The Great Escape

Final update December 29, 2004 log continues here

Miles driven: 3379
Spent on gas: $206.75
Spent on coffee: $17.78
New stores visited: 25
Chrismas Day reshoots: 22 (+ 4 new stores)
Secret stores discovered: 2 OZ drip coffee consumed: 92 + 6 DoubleShot

Thursday, December 23

Stupid Holiday Drivers!

After being unable to book a trip overseas for the week between Christmas and New Year's, I reverted to my backup plan, to use the four days visit as many new Starbucks as possible within the country and reshoot a bunch on Christmas Day. California, with over 100 stores to visit, was my ideal destination, but despite my hopes, when Wednesday the 22nd came around I was not able to find any bargain fares even as far west as Phoenix or Las Vegas, let alone California.

So Florida it was, the nearest concentration of new stores. Though not nearly as many as in years past, for the simple reason that I had already visit three previous times that year. Had I not been under pressure stemming from the knowledge that Starbucks would open even more new stores in '05, I would have probably left those stores for another time. But Starbucks was continuing its aggressive pace, and I had to do the same.

I debated heavily about how many hours I could put in at work before I had to get on the road, but it turned out any decision would have been moot--I needed to have left the previous night to avoid the holiday traffic, but I wanted to at least put some time in at work. Plus, I had wanted to get my wheels aligned, but when Mr. Tire said they couldn't get me into a bay right away, after I had wasted time the previous day at another location, I gave up on that plan. If my tires wore unevenly, so be it.

The intial part of the trip, into the DC area and around the Beltway, had been smooth, and I had used the time to call around to the new stores and found three that would be open in Miami. Yay! That would save me a couple of hours on Sunday morning and allow me to head towards Tampa that much more quickly. But as I exited the Beltway and headed south on I-95 in Virginia, I suspected that I was not going to keep to my schedule. I was right. Rain, volume, stupid drivers--whatever the reason, after 90 minutes I had driven only sixty miles!

Hunger and the need to make kiwi took over and when I spotted a sign for food, Bojangles, I pulled off at the next exit. Boy, was that the wrong exit. I found myself stuck in traffic for Potomac Mills, a large shopping center, doubtless packed to the gills on the day before Christmas Eve. And I couldn't find the Bojangles, so I settled for Wendy's.

As if the traffic on the interstate hadn't been bad enough, when I exited Wendy's I found the sky had broken wide open, and I was drenched by a downpour in the short distance back to the car. My windows fogged up almost instantly, making navigation treacherous.

I lost about 30 minutes just getting back to the interstate in what was supposed to be a five minute hop off the freeway, and I knew my schedule was fucked. At the ramp, I could see cars backing up because of the delay, but I had no choice. From where I was, I-95 was my only route south. Back in Elkridge, I could have headed first to Ocean City and then Virginia Beach, detouring only 100 miles, but I figured it was worth the extra time. I wished I had I known traffic on I-95 would be this bad.

As I sat in traffic I got a call from the UPS Store saying my laptop had arrived. Grrrreat. Just when it was too late too go back and pick it up. And I could have used it on my trip, to get a head start on transferring files over while I drove.

After three hours, only 76 miles, AARRGHH!

Two hours and 30 miles after Wendy's I needed another pit stop at the rest area. It was reflective of the traffic that there was actually a line in the men's restroom!

Thankfully, traffic cleared a few miles past Frederick as I had hoped. But as I approached Richmond and recalculated distances, it became evident I would not reach Myrtle Beach before the CoastalGrand Mall closed at 10:00, and that I wouldn't even reach Wilmington by 9:00 or 10:00, at best, with no more delays. The radio reported an overturned tractor trailer on I-95 around Richmond, so I called a fellow Scrabbler Bruce and told him I wasn't going to be able to come by for a game.

I was hoping the incident would be past I-295, so that I could bypass it by visiting the one new store in the Richmond area. No suck luck. About ten miles before the interchange traffic came to a standstill.

The radio reported that AAA was predicting the day would be the busiest travel day of the year. Grrrrreat.

In the past year I'd been leveraging time stuck in traffic by studying Scrabble words and/or working on my log. But this time I had gotten a headache, and I kept having to take breaks from the laptop. Even the light from the LCD was starting to make me wince.

To my surprise, traffic moved speedily south on I-95 past Richmond and then even faster on I-85. I had to call the next store and learned it was way off where my map had plotted it, actually closer to Wake Forest than Raleigh. I'm glad I called early, because I was able to exit US-1 instead of taking I-85 all the way down to Raleigh and then doubling back. I still lost time looking for the shopping center, in a new development that was not on my ancient 2002 mapping program.

As I continued south I debated whether I'd have enough time to visit the new store in Durham and then make it to Greenville by 11:00 PM when the two stores there closed. I decided to try. When I left the Starbucks it was 9:20, I had to drive about 105-110 miles. I made good time on the interstate, but when I exited US-64 I hit several lights and then traffic that kept speeds around 50-60, and I knew I wouldn't make it, But then the freeway opened up and a couple of cars raced ahead at 80-85 MPH. I started to see a possibility.

Unbelievably, I made it to the nearest store at 10:46 and was back in my car by 10:47. It's a good thing I had spare time because I promptly went the wrong way and had to turn around. Little traffic in Greenville, and no cops that I could see enabled me to reach the other store with plenty of time to spare. I was still in hyper mode, though, and I surely appeared frazzled as I explained my project a mile-a-minute to the shift supervisor. She seemed amused and interested, though.

The second store, actually the first in Greenville, was next to a Panera, and I noted that the Panera Wi-Fi signal won out over the T-Mobile signal. Interesting. Either way, it was good because I was able to get online while I waited for a minivan to move.

As I sat outside and typed, I noticed the store stayed open past 11:00, and that I would have had time to ask for a sample coffee at the other store instead of buying a DoubleShot for speed. Oh, well.

I had to go back to the other store for a photo. On the way I stopped at a gas station. As I waited for the toilet I heard a strange sound coming from the stall. It almost sounded like a guy masturbating, if his penis were made of paper. He must have had a guilty conscience because after a few seconds he opened the door and asked if I was okay out there. I said I was waiting for the toilet. The guy, a near Snoop Dogg lookalike, except speaking really slow like he had a developmental disability, said that the toilet was "messed up". I peered in, and it looked rather foul indeed, but what I really noticed was that the guy was rolling something in dollar bills. It was clear that there were shennanigans afoot. I moved on.

I took US-13 to Goldsboro, then US-117 to I-40 and stopped at the rest area.

December 24

When I awoke at 6:09 I had slept for less than four hours, but I felt okay to drive, so I got a move on. I downed the DoubleShot from Greenville, but I started to feel some sleep inertia. I pushed on though, and it started to get light, and that helped.

Oops, my undies and socks were still damp. There was a problem with the dryer back at the townhouse where I rented a room, and even after 50 minutes my clothes had not dried. I spread them out in the back of my car, but with no sun they had not dried. So I tossed them atop the dashboard and put the defroster on full blast, and lowered my window.

The Mayfaire Towne Centre was an outdoor mall, which is why the Starbucks had opened at 6:00. After visiting and chatting with the manager I walked to the nearby Atlanta Bread Co. and had its bagel sandwich for the first time. Strictly mediocre.

The CoastalGrand Mall in Myrtle Beach was an indoor mall, so I got some clutter in front of my photo, but it could have been much, much worse, given that it was the day of Christmas Eve.

As I left the city I got a call from a cousin with some bad news, that an aunt in Colombia had died. He also reminded me that it was my father's birthday, so I was able to call. My mother once again urged me to call my grandmother in Panama. So I tried again and finally got that phone card I'd been carrying around to work. But to Panama, I only got 2 minutes! Blah!

From US-501 I exited onto US-378 and stopped at a Liberty gas station and saw one of the scariest sights of my life. Some old dude had failed to lock the door to the bathroom, and I walked in on him wiping his ass. AARRGHH! My eyes!!! I would need whiskey to sear the image from my memory. On the bright side, I got the answer to a question I'd asked myself for years and years. From seeing the placement of the feet of men in adjacent toilet stalls, I had inferred that either didn't wipe or wiped while sitting. While the former is just disgusting, the latter didn't make sense because you can get much better ass coverage while standing. But I saw what I saw, and I was left to wonder where these warped wiping habits originated.

Shortly before reaching I-95, I got my Bojangle's. And suddenly, little ice droplets started to fall. I said uh-oh, but they didn't end up affecting my drive.

I found the cheapest gas of my trip, $1.60, in some South Carolina town called Manning, at some no-name station called Horizon where the pumps were old-style and only cash was accepted. The absence of card readers and the cheap gas meant I had to wait, of course, but as I pulled out I felt relief that I had arrived before the line got three cars deep.

With 100 miles to Georgia, I started to crash and had to struggle. Ten miles at a time, I told myself. Take it 10 miles at a time.

I guessed the fatigure must have made me mentally off, because I had thought that there were only 40 miles of I-95 through Georgia. Wrong! When I reached the state line I realized I had another 111 miles to before Florida. Grrr.

To make matters worse, some 50 miles from the state line traffic came to a standstill. I thought about taking the exit and using US-17 instead, but I spotted troopers just up ahead and figured that's where the collison was. Well, apparently there were two, because traffic was slow for almost 10 miles. Not what I needed.

While crawling along, I spotted a sign for Cafe Risque, one of a chain in Georgia and Florida that I'd been to before. It looked like I might not make it past Jacksonville before stores closed for the night, so I started thinking about taking a much-needed at the Florida one afterwards. The Georgia one was at the next exit, some 10 miles away, and as traffic continued to crawl, I became frustrated and thought about taking a break there if traffic was still slow past the exit. The billboard had not listed a number, and Cafe Risque was not in my mapping program's database, but Cafe Exotica in Florida was. I called them to get the number for the other, and some guy named Doug said "I can't give out any information over the phone." I was a little stunned. I had never heard this before. I said, "I don't understand." and the reply was "Have a nice day." My first thought was that the club was in some type of trouble with the law, but I couldn't figure what exactly.

I pulled off at the exit for a pit stop, and then I checked out the Cafe but it was closed. So I got back on the freeway and sat for a while before traffic started moving again. No more delays to into Florida and to the first Starbucks, but it was looking doubtful that I would even reach the Starbucks in Melbourne that closed at 7:00--the one in Indiatlatic that closed at 6:00 was already out of the question.

At the next store, outside the Avenues Mall, I learned there was a new store, just opened last week, inside the mall. Well, that made things easy, because I knew that if I went in the mall there was no reaching Melbourne by 7:00 no matter how fast I drove.

Well, with no hope of any more stores, I was able to relax and find a private restroom and give myself a much-needed change. My face had been itching for days!

I called Cafe Erotica once more to see if they were still open, and the same guy, Doug, told me the same thing, "I can't give out any information over the phone." "Not even if y'all are still open?" I asked. "I can't give out any information over the phone." So weird. I had to find out what was up with that.

Thirty miles later I found Cafe Erotica open and went in. The host asked if I had been there before and then started explaining the cover and about tips and such. I waited for him to finish and asked about Doug and why he couldn't give any information over the phone. The guy looked back at Doug, apparently the cook and shook his head. I didn't press him. I went into the club and while tipping one of the dancers I asked about Doug, and she revealed the big mystery "Oh, he's retarded," she said. That had not even occurred to me. It made perfect sense. He had been given instructions not to give out info over the phone, and he followed them to the letter.

Besides the mystery, the club was unremarkable, and not worth hanging out in, except to try out the weird-ass private dance room in which the customer reclined on a... a recliner, I guess while the dancers straddled from above. Weird.

When I got back on the freeway, I spotted an unmarked suburban with flashing lights that had pulled over another vehicle. This sent a chill down my spine, because I didn't expect unmarked cops to be suburbans. I had to be more careful. I'd already heard on the radio that police were expected to be out in force, in Florida of all places, during the holiday season.

I was back on the interstate just past 7:00, in time to listen to Fresh Air interviewing Kevin Spacey and some other guy about Beyond the Sea. I passed up the first rest area and then counted the 77 miles to the next. I wasn't completely tired, and the next one was only 59 miles down, but I decided to pull over anyway and hoped that when I started driving again the rain would have stopped.

When I pulled in I spotted a group of men seemingly kneeling in prayer and facing east.

December 25

A Christmas Present

I awoke (for the fourth or fifth time) at 6:56, and it was starting to get light out. I could have started driving around 5:00 AM and reached Jupiter already, but since it was overcast, my Christmas Day reshoots were going to suck anyway, so I wasn't worried about missing out on a few stores.

I had forgotten to gas up the previous night, and when I stopped at a BP and found the pump really slow, I started to get worried that it might have been shut off and I was just getting residual gas. Thankfully, the Shell station across the freeway worked.

I thought I had called Melbourne on Thursday to see if they were open, but I guess I was wrong. When I approached, I called again, just in case, and someone answered. Whoa!!! I'd get to visit after all. It was a good thing I had not driven to that next rest area, because I would have passed up Melbourne. What a Christmas present!

They didn't open 'til 8:00, so I sat in the Chevron parking lot and typed and listened to the birds and smelled the wet air and waited for the Land Cruiser, whose driver had walked to the Chevron for coffee, to move from in front of the Starbucks so I could get a head start on the photo. As I was shooting I noticed people going in all of a sudden--they had unlocked the door early. Good enough. I didn't lose much time waiting, and at the end of my trip, I was going to have left only one store (that I knew of) unvisited in Florida. Not bad.

Oh yuck! Yuck, yuck, yuck! I put my sample from Melbourne into a short cup so I could stir the sugar, and I poured in the sugar packet, but I forgot to sir it. That first sip was bitter, bitter, bitter! Bitter coffee face! Bitter coffee face! And I had thrown away the stirrer stick. So I had to use a pen. Oh, the drama that is my life.

Mr. Burns says "Excellent!" The sun starts to peek out as I approach my first reshoot, in Jupiter. After settling for a mediocre sausage biscuit from the Chevron and then checking my e-mail, I start my Christmas Day reshoots at 9:40 AM, trip meter 354. I think a cop is going to ask me what I'm doing in from of the store, but she just wants to know if they are open.

Aw, crap!!! The store at PGA and US-1 didn't match the photo I had up on my site!!! Oh, no!!! I got a bad feeling that I by mislabeling that store I might not actually have visited the store because, when I mislabeled the other one, this one fell off my map of stores to visit. I'd have to return on Sunday just to be sure!

Oh, I'm so out of shape! I had to run across a parking lot from where I could park to shoot a Starbucks, and I got winded. I really need to start running again.

Next I reshot Clematis St. in West Palm Beach, my third photo. The first, during my very first trip to the area in 1999, had been at night. The second had been during a Sunday afternoon. But I suspected that only Christmas Day was the street as empty as it was.

At the next store, a man walked up to the door and found the Starbucks closed. This was a pattern that would repeat itself all day, people discovering the stores closed or asking me (probably because of my t-shirt) if they were open.

I noticed that the sculpture that I'd used to frame my photo of the Palladium at City Place store was not, as I had thought, a bear .

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Heading down Dixie Highway I spotted a girl hitchhiking. Hardly a girl really, since she turned out to be 35 with an 18-year-old daughter, but still cute. She wanted a ride back to her motel, but she was wiggin'. She said she was drunk as shit, but she might have been high too. I was very hesitant, but she begged me not to leave her out there. I asked if she had someone after her. She said no, but that she'd messed up bad the previous night and needed to go home. So I let her in, telling her that I'd passed a bunch of cops up the road, and if she gave me any trouble I'd pull up next to one of them

She asked if I wanted to know what had happened. I got the feeling I was going to hear it anyway, but I actually was curious. "Jenny" explained that in the past three or so weeks she had taken up with one of these "save a ho" types who wanted to take her off the streets and turn her into an "angel". The previous night they'd gone to some house to cop some dope and encountered the young child of another street girl choking on a grocery bag. She got the bag off and had the boyfriend call the mother. When the mother arrived they got into an argument, and the mother became angry and started attacking Jenny.

I missed part of the story because I was trying to find Jenny's motel, but I gather the fight broke up and Jenny and her boyfriend left. They got into an argument over money and drugs, but mostly about the fact that, during the fight earlier, the boyfriend had taken the side of the negligent mother, presumably because they were both black, and Jenny was white. Jenny just went off on the guy, even calling him a nigger. The guy had said that if she ever went off again they'd be through, and as far as Jenny believed that was the case.

We finally reached the motel, farther than Jenny had led me to believe. The detour had taken longer than I had planned, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity for a shower. It was past 11:00, and Jenny feared she had been locked out, but the door was open. I didn't want to leave my car in front of her room, because the driveway had a single lane and I could have gotten boxed in.

I was just going to move my car to the street but as I circled the building no fewer that three presumed drug dealers tried to get me to stop. I didn't want to park in their view because they'd think I was trying to cop and come up to me, so I had to settle for the motel's other parking lot. I wasn't boxed in, but I had to walk in front of the office. If the landlord saw me she'd be suspicious. She didn't, but as I knocked on the girls door a man, the landlady's husband, came up and asked if she was there. Presumably he wanted more money or to get her out of there.

While I was in the shower the landlord's husband pounded on the door again and so I hurried up and finished. I put my shirt and socks on, and as I tried to put my pants on she started pulling on them and saying to get on the bed and she'd take care of me. During the drive Jenny had mentioned how horny she was from the dope she had smoked, but I knew she just wanted rent money.

Now, truth be told, I was certainly hoping for a "thank you" blowjob for the ride, and I would have even helped her out with a few bucks (even though she offered to pay me for the ride home), but I wasn't going to pay her rent. She wasn't nearly cute enough for me to pay her rent, and her drugged out, drunk, demeanor didn't help her case any. I pulled my pants away and put them on and found my briefs from behind the toilet. She didn't want me to leave though, and she looked like she might get violent. Rather than have to force my way past her, I employed deception. I told her I had to go get the money and a condom from the car. She seemed suspicious, but she was probably used to guys just thinking with their dicks.

Yeah it was too bad she was going to get kicked out, but I don't just give money away, at least not for thinks like rent. It ain't even that cold in West Palm Beach. Did I feel bad about lying to her on Christmas--oh, heck, no.

It was quite warm out, and i was doing a lot of running around, so I prolong the effects of the shower and stave off the funk I switched to topless photography. I still needed some goddamned beodorant though. The breeze alone wasn't going to cut it.

The Delray Beach store was open, so I couldn't get the photo I wanted--hordes of people were milling about in front. But who am I to complain. Relatively speaking, this guy was having a really bad Christmas .

Further south in Delray Beach, I helped out a guy who spoke to me in Spanish and kept calling me "amigo" by pointing him in the direction of all the Starbucks in the area so he could have some coffee. From looking at the map all morning, I'd pretty much memorized the locations of all the stores in these communities north of Miami. My mental capacity was mostly reserved for Scrabble words, but I still hoped that in the future I could memorize the locations of all the stores, then get on Jeopardy and have all the categories be Starbucks related.

Okay, that was funny. Even after taking my photos, when I got down to Glades Road from the Via Addison store and headed west to the 7777 Glades Road location, I passed up the same guy that I'd given directions to.

Wasted time heading further west on Glades Road to Shadowood Square, which was open. Earlier in the day I had been calling stores to see if they were open for that very reason, to avoid wasted detours, but I had forgotten.

Gas prices high!!! 44 cents higher than I'd seen in South Carolina (or Georgia), in fact!!!

Oh, what's this! A sign at the entrance to Glades Plaza explicitly prohibiting trespassing, by order of the Boca Raton police! There was no street parking off Glades Road, so I had to pull into the lot to park. I looked around for police and hopped out onto the sidewalk, which I presumed to be public property. I didn't quite get the angle I wanted, but the posted sign, with a city ordinance # even, made arrest a possibility.

Having had only a sausage biscuit, a bagel, and some orange juice, but 3:45 I was famished. But I held off, wanting to make the most of the rapidly faing light.

After reshooting one of the stores in Ft. Lauderdale, I got to do another good deed, helping a lady find her phone she'd dropped in her car by calling it. I got something in return though--she was a stripper at a local club, the Booby Trap, and she was wearing only a thong under her see-through dress, as I could plainly see when she turned and bent over to grab her phone that was ringing. Now that's instant karma.

After three reshoots in Fort Lauderdale I had to book westward to a new store in Pembroke Pines that closed at 5:00 PM. A partner took a photo of me and the manager, and I blinked. Oops!

Next was a new store in Miami Lakes that was supposed to be open 'til 6:00. But when I called for directions I got no answer, so I decided not to waste the light and turned around so I could reshoot a few more before the sun went down. Man, you just gotta love onramps that are so long and wide that a car can hit 80 MPH before even reaching the main lanes of the freeway!

Despite making great time on the freeway, in the 20 miles I drove to reach Hallandale Beach for what would have been my 26th reshoot of the day, the sun had gone down. I didn't mind, because as I sat at a light, I spotted a restaurant named Casa Peru to my left, and it was open ! Time for a break, and a hearty meal! I was going to sit down, but a very loud band was playing, so I took the food to go.

Seeing the restaurant distracted me from jotting down exact numbers, but it was about 9 hours and over 200 miles that I spent on shooting 25 stores, and that included going in for coffee at two. With Melbourne and the one in Aventura after dinner that was 28 total for the day.

The final store still open, at Biscayne & 183rd, was not the one I had imagined, one that I had already visited but possibly mislabeled as PGA & US-1. That one was actually down at Biscayne & 69th, and still, after nearly a year, not listed on the web site.

Anyway, at this new store in Aventura, the shift supervisor was not very enthusiastic, but another partner was, to the point of foisting plenty of goodies on me--extra coffee, cookies, a coupon, and a Christmas card. I signed one for her.

I hung out at the Starbucks and working on my site, then remembered the movies, but The Woodsman, the movie I most wanted to see, had not yet opened in Florida. Same for Hotel Rwanda. I didn't really have time for a movie anyway, because it took me over two hours to finished updating my log and sorting through my photos.

I slept in the same parking lot, on the other end where it was darker with fewer cars, until sometime around 1:00, and then I started driving up towards North Palm Beach. I found a suitable lot just south of the Starbucks at PGA and US-1. During the night the wind picked up dramatically and shook my car at times. It was rather soothing, like when I was a baby in a rocking cradle. Come to think of it, I sleep in a fetal position too.

December 26

At 7:54 I awoke and set my alarm for 8:25, to give me just enough time to visit two Starbucks and get breakfast before heading to the new store in Sunrise that opened at 10:00. Had I analyzed my map I would have realized that it didn't matter whether I visited that store before or after the other two in that area, and so I could actually have started around 7:00. But I needed the sleep anyway. I still had a long way to drive to the Panhandle and then back to Maryland.

The PGA and US-1 store did not look at all familiar, and I confirmed that I had not visited it when I saw an article about it's opening in the bulletin board, dated July 7, 2004, after my last visit to the area. I was once more in speed mode, so I stealthed the first store, grabbed a bagel sandwich from Einstain Bros. two doors down, then rushed to the next store just down the freeway. No customers in line, so I intro'ed and got a sample and was back on the interstate and speeding southbound in short order. I was actually running ahead of schedule, and I didn't want to arrive at the Sunrise store and have to wait until 10:00, so I headed down to Doral first.

Next was a store in Miami Lakes, and nearby was a CVS where I was finally able to buy much needed deodorant and some eye drops. I guessed the community was predominantly Hispanic because the cashier immediately spoke to me in Spanish. Then she tried to foist a CVS card upon me. Repeatedly. I wondered if I just looked like to really needed to save a few pennies or if she got some sort of bonus for signing people up.

Had I realized the new store in Sunrise was actually inside Sawgrass Mills, I would have visited it first. But I was moving so fast on I-95 that I suspected I would arrive before they opened at 10:00 and didn't want to waste time waiting. Mistake. By the time I arrived at 11:30 the mall parking lot was starting to fill up, and I had to wait in a line that ran out the door, and nervously because behind me were two local cops.

By coincidence, Bill the filmmaker happened to be in Tampa with family, and we planned to meet for some footage. I had been waiting until I left the Miami area to call and give him an estimated time, and I had to wait longer still because traffic at the toll plaza was backed up. Great, more delays, I thought!

The stretch of I-75 from the Miami burbs to the western part of the state is known as Alligator Alley. I had known this for years, but I had never paid it no never mind. But this time I took notice of the people standing at the fence with video cameras. I looked to the right to see if I could spot an alligator, and sure enough, there it was! My first alligator!!

Less that 20 miles from my exit to Estero I spotted a lady walking along the shoulder. I rarely see hitchhikers in between exits like that, and when I do I'm usually in the left lane and driving too fast to pull over in time. I managed it this time. As I had figured, she needed a ride to her car that had broken down. When I mentioned I was heading near Tampa, she asked if I could take her boyfriend and son near there. I pointed to the back fo the car and said there was no room, and then we reached the car. Even if I had had room I wouldn't have let two guys into my car. Too dangerous. Even one guy I'd give a serious looking over to see if he was harmless, like some kid stuck in the rain next to his car. If I could see another car I felt safer that the person was not out to steal mine. Anyway, as soon as the lady got out a man I presume was the boyfriend started yelling at her. At least I think he was yelling. I couldn't hear, but the way his face was contorted it would have been funny except I was worried he might outright slug her out in public. But she just got in, and I drove on, thinking yeah, that's the type of person I want in my car.

On the day after Christmas, it was no surprise at all that, just like Sawgrass Mills, the Miromar Outlets mall was also packed to the gills, so much so that parking was overflowing out onto the grass, and the Starbucks line was flowing out the door.

On St. Armand's Key, an area that seemed very touristy, the line was also out the door, my third long wait of the day. I was very glad for my Tom Wolfe novel that had kept me from going insane at various Starbucks throughout the holiday weekend.

I continued to hear on the news about the "flightmare" of the past few days, with canceled and delayed flights and lost luggage. I decided that it was a good thing I wasn't able to find cheap fares to California. I probably would have flown through O'Hare and lost a lot of time.

After Sunday night's report, the music that ATC plays between reports was Liz Phair's "Uncle Alvarez". I couldn't figure out what it had to do with the report about airline troubles, but there had to be a connection--ATC's music is not chosen at random.

I'd been coordinating with Bill the filmmaker for several hours. He just happened to be in Tampa visiting family over Christmas, and so my trip presented an opportunity to shoot more footage. He wasn't sure what plans the family had, and that would affect where we would meet. In the end he didn't have time to come out to Largo, so we decided to meet in Tampa, either at his aunt's or at the restaurant where the family would be having dinner. By the time I finished up at the Largo store and headed out to Tampa, Bill and company were just about to head out, so it worked out fine for us to meet at a seafood restaurant.

Bill gave me a gift, a Starbucks card of all things. After finding a spot where the music was quitest, Bill then quickly interviewed me about my holiday trip. I was in a hurry to reach Tallahasee by 11:00, so I didn't have time to join them for dinner, but Bill and his brother scored some peanuts from the bar for me for my trip. I probably could have survived on them alone, but right on the way back out to the interstate was a Jason's Deli. I figured I was ahead of schedule, so I popped in for some quick takeout. There was no Jason's Deli up in the northeast where my last two assignments had been, so I'd been missing their food (not that it was that great).

I made great time up I-75, but I started having doubts about the 90-mile detour to Tallahasee. The detour really made sense if I could visit the new stores in Panama City and Gulf Breeze too, but I didn't think I'd make it back to work on time. After much debating about the time and expense, I reached I-10 and had to make a decision. I decided to keep driving.

From previous experience with two rest areas in Georgia I suspected I wouldn't be able to park overnight, so I stopped at the TA Travel Center first. I slept for a few hours then drove up to the Welcome Center while my car warmed up. I slept for a few more hours and then continued on to the next rest area.

December 27

I continued driving at 7:24 and munched on the remaining cookie and peanuts to avoid having to stop for breakfast until the Flying Biscuit.

As I neared Atlanta I had the foresight to call the new store in Gainesville and asked if they knew of any other new stores in the past few months. Bingo! I got a # for a new store off I-85 at some exit called Hamilton Mill. I called the store for directions and spoke to the manager, who both confirmed that was the only other new store to open, and also asked for me to ask for her when I arrived.

What's up with these radio stations named for people? "Jack" FM in Toronto, and "Dave" FM in Atlanta???

I liked the atmosphere at the Flying Biscuit Cafe, so I always sat down for my breakfast (any time of day). But given the short duration of my trip, and that I was already running way behind I called in an order instead. Before heading to pick it up I stopped at the Starbucks in Little Five Points to check my e-mail. I realized there were no cars parked in front and that the light at 10:00 AM was great, so I backed my car into another space so I could take a photo. I was hoping that the partner who had stepped outside for a smoke wouldn't notice me so I wouldn't have to explain. Turned out everybody was distracted by an amusing scene that broke out. An older gentleman, apparently a regular, appeared with two dogs and a "herd" of four or five kittens. These things were running all over the place, especially under cars and vans. Other people were scared for the kittens, that they would get run over. Not me--filthy creatures, cats. But I was amused, especially when one ran past a table where a group of women had two leashed dogs that promptly went nuts tugging at the leashes to get to to cats. Finally the old man managed to gather them up and get on his way, and I was able to take my photo and go pick up my breakfast.

I found the Hamilton Mill store and said hello to the manager, and as I returned to the car a man asked if I was "that guy" that was going around to all the Starbucks. He couldn't remember at first where he had seen me, so I threw out Unwrapped, and that was it. It had been a while since a non-partner had recognized me, although this guy, Rick, had help--he had overheard me mention being in Florida and then heading up to Gainesville.

I had figured Gainesville would be a sleepy little town. Wrong. Heavy traffic all the way across town to the Starbucks, not helped by a cop car that was stopped in the left lane instead of the shoulder.

I was glad the reports about the bad weather were from further east, and that the temperature was supposed to be well above freezing, because the route from Gainesville to Oak Ridge, TN, would take me along nothing but US Highway for almost 200 miles, and through some national forests. But first I passed through Cleveland, GA, "Home of the Cabbage Patch Kids" and of Babyland General Hospital where the dolls are "born". I so regretted not having time to stop.

I also regretted that I was still full from a hearty breakfast and had to pass up Ma Gooch's Home Cookin' Restautrant.

In Blairsville I pulled into a Circle K for a pit stop and when I came out of the bathroom I could see traffic backing up. I quickly looked at my map and found a detour, but that left a 1-mile stretch of US-19 undriven. I hoped that I wouldn't die before I had time to return and drive that stretch.

Not that I ever wanted to drive through the Chattahoochee National Forest again. The hills were so steep and curves so sharp that I began to get dizzy. And I couldn't keep my laptop open because the screen kept tilting too wide whenever I made a sharp turn. But mostly the route was slow. It took me 3 1/2 hours to drive 160 miles and clear the hills, and I was still thirty miles from Oak Ridge.

After a couple of wrong turns I found the Oak Ridge store and then the Chick-fil-a and headed out to the interstate. I managed to avoid rush hour delays through Knoxville and was soon speeding towards Virginia. I stopped a few times, first at the Davy Crockett Travel Center, then a La Quinta parking lot, and finally, just past 3:00 AM when I cleared Roanoke, the Lee-Hi Travel Center, after pulling off the highway two other times without finding a suitable place to sleep.

I found the the cheapest gas of my trip in Bristol, TN (or was it VA).

December 28

When I woke up around 7:28, I decided I needed more sleep, but I employed my trusty "nap timer" to cut my sleep short, in the form of a magic yellow pill. Sure enough, I slept, but 19 minutes later I was away and ready to drive. And in those 19 minutes, I had some wacky and vivid dreams.

As I sped towards work, I heard on the radio that a winter storm had seriously affected travel in California. Between problems with flights all over and bad weather in Cali, it appeared that despite my delays getting out of Virginia I had escaped some really bad weather by driving down to Florida.

I had 270 miles to drive, but I never got tired because of the adrenalin rush of trying to follow a jeep doing about 100 most of the way, which required me to hit speeds of 110 MPH whenever he got too far ahead. It had been a while since I had a "golden escort" like that. Between I-64 and I-66, a white Pacifica was going to try and keep up with us but started to back off once the driver realized how fast we were going. Just as suddenly the jeep pulled off, and I slowed down. I should have slowed more, but I was so amped I kept it around 90 and the Pacifica cruised behind me until I let him pass.

Since I needed more coffee anyway, I decided to check one of the nearby stores off my list, in Fairfax. But despite having been on my map for months, Lee Plaza was not yet open!!! Oh, well, at least I didn't waste the detour completely because I needed to stop at the Micro Center anyway and find a travel kit for adapting to European plugs and converting voltage.

4 days, 23 hrs, 30 min


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