long-outstanding Skywalk store right at 5:30 AM and get out of the city well before traffic started getting heavy, so I set my alarm for 5:30 at the latest. I woke up after a couple of hours a looked at the time on my phone--3:30. With the time change, 4:30, and by the time I reached Cincinnati the store would be minutes away from opening. For some reason I wasn't exhausted, so I started driving, and then I noticed the time on my car radio and realized that my phone had already switch to Eastern time, which meant I was an hour early. I didn't want to turn back, so I just went on ahead into downtown and swung past the Skywalk store to see if any of it was visible from the outside. Nope, just as I remembered, I needed to go inside and upstairs. I had an hour to kill, so I drove around a bit, and then I sat in front of Kinko's and played some Scrabble and wrote. The game ended right at 5:30, and I headed over to the Starbucks to take the photo.

Oh, yuck! Sneezed on my camera!

July 7

Invoking Phil Collins

I was greatly relieved to finally photograph the Skywalk store after nearly four years since my laptop, and the original photo, were stolen. Mission accomplished, I headed to the interstate and down into Kentucky, to the rest area. I was grateful for the overcast sky, and for the drizzle, because it meant I would be able to sleep longer before the car started to heat up. And as it turned out, the sun never came out while I was at the rest area. My sleep was interrupted by something else, a couple of phone calls. First from the Gainsville Sun reporter, and then from my former landlady Margaret who had not been able to find my article in Fortune the previous week (because it hadn't hit the stands yet, no doubt).

By that time it was past 10:00, and I gave up on further sleep and just started driving. The eternal debated of which way to drive resurfaced, the possible detour this time being two stores in West Virginia. As much as I wanted to add that new state to my list, I just couldn't justify the extra $20 gas money. I guess I had temporarily sated my near-insatiable wanderlust, because I decided to head straight for Knoxville. Or maybe I just didn't want to end up broke before the Scrabble nationals.

I stopped in Lexington to feed the e-mail monkey. Several new e-mails off the Fortune article. Exciting. And another media e-mail, from ABC radio news this time. I also dropped by Kiser's, a restaurant around the corner from the Starbucks that the manager had recommeded during my last pass through Lexington. But I missed breakfast by 15 minutes! Oh, well, maybe the third time (who knows when) would be a charm.

Not too long after Wendy's, I began to feel really sleepy. I pushed on into Tennessee where there was a welcome center. I was in no great hurry, so I thought about napping. But I decided that arriving in Knoxville earlier would give me more options, especially if I ran into that partner who had e-mailed me that she would "show me a good time" when I returned.

About 40 miles from Knoxville I nearly flipped out when I heard a buzzing and saw a brown thing fly at me! I was greatly relieved to see that it was only a leaf.

As I reached Knoxville I got a call from a recruiter about a position to start immediately. The Starbucks in the city did not have T-Mobile, so I had exit the freeway early and stop at Borders to send the guy my resume. While doing so, my piece-of-shit Dell deigned to crash--I swear it takes perverse pleasure in screwing me at the worst moments.

I finally headed over to the Starbucks, but I was delayed yet again as I got lost repeatedly because I was fielding multiple calls from the same recruiter who was rapidly convincing me that he was clueless with his in-ane questions. But I made it through both of them relatively quickly and was soon back on the road towards Chattanooga. I only had about 80 miles to drive to my exit, but less than 40 miles from there traffic turned into a nightmare and came to a near stop. I took the next exit, but the route to US-11 was also backed out. Finally I learned through the static on some radio station about a collison just before the Charleston exit. I scanned my map feverishly for alternate routes, but options were limited.

I wasn't really disturbed by the delay, because of a recent development. While I was sitting in traffic I had a couple of conversations with a producer for CNN Headline News, and we agreed on an interview for the following evening at the CNN Center in Atlanta. This meant I had a day to kill, so sitting in traffic didn't really matter. The fly that had invaded my car, however, was another story.

Cuz He's Creeping and He's Creeping and He's Creeping

I had not need to rush towards Atlanta, so after visiting the Chattanooga store, so I dawdled at the Kinko's over a couple of Scrabble games. Too long, because once I got on the highway it looked like I had miscalculated the distance and I wouldn't arrive at my cousin's until past 11:00, perhaps too late if they had to work in the morning. I tried to call to see if we could hook up the next day, since I'd have plenty of time, but apparently he had changed his number. So I pulled into a rest area and noticed signs that prohibited overnight parking. Rats. Who's bright idea was that? I figured the troopers might not notice if I moved the car around the parking lot, or I could just get a few hours sleep and then head down towards Kennesaw.

I napped for maybe an hour before I had to go in and use the restroom again, and while I stood at the urinal I wasn't quite awake and had my eyes closed. I heard somebody step to the urinal next to mine, and this made it hard to go, so I just waited for him to leave. But he didn't leave. So I finally had to give up, and when I opened my eyes and pulled away I noticed the guy had been looking down at my unit! Just my imagination? Perhaps, if not for the fact that an hour later I was awoken, this time by another invader in my car, a june bug. I went into the restroom, and there was that guy again, and another, and the looked like they had been up to something. Still my imagination? Then why was the guy still in the urinal when I came out of the stall that I had carefully locked behind me. And why did he keep looking at me as I left?

I drove around the rest area looking for some number to call. Seeing none, I just dialed 911, which put me through to Gordon County. The dispatcher said an officer would arrive in 5 or 6 minutes. I figure I waited about 20 while I wrote, studied, and tried to get that goddamn june bug out of my car. Finally I said screw it and left. I stopped in the restroom first to see if the guy was there anyway, and he wasn't, so it would have been a waste of time to stay. Sure enough, I wasn't but a minute down the freeway when the dispatcher called me back to see if I was still there.

July 8

Blowin' Up

Momentary confusion in Kennesaw as the store at I-75 and Barrett Parkway looked very familiar. That's because it was the old store, and a the new store was inside the mall. I got it all sorted out though. And I got to check my mail at the old store--no new Starbucks related messages.

But about an hour later, just after visiting the Hiram store I pulled in front of Borders and I had a bunch of new messages from as far as Japan. Answered them all so I wouldn't get behind. And this was before the CNN interview, which I was eagerly anticipating.

At the Hiram store I was told of another new bonus store, in the town of Austell. That'd it be five for the ATL metro area, and it made the gas spent on the detour all the more worthwhile. Also at the Hiram store I was amused to see a customer getting mighty comfortable --I wished I had a digital SLR with a telefoto lens so I could have shot from the front, but I was too chicken I'd wake her up so I shot from inside the store.

Mental note--88.5 in Atlanta plays an excellent eclectic mix. During the month I worked in Atlanta, I found 99X better that the average Top 40/Rock station, but I'll always prefer the stations that play what you can't hear anywhere else. Oh, and the NPR affiliate up the road in Chattanooga (forgot the frequency already--getting old) was playing a good mix last night, including some new Neil Young--can't go wrong with Neil Young.

From Hiram and Austell I had to drive a heck of a long way to Suwanee. Stopped at Kinko's on the way. A bunch more e-mails. Definitely blowing up, and what's more I was notified I was about to be slashdotted, and that was sure to boost my hit count to stratospheric levels. As I answered e-mails and updated my log and photos, more e-mails kept coming in. And then I noticed the slashdot thread, with an ever-increasing number of comments. I wanted to read them all, but I had to pull away just to ensure I'd make it to Suwanee and then Conyers in time, and back to the city to play some Scrabble.

As I headed out to I-75 on Windy Hill Rd, I saw a sign stating 12 minutes on I-75 to I-85... at 55 MPH!!! Are you fucking kidding me??? I worked in Atlanta for a month, and I know full well that if traffic isn't at a standstill, ain't nobody driving no 55. Try 85-90 MPH. I know if I'm driving less than 80 MPH in Atlanta I feel like I'm wasting precious life-minutes.

Holy cow!!! An hour after I left the Kinko's and visited the Suwanee store, I checked my e-mail and had 30 new ones!!! I went back to slashdot and read a reply to my comment about the traveling salesman problem--god, some people are sooooo mean! I had to go into the bathroom and cry. When I returned, I saw that I had positive e-mails, and I was happy again. Then I spent the next hour catching up on replies--whew!!!

Yo yo yo, Killah Priest on 88.5! It's official--88.5 is the best goddamned station for music in Atlanta!

Love that T-Mobile! It connected while I was at the traffic light at Briarcliff and LaVista, and I saw that I had a bunch more messages. I had no time to respond, because I was heading over to a local Scrabbler's place for a few games. After three games, I went over to a different Starbucks and had 36 messages waiting for me, and a growing backlog because I had just enough time to get over to the CNN Center for my interview.

Well, that was just slightly weird, but not entirely unexpected. I received a call from a couple of guys out in California (gotta know that three-one-oh) who were wondering how many Starbucks I had visited today and where I was. Earlier, during Scrabble, I had received a hang-up, and I decided it would probably be a good idea to remove my phone number from my resume, which I did. I was frankly surprised I had not already received more calls.

I headed downtown to the CNN Center and quickly found free street parking. I had been a little worried because the producer had mentioned $10, and that was just too much to pay.

Makeup went quickly, but the segment was pushed back to 7:54. Thankfully, the producer let me use one of the computers to answer e-mail; otherwise I would have gotten nervous. Steven LAST NAME went easy on me, and I think I held up okay. Reports from a VH1 producer and Schmoopie reassured me of that, though a buddy in Dallas said the segment was kind of dull. Regardless of how I really looked, I was thrilled to finally be on CNN, and I had hopes that it would lead to bigger things, in the way that the Fortune article had triggered a call from VH1.

When I left CNN Center it was still light out, and I decided, even after 30+ hours sans food, to postpone the Flying Biscuit Cafe a bit longer and head out to Conyers for a daylight photo. Traffic moved quickly and I made it out there and back in a jiffy, and I reached the restaurant with time to spare. The waitress looked shocked when I told her I hadn't eaten in 32 hours, asking why I was doing that to myself. Truth be told, I had considered trying to extend my record even further, towards 40 hours. I figured if I could get to sleep I could make it through the night. But in Conyers I started to feel the beginnings of a headache. I was surprised it hadn't started to hurt sooner.

Anybody that knows me knows that I tend to eat quickly. But after 32 hours, I savored that Flying Biscuit breakfast like a starving connosieur. I sipped the fresh squeezed orange juice lightly and let the taste flow through me. Though I always combine my eggs, biscuits, and bacon or sausage, this time I ate more deliberately. I let myself taste the biscuit fully at first. And the eggs. And the potatoes. They were all excellent in their own right. Then I tried different combinations. Biscuit and potato. Biscuit and egg. Biscuit and sausage. I focused on the taste and the smell. I enjoyed that meal like I haven't enjoyed food in a long time.

After dinner, I headed over to Starbucks and played some Scrabble, answering e-mail, and, most interestingly, got through all the slashdot comments about my project. I was fascinated to see posts from two former coworkers, one whom said I was no genius, but otherwise encouraged me, and another who seemed to really dislike me. Overall, the comments were not as negative as Schmoopie had led me to believe in an earlier conversation, though a couple of people ragged on her too, which was just cruel. The Little Five Points store closed at 11:00, and I had to sit out on the concrete, in a position that allowed me to get a better Wi-Fi signal but was also uncomfortable. When I finished, my ass hurt like you wouldn't believe!

As I headed out to the interstate I called Schmoopie, and then I stopped for gas. I was distracted talking and pumped too much overpriced gas, wasting about a dollar. Thus far I had not been impressed with the gas prices in Georgia, which, from previous experience, I had thought to be the lowest in the nation. Not so this trip, at least not at the gas stations I saw. But that dollar came back to me a few hours later. There was no rest area before the Alabama border, and I was exhausted, so I stopped at a Shell. When I went in the second time to use the restroom I decided to treat myself to a KitKat, feeling I deserved it. I said to the cashier, a very cute young blond wearing a shirt that revealed what seemed to be a bikini top underneath, "I've made a decision. I deserve a KitKat." And she responded by paying for my KitKat! Amazing--I never would have expected it, and I couldn't think of any reason why she would have paid for my candy bar out of her own pocket. But I went back to the car to have fond dreams of my KitKat girl, and fantasies of her knocking on my window when her shift ended to give me more of what I deserved.

July 9

A Week Too Early, Yet Right On Time

I awoke not to the beaming face a cute girl, but to Mr. Sunshine mercilessly beaming into the car that was starting to heat up mighty quick. I wasn't quite yet starting to sweat and tried to sleep another hour, until 9:00, but just couldn't manage it before the first rays of light peeked over the barrier I had built with a blanket and clothes stack atop my duffel bag. So I just got a move on and let eye drops and NPR wake me up. Less than two hours later I was in Montgomery and calling for directions to the Starbucks, because the store locator listed its address as Eastern Blvd, not East Blvd. The Starbucks lacked T-Mobile, but by coincidence there was a Kinko's nearby. I exited the interstate and started looking around when I got a sudden feeling of deja vu. I couldn't immediately remember having stopped at Kinko's, or even for gas, in Montgomery, but the area was looking familiar. Then it hit me! Geez, I was getting old! It hadn't even been a year since I drove down through Montgomery from Birmingham after a Scrabble tournament in Atlanta. I had indeed stopped at that Kinko's, and it bugged the heck out of me that I had not immediately remembered. What was happening to my neural paths?

Anyhoo, I was a little let down that, after Fortune and CNN, the partners I spoke to had not heard of my project. But when I went back to the car after taking a photograph of the store I saw one of the partners come out and wave. Turns out she, and, according to her, most of the other partners, had indeed heard of me and wondered when I'd be coming by. Unfortunately, my timing was a little off, because the second store would be opening in about a week. Nertz! And I would have gotten a better photo of the stores rather cool facade earlier in the morning without all the cars. On the other hand, their was a Montgomery shirt to be had, in the possession of the store manager, who happened to be over at the new location getting it ready. The partner who recognized me called her up, and she said to wait while she came over. Cool.

Christmas Comes Early!

I decided that Schmoopie gave me luck. During our first meeting, she was critical in my obtaining $33 in donations. And now, during my Magical Schmoopie tour, after spending several days with her, the largest wave of publicity to date hit me. And, and, and... I got a job!!! To start on Monday, back in DFW, with a company I'd worked for back in '98 as I was starting my contacting career. I wasn't excited about the work I'd be doing, but I needed those ducats--I'd just focus on the traveling I could do after 2-3 months.

Well, it was too bad I had made it to Montgomery, because having found a job for a few months, it made sense to spend the next two days visiting as many stores as possible, and the closest concentration was back in mainland Florida, in the opposite direction from which I'd headed. But then I looked at the map and noticed that I could take US-82 to Tifton where there was a new store, not even listed yet, and then I-75 down into FL.

Before leaving Montgomery, I tried to treat myself, both to a massage and a good meal, but the massage studio I spotted was closed, and I spotted no appealing restaurants even after driving around town. So I settled on groceries. I spotted some restaurants along US-82 in various towns, but their menus weren't appealing. I got a treat of a different kind, however, psychological, when I realized Tifton was only 180 miles away instead of the 480 I had initially thought I had seen on the map. Which is silly because nothing is that far away out here in the east.

Plus, I was getting a kick out of traveling a new (to me) stretch of US-82. Back at the CNN Center, the producer had asked me if I got a thrill every time I visited a new Starbucks. I told him no, maybe just a little thrill when the store was somehow different. But I said that I really got a thrill from driving through new areas or highways.

So I reached Tifton in time for a daylight photo, but I had dawdled too much looking for a good meal because with the time change, I wouldn't reach the nearest new store in Florida that night. It was okay, though--I could just get to sleep and start early in the morning. I drove as far as Gainesville, expecting to see a rest area just south of town. It wasn't there. I pulled off at the first exit quickly because my plan was to nap and then get online in Gainesville. Conveniently there was a gas station with a dark area right next to a construction site and port-a-potty.

The Sweltering Storm

It was really warm in my car, for some reason! I couldn't figure out why, because the air outside was cool, and my cushion and sheet felt cool to the touch. But I started to sweat immediately. I was just dripping sweat, and very uncomfortable. And starting to dehydrate, so I had to keep drinking water, and heading over to the port-a-potty. No way could I open the window, because bugs were crawling all up and down. They had been eating me alive all evening at the gas stations and back in front of the Holiday in in Tifton while I got online. I did manage to sleep some, and later it occurred to me that it was probably the humidity.

I went back up to the next exit and the Starbucks, which of course was closed after midnight. I sat in front and spotted an outlet. It didn't work, so I figured to get my stuff done ASAP. Later, after the staff left, I decided to give the outlet another try. I noticed a reset button on the outlet, which was a larger device than usual. And a test button. I decided to push the reset button. Whaddayaknow, I didn't black out the entire block, and I got juice!

On the way down into Florida, I had a sudden, "oh crap", realization. Back in January during a trip (flight) to Florida for a Scrabble tournament I had bought DoubleShots at a couple of stores to drink later. Then, in Melbourne, I had left the DoubleShots on the winshield of my car so they would stay cool and forgotten in the morning, losing one. Since I couldn't be sure which came from which store, that meant I had to go back to both stores. But I had gotten the two stores wrong. It wasn't the two Countryside stores, but rather the one outside the mall, and then another in a plaza. Or so I thought. But I couldn't be 100% sure that I had drunk drip coffee from the Countryside Mall store, so to be perfectly sure I'd have to have coffee from all three of them. Oh, the hassles of maintaining the integrity of the project!

July 10

I had planned to get up just before the sky started to lighten and drive down to Lady Lake. But I had dawdled too long online and driving around, so I didn't end up leaving the parking lot (of some apartment complex on US-441) until nearly 8:00 AM. I don't regret the sleep though, because more rest enabled me to better enjoy the quick and smooth drive down to Lady Lake, along US-441.

While I generally value an enthusiastic reception, time was going to be short, so I could have done with a nod and some coffee. Instead, I was warmly received by not one, but two managers who asked me all sorts of questions and requested to pose for photographs. Well, what could I do--can't turn down enthusiastic fans, especially ones offering me coffee. I figured to make up the time by visiting a few stores on the DL.

I continued south on US-441. I spotted a Wal-Mart Supercenter and got a craving for some of that cheap yet tasty pseudo-fresh tangerine juice, a great value at 500 calories for $2.28. On the down side, I also spotted a "No Overnight Parking" sign at the Wal-Mart--that's disappointing. Anyway, the cashier game me intructions to a Yuck-fil-a at a mall down the highway. When I walked into the mall I spotted a pudgy, pimply-faced kid organizing his Magic cards. I experienced a profound sense of relief that I was not saddled with any nerdy obsessive qualities.

I continued on US-441 towards Orlando and finally deviated onto SR-436 and blew through two stores in the burbs. Well, I did pause to marvel at the pseudo peep-show I was given at the first store, in Maitland. Just as I entered, and fit patron suddenly bent straight over to pick up a mug from a shelf. Let's just say those white shorts were mighty short, white, and nearly sheer. Now that's what I'm talking about! Then, as I waited in line, she bent over again, repeatedly, from the fron this time, revealing why low-cut tops are god's gift to men. And she was a regular--I'm moving to Maitland! But seriously, I regained my composure and managed to get my coffee and scoot on out of there before I did something stupid.

Before heading out to the interstate towards Tampa I stopped at Borders to answer some e-mail. I still had over 50 message in my inbox, and I wanted to answer them a little at a time before I started my job on Monday.

And in Lakeland, art swans.

At the Lakeland store, I was recognized by not one, but two partners--one who had seen my web site, and another who had met me back at a Tampa store. I was asked to play messenger and deliver hellos to staff at two upcoming stores. Hey, it's the least I can do for free coffee. Outside, I killed time online while waiting for a van to move so I could take a better photo. After a while it occurred to me to ask a partner what was up with that van. Repairmen. D'oh. Precious time wasted for nothing.

As I neared the point at which the distance to Houston would equal the distance from Springfield straight home, I made some calculations and discovered that I had completely miscalculated--my detour was going to end up costing over $100 in gas, not reimbursed by Schmoopie. Even without the detour to Florida my $40 estimate would have been too low. I was surely glad for those $65 in donations, and I hoped I could get a couple more people to donate $20 apiece so I would even out.

On the way to the second of three stores in the Sarasota/Brandenton area, the magic of Schmoopie came into play once again. No sooner had I called her to say hi (and find out if she was drunk yet) than I spotted Mi Tierra, a Columbian/Cuban restaurant. Finally, the meal I deserved for having scored that job! I took it to go because of time, and it was a little tricky to eat while driving, but man, did it hit the spot!

The heat had become almost unbearable. The radio reported an index of over 100. My last remaining white t-shirt was drenched in sweat and giving off a serious odor. My black Starbucks t-shirt was also damp even though I only put it on when I arrived at a new Starbucks and too it off immediately afterwards. My face was dripping sweat constantly and I had to keep wiping it off, especially whenever I had my laptop on my lap so I would drip sweat on the keys. Using the touchpad was awkward because of the sweat on my fingers, and perhaps the general humidity in the air. During my last trip to Florida in January the air had of course been much cooler, and accordingly drier.

At the Clearwater Mall I had an interesting experience. A middle-aged lady complimented my t-shirt and asked where she could get one. I told her on eBay. She then offered to buy one of mine. Since I happend to have brought 5 or 6, two of them still clean, I didn't have a problem making an extra ten bucks. So I brought the two in for her, and then she got picky and decided she saw stains on both that I didn't see, and changed her mind. Oh, well.

WhiIe I sat outside the Borders across the parking lot I took a call from a person involved with the web site and did a short phone interview.

Finally, after six months, I sorted out the mess with the Countryside stores, plus the Northwood Plaza store I had just realized was also involved. Because I didn't end up going down towards the Miami burbs and was ahead of schedule, I had plenty of time to revist all three stores, and in fact to hang out at the Northwood Plaza store and wait for a partner to locate a digital camera so she could take a photo with me. After an hour, her friend had still not gotten the camera, so we just used mine and I e-mailed her the photo directly. I had just enough time to visit the New Port Richie store. Disappopintingly, it ran out of DoubleShots, which mean I just gave my spiel and got my four ounces to go. This meant I had to juggle as I ate my leftovers, with the styrofoam tray on my lap and the Coke can on the dashboard. Every time I stopped at a light I had to old the can in my left hand and use my right to alternate between shifting and steering. Fun stuff.

I didn't get too far before I started to feel really sleep. I pulled into a Circle K, but no bathrooms, so I kept driving. Next up was a town with a most amusing name, for an anagrammer like me, Homosassa. The bathrooms at the Texaco were also closed. I scoped out several parking lots, all prohibiting overnight parking, until I found a Wal-Mart with some campers towards the back fo the lot. Bingo.

July 11

Got up just after 7:00, figuring to get driving in before it got hot. I stopped at that Texaco, and that same attendant was still there, shirtless. I couldn't figure that out. Earlier, at two other convenience stores, I had seen guys walk in shirtless, and I didn't hear those attendants say anything. But a shirtless attendant--what was up with that? On the other hand, the guy was so hairy that maybe it counted as a shirt? Believe me, US highways can move just as fast as interstates, excluding the slowdowns and stops in towns. I had to hit 100 MPH to catch up to a pair of bright red cars ahead of me. I would slow down through towns, but they wouldn't, and then I'd struggle to keep up. I cursed at them, and thought them rather foolish for blowing through all these towns. But I had to keep up. Finally something slowed them down, a flock of big black birds in the road. Hah!

I wasn't even going to introduce myself at the Tallahassee store, just get a DoubleShot for the long drive. But one of the partners recognized me, and what's more she was also from Waters and Anderson in Tampa, where that other partner who had recognized me in Lakeland had worked. Funny business.

In the hour that I was inside the store my car heated up like a mrrfrr. It stood to be a mighty unpleasant drive regardless, and on top of that I decided to talk to Schmoopie for an hour while practicing driving with my pinky and my toes, which meant I had to have the passenger-side window closed which limited the cooling effect of the wind. The hot, hot grande coffee I'd been given at the Starbucks didn't help. The things I do for that Schmoopie!

Vultures along I-10! The birds, I mean.

It wasn't because of the phone, but, ironically, because I was looking at my map, that I passed up the exit for US-331 south to US-98 to Destin. I thought I was going to have to double back 15 miles from the4 next exit, but I lucked out. There was a road that cut through Eglin Air Force base down to a toll bridge to US-98. A slight delay, but at least I didn't have to skip the store, which I was considering because of time.

In Mobile I exited the interstate and took I-90. I spotted one restaurant that I had to check out because of its name, Eunique's, but they weren't serving the red beans and rice that day. The next place I pass, in Theodore, looked good but was closed. So I settled for KFC. Yay!

I stopped in Baton Rouge and reassessed my situation. I was already feeling mighty sleepy, and by the time I reached Houston, if I reached Houston, it would be about midnight and I'd barely have time for any sleep before have to head up to Dallas before the rush hour in the morning. It was that rush hour that was killer. Though I could make the drive in 3 1/2 hours, I couldn't leave at 7:30 to arrive at 11:00 because of that crazy Houston traffic. No, I had to leave around 6:30 or better, and then I'd arrive early in Dallas when I could have been sleeping.

On the other hand, if I headed straight to Dallas I'd cut 100 miles from my trip and avoid the rush hour issue altogether. But then I'd have to deal with some other issues. The eBay auction items I needed to ship. My taxes. Clothes for the new job--I had a collared shirt, a little wrinkled, and some slack, extremely wrinkled. Jeans might work, but I wouldn't know until the first. But most importantly, the shower. It had been six days, and I didn't want to give a bad first impression... from 10 feet away! I debated, and debated, and debated, and finally I decided that Houston, and eBay, could wait, and that I was better off showing up at work with more sleep under my belt, and that dress and hygeine issues could be sorted out.

My body was craving those precious electrolytes that Gatorade advertises, so I stopped in at a convenience store before leaving the city, and as I left I spotted a shy little kitten wandering about. Now, I don't like cats myself. Worthless, useless creatures. What somebody needs to do is invent a genetically engineered feline that dies at adulthood, thus giving society all the benefit of kittens without having to deal with cats. Becaus kittens are cute, and adding kittens to whatever you do makes it, by extension, cute. Even a gritty drama with lots of bloodshed.

I made it as far as the first rest area on I-49, which left me a 360-mile drive for the morning. I would need to get up at 6:00 to realistically reach my new job in Carrollton by 11:00 AM. So I set my alarm for 6:15. And then I decided I need the sleep, and I turned off my alarm.

July 12

I awoke around 6:27, but after shaking out the cobwebs and defrosting my windows while I washed up, I didn't leave until 6:37. I made good time all the way up I-49, but I doubted I would make it. Especially after I stopped at a crappy truck stop just south of Shreveport that advertised showers--but they were broken. And the gas pump didn't lock so I wasted more time there. And the food selection sucked so I wasted more time trying to find sometime to tide me over. Curse you, crappy rest area!!!

Once I cleared some construction past Shreveport I started to make better time, and still saw a theoretical possibility of arriving just after 11:00 if I saw no more delays. After a while, I realized it was just folly and went ahead and called RIA and told my manager I'd be about an hour late. I was able to relax, and I didn't feel so rushed when I stopped at the Love's Travel Center in Van, TX, and paid a whopping $7 for a much-needed shower. I bristled at paying so much, but I surely did take advantage of it, scrubbing like I had never scrubbed before.

As I returned to the car my phone was ringing. Oh crap, I had forgotten about the interview I had scheduled with a radio station in LA. They had tried to call three times and left a message. Thankfully I grabbed the phone in time, and once I moved away from the building reception was okay for the interview.

The interview took longer than expected, so I had to really rush, not to make it to work on time, but to have time to stop at a new Starbucks in Mesquite and also check my e-mail before hand. Yeah, I was late for my first day at work, but I just couldn't pass within a half mile of a new Starbucks and not visit. Come on! That's like being in a room with a naked Pamela Anderson... ah, never mind--she's past her prime.

Anyway, I'm glad I checked my e-mail because I had a second request to use one or two of my photos. Yay, another $100-200 to offset the cost of my travels! I responded quickly to the lady, wanting to get the payment process in place as quickly as possible, as I did not expect my first work paycheck for weeks and would need the money. The photo requested, and the one from a few days earlier, were not photos of Starbucks, but of myself in wacky poses in front of Starbucks. Later, it occurred to me that I was kind of like Peter Parker, taking photos of himself as Spider-Man (and me of myself as "Starbucks Guy").

I sped on towards work, and one of my precious Starbucks shirts almost fell victim to what I call "The Suck". The suction caused by driving fast with the window down. I had almost lost a shirt to The Suck a few weeks prior, and so I only had the passenger window lowered a little bit. Still, The Suck was strong that day, and it pulled my Starbucks shirt right out--only the fact that the hanger caught in the window frame averted a potential disaster on I-635. Either a mega pile-up, or my getting killed playing Frogger with the cars as I tried to retrieve the shirt.

I reached work shortly after noon, and my manager seemed not bothered, as my computer wasn't even set up yet. He seemed an okay guy, and I had hope that I could survive the next two months of drudgery by focusing on my next trip. Until then...

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