Final update December 23, log continues here

December 21

With a tentative itinerary for Europe, I begin to think about logistics. I discovered that T-Mobile has hot-spots at Starbucks in London. Yay!!! I'm looking forward to my first live journal update from Europe, and to IM'ing Jodi with a loud "HI SCHMOOPIE" from a London cafe.

Still need to figure out the electrical situation. Looks like my laptop won't be a problem as long as I have a plug adaptor. But the charger for my batteries looks like it won't work without a voltage transformer.

December 18

I left Farmington right after winning my Scrabble tournament and sped west towards Chicago. I wasn't completely sure I was up for the 200-mile detour to visit five, maybe six, new Starbucks, but I had until I reached I-69 to decide. About an hour later, I was feeling the fatigue, and given that it had started snowing earlier, and that I was getting old, I decided to leave Chicago for another time and took I-69 down towards Indianapolis.

I pulled off the interstate in Coldwater for some dinner. At the Speedway where I found some Tradewinds (but not the extra sweet), the cashier stopped the gas pump, explaining about some law that I had to stand by the pump. I couldn't even get in my car, because, ooh, the nozzle could fall, create a spark, and blow us all up. In my mind, I could see my hand making a jerking motion.

I went for KFC again, two nights in a row, and I paid for my mistake. The biscuits were half-cooked, doughy. And halfway into the chicken I got to this nasty fatty part that felt rubbery as I chewed and chewed but couldn't break it apart. I had to spit it out. Nasty.

Not long after I crossed into Indiana the snow began again, and this time with a strong wind that blew the flakes right into my windshield. The beam from my headlights was reflected by the flakes, and the effect was rather disorienting, almost inducing vertigo. I counted the miles until the next rest area so I could pull over. I had been considering giving my friend Sarah in Indianapolis a call, but given the snow I was sure I wasn't going to arrive that night.

As I approached the rest area, station 98.5 started playing Mary Chapin Carpenter's "I Take My Chances". I gave them much propz for playing MCC, but then the DJ blew it when he announced that the song was from 1994. Wrong!!! "It was 1992, you fucking moron!" I thought. Just another example of how so many of today's DJs know dick about the music they play.

A sign state "NO OVERNIGHT PARKING OR CAMPING", so I figured I'd sleep a few hours and then move on. Five hours later, around 1:00 or 2:00, I continued on to the next rest area where I remaining until morning.

December 19

Sometime after 7:00 AM I awoke and it was still dark. I was surprised, because I had expected the sun to appear earlier some 200 miles to the south. Then I remembered that I had also traveled west, and that I was near the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone. Anyway, I went back to sleep. When I woke up again it was past 8:00, and I hustled to get a move on.

I couldn't see a direct route to the northern portion of Carmel where a new Starbucks was located, off 146th Street. I finally decided to take 116th, but as soon as I exited I could tell that it had snowed more heavily than was apparent from the interstate, which had been plowed and salted all night. I quickly figured the interstate route, though longer, would be quicker and safer. The detour was not a complete waste of time, however--I was able to pick up some bottles of Tradewinds. My supply was running low, and Speedway sells bottles for $1.29, thirty cents cheaper than the only place I can find it in Maryland, a grocery store called Shoppers.

The interstate and Keystone were the right roads, and I reached the new Carmel store with no problem. The manager was out at the bank, and for the sake of time I was just going to buy a coffee, but of course Indiana was still not offering the short size. I grumbled and thought about what to do, and then I spotted a bakery next door. I figured I'd get some food and see if the manager returned. It was one of those frou-frou bakeries, trendy and overpriced, but I found more or less what I needed in a ham and cheese croissant and fresh juice. Back at the Starbucks the manager had arrived, and though unenthusiastic about my project, I got my sample cup.

The weather seemed to be worsening, and I saw quite a bit of snow on I-465 west to Whitestown/Zionsville. The Starbucks was one of those off-highway ones that I'd read about in a recent article about Starbucks' expansion, and the blue informational signs pointed me right to it. I had discovered I'd run out of wiper on the way, and so it was particularly convenient that the Starbucks rented space from a Shell station. I was lucky the Shell hadn't run out of fluid--I saw several other people buying some--doubtlessly the effect of the weather. Damn near froze my fingers off pouring adding the fluid, so cold was the air temperature. And then as I took a photo, the wind was blowing right onto my hands. It only took seconds for the pain to become unbearable.

Given Starbucks' track record with not listing stores in Indiana, I remembered to ask about new stores and learned of one at Keystone and Ruth. From there it wasn't much of a detour to reshoot Shadeland and 75th, where I also got online and learned that my cousin's party started at 1:00 PM. Had it been at night I might have been able to make it if I hurried, but not at 1:00, so the pressure was off and I could take my time.

So I went downdown and reshot a couple of stores, Mass. Ave and the Circle Tower. Someone had e-mailed me about how my photo of the latter hardly showed the Starbucks at all (because I was focusing on the monument).

On the way out of the city I spotted a home cooking restaurant, Zelma's . Not the greatest, but decent. It was a little tricky eating the meal while driving though, and I almost passed up the exit for the Greenfield store, another one I needed to reshoot. Thankfully, a billboard advertising the store at the next exit reminded me.

On the radio, 92.3, I discovered the station aired Little Stevie's Underground Garage, a show hosted by Steven van Zandt (from Bruce Springsteen's band and The Sopranos). I'd heard about the show on Fresh Air, but I'd never had a chance to listen to it. Too bad I wasn't going to still be in Indy at night.

Also on that station I heard the DJ commenting, after playing U2's "Vertigo", that the song was originally supposed to be more poltical, but that it still reflected Bono's battles with the media. I didn't get it. I suck at interpreting literature, poetry, or music.

I had to take a break from my meal so I could focus on reaching escape velocity and pulling free of a minivan that kept trying to follow me. I had to do this several times, because just when I succeeded in escaping I'd run into a bottleneck and the minivan would catch up. Frustrating. I couldn't eat while keeping it floored because the wind was buffeting my very light Civic, and I was genuinely scared to take even one hand off the wheel, let along two to cut the roast beef.

I had added wiper fluid, but something was still wrong with the wipers. I had to stop for gas and clean them by pouring wiper fluid on a rag and then hope it didn't start rating.

I reached Columbus, and after visiting a new store on High Street I headed up to Worthington to photograph the store that was closed due to a fire. On the way I passed the Laughing Ogre, a comic book store, and I had an urge to pop in and see if there was anything my comic book shop down in Houston had missed. I dawdled a bit too much, and by the time I reached the new store on Brice Road there wasn't quite enough light for a good photo.

For dinner I picked up some spaghetti in Bexley. It wasn't bad, and it wasn't great, but it was fast. They had me ready to go by the time I came out of the restroom!

At a gas station further down the interstate I bought some chocolate simply because I had thought the cashier was cute and wanted a closer look. But when I did get closer, she didn't seem as cute because she wasn't smiling anymore? Was it me? Was it a racial thing?

After several trips east on I-70 from Ohio into West Virginia, I finally realized that a quicker route would be the I-470 bypass, because I-70 slowed to 45 MPH through the city. But I realized this after I had passed up the exit. I'd have to remember for next time.

I almost passed up the Somerset service area, the first one available to me eastbound on the PA Turnpike from I-70. There was one at New Stanton, but I-70 drivers like me passed it up and had go another 34 miles. I had to back up the ramp that I passed up, and I worried about a ticket, but I worried more about driving another 20-40 miles tired.

December 20

I should have kept driving at night, though, because snow had started to fall, and the drive in the morning wasn't as quick as I would have liked, even thought it was daylight. Plus it was exactly the wrong time of the morning for that time of year, and the sun was in my face much of the time. That made the curves dangerous. On the other hand, I stopped at Breezewood again and took a better photo.

When I exited the Turnpike the toll collector tried to hand me some religious literature. I had to decline several times. I still need to contact the turnpike authority and complain about him.

On I-70 in Maryland I witness something pretty cool, a sheet of ice flying off the roof of a truck and across the highway, smashing in the left lane. Had it hit a cars windshield, that could have been quite a sight!

615 miles

December 17

After much internal debate about whether I was better off saving money for my trip to Europe and leaving my Scrabble rating where it was, I decided to try and reach an expert rating in Michigan. A risky move, because I could just as easily lose. I left work early to give myself plenty of time to stop at four new stores on the way, and I succeeded in beating rush hour traffic.

Traffic was smooth all the way to Breezewood, and this allowed me to concentrate on doing my due diligence and calling to see which Starbucks had in fact opened for business and what time they closed at night. And studying eight-letter words for Scrabble, to better avert a disaster, which would be anything less than 4 (out of 7) games.

I reached Breezewood in time to take a photo with some light left, but I almost screwed up the visit by leaving my copy of the new Tom Wolfe novel. Every time I bought a book I started a waiting game, waiting to see how much of the book I'd have a chance to read before I lost it.

My mild paranoid tendencies kicked in at the Washington store when I thought I recognized a partner as a possible manager I'd met before. The way she looked at me, I wondered if I had run afoul of her at another store. While I waited in line I asked if she was the manager, but I got no reply. She might not have heard me, as the customer ahead of me pointed out. For some reason, I wondered if she might be hearing-impaired, and just as quickly I realized that wouldn't make sense, since she was filling drink orders that were called out verbally. I didn't hear her speak for a while, and I wondered if she might be mute. But then she spoke. I didn't feel like dealing with rejection, so decided to just buy a DoubleShot that I could save for the morning. As the partner at the register was about to ring me up, another partner asked the mystery lady what she had done so far, and I realized she was a new partner. So I held off on the purchase and identified myself to the shift supervisor who gladly obliged with a sample, and then requested a photograph. One of the other partners noticed and exclaimed "Oh, can I be in the picture!" After the photo, yet another partner came up and asked if she had seen me on television. She had--on Unwrapped. All that adulation, that would have been lost had I decided to be timid.

At the next store, the shift supervisor gave me a look that was, if not quite hostile, clearly not calculate to make me feel welcome. She did give up a sample cup, but filled it barely more than halfway. I didn't want to even try to explain that I needed four ounces, so I just accepted it and bought a DoubleShot. I waited until she went to the back to ask the other partner to dump out the sample cup that I didn't need anymore.

On the bright side, I was running almost two hours ahead of schedule. I kind of grumbled, because I could have left work a couple of hours later and made a few extra ducats. On the other hand, given the way in which rush hour traffic seems to increase exponentially, having left even an hour early might have cost me all my spare time.

I picked up some KFC and then stopped a gas station to seek out something to wash it down with. No canned sodas, but I spotted a new brand of tea that looked interesting, from Colteryahn Diary. Well, interesting was definitely not the word. More like putrid. God, that was the worst tea ever. It was so bad that as I continued up I-79 I had thoughts of blowing up the company. At my trial I'd claim it was an act of mercy, saving other people from suffering the same fate that had befallen me.

Perhaps it was because of my soured mood, but when I heard Slipknot on the radio for the first time, I concluded that they sucked.

In Monaca I saw snow on the ground, the first I'd seen so far. I'd seen some flakes during my Thanksgiving trip, but not enough to cover the grass.

On the way back to the highway from Monaca the radio played a different Slipknot song, "Vermillion, Part II". It was okay. But they still dress funny.

SR-60 to the PA Turnpike seemed a direct enough route that even despite the tolls I would not have considered an alternate choice. But for some reason, Microsoft Streets & Trips, which tends to favor larger highways, plotted a route from Monaca to Michigan that exited SR-60 onto SR-51 right before the toll. The distance was just a couple of miles shorter, and since I was running ahead of schedule I figured I'd save a buck or two.

Once I got on the turnpike I drove as far as the service area before Toledo. I slept for several hours, and when I awoke it was bitterly cold. It didn't feel completely tired, so I drove on and checked my e-mail in Toledo. At an American Petroleum station not too far from the Kinko's I could smell marijuana smoke at the gas pump. Then, when I got back in my car, my left foot kept sticking to the clutch--I shuddered to think at what that liquid on the ground had been.

I continued on into Michigan to discover the rest area closed!!! The map showed another rest area along I-275 (the route to Farmington), but I didn't want to deal with the possibility of finding it closed, so I exited the interstate and followed the orange signs to the temporary visitors center. The sign state there was no restroom, but at that hour of the night I didn't think that would be a problem. Still, I cursed the bones of whoever responsible for closing the rest area.

Sure enough, the parking lot was large, and I could have parked in the back and danced butt-naked until my nuts froze off and no one would have noticed.

December 16

I took a coffee break at Arundel Village and spotted this curiosity . A couple of partners explained the van drives from store to store offering free samples.

December 15

I had been holding off visiting a new store in Largo so that MSNBC could shoot me visiting it for a story they want to do. But it didn't seem like the story would happen any time soon, and I got tired of the store's just sitting there along my route to an appointment in Temple Hills, so I finally decided to check it off my list.

Tuesday, December 14

I got paid on Friday, but I had held off booking a flight in the hopes that a company called AirTrek, recommended by LonelyPlanet, could find me a good deal on a flight into one European city and out of another. Well, Amy the AirTrek representative finally got back to me with a ridiculous fare of $1100! I replied and told her just how ridiculous the price was, and then I had to search for almost two hours before I found a suitable flight, to Paris, for $420. I had to push back my travel dates though, from the week between Christmas and New Years to December 30-Jan 6, which meant three fewer days. On the other hand, I could use the five days from the 23rd to the 27th to travel to California or down to Florida or something and clear out some of my backlog of domestic stores.

Saturday, December 11

With a rare break from Scrabble and Starbucks, I hunted out a new breakfast place, Mark's Kitchen in nearby Takoma Park , a rare Maryland (DC-area) city I don't think I'd ever been to before.

I met my cousins for dinner at Green Field, a Brazilian churrascaria in Rockville. Tagging alone was a friend of my aunt's, recently arrived from Colombia, and now staying in their condominium. The girl seemed awfully intrigued by my Starbucks project, and I couldn't help but wonder if she was just thinking ahead to finding someone to marry her and expidite citizenship. Yep, I am cynic all right.

Friday, December 3

Finally polished off the new stores in Cherry Hill and Hillsdale while on the way to my Scrabble tournament in Shelton.

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