Spring Break: The Movie

Final Update: March 25, 2005 log continues here

Friday, March 11, 2005

After six months of waiting for the right moment, I was finally able to schedule a long road trip, a week off work, so that Bill could film many of the scenes required for the documentary. While he had been able to get footage by flying out to meet me on weekends, the documentary demanded a long road trip, which was when unexpected and wacky things tended to happen.

First stop was a Scrabble tournament in Charlotte, SC. On the I popped three stores in Virginia. I was still okay on time until I made a short 15-mile detour to the one new store near Raleigh. Heavy traffic cost me almost an hour, and then rush hour through Winston-Salem, possibly exacerbated by a closed freeway exit, cost me another hour. I ended up having to forfeit the first game. It couldn't be helped--given the rate at which new Starbucks opened, I had to take every available opportunity to visit new stores even if it affected my Scrabble playing.

March 12

After a night at the SC welcome center, I drove down to Columbia in the morning to visit the one new store there. Driving to Columbia and back to the tournament would end up adding 90 miles to my overall trip, but it would save me a couple of hours after the tournament and increase the likelihood I'd make it through the four new stores in Birmingham before they closed Sunday night.

Plus, I wanted to rephotograph the Five Points store. In the wee hours I moved my car right outside the store and went back to sleep until the sunlight was good for a photo. That happened a little after 7:00, but early though it was, already there were people hanging out in the store, and one truck in particular never moved before I had to leave, but at least I got a better shot than I had before.

As I was heading to the next reshoot I spotted the Five Points Diner and ordered a quick to-go breakfast.

My detour to Forest and Treholm was a waste of time--no good reshoot. Finally, the new store, and then back up to Charlotte for more Scrabble.

March 13

After the new Star Wars trailer and then Hostage, I had spent the night in Pineville so I could reshoot the Starbucks there. Then a couple more, including East Blvd, the prettiest store in Charlotte.

After another sucky day Scrabbling, I left the tournament quickly to meet Bill outside Atlanta. Except for a delay at the Wendy's with the most useless fence on the planet, I made good time to Atlanta. Then I was tripped up meeting Bill because he had given me the wrong directions to his friend Nate's. Probably lost 15 minutes there, and time was at a premium if we were going to hit the CNN Center, stop at the Flying Biscuit Cafe, meet with my cousin German Andres, and then visit four Starbucks in Birmingham by 10:00 PM.

After an unnecessary stop for gas, and then getting lost several times on the way out to the interstate because of bad signage along SR-61, I calculated that I would have needed to do 85 all the way to reach Trussville by 10:00. Wasn't going to happen, and I slowed down. But when I crossed into Alabama a sign stated we had crossed into the Central Time Zone, and I rejoiced! We were going to make it after all!!!

I introed at three of the four stores, and tried to stealth the third simply to save time. But one of the partners spotted the camera and complained about whether Bill was going to get permission before using the camera. I would have been eager to explain, but I couldn't waste a minute if I was going to reach that final store in time, so I said I didn't have time to explain and that I'd tell Bill not to use it. I got out to the car and heard a yell--the partner was yelling something at us, so I had to pull out of the lot and onto the shoulder to stop and take the photo. Suddenly I saw flashing lights, and a local cop pulled behind me. I finished taking my photos and walked up to his patrol car and said we were okay, just need to take a photo. He said I should leave my car door open because on that highway (280) at night someone was likely to hit it. I politely said I thought he was right, and that I'd have to watch out for it, and he got back in his car. We rushed off.

Next thing I knew, I looked in the rearview and the crazy barista was chasing me! In a beat-up old Ford truck, nonetheless. But then he saw the cop and backed off. Note that some or all of the preceding anecdote might be untrue.

Amazingly enough we made it to all four stores in about 50 minutes, arriving at the last one barely a minute before closing. After a stop at Kinko's, because T-Mobile Wi-Fi has not yet hit the Starbucks in Alabama, we proceeded down US-31 in search of a motel for Bill. The first three we passed had no vacancies, and after a long ways on US-31 I started to feel really tired and headed back out to I-65 that paralleled 31. I figured that much of the lodging must have moved out to the interstate. It was raining, and foggy, and I was glad when I spotted a sign for the Guesthouse Inn, and gladder still that they had a vacancy.

I got some gas across the street and used the restroom while Bill interviewed the cashier's husband. I decided to sleep behind the Exxon because it was darker than the hotel's lot. Shortly after Bill left me, I spotted a cop car pulling into the Exxon. I thought he was just going to get gas, but a minute later I could see the light from his car reflected in my back windshield. I immediately reached for the phone and called Bill, but he didn't answer. I called three times, and then I noticed the cop was gone. I peeked out and saw him cruising slowly in the parking lot of the pecan store adjacent the Exxon. I continued to try and call Bill, and then the cop car lingered next to me yet again. When I left, I drove across the street and started pounding on Bill's door. The cop drove into the lot, looked at me, and parked nearby. I continued to pound for Bill, but there was no answer. I went around to the office and asked the attendant for a # to Bill's room. She let me in and had me dial on the house phone. No answer. Finally I went across the street and asked at the Exxon, and then told me Bill had just left. Seconds later he called me, and I explained he had missed the cop encounter.

I moved over to the parking lot of the hotel. At first I took care of my biological need down in a concrete ditch, but then I moved to the side of the lot closer to Bill, so he could quickly film me if the cop hassled me. When I woke up, about four times during the night, I didn't feel like walking back to the ditch, so I just used the telephone method. In fact, in the wee hours, about 5:00 AM, a security guard drove past me while I was doing the phone thing, and he didn't even notice. That's the psychology of holding a phone--people tend to ignore you.

March 14

At 6:29 I woke up and decided I could suffer some sleep deprivation in order to beat the rush hour into Montgomery. I called Bill, but by the time he got ready and then did a short interview in the motel room, it was already close to 7:30, and we hit some slowdown on I-65.

At the Starbucks two different baristas recognized me, one from a previous visit, and one from my website, and were very welcoming. We didn't hit any traffic back on I-85 towards downtown, but that didn't matter because we were going the wrong way. I had neglected to look at my map for the route to Tallahassee, and ended up losing some 15-30 minutes. It was okay, since we were ahead of schedule.

Throughout the trip, I was encountering various logistical issues related to my being with Bill that slowed me down. But it was unavoidable. The potential upside of the documentary was worth the delays and possible deferral of some stores to future trips.

By the time we hit Bainbridge, GA, I was famished. We rolled through town, and in the town square asked a couple of ladies, and they both recommended Betty's Cafeteria. We had to backtrack, but it was worth it--good food. Wackiness ensued, however, when Bill interviewed the owner, Betty, and then had me taste some of her coffee, Maxwell House. I tried to be as diplomatic as possible and spare the old lady's feelings, even when she gave us business cards with a religious message on the back. Oh, and the toothbrush thing, too.

We stopped at the original Tallahasee store so I could check my e-mail, and then Bill wanted to do a short interview. The manager happened to be meeting with the district manager, and they came out and wanted to know what we were doing. The manager expressed the due concern about the Starbucks logo and image, but he was very polite and got us the number for a person in media relations. In exchange, Bill backed off filming some of the girls at the store, and eased up on the filming at the next.

A few miles from Blountstown a funeral procession, the second we had seen that day, slowed us down. I wasn't really worried about it at the time, but little by little time started slipping away. Moderately heavy traffic along US-98 from Panama City west towards Gulf Breeze slowed us down, but I think we made up much of it by trying to follow this maroon Carrera that must have been doing 110, because even when I was doing over 100 he was pulling away.

We rolled into Gulf Breeze, and after handing over the number to the shift supervisor, everything was cool. Then I had a choice to make--Burger King or a sub from a local place, Firehouse. Hmm... I looked back at the Burger King. Firehook. Burger King. Firehook. Hmm...

Good sub, and excellent chili, worth burning my toungue for.

For the second night in a row we had to race to reach a Starbucks, but this time it was a 90-mile trip, to Hattiesburg, MS. US-98 was frustratingly slow through a couple of small towns, but then it opened up and I kicked up the speed. Then I faced another problem--I was experiencing serious disorientation and a difficulty in focusing on the road, and the speed didn't help. I had half a mind to say fuck it and just pull over into a motel. I went ahead and downed that DoubleShot from Mobile and hoped it would kick in quick. I fought the disorientation, and when I spotted a sign that said 50 miles to Hattiesburg it helped. But it didn't seem like I had driven 23 miles since the previous sign, and I suspected something was off. Sure enough, the next sign said 25 miles, when I expect it to be 19. Still, we made it, with five minutes to spare. I was seriously jacked up when I walked in. I could hardly concentrate, hardly think.

However, as we drove south on I-59 towards Slidell, I felt better for most of the way. It wasn't until about 20 miles to the LA border that I started to feel disoriented again. The distance was so short that I was able to will myself the rest of the way, and then 12 miles to I-12, and then 4 to the Starbucks.

The Starbucks opened at 5:30, and there was a Wal-Mart Supercenter behind it. I tried to think about how we could just sleep there. Bill said he could sleep in the bushes, but it was cold--I didn't want to subject him to that. I had plenty of blankets, so I wondered if I could set the cushion up on the ground for me and let Bill sleep in the car, but I expected cops would hassle us. I decided to just drive and see what kind of motels we could find. All the way down Gause, past the old Starbucks, at the interstate were several motels. The Super 8 was gone, replaced by a Deluxe Inn. Bill got a room, and I parked on the side lot, where it was darker.

About an hour later, shortly before 2:00 AM, I knock on my windo woke me. I immediately reached for my phone (and hoped he doesn't think it's a gun) and dialed Bill. "Slidell Police! Get out of the car!" I ignored him and moved up to my front seat and put the phone to my ear to see if Bill had answered, all the while yelling "Hey Bill!" The LCD says "Call Ended" and I dialed him again and put the phone down, still yelling "Hey Bill" as I finally did step out of the car.

He had me move over to his patrol vehicle and for my drivers license or ID. I asked if a crime was being committed, or if there had been a complaint. He said that he had the power to investigate any possible crime even without a complaint, in this case, possible loitering. What a crock, and what an abuse of power. Just an excuse to fuck with me. But I noticed Bill behind the wall filming, and I hoped he was getting some good footage.

Finally I decided I had to give up my ID and explain that Bill was in the room, and that I preferred to sleep in the car because it was free. Meanwhile, a second cop had showed up, but he soon left. Officer Dickhead had me walk over to the front desk and verified that there was in fact a Bill Tangeman in room 102, and then he asked the attendant what to do about me. She said I couldn't stay in the lot, and that I had do leave. So I left.

Of course the whole incident was, in a way, artificial, or a historial recreation, because if I had not been with Bill I never would have been in that parking lot--I would have been over at the Wal-Mart Supercenter behind the Starbucks.

I headed up to the rest area and hoped it was outside the Slidell city limits. As I had suspected, there was not one northbound, so I had to go to the next exit and doubleback. Guess the delay didn't matter, because I tossed and turned for a good hour anyway, amped up by the experience.

March 15

I awoke at 5:00, and I knew I really needed to get on the road then, but I just felt zonked. So I went back to sleep, and I even reset my alarm for 6:30. But I also downed that DoubleShot from Hattiesburg and hoped it would wake me earlier. Sure enough, at 5:59 I awoke again and called Bill. I reached the parking lot of the Deluxe in about 5 minutes and neated up my trunk by 6:12. I called Bill and hoped to hurry him on.

It was almost 6:30 when we hit the freeway, and then 6:39 when I realized we were going the wrong way! AARRGHH!! We had to turn around, drive another 7 minutes to the Starbucks, and then all the way back. Eight miles from the French Quarter exit we hit heavy traffic. By the time we parked it was 8:39, and then we walked to Cafe du Monde. Bill's battery was about run out, so after five beignets (not quite finishing the double order), I sprinted back to the car (because the meter had run out) (and tried to avoid a cramp) then picked Bill up and we shot some footage driving down Royal in the French Quarter, which was pretty cool, with me giving color commentary.

We were surprised to find all the souvenir shops closed (Bill needed a postcard from each state), but we had to check e-mail anyway. By the time we finished, it was after 9:00, and we drove around looking for a shop until we finally settled on the D-Day Museum.

An e-mail had come back from Starbucks indicating we wouldn't be allowed to film in the stores because the documentary wasn't an official Starbucks project. I wondered if the media relations lady, whose name I did not recognize, knew that filming inside the stores had been approved in the past, and if there had been a change in policy in recent years.

As we headed to Gonzalez, I charged up my phone while making a bunch of calls--scheduling with Patrick and Jackie, letting my mother know when we would be arriving, trying to see if there was a appointment available at the dentist in Dallas, and trying to schedule a massage with a really cute therapist in Austin.

In no small part because I had gotten so little sleep and was feeling loopy, I hammed it up at the Starbucks, but Bill wasn't able to get any of it. Caramba!

Light rain started to come down as we headed west towards Lafayette, and by the time we reached the Starbucks it started raining so heavily I had to shoot the store from inside the car. Then I went across the street to gas up, and I realized I could shoot from underneath the canopy. D'uh.

The rain intensified as we continued westward towards Houston, and I worried we would lose a lot of time, but we soon cleared it, and we rolled into Houston around 4:00 PM. I decided to visit the new Starbucks in the Houston Center, which I think used to be called the Park Shops. I didn't know which side of the building it was on, and so the first store I encountered was the old store on the fourth floor. I walked in to ask where the other store was, and who came out from the back than the British guy I'd met at the hotel in Paris, who had said he worked at that very shop. I had totally forgotten. I wanted to get an interview, but he had just come off his break.

No problem at the Starbucks, but I had forgotten my camera. It was okay, because Bill wanted lots of footage of me running, and so when we returned to the car I sprinted back for the photo.

We headed down towards the Galleria, and I cursed the Williams Brothers, who proudly advertise on a billboard that they have been constructing Houston's freeways for 50 years. Well, fucking up Houston's freeway's is more like it. US-59 was supposedly widened and finished a few years ago, with much fanfare, and now they had it all fucked up again. Bastards.

I was too hungry to wait until my mom's home cooking, but I didn't want to ruin my appetite with a full meal at the Buffalo Grille, so we stopped at Chez Beignets instead. We tried to get the owner to comment on coffee and Starbucks, but she didn't really have much to say. However, the group of ladies sitting next to us was from Hawaii, and they just happened to know the owners of Coffee Partners, the company that ran the Starbucks there. I gave her my contact info to pass onto them for when I finally decided to head out to the islands.

By the time we reached the flagship Starbucks to check my e-mail it was almost 6:00, and out of nowhere I spot Courtney Rath, another high school classmate. She wasn't willing to do an interview right then and there, but she did leave open the possibility of sometime in the future. We chatted for a bit, and then it was past 6:00 and I had to call Jackie and tell her we were still looking for a place to shoot. Starbucks had authorized using the patio, but the wind was too loud. I though about the Jamba Juice next door, but the blender would kill the audio. The Barnes & Noble was loud too. And at the Hilton, the manager said he needed the sales manager's approval.

So we ended up going with Bill's idea, to simply walk into another hotel (we chose the DoubleTree) and pretend we belonged there. It worked.

After catching up with Jackie and Patrick, we needed to get to Best Buy so Bill could get some more tapes. But first we stopped at Treasures down the street so we could ask the manager if he would let us film a lap dance scene in the club. I figured that Bill was right, that there was a "snowball's chance in hell" that he would approve it, but it didn't hurt to ask. As we walked across the parking lot one of the dancers, off duty yet working, drove up next to us and asked what we were doing, if we wanted to have a good time. I said maybe later, but Bill saw opportunity. I went to ask for the manager, and he went to talk to her, and somehow managed to convince her to be filmed "interacting" with me. The rest should be very interesting to see, although I'm worried that, because I was so out of it due to sleep deprivation, I looked like I was totally uninterested in this hot chick, when in reality had I been fully rested (and not in a car in a parking lot adjacent to a principal street), I would have been all into her (though she wasn't really that cute).

We made it to the Best Buy in time for tapes, and then finally to the house for a good home-cooked meal, more than I could eat actually. We were both exhausted, so we decided to forgo filming until the morning. Still, as exhausted as I was, I had to watch Monday's episode of 24 that my mother had taped--it's... just... that... good!

March 16

Even though I could definitely have used more sleep, eight hours combined with all the caffeine in my system combined to get me up around 7:30, before my mother even who had said she'd get up early. I rushed around to get the things I needed done and then mother finally got up and made some breakfast. Michael called around 10:30 for me to go meet him, and I left Bill to interview my other.

I returned to the house and worked on my log while Bill finished with my mother, and then I got a call from Candace pushing up our meeting to 1:30. That meant that Bill and I wouldn't be able to finish getting footage of my Starbucks stuff and would have to return.

Our first stop was the Buffalo Grille, my favorite breakfast restaurant in Houston. They had been featured on some show called Emeril, and so filming wasn't a problem. Then we went to meet Candace, and that wen't better than I could have every expected. But first, before she showed up, we got funny footage of the two River Oaks stores across from one another. Then I sat down to write while I waited for her, and I started chatting with a girl sitting next to me working on a text book, and she seemed to really be into my project, and fascinated by the trailer.

Candace showed up, and she was hot! I hoped we'd get to hang out some more when I returned to Texas and could spend more time in Houston. She was hesitant at first to be filmed, but as we chatted in the Starbucks, she loosened up and agreed to come outside on the patio for some footage. Later, when I picked up my comic books, I was really glad for that footage, thinking that a hot chick would offset the geek factor of my getting excited over a stack of good comics.

From River Oaks we rushed to I-45 and Louetta, where my Starbucks sense failed me and I did not see the store on the west side of the freeway and exited to the east and had to ask a sherrif's deputy where it was.

We sped back across town and down to my high school for some footage there, and then back up towards Westheimer to try and find a palm reader that would agree to be filmed. We passed two places, but neither of the two ladies would agree to be filmed. Furthermore, they semed almost hostile--at least the second one. It immediately occurred to me that they might have had experiences with reporters trying to expose them as a scam. I started to think we'd have a better chance of getting footage in a strip club than of a palm reader.

I picked up my comics, a scene which would definitely make the geek factor of the film skyrocket. Then the Richmond and Chimney Rock store, and then an assessment of the schedule. I knew I wouldn't have time to make it all the way to San Marcos and then up to Waco by 10:30 when the new Starbucks there closed. But I really wanted to swing by Austin at least and get some footage of the university and possibly catch Pam Tillis or Trespassers William at SXSW. So I decided on that, and that left us about an hour to try and get some footage at Treasures.

Bill filmed walking towards the club, but I made sure he put the camera away. Just like the previous night, the manager took a long time to come out. I explained my project, and that I wanted to film a scene in the club, and while he didn't shoot down the idea right away like I thought he would, he said he had to get approval from the corporate office, and that it wasn't going to happen right away. Oh, well, at least that left open the possibility that with advance planning we might be able to shoot the scene at another club in the future.

I figured I had an hour to spare for a lap dance, and so we went in the club anyway. Unfortunately, I forgot about shift change, the time when many dancers are leaving and others have not yet finished getting ready. So the floor was slower, and by the time one of the two dancers I'd zeroed in on was finished with her customer, I was past impatient and almost ready to leave. But I stuck around and got my money's worth.

Unfortunately, the delay blew my timetable, and we would have to race to get back to the house, eat, pack up, get footage of my Starbucks stuff, and then make it to Austin by 11:00. My mother, of course, wanted me to stay the night, and I finally decided to forget about Austin and just get some sleep. It actually turned out to be the right decision, because by 9:00 or 9:30 I was crashing hard. Had we actually left for Austin, it would have been a struggle to function out there. I certainly wouldn't have had the energy for a show at SXSW, and it's questionable how far I would have gotten towards Killeen, from which I had wanted to start driving to Dallas at 5:30 AM.

As we were approaching the house, I called Jodi and asked her not to read my log entries for the duration of the trip. She of course protested, asked why, aske me to just tell her what was going in the journal, and then insisted she would read it anyway. Later, at the house, we argued again, and still no resolution. Finally she sent me an e-mail calling a truce and saying she wouldn't read it. I hoped she would actually be able to resist.

After dinner I vacuumed the car, and I was feeling so tired that I was glad we hadn't left for Austin, because I would have been crashing on the way. Bill got footage of my Starbucks stuff, but I deferred most of my packing until the morning and soon passed out.

March 17

At 4:00 AM I felt like crap--no way was I going to drive in that condition. At 5:57 I still could have used more sleep, but memories of past experiences getting through Houston during the rush hour got me up, and we were on the road at 6:30. After some delays at the toll plazas on the beltway, which I took fearing that construction on 59, we were soon speeding north on I-45 away from the city, and I felt much relieved.

Stopped at the usual Starbucks in Conroe to check my e-mail and get some juice to go with a quick Chick-fil-a biscuit, and from there we made good time into Dallas, arriving at the Hondew shop right around 10:30, where Bill got some good footage with the manager about my car. We were delayed in being picked up by Enterprise, and then in getting our car which had not yet been cleaned, and then dropped off at the wrong location. It was around noon, and so I rushed through all the stops we had to make, Starbucks of significance in Plano.

Finally we got to a new store, the Shops at Willowbend, which happened to be next to the Apple Store, where I had to make a special purchase. Bill talked to the video specialist about some video editing stuff, and he asked what we were filming. We told him about the documentary, and the cashier overheard and asked if I was that guy with the web site. He was excited to meet me and asked for an autograph, adding to my short list of people who didn't work for Starbucks who had asked for an autograph.

Frisco was next, and traffic was backed up so heavily south on the Dallas Parkway because of construction on the extension of the tollway, and this concerned me not just because we were pushing our schedule but because I was crazy hungry and dead set on Casa Vieja. Thankfully, there was another road out to 121, and we soon had some excellent Columbian food. But when we got out of there, we were running late to meet Gari in downtown Fort Worth, and she said we'd be cutting it close even at 3:45. We didn't make it 'til 4:00, but we caught her coming down the stairs, and I finally gave her the autographed copy of The Washington Post Magazine article I'd neglected in mailing her. Gari turned out to be older than I had expected, old enough to be coaching her son's baseball team, but I was still grateful for her talking me up at that Fort Worth store, and so it was worth the extra effort to get her the magazine.

Next was the store up on Western Center, and I just rushed in and out, grabbing a DoubleShot for the road to Memphis. Same at the new Grapevine store, in part because we were risking being late to pick up my car at 6:00. But then Bill went into get some coffee himself, and he mentioned to the staff about my project, and one of the girls wanted to come out and see me, and another partner wanted to know how many stores I'd been to, so I chatted with him a while before rushing off through traffic to pick up the car. In a reversal, instead of slowing me down, Bill helped me out because I used the HOV lane across 635, which was otherwise stopped.

I played Scrabble while Bill surfed the web at a nearby Starbucks, and then we headed over to Nedley's to meet a much-changed April. We caught up, then Bill talked to her while I chatted with Becky. I talked to Becky about crashing at their place, and April's friend Steve offered us a place to crash for the night, and I thought about it, but I was really hoping to crash at Howard's and not drive back up to Richardson.

During Scrabble I began to suspect that my symptoms, runny nose and the beginning of a headache, had more to do with some bug than allergies. I went over to the Albertsons and loaded up on medication. I looked for the ones that offered a "super saver" discount, forgetting that the card I had in my car was from Randalls, not Albertsons. At the counter, I plopped down the pills and told the cashier I needed to go get my card--he said he could go ahead and scan his. Then I realized this was Albertsons, not Randalls. I thought about it, and debated, and finally I just let him scan the saver card. I guess I might have compromised my ethics there a little.

We met Howard at Cafe Brazil in Deep Ellum.

I wrote (and downloaded the new Star Wars trailer) while Bill interviewed Howard, for a goodly long time. Then Howard got the idea to head over get some footage at Insomnia, where, to his recollection, we had met nearly ten years earlier.

From what I remember, we had actually met at the pizza place across the street, but we hung out at Insomnia. Tired as I was, our detour worked out marvelously, because as we debated whether to go inside and try to get footage (because of the loud band), a pair of seriously hot chicks, like with model looks hot, walked up to the door. I said to one of them, "Hey, do you wanna be in a movie?" Instead of calling me a pervert, she asked what the movie was about. We explained, and they girls, sisters (even better!) actually seemed interested. We chatted, then went inside for coffee.

We took a table in the back, by ourselves, and then the girls asked if they could join us and found out more about what was going on with this movie. I, ever the cynic and suspicious of any girl that good looking who showed any interest in me, immediately assumed the one with model-looks had some type of acting aspirations and just wanted to see if there was an opportunity. But as we all talked I began to get the sense that she might have been into me. Nevertheless, as 1:00 AM neared, I was all too aware that we needed to leave as early as possible in the morning so I could get as much sleep as possible before Scrabble Saturday, and so I had to break it up and call it a night. Though I'm sure Bill and Howard wouldn't have minded staying with them all night.

Howard let us in to his loft above the New Amsterdam Coffee House, and he returned to Cafe Brazil to work on some writing. Before we went up to his room, he made sure we had taken anything of value out of the car or hidden it and opened the glove box so evildoers could see there was nothing there to steal. See, that's another reason to sleep in the car--avoid break-ins!

In part because of sheer exhaustion, and partly because of the the generic Nyquil gelcap, I slept like a dead man. Bill didn't fare as well, saying the next morning the sounds from the bar below had kept him up.

March 18

I was up sometime between 7:00 and 8:00, and I went ahead and showered and set up my laptop to write before waking Bill. My car was intact! Whew! We met Howard at Cafe Brazil, and he soon went back to his place to crash. I figured might as well have breakfast while updating my site, as we were still ahead of schedule to arrive in Memphis in the evening.

We set off westbound, and though traffic was light outbound, we still faced a delay was just west of Rockwall when all lanes were stopped, for some construction I thought. Because of my recent experience in Ohio, I feared we'd be stuck for hours, but traffic started moving again within 15 minutes.

Though I had not been able to sleep anymore, I still wasn't caught up and soon started to drag until the DoubleShot kicked in. Even then, I went through periods where I struggled. But we made it to Hot Springs, AR, in good time.

I made a show of my entrance, and introduced myself to the manager, who immediately noticed Bill outside. I explained my purpose, and she remembered hearing about me, in a training class of all places! Bill put the camera down and came inside, and she offered us both samples of French press--they had been doing a coffee tasting. One of the baristas expressed regret that we couldn't film inside--I guess she had wanted to be in the movie. Aw...

At the recommendation of the partners, we headed downtown to a restaurant called Joernigan's or something like that. But it looked too shi-shi for me, so we walked back to Granny's Kitchen. They had meatloaf, but it ended up sucking. They also had homemade biscuits on the menu, but given how the meatloaf was, I didn't feel inclined to detour to Hot Springs in the future just to give the biscuits a try.

On the way out of town, we passed that strip club, French Quarter or something, again. I pulled a u-turn, overwhelmed by my curiosity about whether the girls were fully topless, which is what I'd been told in Little Rock, that Hot Springs was the only place in Arkansas that allowed fully topless. I couldn't see into the club from the lobby area, but the hostess assured me that they were topless, no pasties. But even if I had not been in a hurry to get to Memphis, I wouldn't have paid the $10 cover. The fact that the girls I could see at the bar were chubby didn't help matters any. So I left, and as I walked away the hostess came out and yelled at Bill that he couldn't videotape their sign. Much wackiness ensued.

Bill had turned his camera off when I passed by him, and he rushed to turn it back on and film the girl. When he lowered the camera, she turned and walked to the corner to flag a cop. What for, I don't know, since we weren't breaking any laws (except for my being illegally parked). I wanted to move the car quickly, and Bill filmed until I rolled up and then hopped in.

The light was red--crap! I pulled up just enough so that a pickup truck blocked us from direct view of the door to the club. I was expecting a bouncer to come running out at any moment. At the same time, one of the other girls, either a dancer or a waitress, put on a coat and came outside. She sneaked behind the truck, though we could see her through the windows. Bill couldn't figure out why she and the other girl were hiding--later I guessed that it was because the did not want to be film. When the light changed, the pickup in front of me turned right, and I floored it myself to turn right. The girl who had put on the coat came running out from behind the truck and yelled out my license plate number. We were gone.

As we drove away, I kinda wished I had taken steps to prevent her getting my licensed, just in case the club was mobbed up. They couldn't find me, since the car was registered to my Houston address, but I didn't want them sending people to my house and threatening my mother. It was extremely unlikely, but a possibility nonetheless.

Before the incident, I had noticed a theater marquee advertising the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Bill thought it would be hilarious if our film ended up in Hot Springs the next year, with the scene from the club, and just up the street from the club.

I missed my turn onto US-270 east out of town, and when I looked at the map to find my way, I decided to just go back to the junction with US-70 and check that entire stretch of US-70 out to the interstate off my list.

As we rolled towards Memphis, Bill called his dad to update him on when we would be arriving so he could meet us. My original plan had been for Bill to accompany me to the store in Millington and then back down through Memphis so I could take the bridge to West Memphis and then I-55. But as Bill talked with his dad, I did some calculations and learned that route was 24 miles longer than if I simply continued north on US-51 to I-155. So we changed plans, and at the Wal-Mart in West Memphis we met Bill's dad, and Bill got in his car quickly while some light was available so he could film me driving into Memphis and then up to Millington. Bill already had some footage of me driving, but more never hurt.

In Millington Bill's dad told me that he looked at my web site occasionally, and it was the map of my probable route that I had posted that had given him the idea to meet up with us. I decided that from then on it would be a good idea to post my route if I had any kind of rough idea of where I was headed.

Bill and his dad went on there way, and I continued up US-51, stopping at the same Wal-Mart from before for some vittles. One I reached Missouri and I-55, I stopped at the first rest area for a few hours, and then I continued to the next one until morning.

March 19

After a second phone call, I finally located the South County Mall. The Starbucks was inside, but I first spotted a Borders and plopped myself in front, next to a wall to block the brisk wind, and to get online and find the location of the Scrabble tournament. Yes, it would have made more sense to write the location down well before I reached St. Louis, but I never seem to manage so simple a task.

It was around 7:30, but the mall was suprisingly busy. Besides the mall walkers, there was a line of people outside the Foot Locker, watched over by security guards. I made inquiries and learned a new shoe was debuting that morning. Well, I guess if I can wait to be the first customer at a new Starbucks, or the first person in the theater for Star Wars, I can't really say anything about waiting for shoes.

I grabbed a DoubleShot so I could space out the caffeine throughout the weekend and headed off to find breakfast. Webster Groves was the Starbucks nearest the tournament venue in Brentwood (excluding the Galleria). I asked a passerby about a bagel shop. He pointed me to Einstein Bros.--I drove past and spotted Stratton's Diner. The place looked a little trendy for me, but they had biscuits so I gave them a try. Passable.

March 20

I photographed the new Hazelwood store, then took advantage of the early morning light and light Sunday morning traffic to reshoot the downtown, Union Station, and Central West End stores. Timing was on my side.

then headed downtown just as the sun was coming out for a shot of Olive and 6th. I got to St. Louis Union Station just before it opened for a clean shot of the store, and then over to the Central West End where--sweetness--I got my shots just before a pickup pulled in front.

before visiting the new Kingshighway and Chippewa stores, a quick take-away breakfast at Tiffany's Original Diner, and then a disappointing morning Scrabbling.

At the Kingshighway and Chippewa store, where Nelly hangs out, I learned of yet another unlisted Starbucks, at Clayton and Lindbergh. Glad I remembered to ask, because it would have sucked to see the listing after I had left St. Louis.

After a disappointing 2-2 morning of Scrabble to come in third, I rushed out of the building to look for Bill and Jodi. I went to my car and grabbed her iPod, and then I held it behind my back so I could surprise Jodi. I was eagerly anticipating her reaction. But they were not to be found at the TGI Friday's where Bill said they would be. I figured they had gone off in search of a quite place to film, but I was miffed they hadn't called to tell me where. I tried to call, but got no answer. Just when I was going to drive around the parking lot to see if Jodi's car was even there, they came out of the Rec Center.

I tried to make Jodi guess what was behind my back, but she seemed grumpy and didn't want Bill filming. He backed away (and presumably continued filming) and I showed her the iPod. I think I saw genuine excitement, and I was happy to see her beaming face.

We all headed over to the Webster Groves store to meet the ever-enthusiastic Louie. Bill got some footage with the hopes of convincing his mother to allow it to be used, or that Louie would turn 18 ahead of schedule and be able to authorize usage himself.

After about an hour, hunger took over and I urged us to head on out, back to my car for a power bar I'd stashed, and then on to the Lindbergh and Clayton store, where things got a little wacky when Jodi struggled to find a way to the store as I kept pointing, "That way! That way!". Anxious and impatient at the light, I had to take dramatic action.

After three attempts to find the departure area of the East Terminal, we dropped Bill off so he could fly back to Nebraska.

Jodi and I headed to her favorite St. Louis restaurant, the Old Spaghetti Factory, where we engaged in sophisticated conversation.

As with previous trips, our plans for a night on the town went agley. This time, it was my being sick and feeling wholly drained of energy. We picked up my car from Brentwood and went straight to the hotel, and I went straight for the bed. Jodi tried to perk me up with a striptease revealing some lingerie she had just bought at her favorite boutique, Victoria's Secret, but all the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models themselves couldn't have kept me from falling into a deep slumber.

March 21

After some twelve hours of sleep, I got up around 7:30 and could feel the need for caffeine. I showered and then set about urging Jodi to get moving, but it was like pulling teeth. Jodi's mom said that she had had to deal with her morning laziness for years--I could put up with it for a day.

Once again I tried to get Jodi to come ride with me back to Maryland and then fly back, since she had taken Monday and Tuesday off, but once again she had meetings and other stuff. So after breakfast at the Cracker Barrell, during which I loaded up her iPod with all my tunes and then made her promise to delete them once she got home to her own computer, it was once again time to say goodbye.

At Evansville the shift supervisor had not heard of me, but she offered a sample anyway. I took some time in the bathroom, and it turned out to be for the best because as I was about to move the car to take the photo the manager came out. She had heard of me, seemed excited and wanted a Polaroid. The manager at Newburgh also wanted a photo, but didn't have a camera.

Despite several mental notes, plus a grumbling stomach, I still forgot to grab food before getting on the interstate, and I was soon thinking I wasn't going to hold out 'til Louisville. Then I remembered I had left Houston with two apples, and that the second had to be in the car somewhere. It sure was, but not without some damage.

I figured it I ate from the other half that was unmarred, that I would be okay. What's the worse that could happen?

After many phone calls, I schedule a massage in Louisville. But as I approached, I didn't get the call back I was expecting with directions, and so I killed time by heading down 7th Street where the strip clubs where. The first, Silver Slipper, was strange--one didn't pay for dances, but rather for a cocktail, the price of which determined how many dances. As she explained this to me, an older, overweight "dancer" pulled me close and groped on me, trying to convince me to start with a $22 dance and then progress upwards. She seemed very desperate. It was almost sad. I pulled away and left, and I think she said something nasty to me as I walked out the door.

The second, Thorobreds, was more conventional, but the bartender made it a point that the dances were far from private, that there were 19 cameras positioned throughout the club.

The masseuse called before I got to the third, Green Light (a reference to The Great Gatsby, perhaps?), but I went in anyway to continue my "research". This one, too, had standardly-priced dances, performed on couches made to look like high-heels. Cute, but too out in the open.

The massage was mediocre--the gossip was juicier. The therapist explained how the mayor of Louisville was trying to shut down all the adult businesses in town, and as a result many of the massage spas, including the one I had visited during a previous pass through Louisville many years earlier, had been raided and shut down, forcing much of the business underground. The lady at Greenspa herself had fired many of the girls that used to work for her because of hanky panky, not wanting to get in trouble herself.

Meanwhile, the radio continued to report delays on the highways around town. Gee, why couldn't the mayor devote some time to something really useful, like fixing the traffic.

By the time I got out of town, it looked like I would barely make it through Frankfort and to Huntington by 11:00, and so I did the nasty once again and grabbed the only fast food I spotted before the freeway, White Castle. And to make matters worse, I bought four!!! If two sucked, why did I think four would be any better???

Some time later, I started to get dizzy. I immediately suspected the White Castle. It got bad, so bad that I couldn't focus on the road. There had been times in the past when I'd been happier to see a rest area, but not very many. I doubt I could have gone on much further had there not been that rest area just past Lexington.

March 22

When I went to sleep so early the previous night, I had hoped to start driving around 5:00 AM. But when 5:00 rolled around, I was still dizzy. Same for 6:00. Finally, around 7:30, I just couldn't sleep anymore if I had any hope of making it to work. The DoubleShot I had saved up helped a lot, and I made it to Huntington.

I exited the interstate one exit early so I could roll through town and look for gas, breakfast, and Wi-Fi. I first spotted Tudor's Biscuit World.

I remembered seeing signs for the place last time I rolled through WV, and I had wanted to give them a try. Ugh, the biscuits were unsatisfying, even in the form of a sandwich. I bought an extra biscuit to save for later, but I ended up throwing it out.

I asked about Wi-Fi at the new Pullman Square store. A barista told me the bookstore across the square had it. I retrieved my laptop and sat next to the store but picked up no signal. As I left, some guy asked if I had been looking for Wi-Fi and said that he'd heard Fazoli's down the street offered it. They did.

I knew I needed to refuel before reaching Elkridge, so I stopped in Clarksburg, WV, where the sign off the interstate listed a Panera. The Panera was indeed there, but lacking Wi-Fi. Still, it was okay--I had a craving for noodle soup. Of course, hot soup wasn't necessarily the best food choice to eat while on a winding mountain highway. I took my shirt off so as not to spill soup on it. I neglected to think that the shirt might actually protect me from burning my stomach. Ouch!

Warning! Don't take exit 28 off I-70 in MD if you want a quick bite to eat. All the restaurants are pretty far away, and the Chick-fil-a is over three miles away! Deceptive!!

Finally, at 3:45 PM, I rolled into work. Better late than never, when a per diem for the day is concerned.

My dizziness increased during the afternoon. As I drove to Scrabble club from work I sorted through my photos, and I noticed the photo of the diseased apple. It then occurred to me that maybe it was the bites of the apple that had given me food poisoning.

March 23

I discovered that those two new "hidden" St. Louis stores had in fact been listed on the Starbucks site after all. In fact, I had downloaded the listings while in Houston, but not added them to my map. Just another example of how my game was off during most of the road trip.

I was still experiencing vertigo. My dev lead thought it might be related to a sinus infection. I hoped not. I'd had two, and they suck. Anyhow, despite the way I was feeling, I started looking ahead to the 3-day Easter Weekend and trying to see if a trip was feasible. It seemed there was little that could stifle "the itch".

March 24

I killed time at the York Road store in Baltimore, and there I met a seriously hot honey who happened to be studying, of all things applied mathematics. Her text--Spectral Generalizations of Line Graphs, and her degree program--PhD. Brains and beauty--a deadly combination!

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