The One Where Winter (Almost) Conquers California

Updated September 20, 2004

Time on Road: 39 days, 20 hrs (including 12 days of Scrabble and Jodi)
Miles driven: 11,715
Spent on gas: $648
Spent on food: $396.90 (subtracts $20 food donation)
Spent on coffee: $25.63
New stores visited: 256
Most stores in one day: 20
Secret stores discovered: 5
OZ drip coffee consumed: 1098
Other drinks: 4 shots, 4 oz French press, 2 venti iced latte + shot, 5 DoubleShot Interviews given: 7
Tickets: 2



Saturday, August 7, 2004

The Theraputic Power of the Open Road

After eighteen months of anticipation, the moment of truth had come and gone at the National Scrabble Championship, and I had been found wanting. I was close to sinking into a mild depression, and I knew that it would be counterproductive and unhealthy to remain in Houston, in bed most of the time, while I sought out a new job. No, I had to get away, and I had to lose myself in another challenge, that of visiting every remaining Starbucks in California before I ran out of money or had to start a job.

So with a few ducats in my pocket from the two weeks I had worked, I set off from Houston at 8:49 PM on Saturday night. Thirteen minutes after leaving home base, I entered I-10 at mile 754, which meant I had that far to go until I left Texas behind. That's a whole lotta state! I thought about detouring through Austin, which, though 8 miles shorter, would cost me some time. But as I approached the exit to SR-71, I started to feel tired and decided to stick to the interstate where I expected to see a rest area. And I did, only four miles past the exit, at mile 692. I stopped and spent a night at the Colorado County Safety Rest Area for the first time.

August 8

There's Life Outside Your Starbucks Project

I slept plenty, and because I had caught up on my sleep over several days, and because I had no new Starbucks to visit until Tucson, I was faced with a rare opportunity to break my record of most miles driven without rest. I left the rest area at 7:26 heading west, which gave me at least 15 to 16 hours of daylight. I was sure I could surpass 1100 miles.

I stopped briefly in San Antonio to reshoot a couple of stores, gas up, and get some grub. I debated whether to call an old acquaintance that had e-mailed me a month or so back, when I got all that publicity. I knew it was short notice, and kinda early, 9:00 AM, but I hadn't known when, or even if, I'd be passing through town.

By the time I reached the Ingram Festival store I intended to reshoot, it was about 9:30, and so I went ahead and called Lynn and left a message. She called me back as I headed towards The Colonade, and despite the time I would lose meeting her and her husband, it worked out in my favor, because at the Lockhill-Selma store, where we planned to meet, I decided, just for grins, to ask a partner about any new stores in the area. I learned about a new one, at Ingram Park Mall, of all places, right next to the other Starbucks. I was so glad that I'd be able to visit that I didn't care I'd have to backtrack. I did, however, grumble at the fact that it wasn't listed on the Starbucks store locator.

In fact, I was feeling rather befuddled about just what was going on with that Starbucks store database, because stores kept dropping off the list even after they had already opened. El Centro, CA, for example. I had found it on the store locator about a week earlier after a reporter had e-mailed me about its opening. But the listing was suddenly missing from the store update I had done the previous day. Why was this happening???

I chatted with Lynn and Noel for a while, and then I headed over to Ingram Park Mall, where I discovered I had misplaced my folder with my article. But the manager there had read the Fortune article, so he was cool. But I lost a bit more time printing up a new copy at Kinko's and by the time I left San Antonio it was almost 2:00 PM. Wait--scratch that. I passed up the exit from US-281 to SR-1604 and had to double back. Then I figured I might as well get a decent meal and stopped at Jason's Deli.

That tall coffee I was given at the mall, plus the Nantucket Nectar wth lunch, sure were having an effect. I hadn't even driven two hours and already had to stop twice. The second time, in Junction, I pumped six dollars worth of gas, figuring I'd have to stop again pretty soon. Then I noticed the gas price had jumped 28 cents from what I paid in San Antonio, and then I remembered that was nothing compared to what I'd be paying in California, so no point in fretting. I did worry a bit, though, about the freaky-ass squealing noise coming from the undercarriage as I pulled away from the Shell station. I saw myself getting stranded somewhere in California, if I made it that far, but I just couldn't bear to turn back.

Westward, Ho!

Sometimes that west Texas drive was bearable, and sometimes it just drove me insane. This was one of the latter times. Lacking a CD player probably had something to do with it. I stopped for gas in Balmorrhea, not so much because I needed the gas or the restroom, but more like to get a break. As I pumped there was some excitement outside the store, an exchange of words between two males of mixed race. But it petered out after a couple of "Fuck yous" and the truck driver drove away. I asked the other man and the lady he was with what had happened, and it was just that he man had asked the other to slow down. Maybe the truck driver was generally temperamental, or maybe he was pissed because he couldn't get cash at that particular store. Either way we could tell he was still pissed because he made it a point to pull out as fast as his truck and the sharp right turn ouy of the parking lot would permit.

I got back on the highway and counted down the miles to marker 200 and the pyschological boost that having less than 200 miles in Texas would bring.

A town or two later, I had the feeling that I got the shaft back in Balmorrhea, where the gas was $2.24, 25 cents more expensive than at my previous stop. I thought maybe it was the natural progression of gas prices upward as I headed west, but now I was seeing $1.76, a whopping 50-cent difference, and I think I was just being gouged because it was the only gas station off the interstate in that town. Grrr...

I rolled into El Paso shortly before 9:00 PM (having gained an hour) and stopped at the I-10 and Redd store to get online and also to ask about the Las Cruces store. Blam! It was open, and I'd have time to reach it. Blam!

As I approached Las Cruces, I changed my mind and decided it made more sense to get some sleep, visit the store in the morning, and take a better photo. But I made the decision after I had passed the rest area, so I had to find a place to camp out. I tried something new, parking in a residential neighborhood, on a dark public street. I had to drive around a few times to find a suitable space. At the first one I picked I spotted a lady looking at me through her window. Then I had to avoid a couple of pedestrians and make sure they didn't see me bedding down--why take chances. Finally I found a spot in front of a large pickup, which would serve as additional cover. But even though it wasn't even 10:00, I never heard anybody walking along the sidewalk--I guess Las Cruces residents call it a night early.

August 9

In the wee hours I moved over to the shopping center where the Starbucks was, to avoid having the owner of the truck spot me in case he was an early commuter. About a quarter of 7:00 I decided I'd slept enough and went into the Starbucks bathroom. When I came out, the shift supervisor was already ready for me, because she had recognized me from my visit to an El Paso store. Outside, a pair of state troopers had decided to hang out, and their cars blocked one angle--that's okay, I found a better angle for a photograph. As expected, the troopers looked at me with suspicion as I framed and shot the photograph.

Trouble in Paradise?

As I headed away from Las Cruces I called the four new Starbucks listed for Tucson and learned only one was open. Then I called Schmoopie and sensed that something was amiss. There was something in her voice. One possibility was that she was still reacting to my moodiness following my disappointing performance at the National Scrabble Championship. But the way she sounded, the way she said she'd call me later, made me feel like the moment I had been expecting had finally arrived, the moment when she began to tire of me. I assumed from the beginning that it was inevitable, because with my itinerant lifestyle, between Starbucks, Scrabble, and the occasionally contract, I simply could not offer a woman the kind of relationship I assumed most women want.

At the first rest area west of Las Cruces I spotted this sign, which could not possibly be intended to inspire confidence among parents, or anybody else for that matter. Not having children, I was more bothered by the infestation of flies in the restroom. I have a particular aversion to fly-infested restrooms, in part because flies sometimes make me nauseated, and in part because I tend to spray everywhere as I dance around to keep the bugs off my legs.

With about a month to go to hit a year without a speeding ticket, and barely 40 miles from the Arizona line, I let myself get distracted as I passed up a truck, close to 90 MPH (in a 75), and I didn't see the NM state trooper until it was too late. He drove on, and I thought I was okay until I saw his lights come on. I hoped I might get a break if I made it easy for him, so I went ahead and pulled over even though he hadn't even completed his u-turn. I waited. And then he just blew right past me and pulled over either a van, or a truck hauling a pair of yellow school buses. I wasn't sure what was going on there, and I really didn't care. I was just relieved to have escaped a ticket yet again.

Defending my Territory

My trip nearly came to an abrupt and fiery end when, about sixty miles from Tucson, I spotted crawling on my duffel bag the biggest fucking wasp I had ever seen in my life! Bart and Lisa Simpson "AAAGH!!!" I was flipping out as I quickly pulled over, grabbed my shoes, and jumped out of the car. I popped the trunk but could not see the beast. The hunt was on, but who was the predator and who was the prey? I folded up my blanket, towel, and jeans and stacked them neatly. I grabbed the duffel bag and tossed it to the other side. Then I grabbed my stack of shirts and saw wings flutter. There it was! It crawled towards the back of the trunk, into the shade. I swatted it towards the front so it could fly out the window. But it quickly moved back towards the shade and tried to crawl underneath my cushion. No way, Jose! I figured out what it wanted, to get out of the sun. That's why it had flown into my car to begin with. But I didn't care--I wanted it the fuck out my car. That sucker was big, man! It reminded me of an episode of an old Fox show, Sliders in which Quinn and friends slid into a world infested by spider-wasps that could eat through walls. It's stinger looked like it could swell me up for weeks. Finally, after much swatting, it got stuck on my towel and I got it out of the car. I might have shown mercy, but it kept crawling back towards me, so I swatted it out onto the highway, where it was promptly squashed into oblivion. I shed not a tear. Wretched creature.

Go figure. Of all the exits that guy in the SUV could have picked to run his car off the road, it had to be mine, Houghton. So I had to take the next exit into Tucson and weave around and round before I worked my way back to Houghton. I wasn't in any kind of hurry, really, but it was just the nerve of these people, inconveniencing everybody else with their lousy driving.

At the OST store in Tucson I had to wait around a bit for the manager to find a camera. While I waited, a group of kids wearing matching t-shirts reflecting some type of summer camp got wind of why I was there. They started pointing out various Starbucks in the area. I tried to figure out how to beg off without seeming rude when one saved me by asking to shake my hand in case I became famous. Ah, such adulation. I hoped I could keep it from changing me.

Las Cruces had surprised me as the temperature dropped quite a bit the previous night, making the night's sleep rather comfortable. The Phoenix heat, on the other hand, held no surprises--it was just as hot as I expected, and the drive from cooler Tucson northward became increasingly uncomfortable. The radio reported a high of 109!!! In part because I was shopping around for a massage, and so I had to keep rolling the window up to be able to hear on my phone, the earpiece volume control for which I, high IQ or not, could not manage to find.

I already knew prices in Phoenix tended to be lower than in many other areas, and I had no trouble finding several masseuses offering a half-hour for $30, but I did have trouble scheduling. That's why I had downloaded listings from the Internet in Tucson, so I could get a head start on scheduling, but it didn't end up doing any good. I had a tentative for 2:45, and right down the street from the Havana Cafe where I planned on grabbing lunch. But by the time I finished up at the first new Starbucks and called her back to confirm that I could make it, I guess it had already been booked.

Maybe I dawdled too long at the Starbucks, but it was worth it, because I was chatting with one of the baristas who had read one of the recent articles and seemed quite taken with my project (or, dare I hope, with me?). I felt kind of self-conscious, though, because I had taken off my shirt to go take the photograph (so I wouldn't bake, because that black t-shirt, fashionable as it is, soaks up heat my a mutha). It had been months since I had lifted, and those four days of non-stop beignets in New Orleans had added to my paunch, so I didn't feel so hot standing there shirtless.

I then headed over to the Havana Cafe on Camelback, where the Fortune reporter had treated me to lunch nearly two months earlier. Again, my memory failed me. I had thought the congri and tostones were cheaper that they actually turned out to be, $10.70, and so I spent more than I wanted. It was okay, because the plate would definitely last me for the rest of the day, and possibly for lunch the next day if it kept. I'd try to eat as much as I could before going to sleep just in case. What really bugged me though was the waiter, who first had seemed to grumble on the phone when I called in the order and asked the price, and then in the restaurant gave me an unpleasant look when I asked about the "mojo", a garlic dipping sauce that I did not want on my plantains. I could swear his stuck-up ass was thinking how I wasn't sophisticated enough to patronize that seemingly trendy restaurant.

After visiting the new Scottsdale store I headed to a nearby store that had T-Mobile, and (I swear I'm getting old) I spent 5 minutes trying to figure out which one it was. Man, where's that razor-sharp memory I used to have? When I was in high school one of the kids used to joke I could remember my own birth.


Anyway, I did some last-minute massage research while online and found a place that had a $15 special. Of course it turned out to be for only 15 minutes, but when you consider that the last truck stop I showered at charged me $7, 15 minutes + a shower seemed like a good deal. Or so I thought. As it turned out, it wasn't until I was already on the table that the masseuse revealed that the time I spent in the shower counted against the fifteen. She didn't make the rules, true, but still she had the audacity to suggest that tips were appreciated. Hell no I wasn't going to tip her, and in fact I made it a point before I left to tell her to tell the owner that I had felt cheated, and that this was a bad way to treat customers. I left grumbling, but I least I felt refreshed, and I had in fact gotten to relax if only for a few minutes.

The massage might have disappointed, but on the other hand I didn't go wrong with the $14 I spent at Bombshells, a nearby strip club that had advertised $6 dances. A posting online had commented that the advertised price was just to lure in customers, and that the true price was $10, but this turned out not to be the case. And you know, up until then, I had assumed that everything one read on the Internet was true!

Anyway, I left Bombshells (lame-ass name) feeling confident in my assertion that you can't go wrong with a $6 lap dance. And amused by the silliness of the local lawmakers, who had decided that while strip clubs are legal, they would protect public morals by making it illegal for dancers to receive tips in their g-strings--tips had to be handed. And furthermore, while a dancer could sit on my lap, she couldn't put her breasts in my face. I feel so protected.

As I headed out towards the interstate, I felt relief that I would not be spending the night in Phoenix, because the radio was reporting that the number of West Nile case in the city was higher than in all other areas combined! Not what I wanted to hear if I had to sleep in the car and keep stepping outside to answer the call of nature.

The heat was dehydrating me something awful. To go with lunch, I had stopped at a Safeway and, not finding cold tea, bought this lemon-lime beverage with Aloe juice. It was okay, but the taste was not entirely to my liking, so I stopped at a convenience store and bought an Arizona Ice Tea, the new Sweet Tea ("southern" style) flavor to mix it with. Then I had the water from Starbucks. But the water quickly warmed up, and so did the tea, so I bought another tea before heading out of town. All this, and by the time I reached I-8 towards El Centro I was still craving something cold and flavroed, even though my stomach felt full.

I picked up the interstate in Gila Bend, and depiste my thirst I debated whether to exit at the next town, because I was following a couple of cars going pretty fast. I decided to wait another 20 miles to the next exit.

As I drove on, Schmoopie finally called and explained why she had sounded so strange in the morning. Our "undefined relationship" was not dissolving after all. In fact, she had gone into one of her episodes of fearing that I was calling the thing off, while at the same time I had been suspecting the same of her. Funny, huh?

Sleepless and Sweat-Addled

I passed a parking area and made a quick decision. Not quick enough, though, because I ended up having to back up the exit ramp. It was okay--there wasn't much traffic in and out during the two hours I was there. I chose it instead of the rest area just past the California border because parking areas are typically unlit, which makes it easier to sleep. But Vin Diesel pitch black wouldn't have helped in this case, because everything in the back of my car was still giving off the heat absorbed in Phoenix, and felt hotter than in New Orleans even. I tried to cool off a bit by moving the car into one of the truck spaces, away from the vegitation, and lowering the windows some. I needed to be outside the radius within which I would attract mosquitoes. There was no wind, but the occasional breeze wafting through the car did help. But after a while, several trucks, probably in convoy, pulled in and parked on either side of me. They were loud, and didn't want to take up a space needed by any other truck that might happen by, so I moved back to one of the car spaces. Besides the heat, then, I had to worry about whether mosquitoes would attack.

After two hours I gave up and started driving again. Not only could I not sleep, but my water had warmed to the point that it no longer served to quench my thirst. I stopped in Fortuna, just shy of Yuma, and added ice and bought a Gatorade. I'm not sure I believe the hype, but it did slake my thirst. I popped open my Kinko's directory and was surprised to discover one in Yuma. I hadn't thunk the city big enough. So I pulled into town to get online, but the connection was weak and I was not able to complete my tasks, the most important of which was to upload some photos for the Real People production.

I continued on to El Centro and scoped out the Starbucks. Then I drove around and finally settled on a residential street. I didn't want to risk lowering the windows as much as back at the rest area, so I only cracked them. The car had cooled off a big during the drive, and I think I did doze for a bit, but then I thought I heard the buzzing of a mosquito. I was forced to drive around with the windows down and the trunk open to rid myself of the invader before settling on another street. I think I dozed again, and the next thing I knew it was past 5:00 AM, time to go visit the Starbucks.

August 10

I was surprised to see so many customers waiting at 5:10 in the morning, but more than anything I felt like a zombie as I waited to speak to the shift leader and then gave her my spiel. While I waited I was intrigued by the way that the staff, all hispanic, fluently mixed English and Spanish among themselves and with the customers. The shift leader, perhaps frazzled from the rush that had just ended, did not quite seem to understand at first--she thought it was some kind of official project. I was too brain-dead to explain fully, so I just said I wanted to be famous, and she accepted that explanation, albeit with a look of bemusement on her face as she talked to me.

It was still dark out, so I picked a spot in the middle of the parking lot behind the JC Penney and tried for more sleep. No sooner had I lain down than I had to use the restroom... again. There was too much traffic out now to do it out in the open, so I went to the AM/PM across the street. The cashier looked irritated when I paid for $1 worth of gas, just as he had seemed irritated earlier when I had bought $2 worth of gas. Hey, he could at least have given me some credit for not simply using the restroom without buying anything.

One of my pet peeves is the rampant misuse of the term "irony". I have researched the term several times and tried to learn its meaning and educate others. But no matter how many times I read the definition, I have trouble identifying what is or isn't irony. In this case, the target situation was the fact that I managed to get more sleep after the sky had lightened than during the entire night. Either way, it wasn't much, and I knew the goodly number of coffees I'd be having around San Diego would be the only thing keeping me functional.

I felt a little better when I awoke around 6:40, and as I scuttled from the back of the car to the front seat and glimpsed myself in the rearview mirror, I had a realization. I think the barista looked so astonished not because of how many Starbucks I had visited, but because of the odd placement of a pimple that had matured overnight, right at the intersection of my left nostril and upper lip. A freakish sight no doubt.

About a month ago when I was slashdotted, the headline was "The Traveling Salesman Problem Meets Starbucks". Many of the slashdot members posted asking what my project had to do with the traveling salesman problem. I tried to explain in a post, but I was promptly accused of pretending to be Winter and wasting bandwidth with my response. Well, as I continued west towards San Diego and examined my map, the traveling salesman problem was in full effect. With so many new stores since the last time I rolled through San Diego, about 15 months prior, my challenge was to figure out the quickest route that visited all the stores. And because this was California, I'd have to factor in the morning and evening rush hours. I'd also want to visit stores in malls as early as possible, when the crowds were lightest.

My poor little Civic struggle up the mountain pass, but after the sweaty night I'd had, I was glad for the cooler air.

Just before exit 47 traffic was stopped by a Border Patrol inspection. I had been seeing Border Patrol cars and vans all along I-8 and also in the cities. Fortunately, I had not been hassled by any of them... yet.

At the second Starbucks in the San Diego area I need to take a break and charge up batteries and work on my site. I decided to play some Scrabble to practice for a small tournament on Sunday. I was also thinking that I should not hit San Diego hard and try to visit as many stores as possible on the first day, because that would shock my system, and I would suffer for it. If I was going to study and work on my site and catch up on movies anyway, why not ease my way into the coffee. Maybe ten to fifteen for starters.

At the next store the manager was busy with a couple of new partners, so I used a Jedi mind trick to obtain free coffee. It works, really! It's all in the eyes.

As I headed to the next new store, mere minutes away, I noticed that even though I had only visited three stores thus far that day, I had already lost the taste for the coffee. It was going to be long day, and the next hour or two even stood to be struggle, as no fewer than six new stores were listed within a three-mile radius. Oh, wait--scratch one, at SDSU--I called to get directions and learned it is licensed.

I didn't take me long to lose the article I had printed up just two days prior, as I arrived at the store at University and Aragorn and discovered it missing. I had planned on taking a break anyway and getting online, so showed the manager my web page and she was cool. After some Scrabble and updating, I returned to 67th, and the folder was right there by the condiment bar where I had left it. Not much of a detour, thankfully, as the next store was right on El Cajon.

Meanwhile, it was past noon and I had not yet eaten anything. I was trying to make up for the $15 I had spent on food on Sunday and Monday, not including all the teas and juices. I wasn't broke by any means, not even close, but I thought keeping it to $10 a day would be a good idea. I hoped the apple and banana I had bought on Sunday were still good.

The manager at the next store was busy. I waited a bit, and then I decided to just order a half-cup. By coincidence, they had just run out of bold, so they offered me some sample French press. It was already cool so I just downed it quickly. Mistake. I experienced this sudden feeling of nausea. I decided to name it the "ung-ung".

At the next store I was told about my second secret store of my trip, down the highway 94 a few minutes. I had to wander around a bit, but I found it. AsI pulled into a parking space I felt nausea again. That wasn't good. I wondered what was going on, and how many more stores I'd be able to visit. Maybe I needed to eat something. Anyway, I was almost ready to chalk the store up as a secret store when I remembered to go back in and print out the balance on my card so I could get its name off the receipt. As I did so, another shift lead arrived from lunch and told me the store was in fact listed, but with the wrong zip code. I went back to my map and discovered that, in fact, it had been plotted, but in the wrong place. Mystery solved!

One more store in the area, and then a big hop all the way down to the Mexican border, to the Camino de la Plaza store that I had been to a couple of times before. Once it was closed for the holiday, and another it was closed for remodeling. I skipped several other stores to reach this one to make darn sure that nothing got in the way this time!

By the 14th store, I was truly one of the walking dead, rendered thus by the combination of scant sleep, extreme caffeination, and not much in the way of caloric intake, just a squishy banana and an odd-tasting apple. I had just about reached my ease-into-it target for the day, and it was barely 4:00 PM. I wasn't ready to stop yet, though, just to take it slower.

I slowed down big time, visiting just three more stores in the next several hours, finally ending up in National City with an intensifying headache despite finally having eaten something, a power bar. It wasn't just the lack of food and caffeine, but the lack of sleep. It was time to catch up. But that was easier said than done. First, I wasn't able to leave right away because I had to take a call from the publisher of a small quarterly Starbucks fan magazine. She wanted me to write a column, and I was definitely up for it if we could think of something worthwhile for me to write about. On the other hand, by the time I left it was dark and the weather was much cooler; rather comfortable, actually--that wasn't the problem. No, it was the 68 ounces of coffee. Like a coherent sentence in a poorly written novel, sleep was elusive. And when it finally did come, it was spotty, as I woke up repeatedly, sometimes only thirty minutes after the last time I checked the time. I ended up driving around a lot, restless.

August 11

After sleeping in several parking lots, I had finally settled next to a small camper in a neighborhood behind the store at Washington and Falcon, in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego. Shortly after 5:00 AM I visited the store and then promptly went back to sleep, leaving the coffee for later. When I woke up again, it was nearly 7:00 AM, though I wouldn't have known it from the sun, because the sky was overcast. Ordinarily I would have preferred sunlight for my photographs, especially the more subdued early morning light. But I didn't mind that morning, looking forward to cooler weather.

The extreme heat of west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona had allowed me to thoroughly bake the two pairs of socks I'd been alternating. I was practicing sock conservation simply because I didn't know how long I would be on the road. Turned out it was good I hadn't run through many pairs, because I discovered on that fourth morning that I had left most of my socks back in Houston. Oh, well--I had been putting off buying new socks for months, and I guess it was about time.

As I headed away from downtown, the radio reported that the Cowboy Junkies and Shawn Colvin were in town that night. Man, I wished it were the old days when I would spend money willy-nilly on things like concerts.

I learned quickly from my headache of the previous day and made an effort to eat throughout the day to help blunt the effects of the coffee. First a banana, and then a bagel, which also helped blunt the taste of the coffee. The thing of it was that I wasn't exactly feeling hungry because my stomach was full and because of the caffeine's suppressing my appetite. So I had to be conscious of my need to take in calories--I couldn't depend on my stomach to let me know.

The line was long, and I was going to skip my introduction, but I was saved from having to pay for coffee yet again at the Otay Lakes store when the manager recognized me my visit to her other Chula Vista store. I realized that I had visited thousands of stores, but it still bothered me that I could not remember the names and faces of all these partners that were recognizing me.

Oh, oh, oh! Free-standing Chick-fil-a! I hadn't realized they had made it out to California yet.

Ten stores into the day, I took a good long break in Bonita and caught up with my site. I extended my break when I finally managed to schedule a massage at a price I was willing to pay. I must have called several dozen ads from the San Diego Reader, none of which listed prices. Well, the male therapists listed prices, all of which were lower, presumably to attract business. But not a single female therapist listed a price--this was anomalous. Anyway, of the masseuses that offered a half-hour session, the minimum price was $40. But one, eastern European from her accent, and chatty, insisted that I tell her what I wanted to spend, and after chatting on and on said okay, come on over. This time, I got more than I paid for. A quality massage, more than 30 minutes I'm sure, and a free washcloth. I felt ready and raring to visit more Starbucks!

Or so I thought. I headed over to Pacific Beach to continue my tour, and the coffee hit me just as strong, even after eating some yogurt and an apple. I began to wonder if I'd actually meet my goal of 18 for the day. No, make that 19, because I only visited seventeen the previous day. I couldn't figure out how on earth I had managed to visit 28 stores in Portland back in '99, given that I was only at eleven and already struggling.

At # 12 I almost had to pay for my coffee, but I busted out with my puppy dog eyes and talked her out of breaking my streak. After sitting in beachgoer traffic for a while, during which time I did not fret, because I considered it a break, I received a reprieve in the form of a store not yet completed. I didn't mind that I would have to go back, because I expected that I would not wait another eighteen months to return to the area, and so next time the number of new stores would not be such as to overwhelm my metabolism. Or that's the plan, at least. We'll see.

My next step was illustrative of the borderline obsessiveness that ever permiates the periphery of my project. Years earlier I had visited a store on Mira Mesa and spilled half the half coffee. What did that mean? Well, duh! I had to drink another two ounces, and my soul would not rest easy until I did. The manager was not the same as when I originally visited, so I'm sure my long-winded explanation of why I had to drink two ounces of coffee was puzzling. But I assure you that my relief was greater, over finally having completed that store.

In the shopping center next to the Starbucks was a Togo's. I'd never thought their food great, but nevertheless I experienced a craving for chili. My mind was filled with questions. Should I go for the Togo's? Or no-go the Togo's? What if this Togo's was so-so? Why do pirates yo-ho-ho? In the end, I figured I had skimped enough that I could spare the $2. I didn't regret it--the chili was not awful. Nor was I rushing to find more, neither.

I hit traffic on I-15 north, and in a wacky reveral of my usual mood, I didn't mind a bit, because it gave me more of a break before my next dose of too-much-of-anything. Plus, I discovered 94.9, a station playing an excellent rock mix and specifically identifying themselves as not a Clear Channel station. I wondered if this was one of a new breed of stations profiled in an NPR piece from a month or two back.

At the next store I was amused that one of the partners had just been looking at my web site and reading my log about how I passed through El Centro. I was a little disappointed that he had not predicted that I would be rolling through his store shortly thereafter.

For days I had been planning to use my much-needed breaks from coffee to catch up on some movies. My next store was on Mira Mesa, and by coincidence there was a large Edwards Multiplex there. As soon as I exited the interstate that this was the same theater where I had seen part of Castaway. Only part, because I had come down with food poisoning during the movie, perhaps because of the meal I had had at On the Border, one of the few places I had found open that late on Christmas eve a few years back.

I bought a ticket for The Manchurian Candidate at 7:10. While I waited, I caught the end of Spider-Man 2 and then went into my auditorium to work on my word lists, sitting on the floor in the aisle to avoid disturbing others with my laptop. When the previews began, and usher came in and told me I would have to take a seat and asked to see my ticket stub. Given that the auditorium was nearly empty, I didn't appreciate being given a hard time, and I made a snap decision to take my business elsewhere. Before getting a refund, I found a manager and tried to explain that, given the nearly-empty auditorium, I should have been left alone as I wasn't bothering anybodyl. She just kept repeating Regal policy over and over, like the mindless drone that she was.

Meanwhile, the LCD on my laptop continued to get worse and worse, making me worry that it would go out altogether and leave me unable to navigate.

I visited three more stores, taking my high for the trip to 18. There was one more in Oceanside that I could have reached, but I was so tired that when I spotted a technology center somewhere on El Camino Real between Carlsbad and Oceanside, I quickly pulled in. I was glad to see cars in the parking lot and also a port-a-potty. I slept for several hours, until sometime between 1:00 and 2:00, when, returning from the port-a-potty, I thought I saw what seemed to be a security guard and a lady looking out at me from inside one of the buildings. I decided it would be a bad idea to stick around and quickly left, and as I drove I wondered if my mind had been playing tricks on me. I truly doubted whether I had seen anybody at all.

From El Camino Real I took San Marcos Blvd east towards Escondido, and I pulled into the first shopping center I found. The parking lot was large and spotted with cars, and I settled in front of a 24-hour copy center. I slept for about an hour, and then I had to go into the 7-11 restroom. But it was out of order, so I continued to drive towards Escondido and stopped at an AM/PM and bought gas and used the restroom. A cute girl waved to me and asked for a favor. I said sure, depending on what it was. She asked to charge her phone in my lighter. I had to move stuff around in the back of my car anyway, plus she was cute, so I turned my car on and let her phone charge until she could make a call.

I continued on to Escondido, where I found a very dark residential street, unusual because it had angled parking.

August 12

I felt better when I awoke at 6:30 and went into the Starbucks for my coffee. I still felt I could use more sleep, so I laid back down. The sky was once again overcast, so it wasn't a problem of heat. It was that my head was swimming with thoughts, and after a few minutes I decided that despite my fatigue I would not be able to sleep.

During several interviews I had reported that after four or five coffees in a day, I lost the taste, but that the very next day I would enjoy that first cup. Well, I tasted that coffee that I had gotten, and it just didn't do it for me. I had only been cooling of for a few minutes, so it wasn't that it was stale. Maybe it was that my mouth was dry. Or maybe it was that after two days of overdosing my body was still reactive negatively to coffee by association.

Regardless, after a couple of days of privation, I was almost back on my $10/day food budget, so I decided to start the day with a bagel sandwich and help keep the caffeine from taking effect too quickly. And after the three new stores in Escondido, I was feeling just fine.

At the last of those stores, I was amused by a partner who seemed almost giddy about my visit. He desperately wanted to take a photograph but was lacking a camera. During my first big post-publicity trip I used to offer partners who wanted photos to take it with my camera and e-mail it later, but of all the photos I took I only received one e-mail request, so I stopped offering, figuring it a waste of time.

I had to backtrack a few miles, to Oceanside, to visit the final new store (listed) in San Diego county. I debated skipping it to save time, but that didn't make sense given that I would have to take a break from the coffee at some point. Might as well clear out the entire county I figured. In the minutes it took me to get to Oceanside I decided to count the number of new stores I had listed for the rest of the Southland and the Central Coast. 79--ouch! More than I had expected. I didn't think I would be able to visit them all before having to head to Oakland for a Scrabble tournament on Sunday afternoon.

But I was sure the coffee would be the limiting factor, not the time it would take to reach the stores, so I didn't mind taking a little detour to indulge my fascination with a pair of wabbits, one pure white, the other with a brown splotch, and see how close a photo I could get before they scooted. Winter wikes wabbits.

I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment when I left that new Oceanside store, for accoriding to my list, I had cleared out the whole of San Diego County. Yay!!!

As I drove toward Temecula I reviewed my financial database to see how I was doing on expenses. Not bad. Food and gas was reasonable. A couple of other expenses, like auto insurance, were not directly related to my trip. A few cheap massages. I was in good shape, but still I eagerly awaited the arrival in Houston of the checks for the use of my photographs. If they arrived quickly enough, plus my paycheck for 1 days work, I might be able to head up into Canada. But I had called my mother the previous day, and she had not yet seen the checks from AOL. I was starting to worry.

In Temecula, I had the opportunity to take an extended tour of Margarita Road, driving back and forth on it courtesy of a misplotted address on my map. It wasn't a total waste though--I found it amusing to overhear a lady, pulled over in a construction zone, and in the process of receiving a ticket, protesting to the cop that she had not seen the stop sign. I finally found the store, only to see that it was still coming soon. Oh, well, that just meant 78 stores to go instead of 79. Yay!!!

When I returned to the car after visiting the next store, I spotted another invader in my car, a beetle I think. But this one was dead, so I didn't freak out. Plus, beetles don't bother me as much as stinging insects. As I looked at my map, however, a live beetle buzzed just outside the window, and I got the heebie-jeebies.

I had been wondering since I left Houston how many miles it had been since my last oil change. The receipt from my last one was not in my glove compartment. I knew I was pushing it, but I also knew the recommended 3000 miles was too often. And the boys from Car Talk agreed with me, as I had heard on a recent show. And furthermore, I had been told that if the miles were mostly highway miles, I could wait even longer. Still, I was getting concerned.

It occurred to me that I might have stashed my car receipts in a folder with my Scrabble stuff. Sure enough, there they were. Uh-oh--almost 9000 miles since my last oil change. Definitely pushing it. I happened to be at a heavily-developed intersection. I looked around, and what did I see to my left but a Wal-Mart, with a tire and lube center! What luck! And I was first in line. Even more luck. It would work out perfectly. I could buy the socks I needed, some yogurt, and get some writing done.

I left my batteries plugged in behind the counter because there was a young kid in the waiting room, and I feared he would mess with them. I went off to shop, and a moment later an announcement came over the loudspeaker about my car. I had forgotten to leave the keys. No proble, but what was interesting was that the mechanic said it was a purple Civic. Purple??? No way. Dude must have been colorblind.

The lines at all the operating registers were long, but that was okay, because I just set my laptop on whatever flat surface was available as I pushed my socks and yogurt along. I didn't care about the looks I was getting, nor the puzzlement of the other customers. Fuck 'em if they can't understand (that life is short).

They had downtown Murietta tore all the fuck up with construction, and I had to drive in circles to reach the post office. But I found it, and I finally mailed off my taxes, proudly beating the four month extension deadline by three days. Of course I couldn't pay what I owed, but I would have some time yet before they sent me a bill, at which time I would likely had to get on a payment plan.

I must have been in an ornery mood, because as soon as I cleared the construction Washington Ave and it widened to two lanes, and I passed the moving van and noticed that the pickup truck behind me didn't, my first thought was "Why the fuck would you stay behind the moving truck you dumbass!"

It was time to decide whether to head out to the new stores in Palm Springs or not, and as much as I wanted to clear out California, it just didn't make sense to detour 180 miles for at most 3 stores, not when my usual route to California takes me right past those cities along I-10. Hemet was only a 30-mile detour, and a harder decision, but in the end I decided it would make more sense to leave it for later. It's not like I could actually complete California for more than, say, 24 hours before they opened another store.

The manager at the first new Riverside store was the first of the day to have heard of my project, and she was very supportive. I took my first long break of the day there and made some plans. She told me the next store along my route would not open for a week, but that another store would open tomorrow! This meant that I could finally be the first customer at a store outside of Texas. And before I left the suggested an alternate route, hitting the new stores in a different order, and when I reviewed my map I agreed that this would work better.

I also tried to reach a partner who had e-mailed me just a few days earlier from a store in Ontario, requesting a return visit. I believed it was important to take care of the fans as much as possible, even if they weren't female.

That rule about the shortest distance between two points? Well, if you substitute "quickest" for "shortest" in California, it's not necessarily a straight line. While the 91 headed straight towards Highland from Corona, there was heavy traffic in that direction. So heading in the opposite direction, I took I-15 north towards Ontario and managed to get off the freeway right as traffic got heavy. Hah! And then I promptly got confused and went too far on Milliken and pulled a quick u-turn just as the railroad crossing bars started to come down. No! I didn't want to lose more time, so I floored it right across the two sets of tracks and missed the turn lane and had to pull a right from the middle of the intersection, all the while hoping there were no cops around to witness. And then I saw that the train was much closer than I had imagined.

barak obama interview on fresh air raced, not so much interested in politics as anomalies

I headed up Haven to I-10 and headed east. It was almost 4:00 PM, and if the rush hour had not yet started it would soon. My plan was to race to Highland and then be traveling inbound, against traffic. I only drove a couple of miles before traffic came to a standstill, and I debated about what to do. One possibility was to keep driving and work on my log, not such a tough task in the slow-moving traffic. Another was to visit a couple of stores in Rialto and kill time at a branch of Spearmint Rhino, a local strip club chain I'd not yet visited. But cover was $6, and I wanted to pick up a a copy of the local free weekly and see if there was a coupon.

As I headed towards Rialto my thoughts were increasingly consumed by food. I craved real food, not just fruit and yogurt and power bars and bagels. I wanted something cheap so I could save my money for Versailles in Los Angeles, but the thought of a cheap Burger King burger just made me sick. Finally I decided to give Pollo Loco another try.

When I first tried Pollo Loco two months back, I don't think they were using this new spokesperson who calls himself "El Caliente". This time, his image was all over the store, promoting their chicken. I decided right away I did not like him. He looked really creepy. But the meal was pretty good I guess, and I managed to consume it on the drive to Rancho Cucamonga without spilling more than a couple of grains of rice.

I had saved up the coffee from the two Rialto stores until after dinner, and I downed the 8 oz while at the Rancho Cucamonga store. I immediately felt sick, and I had to let it settle before I could even think of continuing. The assistant manager kept saying that my project was "crazy", and I could not disagree. She asked me if I ever got tired--boy, did I!

As I pushed forward, trying to see if I could make it to 19, I was just going through the motions. It's a testament to just how tired and caffeine-shocked I was that at the next store, where there were several people in line, I took little notice of the group of teeny boppers, nearly all of which were in shorts too short for girls their age. Wait... is that a stirring I feel? No, it passed. Good. Meanwhile, as I waited for the shift lead to become available, I kept wondering if she was female, or male, or both. It was kinda creepy, actually. Call me a neanderthal, but I just happen to like knowning the sex of the person before me.

Maybe she was a telepath, or just sensed that I was wondering about her, and was frustrated that so many people wondered, because she gave me a hard time about the half coffee. And then she did something I hadn't experienced in a long, long time--she came outside to tell me I couldn't take a photograph of the store. I don't think any partner had told me this after reading one of the articles about my project, but I guess it takes all kinds. I was barely awake and didn't have to energy to explain that I was not on Starbucks property, so I just told her to contact Starbucks, that they knew all about me. So very strange.

Back in the car, I had entered major zone-out mode, a state during which I would just zone out over and over as I tried to organize my thoughts. In fact, I was so far off my game that I almost missed the fact that a relatively new stretch of SR-210 (not to be confused with I-210) ran right next to the store and would get me to the next store more quickly. Man, I really needed to update my Microsoft Streets and Trips from the 2002 to the 2005 version.

I almost exited the freeway too soon when I didn't see signs for a Vineyard exit until I noticed that Vineyard turned into Carnelian. I took interest in Carnelian St. because in my myriad travels through southern California, I think I had traveled on most of the arterials, but not that one. I also noticed, on the cement barrier on the overpass bridge, the term "overcrossing". I had never before seen that word. It's not an acceptable Scrabble word.

As I reached the next store, I was feeling a lot better and able to think straight again. I had the prescence of mind to do some planning, and I called ahead to the next store to discover it had not yet opened.

As I was about to leave the store, I had a total "What the???" moment as all four windows of the black BMW next to me, and the sunroof, opened to reveal... no one inside! What was up with that!?

I had to travel 18 miles west on I-10 to reach the next new store, in Covina, but I didn't mind. The weather had cooled, and traffic flowed freely at about 80 MPH or better, so I just relaxed and enjoyed the drive. While the effects of the caffeine continued to wear off, the caffeine was the only thing warding off the fatigue, and I started to feel really exhausted. I was only at 17 stores, but I desperately wanted to quit. Another reason to stop was that I planned to return to Riverside to be the first customer at the new store, and the further west I pushed the longer I would have to drive back. Anyway, I called up the next store, in West Covina, and learned it closed at midnight. That made things a little easier, because I could nap for up to three hours and then head over there.

Well, on paper at least. But the fact was that I had so much caffeine in my system that as I lay there in the parking lot behind the Starbucks I couldn't really get to sleep. I think I might have dozed off briefly, but around 10:00 I gave up and just headed over to West Covina. Then I tried again to get some sleep in an adjacent parking lot.

August 13

Friday the Thirteenth

I didn't even realize until 4:35 AM that the date, Friday the 13th, might have served as the reason for all the strangeness that occurred.

I had trouble sleeping in West Covina, so I headed towards Riverside, taking the longest stretch of the Corona Freewas (SR-71) that I could remember. According to my outdated map, much of the route was still surface road, and I almost took I-10 to I-15. But I was happy to learn that 71 moved just as quickly for most of the way until it reached 91.

I exited Pierce and began looking for number 3590, which was the address listed on the Starbucks web site. My map had the address plotted south of 91, but I saw no developments that looked like they would house a new Starbucks, so I headed north of the freeway. I promptly became confused as the street signs changed to read "Riverwalk", which was not on my map. I thought maybe the signs were just switched between the primary road and the side street, but I couldn't be either. Regardless, I saw no Starbucks, so I headed back across the freeway.

Three of the corners of Pierce and Magnolia were developed with businesses, and I took a closer look, but I saw no Starbucks. I drove further down Pierce, slowly, straining to spot the addresses of the buildings. I spotted a business center that looked promising--I had found Starbucks in business centers before. I still didn't see it, and I was feeling exhaustion big time, so I decided to give up and just call in the morning for directions. I drove down the side street next to the business park looking for a place to stay the night (about three hours, actually). Suddenly the white pickup truck that had passed me in the opposite direction u-turned abruptly and came my way. I immediately pulled into a driveway and turned around, heading back to Pierce, to see what he would do. He followed me. Traffic was still stopped at the railroad crossing, and I didn't want to be trapped, so I didn't turn in that direction but instead stopped at the end of the side street and put on my hazard lights. When the truck didn't pass me, I knew he was following me.

I wondered what to do for a minute, and then the train finished passing. I turned onto Pierce and across the tracks; the truck seemed to hold his position. I dialed 911, and it took about a minute for the first dispatcher to put me through to Riverside, Meanwhile I still didn't see a Starbucks, but that was kind of moot because I couldn't park anywhere until the situation was resolved. As I spoke to the Riverside dispatcher, I turned around and headed towards Magnolia, to the AM/PM across the street. The truck seemed to follow and then turned into the parking lot of the Mobil station across from the AM/PM and seemed to hold position. I relayed all this information to the dispatcher who wanted to remain on the line with me until Riverside PD arrived.

Eventually a pair of patrol cars arrived, and as they approached the parking lot the truck started moving. I thought he was going to book, but instead he got out and approached the officers. After a minute they came across the street to the AM/PM parking lot and explained that he was a security guard. Moments, later, the guard pulled up in the truck, which, as I had been able to tell from earlier, was not labeled in any way and did not have lights.

I explained that I was looking for a new Starbucks. The security guard quickly said there wasn't one in the business park. I replied that there was a new one in the area, and that I'd spoken to a manager that confirmed it would be opening at 5:00 AM. The cops seemed to think it was the nearby store on Tyler--they didn't understand. Situation resolved, they were in a hurry to wish us both a good day and leave. The guard stuck out his hand, and I shook it, but I was pissed at him for having wasted my time.

I tried across the freeway again, and this time I spotted the store. The address was 3950 not 3590! Geez--all that time wasted because of transposed numbers. I wasted no more time, and quickly parked in front of the store and slept, with my alarm set for 4:45.

I was so exhausted that I did fall asleep right away, but my mind stayed active because of the caffeine. I experienced repeated false awakenings. And I awoke for real more than once an hour, sometimes after just 30 minutes. The effect was to make those 2-3 hours of sleep seem to drag on forever. But what was even weirder was that on a couple of occasions I checked the time on my phone and it seemed to read earlier than the last time I had checked. I of course assumed that I had just dreamed that was closer to 5:00 because I was anxious to be the first customer. But the truth was stranger. When my phone said it was 3:51, I think, I saw a light on in the Starbucks and thought that it seemed awful earlier for them to be getting ready. Besides the partners, their was a regular flow of people to the donut shop, I couldn't walk to the side of the building anymore to do my business, so I walked over to the convenience store. I don't know what prompted me to do it, but I happened to ask the cashier the time. "4:27" he said, "4:27???" I repeated. He looked annoyed as he repeated it, perhaps because he thought I had used the restroom without manking a purchase, not realizing I had bought gas from the previous cashier.

I got back to my car and, sure enough, the time on my phone was just flat out wrong! How the heck could that have happened? The time was supposed to come from Sprint PCS. As far as I could remember, the time on my phone had never been wrong!

But maybe things happen for a reason. Sleepy as I was, and wanting to take advantage of the fifteen minutes remaining 'til I planned to stand in front of the store, I didn't trust that the phone would not reset its time again. So I put on my uniform and sat in front of the store with my laptop and tried to stay awake. At 4:45 I put the laptop back in the car and began pacing in front of the store, in part to stay awake and in part to make sure they noticed there was a customer waiting.

At 4:48 a truck pulled into the one parking space right in front of the store. There was a "Now Open" sign already hanging in front of the store, so it didn't surprise me to see an early-morning commuter arriving on the first day. The fact that he had children in the car was strange, but I didn't reall think anything of it. I was just relieved that I wasn't in the car changing still, as I would have been had I gone with my original plan and let my alarm wake me.

It got more interesting. At 4:55 one of the partners opens the door, and I hear quick feet moving behind me as I head up to the counter. One of the kids. They seemed awful anxious, and the father told them repeatly not to fight over it. It dawned on me that maybe they weren't just early commuters, but there for the same reason. Sure enough, when I asked the father, he confirmed that they kids had gotten him up that early to be the first customers. Wow--competition!!! That was actually exciting, that somebody else had come up with the same idea, even if they were young kids. Hell, I'm just a kid at heart.

I felt a twinge of guilt that I'd deprived them, but not really. I'd after all slept in my car, while they doubtlessly had a bed. And they were kids--they'd get over it quickly. Me, had I been beaten to the punch, would have been pissed for a long time.

I chatted with the father further, learning the store used to be a burger joint that they frequented. Now they could simply switch to coffee. I asked about the Donut Shop and learned the owner had been upset to learn a Starbucks would be opening in the same center. That made sense, but the worked it out I guess because his main business is donuts, not coffee. I wonder what will happen if the Starbucks starts carrying donuts, though it occurs to me that I'm not sure if I see donuts at any Starbucks anymore.

Mission accomplished, I went back to sleep. Around 7:30 I felt the sun peeking through the cloud cover and awoke. I felt like crap. My first thought was of irritation, that "crap" does not rhyme with "Big Mac", which meant I couldn't compose my usual morning rap.

I was about to leave when this girl, whom I had, of course, noticed immediately upon exiting the store, waved at me. She was the manager from an older store in Corona, and a partner taking a break had told her I had waited to be the first customer, and she noticed my Texas plates and was intrigued. She said that it was indeed possible to print the receipt from the manager's console and would do it for me once she finished her cigarette (yuck!). See, I did not have the original receipt showing the 4:55 time because the printer had malfunctioned. I had a "historical reenactment" of a receipt showing a 4:59 time. I really wanted the 4:55 time. 4:55:12, actually, when the correct receipt came out.

I drove to Orange County to visit about 10 new stores that had opened since I had pretty much cleared out the area in February when I flew in for a Scrabble tournament. At the first store the line was long, so I skipped introduction and as usual was not charged for my half cup. I felt really fatigued though. Though I had tried to sleep for the better part of 10.5 hours, from maybe 9:00 PM until 7:30, I had probably really slept only half that time. So I made the strategic decision to take advantage of the cloud cover and cooler weather and get some more Zs. It wasn't a deep sleep I don't think, but by the time the sun started peeking through the clouds and warming up I felt somewhat better.

I received an enthusiastic reception in Lake Forest when the manager went in back to get the district manager that happened to be in the store.

Partly due to circumstance and partly a tactical decision, in sharp contrast to the previous three days in California, I had only visit three stores by 11:00 am, easing into the day as one would into fifth gear in his daddy's expensive sports car, a lifetime cocaine habit, or the sixteen-year-old virgin who happens to lead the cheerleading squad.

Almost forgot photo at the next, but the delay allowed one of the partners time to get me a mug award. I already had another mug award in the car from my visit to Chattanooga, but this new one included a sleeve with a note from the partner.

I took the PCH up from Dana Point to Huntington Beach. It moved quickly enough along most stretches, but it slowed down considerably through Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. I didn't mind at first, because I could just continue to write. But at some point my power converter began to flake out, and I had to keep readjusting it in the lighter to get power. Finally I gave up, memorized the location of the next Starbucks, and shut off the computer.

At the Starbucks I immediately plugged in my laptop and phone, and then worked out the route to the next store in Santa Ana so I could shut off the computer.

Up in Santa Ana, I spotted a second Farmer Boy's burger joint. I thought the name and sign were cool, and I was tempted, but I instead went for the usual fare of fruit, yogurt, and a power bar.

Meanwhile I slowed down a bit, staying in the car a bit longer so I could listen to a Fresh Air interview with Steven Van Zandt.

After an extended break in Irvine to catch up on my web site and make a few enhancements, like a map of the stores I had visited in California, and fixing the stores that were categorized in incorrect counties by the imprecise nature with which I download store listings into my database, and wondering just how long of a sentence I could write, my next dose of caffeine was delayed even further by traffic on I-5 north to Buena Park and by an extended question and answer session with a manager and district manager that happened to be at the store. But that was fine, because I was not feeling as overwhelmed by the caffeine and, as a result, enjoying myself a bit more.

As soon as I walked into the La Habra Marketplace store I knew something was wrong--it was clearly an older store. I didn't even have to ask. I went back to the car and checked my database. The mix-up was due to a county miscategorization between Orange and Los Angeles counties. For some reason, the order in which the store locator listed stores occasionally changed, causing them to be recategorized. This type of thing had happened before, and I had still not managed to develop a system to avoid it. In this case, little harm was done, because I detoured only about a quarter of a mile, and moreover, I received a minor psychological boost, because two more stores from the original list were slashed (Beach and Whittier too).

My craving for real food had intensified and I did not think I'd be able to hold out 'til I reached LA proper. I passed one Italian restaurant but could not get over in time. Then I passed another, on Whittier, and pulled in and ordered some spaghetti and meatballs. I proceeded to eat it as I wound my way towards City of Industry, and I was rather proud that I hardly made any mess at all. Mwake no mwistake--eating spaghetti while driving is no trivial matter.

I lost some time because the City of Industry store was misplotted, but I'm almost ashamed to admit that I didn't catch the error myself. City of Industy is not that big, and I've known exactly where it is for year. Since my first trip to LA back in '98, when I did some research and learned that the strip clubs their have some very liberal rules. Needless to say, the new (and first) Starbucks there instantly became my favorite. Due to the lateness of the hour, I made it out of the city without spending any money because all the clubs were charging a ridiculous cover, and because in general I avoid strip clubs on Friday and Saturday nights unless I absolutely have to go.

Because of the misplotting, I ended up having to backtrack quiet a distance to Whittier. By 7:30 I had only visited 12 stores, and I wondered how many I would get to, especially since they tended to be busier on weekend nights. Still, my map of the Southland was looking freer and freer of blue dots, and that gave me a feeling of satisfaction.

After a new store in Montebello, I visited one more, in Commerce, and I decided to call it a night, so polished off the lentil soup I'd received with my spaghetti. Yes, lentil soup and pasta seemed an odd combination, but the soup was pretty good, and I felt that it would tide me over until lunch the next day.

The store's parking lot was far from ideal (for sleeping). It was very brightly lit, and it was right next to I-5. Nevertheless, I was so tired that it didn't really matter. Moreover, there was a big dumpster with a narrow gap behind where I was able to do my business without being seen. And the partners did not finish closing until midnight, so got quite a bit of sleep before I had to worry about whether I needed to move my car. I decided to just keep it there, and I moved it to a darker area.

Around 2:00 AM I woke up and decided I need more than just an gap behind the dumpster. I needed a toilet. Combine a full plate of spaghetti, bread, and lentil soup with that much coffee and see what it does to you. My need was not yet desperate, but I preferred to find a toilet before I got to that point and had to go ape shit, literally. Didn't want a repeat of that incident that time that ended up costing me a perfectly good towel and pair of undies.

I drove up Telegraph towards the other new Commerce store, and the one gas station I passed was closed. I went ahead and scoped out the store, and I noticed a cleaning man had the door to the hallway leading to the bathroom (of the shopping center) open. I considered going in there, but that really wouldn't have been cool to the poor guy just doing his job.

I looked up my bank and credit card statements and did a little work on my finances. Damn! I had forgotten about the $89 check I had written for a Scrabble game timer back at the NSC. It finally cleared, putting my available funds as follows: $231.43 in my checking account, $106 in bills, 11.75 in quarters, a dime, 2 nickels, a penny, an apple, a banana, and a $300-limit credit card with $94 .10 in pending charges from eBay, T-Mobile, and OLM (web hosting).

You know you're in a suck-ass part of town when all the gas station restrooms are closed. From Telegraph I drove south on Atlantic, and the restrooms were closed at every gas station I pulled into. At a light in Southgate I asked a cop, and he said a burger joint down the street. I thanked him, but I didn't need food. Still, I would have sprung for a donut if the Winchell's had a bathroom.

At every single gas station the attendant's English was accented, and though it made no logical sense, I could not help but project my irritation over the closed bathrooms into irritation that they did not speak better English. Further, I was starting to hate the residents of these lower-income areas for breeding hoodlums and juvenile delinquents and attracting homeless, the reasons I guessed for the bathroom's being locked. I never have a problem finding an open bathroom at any hour in west Plano, TX.

Finally, nearly in Long Beach at the 91, the attendance at Mobil said the bathroom was open. I was relieved to find relief and willing to overlook the bathroom's many flaws. A nasty-looking puddle on floor, hardly any toilet paper, no soap, ants crawling on the floor, a yellow condom on the sidewalk, and a general shabby appearance. Still, any port in a storm, right? And the gas cost about 10 cents a gallon more than I had seen elsewhere. And it would have cost me more, too, if not the for the fact that I had Starbucks to visit down in Lomita, where I settled for the remaining hours, so the drive wasn't wasted.

August 14

Despite only having visited 13 stores the previous day, I still had enough caffeine in my system to produce rather vivid dreams, including several false awakenings, so much so that when I finally got up shortly before 7:00 AM, I was a little confused. And half asleep, too, as I walked into the Starbucks and introduced myself to a partner who's girlfriend had e-mailed me about another store.

As before, I expected to go back to sleep until the sun started to warm my car, but my mind was quite active when I laid back down, and after a few minutes I decided just to go ahead and take advantage of the lighter Saturday morning traffic and subdued morning light.

As I photographed, I noticed my camera had gone into "moo" mode. I don't know exactly why I named it "moo" mode. Maybe it is because I darn near have a cow whenever it happens. Basically, what happens is that every time I turn the camera on, I have to push the flash button three times to turn off the flash, instead of just once. This can be annoying if I'm trying to take a photo very quickly before a car moves into a parking space in front of a Starbucks. Once the camera enters "moo" mode, I don't know of any way to get it out except to take out the batteries and leave them out for many hours, or overnight, which I can't do if I'm in the process of visiting stores all day.

As I took a photograph at the next store, a new drive-thru concept I'd heard a lot about, the power lines above me were making a sparking sound. That was the second time in a few days that I had heard such a sound, and it didn't sound safe to me. I was glad to get away from under them.

At the next store, I received such a blank stare from the manager when I introduced myself that I was sure she was going to turn me down for coffee. But she handed it over, and after I added sugar she asked to see my "thing" (the article). When I got out of the bathroom, she began to ask all sorts of questions. And then when a customer walked up to the register, she handed the article for him to read. A very strange reaction, and once again I though that I need to print out a copy of a shorter article, or perhaps just write up a fact sheet to show people so they wouldn't spend so much time reading the entire newspaper article.

Anyway, I sat in my car writing for a few minutes, and as I was about to leave the manager came out and gave me two drink coupons. Boy, had I misread that initial reaction!

Y? Y? Y? Y is my Y key sticking?? Y is this computer so crappy???

When I mentioned Compton was my next stop, the manager said she had heard of reports about bad service from customers who had not gone back, reverting to the nearby Gardena store. As I drove there, I considered not introducing myself, fearing shabby treatment or having my streak of free coffee broken. But I went for it, and the shift supervisor was very pleasant and interested in my project, as was a manager from another store visiting.

Upon leaving the store, next to me at Compton and Alameda, appropriately enough, EZ-E from an old Buick carrying three tough-looking Latino characters. They looked totally hard-core as they their Starbucks beverages.

From Compton to Southgate I drove back up Long Beach Boulevard, and it looked completely different than it had the previous night in the wee hours. I kinda liked that, constrasting major arterials or parts of town.

I had a fan at the next store, and she had me sign not only her apron, but also a tumbler--that was a first for me. Outside, as I tried to get a good photo of the different-looking "Drive-Thru" sign, a sherrif's deputy that I had watched disappear far down the road suddenly hollered at me to get out of the road. There's that serving and protecting again.

Magic Johnson was evidently blowing up in the Southland--five of the new stores I had visited were UCO, and, looking back on the stores I had visited over the past few days, including in San Diego, another six at least were UCO.

As I sat and updated my site in Bell, I was approached by two of what might have been regular characters. One was a hearing-impaired gentleman (though his card read "deaf") selling pencils or something. Another one was an older lady with skin overwrinkled from too much sun who kept walking around the store mumbling. The only thing I could make out was "Do you have any money to buy coffee?" When I left I noticed she was clearly homeless, carrying her belongings around in a cart, and I heard the partners exclaiming that she had stolen from the tip container. Then she came back in and started babbling something as the staff told her she couldn't be in there, though they didn't seem too concerned. As I worked, I overheard the staff continuing to look out the window and follow the lady's exploits.

I finally got back to the second new Commerce store, in an outlet center that was pretty crowded. I was thinking I might not get all the stores before having to rush to Oakland, so I skipped introduction and finally had to pay for my first coffee of the trip, but at least only the refill price.

After reshooting the other store which had a pretty design, I hopped onto I-5, with my destination finally Los Angeles proper, and Cuban food from Versailles! Actually, it looked like the shorter route would be to hit up the two stores north of the restaurant first. But this involved taking the 101, and those exit lanes were all backed up. In fact, the lanes continuing alone I-5 were also backed up, so I took I-10 instead and saw fewer slowdowns through to La Cienega. Ah, you gotta love them L.A. freeways!

I guess I can't complain too much, since the beans, rice, and plaintains only cost $6.80 and served as lunch and dinner, but they did screw up my order and gave me black instead of red beans. Still, I had been craving real Latin food for days, and it sure hit the spot!

Holy crapsicle!!! At one of the new stores in central Los Angeles the manager had a portable stereo playing classic rock! What's funny is that just the previous day, in Buena Park, the district manager I was chatting with asked me what I would change about Starbucks, and I said the ability to play music other than the company CDs.

As usual, the melody from that Everclear song was running through my mind as I drove towards Santa Monica. While the Third Street Promenade on a weeekend evening is great if you want to walk around and people watch, it sucks if you have limited time on the parking meter and just want to get in and out. Still, I was amused by the female guitar singer, a guy playing makeshift drums (tins and buckets), the gwuy with monkey, the guy painted up like bronze statue, and some act that involved a guy lining up four women from the audience that was attracting a lot of attwention. Oh, and several people and groups straight up begging with signs. Like one lady who needed for herself and her cats.

I wove past the performers and the crowd and found the first Starbucks, a relocation from a location a few doors down. Rules said I had to go back. And down a few hundred feet, a store not listed on the web site, perhaps because it started as a Hear Music store that only recently added a cafe. Oddly enough, the manager there turned to one of his partners to see if he could offer me coffee. Maybe he was new?

Lost in Translation

Earlier, when I had reached Los Angeles proper and found a copy of the LA Weekly. I did not expect to find a massage (and associated shower) at the threshold price of $30 or cheaper, not in L.A., but it never hurts to look. I was getting to the point where I imagined I could smell that homeless-person odor on myself, and if we were packed time during the Scrabble tournament, I didn't want to turn that into a problem. I was surprised to see these ads for as low as $20. I was immediately suspicious. Still, I had to call one. The girl's phone manner was crappy--I pity any fool that books with her. When I asked about a shower, she said yes, but then asked why? That's a silly question--why would ask about shower unless I wanted to use it. And then I think she hung up.

I needn't have called that first number at all, had I read further down the list and noticed that many of the ads share the same number, indicating that the girl was lying when she said she was not with an agency (which would imply a price higher than that listed). I called a few other ads, and the girls straight up said I'd need to bring a tip--this was unusual, and something I'd never seen before, these ridiculously low prices and a mandatory tip. Some new scam somebody cooked up no doubt.

Anyway, after calling a couple of ads that seemed legit, and disappointed to find that the one place offering a $25 half-hour lacked a shower, I resigned myself to continued funk and moved on. While online at another store, I remembered Craig's List and responded to a couple of ads there. One lady calling herself Nancy called me back while I was in Santa Monica. She was downtown and wanted to know when I could make it, so I had to wait until I finished my Starbucks visits and got out to the car and found the freeway before I could give her a good estimate. Since I had no intention of waiting around if she was not available immediately, I waited until she confirmed to broach the subject of the half-hour session, and whether she would do it for $30. She said she charged $40 and that it was still a lot of work to prepare for a shorter session, and I could not disagree. But I was on a limited budget, and I told her so. She thought about it and decided it was okay, so I headed downtown.

I didn't notice at first because when I arrived I made a beeline for the bathroom and then immediately asked for a towel for the shower. I probably spent more time in that one shower than I do during three or four normal showers combined. I scrubbed and I scrubbed and I scrubbed some more. And it felt gooood. Though I suppose "Nancy" had to wonder what was taking so long. When I finally got on the table and "Nancy" entered the room, it should have been clear, but I still didn't get it, even after I asked about her English. No, it wasn't until about 10 minutes into the overly-oily massage that I realized that the person I had spoken to on the phone could not possibly be the person working on me, because the former had spoken English that was just fine, if accented, and the latter hardly spoke English at all. Uh-oh--an agency! Agencies imply tips! But I was more concerned that the masseuse would not realize I was only there for 30 minutes. So I did something new--I got off the table and called the number again. The first thing "Nancy" thought was that I had not shown up for the appointment. I explained that I wanted her to explain to the masseuse about the 30 minutes, but I forgot to mention about the tip. I figured I could explain it away later, as we had agreed on $30. But after about 15-20 minutes, the masseuse indicated that she was offering something more than just a massage. Even if I turned her down, I knew she'd be expecting a tip, so I tried to explain that $30 was all I had. I was going to call "Nancy" again, but the masseuse indicated for me not to, that she was okay with the money. I suspect she didn't want to get in trouble, either because "Nancy" was (purposefully) unaware of the extra services offered, or because she suspected I was some type of law enforcement officer. Regardless, she left the room for some reason, and I went ahead and called Nancy and explained that I had no more money for the tip. I suggested that I might be able to get $10 from the ATM, with little or no intention of doing so. I handed the phone over for translation, and, for whatever reason, they decided that the $30 would be fine. The upshot--I left with a clean body, a clean conscience, and on budget.

Because of the detour downtown, I had to skip heading back down to visit one outstanding store in Inglewood, but I wasn't sweating it. I was sure there would be a dozen more stores in that area soon enough. Plus, I was already skipping about ten stores out near Palm Springs, Santa Clarita and several other locations to save gas. I skipped Simi Valley because I had a store to visit along the 101 and didn't want to detour. Other than that, I got everthing I needed along the 101 by night's end except one in Santa Barbara that closed at 9:00 PM. All in all, not bad.

I tried to enjoy the sunset drive up the 101 as best as I could despite the sun in my face, polishing off my leftover beans and rice as I went. In order to visit more stores and beat my trip high of 18 stores, I skipped introduction at the several stores between Camarillo and Ventura, depending on how long the line was. I also put away my first shot of espresso of the trip to cut down on the liquid in my stomach prior to sleeping, hoping it would cut down on the trips to the bathroom. Despite the food I had eaten, I still had to down four pain pills to stave off the intensifying headache.

I considered camping out in Santa Barbara to visit that new store, but I wanted to push further north before sleeping. Still, exhausting set in quickly as I approached the city and I decided to just nap for a while. I saw a sign for a tourist information center and exited, but after winding my way through a popular area for night life I didn't find it and got back on the freeway. The next exit led into a hilly residential area with winding roads. There was no place I felt comfortable sleeping, but I still had to go something awful and picked what appeared, in the darkness, to be a empty field. As I pressed myself as close to the fence I as I could I could see a person in the house through the crack, and I quickly backed away. Of course he wouldn't be able to see me or what I was doing, but he might have been able to see movement. I left quickly. The problem with the 101 along Santa Barbara was that the freeway was so lined with trees that I couldn't see what businesses there were at the exits. So by the time I spotted a heavily developed area that might have been suitable for finding a place to sleep, it was too late to exit. Finally I spotted a sign for a rest area about 30 miles down the road, and I just fought my fatigue and pushed on until I reached it.

As expected, the 20 coffees I had led to vivid dreams. No false awakenings this time. Rather, extended dream scenarious probably related to anxiety over my needing to win money in the Scrabble tournament. In the first dream I was playing a strange game involving an oddly shaped futuristic-looking mallet and a small blue ball. I competed against at least three opponents, and I was losing to all of them. The last one, I think, was a girl who could have been my first girlfriend back in college, but instead came back from summer break refusing to speak to me and then accused me of harassing her when I persisted in trying to find out what the hell had happened. I think the game required me to hit my ball and then run, and Melissa was able to hit me with her ball before I got far, knocking me out of the game.

Next I dream I was in line, at a cafeteria I think, and I was introduced to Porter Gauss, Bush's selection to head the CIA. I have no idea what Gauss looks like, and this fact from reality was reflected in the events in my dream. I have no idea what that dream meant, nor who the guy is that was supposed to be Gauss in the dream.

The night was the coldest of my trip to that point. I had to use my heavy blanket for the first time, and then use my light blanket on top of it. It dawned on me that, because of the heat in New Orleans and Houston, I had not even thought to bring my flannel pajama top or even an undershirt. If I made it up to Seattle that might be an issue, and definitely if I made it all the way to Calgary.

August 15

I awoke at 6:06 and entered the bathroom, where the guy in the stall next to the urinal was making a noise that sounded like a cross between the moaning made by a retarded person and a muppet. I think I slept for the better part of eight hours, and while I could have slept more, I felt a lot better.

I was in a hurry to visit as many of the stores along US-101 as I could before having to rush to Oakland, so its a good thing I caught the misplotting of the store in Santa Maria before I lost time wandering in the wrong part of the city. At the store, I was told of an opening in Lompoc, but it required a detour to the PCH, and I just didn't have time for that. Outside the store, I was wondering which way to get back to the freeway to find gas, and when I spotted a girl in a black suburban about to exit the parking lot I rushed up to the car, held out my hand, and motioned for her to stop. I think I freaked her out. But I learned I needed to go south to the previous exit, not north.

Fuckin' $2.23 Mobil gas, man! I shoulda gassed up at $1.95 before leaving L.A. It never fails when I'm in a hurry, that the first gas I encounter is the most expensive. Just down the street, past the range of my vision, $2.21 at Chevron. And then at the intersection, only $2.20 at Shell. And furthermore, the Burger King that was supposed to open at 7:00 was not yet open 7:09. One customer, or maybe an employee (lacking a key) sat outside, and an old lady in a scarf and walking with a cane walked up to the door, looked lost and disappointed, and then walked back across the street.

Oh, jeez. 16 miles up the highway in Arroyo Grande, $2.15 right at the exit and $2.12 further down Grand Ave!

After Santa Maria, the remainder of my visits were stealth visits. At some stores I was charged for my half cup, and at others I wasn't. And at a couple, for not particular reason, I downed espressos, even though they were more expensive, at $1.35 towards the north or $1.45 closer to L.A.

I don't really like that unfresh Minute Maid juice they have at Burger King, but I craved the taste of something other than coffee to go with my biscuit sandwich. It's also overpriced, compared to the fresher-tasting stuff they have a Wal-Mart (of all places), so it was particular irksome that I spilled half of it on the passenger-side floor, rendering it sticky for the next day until I snagged some soap from a Starbucks and cleaned it off. I don't like sticky.

The modest amount I spent on coffee during my stealth visits was a worthwhile tradeoff for the time I saved, and when I began the new Starbucks-less gap along the 101 I was confident I would arrive on time. Still, past experience has taught me that a little time here, a little time there, and then next thing I know I'm running late again. So I endured the increasing pressure in my bladder until I reached Gonzalez. Towards the end there I was intently counting the miles, trying to focus on anything other than how much it hurt.

Meanwhile I kept trying to reach the directors of the tournament to find out what the cutoff for registration was so I could figure out how many stores I could visit before making the final rush to Oakland. As it turned out, all my time was used up at a San Jose store I had missed on two previous passes, because the manager recognized me and wanted to chat, and I always feel compelled to oblige after free coffee.

I was able to make up the time by blazing the 40 miles up I-880 north to Oakland, all the while doing the due diligence that I often overlooked and calling new stores listed to see if they were open for business. Meanwhile, the Pacifica affiliate out of Berkley was playing Mary Chapin Carpenter's "The Hard Way". Gotta love any station that still plays MCC!!!

I made up enough time that I was able to stop at a new store in downtown Oakland and still arrive in time to register, and then immediately leave again to visit a new store in Emeryville. Both would be closed by the time Scrabble ended, and I did not want to have to remain in the area until morning if I didn't have to. Mission accomplished, I had a Scrabble tournament to win!

After the tournament I headed to only other new store in the immediate area, in Alameda. I had planned on hanging out and updating my site, but while chatting with a barista I discovered in my back pocket the key to the bathroom at It's Your Move, the game shop where we had played Scrabble. D'oh! I figured I would have to go back to Oakland and return it, but when I called there was no answer so I figured I'd just mail it, and I stuck around at the Starbucks anyway.

When I introduced myself to the shift supervisor, she said she had thought of the same idea four years ago. Hah! I beat her!

I worked on my site and tried to figure out where to go in the morning. Then I remembered an e-mail from a partner in Antioch who wanted me to come visit and said she had a gift for me. If I headed out there, the next stop would be Orinda. There were few enough stores between Orinda and Antioch that I'd be able to visit them at a relaxed pace and still reach Antioch before the partner finished her shift. I didn't work for very long before a wave of fatigue hit me. Maybe it was because I'd only visited 12 stores that day and was coming down off the caffeine high (and despite 6 hours of Scrabble even)! I was about to leave when I overheard one of the partners tell another that she didn't think anyone was going to buy that last bagel. Sensing an opportunity, I gave her a look--she asked if I wanted the bagel. I said sure, if it was free. She hesitated and then handed it to me on the sly. That was great because, despite having won the $30 in Scrabble, I was thinking about skipping dinner to get back on my $10/day food budget target.

I also worked out how much gas money I'd need to get back to Houston, something I'd been holding off doing because I knew the number would give me pause. $200... minimum.

With the Scrabble tournament out of the way, I had not more deadlines and no reason to push myself (too hard). So despite its only being 9:00 I decided to go to sleep. And immediately, not even bothering to try and find some 24-hr supermarket. There were plenty of streets in that part of Alameda that were not brightly lit, and I just parked along the curb. Of course it wasn't long before I had to find some privacy, and I was able to sneak into the doorway of some credit union. The second time I tried this, though, I narrowly avoided being spotted by a female cop in a parking lot across the street. Not taking any chances, I moved to another street and parked in front of a small moving van. There were bushes next to the build were I was able to find privacy, but I had to walk along an awkward route to avoid triggering the sensors that turned on the bright lights--boy did I hate the inventors of those things!

Around 2:00 a group of drunkards passed--I assumed they were drunk because of the time and their manner of bellowing despite the lateness of the hour. I stayed still to avoid being noticed and hassled.

Perhaps it was indeed the anxiety that had led to the false awakenings, because now that I had won, I slept more soundly and had different sorts of dreams.

In the wee hours I got up to drive out to Orinda. I stopped in front of the Starbucks first to doing my online things, and I think I made the newspaper deliveryperson nervous because I could see her glancing at me repeatly in the rearview mirror.

I drove through downtown Oakland back to It's Your Move hoping to drop off the key under the door. Plenty of cops are to be seen, but I guess they are not really working, because I'm next to one at a light when the light turns green as car speeds in front of us. The other drive was clearly speeding and running a red, but the cop just kept on going.

August 16

In picked the parking lot in front of Beverages and More. It was next to the freeway exit, but the I had long ago gotten used to freeway sounds, and it was around 5:00 AM, so I didn't figure I'd attract any attention. I lay down and immediately began to hear muffled voices. I kept looking around, but I couldn't figure out where they were coming from. I started hoping I was developing telepathic powers and hearing the thoughts of the people around me. But that didn't make sense, because the muffled voice sounded the same, and it would have made more sense to hear a stream of different voices as the cars stopped at the light and then drove on.

When I woke up needing a restroom, it was light out so I drove over to the Starbucks. I didn't feel like dressing and doing my spiel yet. I considered disguising myself with a plastic bag, since I didn't have a grocery sack, or perhaps a blanket, so they wouldn't see my face as I went into the restroom. By by chance, the restroom door was right inside the entrance, and blocked by a coffee rack so they couldn't see me. All my thinking about stealhiness put me into a wacky mood, and I started thinking about what if I started introducing myself in weird ways, for comedic effect. Like with a paper bag over my head. Or by plopping a pair of my used underwear on the counter and asking if I could trade it for coffee. Probably seems funnier to me than it would to them.

About a quarter of 7:00 I wasn't completely caught up on sleep, but I started feeling anxious to get going. I did feel better, even if my T was now going on he friz, but it still took me a while to clear the cobwebs from my head. I sort of zoned out there in the car lisening to Morning Edition while making the ray gun noise. To make the ray gun noise, fill your mouth about halfway with water. Then purse your lips and create a slight gab that allows you to breath in through your mouth without letting the water escape. The sound of the air through the water should sound like that of a ray gun. It helps if you have a vivid imagination, or if you are just insane.

I hung out at the Orinda store to work on updates to my site delayed by my rush to reach the Scrabble tournament. I received two media e-mails--one froma radio station in central Pennsylvania that had put me on the air in 2002, and the latter from a Clear Channel station in Santa Barbara. The girl from Clear Channel called immediately, and I could tell right away she had no interest whatsoever in Starbucks and was just doing a job booking me. She probably wasn't even in Santa Barbara. Honestly, she sounded like a real bitch. Pyscho Mike from Pennsylvania, on the other hand, was rather more enthusiastic when he call. Those are the radio types I like.

As I continued to work, a pretty girl sat right across from me to have her coffee and pastry. She looked intense, maybe sad, maybe angry, maybe just focused on whatever she was reading. There was no way to talk to her, of course, but I wondered what was going through her mind. Probably focus--when she got up to leave she kept looking down at her binder.

On the way to Danville, I spotted a vanity plate and thought that it must get this guy pulled over a lot! Later, I realized that I was confusing MDNA with MDMA, Ecstacy, because I just have drugs on the brain. Somebody else pointed out that the plate probably stood for "Madonna Fan".

At the next store, the assistant manager made it extremely difficult for me to look her in the eye because of the blouse she was wearing. Oh, it met the Starbucks dress code all right, but she really needed to button a couple of more of those top buttons. Really, the temperature was fairly cool out. I was indignant--this was a coffee shop, not a bar! It just isn't right.

In Danville, the girl in line in front of me turned around to reveal a white flower on her lapel. I tried to make conversation by joking about whether the flower shot acid like the Joker. She was not amused.

The next store, also in Danville, had been around for a couple of years, and while I had made several passes through the area I had always missed it. But it's good that I did, because had I visited sooner, I would have missed meeting the new manager on her first day. I can't imagine that the old manager could have been as enthusiastic about my project as this one was.

Sometimes you can judge a book by it's cover. At the next store, in Concord, the shift supervisor was an older gentleman. I suspected he would not seem very interested in my project, and I was right. For the most part, I have gotten less of an enthusiastic reaction from the older shift leaders and managers.

My heart filled with joy when I discovered $1.97 gas at ARCO in Pittsburgh! But a $0.35 transaction fee to use a debit card. Very unusual. A good reason to carry cash around.

I finally made it to the next store and surprised the heck out of Daphne, who had been wondering if I would make it because my log wasn't up to date. Of course I got my coffee, and a pastry, but I wasn't able to get the $50 gift card they were saving for me because they had misplaced it. There was no T-Mobile, but I hung out and worked on my site anyway until Daphne took a break so we could chat. Important to make time for the fans it is, quoth Master Yoda.

At the next store I stumbled across the same district manager I had run into at the Pittsburgh store. This hadn't happened in years, but I always got kick when it did. Invariably I would say "Hey, you're following me!" or the DM would beat me to it. Certain types of cheese are just inevitable.

I took a break at the next new store in Brentwood and debated over which way to go. I finally decided it was time to visit those stores out in Sonora and Angel's Camp. Eager to see if I had heard back from Arwen, so when neared I-205 on Grant Line Road in Tracy and felt the tingling in the back of my neck that alerts me to a nearby Starbucks, I pulled in a checked my e-mail. At another table was a girl on the phone, and I overheard her telling friend that she was seeking a ride home because her father wasn't answering the phone to come pick her up. When she hung up I asked if she lived nearby and offered to take her home in exchange for gas money. As I expected, she declined with a nervous look. While I answered e-mails, she continued to call around to try and get a ride. I suppose the fact that I was shirtless might have affected her decision not to trust me. She complained to whoever was on the other end of the line how she had called about five people and how her dad wouldn't answer and how she had been waiting for almost an hour. When I finally left, walking past her, I resisted the urge to wave and yell out "Bye! Have fun!"

Once I got on I-205 heading east I called a reporter with who had e-mailed me and did a short interview. Then I stopped at a long-outstanding store in Oakdale before continuing east on SR-120, the North Yosemite Highway, towards Sonora. I got a sudden urge to finally visit Yosemite, but I didn't really have the time or money, plus that's the kind of thing I'd rather do with other people.

In retrospect, it was stupid for me to even think that the Sonora Starbucks would be where it was plotted on my map, obviously a rural area. Nevertheless I wandered around the hilly and winding road too narrow in places for two cars to pass each other until I worked my way back to the freeway and across, whereupon I immediately saw a shopping center that seemed a likely location for the Starbucks. I still didn't see it, so I went into the Wal-Mart to replace my Chapstick, and a pair of customers told me the Starbucks was right across the parking lot. As I left the Wal-Mart, I overheard a kid driving a pickup yell something about a bee into his mobile phone. I thought, see I'm not the only one freaked out by stinging insects!

Flies were the invaders at the Starbucks, infesting the store in such quantities that I looked at them nervously as I introduced my project and making me anxious to leave as quickly as possible.

As I passed through downtown Sonora on the way out of town I got a sudden craving for Mexican food, perhaps built up from day after day of seeing Mexican restaurants throughout my trip. But besides my budget I was also in a hurry to reach Angel's Camp during daylight for the photograph.

The Mexican restaurants were about the only sign of ethnicity I witnessed in Sonora. Between the Wal-Mart and the Starbucks I don't think I saw a single person of color. Still, downtown Sonora looked interesting--I'd like to return.

While my budget limited my recreational options, views like this one, from the Robinson's Ferry landmark, are free .

I couldn't figure out which of the two signs is funnier.

I had seen a sign when I crossed into the county, but it wasn't until I reached the Angel's Camp Starbucks and looked at the community board that I realized this was the Calaveras county that Mark Twain had written about. Suddenly all the frog references I'd been seing made sense!

At a movie theater in downtown Angel's Camp I spotted a sign on the marquee that read "Indy's Back". My first thought was one of the Indiana Jones movies, so I had to stop and ask, but it was just a reference to an independent movie series that ran on Wednesday's. Still, it surprised me that a movie theater in such a small out of the way place would be screening indie flicks.

Further down I passed Sue's Angels Creek Cafe. I liked the name, so I stopped to look at the menu. Yay! Biscuits! I thought about staying in the town for the night, but then I remembered I had to do an interview in the morning and my phone wasn't getting reception, plus I was still hoping that I would get to see Arwen once I searched the Sacramento area and possibly get a shower and maybe even a place to crash for the night.

On the way out of town I passed a Holiday Inn and for some reason remembered back to when young and the entire family would take long road trips. Sometimes we would stay in a Holiday Inn, and I used to think it was the most luxurious hotel.

I had a feeling that the new Placerville store might close later, so I hurried as much as I could along the winding California Highway 49. I'm down with trees, but I swear to go if I never have to drive SR-49 again it will be too soon. Cuz when I'm racing When I gotta kiwi real bad, gimme a straight, flat Nebraska highway where I can do 120 and not see a cop for years. Anyway, I ignored the pain and pushed on. I tried to follow a pickup truck that was taking those curves too close for my comfort. I lost him once, but then picked him up again when we went through a town. As soon as we cleared the town her was off and running and I was trying to keep up. When he got to a hill he flashed his brake lights. When that happens, I have to assume it's because he has seen a cop and slow down accordingly. There was no cop. I think he just did it to slow me down so he could lose me, and that was just mean. People are so mean. In the end, I arrived at the new store just minutes before it closed.

No Shower for You!

Finally back in Sprint PCS territory I listened to two voice mails, both with good news. First, one from my mother reporting that two checks had arrived, my paycheck for $405, and one from AOL for $200. Yay money!!! And a message from Arwen with her phone number. Finally!! I called her right away as soon as I got onto US-50, and we arranged to meet at a grocery store in Folsom, near where she lived.

Arwen was already there when we arrived. Instead of going up to the seats I beckoned her over so I could finish listening to a song I liked. We chatted, and then she went into "mom" mode and insisted that I needed to eat. So we walked over to the other end of the parking lot where there were several restaurants, but they were either closed or unappealing. I spotted a Macaroni Grille, and it wasn't quite 10:00 PM, so we walked across the street to it.

In an earlier e-mail Arwen had indicated that I was showerworthy, and I was hoping she would broach the subject. But I had to end up asking, and her reply was that her roommate, the Shower Nazi, would freak out if she brought a stranger over. I protested that I was strange, but hardly a stranger. As a matter of fact Arwen's coworkers were teasing her about my being her "boyfriend". Still, there woulb be no shower in my immediate future, and I have to say I was disappointed. But I forgave quickly, as she insisted on paying for my spaghetti dinner, a meal so huge it was destined to become the next day's lunch as well. During dinner I discovered that we had a lot a common besides an interest in Starbucks, and I started to think that she was really cool.

We walked back across the street and hung out next to the cars until the cooling temperature prompted me to suggest moving over in front of the restaurant away from the breeze. Arwen was pretty, and this combined with her interest in my project and the things we had in common stirred in me passions. I misread the signals and made overtures, but they were rejected, albeit gently. As they said, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and I, well fed, was not holding any grudges, despite having scored neither a shower nor some sugar.

We hung out until after midnight, and then it was time for me to find a place to crash. Arwen said that it would be easier to find a place to park in Cameron Park, and she was right. I thought I wouldn't have any problem when I spotted construction in a new shopping center on a street just off US-50 and Bidwell. Though I think the continuing expansion of suburbs (urban sprawl) to be horrible for the planet, it does offer one advantage for me, in the form of port-a-potties. But just as I exited the unit, a Folsom patrol passed through the parking lot, and I was sure he was going to come over and investigate. But he just kept driving, and when I got back in my car, I did too, right across the freeway onto a very dark road that ended at a T junction with another dark road. The one place that looked suitable for parking was already taken by a pair of lovebirds, so I ended up going back across the freeway into the parking lot of the Marriott.

August 17

The call from the Santa Barbara station woke me at 6:18, and it's good she gave me 12 minutes lead time because I needed it to shake the cobwebs out. I could have used some coffee, but the morning rush continued at the new store in Cameron Park, and I had to do my interview without that caffeine kick. As it turned out, the station had actually had me on before and were following up. I guess I didn't suck the first time. Anyway, repeat visits always seem easier.

Before I left I asked a customer about the best way to Greenback and Madison, whether the freeway or a surface street. He said the freeway, but he hardly bothered to look up from his paper. I don't think he was too interested in my project.

Ooh! $1.93 gas in Orangevale! But as I gassed up, I tried to type in my log but was freaked out by the shadow of a fly that was flying in front of my winshield in the bright morning sun. And by a woman scolding her son for something he was doing wrong while pumping the gas. When I went into the store for my change, it occurred to me that if the cashier wasn't paying attention, an observant thief could hang out in front of the store waiting for someone to pump an amount that would generate change, then walk into the store and claim it for himself. There's that criminal mind of mine at work again.

After a new store in Folsom, a secret store one of my informants had alerted me to, I wisely made a couple of calls and learned I didn't have to cut across to I-80 after all because those new stores in Loomis and Roseville had not yet opened, so I headed straight on into Sacramento.

Gasp! More Competition!

During my previous trip I had heard rumours of other people trying to visit all or some subset of Starbucks, but no details. At the T and Stockton store in Sacramento I finally got my firmest lead. When I introduced myself to the partner in charge he said he had heard of people doing something similar. I said I was supposed to be the only one, and he said that he had a friend, James, who planned to visit all the stores in his lifetime.

When I pulled in front of a store in downtown Sacramento, I opened my door slowly because I saw a car turning the corner. The driver was an old man, and he thought I was going to hit his car with my door, even though there were inches, or feet, to spare, and he just stopped and glare at me. Never mind that the logical thing would have been to veer out of the way. See, that's why old people shouldn't drive!

When I had obtained my coffee, I was this close to getting back in my car when I decided that the next store was far enough away that I'd better use the restroom. Less than a minute I'd say it took me, but when I got to the exit door I could see a dorky-looking parking enforcement agent writing me a ticket. I told him I had just been in the restroom and if he could still undo it, but he didn't say anything. He just finished writing the ticket and then waffled between putting it on my windshield and handing it to me, so I reached for it. I asked him if I could go pay it right away, and he directed me to a nearby address.

I went to the municipal center hoping against hope to be able to schedule a hearing immediately to contest the ticket, but there was a process. I had to submit a form and wait to be contacted. At least the process would delay having to pay the ticket for a month or two.

I got a little mixed up getting out of downtown and onto I-80 west and ended up in historical Old Sacramento. It looked like a pretty cool place to check out when I had more time.

"Eviscerator X"--that's going to be my supervillain name!

As I approached the exit to the new Vacaville store I suddenly felt lightheaded and dizzy. I suddenly realized I hadn't eaten all morning. As I gathered my things and stepped out of the car I had to steady myself. My plan had been to skip breakfast and rely on the leftover spaghetti, and that plan moved up to the for front. After my spiel I asked if the Starbucks had any paper or plastic plates. They didn't. The store was conveniently located next to a gas station where I could heat my food, but I didn't want to buy a set of plates. So what I did was to dump the spaghetti from the metal container to its plastic cover, and then put the makeshift plate inside the plastic bag. Thus I was able to heat it without making a mess.

Meanwhile, a couple at the next table had their laptop flipped onto its side. I had never seen anyone do this before, so of course I glanced at the screen. It was a photograph of her naked in late pregnancy, with a shiny belly and the guy with his arms around her. Okay. I couldn't resist glancing every time I walked by and wondered why they were looking at naked photos of a pregnant woman at Starbucks.

Man, why does this have to happen almost every trip. I lost a photo again, this time the one of Cameron Park. I'm sure I took it. I must have reformatted the CompactFlash card when I got to the next store. Well, there's no way I'm driving all the way back there--I'll just have to wait until next time.

I took a break at the El Sobrante store for a couple of games with Charles Goldstein, whose rating after his last tournament in 1995 was 2007. Even if he was rusty after nearly 10 years, I couldn't pass up a chance to play somebody that good. Plus, I got me a donation to buy me some dinner. Which put a numbers-obsessed person like me in a quandry. Should I subtract the $20 from my food total, or should I categorize it as a donation to my project? How was his handing me cash differenct from paying for my meal like Becky did?

Holy crap! As I sat the San Rafael store and chatted with the manager, I explained that my plan was to drive from Santa Rosa along the 101 to the store in Eureka, and then continue along the 101 all the way to Newport, OR. Then I worked out the distance on my mapping program and saw that it was a whopping 315 miles! As beautiful as that drive might be, I wasn't sure if I wanted to "enjoy" it all in one sitting.

As I sat at the store, a pair of San Rafael police entered. I figured they were just there to order coffee, but when I returned from the bathroom I overheard talk about a guy, a female partner, trespassing, and a restraining order. For half a second there I thought they were after me!

While browsing Craig's List I stumbled across an opportunity to make a couple of bills without too much effort, with just a slight detour from Santa Rosa. Upon returning, the first thing I did was too stop at a gas station and have the attendant check the bills to make sure they were real. I was probably being overly cautious, but you never know.

I found a dark street with tractor trailers parked along the side, not far from the first Starbucks I'd visit in the morning, and there I spent the night.

August 18

Dawn of the Doofus

By coincidence, I was dreaming about Starbucks serving fish when I was abruptly awoken to do an interview for a radio station in Pennsylvania. When I recounted to the barista about how I'd been dreaming about Starbucks, she didn't seem to amused, merely condescending. I guess she lacked "the love". I went on to solidify the good impression I was making by tripping and spilling my coffee when I returned to my car. The barista gave me another, which I promptly proceeded to spill at the condiment bar. I was almost scared to asked for yet another complimentary cup, and I did get this look from the barista, but I guess I had not completely exceeded the limits of her patience.

In downtown Santa Rosa I was taken to task by a meter maid when I stopped my car at the curb to take a photo. I wanted to tell her off, but that would have just gotten me a ticket.

Further down in Santa Rosa, my project almost came to an abrupt end when my clumsiness continued and I almost dropped my camera to the floor, just narrowly catching it by the strap as it slid off the table. After a few minutes, it started to feel fairly warm, and for half a second I almost forgot where I was and started to take off my shirt. Too bad I didn't have a web cam, because maybe that idiot from who IM'ed me would have gotten into that. Nah, it was probably some pimply-faced guy or some grandma.

I had been told earlier that morning that a second store had opened in Eureka, and another in Fort Bragg, along the way to Eureka (but off the 101, on the coast). With the knowledge of those new stores opening, I was torn between making the drive to Eureka and waiting until another occasion. The thing was, I had been waiting to make the drive to Eureka for years, and there would always be new Starbucks in remote areas. I figured I'd waited long enough.

After a few years during which I had to switch to 31-waist 501 jeans, I had recently switched back to 30. They fit comfortable for a few weeks, but as my trip progressed they seemed to be sagging more and more, exposing the band of my briefs when I walked around shirtless, as I often did in the oppressive heat of summer. Ever fashion-conscious, I decided that if I was going to sag, the gray band of the new Hanes briefs would look more stylish. I had bought one pack earlier in the year, but it was time to buy more. Near the next Starbucks was a Target where I was able to pick them up, plus some more deodorant, critical given my lack of air conditioning.

I had to head back to the Hearn store to pick up the articles I had left. On the way back out to the interstate I had an epiphany. Years ago, a web site called started tracking gas prices around the country. When I started having money problems and had to take road trips on a limited budget, I started wondering how to could use the web site to help me find cheaper gas. Back then, I didn't have a laptop, so I couldn't readily access the Internet where ever I happened to be. Occasionally I would punch up the web site from Kinko's, but I never found cheap gas near where I was, which meant I just wasted money on the computers.

Anyway, as I passed some cheap gas at Hearn and US-101, it occurred to me that I could create my own database of cheap gas locations around the country.

One more store, and then back downtown to see if I could find a decent place for breakfast now that I had some newfound wealth. There were plenty of homeless to be found in downtown Santa Rosa, which might have explained my treatment at Mac's Diner. After finding the meter with the most time left on it, I rushed over to the diner for some takeout. But I forgot my money. I didn't want to walk all the way back and return, so I quickly came up with a half-assed plan, to leave my phone with the guy while I went to get my car, or my computer. But the guy looked at me with distrust, like I was one of those homeless trying to scam him. Yeah, like I was going to give up a laptop for an $8 breakfast.

On the way out of town I stopped at the Charles M. Schulz museum, but the entry fee was a whopping $8!!! I guess they have to keep it running somehow. I make a mental note that I'd have to visit on another occasion.

The drive north on US-101 was el mucho windy. I tried to make sure everything in the car was bolted down, but about 150 miles from Eureka I was adjusting a pair of socks airing out on the passenger-side headrest (because my dashboard was already full) when something started flying around and almost out the window. I grabbed it down by my leg. Holy shit! A folded-up ten-dollar bill. How did that get loose??? Man, I couldn't afford to be throwing money away like that!

At least some stretch of the 101 was known as the Redwood Highway. I'm no treeologist, but I could guess what those big trees were.

Cripes, but the gas in Cooks Valley was ridiculously expensive at $2.45 a gallon!!!

About 125 miles from Eureka traffic was stopped by a flagman. I used the time to keep writing when suddenly a bee entered through the passengers side window. AAH!!! I almost dumped the laptop on the floor in my panic. Thankfully it flew back out again, but I was left nervous about keeping the window open. No choice, though, with the sun beaming in.

As I approached Eureka, however, it turned much cooler. The temperature drop seemed to be more than what I would have expected simply from the setting sun and the cloud cover. Cooler air? I wasn't complaining--I was glad to be able to drive with the windows up at last.

I reached Eureka during rush hour and had cross town to reach the Starbucks. Tourists, residents getting off work, and homeless or transients. Plenty of eateries that looked appealing.

returned with my debit card only to realize they didn't even have express-pay What kind of back-asswards place was this? Ended up costing me $1.40 frankly, I was a little disgusted and decided to leave the city as soon as possible.

waffling about 101 to Newport or 299 to Redding because of the fog

When I saw this view not too long into my drive I figured the drive would be worth it. And I was right, as I was treated to a few other vistas that beat the heck out of the "scenery" along I-5.


lady chevron eying me suspicious


Los Compadres

back in oregon 23 months, brookings, dark so miught as well slepp

August 19

About a quarter of 7:00 I woke up and tried to decide if I felt like I had slept enough. When I looked at the time, I calculated that I had slept for the better part of ten hours, from just past 9:00 AM. I hadn't slept like that since I left Houston. From 9:00 PM 'til just past 7:00. Nearly 10 hours and it felt like heaven. There! My morning rap!

Fred Meyer, surprisingly, was still closed, so I went across the street to a place I'd never heard of, Ray's Food Place. At the checkout counter, an older man let me go in front of him since I only had four items (can you guess what they were?). But he only had about five or six items himself, so I wondered why he was letting me go ahead. When I moved off and heard him greet the cashier, I realized he had probably wanted to flirt with her without her having to hurry because of other customers. Clever. That's totally something I would have come up with. Way to go old man!

As I pulled back onto US-101, the intro to that hour of Morning Edition stated that oil prices had risen above $47. Aaaagh! My return trip might cost me even more in gas than I had projected.

Just outside town there was a rest area--wish I'da known about it.

yogurt spoon broke

verlitl fog, sun over hills shine ocean

almost gibby back in oregon and heading to portland then seattle

Battle Creek wayfinding point

On 101 north of Badon there was an unusual stretch of highway. Southbound traffic, traveling uphill, had two lanes, one for passing. But northbound traffic had a broken yellow line, indicating that we were also allowed to pass. To avoid any confusion, a sign specified that we had to yield that center lane to the uphills traffic.

In the next town, I sort of zoned out, thinking about a couple of upcoming tournaments in New Jersey. Next thing I knew, cars were slowing down. Startled, I quickly slowed and moved to the right lane. I wasn't sure if it was a school zone or not, or if school was even in session, but why take `chances.

Just before Reedsport I passed


In Reedsport itself I saw the first patrol car of the morning. A few months prior on NPR... no, wait, it was in Fahrenheit 911--I had heard that Oregon had a shortage of state troopers. This knowledge made me feel more confident about all the passing I was doing, some of which had required exceeding 80 MPH (101 was 65 max)

thought about going out to Eugene

as njeared newport got more anxious aggressive with passing

pass pickup he honks, dind't look for opp to let me pass like i do, logigcal, car talk said not logigcal

shortage of state troopers

relief when reach newport, finally, 4 hrs 2 drive 200, 11:15 coffee 1st in 17 hours

mgr gives me this look when i explain 4 oz

public library

turned into a stealth visit when I spotted what appeared to be a meeting between the manager and the DM in a meeting. A barista made inquiries, and it would be a few minutes. She offered me a drink in the meanwhile. Coffee in hand, there was no need

almost forgot Liberty Plaza reshoot

negotiate with King 5

streak almost broken Salem

roth error issue

I reached the closest of the Portland burbs, Lake Oswego, and discovered my first real financial hiccup of the trip. I had either dropped or left the cord for my battery recharger somewhere, and a new one would cost around $20-$30.

I swear one of these days I'm going to have to go ape on one of these guys.

Yeah! 94.7 in Portland kicks ass! Database.

Malanga, overpriced, but shifted metabolism

The Corporation

parking garage kearny streets in order

Coffee Time chess get urge

Peter Parker walk

couch park bathroom open surfprise, 12:01 sign but ppl stgill there

August 20

At 6:34:50 I was woken by a call from a recruiter. I told him would call him later. I went back to sleep. At 6:48:20 I was woken by a call from Star 100.7 in San Diego wanting to put me on the air. I would have preferred an e-mail to schedule a time, but what the heck. Plus, it would motivate me to visit the one new store downtown before the morning rush. So I suited up and headed over there and was pleasantly surprised to find the manager so enthusiastic that she offered me a pastry for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch. The interview was also more interesting than usual because the station was on a Starbucks kick and looking for people who visited Starbucks a bunch of times a day. Right before me they aired an interview with a lady who drinks 6 fraps a day.

No point in trying to sleep further with the sun beaming down like it was, so I headed over to 23rd and Burnside where an enthusiastic partner kept telling the customers about my project. I told her I needed to hire her to do my PR!

Next I went all the way out to a new store in Hillsboro and went three-for-three on recognition. At the next store they hadn't heard of me, but the manager still came out from the back and offered up some swag, a tumbler.

I had a new fan experience as I happened to launch AOL Instant Messenger and got messaged by some guy in Florida who asked me lots of questions and encouraged me to travel internationally as much as I could while young and unmarried. I told him money was all that was holding me back, and that not to worry, settling down wasn't going to happen.

I wandered around for fifteen minutes trying to find the Beaverton Mall, clearly labeled on my map. I finally spotted the Starbucks and realized that the mall had been renamed Cedar Hills Crossing. Inside the store, which had been moved from its old location in the old mall, thus requiring a return visit, my conversation with the manager was distracted by the presence of a mentally or emotionally challenged middle-aged man who was extremely excitable and gesticulating wildly about this or that. The staff, and the security guard sitting in the corner, were very patient and tolerant, and perhaps even a little amused. Me, ever the heartless bastard, I would have tried to get that guy the fuck out of there. But unfortunately there's just too many bleeding hearts out there who would object to those type of sentiments.

I finally received a reply from the lady in Beaverton who had previously offered me a place to stay. As had happened before, in the time between her original message and when I finally reached Oregon something had changed, and she did not reiterate the offer in her reply, nor was it as enthusiastic as her earlier e-mails. I wondered if she was just busy, or if she had lost interest in Starbucks, or my project, or if she had even been offended by something I had written in my logs.

I headed back to Portland proper and visited two stores close together on Broadway and on MLK, and then I headed to the nearby Lloyd Center to see Garden State. I wasn't running that late, but I got mentally confused about the parking situation and ended up wasting seventy-five cents. It was allright--the movie was only $6, much cheaper than the prices in California.

I had had the leftover beans and rice for lunch, so the sandwich waited until dinner. It wasn't that great, with the lettuce and sauce, but I took the lettuce out and masked the taste of the sauce with the chips I had been given. Regardless of the taste, I couldn't waste the free calories!

While looking on Craig's List for a cheap massage the previous night, the girl I spoke with, who didn't have a shower available, said that I could get a shower at the public swimming pool for 50 cents, and told me of a community center at MLK and Knott. After the movie I head up to 15th and Fremont to protest the rumoured remodeling of the store, and then I treated myself to some Naked Juice, Just O-J, mighty fine tasting stuff if overpriced at $2.29. On the way to the next stores I passed the community center and popped in, but the shower (plus swim and sauna) was $3.00, not $0.50. Now with my cash influx $3 wasn't a big deal. Heck, I had just spend $2.29 on OJ, but it was the principle of the thing. Water, and accordingly a shower, should be free, and I just couldn't bring myself to pay unless it was an extreme necessity, which it wasn't yet.

At 20th & Division I had only two more stores left in the Portland area. There was no T-Mobile, and I did not need to slow my consumption of caffeine. Yet I dawdled at the store for the simple reason that I really loved being in the city of Portland and was in not hurry to leave, preferring to just be in the city for as long as possible. Because I genuinely experienced a feeling of satisfaction when just being in the city, similar to being in Seattle or NYC.

On past trips to Seattle I had not remembered the frequency of KEXP (formerly KCMU), one of my favorite stations in the country, and thus fumbled around the dial for a while. This time I remembered to look up the frequency before heading up there.

I almost missed Main & 25th in Vancouver. The doors were locked, but I managed to get one of the partners to look at my article, and, more importantly, they had not yet dumped the coffee. Back in Portland I had noticed that the store was close to downtown and suspected it might close early, but I really wanted to get some site updates uploaded, and quite frankly I just didn't feel like rushing. Rushing all the time tends to take the fun out of the whole deal.

As I drove towards Chehalis I made plans. I needed to decide first whether to go ahead and visit the store that night or leave it for daylight when I could take a better photo. I had too primary factors to consider. The first, which was difficult to compute, was the desire to avoid having to skip any stores if I decided to play in those tournaments in New Jersey and had to rush east. And two, beating the traffic across the Canadian border if I decided to try and knock out those stores before my interview in Seattle on Monday.

August 21

At 6:05 I decided nine hours of sleep was enough and started driving. It's kinda scary to think about, but I must have been asleep during the first few miles I drove because, after booting my laptop, I noticed that my mapping program was up on the screen. But I had no memory whatsoever of having launched the program even though I must have done it no more than 60 seconds prior. Weird.

The Chehalis store surprised me by having T-Mobile, but this allowed me to look up information about the ferries to and from Vancouver Island. Ah, nertz! $35.50 to get there from Port Angeles and then $41 to cross over to Vancouver. Definitely more than I wanted to spend, but it had been four years since I had visited Vancouver Island and there were seven new stores and always the possibility that one of those stores might close.

I saw that the first ferry departed at 8:20 and made some quick calculations. Nope, there was no way I could drive the 130 miles in 95 minutes, at least not on I-5 in Washington. The next scheduled departured time was 12:45 which would mean having to kill a few hours.

Across from the Starbucks was a Wal-Mart Supercenter with a parking lot full of mini campers, and I wondered why Chehalis in particular had so many campers. I often saw a few in the rural Wal-Marts, but not this many.

Assuming I had time to kill, I allowed myself the time me the time to turn around on I-5 and backtrack four miles to Centralia after I realized two miles past the exit that I need a daylight photo of the store.

As I drove towards a new store in Olympia I called the M.V. Coho ferry to confirm the information on the web site and learned they were recommending arrival at 10:30. Crap! I didn't want to kill 2 hours 15 minutes in my car with no Internet access. Then I looked at my map more closely to make sure I could arrive by 10:30 and realized that I had misread it big time. I had chosen the Port Angeles ferry because it looked like the shortest route once I got up to Bremerton. But you can't drive out of Bremerton except back south the way you came, except by ferry, which would defeat my savings. So I started thinking about alternate routes, the Anacortes Ferry or crossing from BC itself.

At the new Olympia store I looked up additional ferry information. The Anacortes ferry was even more expensive the crossing took longer, 2-3 hours. And the BC ferry charged separate fares for car and driver, but $46 Canadian was only $35 U.S. Still I noticed that I had chosen the worst possible time to make the trip. Not only was the fare higher between mid-June and mid-September, the peak travel season, but it was also higher on weekends. I started to think I needed to leave these stores for next time.

As I approached the Sleater Kinney exit in Olympia I wondered for the umpteenth time whether the northwest-based girl rock band Sleater-Kinney was named for the street. When left the Starbucks and wandered around looking for the entrance to to I-5 I still wondered if Sleater Kinney Road was the band's namesake, because I had once again forgotten to look it up while online. Whatever happnened to that razor-sharp mind I used to have?

Further on up the road I decided that some songs should not be sung in a high-pitched chipmonk voice. Brad Paisley's Whiskey Lullaby is one such example.

At the next store I spotted a brochure for Bumbershoot, the Seattle Arts Festival, to take place from September 3-6, and I regretted that I had arrived in the area two weeks too early. But then I looked at the bill, and it wasn't filled with acts I wanted to see like back in '99. Still, it would be cool to see Public Enemy while they are still around.

Ah-ha! At the next Starbucks in Puyallup, it took me all of 10 seconds to find the scoop on Sleater-Kinney's name. While there, I finally got around to putting up a graphic logo for my site designed by a web designer who had e-mailed me a month earlier. I didn't think the logi quite fit with my personality, but I told him I would try it out, so I did.

Parking was tricky at the next store because I had picked the day of an auto show , and the Red Apple grocery store next to the Starbucks had signs all over prohibiting parking (except for customers) and a Tacoma PD standing watch, so I had to drive around a few times to find a spot belonging to the Starbucks. Sitting outside the store was a little old lady, smoking, with the most wrinkled face I had ever seen in my life. Truly did it look like a jigsaw puzzle, with deep grooves all around, and I wished I had a camera with a telephoto lens. No, scratch that thought--even without a photo that face is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

On the way to Gig Harbor I finally had the foresight to notice that the store seemed to be plotted in an odd part of the city, so I called for directions. Turns out the address on the web site, 5001 Olympic View Drive, should have been Olympic Drive, which was right off the freeway, while the other was tucked away in a remote corner of the (island/peninsula/other designation for land mass). Inside the store, U2's "One" was playing, and I once again wondered who had decided to put such an old song on one of the store CDs. It was a good decision, as I now consider "One" to be one of their best songs, although when it was released on Achtung Baby! I did not initially like it, and when it started playing on the radio as a single I actively switched stations away from it.

I had to kiwi really bad, so I considered pulling in front of the store, in front of a hydrant. But I got a feeling I needed to move, and as I did I spotted a police car coming around the corner at the far end of the street.

I considered skipping introduction because of the line at the Bremerton Conference Center store, but when I got to the front no customers had come in behind me so I asked for the manager. Gone. The shift supervisor. In the back? No, gone. Another barista asked if he could help me, and I gave my explanation with the blank expression of an exhausted man, at which point he burst out laughing. A lot. Like for several seconds, and I could tell he was struggling to contain his laughter. Behind him another barista had overheard, and she had heard about me in the paper, or on the news. She chided the guy for having laughed at me, but I didn't mind--it was one of the more amusing reactions I had gotten in the two weeks I'd been on the road.

As I walked away I heard a girl behind me say "This is the guy that goes to all the Starbucks." I didn't turn around and just kept walking. Then I overheard something about a camera. I kept walking.

As I waited for the assistant manager to become available at the next store, I looked at my fingernails and wondered why they always got so filthy when I was traveling. When I gave my spiel to the assistant she took on a nervous look as she went to the back, presumably to talk to the manager who must have been the lady who returned and walked into the back. The assistant returned and asked for my cup for the coffee, but she still had a nervous smile on her face.

Once again I had left my article. This time, however, I had to backtrack anyway to get off the peninsula, so I didn't fret about that. Spilling all 24 ounces of water on the floor of my car, on the other hand, that I did fret over. And curse, at the drivers ahead of me who did not seem to know how to maintain a proper following distance so as to maintain a consistent speed and avoid having to brake as I tried to keep the water from hitting reach my camera or comic books.

I guess things do happen for a reason, and the reason for my having left my article was so that I could return to the store to witness this cute little thing wearing a bright pink top, short black skirt, and thigh-high black and white striped socks. Only the fact that I was getting hungry and was also illegally parked kept me from sitting down in the store so I could stare at her out of the corner of my eye.

I needed a break from drip coffee, so I did Covington on the sly, just ordering espresso. On Kent-Kangley road to Kent I spotted a girl looking miserable as she walked in the rain. I turned around and pulled into a church parking lot and offered her a ride. She looked nervous and declined, but said she was just trying to find an address. I told her I had a map and beckoned her over. My mapping progam found the address immediately, and I told her it was just minutes away by car and again offered to run her over. She said she had never gotten a ride from a stranger before, and she hesitated, but she got in. I asked her what had happened and she said she had been kicked out, that her sister and brother-in-law (or was it vice-versa) didn't want her there anymore and so she was going to a friends. Unlike other girls I had picked up, Kristin gave no indications that she was disposed towards friendliness and a few minutes later I dropped her off and continued along my way.

My visit to a new store in Renton got wacky right away when the assistant manager said she had indeed heard of my project and then immediately said that no filming was allowed in the store. I looked around, puzzled, as there was obviously no film crew around me. I replied that I suspected what had happened was that after I sent King 5 a list of the stores I planned to visit, then notified Starbucks to get clearance to shoot, which corporate denied, and then corporate notified those stores to make sure the new crew didn't try to film anyway. But the partner said she hadn't heard anything about King 5, and we went back and forth in our confusion. Finally, I said all I needed to do was drink coffee and asked for a half cup. She hesisated, saying "For free?", but then gave it to me anyway. I left wondering if I would be getting this reaction at the other stores closer in towards Seattle.

But at the next two stores I was treated enthusiastically, one partner even insisting I stick around for a Polaroid with a few of the staff. Not a problem, but I was getting really, really hungry. Aside from a power bar and a complimentary scone from a store visited that morning I had been saving my appetite for what would come next. All the stores south of Seattle visited, it was time for Thompson's Point of View!

I had been looking forward to a return visit to Thompson's for two years, and it was totally worth it. It damn well better have been, because at $21.95 for a plate of ox tails, red beans, rice, and an extra side of mashed potatoes, and lemonade, that was my food budget for two days! Not only did I get a great meal, but excitement too, as a patron collapsed to the floor. Cries of "Call the paramedics" rang out, and several of the patrons and the waitress thought he was having a seizure. But within a minute he had gotten up. One of the cooks insisted that it hadn't been a seizure, because he was an epileptic and knew that a seizure lasted longer. When I left, the victim was sitting outside holding a napkin to his mouth as others encouraged him to go see a doctor.

I was surprised to see that there was only one new store on the east side in the past two years, in Kirkland, and I figured I'd get it out of the way. I hung out and update my site and tried to figure out what I would do until my interview on Monday. I was thinking about heading up into Canada that night and crossing over to Vancouver Island early, but I still hadn't decided if I wanted to spend the $70 for the ferry. Then an opportunity presented itself, in the form of an offer to sponsor my trip to the island by a Canadian who had previously interviewed me for his web site. The catch was that he wasn't available on Sunday, only Monday through Wednesday. Monday was out because of King 5. Tuesday was a possibility, but it would put the squeeze on my timetable if I ended up going to New Jersey for Scrabble. I decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up, because I was better off knocking those remote stores off my list even if I had to skip stores in the midwest, because I traveled to the midwest much more often.

My initial thinking was to travel to BC right after my interview on Monday and try to visit the new stores by the end of the day, seventeen in all. That seemed overly optimistic and I decided that it was worth spending an extra $12-$15 in gas to travel up to BC on Sunday, back to Seattle for my interview, then take the ferry directly to the island on Tuesday.

It was only 9:30 and my coffee had settled, so despite having made great progress at 17 stores in Washington state for the day, I decided to visit a few more on the way north. A new Lynnwood store closed at 10:00, so I rushed over there, only 15 miles from where I was in Kirkland. When I introduced myself I leanred of an interesting development as one of the partners revealed that the store had been sent an e-mail alerting them to my presence in the area. Very interesting. I was very curious to know what was in that e-mail, but I didn't want to ask, figuring it would put the partner in a spot. I was also curious as to why none of the other stores in the area I had visited that day had seemed to know about the e-mail.

When I left I started feeling kind of proud that li'l ol' me had made it into an internal e-mail of one of the most prominent companies in the world. Then I realized that the e-mail was going to taint my recognition ratio because I would not be able to tell which stores recognized me from the media as opposed to the e-mail.

After one more store, in Everett, where I received a more pleasant reception, I headed up to the first rest area. As I finished typing the days events I began to feel disoriented. The darkness, plus the diver lines on the road and the glare of the lights were making me dizzy. I didn't have experiences like that often, but when I did, I knew it was time to focus on the road and pull over ASAP.

August 22

It wasn't light out yet when I woke at 5:30, and I was quite groggy, but I decided that I'd slept enough and would be better crossing the border earlier and having a better chance at finishing up the new Starbucks on the mainland before running out of time. Actually, from previous experience I knew that the earlier I crossed back into the U.S. on a Sunday the better, as lines from weekend travelers were usually heavy.

In the time that I spent in the bathroom it had started getting light out, and I was feeling much more alert. When I started driving I downed the 8 oz of cold coffee from the previous night's I exited I-5 at Burlington and took SR-20 to Sedro-Woolley, where I took SR-9 north to the Sumas/Huntingdon border crossing which offered a shorter route to the Starbucks I needed to visit in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Chillickwack! Chilliwack! Wack! Wack! Wack!

I gassed up in Sedro-Woolley, and then again in Nooksack (heh, heh), and a shave, so as to enter Canada with a full tank and minimize the amount of gas I would have to buy at the higher Canadian prices.

At the border crossing I was required to report to Immigration, but at least I my car wasn't inspected. I debated about whether to reveal my true purpose beyond just saying it was a photography project, and in the end I decided it was the easiest way to explain why I was crossing at Abbotsford. I was just asked to show my currency to prove I had funds for my trip. I was also asked my birth name for a records check, but the agent did not give me a hard time about not having my birth certificate.

Who can understand the vagaries of the human mind. For whatever reason, during this trip, I had picked up this habit of side-urination. Instead of standing in front of the toilet (it doesn't work with a urinal), I would sometimes stand to the side, where I wasn't blocking the light and thus could see better. I have no explanation for this.

As I headed back towards Vancouver on the Transcanada Highway, just past Abbotsford, I saw a rare sight, what appeared to be a woman hitchhiking alone. And on the highway even. I started thinking about how far the next exit was and what the chances would be that she would still be there if I doubled back. Barely a couple of seconds passed before I saw someone do a relatively hard brake to pull over to the side.

As I entered Langley I was close enough to the city to pick up a French language radio station. The news was on, which I liked, because the French I still remembered was easier to understand in the clear pronunciation style used by newscasters.

Frustration in Surrey as I discovered the Guilford Town Centre is a mall, and the Starbucks closed. It was 10:00, and I couldn't be sure if it would open in 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, so I had to move on.

Nuff said!

I was hoping to do it on a replacement for the exclusive Canadian Starbucks card I had lost with my wallet in Illinois, but the stores I visited didn't have it and I was getting hungry, so I just put $5 Canadian on my existing Greek Olympic-commemorative card (which had run out and was in demand, at least at the Burnaby store). I paid with a U.S. $20 and got back $21.01 Canadian, just about the official exchange rate, with no transaction fee. Then I was able to go around the corner for a bagel sandwich.

I drive all the way into town on Hastings. I pass some type of fair with the tourists, many of them Asian, just beginning to fill up the sidewalks at 11:00 AM. Further down, and area I already know to be rough, replete with cracked-out looking women, shady looking guys, and some whose gender was not altogether clear. Further down still the level of trash on the road diminished as I entered downtown.

At the new Burnaby store the shift supervisor, though curt and disinterested, gave me a brilliant idea. Actually, I had thought of it when in Tokyo, but somehow forgotten when I returned to the States. She said "Sure, I can offer you a sample cup." and gave me a sample cup of coffee. From that point on, I started holding up the sample cup instead of an 8 oz cup when I requested coffee, hypothesizing that it would be likely to get me free coffee even without presenting my article, which I stopped doing.

The Pan Pacific Hotel was on the Waterfront, which, by noon on a Sunday, was mad busy. I had to park on the next street over. When I got to the store, of course there was a line, and I wasn't going to even attempt introduction, so I just asked the barista if I could talk him into a sample cup of coffee. He asked what kind and obliged, but left it maybe a half-ounce short. That was the problem with the sample cup. Meanwhile another partner had pointed the shift supervisor out to me, so I went over with my 3 1/2 oz of coffee and went through my entire spiel. She asked to see my partner card. I said I wasn't a partner; it was a personal project, and she started to explain that she couldn't give out a taster cup, and I interrupted her and said I only need to get the cup to four ounces. I think at that point she sensed the absurdity of denying me 1/2 oz of coffee and relented, and I was able to get on my way.

I returned to my car and, as I was about to pull out, I spotted Vancouver PD behind me. I put on my seat belt and expected him to pass by. He just sat thought, and I thought shit, man, what the fuck is he going to pull me over for!? But he just wanted the parking space.

Holy shit, man! New Bryan Adams! Where the heck has he been all these years? I don't know if it will get airplay in the States, but Adams is Canadian, so it makes sense. He must be, like, a million years old now.

Aw, fuck, man! After eleven of 17 stores, I was about to get a break from the coffee during the drive up to North Vancouver when a partner told me about two new stores in the area. I figured they just hadn't been added to the locator yet, but when I got back to my lapdop I saw that they were there, plus two others. I had forgotten to plot the new listings from my most recent database update. With the four additional listings, I'd have 21 stores to visit. It would break my high for the trip, sure, but I'd be having a rough night for sure.

My Civic, and the Integras I drove before, and I think Japanese cars in general, do not allow you to lock the drivers-side door with the latch if the door is open--you have to use the key. This is a mechanism to prevent locking the keys in the car, and when I have to drive a rented American car I marvel at the ineptitude of the big three that they cannot add such a simple feature to their cars. Except for that time I locked my keys in a rented Ford in Orange, CA, and had to ask the baristas to let me wait for AAA inside the Starbucks because it was cold outside, and my coat inside the car. I wasn't laughing then. Anyway, I prided myself on my protection against locking my keys in the car--the only time it had happened was once when I left the ignition running to defrost the windows and locked it with a spare key, which I then lost. I never imagined that I would come up with an even more creative way to lock myself out. Upon returning to the car from the new West Broadway store, while fumbling with my two cups and keys, I managed to drop the keys inside the crack in the window. Such was my zombified state that I didn't even react immediately. It took me a few seconds to think "Oh, shit."

Well, of course it wasn't cracked enough for me to slip my hand in, but enough that I had home of finding something, like a meter stick. The Starbucks didn't have one--I didn't figure they would. But next door was a drug store. I didn't see a meter stick, but while looking around I spotted a long umbrella with a metal tip that I thought might work. I asked the cashier if she would let me buy it and then return it, and of course she said I had to ask the manager. The manager, back at the pharmacy, said it wasn't a problem and went on to offer a coat hanger. Canadians are so friendly! They're so much cooler than Americans. So he instructed another employee to get a coat hanger from the back, but all they had was plastic. So I bought the umbrella, and it barely fit. But barely was enough, and a few minutes later I had returned the umbrella and was on my way. And promptly turning around to shoot the photo I had forgotten. All in all, I suppose I must have done about a dozen illegal u-turns and jaywalkings. Well, maybe the u-turns weren't illegal, but I prefer to think they were so I can feel like more of a rebel.

It was only 2:30, but the radio was reporting a 90-minute wait southbound at the Peace Arch, forcing me to reconsider my plan to return to Washington in time to visit a few more stores. I considered taking the Aldergrove crossing, but as the day latened and it looked like I might not even finish in time, I decided the plan would be to sleep until after midnight and then make the crossing. It's not that I didn't have plenty of writing I could do while I waited, but that there's no way I could wait 90 minutes without having to find a restroom, and this would be tricky or impossible while sitting in the car waiting to cross.

I nearly did a doubletake at the BC Children's Hospital store when I walked in and saw a Second Cup instead of a Starbucks. But it wasn't a mixup--the Starbucks was in another building. At the Starbucks I ran into the first person, who wasn't a Starbucks barista, who had read the Fortune article, which they apparently do get in Canada.

At the next store I had to fudge the truth a bit, edging a bit closer towards that 9th circle of hell in the process. The line was so long and the shift supervisor so busy that I just asked for a sample. She asked me if I had already had a sample, and I said no. Technically, it was kind of true, because what she had in mind when she asked the question was not a complimentary sample for my project, but just a regular old sample. It's a good thing that, after thirteen coffees I was so numb that I couldn't even feel the guilt.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the new Richmond store and did a 270 to pull into a parking space I got dizzy all of a sudden.

Once again saved by the psychology of the sample cup, as the assistant manager was going to charge me until I asked for the sample. She thought it was only two ounces, not four.

Next I turned around and drove clear across town to North Vancouver and Capilano Mall. On the way I noted the time, close to 5:00 PM, and suddenly it dawned on me that the Guilford Town Centre store might close early on Sunday, at 6:00 PM, and that I might not make it. To tighten my schedule even further, I noticed a serious misplotting on my map. The Pivotal Building was not in North Vancouver, as plotted, but rather back near downtown, where I had been earlier. If I detoured back there, I wouldn't reach the town center by 6:00, and then there was the posibility that the Pivotal Building was one of those office buildings in which the Starbucks was closed on Sundays, or closed early. I could have called both stores to confirm, but I hated to pay the roaming charges, 69 cents a minute I think. So frustrating, because if I had plotted those stores I could have planned a more optimal route and been finished.

Meanwhile, I had been looking at the Georgia Strait during spare moments to try and find a massage at $30 or cheaper with the 30% exchange rate. The problem was that few of the ads listed prices, and I didn't want to run up a roaming bill by calling a bunch of ads only to find out the price was outside my budget. 10 of those calls and I'd pretty much negate any savings from the exchange rate. So all I did was stop by the places that advertised a price or were on my route, or nearly on my route. Some places had prices over $100 and were clearly straight-up brothels. At another it seemed like a legitimate massage place, but when I asked about a real Swedish massage, the attendant admitted that the girls were only trained in acupressure (like Shiatsu). At several others it was admitted that the massages were just for entertainment, and not at all therapeutic. At least I gotta hand it to the Canadians for being honest--I can think of other places where they'd try to get a customer's money no matter what.

While I failed to find a massage/shower, I did succeed in confirming my own brilliance. I had in my car still some massage gel that I had picked up while I was in New Jersey. It was the same kind used by a therapist I used to see near Princeton. Occasionally I would see a different lady who used a lotion I didn't like, and it occurred to me to just have my own bottle. The gel is better warm, but the bottle can't be heated in a microwave because the label on the bottle has metal trim on it. So I started laying it on the dashboard of the car and letting the sun heat it. Well, most of the times I visited Vancouver it's cloudy, and that day was no exception. So it occurred to me to turn on the defroster with full heat and lowering my windows. It was cool enough outside that the heat didn't bother me, and the gel heated up in no time. Wow, I truly am a genius!

At Pivotal I saved some money by having a barista call the Guilford Town Centre, and unfortunately they in fact did close at 6:00. While my interview with King 5 was not until 1:30, the store, with no outside entrance, would open no earlier than 8:00, and by that time traffic across the border was sure to be heavy. It just wasn't worth all the time I would lose so I had to leave it for next time.

On the way out of downtown I stopped my car next to a hot dog vendor to reshoot a store at Granville and Georgia, and as I ran back to the car I developed a sudden urge for a hot dog. But hot dog goes with Coke, and so I had to pop into the drugstore to buy one and hope I didn't get ticketed. The all-beef hot dog took a long time to cook, and the vendor could tell I was in a hurry, so he gave me cheese for free. Or maybe he just forgot my order.

After I left Pivotal I realized I should have asked them to call the new Maple Ridge store for me just to make sure that it hadn't closed early, or that it wasn't still under construction. Maple Ridge is way out there, and it really would have made sense for me to spend the $.69 to call and confirm instead of wasting the gas and time. But for seem reason I had developed some kind of aversion to roaming charges. Because not only was Maple Ridge far, but it was on the other side of a river from which there was no way across except to either backtrack or take the Albion Ferry. The store was in fact open, and I asked a barista about why there was no other bridge, and she said one was being build, and that the project was controversial like Prince. Okay, she didn't actually make the Prince reference.

I hadn't realized it that morning because of another misplotting, but one of the three remaining stores on my list, Guilford Drive-Thru, was just down the street from the town center where I had been earlier. Had I known this, I could have visited the store and asked when the mall store opened. If at 11:00, I would have been better off getting some breakfast and waiting rather than returning later. What's funnier is that while in the parking lot of the mall I asked a young lady if she knew where the Starbucks was, and she initially pointed down towards the Guilford Drive-Thru, which I assumed was a store I had previously visited.

Anyway, I visited the store and then found a dark spot in a nearby parking lot between a couple of what seemed to be apartment complexes. I stayed close to the Starbucks so I could use the restroom up until it closed at midnight. At which point I decided the traffic at the border had cleared enough to make the crossing quickly. Before the border I had a couple more stops to make. The second, in Delta, to see if a new store there might open early enougj, like at 5:00 AM or better, to allow me to beat the traffic at the border. But the Sunshine Hills store was still under construction. This was a relief, because I'd be leaving only one store unvisited. But it left me with the issue of the Canadian currency I still had. At that late hour, I had little choice but to buy an overpriced power bar and use up the rest one high-priced Canadian gas.

There was only one car ahead of me at the border, but I lost more time discussing my project with the agent. I didn't want to say more than that I was just visiting for pleasure, but when he asked repeatedly why I was up in Canada, as U.S. border agents had been doing more of since September 11th, I had little choice but to give up the goods or risk making him more suspicious.

For some reason I bypassed the rest areas at miles 268 and 238, pushing on to 207. About 20 miles from the rest area I began to struggle, and I turned on the radio and found Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car". I didn't like the song when it was originally released, but sometime in the past 5-10 years I started to really like it. It generally reminded me of a more recent Chapman song, "Telling Stories". Which in turn reminded me of the first time I heard the song, while driving north on I-95 through Delaware, possibly to visit an ex-girlfriend in Philadelphia. I think. Emotions make memories more vivid, and there is plenty of emotion associated with that girl; nevertheless, after so many years and so many trips along I-95, I might be getting the timeline wrong.

August 23

The next store was pretty far from Seattle, and I doubted King 5 would have included it in the list sent to Starbucks, but nevertheless I got the feeling from the way the manager was looking around that she was trying to see if I had a film crew with me. And from the way she whispered to various partners. And from the way she asked me to let her know before I left, ostensibly so that she could say goodbye, or perhaps so they could track my movements throughout the day. But maybe that's just my paranoid tendencies at work. Aaagh!!! Alaska!!! They finally opened a company-owned store in Alaska! Those mungle-bungers! As if I didn't have enough places to travel! Massage Phinney Ridge Cafe Columbia Gorge pure squeez Orange juice, 16 oz, $2.19 vs $3.00 8 oz Hills killing my Civic's engine up Marion St. I sat on a bench outside the store to eat the rest of my breakfast. There was a woman on the bench, and she was clutching one breast. I asked if she was okay, and she said that her breasts were disconnected. I said I didn't know what that meant, and she said she needed to breast feed. I asked if she had children, and she said she had eleven spiritual children that had not yet been born. Okay. She continued to make strange pronouncements. She said the green olives were less satanic. When a person walked by to enter the store she said "I have to go before you." She asked me if my food was clean, as in not satanic. At least I assume she was talking about my food. All the while, I was wondering what exactly was different about her mind that caused her to act like that. Of course, I suppose other people wonder the same about me. I finished my food and left, stopping to save 50 million acres of forest from road building by filling out a card. Bothell QFC for the third time no mercer When I mentioned that since I had worked in Seattle I had started sleeping in my car while traveling to save money, she replied that she too had lived, or slept, I can't remember what she said, in a car. The tone of her voice was clearly different from the sometimes derisive, disapproving, or pitying tone taken by some oithers. I suspected her situation had been out of necessity, not choice. Can't think of a transition. I get a more understanding reaction from the people I've met who have themselves slept or lived in a car. -->

August 24

As often happens, I woke just minutes before my alarm was to go off. Since I expected to sleep during the ferry ride, I skipped the usual morning washing and just put some drops in my eyes and started driving, which meaned I had to force myself awake more quickly than usual to avoid being squashed by trucks. In Burlington, where I exited I-5 to pick up SR-20 to Anacortes, I checked my e-mail and looked around for a Burger King for a quick breakfast biscuit. I didn't see one, so I drove on, intending to get something in Anacortes. About midway I passed the Valley Cafe, a place I had discovered in 2000 when I visited the Anacortes Starbucks. The biscuit was pretty good, and I wondered why I had forgotten.

At about 7:30, or maybe it was 7:45--I can't remember and my stupid laptop destroyed my notes--there were about twenty-five cars ahead of me, and I was in row #5. It looked like I would have been okay...

AARRGHH!!! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! An entire day's worth of writing, plus some catch up from previous days, all GONE, GONE, GONE when my laptop crashed. It was the same video driver problem, but somehow it corrupted the HTML file I was working on and blew away everything past an Orange County entry. I still had everything up 'til the previous night uploaded, of course, but I was pissed to lose a day's worth of writing. And the notes, too! I knew I needed to start typing again immediately while the stuff was fresh in my mind, but I just wanted to sleep.

Geir Oglend 25 cars back, bmw x5 alarm while sleep, debating whether scrabble or sbux, alarm wakes 10:08 want sleep but see land so change, dookey-dookey-do, guy almost sees me change briefs, pants, light questions from customs again, colin waiting, "birthday present", go to indie cafe, genuinely interested, political discussion, quadra downtown, fuzzy wuzzy, parking, save parking, chapters licensed, call colin, he has stuff to do downtown, london drugs measuring cup, bad conditions slow to nanaimo, decide skip courtenay, wrong ferry, sleep while wait, rush to cafe, line, shoulda comics to read, debate while stand and the line grows, life is short hate to waste, try to do gas calculations, overprice cafe, exchange transaction fee

Before going to sleep I looked out a window at the view and felt a moment of vertigo as the water rushed past. Yep, I'm sticking to my policy of avoiding ships.

I was writing, so I'm not sure exactly when the ferry docked, but it was between 8:20 and 8:30. I still held out hope of visiting that last store in the area, and decided it was worth the roaming charge to call and see if by some chance they might stay open past 9:00. While I tried to call, the ferry shifted abruptly a couple of times--it was a strange sensation. And my alarm went off, right on time!

August 25

When I woke at 5:35, I thought "oh crap" because my intention had been to clear the Seattle area before traffic even started to get heavy. I quickly put drops in my eyes and wondered why my head was hurting. Oh, yeah, I'd only had five coffees the previous day and was probably experiencing slight withdrawal. Thankfully I still had four ounces from the last store I visited, in Nanaimo, which I had saved for just that moment.

I noted that I had slept for about six hours without getting up to use the restroom. Very rare, and often indication that my body was in catch-up mode. And I could feel it too, as I struggled to stay away and navigate the roads which were still slick from intermittent rain, but now complicated by aggressive morning commuters. It's a good thing I started moving though, because around 6:09, about 10 miles from the I-405 split, traffic came to a near standstill. When the slowdown finally cleared I never saw the cause, though I got a clue on the radio a bit later when the announcer reported that "we seem to have straightened out most of our spun out cars".

On I-405 I passed through Kirkland and suddenly remembered that the Brown Bag Cafe had good biscuits. I looked it up on my mapping program and had just passed up the exit. I'd only traveled a mile so I turned around. When I got to where the mapping program said the restaurant was, I couldn't find it. I called twice, and the second time the guy assured me it was next to the 76 station. But the attendant at the 76 said there were two similar roads, one designated an "avenue", and one a "street". I remembered running into this before in Kirkland, but it had been so long I had forgotten. Yes, the database in my mapping program had the restaurant listed as being on 116th Ave, not 116th St., which was nearby. And which I had passed up to get to 116th. So basically, I could have been on I-90 already instead of wandering around Kirkland.

By the time I got back to the on-ramp, traffic was heavy enough for metering. But I couldn't get on yet, because just at that moment I got a call about an interview with a station in the Quad Cities, in Iowa, and pulled into a commuter parking area to do the interview. This one was different in that they tried to get me to cluck like a chicken--apparently all there guests, including a 76-year-old woman did. I wasn't in the mood, so I begged off, saying I'd do it if I actually managed to be the first customer at the first store opening in Davenport.

I interchanged onto I-90 at 8:02, and I felt a sense of relief that I was finally going to be heading east!

I stopped at a Starbucks right off the interstate in Issaqua to check my mail, and to get some sleep out in the parking lot before the 85 miles to Ellensburg. I noticed an oven for the first time. Not a microwave, which they said they legally couldn't have, but a small convection oven, for pastries and sandwiches. Cool!

The Qwest van I was going to use to block the sun moved, but the cloud cover held up. The sun only occasionally peeked through, and I was able to sleep for maybe an hour. I felt much better and ready to blaze eastward!

The highway east from Seattle is hilly and curvy and quite often slick from rain, but once I found a relatively straight stretch and got clear of some traffic I called ahead to Helena to find out what time they closed. And the time zone. And the time (just to make sure). And whether the two stores I had listed were the only two in the city. So many questions that the barista I spoke to seemed to get suspicious and asked "Can I help you with anything?" in that tone of voice I've grown to recognize. I just told her I was coming in from Seattle and wanted to see if I would arrive in time. I don't think she really understood, but she said "Oh, okay.", or something dismissive like that.

I usually grumble at gas stations that require prepaying about how some people's dishonesty makes things inconvenient for the rest of us. But in Elelnsburg, I was bitten by a pump that didn't require prepay, because after going inside and paying for $10 worth on the 87-octain pump, I accidentally grabbed the 92-octane nozzle. Furthermore, because the pump wasn't preset, it didn't stop and I didn't realize it until I had gone over $10. I figure the mixup cost me a buck or so.

I couldn't pick up much on the radio as I headed east from Moses Lake, but I got a rare treat on the pop/rock station I found, some Bon Jovi. Yay Bon Jovi! I soon lost reception, but the road was not as hilly or curvy, and I was able to settle behind a small beige sedan doing about 80 and catch up on some writing. About 30 miles east I darn near freaked out as an unparked patrol car made a sharp turn from behind a dune and came out into my lane in order to chase the other car. At least I hoped he was after the other car. And he was. Whew! But I had lost my escort.

The rest of the way to Spokane was smooth, and as I arrived I saw the possibility of reaching Helena by 10:00 PM if I blazed through Spokane's four new stores. Recognition by a barista at the first store, from a previous visit to his store in Pullman, allow me to skip my spiel. Outside, as I waited for a bicycle to pass in front of the store, I came up with my own version of a hit rap song. "Get out my frame, get out my frame! Move, bitch!"

Just when I was thinking I'd get out in time, I learned that there were two new stores on Division, one that had opened in December and was on my list, and one new one at 2nd that was not. At the first, the shift supervisor had heard about my project and was pretty cool, giving me the idea to ask if he minded calling ahead to the new store so that I could get in and out quicker. He did, and when I arrived at 2nd and Division they were set to pour me a sample, and they seemed tickled pink. And one of the baristas there used to work at the 57th Ave store and agreed to call on ahead. It was like the great chain of being, man. So when I arrived at 57th one of the partners who had already gotten off had stuck around to wait for my arrival, and I was able to get out of there just as soon as I got my coffee, my refill of water, my teeth brushed, restroom used, sugar in the coffee I'd been accumulating in a tall cup for the road, and confirmation that my route to the interstate was the best. Whew!

At 6:11 I left the Starbucks, 11 minutes past my initial target time. I missed the left turn onto Freya from 57th and had to take the next street, which ran at an angle, back. I don't remember having gone up a hill from downtown to 57th Ave, but I must have, because Freya was pretty steep all the way down to the interstate, enough for me to take the car out of gear and let it coast. At 6:18 when I reached the freeway I had only traveled 4 miles in 7 minutes and gotten further behind schedule. I now had 3 hours, 42 minutes to travel 308 miles, requring an average of 83 to 84 MPH. But I lost more time immediately as traffic and construction until I got to the Idaho border slowed me down. Speeds picked up a big as the limit went up to 75 MPH, and I saw some hope, but then I saw lighting in the distance. And soon I was in rain, and I knew it wasn't going to happen. Not through the mountains in the rain. At 7:00 PM, almost an hour on the road, I had driven only 50 miles.

I soon gave up on reaching Helena by 10:00 and just plopped my laptop on my lap and started studying words for Scrabble. I eased up on the speed, but it wasn't enough, as I experienced a scary moment of hyproplaning and had to slow down even further and wonder why those pickup trucks kept whizzing past me at least 10 MPH faster. And the semis took. Must have been their weight that allowed them to handle better.

As I crossed into Montana, I thought back and realized I hadn't been in the state since 2000, during the drive to Redmond to work for Microsoft.

As I neared Missoula I felt that tingling in my head again, and I pulled off and found the Kinko's. They didn't have T-Mobile, so I drove down one of the other main streets downtown, Higgins, towards the University, trying to find a signal. At a gas station with the cheapest gas I'd seen in town, I asked around and was given the names of a cafe and a deli up Higgins. I parked in front of each but found no signal. So I just got on the computer at Kinko's and, as I had suspected, found a listing for a store in Missoula. But coming soon. But a phone # was listed.

I napped in the parking lot of the Exxon for a few hours before heading back out to the freeway. On the way, I drove slowly down a couple of downtown streets trying to see if I could pick up a Wi-Fi signal. A motel advertised free wireless, but I couldn't pick it up even after driving around the building and down the alley. Further down though I picked up a NETGEAR (default for that router) signal and, after turning around a few times, zeroed in on it.

August 26

The Starbucks I called in Helena opened at 5:30, but I didn't really expect to get there that early. In fact I awoke later than I expected, at 7:38. On the other hand, the daylight and better weather allowed me to make good time into the city, even when I exited I-90 at Garrison to take US-12 into Helena. And despite being a 2-lane road, US-12 moved pretty fast.

Helena is at a lower elevation, and on the approach there was a steep grade that allowed me to coast for about six miles in neutral, which was cool, and reminded me of a passage from On the Road. Since finally reading the novel I try to relate my travels to Kerouac's. Same goes for some of the stuff in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

As I entered Helena I heard on the radio that several members of the Wu-Tang Clan would be playing at a fair in Big Sky in September and thought, man, Montana is cool!

The manual for my Civic specifies a minimum octane of 86, but the cheap gas in Montana was 85.5. I had heard on Car Talk that at higher elevations a lower octane is okay, and I figured what difference could half an octane make anyway. Whatever the heck octane is.

I wasn't yet feeling time pressure (though I should have been), but I used the phone-ahead trick at the first store anyway. At the second store, I asked about a Kinko's or Internet Cafe, and the manager was about to suggest a place, when he said "Well, I probably shouldn't send you into Fire Tower wearing a Starbucks shirt." Ever the troublemaker, I knew I had to go right over there. I thought the eggs and turst for $2.95 were an okay deal, so I went for those. Since I wasn't going to be visiting many Starbucks and needing to drive a long distance, I figured I'd try some more independent coffee. Unlike that good stuff back at Broadwalk in Victoria, this stuff tasted weak. So I wasn't too disappointed when I spilled much of it later in the car as I juggled it with my breakfast.

I didn't have any e-mail, but the charge to use the computer was still $1.50. So I protested to the waitress, and she sent me next door and upstairs to talk to the owner of the computers. He didn't want to haggle over $1.50 and told me to tell them to charge me whatever was fair. I still thought 75 cents was too much, but I didn't feel like haggling anymore either.

Because it was only a couple of miles, I backtracked to where I had turned off US-12 (Euclid Ave) so that I could complete an unbroken stretch of that highway as part of my side goal of driving every stretch of US highway and interstate.

Though not an interstate, stretches of US-12 between Helena and Three Forks were so straight, flat, and sparesly trafficked that it was easy to be doing 90 MPH without even realizing it.

Between Bozeman and Billings I started to get really sleepy, and I tried something different to stay awake. I lowered the window to let chilly air in while at the same time turning on the heat, hoping the contrast between cold and hot would help. I wondered if it would make me want to urinate, like when pranksters dip one of a person's hands in warm water and the other in cold, but I couldn't tell because I had to kiwi real bad anyway.

Since I planned to finally break out one of my free drink coupons for a venti latte, for the calories in the milk in addition to the much-needed caffeine, I was going to visit the two Billings store on the sly. But at the first store, when I asked about any other stores in the area not listed she guess I was the "visitor"--I guess Helena must have called ahead. So I had to lose time answer questions, but I still didn't ask for complimentary coffee because I needed that venti and thought it was too much to ask for. Anyway, I had an iced latte for the first time and discovered that I needed to have asked to have sugar put in first because it didn't dissolve well with the ice.

My map showed the Kinkos to be on the way out to the interstate, so I figured I could check my mail without losing much time. Wrong. Construction along the route I chose, plus traffic heavier than I would have expected for Montana meant a loss of over 30 minutes--this would become significant later. On the other hand I got to listen a bit longer to 'On Air With Ryan Secrest", a TV show whose audio was being broadcast on 87.7 for some reason.

A had an e-mail from Schmoopie indicating that the devious politics continued, as yet another of her male friends tried to convince her to stop talking to me (and go out with him).

Rain wasn't the issue, but wind this time as I headed towards North Dakota. Strong enough that the eighteen-wheeler ahead of me was being pushed to the side. So how was my little Civic to resist? After some thirty minutes my arms were starting to get sore from struggling with the wheel.

Man, you know you're in the wqest when tumbleweeds keep cutting across your path along the interstate.

I had started my drive to Bismarck with a few minutes leeway to arrive at the Starbucks in the mall by 9:00 when I guessed it closed. I knew I'd have to gas up and lose at least five minutes, but even before my pit spot I lost my cushion while traversing three separate 35-MPH construction zones. I tried to make up the time by pushing 90, figuring there were very few state troopers in Montana and that they would give more leeway anyway, given that up 'til 99 the state went for a few years without a speed limit. But it was a sherriff's deputy that got me. I never saw him coming. The ticket was only $40, but it irked me because I had been about a month away from going a full year without a speeding ticket! And their was something funny about the whole deal, too, because the deputy asked if I had the cash to pay the fine right there. That had never before happened in some thirty speeding tickets at least, and I suspected some type of corruption going on, that the deputy intended to pocket the cash. Hell, no, I wasn't going to hand over money to him, though I was more polite in telling him. He looked disappointed. No steak dinner for him that night.

As I drove on I calculated that I would need to average 87 MPH in order to reach the mall by 9:00. Too risky, so I abandoned that planned and concentrated on studying for the rest of the drive.

As I neared the state line, a rainbow! And the prize at the end is getting out of Montana after nearly 24 hours. I celebrated with the DoubleShot I'd been saving since Billings. But I was a little premature, pouring the first swig into my mouth before actually reaching the border. So I held it in my mouth, for symbolic purposes, until I passed the "Welcome to North Dakota" sign. I'm all about symbolism.

Cheaper gas in North Dakota.

As I neared Bismarck I started to feel the effects of the milk in the iced latte. I had suspected when I ordered it that it might be too much milk for me to handle, but since I was using a drink coupon I wanted to get the most value out of it as possible. I hope that I was at least able to derive a benefit from the calories in the milk, even if I couldn't digest it properly. Either way, it's a good thing I was traveling alone.

It was almost 9:40 when I reached the first store in Bismarck, across from the mall. I confirmed that the mall was indeed closed, and that, lacking a door to the outside, it wouldn't open until the doors to the mall did. The other store closed at 10:00, so I didn't bother introducing myself at the first and just got a DoubleShot. I was in such a rush to take the photo that I jammed my finger with my broken tripon. Bad enough to start bleeding I noticed as I drove away.

A barista at the second store had read the Fortune article, so I got coffee there, and a bandaid too for my finger, to cover the blood blister that was already getting big.

I was torn between pushing myself to get as close to Fargo as possible and just stopping to sleep. On the one hand I didn't want to waste any time tossing and turning. On the other hand if I went to sleep earlier I'd be able to make better time in the morning driving during daylight. I ended up picking the second rest area past Bismarck.

August 27

When I woke up and saw the time was 7:17 the first thing I thought was crap, I should have started driving already, but also that I felt like I need more sleep still. But I had been at the rest area for over 8 hours, and that was enough no matter how I felt. I sat and debated what to do, although really I was just trying to wake up and clear my head, and I scratched my nuts and thought "why am I sitting here scratching my nuts? I can do that while I drive." Finally I pulled my hand away from my nuts and dragged myself into the bathroom to wash up. When I got back to the car I cursed myself for not having left the engine running to warm up, thinking I was definitely doing some damage to my poor engine. Not that having driven 41,000 miles in four months and pushing it in third and fourth gear to pass cars and get up mountains wasn't doing more damage.

Man, those guys in the rusty pikckup have some balls, because they didn't even tap there brakes at the approach of an oncoming patrol car. Maybe they didn't see him since the we are driving east into the morning sun, and despite the cloud cover there is still a glare.

Ok, the stupid wind and tilted roadway makes it hard to take both hands off the wheel to type, but doing it with one hand makes me dizzy!

I worked out that upon leaving the rest area at 7:25, and assuming assuming the first game started at 9:00 AM (because I never think to look up the schedule beforehand), and that Farmington is on Eastern time, I had 23 1/2 hours to drive 1020 miles to Ann Arbor, where I had two new stores to visit before driving 45-60 minutes to Farmington. Along those 1020 miles I definitely had two stores to visit, in Fargo and Minneapolis, and up to four in Chicagoland, depending on which ones had opened for business.

Shortly after leaving the rest area I realized I had entered the Sprint PCS coverage zone, well before Minnesota. Yay Sprint PCS!

No T-Mobile at Starbucks, but they did have it at the Kinko's down the street. They also had a visitor, a hapless cricket that had found his way into the store and was eagerly chirping away for the mate that would probably never come. I was kind of hapless myself, because as luck would have it, just when I hit down T-Mobile decided to experience a service interruption just as I arrived. Thirty minutes to fix--even if they were accurate I couldn't hang around, so I had to wait even longer to update my site and spring for the ducats to check my e-mail on the Kinko's computers.

They say handheld mobile phones are a danger while driving, but they can be mighty useful. A couple of calls and a breakfast biscuit after I left Fargo, I was over a fifth of the way to Minneapolis without ever having been aware of having covered the miles.

Goddamned shitty bumpy road making my laptop LCD vibrate as I'm trying to write!

Llamas! A llama farm around mile 60 off I-94 in Minnesota. I like llamas. Who doesn't like llamas?

I was making good time following a burgundy suburban, but despite two pit stops already I still had to go again. I debated following it for another fifty miles to the next rest area, but at the last minute I said fuck the suburban I've got a few hours to spare. So I cut across a truck onto the exit ramp, causing the truck to swerve to the side. But there was a car in the other lane, and the truck swerved again and ended up flipping over on its side and sliding forward. I said "oh shit" and got back onto the freeway, skipping the restroom. In the rearview I could see a bunch of chickens flying out of the back of the truck whose doors had come open, and cars swerving to avoid it. As I drove on I imagined that one of the people stuck behind the truck happened to have a barbecue grill and condiments, and that they had started an impromptu barbecue that brought a diversity of people together and promoted racial harmony. Better that than to think to think that than that I killed a mess of people.

About 50 miles from Minneapolis had to watch out for cars and trucks turning around across the median presumably tired of sitting in slow westbound traffic due to construction.

After visiting the new store listed debating whether to reshoot the City Center Doppio location. I had a nice photo at one point, but I lost it at some point. It might actually be on a CD somewhere, but I've never sat down to look through the various backup CDs I've burned.

Despite having been to the City Center three times before, I still had trouble finding it, in part because where my map read S 6th St., the actual street sign read 6th St. N, confusing the heck out of me.

After heavy traffic in Minneapolis, and then in St. Paul (accursed twin cities), I finally reached Wisconsin. With time to think, a news report about the Republican Convention made me realize that Tuesday and Wednesday, the two days between Scrabble tournaments, would be awful days to drive into the city to visit the new Starbucks there--getting in and traveling around was likely to me a nightmare!

I nearly had a cow about 40 miles into Wisconsin when labeled my photo of the "Blaine" store and noticed a store in my database, in Richfield, that I had not seen before and had not been plotted on my map. Where did it come from??? Oh, yeah, I remembered when I stopped at Kinko's to update my site I also ran an update of the Minneapolis area stores, but I forgot to check the results. Thankfully for my sanity, when I called the number listed the operator said it was not yet in service. Whew!

emperor of Ethiopia

Not far into Wisconsin, in fact, shortly after bypassing the first rest area I think, I picked up an escort, an Explorer and a Spider blazing along at near 90 MPH. I soon had to kiwi, but I couldn't give up such great time savings, so I held out. I had been debating about whether to detour from the shortest route to visit a new store in Wisconsin, in Oak Creek. The detour would add 18 miles to my trip, but as fast as those guys were going I figured I'd cover the additional distance in the same time. Shortly after I-94 merged with I-90 we picked up another in our convoy, a silver Benz. Then we lost the Explorer, and the Benz took the lead. I bypassed two rest areas before I finally gave in at the third and stopped, in part because I thought I smelled something funny coming from the engine and wanted to check the oil.

Well, of course I promptly forgot to check the oil when I left the bathroom and got back on the highway, so I had to pull over to the shoulder. The oil level looked low, but by chance I happened to have 1/2 a quart in the trunk, left over from my last oil change, because Wal-Mart allots 4 quarts and my engine only takes 3.5.

Right after leaving the rest area it occurred to me I could have saved time by stopping for gas instead of at the rest area. I wasn't going to reach Oak Creek on the gas remaining, so when I spotted a sign for Murphy USA, the brand of gas at some Wal-Marts, I figured I could kill a few birds by picking up some grub and

wi fi signal mile 293 driving 80 mph


left cap off oil

XRT good soundtrack

headache, y even try 2 tylenol anymore

rolling meadows just b4 10:30 close, albany park just b4 11:00 close

I had a feeling when I pulled up to the new store in Chicago that my streak was going to be broken. When I offered my article to the shift supervisor and she didn't take it, I was sure I was sunk. It was also the couldn't-care-less expression on her face that clued me in. And sure enough, she rang me up for the coffee. So I had her void the order and changed it to another iced venti latte plus shot (with the sugar added first) and went to get a coupon. As a final insult, when the order partner working handed me the drink, I asked her to let the manager know I had visited, and she gave me a rather dismissive look. Not my worst experience, but the intensifying headache made me more irritable than I would have otherwise been. Ah, thinking about it, in truth, I didn't care about the coffee. I just wanted the headache to go away.

I figured it would be closed, but I've known some Latin American restaurants to be open late on weekends, and it was nearby, so I headed over to El Llano to see if I could score some Colombian vittles. Yep, it was closed, but even though my available time to sleep was dwindling, I didn't feel like getting on the highway with a headache and empty stomach, so I backtracked to Montrose and Lincoln and popped into the Golden Angel Cafe. As I squeezed between a van and a car, I could see a pair of guys inside looking out at me, perhaps because one of the cars was theirs.

I sat at the counter and ordered some pancakes, and while I wrote one of the waitresses complained to the other about how she and another had stopped at a Starbucks and ordered a "a flap... a... a... that thing with the ice and the carmel" and how it had cost $6 when a nearby coffee shop served something similar for only $4.75. I was amused.

And old guy arrives and chastises the waitress, "How dare you sit in my seat?" "That's not your seat--that's your seat", she replies, presumably pointing to the seat next to mine. The old man replied that he didn't want to "interfere" with me, and I had half a mind to ask him if I smelled that bad already--but it had only been four days!

As I left the Golden Angel, a song was playing on XRT with a familiar sound and a familiar voice. I wondered if it was new R.E.M. for a bit, though, because Josh Joplin's voice sounds like Michael Stipes, and at one point I also confused the lead singer of Live with Stipe 'til I got more used to their sound. But then Stipe did a distinctive thing with his voice and I knew it had to be R.E.M. and got excited. I pulled into a parking space and listened to the rest of the song, and then I started thinking that I really needed to get a CD player in the car for when the new album came out. As much as I had learned to live without a lot of things in order to maintain my itinerant lifestyle, music was still essential.

I was really sleepy and tried to nap in the parking lot, but I just couldn't get to sleep and didn't want to waste precious time tossing and turning, so I just started the drive towards Farmington. As I headed towards the Chicago Skyway on I-90/94, it started to rain, then heavily. I didn't need that. Then traffic started to get heavy from construction. In the confusion I missed the exit to the Skyway and ended up stuck in heavy traffic until I could get to the next exit. All the while I was feeling worse and worse and really needed to get to sleep, but wanted to make it to Michigan at least. To make it worse, the exit to the Skyway from I-94 northbound was closed, so I had to drive north several miles and then turn around. Once I got on the Skyway and cleared the construction the rain got worse, bad to the point that I could hardly see and had to turn on my hazard lights as I tried to stay in a lane and avoid hitting either barrier. It eased up some in Indiana, thankfully. As soon as I crossed into Michigan I fought to stay awake to the rest area and was greatly relieved when I reached it. As I lay in the back, I felt that tingling and shaking all over that comes with extreme fatigue combined with heavy doses of caffeine.

August 28

My morning and day were consumed with a Scrabble tournament in Farmington, MI.

Right at 5:00 PM I took my $10 second-place profit and left the tournament in a hurry in order to reach Atlantic City by 3:00 PM the next day. I had plenty of time, but time tended to evaporate with me. I did a quick web site update at the downtown Farmington Starbucks before headed to the interstate and then I sped towards Toledo, OH.

After visiting the Toledo store I stopped at a Speedway and was disappointed to find no Tradewinds tea.

I was on my way out of the city when Schmoopie called to say the Washington Post Magazine article was already online, so I had to exit the freeway and find the nearest Kinko's where I downloaded it read it while I continued on to Mansfield.

By coincidence as I approached the Kinko's A Prairie Home Companion was on the radio, and one of the guests started singing a song about a Starbucks barista she was in love with.

I was hoping to reach Mansfield before nightfall, but it was just too far, and I had to slow down once I got off the Ohio Turnpike. When I exited US-250 onto SR-13, I had to slow down even more because of the prescence of horse-driven buggies! Are you kidding me? Horse and buggy?? It seemed awful dangerous to me, because the highway was pitch dark except for my bright lights, and at first I was confused by the flashing red lights on the back of the buggy. I can't believe those buggies aren't getting hit left and right.

I was almost to the Mansfield Starbucks when it started to rain. I grumbled because I planned to take US-30 all the way to Pittsburgh and I expected the rain to make the drive more difficult. So once I spotted a Speedway I stopped in, and they did have Tradewinds. It wasn't the Extra Sweet though, but the Honey-Sweetened, which wasn't sweet enough. Still, the basic Tradewinds taste was there, so I decided to buy a bottle. But there was a problem with the register, and the line grew to the point I didn't want to wait. So I moved to the adjacent parking lot and napped for a few hours before getting up, getting my tea, and getting on my way. Further ahead still, in Canton, I spotted another Speedway and found Extra Sweet, and it helped as I drove through the wee hours towards Pittsburgh.

Just east of Minerva I was scared to death by deep water in the road. My lane was closed off by workers who flagged me along the opposing lane, so I figured it was safe. But towards the middle my car started to struggled and I had to downshift to first gear to keep it going. More closures further ahead had me wondering about the wisdom of having chosen to drive this stretch of US-30 during the night.

I hadn't noticed it on the map, so I was surprised when US-30 cut through West Virginia for a few miles. The next day, on Whaddaya Know! I learned they referring to this part of WV as a panhandle.

I had meant to just check my mail and do a quick web site update in Pittsburgh, but the detour turned into an hourlong nightmare.

First, my stomach was hurting for some reason, and when I got out of the car to dump an empty container of yogurt I felt a sharp spasm of pain. As I drove on, I couldn't completely sit down because it hurt to much, and I had to sort of lift myself up off the seat for a while until the pain subsided.

I parked near the Oliver Store and walked over, pausing to marvel at a spiderweb. When I returned to the car at a light there was a car carrying a passenger, sex indeterminate, wearing garish makeup, whose dress was caught in the car door. I tried to tell him/her, but given the hour, my unshaven appearance with nappy hair, and the fact that I was in pajamas, I'm not surprised I was ignored. On the other hand, I was carrying a laptop--that should have given me some credibility, no?

From downtown I faced myriad difficulties trying to get onto I-376 eastbound. I wandered in circles, following the most poorly laid out detour signs in existence. When I finally got on, following the instructions of a truck driver at a gas station, I had to immediately get off because the Squirrel Hill Tunnel was closed. I had to take Route 8 almost to Monroeville, and when I tried to get back onto I-376 I screwed up and ended up on US-30 instead, traveling for miles in the wrong direction before turning around. I was getting desperate. Every minute I wasted was cutting into the sleep I desperately needed. When I finally got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and reached the first service area, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to sleep nearly as much as I had wanted.

August 29

No Starbucks because I spent all my time driving from the first service area I encountered on the Pennsylvania turnpike to the Holiday Inn in Atlantic City for the second of four Scrabble tournaments.

August 30

One new Starbucks, in Absecon, NJ, during Scrabble.

September 2

Not much going on Starbucks-wise. I got $400 for the use of some photos a couple of days ago, and yesterday I received word that a $100 check would be going out soon, and an e-mail from a Starbucks partner who wanted to buy one of my New York photos. And today, a whopping $50 donation via PayPal!!!

Debating whether to go into Manhattan this evening for Scrabble club and then visit several new Starbucks early in the morning before parking becomes difficult. Still need to call them to find out which ones are open, and at what times.

While calling stores to find out their opening hours, I learned from a barista at 39th and Park that the store was scheduled to open for business at 6:00 AM the next day, Friday. Well, that settled it--I had to go into Manhattan! I couldn't pass up the chance to be the first customer. Now, I wouldn't go to extreme extremes and waste a lot of time trying to be the first customer. But with Scrabble club and several other stores to visit, best done early in the morning in NYC, it was totally worth it.

Still I had visions of a 3-hour wait at the Holland Tunnel because of the convention--President Bush would be speaking that night, and the news was reporting that the police were going nuts in Manhattan.

I saved on the toll by taking US-1 instead of the NJ Turnpike, plus I planned a stop in Elizabeth at the Luis Restaurant, home of the $5.50 wonder meal of beans, rice, and plantains that could last for three meals if I had a way to keep it from spoiling. Once I got into the express lanes of US-1/9, it was smooth sailing to the tunnel, and across with not a delay. Amazing. I was then faced with 2 hours during which I pretty much had to remain in the car because of parking restrictions.

Since I had so much time to kill there was no need to wait until morning to visit some Starbucks, so I went to the first, at 23rd St and 8th Ave. As I traveling north on 8th and approached 23rd, I started seeing more and more police on every corner. Then parking on both sides of the street was blocked off by orange cones, and I wondered how far I'd have to park from the store. And finally, by coincidence, 8th Avenue was closed right at 23rd St, right where the Starbucks was. I had to circle around on 23rd to 9th and then down to 19th and finally back up to 21st where I parked, despite the prohibition, b because another car was parked there. I rushed to the Starbucks, just 2 1/2 blocks, trying not to sprint and attract the attention of the cops. Despite my hurry I gave my spiel to the manager (or shift supervisor) and got my coffee. I photographed the store with no interference from the police and rushed back to the car. It was still there. Whew!

On the way to the next store, 80th and York, I stopped at the Schmoopie Deli on 2nd Ave to take a photo for Schmoopie (aka Jodi, aka Odji). I was making up for not having taken a photo of myself holding a sign reading "HI SCHMOOPIE" in front of the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market.

After Scrabble club, I had to decide whether to stay in Manhattan to make sure I was the first customer at 39th & Park, or to go out to a new store in Brooklyn that opened at 5:30 and hope that I could drive the 6 miles from Atlantic Terminal to 39th and Park in about 15-20 minutes. I decided that it was more important to knock out that new store in Brooklyn than to the first customer at another store, especially since it was possible it would be delayed.

I parked near Atlantic Terminal and slept for a couple of hours to let traffic subside, and then I went over to the store to take photograph and get a head start on the next morning. Turned out the neon lighting made for a cool-looking photo. But as I tried to get the best shot possible an NYPD patrol car pulled next to me and asked what I was doing. Taking photos, I said, and the cop replied "No." I asked why, and they said no photography in the area because the LIRR was in the building and there had been a terrorist attack in the area (when???). Given what was going on in Manhattan, I've no doubt that he would have arrested me and confiscated my camera. While that would make for an interesting story, I had a Scrabble tournament to get to and didn't want to spend the weekend in jail.

September 3

I woke up at 5:07 needing to use the restroom and groaned, because I doubted I'd get to sleep again before my alarm went off at 5:25. I think I dozed off, but not heavily, because I was able to hear the gentle click of the alarm that precedes the louder tone. I figured 5 minutes would give me time to shake off the cobwebs and reach the Starbucks with time to spare. But those goddammed traffic lights, even that early in the morning, delayed me, and it was exactly 5:30 when I pulled in front of Atlantic Terminal and discovered I couldn't find the entrance. Panicking, I called the store and asked where the entrance was at exactly the same time that I spotted the doors. I asked if they in fact opened at 5:30, and the barista said they did, but not today. I, frantic, asked why? She said they were experiencing a delay. I asked if they had a DoubleShot they could sell, and she said yes. So I rushed in, and just in case I asked if they had drip coffee, and they did, and so I got that.

I raced up Flatbush towards the Manhattan Bridge, the traffic on which was already getting heavy even at the early hour. I looked at the clock intently, perhaps too much so, because I passed up my turn off Canal, onto Bowery, and had to double-back. Not a problem though, because I was on track, and once I got on 4th Avenue I sailed all the way uptown until it turned into Park Avenue. I passed 39th and spotted the Starbucks across the street and saw a couple people in front, one looking like a barista. I didn't figure they were customers waiting, but I parked and rushed across the street.

Turned out that the lock had been changed, as is procedure when construction finishes with a new Starbucks, but somehow new keys hadn't been given to the staff. One of the baristas said he was going to contact the manager, and I figured I'd use the time to visit the three other Starbucks that were open. Well, not quite. It was 5:55, and 51st and Park didn't open until 6:00. I parked down the street, and I saw some type of security guard approach. I asked if it was okay to park, and he said now, and I said I only needed three minutes to get coffee, and he let me alone. I rushed to the store and stood in front of the door looking at my phone (clock) until the partner came out and asked if he could help. I said, you open at 6:00, right? He said he couldn't because he was alone. I said I was trying to visit every store and just needed a DoubleShot and offered him my Starbucks card, and he went in and go one for me.

Finally, the new Times Square store that I had missed because its opening was delayed! But the line was long, and my car's positioning was dubious, so I just got another DoubleShot and rushed off. Next was 58th and 8th, the address of which was listed as being on Columbus Circle. But it wasn't, and after driving around a couple of times I spotted it off on 58th Avenue. Parking was better there, and so I took the time to wait for the shift supervisor who had heard of my project and offered coffee.

Back at 39th and Park, the manager had arrived. I parked around the corner, and I was good 'til 7:00, so I hung out with the staff and chatted about my project and Starbucks in general, especially the vast concentration in Manhattan. The time was not wasted, because I learned that 2nd and 9th had relocated--no new listing had been added to the store locator. 7:00 rolled around and I had to move the car. So I headed down to 2nd and 9th and went inside to make sure it had in fact moved, and then I took another photo and had some more coffee.

I wanted to kill time and see if the manager of the store would call to say it had opened, so I went to my usual store at 3rd and 15th for T-Mobile access (because I could often park right in front). I was having trouble getting a signal and thinking about what other store to find when I got a call that kept me busy for about an hour. Almost 9:00 now, I was going to have to head out to Parsippany for Scrabble soon, and I made one more pass by the 39th and Park store. I saw that a locksmith had arrived and was working on the door. I pulled around the corner and ran to ask the manager, and she said they were just waiting for him change the locks yet again, because they couldn't find who had originally changed them.

I couldn't leave my car there, and I knew it would be hard to find parking, and I was right. I had to fight traffic north on Madison to 44th and then fight my way over to make a right turn. I parked in a metered spot, and some type of officer, not NYPD though, seemed awful concerned that I'd be paying a lot for parking if I was going to be there a while. 51st park, can i help u, only person in store, cop or guard says i can't park, i ask for 3 minutes for coffee, dbl shot

times sqsqure line, so dbl sshot,

hutn for 58th & 8th, call no answer, worrty, guy heard, coffee

back to 39th, still not open, mgr there, hang out and chat 'til 7:00, leave phone #, go take photos, learn of 2nd and 9th moved

not yet fatigue but will

online, then phone 'til 9:00, then up to 39th again, see locksmith, figure it won't be long now, go find park on 44th, mta polioce

When I returned to my car, with just minutes to spare, I was approached by the MTA (I think) officer and he asked if I minded answering a few questions, explaining that he had noticed that I'd been sleeping in the car, that I had a camera and tripod and my laptop plugged in. I told him that, yes, I did in fact mind.

September 6

Prior to my final day of Scrabble competition in Parsippany, I went to the Denville Starbucks for coffee and a shave. Just as I was checking my e-mail from my car, the manager of the store knocked on my window. I thought he was going to complain that I had shaved, though I had cleaned up as best I could without paper towels (no paper towels in New Jersey), but in fact he just wanted a photo with me, because one of the other partners had recognized me as the Starbucks Guy. I was running a little late for Scrabble, but I had to oblige, and besides I was flattered to have been recognized.

After the tournament I dropped a couple of players off at Newark and then headed out to the Gillette store, purposefully skipping Hillsdale because of the gas involved. I'd won $200 at the tournament, sure, but that, plus the $30 in Farmington, was just $5 more than the $225 in entrie fees, so I couldn't go free-wheeling on the gas like I had hoped.

Next I headed down to visit Margaret in Princeton, my landlady while I was working for Siemens. She offered me up some chicken, rice, and, for the first time in my life, ratatouille. I had planned on leaving right away, but on second thought her offer of the secondary bed in her son's room seemed like a good idea.

After a long, long, nap, I got up sometime after midnight and head down to Philly, where I scoped out two new stores just to make sure they had not in fact opened. Since they hadn't, I continued on to the welcome center, which required me to turn around to the northbound lanes because there was none on the Delaware side. Stupid Delaware!

September 7

It had been a long time since it last happened, but when I woke up Tuesday morning I was completely disoriented and had no idea where I was. It took me maybe up to 15 seconds to remember that I was at a rest area along I-95 just north of the PA/DE line. Most importantly, I remembered that the rest area was on the northbound side, which meant I had to exit the interstate immediately and turn around. I forgot to do this once and ended up driving miles before I realized my error.

I exited I-95 in Delaware just before the Maryland border and drove down to US-40 and the Glasgow store. As I pulled up, Brad Paisley's "Being a Celebrity" started playing, and for the first time I picked up on one of the lyrics, "I can throw a major fit if my latte ain't just like I like it." It was appropriately coincidental. Thinking about it some more, after having introduced myself to the manager of the store who seemed tickled to meet me, I do in fact seem to be treated different now that I've achieved minor celebrity status.

Since I was already on US-40, I decided to avoid about $10 worth of tolls along I-95 and also cross another stretch of highway off my list, and I took US-40 all the way to the I-695 loop around Baltimore. When I crossed a bridge at Perryville, I was about to get pissed, thinking I would have to pay a $5 toll anyway because the northbound lane had a toll plaza. But when I reached the other end, there was no toll plaza.

As I drove, I called the new Bel Air store and there was no answer, so I put it in my coming soon list. At the new Towson store I learned the new Timonium store was not yet open either. Both would open on Friday. Rats! Three days too soon!

Meanwhile, I sorted out my plans for the weekend with Jodi. It would work out fine with her for me to play Scrabble in Brownsville, TN, on Friday night and Saturday and earn some ducats to take her out to dinner with. Then we could hang out Sunday and Monday.

I managed to roll through three new stores in DC without getting stuck in too much traffic or getting a parking ticket. On the down side, at only one of the stores had partners read my recent article.

Oh, come on, now! Wazzup wit dat!! I called the Rivertowne Commons store before heading down there from downtown DC, and whoever answered failed to tell me the store had not yet opened for business. So I wasted time and gas, and the only thing I got out of it was that one of the construction workers had read about me in the Washington Post Magazine.

After several wrong turns, I finally got on track to Huntsman Square in Springfield, one of the stores I had left without photographing. With that one out of the way, only the most the recent store on the outskirts of Sacramento (and a few in the UK) were left to photograph. I had further trouble finding T-Mobile, having to stop at several stores. I was waiting to see if this girl that had IM'ed me would get back to me about meeting at a new Starbucks in Herndon. She had seemed so enthusiastic in earlier IM'ing, but then she asked me if I was athletic, and I had to admit I hadn't worked out in a long time. I guess that turned her off.

No word from the girl, so I visited Worldgate Centre and moved on towards Warrenton. I turned on the radio too late, so I missed whether it was a collision or just volume, but either way traffic was backed up for about 10 miles before my exit to US-29. Once I got off the interstate and saw that traffic was still heavy I was beaten down and gave into my hunger. I pulled over for some take-out spaghetti from Joe's Italian Restaurant in Gainesville. It was overpriced, but even more so was the soda from the 7-11, at a whopping $1.03!!!

When I got my order I remembered to check for utensils. She had forgotten! I asked for some and she came back with a knife and fork--what about the soup??? I didn't feel like asking again so I used the one I had in the car. I ate the soup first, so by the time I uncovered the spaghetti I was too far to return--there was hardly any sauce on the noodles. Really, that was the crappiest meal I had bought during my entire trip, and, including the soda, for my entire food budget for the day!

When I got to Warrenton, the partner who had e-mailed me wasn't working, but another had read the article. Her face also lit up with recognizition when I mentioned Joe's, and she acknowledged the crappy food. So stay away from Joe's, y'all.

It started to rain while I was inside the store, so when it was time to take the photo I had to wait. The rain also made the drive down US-15/29 more tricky, and tricker still on US-522, my route down towards Richmond. It was also getting dark, and I was getting tired, so when I reached an Exxon in Gum Spring, where US-522 runs into I-64, I pulled next to a van parked in an auto parts shop next door.

It wasn't even 9:00 when I got to sleep, so by 2:00 AM I was ready to start driving again and continued on towards Richmond, stopping at a Starbucks just off the freeway on Broad Street to get online.

Down in Chesterfield, I could not find a Starbucks around Iron Bridge and Courthouse. I did, however, find an office park with some cars in the lot, and no signs prohibiting parking of any kind.

September 8

Around 7:15 I knew I had slept well over 8 hours, but I still didn't want to get up. I had too, though, because it was light out, and I needed to find a restroom. Surprisingly, the parking lot was still nearly empty, but there was one lady with an umbrella walking in, and I thought if I snuck into the dumpster pen I might be noticed. So I called the Starbucks in and learned it was down at Beach Road, not far. The manager recognized me from a visit to a previous store, and he explained that he had had trouble getting his store listed at first, and then with the correct information (which was still not completely correct).

I asked about breakfast, without going back into the city, and the manager said a grocery store down the street named Ukrop's served breakfast, eggs and such. I headed over there to find a biscuit sandwich cheaper than Burger King's, and some Nantucket Nectar orange juice on sale. It wasn't the best juice, but it was better than Minute Maid or Tropicana, and only 99 cents. But when I got on the highway I discovered I'd been charged the full $1.39. I called the store and explained the situation to a manager. He didn't want to jump through all the hoops to have a corporate check cut, so he said he would just mail me $2.

Before getting on the interstate, I was surprised to find gas at the lowest price since I left Texas (lower than Houston even), at $1.59!!!

I had been looking for a best buy to find a battery charger to replace mine that had been malfunctioning. Already one set of batteries appeared to be dead. I passed a Wal-Mart and thought maybe they carried the Energizer brand I sought, and they did. I hated to spend nearly $30, but I couldn't risk running out of battery power and having to buy regular alkalines--that would have ended up costing more because I generally only got about 20 photos out of them, as opposed to 50 or more from the nickel-metal hydrides.

Aw, hell! I distinctly remember having photographed the Warrenton store, after having waited for the rain to stop, and after having switched batteries. But somehow the photo came up missing. AARRGHH!!!

Holy crap,but that was close! I must have been doing about 75 in a 65 and was sure I was busted when the VA state trooper hidden in the trees caught me by surprise. I didn't see any lights for about 1-2 minutes, and then they appeared. My heart sank and my nuts shriveled up. But thankfully, he decided to after the more expensive car that had been about 1/2 mile behind me, perhaps a Jag. Driving a cheap little ol' Civic has its advantages!

Some miles down the highway, the same car that had been pulled over passed me up--it was a black Acura 3.5RL with New York plate BWL-8810. I need to look up his address on the Internet and send him a thank-you note.

None of the new stores in North Carolina had T-Mobile yet, so I had to detour to a Kinko's in downtown Durham. I wondered why Starbucks couldn't get the Wi-Fi in the new stores more quickly. While online that girl from Virginia messaged me with her phone #--I told her I had already left the area. Bad timing.

I benefitted from the detour, though, by finding JC's Kitchen just as I had started to get a craving for some southern food. No mashed potatoes--rats! I had to settle for pinto beans with my rice. But a biscuit, yay! And as I waited for my order, I saw racial harmony blossom as a couple of white dudes came in and sat down amongst the otherwise all-colored clientele.

When I paid I took a look at the special and saw that they served pig's feet (or "pigfeet" as they called them)! Oh, man! If I had know, I would have ordered those! I love pig's feet, and I've only found one restaurant in the whole country that serves them. No, served because it closed after the Seattle earthquake.

Well, at least the pork chops were good, as were the beans and rice, and the biscuit. Albeit messy. But I made a greater mess with the Snapple, spilling it on my power converter, which meant that, if I hadn't ruined it, I still couldn't use it until it dried of. Which meant I needed to keep my computer off most of the time and memorize the locations of the Starbucks. And hang out at each store to charge it up. And that I couldn't study my Scrabble words, at least not with the laptop. Oh, curse me for my clumsiness!

I hung out at Barnes & Noble in Winston-Salem updating my site and letting my laptop charge. I called about Scrabble club down in Charlotte, but it had moved to Thursdays. I just wanted to get some practice in before tournament on Friday. Not that I really needed it, after 55 tournament games in 10 days. But still.

I headed over to the new Starbucks and set up my laptop to charge. When I finished chatting with the shift supervisor and went back to the table, a teenage girl was sitting in my seat. So I moved my laptop to the other side of the table and grabbed a different chair. She realized she had taken my seat and said she was sorry and was about to move, but I said no, no, please stay, take the chair, I don't need much room! Anyway, I hung as long as I could and tried to interpret the teenspeak as I struggled to keep my hands to myself.

I had heard about the closure of I-40, but it was further west than I'd be going, at least initially, so I didn't give it much thought. But as I headed to Mooresville I heard the radio mention Asheville, and it occurred to me that the mudslides might affect my trip through the area and my visit to the new store there. I called the store and learned that it was already closed, and until Friday. I was reminded of the previous year, when another hurricane, Isabel, had prevented me from visiting several stores in the Chesapeake Bay area. I started to reassess my schedule--I could reach Brownsville, TN, from Asheville on Friday easily if I stuck around, say, Charlotte for a day. But just because the barista said the Starbucks would open Friday didn't mean it couldn't stay closed longer.

What was worse was that once I reached Greenville, SC, my route to West Virginia, if I chose to go, would take me through the area worst affected by the weather.

I decided I'd try to kill time by watching the Agassi match if I could find a suitable sports bar, and perhaps with a massage if I could find the right person still available. Unlike the last time I passed through the city, there were very few ads in the weekly, but their was an ad for a lady I'd seen before, almost exactly a year earlier as a matter of fact. She charged the right price, $30 for 1/2 hr, had a shower, and was available almost right away. As usual, I spent a good deal of time scrubbing. Perhaps a bit too long, because when I came out she seemed like she had been getting impatient. And after I had helped her put together a little light fountain, even!

Afterwards I asked about a sports bar, and she sent me to a place called Jock and Jill's. Wrong type of place, with too many TVs tuned to too many channels. I asked the hostess where I could go to find a lot of bars, and she seemed taken aback and flustered. Geez, it was a simple question. Though truth be told, her unhelpful response was amusing because it was delivered in a thick southern accent.

I drove downtown and drove around until I stumbled across the Tavern on the Tracks, where the bartender agreed to change one of the TVs in the back to USA for the tennis match and turn up the volume. I ordered a Smirnoff Ice and debated about the chili. I decided to wait until the third set. The chili was pretty good, but about three minutes after I got it the match was delayed because of rain, possibly for the night. Nertz! Had I known, I wouldn't have gotten anything to eat.

And when I left I got the hiccups! Stupid hiccups.

September 9

I've Always Depended On the Kindness of Strangers

I didn't even look at the time, but when I woke up at the South Carolina Welcome Center, the sun was just started to ease into my car, so I moved it to the other side of a van and went back to sleep. I was awoken next not by the sun in my face, but by a beeping noise. At first I thought it was my phone, even though the sound was wrong, only because I had no idea what else it could be. I jumped in the front seat and realized it was coming from the car. I reached for the key and realized I had left it turned part-way. Oh, crap! The battery had drained!! The engine wouldn't start!!!

I happened to have been on an incline, so I tried to bump start the car, but I only had maybe a couple of dozen feet with work with, and all I accomplished was nearly hitting the light pole. The driver of the van next to me had gotten out, and I asked him for jumper cables. He didn't have any, but said if I found some he'd give me a boost. So I ran around like a headless chicken asking everyone in sight, including the visitor center attentants and the maintenance man. Just when I was going to accept the attendant's offer to call someone, I realized that I had only assumed I didn't have cables, that I had never replaced them after giving them to someone.

It was with trepidation that I went back to my car and popped the trunk. Lo and behold, jumper cables! D'oh!

The driver of the van had me going in short order, in the meanwhile telling me the story of how he had driven all night trying to reach Atlanta on an empty stomach and gotten sick. Since he was helping me out, I felt obliged to listen with a sympathetic ear.

The Magic Oasis

As I drove towards Greenville, I made the final decision to not go into West Virginia this time around. Though I had the time, I didn't want to spend the gas for the 400-mile detour. I was also thinking that if I decided to play Atlanta after visiting Jodi in St. Louis, my route could take me through WV.

I exited I-85 at Woodruff Road, and while at the light, on an incline, the engine died. I thought I had just taken my foot off the clutch. But as I drove towards the next light I thought I felt the engine wanting to stall. Not good. I'm sure it didn't have anything to do with the oil, but by coincidence next to the Starbucks was a Wal-Mart Supercenter, conveniently located so I could leave my car there while I walked to the Starbucks.

But first, across the street, I spotted a gas station, Spin X, advertising $1.60 gas that was unusual in a couple of ways. First, it offered a cash discount, making it $1.59 instead if they could break my $100 bill. I'd seen a cash discount very rarely. Second, each pump accepted cash bills, which I'd never seen anywhere. The closest was AM/PM, which had centralized cash machines shared by a set of pumps.

Besides the Wal-Mart, the Starbucks, and cheap gas, this magic oasis of convenience in Greenville also offered a Chick-fil-a just down from the Wal-Mart. After I dropped my car off, I had seven minutes before the Chick-fil-a stopped serving the chicken biscuits I'd started craving. I headed in that direction at first, but then I decided that I really wasn't that hungry, after the chili from the previous night, and that I could wait to see if I could find a good restaurant near central Greenville.

Since I'd be hanging out waiting for my car, I whipped out my article at the Starbucks, which the supervisor wanted to read. She was enthusiastic and had me autograph of a photo her boyfriend had sent of some Starbucks in California. She thought maybe Pasadena or Santa Ana, but when I pulled up my photos of the stores in those cities, none matched. And with 1000+ stores in California visited, my capacity to remember them all had been overloaded long ago.

My car was ready when I returned to Wal-Mart, and just before paying I remembered socks. Socks! Despite my aggressive and proactive sock conservation techniques, all of my pairs were soon going to reach an unacceptable level of funk.

When I got out to the car, I cursed the mechanic who had changed my oil for having rolled up the windows, causing the car to heat up mighty quickly. The last time I changed my oil they had done the same thing. Curse you, Wal-Mart mechanics!

Just before I left, the staff started talking about a couple of recent news reports from South Carolina, one about a man who robbed a gas station with a pitchfork, and another about a man who drove his tractor through a wall. Their attitute was, like, "yeah, that's so South Carolina."

A Hearty Meal for a Good Price

The staff wasn't able to help me with a place to have a good southern breakfast, but in response to my query about home cooking, an older partner knew just the spot, and directed me to Stax's Original Restaurant. Now this Stax's is not to be confused with Stax's Carolina Roasters, Stax's Grill, Stax's Omega Diner, or Stax's Peppermill, all started by a group of five brothers. Since I was heading over to the restaurant I held off on eating the scone I'd been given. The day was sunny, so I put it on the dash to keep it warm. Then I realized it probably wasn't a good idea, flavorwise, to leave it on top of my socks

After stopping at the ATM I almost passed up Stax's . Well, actually I did, but all I had to do was turn around and find my way into the parking lot. I guess it was a good sign that the restaurant was full and there was a group waiting to be seated. I got tired of waiting and just walked in to look at a menu and saw several counters. I glanced at the menu and saw that breakfast ended at 11:00, but other items still looked good. I asked if I could sit at a counter, and the waitress said sure. While I looked at the menu more closely a gentleman sitting a couple of seats over commented to another that he used to come to the restaurant 30 years ago, and all there was was a bunch of counters. I guess he was feeling nostalgic.

I had been debating whether to order to-go to avoid the tip and get a cheaper drink elsewhere, but meal I wanted included iced tea, and the prices were more than reasonable, only $5.75 (plus tip) for grilled ham, rice, and what they called great northern beans (white beans). The tea was sweetened, and I asked the waitress if this was common. She said I'd find it sweetened anywhere around, but I don't know if she meant Greenville, or South Carolina, or the South in general. Of course, Houston is in the South, and my experience there has always been unsweetened tea.

The cornbread didn't taste bad, but odd. There was the taste of something I could recognize only vaguely. Lemony, perhaps, like from a certain type of cake, the name of which escapes me.

"A hearty meal for a good price," that's what I was thinking as I enjoyed my food. In fact, I thought, if John Kerry would adopt that line as his campaign slogan, the election would be in the bag.

In the hallway next to the restroom was displayed an award, voted Upstate's Best Restaurant by Creative Loafing, a free weekly paper available in Atlanta and Charlotte, and presumably somewhere in South Carolina too. Neither had I known that this part of the state is referred to as "upstate".

In the restroom, some type of businessman involved in some construction work, or work involving cutting down trees, was using his mobile phone while satisfying the needs of his biology. Yuck!

The Scenic Route

I had been thinking for almost the past day how I would get into Tennessee. In Greenville, it was finally time to make a decision, ad after looking at the map a while I decided to take US-276 north into North Carolina, where it would meet I-40. The route went through a national forest, and I the day was sunny, so I expected I'd get a nice drive even if it took longer. I expected to see plenty of warm country vistas, but this unexpected piece of artwork, on a hillside north of Cleveland was cool too.

Further down I got to drive along the tree-canopied road that I do enjoy (when not in a hurry) . But the road into North Carolina was so hilly and winding that I'll be just fine if I never have to drive it again. It straightened out some in NC, and there were actual towns. The first was Cedar Mountain, where I stopped to use the facilities. When I returned to the car, a mostly toothless old man asked me if there was any water down where I had come from. I said no, that there had only been one lane closure for maybe a hundred feet that forced me to share a lane with an oncoming car. I asked how the road was heading towards I-40, and he said it was fine.

In Brevard, the first town of consequence I had encountered since leaving Traveler's Rest (just outside Greenville), I had to make another pit stop, and I pulled into the parking lot of an Ingles grocery store. I promptly pulled back out again when I saw the sign that read "American-Owned", because I avoid patronizing businesses that so blatantly advertise a narrow world-view. I first encountered this "American-Owned" business during my early travels, when I still stayed in motels, and I avoided those that displayed the message.

My worst feared were realized when I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway I come to find the highway closed! The toothless old man lied!! Curse you, toothless old man!! The truck and the car in front of me just stopped, blocking my way until I honked, but I quickly turned right onto the parkway and stopped my car up a ways to look at my map. Crap--the route was going to take me into Asheville, just what I had been trying to avoid. I pulled into an overlook area and asked some people if the parkway was open all the way to the interstate, and they said yes, that they had just come from there. I might have been fretting about my waste detour, but a couple of guys sitting in lawn chairs were just enjoying the beautiful weather, and the view, of Cold Mountain . Yes, the Cold Mountain from the movie.

Well, there was nothing to do but make the most of it, so I stopped at the first overlook and snapped a photo of this great view of the Cradle of Forestry, in the Pisgah National Forest. Then I noticed that, clearly, some people weren't as partial to the whole natural landscape thing .

Crap, still no T-Mobile in Knoxville, nor in Nashville.

As I continued on towards Asheville, I must have crossed at least a half-dozen tunnels, the most I had ever encountered on any one stretch of highway.

The road closure turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Since I was heading towards Asheville anyway, I called the Parkway Centre store to see if it had managed to open before Friday morning. Heck, they had been open since morning according to the barista. If I had just called before leaving Greenville I could have taken US-25 all the way up and saved time. But I wasn't in a hurry.

In fact, after visiting the Starbucks I headed down to the Regal Cinemas (or is it Edwards--two different signs) to see Alien vs Predator. $5.50 for a matinee ticket--wow! I couldn't remember the last time I had paid that little for a movie ticket. But maybe there was a reason, because when the movie began I noticed right away that the image was cut off, because there was text at the sides I couldn't read. I reported it and waited. After about 20 minutes, I decided enough was enough and asked for a refund. The manager explained that it wasn't the projector--that the screen just wasn't large enough to handle some films. Gee, thanks for telling me beforehand. Oh, well, I got 20 free minutes of the movie, and a chance to reconsider whether I really wanted to see the rest.

I headed back to the Starbucks to catch up, and also to let rush hour traffic subside. When I left just before 7:00 to get online outside the Biltmore Village store (closed because of the flooding), I hoped I had found a balance between lessened traffic and still having sunlight for driving. It took me a bit longer than I expected at Biltmore Village because the entrance to the parking lot was blocked off with trash cans, so I had to park across the street and walk over.

September 10

I had driven only as far as the Tennessee welcome center before deciding that I had plenty of time to make it to Brownsville even if I slept for 10 hours or more. However in the middle of the night I made the wise decision to clear Knoxville. Even though I had to pull over again at a Wal-Mart Supercenter just west of the city, when I woke up in the morning I felt relieved I had done so, because traffic was backed up into the city due to closed lanes on I-40, and I expected the same was true of westbound traffic into the city. I had my stomach set on pancakes at the Pancake Pantry in Nashville, but that was several hours away still, so I asked a cashier at the Wal-Mart about a Chick-fil-a heading west, and there was one on the Kingston Pike, aka US-11, which parallels I-40 through Knoxville. Since a Kinko's was just further down the Pike, the detour was worth it.

On the way to Nashville I turned the radio on to a pop/rock station just before the end of the new R.E.M. song. AARRGHH! The base sounds better in my car than in my dinky little headphones. But at least the song is playing on the radio now, so I might hear it again soon. But when I got online I found the streaming version wasn't working anymore, so I couldn't get my daily dose!

I finally remembered to make a real mental note to look up the location of the Scrabble tournament in Brownsville. I need to stop leaving that stuff 'til the last minute.

Meanwhile, according to Jodi, there was a three-day period during which I didn't call or e-mail her (though I don't seem to remember it), and this was putting ideas in her head that I had lost interest, and that we were going through a gradual "B.U.", as she called it. As such, our planned meeting in St. Louis was still on, but she was keeping an emotional distance. Oh, those wacky females and their insecurities.

Several of the partners at the Antioch had heard about me, and a couple said they had heard "stories". I wondered what kind of "stories" they had heard. They also told me of a new store to open on Sunday morning in Hendersonville. I was tempted to try and be the first customer, but there would be a substantial backtracking involved from Brownsville, and then a race to reach St. Louis to meet Jodi.

I had time to spare, but I got my pancakes to go to save on tip and juice, since I had some juice leftover from Wal-Mart. On the down side, some famous country singer might have been eating at the Pantry. I've yet to see a celebrity in my several trips there over the years.

AARRGH! It occurred to me in Nashville to do another store list update, just of Tennessee this time, and I saw a listing for a new Knoxville store. If it's already open I'm going to be pissed, as I was just there!

On the way out of town, I was pleased to find that my man back in Antioch had been correct about cheap gas at the Citgo on White Bridge Pike just south of I-40! Yay!

The drive to Jackson (25 miles from Brownsville) went by quickly as I studied. When I got to town, I went to the single Starbucks to see if I could for once catch the manager who had e-mailed me years before. During prior visits she had been away, and this time I learned she was no longer managing the store. Well, I tried.

With a couple of hours to kill before I had to head to Brownsville for my Scrabble tournament, I went across the street to hang out at Kinko's.

September 11

Before the start of my second day of Scrabble competition, I had time to head about 45 miles from Brownsville to Cordova to visit a new Memphis-area Starbucks.

After the tournament, I left Brownsville in funk, having doubts about meeting Jodi in St. Louis. I wasn't sure that I wasn't still sick, but the real reason was that I preferred to be alone after a disappointing performance in Scrabble. But I didn't want her to get the wrong idea, and she had already booked the hotel anyway, so I pressed on.

I took a state road, 19, west to US-51, and on the way I inspected my map closely to see if there was a bridge to Missouri anywhere south of I-155. I stopped at a Wal-Mart to gas up and asked a local, and he, in a strong, strong accent, reported that I-155 was the only way across, except for a ferry that had ceased operation decades ago.

Ooh, the cops in Dyersburg, TN, at least some, drive Dodge Intrepids. I made a mental note of that, and grumbled, because I was used to recognizing the Crown Victoria from afar and didn't really want to have to recognize multiple types of vehicles.

I called a Scrabble buddy in Missouri about some games and made plans to meet later. But once I got to I-55 I started to feel a wave of fatigure, and when I saw the welcome center I decided it just would be a good idea to push myself for the next few hours and decided to go for as much sleep as possible.

September 12

During my six months working for Siemens in New Jersey and playing Scrabble every weekend I would often return to work directly from a tournament, and sleep-deprived. I would often leave early, around 3:00, and go to my rented room for what I called a "big sleep", typically twelve hours or more. From just past 6:00 to 6:37, my "nap" had turned into a big sleep. I had my fingers crossed that it would help me recover my strength. I was worried that Jodi would interpret my lack of energy as disinterest.

I was looking forward to a hearty brunch in St. Louis, but I couldn't wait another several hours to eat. I didn't think it would help my recovery any. I looked along the interstate for a Wal-Mart, but I finally gave up and just pulled off for a Burger King. At least I got some cheap gas, $1.59, out of it, from a gas station the name of which I can't quite figure out.

I complimented the cashier at the Burger King on her nails, and in exchange she gave me back a dollar change instead of the 85 cents I was due.

Several miles up the interstate--the Wal-Mart. I should have expected it, based on the size of Cape Girardeau on my map.

Meanwhile, I-55 continued to be littered with a litany of pro-life billboards, most with a photo of a cute child intending to push the buttons of the emotionally weak instead of appealing to logic.

I stopped at the next rest area to brush my teeth, and I noticed they had covered up the sign that used to avertise free coffee. I guess they ran out of money and couldn't get Starbucks to donate.

I met Jodi at the Ramada Limited in Collinsville and switched to her car to head back down into the city. As always, I feared for my safety as she proceeded to maintain unsafe following distances between big scary trucks. I was still recovering from whatever bug I had caught and was low on energy. I hoped, and probably Jodi too, that some food would help boost my energy level. The fact is that I did feel better after brunch at Uncle Bill's Pancakes , but both Jodi and I agreed the food was crappy.

We headed to Clayton for the St. Louis Art's fair, and on the way I decided I wouldn't make it without coffee. There was one right in Clayton, but as we passed the Galleria I instantly remembered the one there and gesticulated wildly to Jodi to cut across three lanes. I think she was more upset that I was making her get so close to the Galleria (shopping) and making her stay in the car.

Parking was an ordeal, as I kept trying to get Jodi to drive in the opposite direction of the other cars, which were all presumably also looking for parking. I think she was starting to get annoyed with me. But we found parking, and irritation turned to amusement during our walk to the fair as we ran into a group of Jehova's Witnesses and other wacky people and made fun of them.

I hadn't really been looking forward to the St. Louis Art's fare--that was Jodi's thing. But I rather enjoyed most of the photography, and many of the painting exhibits. What I didn't enjoy was the bad timing at the Starbucks. After standing in line to buy a Starbucks card just so I could use the restroom I discovered the men's was out of order, so I had to wait in line behind a bunch of slow women.

Modern technology came in useful as Jodi and I didn't have to worry about separating among the throngs of people, because we would easily find each other with a phone call.

We had planned on our first movie date, and days earlier settled on Wicker Park. But when I cracked open the Riverfront Times for movie listings, I saw that Cellular had opened. When I mentioned it, Jodi said she had seen it! AARRGHH! I would rather have seen that first, and I grumbled at Jodi for not having asked. So Josh Hartnett it would be. I tried to find a theater that was also showing Napoleon Dynamite, so I could catch the very beginning before the other movie. Jodi insisted seeing the beginning would make the movie so much funnier for me. I thought it would still suck ass no matter what.

I couldn't get the timing right for Napoleon Dynamite, so I caught the end of Alien vs Predator instead, and I was glad I hadn't paid to see the whole movie, or wasted my time seeing the middle of the movie. I also caught part of Cellular, and I wished we had been seeing that first because what I saw was pretty good. After Wicker Park, a movie that left me with an odd feeling, and a desire to see the original French version, we headed back up to the Delmar Loop. I had a independent coffee shop in mind, not Starbucks, but then we passed some guys playing blues in front of Brandt's Market Tuesday, September 14, 2004. We sat for a few minutes as I looked at Blueberry Hill across the street, and I decided some red beans and rice might hit the spot. Mistake--they had to have been the worst red beans and rice I had every tasted. I ate maybe five or six bites before I couldn't take it anymore.

It had been a long day, and I was far from 100%, so it was time to head up to the Ramada, where I promptly crashed out for the night, while the K-Y warming lotion I'd been looking forward to experimenting with remained unopened in my bag.

September 13

Mr. Waffle Meets Ms. Waffle

After breakfast at the hotel, we headed over to the Gateway Arch. Finally! The last time I had tried to go up the Arch I had flattened a tire on a curb at the same time that my illness was intensifying, and I had to stay the night and barely reached Maryland in time for my cousin's wedding. Nothing was going to keep me away this time, not even missing the turn to the parking area and ending up on the bridge back to Illinois, and then having to sit in the same goddamned construction traffic--no, wait--it wasn't the same. We had previously taken the left side of the freeway split, and now we were taking the right side. Still slow either way. And I almost missed the Arch exit... again. But we finally got to the parking area and walked across the park to the arch.

Jodi had been waffling about whether or not to go take the tram to the top of the Arch, and as we approached the waffling kicked into high gear. First she said she was going to accompany me up, and she seemed resolute. But as we got in line she started to waver. I tried to "triple-dog-dare" her. But by the time I got up to the front and bought my ticket, she had chickened out. Then, when I went to get in line to board the tram, she changed her mind I again. I told her she needed to hurry and get a ticket before the tram filled up. She came back a minute later to report that a tour group had just arrived and she would never make it in time. I suspect she was relieved.

For some reason I had been expecting a view from the tram, even though no windows are visible from the outside of the arch except for at the top. The four-minute trip in a tightly confined space didn't bother me at all, because I was deeply engrossed in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, a book Jodi highly recommended and let me borrow.

The observation "deck" was hardly more than a short, narrow, and cramped hallway. The attendants said we could stay as long as we wanted, but I can't imagine anyone would want to stay too long in such an enclosed space. I stayed just long enough to snap a few photos and got back in line. To the east, hardly anything. To the west, a view of the city. Straight down, a vertigo-inducing view, as I truly hoped the Arch would not suddenly fall over. In retrospect, I don't remember that it swayed at all. I had been told it would say. And finally, an angle that allowed me to see a leg of the Arch itself.

The Mystery of the Appearing Ice Pick and Further Grumpiness

I was mighty hungry when I came back down, and I convinced Jodi to push up our planned dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory on Leclede's Landing and take advantage of the parking I'd already paid for. So we walked across the street and wandered around old St. Louis until we found the restaurant... closed! Until 5:00 PM. Jodi about went nuts. She was really pissed, to the point of almost being scary. I just shut up and drove. I could relate, though, because I've felt the same when discovered a favorite restaurant closed, or a lack of Tradewinds tea.

To make matters worse, an ice pick mysteriously appeared on the floor of Jodi's car next to my feet. Jodi spotted it and said "What the hell is that???" I looked down there, and it was an ice pick. Very strange. Jodi seemed genuinely puzzled/upset and to think that I had somehow put it there, and I was genuinely surprised that she would think that I had brought an ice pick into her car. That didn't even make any sense.

Romancing the Stone

We headed over to the Central West End, a part of St. Louis listed on a list of "jewels" put together by a friend of Jodi's. It's funny, when Jodi first mentioned the jewels I was only half paying attention and thought she was actually referring to gems that her friend had wanted her to find in St. Louis.

Anyway, the suck-ass Uncle Bill's had been on this list too, so we were losing confidence in her friend. But the Central West End was a pretty neat part of town. My first priority was to find some food, but all of a sudden Jodi decided she wasn't hungry after all. I figured she was still dead set on the Old Spaghetti Factory, but I needed victuals now! As cool as the Central West End was, there wasn't the plethora of eateries within easy walking distance (easy for a famished man, that is), and I almost settled on an overpriced burger from Cuelpepper's. But as I looked at the menu and prices while we waited for a waiter, I changed my mind and decided an 86-cent bagel from the St. Louis Bread Company would hold me over.

We walked up Euclid towards Heffalumps, an erotic card shop (another "jewel"). I passed Golden Grocer and checked out what they had to offer. $1.89 for a Power Bar! Yowza! That was almost twice was much as Wal-Mart's price. And I didn't even live in the neighborhood, so it's not like my money would be going to support my people. Further down, there was place called Kopperman's serving breakfast anytime. The menu looked pretty good, but there was nothing light, like just 1 biscuit and 1 egg. It was too close to dinnertime, so I had to pass. On the way back to the car, I gave in to my hunger and went for the Power Bar. I rationalized the expense by pretending I cared about supporting small independent businesses.

The next "jewel" was an independent bookstore named Library Limited. We headed away from St. Louis to find it, and when we arrived at the address we couldn't see it in the retail center. I asked a couple of people--the employee of the Whole Foods didn't know, but the lady on the steps revealed that it had closed, replaced by Borders. AARRGHH! Curse you, big retail chain for killing off an small independent shop!

We headed back downtown where I circled blocks trying to find street parking until Jodi insisted that it was worth $5 to park across from the restaurant. I can't stand paying for parking, but since it was her money I couldn't protest too much. At least the lot offered a great view of the Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge. The Landing itself, encompassing what used to be old St. Louis, was pretty cool, too, except that the brick streets, quaint and historical though they might be, played havoc with the driving.

We sat on a bench outside the restaurant until it was almost 5:00 while I buried my nose in the book and ignored Jodi's suggestions that we just go ahead and enter. Finally, a couple entered at 4:59 and we followed them in to discover plenty of other people already eaten. Dang it! They had opened before 5:00 without telling us! Fortunately, the trolley car that Jodi had so excitedly described earlier had not filled up yet--I was afraid she'd throw another fit.

Once again it was time to part ways, only this time it seemed more dramatic as I sped southwest on I-44 and she north on I-55, moving farther apart by the minute. After some time, she called to say she had driven quite a while before she started crying. But when I called her back later, it turned out she had cried for a long time. This worried me, that she was much more emotional about me that I was about her. Because the greater the depth of feeling between us, the more it would hurt when our relationship finally fell apart, as all my relationships are predestined to do.

September 14

I had stopped at the first rest area outside St. Louis and slept plenty, still not certain that I was 100% over the cold or whatever. For the same reason I stopped and got a breakfast biscuit even though I had leftover spaghetti. Ordinarily I would have just skipped breakfast, but I wanted to keep my strength up.

Unfortunately, because I had slept so much I didn't reach Springfield until noon, a lousy time of day for photographs, and so I didn't even bother to try to reshoot the two Starbucks there. I just checked my mail and then stopped at a gas station to heat up my leftover spaghetti and got into a discussion with the cashiers about whether my car is blue or purple.

When I went into the space under my trunk to find a fork I discovered that the bottle of leftover oil had leaked over pretty much everything back there. I went back inside to wash the fork, and when I returned I looked under the trunk again to see what else might have been damaged. Well, on the bright side, I finally found the remote control for my VCRs. Hope it still works.

In Tulsa I visited a new Starbucks and then worried about whether I'd be caught in stormy weather if I didn't leave right away, but still could not pass up my Chinamoon massage, which, at $20/hr (+ tip) is the best bargain I've found anywhere in the country. Unfortunately, its bargainness was undercut by the fact that I left Jodi's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs in the room, a fact I only realized once I was too far too make it worthwhile to return. Crap. I'd have to buy her a new copy. But I could do that later, when I got a job. But I was really getting into that book. Guess I'd have to finish reading it at Borders, and then buy it from Amazon and have it shipped straight to her. Then when I find a job I'll have to buy something from Borders so I won't feel like so much of a mooch.

While I was waiting for my appointment a pair of latinos entered and signed in. One signed in as "John", but that was clearly not his name because he spelled it "June". When the therapist opened the door and called out "June" I had to motion to him that he was the one she was calling. I was amused.

The Mystery of the Missing Toll Plaza

I meant to check the stretch of US-75 from Tulsa to McAlester off my list, but I neglected to look at the map closely and ended up on the Indian Nation Turnpike instead. Given that I was in no great hurry, it was a waste of money besides.

When I finally exited the turnpike in McAlester, I had one of those "I'm confused, but I'll take it moments" when I interchanged to US-69 without encountering a toll plaza despite having seen a sign advising of an upcoming toll. Hey, I wasn't about to go back and search for it.

Still concerned about putting additional stress on my system by going hungry, I stopped at Bledsoe's Diner in Atoka and ordered a cheeseburger and fries from a waitress with a mighty dour look on her face. In eateries like this in rural towns, when all the patrons (at least during the time I'm there) are white, I have to wonder if my race plays a part in how the waitress treats me.

September 15

I've no idea where it came from, but towards the end of my many hours of sleeping I had this crazy dream in which I was the ringleader of a group of criminals intent on stealing something pretty valuable and then getting out of the country. The details are hazy, but the actual theft involved breaking into some type of boat with some type of submarine and then eluding police boats chasing us and slaloming past what appeared to be yellow construction vehicles in the middle of the water. In another scene, two other members of the team were responsible for setting fires throughout the city to cover our escape.

Oops! I Messed With Texas!

I had lunch plans with coworkers from a former contract assignment, so I just needed something to tide me over, and a dinky old 8-cent banana from Wal-Mart sufficed. As I exited, I spotted two elderly gentlement looking at the photos of the missing children on the bulletin board. I imagined the pair had decided to become a pair of heroes, traveling around the country rescuing missing children. Hello, FOX network, are you listening--we got a hit show here!

The banana was a little greener than I had hoped, but then I remembered the cookie Jodi had bought me. When I unwrapped it, the wrapper was pulled from my grasp by The Suck and flew out onto the road way. There were two vehicles about a quarter to a half-mile behind me, and I worried that the drivers would think I was a litterbug and maybe even try to post my license plate to the web, as I one did to some pickup in Canada. So I sped up to get away from them.

I stopped at the Starbucks in Sherman for several reasons. One, to get online. Two, to see if I could get a better photograph. And three, purely out of ego, to see if the photo they had taken of me as the first customer was posted on a bulletin board like other stores have done with their first customers. It wasn't. I was disappointed.

Then, when trying to review the old photo I had taken of the store, I discovered it had mysteriously disappeared! I had the downsized web version posted up on my site, but the original was gone. So what I thought was ego was the gentle hand of fate pulling me in the direction I needed to go, and I was able to replace the missing photo with a better one.

Along the lines of things happening for a reason, Jodi e-mailed me that she watched an episode of Totally Obsessed and reported the show made a mockery of all the guests. Even though they say any publicity is good publicity, from the way Jodi described it, that might not be true in this case.

I had a great fan experience at the downtown Fort Worth store. By coincidence a lady who happened to work right at Sundance Square (in Fort Worth) e-mailed me just a few hours before I was planning to head in that direction. She was very enthusiastic about getting me some media, and a local news station was interested but needed more notice. And unfortunately, I ran behind and didn't get to meet her before she had to leave, which is too bad, because she sounded cute. However, she did call the store to tell them of my visit, and when I arrived I was greeted with a small gift basket. I also met a representative of a PR firm working for Starbucks who happened to have several of the new t-shirts promoting lunch and agreed to send me one.

I had time to kill before Scrabble club, but I couldn't hang out at Sundance Square, even though they said they would validate parking, because the store, as all the new stores until the T-Mobile contract situation was resolved, lacked Wi-Fi. So I headed over to a store in Hurst. I had to be online to view the new R.E.M. video that I had found after Jodi e-mailed me that she had seen it. As expected, the video had images of New York City, and they made me long to return, even though it had been just two weeks since I had last visited. Michael Stipe does not lie when he sings that "leaving New York's never easy."

The song also contains lyrics like "I'd love you forever.", ideas that always bother me because it's really impossible to know that you will love a person forever, so how can people say things like that?

A Visitor in the Night

After Scrabble club in parked on a dead-end street in a nearby residential area . The neighborhood streets looked quite, and I wasn't expecting anyone to hassle me, so I was surprised when I heard a thump. I peeked up, and there was a fluffy white cat on my hood. It quickly scampered up my windshield and onto the roof of the car... and proceeded to stay there. I wouldn't have minded--sharing is caring, after all--except it kept shifting around and making noise. Finally I had to open my door to scare it away, and the creature quickly darted off behind a fence.

September 16

I took my Civic into the Hondew shop early and they were able to look at it right away while I napped on the couch. That was the good news. The bad news was that the scraping noise and the problems with the clutch were caused by a worn-out transmission, something about loose bearings that would eventually separate and cause the transmission to lock up. Or at least that's how I understood it. The hit would be about $1500, if they could fix it. Otherwise, they would need to find a used transmission, because a new one is prohibitively expensive at $2000.

Well, Marshall could tell me how long the car might run that way, but I was glad that I had listened to some gut instinct and decided not to go to Atlanta. Until I could come up with the money to have the car fixed (which most likely meant getting a job), there would be no more road trips, at least not in that Civic.

I tried to nap some more, but it was just too hot, so I stopped at a Starbucks down at Mockingbird Station, hoping to see a barista I'd heard was working there again in the mornings. Sure and she was there, and sure enough those old feelings came back in an instant. She was just as beautiful as ever, in an intellectual way, with thick black glasses and fiery red hair up in a sort of beehive. It might have been as long as two years since I had seen her, since we had had a little chat at a nearby cafe. She had been absolutely correct when she told me that I didn't really know her, that I was creating an idealized version of her in my mind. Fast-forward two years, and that idea still existed, and the infatuation was still there. It was all for naught, though--I was heading down to Houston, and she would be leaving for London soon, to "hang out". Still, I left with a sense of longing.

Coincidentally enough, another barista, who had previously worked at other Starbucks in the area, was working. We had gone too dinner maybe a couple of two or three times, but she had never seemed really interested in continuing contact, and I had never really cared that much either way. I barely said hello, so focused was I on the redhead.

I had planned to make the new Houston store, the first Magic Johnson one, the last of my trip. But as I neared the city, I changed my mind and decided to leave it for another time. And so ended my nearly six-week adventure.


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