Get 500 or Die Tryin' (December)

Full Log


December 1, 2005

The night before I had discovered that there were showers on the bottom floor, so I tried those in the morning. The shower head was affixed to the wall, true, but the water alternated between hot and cold, and I finally gave up and went back upstairs. Someone had jumped in the single shower there in the interim, so I did pushups while I waited. In my weakened state, it didn't take long for my arms to start burning and my head to hurt, and my ears to stop up. Man, but that guy was in the shower for a long time, and making strange noises.

There was toast down in the kitchen this time. It wasn't much, but as hungry as my body was, it really hit the spot. As I walked towards Fulham Road, I decided I must have been more tired than even I realized, because I was not gaining at all on a young lady walking ahead of me. It is very rare for anybody to walk faster than me, and females in general tend to walk more slowly. Just ask any female I've ever dated.

I expected the first coffee of the morning to hit me strong, and it did. I at at the store on Fulham for a bit sipping slowly, giving it time to settle so I would not start feeling nauseated.

Trouble in Paradise?

Farther down on Fulham I ran into my first outwardly suspicious manager. Others had given me a look of doubt, but this one first flatly refused to give me a sample without some proof of who I was, citing the reason that the store had visits from many people claiming to be sampling Starbucks coffee, and even pastries.

But at the next store, the manager, from Mexico, was completely friendly and espressed great interest in my project, especially wondering when I would visit Mexico.

As I had experienced before, the overcaffeination of the previous day had an effect lasting into the next, and each of the first 4-oz samples, even spaced out over nearly three hours, brought me close to the point of nausea.

I finally had a chance to visit what I think is the original Fulham Store, at #809. According to my records, this was one of the stores I visited back in 1999 before I had my camera. The store didn't look familiar--all I remembered really was that I parked the car a block or two away, near a restaurant, but not the look of the store itself. The manager was not present to tell me if the store was indeed open in '99, but I wanted no duplicate coffee, so I took it on faith that this was the store. Hopefully someone out there will remember and can confirm for me.

A Hearty Meal At Last

A 15-pence banana, on top of the two slices of toast and juice at the hostel, could have tided me over for a few more hours, but it was raining lightly, and windy, and I had quite a ways to walk to Putney, so I decided I could afford to spring 3 pound 45 for a traditional English breakfast of bread (not toasted), beans, sausage, bacon (odd-looking, not American), and eggs (runny). I was not asked how I wanted the eggs, nor if I wanted butter on the toast. When I finished eating I delayed leaving for a bit hoping the four blokes next to me would go first, so I could see if they left a tip. I can never remember in which countries, and in which type of restaurant, tipping is customary. Finally I tired of waiting and asked the man behind me, and he said tipping was not necessary.

Pushing Farther Out

At the Putney store a couple of customers took an interest in my project, and even alerted me to a brand new Starbucks in a town called Warrington. I chatted with them a bit, and then I starting thinking about how to want to get to the nearby stores, one in Southfield and two in Wimbledon. Wimbledon was a 3-mile walk, and Southfield involved a detour from a straight line to Wimbledon. I was outside Zone 2, so I could not take the tube, but the supervisor seemed to think I was able to use the bus. It took me a while to get a semi-clear shot of the store, and by the time I finished the bus, #39, was arriving. I asked the driver, and he was not sure, but indicated that I should just touch my Oyster card to the sensor. I did, and the driver indicated that I was okay. The bus took so many turns getting to Southfield that I was sure I could have arrived faster on foot, but I wasn't really complaining about the opportunity to rest my feet.

At Southfields I encountered a very gregarious supervisor (or was she the manager). As we chatted, the district manager walked in--I could not recall having run into many of them in England.

For some reason I started having a problem with my Wi-Fi connection. When I logged on to T-Mobile and then disconnected, the next time it wouldn't work. I first rebooted, which always fixed the problem, and then I tried repairing the connection, and that worked too. But sometimes the connection would work without doing either. Strange. I wondered if the fact that I was using the LAN connection at the hostel had anything to do with it.

The Harrod's Situation

Two and a half years after I got lost and ran out of time on my final day in England, I finally made it to the Starbucks inside Harrod's of London, which the managing director of Starbucks UK had personally recommended that I visit. My gut told me to purchase a drink and take a photo on the sly, but I still asked for the shift supervisor. When she came out, she revealed that two months earlier a pair of girls had arrived from the US and claimed to be trying to visit all the stores (in London I presume). I was very surprised, until I remembered that I had been IM'ing with a girl named Dusty who said she had a friend currently in the London trying to beat me to visiting all the stores.

The supervisor wanted to know my procedure, and, because it included taking a photo, she said she had to call the support center and obtain permission. Took about 5-10 minutes.

Next step was to find a bathroom. In a plush place like Harrod's, they don't have an ordinary toilet or washroom, but rather "luxury washrooms"!

The other Harrod's store is actually not inside the department store, but across from the employee entrance. As such I didn't feel the need to have the supervisor call the press center before taking a photo. And I almost got out of there without a delay, too, except that after I took the photo I spilled a small portion of the sample coffee. So I went back in to have a barista add 1/8 of the sample cup of coffee (half an oz), and by coincidence the supervisor came out and it occurred to her to ask if I was going to take a photo. I said that I didn't need to photograph inside, and she replied that there was still a need to call the press center. Without knowing the law in Britain, I did not feel that this was strictly necessary, but since Starbucks UK had been so kind to me, I wanted to play ball. So I asked her to go ahead and call the press center while I let my coffee settle and updated my log.

When she returned with the approval, she explained that the reason for the concern about photographs at those locations in particular was Harrod's, that they are extremely concerned about security because they see themselves as a target of terrorists.

My map showed a store nearby in Knightsbridge Green, but neither the supervisor inside the Harrod's nor the one outside knew anything about that store. No address was listed, other than Brompton Road, so rather than wander up and down looking for what might be a phantom store, I opted to move to a different area. Anybody know if this store exists?

A Light Evening

While the delays kept the coffee from hitting me to strongly, they also ended up costing me. At Motcomb Street, I pulled myself away from thinking about flirting with the girl on the couch because the barista said Pimlico Road closed at 7:00. After taking a wrong turn, I still made it with five minutes to spare, only to find the store had closed at 6:30! Grrr... I could thought about flirting some more. On the other hand, it's not like I was doing very well back at Motcomb--the best line I had come up with was to ask her the name of the grocery store across the street.

My final store of the night was Wilton Road, and the power outlet happened to be near three couches, one of which was occupied by a cute girl. I broke the ice by asking her about cheap Italian restaurants in the area. I think she might have taken a bit of a liking to me, because she left a slice of her cake for me after I had mentioned how hungry I was. Unfortunately I was chatting with the shift supervisor about my project when another barista cleaned up the table before I could snag her leftovers.

The girl had said the restaurants in the area (Victoria Station) were pricey, and I fully expected the prices to be more than I was willing to pay. But due the small amount of food I had eaten since arriving in London, because of budgetary concerns, my mind had shifted from thinking about sex every six seconds to thinking about food every six seconds and sex just every twelve. And this was despite the heightened sexual charge that I was under due to the nearly twelve days of celibacy that had passed since my vow to be chaste until I had visited 99% of the stores in North America. The upshot of this is that I found myself trying to find the cheap Italian place she had mentioned in the hopes of getting the spaghetti I craved. I only found one place, and I don't know if it was the cheap or the expensive one, but either way I just couldn't bring myself to pay almost $14 for a bowl of spaghetti.

I headed for the tube station and repeated the mantra "food is not essential", "food is not essential". But when I passed an Indian-themed deli (based on the curry dishes on the menu) I found myself looking longingly at the food on display. I pulled myself away and commanded myself to focus, focus, focus. But the next thing I knew, I was in the deli ordering plain rice and a lamb kebab for 2 pounds 30. After one bite of the rice, it was so dry that I sprang for another 60-cent Coke. I felt so ashamed. I felt like a hardcore marine, like the ones depicted in Jarhead could have easily eaten that rice with no beverage had it been as dry as sand.

Meanwhile, the hole in the bottom of my backpack had grown dangerously large. A bit bigger and my camera might fall through. And who knew if the entire bottom would just rip abruptly. When I returned to the hostel I immediately asked the desk attendant if he knew where to find a backpack. He suggested STA travel near Victoria Station, where I had just come from. That would need to be my first destination in the morning.

I had been wondering if there were any cute females at the hostel, as I had not seen any Tuesday or Wednesday. Well I finally spotted a couple, a Lithuanian in London to study, and an Australian (go figure) just arrived to work and travel.

I took my laptop down to the kitchen/TV room area to see if there were any females about. None, but there was a plate of pasta with bright red tomato sauce sitting in front of a young man who turned out to be Italian. He saw me staring, and he offered to cook for me the next day. I thanked him, but said I was leaving. By coincidence, I was learning a bit of Italian while in London, courtesy of the Grisham novel. As the main character learned more and more Italian, more and more sentences would be written in Italian and then translated.

I'd only visited 12 stores, three fewer, not much of a decline, but my body must have been getting used to the caffeine, because I slept much easier.

December 2

I went all out in the kitchen Friday morning, having two pieces of toast, and with jam even. The Lithuanian was there, too, and with her very young-looking mother, and she paid me about as much attention as the previous night. I ran into Michelle the Australian too, and she was mildly more chatty but seemed preoccupied with other matters.

Nomad travel store, twice as expensive, slightly smaller, not as many pockets, had to carry other to get refund

I returned to Pimlico Road, where the staff seemed very interested in my mission. I had to go downstairs to find a power outlet next to a table so I could review the route to the next store. A mother was holding a young baby, and I heard hear say "you want some more". I glanced up, and she was about to begin breast feeding. She noticed me and covered herself and the baby with a small sheet. I moved to the other side of the table so that if I happened to glance up, as I routinely do, she would not think I was trying to get a glimpse of her breast. I hoped that she would not think I had turn away out of disgust.

When I exited the hostel I could tell it was much warmer, though windy. After walking from Victoria to Pimlico Road I felt warm enough to remove my undershirt, which was good because after one day it had already started smelling gamy, and the smell was more pronounced on the second day. As I walked, the sun came out, and I felt warm enough that I started thinking about whether I might be able to sleep in the rental car.

I sort of knew how to get to Sloane Avenue from Pimlico Road, but I first took a wrong turn getting to New Kings Road, and then when I found it, I got lost again after asking directions because Sloane did not intersect New Kings directly. I wasn't stopping to look at my map often like I usually did because I needed to keep the battery as fully charged as possible, because I had purposefully not brought my car adaptor, because of the weight and uncertain about whether it would work. I knew that I would have to keep the laptop off as much as possible, and spent more time in each Starbucks to charge the battery.

I finally made it to Heathrow around noon, two hours after when I had reserved the car. With a no-name company like Practical, I wondered if they would still have the car. But first I had to find the place. The lady at the information desk outside the tube station had never heard of them, but she directed me to Terminal 1 for all the car rental companies. I saw no signs for Practical, nor any indications outside where the shuttles were. I asked at the Hertz counter and was directed to a different airport information counter, where I learned Practical is out at the Crowne Plaza hotel, and that I needed to take a Hoppa Shuttle. When I found those shuttle stands, I learned it would cost 3 pounds. Presumably 3 on the return, too, and that was 12 dollars I had not factored into the price comparisons. Given that, and the risk of going with a no-name, I decided to see what kind of price one of the major companies could offer. Enterprise was closed, and Hertz was out of cars, but Avis could do 60 pounds. That was about $111 according to what I had gotten at the Post Office, or $22 more than the $77 quoted on Travelocity for Practical plus the shuttle fee. I thought about it for a less than a minute and decided it was worth the extra money for the peace-of-mind. The very polite attendant would not, of course, have badmouthed a competitor, but when I mentioned I had read a bad review on the Internet he felt it acceptable to concur that he had heard other negative reports.

It had been 6 1/2 years since my one experience driving in England, and I seemed to remember it had been easier. Maybe the car had been an automatic instead of a five-speed, I don't know. The first dilemma was not driving related actually, finding the rental agreement that had fallen to the bottom of my backpack, while the gate attendant glared at me impatiently and finally asked me to pull to the to the side so other cars could get by.

When I had first reached the car I took two steps towards the left side before I caught myself and switched to the right side door. I tried to keep "left side of the road", "left side of the road" running through my mind, but needless to say, as soon as I exited the Avis lot I immediately turned onto the wrong lane, but I caught myself quickly. As I drove around trying to get on the motorway, I actually adjusted quickly to the lane thing and only made the mistake one other time (in those 30 minutes). What came more slowly was any degree of comfort with the stick shift. I routinely went from 2nd back to 1st instead of third, which of course braked the car, sometimes with irate drivers behind me. There was to be much honking in my vicinity over the course of the weekend. I also discovered two problems with the clutch. First, though it was still on the left, as in American cars, there was no pad on which I could rest my foot, so I had to keep it either above the clutch, which made my muscles tense up, or in front, which meant my knee was more bent. But worse was the fact that my foot kept riding up on the clutch when I had to use it quickly, like shifting through a light. When I made turns in particular my foot would ride up so much I couldn't get enough pressure and would have to put it in neutral and readjust, all while trying to complete a turn into the correct lane.

The drive on the M4 to the A404 was smooth enough, but once I exited I discovered more difficulties. First, with the computer to my left, and my being right-handed, I found it nearly impossible to manipulate the map without putting the computer on my lap. Then I, as I encountered more and more of the many roundabouts (traffic circles), I kept hitting the curbs on the left because I didn't have as much clearance as I was used to in a car with the wheel on the left. I spent the weekend deathly afraid that I would scrape the mirror or side of the car against something. Finally, when I reached Marlow, after struggling with two u-turns to find parking, I discovered that parallel parking was exceptionally hard at first, and I had mastered that art back in the States long ago.

After I photographed the store and walked towards the entrance, I noticed a couple of policemen in a car who might or might not have been glancing intently at me.

First thing when I walked into the store was ask a barista for a location of an electrical outlet and then plug in my computer, something I would repeat over and over to keep my laptop a charged as possible.

I ran into my first traffic jam on A404 out to the M40, but from that point traffic moved quickly towards Oxford. Once off the motorway and into the city, traffic was slow-going, but I was more concerned about keeping track of where I was so I could find the store. Again, this was tricking because I had to keep the laptop off as much as possible. I spotted the store on the High Street, and then the issue of parking came up. After some back and forth, I found a spot where I had to pay 1 pound 50 for one hour, and then hope that I would not be ticketed between 6:25 and 6:30 PM.

And still I continued trying to talk to myself in a Scottish accent. I still have no explanation for this.

At the next store the manager was very interested in the mechanics of my project, and before I left generously offered me half-price pastries. I graciously declined, as even half-priced Starbucks pastries were more expensive than the apple and banana I got at Sainsbury's. Although not necessarily more expensive than the donut I bought for 69 pounds (almost twice what it would cost at Dunkin Donuts stateside). The only reason I bought it was the name "demon donuts". Who would want to try a demon donut? I was personally hoping I'd develop supernatural abilities after eating it. The cashier did not seem to think so.

Back at the first store the supervisor had been very kind and called ahead to Birmingham and reported that the Borders location closed at 9:00, and the two others in the Bull Ring at 8:00. I almost didn't reach the city because the rain slowed me, and I started feeling very fatigured. But I pushed on. I took the wrong interchange off the M6, onto the M42 northbound, and from that point I had to take A34, a different route into the city than the one recommended by AutoRoute. A few more wrong turns at roundabouts, and it started getting close to 9:00. No time to find free parking, so I had to spring for the 1.80 in the garage next to the Bull Ring so I could reach the Borders in time. I could have waited until morning and gotten it with the others, but I wanted to charge my laptop some and get online. I rushed into the Borders and up to the Starbucks to find the barista behind the counter saying they were closed. I asked to speak to the supervisor, and the first thing she said when she came out from the back was "were' closed." I explained that a barista from Oxford had called and gotten closing times and reported 9:00 PM, and that I had rushed all the way up. She relented and had the other partner make me an espresso that, through a misunderstanding, turned into an Americano.

I was able to sit at a table for a bit past 9:00 until a barista made the rounds and informed the other customers the store was closed. The Borders did not close until 10:00, so I found an outlet there and continued to charge up. I asked a Borders employee about a place where I could get a blanket, because had reported nothing available in the city. I had pulled a different list of hostesl from another web site, but it would have cost money to travel to each, or to call each, and I decided it wasn't so cold after all. The employee told me about a Tesco on Broad Street in a part of town known as Five Ways, and also about an Asda in Small Heath. I planned to wait until I got some more charge before leaving, but after a minute or two the employee came back and said I would have to unplug my laptop, that in England public use of outlets isn't allowed. I thought about explaining to her how I buy most of my books from Borders and how much I've spent there, but I just decided the nearly 90% charge was good enough and left.

Took me quite a bit of time to fumble my way along the Birmingham Streets to Five Ways, but I spotted the Tesco, learned it closed at midnight, and after a couple of u-turns to get into the parking garage, I was in. No blankets though, only sheets. I didn't want to go all the way to the Asda on spec, so I just bought two fitted sheets and hoped they would be enough. Pillows were nearly 6 pounds, about four times as expensive at the $2.88 (or is it $2.92) ones I can get at Wal-Mart, so I just bought a small towel instead. Finally, some SlimFast for dinner.

I headed out towards Coventry Road, where there were a couple of massage places I was curious about, because according to the Internet the prices seemed lower than in America, which I found surprising. Something else I found surprising was how quickly I drove there from Five Ways, mostly along the ring road. Looked like I was finally getting the hang of things. But the first, Lisa's Sauna, had a fixed price of 65 pounds for what the hostess called "all inclusive" (I think) service. I wasn't willing to pay for extra services that I didn't want, no matter how hot Tina in the nurses outfit looked. Some guy who arrived and was apparently waiting for a girl nodded over to Tina and gave me the thumbs up, but I had come looking to spend about 10-12 pounds plus a small tip, not 65. As often happens, what I had read online was too good to be true. And I so very much want to believe everything I read on the Internet, the holy grail of information. Still, the receptionist was exceptionally informative and willing to share information about the scene in town, explaining that there were many more than what I found on the Internet, and the difference between licensed and unlicensed. Typically at these places if you're not spending money, the receptionist can't wait to get you out the door.

The other place down the road was closed, and I did not feel like searching around town for the other 40 places that supposedly existed, some reportedly open 'til 5:00 AM, so I drove on until I found a street that looked residential and wandered around a neighborhood until I found a spot that seemed discreet enough. It took a bit of experimenting before I found a position that allowed me to sleep. I started out in the back of the car, but even after moving the passenger seat up and then tilting the seat forward as far as it would go (using a knob, which made it difficult and painful), I could not stretch my legs. So I tilted the passenger seat all the way back--it went back quite far, and I tried sleeping in the front for a bit. I was able to straddle my legs across the two seats, and for a bit I thought this would work better, but shifting around, as I often do, was too difficult. So back to the back seat it was, and this time I discovered that somehow I was able to stretch my legs by angling them onto the door handle. I still tossed and turned for hours, but finally, I slept.

Sometime after 3:00 AM I awoke and realized I had actually managed to sleep, because I had been dreaming. I decided to drive around the city and see what the streets looked like at night. As I had predicted, the task was much easier in the absence of rain and with only scant traffic on the roads. No angry drivers honking at me this time, no fears of a collision. Very few people were out, and I soon tired and head down towards Shirley, found the Starbucks at the Sainsbury's, made a note of its opening time, and then found a side street where I could sleep.

In the wee hours I had to break out that second sheet--I guess I won't be returning it. And around 6:00 AM I felt something really odd, that my feet were freezing. I didn't know why. The top part of my body was warm enough. I ended up having to turn on the heat.

December 3

Around 8:37 I woke up feeling rather unsteady and in need of more sleep. But I had been trying to sleep for the better part of 8 hours already, excluding the hour driving around town. Surely that was enough, and I did not want to waste any more of the daylight (dull as it was under the overcast sky). And surely part of the way I was feeling was due to sheer hunger.

Of course the first thing I did inside the Sainsbury's was to have the supervisor point me to an electrical outlet, which was unfortunately near a set of couches in between which bounced a toddler under the watchful eye of his mother. After asking for my sample coffee, I hid myself in a corner separated off by two of the couches. Sure enough, the toddler stumbled over and stared at me intently but could not fit throught the small gap in between the couches, nor could he move them. I smirked.

Before I left I picked up the usual apple and banana, but also something new a brand of yogurt named "Yew" something or another (I would later realize it's Yeo, not Yew), organic, which turned out to be rather good.

Then came the ordeal of central Birmingham. A customer back in Shirley had recommended I park at the garage on Livery Street--3 pounds for 5 hours he thought. Getting back to the city centre was easy enough, but despite seeing it clearly labeled on my map, I could not manage to get onto Livery Street. I finally settled for the Pallasades Centre parking garage, 50 pence per 15 minutes. That could add up, and so the race began.

Pallasades Centre itself was quick enough, as was New Street and Lloyd Center. At the next location, also on Colmore Row, I had to do a Wi-Fi check, which I tried to make as quick as possible, but then the supervisor returned and came over to talk to me, so I obliged him even though it was costing me money. I found Martineau Place quickly enough, and then over to the two remaining Bull Ring stores, where the lines were long, and where I got a hard time from one of the baristas about getting permission for a photo. But because of the long line, she stopped talking out about it. Better treatment across the way, where not only was I able to get some calories in the form of a latte that had been leftover on the bar, but also from some gingerbread cake that the supervisor generously offered. I got some looks because of the way I was wolfing down the cake, both because I was famished and because I was in a great hurry. On the way back I tried to find a Post Office, as I was running low on cash, but despite signs pointing the way, I just could not see it and finally decided that it wasn't worth risking an extra 50 pence for parking to get the better Post Office exchange rate.

"Happy Christmas"--is that what they say in England?

From New Street I had to walk up these steps to get to the Lloyds location. There was some type of German (Frankfurt) themed Christmas festival/display going on, with German foods on sale. The fried potatoes and sausage looked pretty good (but not sauerkraut, never). I wondered if the Frankfurt theme was a yearly thing, some type of connection to Birmingham, or if they change it up every year.

Was in too much of a hurry to look around for a sign explaining what this is, but it's on Colmore Row.

Parking ended up being 4 pounds 50, ouch!

I was very grateful for signs directing me "out of city", and once I cleared the bulk of the city centre traffic I looked for signs towards the airport. I did see signs, but also signs for Dudley, in the other direction. I had no idea which way I was going, and sometimes I'd see one sign and sometimes the other, and I figured I'd just visit whichever store was in the direction I ended up heading when the dust settled. The airport it was, though not without some uncertainty, because the signs kept reading B'gham Airport/NEC, and I wasn't sure if that meant "North East Corner" or referred to something else, or if the sign was to a different airport altogether, though I had only seen one on the map. But I made it, and I was amazed with the speed with which I was able to get in and out. And that I only paid 1.50 for parking--I was expecting worse.

I'd taken another pass at googling for massage to see what prices elsewhere might be like. Manchester seemed to be more expensive than Birmingham, but noticed a place called Adele's about an hour out, in Fenton, near Stroke-on-Kent. Their web site advertising an 8 pound door fee, pretty low, and 6 pounds on Saturday's before 3:00. I had assumed massage would be more expensive everywhere in England like everything else, but 12 dollars US was a door fee I'd not encountered anywhere in the States. I didn't think I would make it before 3:00 if I stopped at the airport, but traffic zipped along so quickly on the motorway that by a little after 2:30 I had already exited, with just a few miles to Fenton. But then I proceeded to get ridiculously lost and spend the next 30 minutes trying to find Fenton and King Street. I already had my sob story prepared to get that 2 pound discount, but it turned out to be moot, because the web site information was old. I could have argued about false advertising, but 10 pounds, or less than $20, is still lower than anything I've encountered in America. So it was worth a shot. Well, these places are always hit-or-miss, and the "massage" was rubbish (the British seem to use that word a lot, so I will too), hardly at all, but for the price it was still worth the relaxation, and at least I learned how inexpensively services could be got in expensive England. Or maybe I'm wrong--maybe England is not expensive, but just London?

It was daylight still, and the road seemed remarkably free of rain, so I felt comfortable kicking up the speed to match the fast lane, which seemed to be moving around 90 MPH much of the time. The fiery Ford Fiesta could handle the speed, but the handling leaves something to be desired.

Yellow signs on the motorways advertise "free recovery"--I presume that means if you breakdown they'll tow you for free. Fat chance finding that in the States. I passed an accident scene, and I noticed another good idea that we should addopt in the US--overhead signs indicated which lane was blocked so that drivers could start changing lanes ahead of time.

"Tyre"--is that how the word is spelled here?

Charlotte's Web

After a few minutes of driving on A556, I started to get a bad, bad feeling. Seemed to me like I should have crossed the M56 already. But the road was two-lane and not conducive to stopping on the side, and the darkness and slickness of the winding road made it too dangerous for me to focus on the map while moving, and the traffic lights were all too short for me to get a fix on my location. Finally I spotted a place where I could pool over, and... SON OF A BITCH!!! I was heading the wrong way, west. That's why the signs kept reading "North Wales". See, if knew my geography better, I would have known that North Wales isn't just north of Manchester, but I was hoping that was the case. There was a store in Chester, and two nearby, so I would have had to go eventually, so I kept driving. I finally saw a sign for Chester City Centre, and I was about to zero in on the directions, when... I discovered that the stupid piece of shit that is this Dell Inspiron 6000 had decided, in the last 10-20 minutes, to shut itself off, or hang, or something. Happens every once in a while after putting it on standby repeatly. Always annoying, and usually at the most inopportune moment.

I finally booted the computer, but I could not figure out where on the map I was. I kept driving, looking for something familiar, and after circling a roundabout it looked like I'd be heading out of the city if I continue. So I turned around and did a few more circles before I started heading in another direction. I spotted some parking and decided I would be better off asking someone where I was and then walking. Of course I picked the cute girls first, but they said they weren't from around there. Next walked by a pair of blokes, and I asked the one who was not in the phone. He pinpointed my location on the map, and I had been totally off. But even though it took a few minutes, walking got me there.

Woolworth's? There's Woolworth's in England???

I immediately plugged in my laptop at the kiddie table and sat down on a kiddie chair to wait for the supervisor or manager (assistant, actually) to come out of the office. She readily obliged with the coffee and then said that two locations were nearby. When I asked about Manchester, another barista warned me that the parking in Manchester would be expensive, something like 15 pounds for a few hours.

One of the two stores in Chesire Oaks closed at 7:00, and even though the assistant manager said it was only 10 minutes away, I figured it would take me at least twice as long. So I didn't have long to stay in Chester, but the charge on my laptop was down to 67%, and I regarded getting the charge at least up to 85%-90% more critical. I could do the rest at the Starbucks in the Border, which closed at 9:00 or 10:00. So I worked on my log, and after several minutes of sneaking surreptitious glances at the cute redhead at a nearby table, I finally used the opportunity of her friend's having poured some milk, just plain milk, in a cup, to break the ice.

The girl commented on my accent, and I said I was from Texas. "Cool!" she replied, and then she asked what I was doing in England. I wasn't sure whether to reveal my mission or not, so I said "I'll bet you'll never guess." She came over and sat at my table, so I figured she really must be interested, and so I spilled the beans. At first she asked if I was joking, but then she became fascinated and asked all sorts of questions. I knew I needed to be leaving if I was to reach Cheshire Oaks Outlet Centre by 7:00, but I didn't care, because this girl was adorable. I assumed she and her friend were in college, but when the topic of driving came up, I learned she was only 16!!! Whoa!!! Nothing could have pulled me away at that point.

Charlotte asked for an autograph, and after fumbling around her purse she pulled out a worn piece of notebook paper. She apologized for the paper, and I replied that it was okay, that I'd been asked to sign all sorts of things. When she burst out "even breasts?" (quickly followed by "Not that I'm offering"), I about lost my composure right there and nearly sprayed coffee all over my laptop. The Starbucks was only minutes from closing, and Charlotte mentioned needing to meet her sister, and so my mind raced furiously for some way to keep Charlotte in my company longer. I would have eagerly forgone any more Starbucks for the rest of the night.

The only line I could think of was "listen, it looks like they're closing up here, but as luck would have it my pants are open all night". I'd been tinkering with that line for months to get it just right, but I was convinced it would only work with the aid of alcohol, so I didn't want to try it at a coffee shop. I couldn't come up with anything else, and all the customers except us and one other lady filed out of the store, so I finally just said I needed to get going. Then Charlotte reiterated about her sister, and mentioned that she was a twin!!! Holy cow! Could the night get any better, fantasy-wise??? Needless to say, as I walked back to my car I experienced a not insignifcant measure of physical discomfort. And as I drove towards Ellesmere Port I found it hard to think due to a shortage of blood flow to my brain.

I was reminded of one of the final episodes of the television series Firefly, the one in which Inara, the ship's companion, played host to a female client. Apparently the others had known Irana entertained females, but this was the first. When Thomas Jane, the ship's rough-and-tumble mercenary, got a look at Inara and her client, who was equally stunning, together and retreating to Inara's bedroom (in her shuttle), the look on Jane's face was priceless, a sort of glassy-eyed slack-jawed look that betrayed that only one set of neural pathways were active in his brain. That's pretty much how I felt when Charlotte mentioned her twin, although I don't think I betrayed my excitement.

I suppose camera's were popular that night, because not only was Charlotte and her friend more than happy to be photographed, but a group of girls (not nearly as cute) walking by called out to me as I photographed the store and asked if I would photograph them. Sure, why not.

After some fumbling around in Ellesmere Port I located the Borders, and the first Starbucks since Oxford where a barista had heard of me. I hung out and fully charged my laptop while I wrote, and I also made inquiries about any Italian places nearby. After four days of starving myself, I was ready to say fuck the budget and spring for some spaghetti. I could have walked from the Borders, but the temperature had dropped, and I figured I'd suffer enough cold that night when I tried to sleep.

Besides Bella Italia, the more "authentic" restaurant, there was Frankie and Johnny's, a "New York" style Italian restaurant. I also spotted a place called Deep Orleans that advertised "a taste of the south". The American South, I wondered? I was curious enough to forgo the spaghetti, but not if I had to wait 30-40 minutes. Bella Italia had a table for me right away, so spaghetti ala bolognese it was. But without bread--unlike every Italian restaurant I've been to in America, this place charged extra for bread. And apparently tipping is customary, because the menu indicates a service charge for parties of 8 or more. But only 10%. Crazy American restaurants and there 20% tipping!

Oh, and for the record, the spaghetti sucked. Scratch Bella Italia off my list.

I could have driven to Manchester straight away, but I figured to do it in chunks, using the drive to warm up the car. I found an industrial area near the shopping center and drove around, but I got a bad vibe, the feeling that it might not be as safe as the U.S. Days later, back at the hostel in London, I would be told by the attendant that sleeping in the car is illegal in England. I'll have to look into that. I found a neighborhood instead and had no troubles, although at one point when I stepped out of the car I thought I saw the tip of lit cigarette in a van. I wasn't quite awake, and it might just have been my imagination, but I moved over to the next street anyway.

I awoke around 2:30 and started the drive to Manchester, and when I arrived at the City Centre around 3:00 AM hoping to locate all the Starbucks and note their opening times, I discovered the city more crowded than Birmingham had been in the wee hours. Deensgate was fairly well crowded to partiers milling about, many seeking taxis, frustrated looks on their faces when a taxi failed to stop. I drove far enough away from the congested area to feel reasonably safe and went back to sleep.

December 4

Shortly before 6:00 AM I awoke and headed back towards the city centre to locate as many stores as I could and make note of what time each opened. 9:30 for the first one, ach!!! If they all opened around that time, it was going to be difficult to get them all. At that hour the streets were nearly empty, and I was able to break all sorts of traffic regulations with impunity as I ferreted out each location among the tangle of streets, with the additional challenge of keeping my laptop off as much as possible. I did not expect to have the time to charge it again before I had to return to Heathrow. I was very glad to find two that opened at 9:00, and I decided that if I took the photos between 8:30 and 9:00, that would save me some time and allow me to visit the ones that opened at 10:00 before I had to leave the city at 10:30. But the two that didn't open 'til 11:00--those were out of the question.

As I photographed, I discovered two stores that had not been plotted on my map, and so by 8:55 or so I had only covered six. I stopped photographing and headed back to Mount Street, arriving a minute or two past 9:00 to see a couple trying, but failing, to open the doors. I promptly cursed the staff for not opening on time. Later I would realize the clock on the dashboard was about 2 minutes head. I backed my car into one of four or five disabled spaces, with 2 or 3 remaining free, and I waited less than two minutes, until I saw a barista unlock the doors. I was in and out in a jiffy, confident of my ability to polish off at least six of the stores on my map, including the two I had found by mistake.

I had had to do quite a bit of weaving through streets to find the general location of the Arndale Centre, and had been very surprised when I finally spotted a Starbucks outside the centre, which would make it much easier to visit. That store also opened at 9:00, and I managed to make myself there from Mount Street with no difficulty. Once there, I discovered that it was not in fact the Arndale Centre store, but rather Pleer House, 75 Hanging Ditch, not plotted because whoever entered the store information into the database included "Pleer House" in the address text instead of just leaving it at "75 Hanging Ditch". Anyway, once I figured out what store it was I was very happy, but only for a few minutes, because I promptly became completely lost trying to get back to Deansgate. 15 minutes later, I was back in front of Peel House, and it was almost thirty minutes before got my bearings and visited my next store, on Princess Street. Because of the time I had lost, it was going to be a great rush to do the other three stores whose location I knew, and St Anns Square would be out of the question. I had not been able to find it during my 6:00 AM tour--I presume it's set far enough off the street beyond the point where I could drive.

The remainder of my trip was nearly derailed at Bridge Street when I slipped on the wooden ramp leading up to the doors. But I caught myself, to the amazement, or perhaps disappointment, of a pair of onlookers across the plaza.

It was 10:24 when I left Bridge Street, and then it took me another three minutes to get back out to Deansgate because there was a queue to get into a parking garage. That was the exact reason I wanted to do Manchester early, because I totally expected shopping traffic to increase exponentially as the hour neared for the shops to open. It was already 10:30 when I got to Oxford Street, but the store there was pretty much on the way out of town, so I just couldn't pass it up. I'd just have to make up the time on the motorway.

And make up the time I did. I damn near flew back to Heathrow, doing at least 90 MPH most of the way, and sometimes 100+. And as fast I was traveling, I was still getting out of the way of even faster vehicles because I didn't trust the Fiesta's handling on the curves, even ones that were mostly gradual. Despite the concentration I had to devote to the road, I was still able to notice something interesting, the noted dearth of SUVs on the road. I'm sure tight parking and petrol prices are part of the reason, but could it be that Europeans are not as insecure as Americans? This presumes, of course, that insecurity is one reason people choose to SUVs.

The car return went smoothly, and I raced off to the tube station in the hopes of visiting as many stores as possible before they closed most probably early on Sunday night. While on the shuttle to the terminal, the cursed Roots backpack decided it was not done with me yet. During the weekend the second zipper had jammed too, leaving the backpack half-open. I tried to undo the jam, and finally I was able to separate the thingie from the cloth, but also from the teeth. I was able to get the teeth back in the thingie, but it wouldn't work anymore, and so the backpack became even more useless, and I had to stuff as much as possible into one of the smaller pouches and the rest into the new backpack. Boy, was I hating Roots and wondering if all Canadian companies sucked that bad.

I took the tube to Acton Town, and then I had to decide whether I wanted to repeat the walk to Chiswick or spring for the tube. But I couldn't remember how long the walk had taken on Tuesday night--10 minutes? 20? 30? If 10, I might as well have walked, because the train wasn't scheduled to arrive for 5 minutes. I decided to take the train, and when I reached Chiswick I was pleased to discover the trip had only cost me 65 pence, though I was no closer to figuring out how these fares are computed. Later that night, from Shepherd's Bush (Zone 2) to Ealing Broadway (Zone 3), my card was debited only 45 pence.

Two remaining stores in Chiswick, and at the first I was asked for ID again, but the request was retracted when I explained I do not work for Starbucks. Smooth sailing at the next store, and then I opened up my laptop to find the exact location of the hostel where I was staying the night. Hostel 149 had been booked for Sunday night, so I had made a reservation for the Globetrotter Inn London instead. The address, Ashland Court, Ravenscourt Gardens, was not plotted by AutoRoute, but after inspecting the streets around Hammersmith I found Ravenscourt Gardens, and, like so many streets in England, it was so short that I could expect to find the building quickly. The hostel was between Chiswick and the Hammersmith Street store, so I decided to stop and check in and drop off the Roots backpack, or the "suckpack", as I had taken to calling it.

Within minutes of entering the hostel I realized that Hostel 149 had been a very, very bad choice. I saw more hot traveling chicks in the short time I was there than I all three days at the other place.

I dropped off my things and headed over to Hammersmith Road, which took much longer on foot than I had eyeballed from the map. I should have taken the tube. But it wouldn't have mattered, because the store had closed at 4:00. Had I taken the tube straight from Chiswick, I would have made it. Oh, well, at least it was close, and would be easy to visit in the morning.

The partner who was mopping the floor was kind enough to call Shepherd's Bush for me and report they closed at 6:00. It was 4:45, and I figured I had plenty of time, but I was soon reminded that the trains don't run as quickly on Sunday as I waited longer than expected for the first train, of several. Despite three prior trips to London and plenty of tube travel, some things still tripped me up. Like at Earl's Court, where I had to switch to the correct District line train (or I could have waited five minutes back at Hammersmith for the correct train) but had trouble figuring out when it would arrive because the station used some old-style display that was not digital, but rather had physical train names with a white arrow pointing to the next one.

By the time I made it to the Shepherd's Bush store, it was about 15 of 6:00, which ruled out visiting any stores that closed at 6:00. I hoped Paddington Station (the new store, of two) would be open late, but the supervisor said the area was mostly office buildings, which made it unlikely. He mentioned that the two Ealing Broadway stores closed at 7:00, and at first I seemed to remember having visited them already, but, as I've learned all too many times, my aging brain is not as realiable, and they were indeed found plotted on my map. It was not quite 6:00 yet, so I had more than an hour to go, but wary of the Sunday train situation I rushed off to hope on the Central Line to its terminus, Ealing Broadway.

I had an apple and banana from Sainsbury's back at the hostel, but I could feel a widening of the cracks in my sense of calo-fiduciary responsibility, and I started craving all sorts of foods. The bright red sign across from the Ealing Broadway store reading "Fish and Chips" looked tantalizing (and I'm not even a fish person), and when I rounded the corner to find the Oak Street store I spotted a sign that read "Belgium Waffles". "Hmm... waffle runoff." I felt myself challening Homer Simpson right there and then. But the barista at Oak Street did not give a good report on the places reputation, recommending the fish and chips diner instead.

Nevertheless I went into the cafe, which seemed primarily an ice cream shop, and stared at the waffle maker for a bit while the girl behind the counter gave me a quizzical look. Same thing at "The Diner", where I stared at the menu board for several minutes. If there had been a fish and chips meal for about 2 pounds I would have gone for it, but for 3 pounds 50 I just kept thinking that the apple and banana for 29 pence could tide me over through the night. In the end, it was my love of crepes that got me. There was another waffle place, named "barista" across the street, and I was about to leave when I saw the crepes on the menu.

The crepe "pan" was right behind the counter, so I could see the girl making the crepe. When she stumbled over smoothing it out, I began to have my doubts about the quality. She must have read it in my face, because she confessed that she was "just practicing", that she was more used to making waffles. Great, "can I just practice paying you", I thought. It was easy to tell she was burning the thing, and the older lady had to help her with the chocolate (in chips). As I expected, it tasted burned, and was not very good at all. I thought back to my experience at Adele's, and I decided I was more disappointed about the crepe, because 2 pounds 75, or about $5.25, is more than what I paid in NYC, while the massage price was less than back in the States. And I already knew that massages are hit and miss, but my all recent crepe experiences (Paris, NYC) had been good. Oh, well, you can't win 'em all.

Back at the station, I took a few minutes to decide whether to take the train from there or walk to North Acton to avoid paying extra. The walk was about 3 miles. In my physical condition from two weeks back, I could have run that in about 20 minutes, so I figured the walk would take at least 40-60. I decided I'd pay the fare, because the extra sleep would allow me to get an earlier start in the morning, plus I'd get to work on my log, which had gotten behind during my trip out of London.

I touched my Oyster card to the sensor and the display read "seek assistance". I tried it a couple more times, and then one of the attendants called me over. Turned out I owed money. Turned out I had been reading the display wrong. The trip from Heathrow to Chiswick Park had not cost 65 cents, but rather 1.30, leaving 65 on the card. And the trip to Ealing Broadway had actually cost 1.10, leaving me owning 45. Oh, well, it didn't really matter, because I had to make the best use of the time remaining on Sunday, to get my store count up, and that meant spending the money to speed me along.

Couldn't have been more then 30 minutes since the crepe when I arrived at Stamford Brook, but still I started feeling desires. Such desires. I envisioned myself savoring pasta, good pasta this time. I could almost smell it. But it would be wrong, so wrong. I had eaten a crepe. I couldn't possibly be hungry. And I had an apple. And a banana. Don't give in the hunger. Don't do it!

Back at the Globetrotter I looked for a place where I could work on my web site and still be around people. Immediately to my right was the bar, and as soon as I walked in I smelled the smoke. Of course there would be smoke--I was, after all, in Europe. I couldn't stay there, not so much because the smoke bothered me as because it would get in my clothes, which I had not planned to wash. I had one remaining spare Starbucks t-shirt, but only one pair of jeans, and only one long-sleeved shirt. So I walked over to the TV room on the ground floor. Blah. The kitchen. Blah. And by "blah" I mean, no cute girls. I didn't feel like checking out the other TV rooms, so I went back into the bar and discovered that the actual room where the alcohol and food were dispensed seemed to be free of smoke. Perhaps smoking was relegated to a separate room?

After my three-day blitz, I had scads of photographs to look through. As I reviewed them, I was conscious of just how much I looked looking at these photographs, and city photographs in general (not so much with the nature, or of people). I'm not sure why, but it might have to do with the fact that my Starbucks photos serve as documentation of something that exists, or existed, out there in the world. I've always been data and research-oriented, and these photographs are clearly data, and I've accumulated such a massive amount.

And I continued to speak to myself in Scottish, and even to think in Scottish. Like when I wrote the word "such" earlier, the sound that ran through my mind was the word as pronounced by a Scotsman from TV or the movies. Can't say who, really.

December 5

I seem to remember hearing the Swede's alarm for a few seconds before he turned it off. Of course it was still dark at 6:00, but in my mind I imagined that I was in a state of half-sleep while the Swede packed up his things. Next thing I knew it was light out, and I woke up fully to Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" running through my head, and with images that might just as easily have been from my own imagination as from my memory of the video.

The should have stayed in bed, because as soon as I got up the Swede started chatting again, and his packing slowed down. I wanted him to hurry up and leave because (and this might just be paranoia) I didn't want to leave him an opportunity to take my computer and/or camera. Back at the other hostel, none of the guests in the room had seen the equipment, and I had shoved my backpack far behind the bed. But the Swede had seen me remove the battery from my camera to charge it, and possibly gotten a glimpse of the laptop. Since he was packing up and checking out, not returning, it would have been an easy matter for him to carry off one or both. There was a sink and mirrorr in the room, so I killed time shaving, and then I puttered about until he finally got himself ready and left. I took my backpack to the shower anyway.

Something new in the shower. The nob on the left controlled the water pressure, while the one on the right controlled the temperature and had degree markings. I've no idea if the temperature matched the markings, but I still found them useful because it was easy to tell which direction to turn to make the water hotter or colder.

When I got down to the dining room for breakfast and turned on my computer, I was shocked to see the time was 8:41! I realized that the Swede must have gone down to breakfast and come back up to pack, and what I thought had been a few minutes was really a couple of hours.

Ach! I just cannot get the sugar balance right with these different-sized packets here in England! Too little sugar, and the coffee tastes unpleasant. Too much, and its both unpleasant and makes me nauseated.

From Hammersmith Road I went back to the station to take the District Line to the Central Line to Shepherd's Bush so I could walk to White City, and then I noticed that the Hammersmith and City Line does go there, but from across the street. D'oh! After failing to find any indicating of my orientation, I finally asked a passer-by which way was east on Uxbridge Road, and then I walked over to Wood Lane and north. After a few minutes, I passed a tube station, White City. D'oh. It's on the Central Line.

Along the way I passed the BBC Television Centre, and when I got to the top of the street I realized that White City is a BBC installation. I noticed the first sign I could recall ever in England prohibiting photography. Of course I didn't have the time to get permission from the management company, and I hoped that British laws about this are not stricter than in America, because it would cost me time equals money to do anything but shoot on the sly.

I walked up to the Sainsbury's off Ladbroke Grove, and as I walked I cursed Roots again and again for making me struggle their worthless suckpack around. When I reached the Sainsbury's I looked in the mirror and cursed that worthless hairdresser from Supercuts yet again. For a week my hair had been pushing off in wild directions, and you should have seen it when I woke up each morning, especially when I slept in the car. I blamed my hair, and the hairdresser, for the fact that in the two hours I had spent down at the Globetrotter bar, not a single female had come up and spoken to me. Nor in the morning during breakfast. It's all about the hair.

But there was a bright moment--I found that Yeo Valley yoghurt again---hmm... tasty.

I had to wait until the checking time of noon at the hostel before I could go drop off the suckpack (or pay a fee), and by that time I had reached Ladbroke Grove, from where it took me something like an hour to make it back, and that cost me the opportunity to visit a host of nearby stores. Truly the Roots backpack was turning out to be one of the worst decisions I ever made.

The walk up Lugdate Hill towards St. Paul's Cathedral is always beautiful, as is the cathedral itself.

A cluster in the vicinity of Ludgate Circus, and then I headed over to the National Portrait Gallery. After seeing an establishment named "Eat." all over town, curiosity finally took over and I sprang for what I was sure was a higher price for soup, cauliflower and potato for 2 pounds 30. Never had it before, so I've no idea if it was good or bad, but it hit the spot.

From high culture to low. From the gallery I walked to the Leicester Square station. On the way I popped into the big Starbucks there, to refresh my memory about how big it is. The supervisor back at Chancery Lane had suggested it is one of the biggest, and that seems true, but Oxford (Cornmarket) is much bigger. I thought about saying hi to the manager, if he was the same one as back in May '03, but after my experienc in Denver I decided against it. Not too far down was a sex shop, the first such I'd seen this trip, and I popped in to have a look. The first thing I noticed was a sign that said 1/2 exchange, and I immediately assumed it was talking about American currency, as the exchange rate is close to 50%. But I got a puzzled look from the cashier when I asked--turned out the sign was talking about exchanging used magazines for one half their value. Oh. As near as I could remember I'd not run into a shop back in the States that did that, but of course I'd only been to a few. Anyway, I glanced at the magazine rack to see what was offered, but I soon had to leave because I couldn't take the pressure.

I found the inline store in Paddington Station quickly enough, but I need directions to Paddington Central Kiosk. Unfortunately, it had closed 15 minutes earlier. Had I known where it was and rushed straight there from the train, I might have made it in time.

Final two stores of the night were Maida Vale and Queens Park, both along the Bakerloo line. Maida Vale was first, but as soon as I entered I wisely asked what time they close (7:30), and what time Queen's Park closed (7:00). I immediately rushed out and got back on the train to the Queens Park station, with only about 20 minutes to spare. Before we reached the next station the train suddenly stopped, and the announcer said something about something "refuses to leave the tracks". I asked a lady if she had heard, and she said that it was a person (I had imagined some animal). I asked if this happened often, and she said that because some trains terminated at Queens Park without explanation, some passengers became annoyed and wanted answers. Oookay.

The geography lessons borne out of my Starbucks project bore fruit again back at the National Portrait Gallery. One of the exhibits was a display of entries into a competition sponsored by Schweppe's, and most portraits contained information about both the photographer and the subject. When I read one caption stating the photographer was from Wolverhampton, I said to myself, "ha, I know where that is!" Because there's a Starbucks there. Another photo was of a family in Maida Vale. Ha! I know where that is!

Before I left I asked a barista if any of the eateries in the neighborhood were any good. After I declined Thai and Indian, she said there really wasn't much. I mentioned Italian food, and she suggested Portobello Road. On the train I continued reading Grisham, and I suddenly had an epiphany! The reason I'd been craving spaghetti all these days was right before my eyes, the book! Every few pages in The Broker there was a scene in one Italian restaurant or another, with vivid descriptions of the food and how good it was, and how satisfied the characters were after eating. So no wonder I couldn't hardly think about anything but food. Duh!

I took Bakerloo to Paddington, and then Circle (or District, I can't remember) to Notting Hill Gate. Outside, I asked a young lady about Portobello Road, and she pointed straight ahead and at the same time suggested I take the bus, #52. I dropped me off two blocks over, and I asked another lady which direction to walk. She said it was two blocks over and asked what part of Portobello Road, and I replied that I didn't know--I was just looking for Italian restaurants. She said that I should try the next block, that that was the Italian strip. She was right. That one block of Kensingto Park Road had three places, Mediterraeno, Luna Rossa, and Osteria Basilico. I looked at each of the menus at least twice, and I finally decided to try something new, spaghetti ala vongole (clams). It never occurred to me that the place might be busy, but in fact reservations were required. After some thought, the hostess was able to offer me a small table in a corner, but until for about 40 minutes, until 8:45.

While I waited for my food the waitress came by and put a small bowl on the table filled with water. I immediately had my suspicions, and I asked her to confirm. Yep, as I had feared, the clams would be served intact, and I would have to extract the meat myself (I've never had clams). Turned out not to be as much of a challenge as I thought, as the clams were already open and the meat came out quite easily. In fact in some cases it had already fallen out of the shell and I thought I'd gotten wack clams.

The meal was excellent, and worth the price, which was more expensive that I had expected because an automatic "company service charge" of 20% was added, making the total 11 pounds 81. Over $20, but damn that was a good meal.

Coldplay could be heard during most of my meal, but at the end I detected "Beautiful Day" beneath the chatter, and then "Stuck in a Moment". While I waited for my check, I played a mental game and ran through the list of tracks on the CD. "Elevation" would be next, the original version, not the version from that sucky Tomb Raider movie (or was it the sequel), and then "Walk On". Track 5 escaped me, but "In a Little While" and "Wild Honey" came quickly. I could hear the base and the reference to Jesus from track 8, but I couldn't remember the name. And I knew track 9 quite well--it was one of my favorites on the disc--though I had always been confused about the name ("When I Look at the World"?). Can't forget 10, "New York", but then I drew a blank. I was sure there was an 11th track, but I had no idea. Then I remembered the 5th, "Kite", I think. Still, I was rather pleased with myself, and also disappointed that the days of that particular little party trick were passing, because I no longer purchased CDs, but rather downloaded individual tracks from iTunes. Sometimes I downloaded an entire album, sure, but the track numbers are not displayed in the iTunes window. I suppose I'll have to find other ways to entertain guests now. Pouring alcohol (isopropyl, not drinking) into my hand and lighting it on fire always seemed to work--maybe I'll go back to that.

Aw, bummers!!! At the tube station I saw a poster for Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol. I might have considered spending the money to experience theatre in the UK, and to see Stewart, but the show opened on Tuesday the 6th, and I expected all the initial shows to be sold out.

Interesting--this "oxfam" company also has a bookstore.

Outside the Earl's Court station on my way back to Hostel 149 I saw an ambulance pass by, and I wondered--how many people jump in front of ambulances every year in order to experience the exquisite irony of being hit by one.

For all the cute girls staying at the Globetrotter, not a one I saw was as attractive as Marlene the Swede. She was taking care of business in the office, where the Dutch/Finish attendant was clearly engrossed with her. She was eager to chat, and after going up to the room to hang my clothes to air out I rushed back down, but Marlene was gone. I remained, and I spent too much time in the office chatting with the attendant and the Californian about London, English geography, politics, American government, the travesty that is George Bush's reelection. Not enough time typing and labeling my photos, and my a quarter past eleven I was not even close to finished and needed to go to bed.

A mix-up here and there was to be expected at one of the least expensive hostels in town. While I sat in the office not getting enough work done, an Asian girl with glasses and a short, clipped manner of speaking came downstairs and complained puzzledly that there did not appear to be an empty, or at least clean, bunk. She mentioned something about "towels hanging", but I had only one towel hanging on my bed, so I dismissed the thought. Sure enough, when I returned to the room I found that my things had been moved off to the floor. The girl, Yin-Yin, from Singapore, explained that she thought the bed was empty, that the things on it belong to the person in the top bunk. She went downstairs to get an attendant who would sort it out, and I was left to wonder how she could possibly think the bed empty, when I had left it cover with the suckpack, several items of clothing, a charger, a bag with dirty socks and briefs, and pairs of socks hanging. It turned out okay. The attendant changed the sheets again, on the top bunk, and Yin-Yin agreed to take it when I proclaimed I'd have to get up many times during the night.

December 6

I felt Yin-Yin coming down from the top bunk and saw that it was light out, but I had this pressure in my head and could not make myself get up. When I finally did get showered and down to the kitchen, it was 9:00 AM and I had to wait for a cup to be washed, all having been used up by a family of Spaniards. The older girls next to me were also Spanish, but Basque, and they spoke a language that had many sounds I did not recognize. The Spanish ladies speaking Catalan behind me remained and chatted for a while, and I of course got the gist of what they were saying, but they used many expressions and words I did not recognize.

I decided to walk towards Brompton Road to make absolutely certain there was no Starbucks there. On the way I passed Costa Coffee, and I decided it was time to finally give it a try. I had been waiting for the right moment, which would be first thing in the morning before Starbucks had touched my taste buds. But I did not see filter coffee on the menu, and that's what I wanted to taste. I thought I remembered having seen it during my last trip to London, so I asked a barista. She did not answer my question, but instead said they had Americano. I asked the other barista to confirm, specifically emphasizing filter coffee. After some repetition I finally got a barista to admit they didn't have it, and I left.

I still didn't see the Starbucks anywhere near Knightsbridge Green, but I wanted to make triply sure, so I went back into the Harrod's and asked for the manager. The district manager happened to be there, and I took another shot of the store while it was free of customers. The DM confirmed that the store did not exist, that it had been planned, but she did not know if or when it would open.

Discrepancy resolved, I headed straight into the City to knock off the five remaining stores. That went smoothly, and I was pleased to have finally conquered the mighty City. That left Paddington Central Kiosk and Camden as the only other stores that appeared to be in what I consider central London, at leat the part north of the river. I headed to Camden because it was closest to the Old City station. I found the Parkway store right away, and there I spent more time than at most stores, answering a litany of questions from a barista and a customer. I finally pulled myself away and followed their directions to get to the unplotted Lock Keepers Cottage store, which turned out to be one of the most amazing stores I'd seen in all the world.

I took some photographs of Camden High Street, and as I did so I was approached by a young bloke in freaky glasses who very plainly asked for some money so he and his mate could get drunk over Christmas. Offered to let me photograph the two in exchange. I politely declined.

Two new stores in Canary Wharf, and as soon as I approached Jubilee Place I had a feeling the shopping centre representative pacing in the vicinity of the store was going to say something about the photo. I tried to shoot from the other angle, out of her, site, but the photo was rubbish, so I finally had to shoot from an angle that placed me right in her line of sight. Perhaps because she's European, and more polite, she waited until I was finishing instead of yelling out to me like an American security guard would. When I explained what I was doing, she revealed that I had caught her attention because my camera looks professional. Once I said the one photo was all I needed she backed off, and I was able to go about my business.

At the Churchill Place store I received a few suggestions from the manager about the best way to the two stores I saw nearby, one in Greenwich and one in Blackheath. I wasn't sure if I could get to Blackheath without paying extra, so when I got back to the tube station I asked an attendant who suggested I could take the DLR to Lewisham and from there take a bus for free. After reviewing the map of the DLR line again I noticed a Greenwich station that I had failed to see before, and I got on that train. I saved myself some time by looking up from my book just in time to see a station named Cutty Sark, which happened to be the name of the Greenwich store. It was just outside the station, and the baristas were very helpful. First they indicated the presence of another store in Greenwich, in a Sainsbury's, and told me how to get there. And then from there how to get to Blackheath. As usual, once on the bus I depended on the kindness of strangers to indicate to me where to get off, and after some time I got where I needed to go.

Hmmm... Yeo Valley yogurt. Hmmm.

After Blackheath, my final task of the night was to find the Tesco that I had heard mentioned in Lewisham. I hopped on the bus station near the Starbucks, and after riding for a bit I asked the driver if I could see the Tesco from the bus, but he had never heard of it. I saw a sign that said Lewisham Centre, so I got up and asked the first person I saw. He did not seem to speak very much English but pointed me in one direction. After walking a while I asked another gentleman, and he replied that he didn't know, but then changed his mind and said it was in the other direction. I walked a while and asked yet a third man, younger, and after he gave me the directions he asked for 70 pence. I had ignored all such requests up to that point, but I felt bad since the guy had helped me and all, so I gave him 60. Down at the roundabout I still could not see the Tesco, so I asked a four man who said it was past the bridge. Finally I found the Tesco and got my precious 2 pounds 97 back.

I took the DLR all the way to Bank station, so I could switch to the Central line. Before I exited the platform I stopped to pack up my laptop, when some excitement broke out. I heard a man shouting something, and then, much louder, "GET YOUR FOOT OUT OF THAT DOOR". I looked the other way, and there was a man with his foot inside the carriage, its doors having closed. I got the sense he was expecting the doors to open up again so he could get in, but the London Transport personnel wasn't having any of that any walked towards him quickly. I missed what happened next, but next thing I knew the man was walking away looking foolish while the attendant scolded him.

I had eaten the banana on the train, and with no rubbish containers anywhere in site on the platform, I had the peel in my pocket. On the way up to the exit I saw a girl and her boyfriend on the down escalator, and I had the sudden urge to throw the peel at the girl just to see if her boyfriend would chase me. He would have had to run up the down escalator, while I ran up the up escalator, and so he never would have caught me.

It was early, and I wasn't feeling too tired, so I decided to just walk around Leicester Square and Soho. On Cranbourn Street I saw a sign for fish and chips, at the Eden Rock Cafe, and decided I could spend the 3 pounds 90, and then another 70 pence for a soda. But once I finished my meal the waiter/host said the bill was 9 pounds!!! What??? The price was different, and he never told me, nor had I seen a sign indicating as much. I felt like I had been wrong at gunpoint. I was livid. I was more pissed than I had been in my entire trip, even more than Roots and the fucking whore from Supercuts. I left wanting to firebomb the place. I hoped that if London got hit by rioting like France, that Eden Rock would be the first to go.

I started walking around nearby Chinatown. In an open doorway I saw a sign that read "Models 1st Floor", "Models 2nd Floor", and I first assumed that "models" was referring to apartments for rent. I passed a second doorway with two signs that said models, but the signs were on colored paper with flowery writing, and I began to have my doubts. Then I passed a third sign that read "MODLES", and I was sure that they weren't talking about no apartments. So I went in and cautiously walked upstairs, and when I saw signs that read "Beautiful Black Busty Model" and another with the name "Alinna", I began to get the picture, though I was unsure of the details. I rang a doorbell, and and older lady opening the door and said "busy" and then, as in response to my blank stare, "do you want to wait". I saw "I'm visiting, I don't..." and she cut me off and said 20 pounds. Again a blank stare. "For sex," she said quickly. "Sex and oral", 25. "What if I don't want sex?" I asked. "Still 20 pounds. 20 pounds is the minimum." 20 pounds for the house, I asked? "For the girl," she replied. "2 pound tip for the house." Seemed awful cheap to me, and I wondered what the catch was.

I tried a different staircase. Again, and older lady opened the door and said "Busy. Do you want to wait?" I went through roughly the same routine and got the same details. I left wondering why it was always an old lady and always busy. I reached the end of the street and walked around more of Chinatown and then found another alley, Newport something (either Place, or Court, or Street). I almost missed it, because the paper sign was very discreet next to the big sign for the sex shop. I walked up and this time saw a young man, 30-ish maybe, looking at the door. He seemed to be wearing dress slacks and shirt and a long black overcoat. "Are you waiting," I asked, and he just nodded and mumbled something, with maybe just a hint of embarassment in his face. I saw another sign upstairs and walked up, and the door behind me opened--again and old lady, and again she said "busy". I began to get suspicous. There was a printed sign (looked professional) on the wall said "we are not responsible for money paid in these stairs", and that didn't easy my suspicions any. But after knocking (no doorbell this) on the blue door at the top of the stairs an actual girl opened the door, in lingerie. Eastern European accent, too much makeup. Unlike the old ladies, this one invited me in, and I asked for an explanation. "You want to know the prices?" she asked. "Um... sure." I replied. Same routine, with the addition that "sex with positions" was 30. No idea what that was, and she didn't seem to understand that I didn't understand. "What if I don't want sex?" I asked. This made her smile. I suspect she was imagined all sorts of weird requests as she said "so what do you want" with curiosity in her voice. I left, and as I approached the 1st door downstairs there was a man in front older, 50ish maybe, business suit, tan overcoat, glasses. A different old lady than the one who had answered for the young man said "busy". The door closed. I told the man, "the girl upstairs isn't busy". With a definitely looked He asked "is she okay? how does she look?" I answered "She's very pretty." and walked on, wondering if I would get noticed by someone if I continued to knock on these doors without buying. I suspect the whole conspiracy theme of the Grisham novel contributed to my paranoia.

I had to take a break to get all the details down, especially about that fucking fuck at Eden, but it was too cold for me to sit out on the sidewalk and write. And I had to use the restroom too--that was part of the reason I had gone for the fish and chips in the first place. I couldn't find a place, so I finally just went down into the subway station to write, but it was still cold. As for the restroom, I finally just had to find an alley. I'd been told by several Brits that it was okay to just go into a pub and use the restroom, but doing that bothered me.

I kept walking and spotted a couple more doorways, with some minor variations. In one, the prices (identical) were listed up on the wall of the room. And the girl suggested the possibility of taking American currency, though she didn't know the exchange rate. Another girl, also eastern European, at the next place, and as I walked away I began to suspect that the setup of identical prices, ethnicity, and an old lady in the room could not be a coincidence. I suspected the places were run by organized crime, and that the girls might be imported slaves. But at the next couple of places one girl was British, and the other was from Venezuela (pretty far to go to kidnap girls, I think). And when I mentioned my suspicions to an attendant, older female, not old, but heavy, she seemed to think the explanation was simple--market forces. But when the Venezuelan girl came out of the room I asked if she spoke Spanish. She said yes, of course, but that she wasn't allowed to speak it because the other lady couldn't understand. Now that smacked of some type of coercive situation.

I tired of the research and walked around for other things of interest. After turning on this street and that, I walked down the darkest alley I had seen in otherwise well-lit Westminster (Chinatown/Soho). When I got to the end, I realized it was a dead-end, and I said "uh-oh, not good". My whole plan for getting away from the ninjas that The Cabal might send to assassinate me is predicated on being able to run faster than the wind, but this ability would be useless when faced with a high brick wall on all sides.

I passed bar/club called Thirst, and a rep out front gave me a flyer advertising happy hour all night, free admission until 11:00. 2.25 was a reasonable price for a drink in London, I suppose, but after I had been robbed at the fish place, I only had 5 quid and 8 pence in my pocket, and I wasn't about to go into a club/bar with just that. I figured I need at least enough to buy a drink for myself and one other. So I walked around a bit trying to spot a currency exchange booth, all the while wondering should pay a higher exchange rate that I didn't want to pay to buy drinks that I didn't want to buy in the hopes of both relieving my boredom (which was likely) and catching the eye of a lady (unlikely). After a few minutes of wandering I was distracted by possible intrigue. A smartly-dressed girl carrying a box walked by quickly following by a pair of heavyset blokes, sloppily dressed. I overheard the one closest to her say what sounded like "...can we at least walk you home." I took from this that the girl did not want their company, which would explain why she kept walking faster and faster. In case intrigue might turn into full-blown excitement, I followed, and I was surprised at how hard it was to keep up, given that I'm usually the fast one.

After turning a few corners, I was distracted yet again, this time by a cinema marquee reading, among other titles, "Gross Pointe Blank". I stopped straightaway, intrigued by the possibility of catching a classic film. I'd already seeking that particular movie, but I looked around for the box office (it was off to side, next to a restaurant) for more details. I saw something about a 50-quid film festival. I was curious if the cost was 50 quid, which would be really high. But no, it was a festival of films produced for 50-quid. I think. I don't see how you can make a movie for a 100 bucks, but I guess anything's possible.

The cinema was closed, so I went back to thinking about the bar, and then I realized something. Not all the trains run all night. Maybe none of them do. My feet were already smarting something awful, and my shoulders hurt from the weight of the computer and camera. So if I killed a few hours at a bar, I might find myself in the position of having to walk a long, long distance, because no way would I pay for a cab. I'd walk across all of London rather than pay for a cab unless I was just in the greatest of hurries. So anyway, I decided that I'd wandered enough and headed back to the station.

Back at the hostel, the owner was once again hogging the Internet connection for his Xbox 360, but I was tired anyway and figured my web update could wait, and just went up to bed.

December 7

Despite the pressure in my forehead, from not having gotten enough water throughout the night, I forced myself up earlier than all previous mornings so that I could squeeze in one or two more stores. The kitchen was already full, with a line to toast the bread. I debated whether it was worth spending any of my remaining 10 pounds 8 pence on breakfast, when I had another epiphany. I can eat the bread cold! And so I did. Same great calories, if not the taste.

Because my Oyster Card was only loaded up for 7 days, I knew my final day in London would involve some logistical planning, to figure out how many stores I could visit and still get to Heathrow on time while spending the least amount of money and arriving at Heathrow with as little leftover British currency as possible. My plans went agley straightaway when I exited at Waterloo instead of changing to the Jubilee line to London Bridge. I didn't want to waste the time making the long walk, so I had to go back to the station and figure out how much the trips were going to cost me. After some back and forth with the attendant at the ticket window, a one-day travel card for zones 1-6 seemed to be my best option. I tried to pay with the 5-pound note given to me as my key deposit, but the machine would not take it. The attendant said it was an old note that he could not accept, that I would have to take it to a bank.

I was rather pissed off at the hostel, but I hadn't yet reached the boiling point. No, that happened when I reached London Bridge and went into a NatWest branch down the street. I waited in line, and a bank representative asked if she could help. I explained I just wanted to exchange the bill, and she said they wouldn't do it, that I would have to take to the Bank of England. I was really pissed then. More pissed even than at the Eden Rock Cafe. I was seething. Hostel 149 was immediately added to my list of "fuck yous". Fuck Roots. Fuck Supercuts. Fuck the Eden Rock Cafe. And now fuck Hostel 149!

The logical next move was go ahead and visit the Shad Thames store, where I also made inquiries about a mystery listing on the Starbucks web site for "South Bank - Shell Centre". The manager said there was no store at the Shell Centre, and a Starbucks repairman who happened to be the store agreed. So I decided to go ahead and move the listing to my phantom stores database and forget about it until someone said otherwise.

My next task was to make a choice, and I had two factors to consider. First was which detour would be quickest, to the Bank of England or back to the hostel. The second was which was the more certain option--there was a possibility that I had been given incorrect information at NatWest, but there was also a possibility that the girl working the desk at Hostel 149 would not believe me, would not want to cooperate, or have ended her shift.

I decided to go with the Bank of England, since it was supposedly right outside of Bank Station, only one stop away from London Bridge. When I reached the street I was confused. The tube map read "Bank", the announcer said "Bank", but when the sign overhead read "Monument". How had that happened? I had to ask multiple people to direct me to Bank Station, and then several more people before I finally found the bank itself. But I got my money (at the cost of who knows how many stores).

My exceptional displeasure affected my ability to enjoy the view from the South Bank, always spectacular. But I did take notice of an exhibit of photos from across the planet taken from the air.

My longest train ride of the trip, from Bank all the way to Kew Gardens, a station I'd never seen before. As I photographed the Starbucks I man sitting in front appeared not to want to be photographed. He shouted something unintelligible, but he did not make a further issue of it and just covered his face when I raised the camera again after waiting for passers-by to clear my frame. After grabbing a scone from the Kew Greenhouse a few doors down (because I was about an hour too late for a proper English breakfast), I saw the man leaving, and I reshot the store and used the photo without him, in case he was in witness protection or something like that.

Back at the station I noticed the logo on the map and wall was for a company called "Silverlink Metro", not London Transport. I had assume the entire subway system was run by the same company, not several like in Japan.

Next came two stores in Richmond, and at the second I made inquiries about the best way to reach Heathrow, and whether I could visit Twickenham along the way. I received no fewer than 3 or four options, plus some additional ones from customers outside. The first bus mentioned just happened to arrive before I had a chance to photograph the store. I quickly pulled out my camera and started snapping shots. I then tried to get on, but the drive had already pulled away. So I hopped on the next bus, and as it pulled away I shot frantically, to see if I could get a good photograph from that angle. Once I finished shooting I realized I did not have my backpack. I ran to the front and bumped into a lady who was boarding as I frantically asked the driver and other customers if I had had two backpacks when boarding. A lady at the back of the bus said she had seen one at the stop, and I immediately jumped off and started sprinting. Fortunately, we had not traveled that far, and my bag was still there. My obvious fear was that it would be taken for a bomb and seized by police. I jumped on the next bus, sat down, and realized I had worked up a sweat, which I had been trying to avoid, so as to preserve the cleanliness from the morning's shower, during which I had scrubbed extra long and hard.

It was 2:29, and I figured if I reached Heathrow by 3:00 I'd have nearly three hours to grumble about how I was so close to the Hampton store but missed it. But what was I to do? Then, at a roundabout, I spotted a Sainsbury's and made a quick guess. I quickly asked the lady next to me where we were, and she mentioned Hampton yadda yadda, and that was good enough for me. I hopped out and looked around, to puzzled looks from a couple of passengers who knew I was headed to Heathrow (everybody on the bus did). I asked a lady with a baby carriage if that was the Hampton Sainsbury's, and if it had a Starbucks.

There was a bus stop right next to the Sainsbury's, and there soon arrived #285 to Heathrow. The driver said the bus did not go directly to the terminal, but to the bus station, and that it was a short walk. But the bus also stopped at Hatton Cross, and when I saw the station I figured I'd take advantage of my travel to take the tube in, as I already knew exactly where it would drop me off.

Wow. Sometimes I amaze even myself with the shit I manage to pull off. By 3:45 I was checked into my American flight that departed from Terminal 3. I entered the security line, and then I figured that, since I had time, why not give it a shot. So I exited the line, went back to the BAA represenative at the desk, and asked to speak to a supervisor. After about 5 minutes one showed up, and I explained that I was trying to visit every Starbucks in the world, and that there is one in Terminal 4 Airside, and that I could be costly for me to arrange a flight on British Airways, Qantas, KLM/Royal Dutch, or Air Malta just for the purpose of visiting that location. I did not have my camera visible, nor did I mention it. The supervisor explained that it would be rather simple. All I needed to do was to clear security there at Terminal 3 and then find the transfer point to Terminal 4, which would deliver me airside. Wow. It hadn't even occurred to me. And to further speed me along, the supervisor had another representative escort me to the Fast Track area so I could get past security more quickly.

It took me a while to find the transfer point, and thankfully I was not questioned by any of the personnel I asked. But once I got to Terminal 4, I actually had to pass through another security check point, but I was not asked for my boarding pass. I still couldn't figure out where the shops were, and when I asked a BAA representative at a desk, that might have blown it for me, because he asked if I had a boarding pass. I did not answer but rather quickly asked where the shops were, and he immediately pointed upstairs and I turned and rushed to the escalator. I was clear!

As I returned to the transfer point with my coffee, I thought to myself that this whole thing was like a big video game, of the role-playing variety, in which the objective is to solve a series of puzzles. Something else that occurred to me was the similarity between getting past security at an airport and the "social engineering" that was described in The Cuckoo's Egg, the book about legendary hacker Kevin Mitnick.

Back at Terminal 3, I was asked for my boarding pass, and the agent scanned it with some device. It seemed I had gotten really lucky back at Terminal 4.

In an odd coincidence, I once again had seat 26C, and again most of the row to myself. In fact, when I mentioned to the AA agent at the ticket counter that I had chosen Wednesday in the hopes that the plane would not be full because I am uncomfortable on flights, she blocked off the two seats next to me. Now that's customer service, and in sharp contrast to that raging asshole at the Eden Rock Cafe who stole my 4 pounds 40.

6 pounds 67 left over, and I decided there was no good reason to pay the fee to exchange it, when I would surely be back in England within a year or two. As long as they didn't switch to the euro in that time, I'd be able to make use of the money, and it might even be worth slightly more than the dollars would be. Of course, I was counting on being able to find a job within two months, so I would not run out of money and regret not having a few extra bucks. I did exchange the bill for coins, figuring they would be less likely to be lost.

With no bag to recover, I again beat everybody to passport control and customs and was out at the shuttle stop in a jiffy, well before 9:00 PM. And whoever thought to build a glass enclosure at the stop is a genius, because the temperature was around 26 degrees! Cold, cold, cold! I would have been truly pissed if I had to stand in the cold, because the Economy Lot bus took forever, like nearly 30 minutes to arrive. When it did, I learned that there are no fewer than 6 economy lots, and I didn't know which one. Thankfully, the bus driver knew what question to ask, whether the one I used had a gate with arms that went up when I took a ticket. Don't know what the other ones looks like, but he dropped me off at the right one.

I hurriedly called Newton Corner to find out what time they closed. Rut-roh... no answer. So I called a nearby store... and learned that Newton Corner still had not opened. Curse their bones! But Pheasant Lane Mall closed at 10:00--if I had left immediately I could have made it. There was still a chance, but it took me a good 15 minutes to get on I-93, by which time it was hopeless. Didn't matter than much anyway, as I would be killing time until my Friday interviews anyway.

I drove up to I-495 and then as far as Lowell, where I pulled off the highway and into a neighborhood. In the wee hours I got a move on and drove into Nashua. I parked next to a camper in a Shaw's plaza on Daniel Webster Hwy, near where I thought the Pheasant Lane is.

December 8

Around 7:00 I decided to get some food from Shaw's while the car warmed up. But I could not find my spare key, so I could leave the car running. I tore the car apart for about 30 minutes to no avail. Finally I decided that I had gotten so worked up that I wasn't going to get back to sleep, so I might as well get a move on. The mall hadn't opened yet, so I headed to the Nashua Mall Power Center instead.

Aahhhhhh... House Blend. After eight days of almost nothing but Fair Trade and Christmas Blend, neither of which are my favs, I finally got to enjoy the taste of House Blend. And at the mall, some cake they were sampling, and it was turning out to be decent morning despite my lack of sleep.

Great. Thought I'd take a quick little 5-minute detour off 495 to see if the Westford store had opened (even though there was no answer on the phone). As luck would have, there was construction at that very exit, and I had to sit and wait in a long line of cars. Thankfully the trip back to the freeway was quicker, and I settled in to continue the long (70-mile) drive to North Attleboro. At the mall, the manager recognized me from a visit to a faraway store in Washington state, and that made it a three-for-three morning.

While at the mall I got a call from the producer at Channel 11 in NYC and firmed up the plans for filming a news segment.

From North Attleboro I changed directions yet again and headed 90 miles northwest, only to find that... SON OF A BITCH!!! Westfield was delayed too. That was a serious detour, and a waste of ducats I can scarcely afford!!! The sign on the door said they wouldn't open until 5:00 the next morning. Hmm... what an unfortunate concidence. It seemed that the Cabal had struck again. The must have been monitoring my movements and knew that I would fly in on Wednesday night and need to visit the store on Thursday so I could move on. To schedule the opening for Friday was a masterful stroke, but there was more. Westfield is only 150 miles from Manhattan, which means I could easily visit the store at 5:00 AM and still make my 10:00 AM shoot... were it not for the storm. Yes, the storm. The radio had been announcing all morning that snow and ice were coming, probably after midnight. After an experience during which it took me 8 hours to drive 120 miles, I knew it was entirely possible that 5 hours wouldn't be long enough to drive the 150 miles if the snow was really bad. Was the Cabal able to alter the weather too, I wondered.

I deferred my decision and headed down to Hartford so I could check out the Surrealist exhibit at the Wadsworth Antheneum. On the way I glance at the Valley Advocate, which covered Springfield, to see if it had movie listings for Hartford too. Nope, but it did have an ad for a strip club in Hartford and nearby Vernon, Kahoots. Just in case I ended up with time to kill I gave them a call and learned lap dances were $30!!! What??? That's retarded. That's wack, yo! What fool would pay 30 freakin dollars for a lap dance? No way, man.

I also saw an ad for Billy Joel in concert. I had heard about it but didn't know any details. When I saw him in Vegas, that was supposed to be his final tour. But if I had the chance to see him again, I'd jump at it.

At first it looked like I might not be able to go into the museum after all because I couldn't find parking. I stopped and asked a police officer who was writing a parking ticket if there was any parking anywhere nearby during the rush hour. He indicated there might be some on Main Street. "Heading inbound, away from the rush hour." I said. He got this look of revelation on his face and said "Hey, I never thought of it like that." He also commented that most people don't realize why they can't park on certain streets at certain times of the day--that they just get upset and complain about the ticket.

I did find parking on Main. I only put a little over an hour of time in the meter, figuring that was about all the patience I had for art. But after an hour, there were still many fascinating works to see, including the Picassos and the Pollocks, and so I had to go back and put enough in the meter to last until 5:00, when the museum closed.

After the museum I gave a couple of Scrabble buddies a call, and I headed over to the Atlanta Bread Company in Newington to meet them. I had enough energy for three games, and in the time I was there I made my decision--no Westfield. I left about 9:00 and found an industrial area just off the highway, US-5.

When I woke up again it was past 2:00 AM, I thought, uh-oh. But it wasn't snowing. And there was not a hint of snow as I drove, and I grumbled about how I could have gotten that Starbucks. Just past Bridgeport it started coming down, but only small flakes. I stopped at a rest area about 40 miles from Manhattan. Each time I woke up there was more snow on the ground, but traffic on the highway was still moving.

December 9

I was on some highway driving behind a vehicle that resembled a dump truck, but with the "bin" (is that the right term?) in a dull blue and green, like if it were made of plastic. Suddenly the wind picked up the lid (which had materialized somehow) and blew back wards it so that it covered my car. I was in a panic, unable to see. I franticly struggled to get free as the lid grew a tangle of thick cables. I finally got clear to realize I was not on the truck, with my car somehow following behind it. I jumped onto the grill of the truck so I could climb to the back and get into my car. I saw onlookers, and I worried that they would think me a terrorist. Finally it became apparent that the truck was passing through a more congested area (with pedestrians on either side) and that my car was also slowing down. Then I woke up.

I turned the car on and saw that it was 7:09. My target time to start driving the 44 miles to Midtown Manhattan was 8:00, so I decided to needed to set my alarm and then take half a yellow pill before going back. I also turned the heat on, not so much to keep me warm as to help keep the windshield free of snow. I did manage to drift off into a half-sleep state, during which I did something very strange, something that I had never happened before. I was asleep but at the same time aware that I was gripping the middle finger of my right hand with my left. I suddenly shifted from half-sleep to wakefulness, and at the same time I pulled that middle finger sharply, so sharply that it hurt, and my immediate fear was that if I had pulled any harder I would have broken it. So very strange.

The snow was heavy, but not unbearable, and I was able to drive 40 MPH until Stamford, where traffic slowed to under 20. I worried a bit, but it soon cleared, and speeds picked up to between 40 and 50 MPH. By 9:00 I was in Manhattan and called the producer. But by the time I made by way towards 2nd & 42nd and stopped for a bagel sandwich at a place called Bakers Dozen, it was almost 9:30. And by the time I realized I would not be able to park nearby at any time and found a meter all the way down 2nd Avenue at 33rd Street, it was almost 10:00. Wouldn't have mattered if I had arrived earlier, because parking was not allowed until 10:00 anyway.

Channel 11 had gotten permission from the Waldorf-Astoria to shoot inside, but there remained one more detail--was it a licensed store? I did not have a phone number as of the last time I updated my database, and during a physical visit to the store in November a Waldorf-Astoria representative had not been able to tell me one way or the other. But the producer had a number, and when I called it and the person who answered said "something something beverage service", I pretty much knew it was licensed. But I still walked him through the paces until he said "yes, we are a licensed store."

So it was back to the originally planned stores in the vicinity of 42nd and 3rd. As I had feared, just like with the Inside Edition shoot, the manager at the first store had not heard we were coming. I told the reporter straight up that I did not want to be asked to leave or be threatened with the police, and so she spent a good 15-30 minutes on the phone while we waited. Finally we got the okay, and by the time we finished shooting two things had happened. First, my right hand had frozen from standing outside answering questions holding a cup of coffee. Second, the time on my parking meter, 10 blocks away, had expired. To speed things along, the producer offered to drive down there and put money in the meter. My car was on the very first parking meter southbound on 2nd Avenue from 42nd Street, and with Texas plates it was easy for her to spot. Meanwhile, the photographer and I walked a couple of blocks to another store and repeated the exercise with no troubles. At the third store a partner or manager was standing outside and became alarmed and made a phone call, but the situation was cleared up much more quickly. Finally we did a couple of teasers for the segment, and I was able to limp away on a right foot that had become numb because I had made the mistake of stepping wrong and getting it wet with the temperature hovering around freezing.

During the walk from one store to another, I had a thought. I didn't really expect to get into a discussion of Surrealism with the photographer, but since he was the only one around, I asked him if he knew anything. Then I thought out loud that there was something surreal about my whole project. Not just the visiting of the Starbucks, but the repetition, the media attention, and the historial recreations I kept doing for news segments. I'm not sure myself if that makes any sense--I'll need to research Surrealism some more.

I rushed off to Douglaston, and on the way I kept thinking about the numbers and trying to decide if I could do Staten Island before heading to MSNBC's studio in Secaucus to do Your World With Tucker Carlson. Good thing I didn't try, because by the time I crossed Manhattan and got into Jersey, I barely had time to stop for a daytime photo of the Secaucus store before arriving at MSNBC at 4:30, the tail end of the 4:15-4:30 range I'd been given. At the security gate the guard thought I was a photographer, not a guest, and after we cleared up that confusion their was another mix-up, because someone (perhaps a unwitting intern) had given security my birth name. Bad, bad, bad. But other than that the taping went well, and I found Tucker to be very entertaining, among the top interviewers I had dealt with.

December 10

I awoke at 6:48. 10 hours was not enough catch me up, but my still felt it was later in the day, and I felt find to get an early start and into the two malls before the crowded arrived. From the NJ Turnpike I too the GSP to exit 140 and then 82 west, where I spotted the Bagel Stop Spot . While I paid, the man next to me said something that sounded like "Portuguese roll". I scanned the menu, but saw no words that even resembled that, so I just chalked it up to his thick Jersey accent.

I stood in front of some shop trying to see if there was a possibility of a cool shot through the glass on the staircase when a mall employee came up the stairs with her Starbucks cup and walked in front of the door of the shop. She looked at me, hesitated, then asked if I was going down the stairs. I said no, and then she asked if I could step away from the door while she opened it. As a security measure. Fucking bitch. I was sure that if I had been white, or female, or older, that she would not have even thought to say anything.

On the way into Staten Island the topic on Studio 360 was Andy Warhol. One of the interviewees stated that people don't go to museums (MOMA) to see the art, but rather to shop. I'm sure she wasn't being completely serious, but by coincidence I was wondering whether I should take my rare free day to visit MOMA. If I went, it would be for the art. And my trip to the Wadsworth Antheneum--for the art.

At the Staten Island Mall, the look and sound (accent) of the people could not have been more different than those back at the Short Hills.

Aw, goddamn it. Brokeback Mountain is the movie I most want to see, but it's only playing in NYC around here, not Philly. I'd pay the extra buck admission, but I'd also have to find a parking meter that allows two hours, and I'd have to pay at least $2, maybe as much as $3. Not worth it. But it's gay cowboys!!! After doing some googling, it appeared that the movie would not go into wide release until January, so I decided to spring for the extra cash. An added benefit was an opportunity to stop at the Creperie on Ludlow. Hmm... crepes!

I got lucky and found free parking, but my whole choice of the Loews on 3rd Ave was unlucky. I'd only once before been to the theater, other than to get cash from the BofA ATM, and I was surprised to learn that none of the auditoriums had stadium seating. I guess it wasn't crowded the first time I went, but this time the 2:00 PM show was packed, and when I finally found a seat I discovered the person in front was very tall with a big ol' round head. I was pretty miffed, because for $10.75 I figured the place could offer stadium seating. But I had to just wait for the 2:40 show and hope for the best. After looking around, I learned the back two rows were raised slightly, and this made a good difference and I was able to enjoy the show.

Curses! I left my new black undershirt in the auditorium, leaving me with just the grey and the 3-5-year-old faded black one.

I stopped in my usual central Jersey Latin restaurant for the bargain meal of rice, beans, and tostones for $5.50, and then I decided to save on the toll by taking US-1 down into Philly.

December 11

Shortly before 6:00 AM it seemed that the 11 hours had been enough, and I couldn't go back to sleep. At that hour, the drive down US-1, new Jersey's busiest and most dangerous (I think) road was smooth as could be. I had an idea, a thought that I might be cool to take a trip from Key West to Maine strictly along US-1, but to do all the driving between, say, midnight and 6:00 AM to avoid the hassle of the traffic, and then sleeping in motels along the way during the day. Wouldn't spend all day in the motel of course, just sleeping from 6:00 or 7:00 'til afternoon. Actually, that would be a problem, because check-in is typically not 'til 10:00, 11:00, or 12:00. Could sleep in the car, but it's hard during the day if the sun is out.

Well, that was a waste. I burned half a day at a Scrabble tournament in Philly hoping to boost my rating from 1691 back to 1700+. But with a 1-6 record, I'm probably back closer to 1600. If I had skipped Brokeback Mountain and the tournament, I could have been in North Carolina by Sunday night. Curse the bones!!!

December 12

Started driving from the northernmost service area along I-95 in Maryland just before 5:00 AM. This is the earliest I can remember starting a drive in a long, long time, and possible only because my body had, after four days, still not adjusted from London time. Traffic was smooth up until I stopped in Laurel to visit the new store. Once I returned to the interstate I was reduced to traveling slightly faster than a crawl all the way to Silver Spring, where I stopped at the old town house and picked up my VCR and Starbucks cups and grabbed a quick shower before pushing on.

Oh, the cruelty! A Liberty gas station in Fredericksburg advertises $1.69 gas, but who knows how long ago it closed.

Whoa, that was weird. Right after a real country song by Toby Keith, I heard the melody to Vertical Horizon's "Best I Ever Had" and immediately thought--wow, a station that plays real pop and real country. There are plenty of pop stations that play crossover artists like Faith Hill and Shania Twain, but those songs could hardly be classified as "country". Anyway, my amazement soon faded as I heard the twang in the singer's voice. Later googling would reveal it was Gary Allan.

Jean's Cafe, Orange, VA, biscuits mediocre

After much waffling back and forth, I finally decided to make the 140-mile detour west to visit Hollymeade and Waynesboro before heading back east to the Hampton Roads. A quick mental calculation placed the gas expense at around $10, steep for two stores when I'm not working, but I really wanted to post a "not visited" map that, after six weeks, contained the fewest dots possible.

Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. Fresh Squeezed 365 Tangerine juice from While Foods, 2.49

Last time through Newport News I had made a mental note of a Carribean restaurant and a Filipino restaurant along US-60. So this time I pulled off the highway early and found the strip mall again. The Carribean place was closed on Mondays (just my luck), but on the other hand I had never tried Filipino cuisine before. After getting over my disappointment that they did not prepare the plaintains green as I like them, I went for the adobo. In part because it's a word I knew from my Scrabble studying but had never seen in real life. The plate of chicken and rice was huge, easily enough for dinner and then lunch the next day. It wasn't bad, but there was too much of a vinegary taste permeating the chicken. I'll not be having adobo again, at least not that type (don't know if the vinegar is a necessity to adobo).

Goddamn fucking bitch! Why don't these people learn to put the phone down when trying to do three-point turnarounds or squeezing into/out of a tight parking space. It's much easier with both hands, you dumb fuck!

Pop's Diner Co. along Lynnhaven Parkway, near the Starbucks, looked interesting, but since I still had half a plate of adobo and rice, I couldn't give it try.

Now that is just wrong. An Excursion, jacked up on monster tires. Talk about a driver who doesn't give a fuck about the fact he's blocking the view of at least three cars behind him.

Frontier Justice?

It was about 100 miles from Chesapeake to Roanoke Rapids, and after passing up the first roadside table (picnic area) I started to feel really sleep. I saw no place suitable for parking until I was about 15 miles from Roanoke Rapids, another roadside table. I circled around looking for any signs prohibiting parking, and then I went to sleep.

Around 4:00 AM I heard a car, peeked out and saw lights, and quickly jumped to the front of my car and turned it on. I assumed it was a sheriff's deputy or police, but my windows were fogged, so I couldn't see the car, just its lights. He honked. I just looked at my window. He honked again. I cracked my window and said "can I help you" or "is there a problem"? He asked what I was doing? I asked if I was breaking any law, and replied "I ask the questions here." Then we began this back and forth of me asking him if I was breaking any law. Finally, when I mentioned that the Supreme Court said I was not required to give ID (unless the officer suspected a crime) the deputy (black, dark-skinned, medium height, paunchy, moustached) quickly unholstered his weapon and held it down to his side and said "you better show me ID right now." He called my ID information in, and I heard over his radio that I came back clear. He continued to ask me what I was doing, and I said I was not required to answer questions. He said he could arrest me for "resisting an officer". That sounded like bunk to me, but I wasn't sure how far to push this guy, given he had already drawn his weapon, which I felt had to be against procedure since I did not get out of the car, kept my hands visible, made no sudden movements, nor raised my voice. Furthermore, when his radio crackled with a request for clarification, the deputy said "the subject is hostile". That was clearly a lie, as I had been speaking as politely as I could, using "sir" and "officer". But it was a clear example of how police will lie, and begin the process of lying early, to establish a later motive for a shooting.

So I told him I was trying to visit every Starbucks, which caused him to give me this look of utter disbelief. I said I slept in the car to save money, and I emphasized that I looked around for no parking signs first. He said that he was "advising" me that I couldn't park there. "You've been advised," he said emphatically. I was about to move on, but first I had to shift boxes in my car so I could see through the windows. Another officer showed up. I said "Am I clear to leave now", and the first deputy said "Yeah, you go on ahead and burn up the road." As I left I heard him saw "I think he has something in the car he shouldn't have." All the while, the deputy's tone had been aggressive or condescending.

Out of immediate danger, my thoughts turned to filing a complaint. I needed to locate the sheriff's office, so I called 911. But my signal faded, and the low battery indicator came on. I fumbled around for my charger but could not find it, so I finally had to turn on some street and spend minutes tearing up the passenger seat and other compartments. I found and plugged it in and tried the call again. The system put me through to Halifax county, and I asked to be transferred to Northhampton. The dispatcher said the office was on Jefferson across from the courthouse (she didn't have an address). I drove about 5 miles I think back into town and saw the office, which looked closed. I saw a deputy leave and get into his car, and I flashed my lights at him. I asked if there was anyone inside. Nope. He asked if he could helped, and I said I wanted to file a complaint and explained the situation. The deputy said that there was some North Carolina law that required me to show ID or be charged with "obstructing and delaying". But about the other deputy's having drawn his gun, this one did not want to give an answer one way or the other, saying he didn't know the situation. Bottom line about the complaint, I would have to wait until around 8:30 when the major showed up, or 9:00 when the sheriff arrived. I also asked the deputy if there was any kind of loitering law that said you couldn't sleep in the car. He grimaced and thought about it and said he didn't know of any such law, and it looked like he was straining to find something but wasn't really sure.

On the way to and from Jackson, I realized I was low on gas. Back in the Hampton Roads, where I figured gas was more expensive, I had only added enough to get me to Roanoke Rapids. I figured I'd see cheaper gas on the way, but I did not, and in fact when I finally reached the interstate it was 10 cents more expensive still.

As I drove towards the interstate I ran through the incident in my mind, probing for details. I also tried to imagine how it would play out if I did talk to the sheriff and tried to file a complaint. I fully expected that the sheriff would not be on my side and would not be interested in pursuing any action against his deputy. I figured the only way that would happen is if I was persistent about it and/or threatened a lawsuit (which might not have any basis), and that someone from outside the community was not likely to fare well. Once I left his office, I figured the sheriff would quickly dismiss my words. For the moment though, I needed to find a safe place to sleep, and I wasn't taking any more chances and headed out to the interstate.

I also thought about whether I was really ready to push the issue and force the deputy to arrest me. Not that it would have been a good idea when the man had his weapon out. better in a calmer situation. And not during this trip, when I'm trying to make my money last for another six weeks. Still, I needed to think through the consequences, beyond the immediate inconvenience of having to bond out and then travel back to the state to appear in court. There was also the issue of applying for jobs and crossing borders. I'd been asked a couple of times when crossing into Canada if I've ever been arrested, and I have no idea how an answer of "yes" will make the border agent react.

At the Shell station in Weldon, just on the other side of I-95 from Roanoke Rapids, I made similar inquiries of a Weldon police officer and got a similar response, that in NC I'm required to show ID or be charged with "obstructing and delaying", but only if in a vehicle. Not if I'm out walking. He explained that if I did not comply, I could be arrested. I would then have to bond out (if possible) and be given a date to appear before a magistrate. I might get off with a fine, or I could contest it. He didn't know the maximum sentence. Throughout, this officer was much more diplomatic about his explanations, and we chatted a bit about the nature of dealing with police in these situations. He asked if I voted Democrat. He suggested that I avoid interactions with police in Mississippi or New Orleans (I guess the same goes for Slidell), where "let's just say, they're still some good ol' boys."

The thing of it is, I've long ago concluded, when hearing about this issue on the news, that it is in the best interest of society for people to be identified. The only reason I even hesitate to show ID is because of the officers tone, and because I'm under the impression that I'm not required to and don't want to let law enforcement get away with anything.

On the other side of the freeway was the Starbucks, and also a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Had I just driven the 13 or so miles I had to go, I could have slept all night without incident. Of course, I would have missed out on the educational experience.

Moving on to a more mundane topic, I noticed Wal-Mart had switched from the old brand of not-from-concentrate orange and tangerine juice (can't remember the name) that sold for $2.28 to a new brand, Noble "jugo de mandarina", that sells for $2.43 (32 oz). Still tastes better than the major brands, though not quite as good as the more expensive Happy Plant, Whole Foods 365, or Bolthouse Farms. I did see several varieties of Bolthouse next to the mandarin juice, but none was orange juice.

December 13

At 6:40 I decided I'd had enough of eating bacon on the train, and that it was time to put sugar in the powered milk.

I grabbed a Chick-fil-a biscuit next door to the Starbucks and went inside to finish downloading the 5th The Boondocks and see if I could get started on the 10th Veronica Mars while I wrote.

I googled "show identification" "legally required", but I could not immediately find a page that summarized the laws around the country.

While I was introducing myself to the (very cute) supervisor, a couple of state troopers entered the store for some coffee, and before they left I asked them the same thing, about whether there was a law in North Carolina requiring a person to show ID. One officer gave me slightly different information, that a person over the age of 16 was required to show ID, even if he was walking down the street. This trooper's tone was different from that of the Weldon officer--his clearly said something like "when we're out there, it's not about your rights, it's about preventing crime." Not those exact words, but that was the jist of it.

From a practical standpoint, the fact is that the system is not fair, and that the cost of proving I was in the right would be prohibitive. Still pissed that motherfucker drew his gun on me though, and I hope he goes to prison one day and gets viciously sodomized every night.

On a lighter note, while I was fishing around for my phone charger I came across the bag of dirty clothes from London. I discovered the towel was still damp, after five days in a plastic bag, and it had picked up a bit of an, shall we say, odor. I can't really explain how unpleasant the odor was, but let's just say that it's not a fragrance I would use when trying to impress a lady.

Well, by the time I finished writing it was almost 8:30, and so I figured, what the heck, let's go talk to the sheriff. To kill some more time, I went into Wal-Mart and loaded up my shopping card so I could get a 3-cent discount on gas (but still only added enough to get me a little past Raleigh, still hoping for cheaper gas farther ahead).

I had to wait a few minutes for Chief Deputy Major W.O. "Bill" Wheeler to arrive. I explained that I had had an "unpleasant" encounter with one of his deputies, and when I got to the part at which the deputy drew his weapon, Wheeler invited me back to his office and pulled out a yellow notepad. I described what happened, and he seemed to try and get down all the details. He confirmed the NC law about showing ID, but he said that the deputy had been wrong about my "resisting an officer" and he seemed to want to know the details of how the deputy drew his weapon. He did not appear dismissive in the slightest, and he assured me that the officer would be located and brought in for a disciplinary hearing. Of course I'll probably never know if that yellow paper went directly into the trash, but I'd pretty much done all I could do.

I pushed the pedal to the medal a little more than usual to make up for the time I had lost, but when I reached Raleigh I lost time yet again, this time due to construction. Somehow I got from US-64 to a newly constructed highway, US-264 and ended up losing track of where I was on the map.

Interesting. Just heard on a local Raleigh-area public radio show that Ryan Adams is from NC, and from Jacksonville. I had assumed Jacksonville City Nights was a reference to Florida.

When I reached the Burlington store I checked my e-mail and found an amazing coincidence! The manager of the licensed store in the Target, one exit up the freeway, had sent me a message saying I should visit his store, that it was better than the real store. I was so amazed by the coincidence that I showed it to the manager and DM, who happened to be in the store, and they didn't seem very happy that this guy had written that. Uh-oh--somebody in trouble.

Great. As if having a gun drawn on me by one crazy sheriff's deputy wasn't enough, I got pulled over by another one for, get this, "impeding the flow of traffic", because I was in the center lane and slowed down when I saw the deputy pull out of the median and begin catching up to the clump of cars I was with. Everyone else keep driving slightly above 70, while I tried to keep it at 70. Once the deputy pulled right next to me, I slowed down so that he wouldn't be in my blind spot or right next to me, and that caused the truck that was way behind me to catch up and pass me on the right. According to the deputy, that's where the "impeding" the flow of traffic business comes in. At least he was polite about it, but I was getting pretty fed up with North Carolina law enforcement and was looking forward to the state line.

I-485 does not form a complete loop around Charlotte, and the second from I-85 to I-77 north of the city is missing. I had to take W.T. Harris across, and traffic was heavy, but I didn't mind so much because I had The Boondocks and comic books to keep me from getting impatient. And because the slow speed allowed me to notice the man advertising Antonio's Carribbean Grill and to pull over quickly (albeit illegally). The place didn't have plantains, nor jerk chicken, and it actually looked like on of those trendy places instead of authentic Carribbean. But the waitress let me sample

After Greer I rushed off so I could make it to the Columbiana Centre, a mall, because I feared it might not open 'til 9:00 in the morning. But I finally got them on the phone and learned they would open at 7:30, so that allowed me to get to sleep earlier. The rest area along I-26 in South Carolina had a 2-hour limit, so after about 90 minutes I drove on and stopped at a Shell at the next exit. Around 5:00 I finished the drive and found a Wal-Mart Supercenter across from the mall. I really need to create a map of Supercenters around the country.

December 14

At the store, the baristas had not heard of me, but a customer had. That had been happening more and more during this trip, that whatever customer happened to be near the bar and overheard me had seen me on the news or heard from a friend.

There was a Chick-fil-a in the mall, but after having an evil chicken biscuit the previous two mornings my craving was gone, and I could save my appetite for whatever small restaurant I would find on the drive from Augusta to Charleston along US-78.

On I-20 just east of mile marker 16 there was an odd sight, a car pulled over to the shoulder, seemingly in a hurry, without hazard lights, and with both doors wide open. That's what made it seem like trouble, the doors wide open. A hundred or more feet up from the car was a couple that looked like they might be fighting. After thinking about the wide-open doors for a second, I called 911. Someone had already called, and the dispatcher reported deputies were on the way.

Meanwhile, I kept running the incident with the deputy's drawing his weapon through my mind. I kept replaying it, and imagining different ways in which it could have played out. And getting more and more pissed at that cop.

My route out to Charleston actually took me through downtown Augusta, where I spotted the Whistle Stop Cafe. Had to stop, with a name like that. The decor was excellent, with a railroad motif of course, but also a Route 66 sign and license plates from various states. And the menu, it had a whole section just on biscuits. My type of place, for sure.

I was not able to hold it until Charleston, so I had to stop at a Shell when I reached the interstate. Gas was 10 cents more expensive, so I only bought a dollar, and this got me a strange look from the cashier.

Close call, passing on two-lane US-78 when I suddently saw lights--a patrol decided to pull over the minivan that had blocked my view. I had to pull back into my lane quickly without passing all the cars I wanted to, but that was better than getting a ticket.

Sweet Jesus, but getting directions from some of these people is like pulling teeth! Why can't people just answer the question I asked? Instead it's always "where are you coming from", "where are you coming from"? AARRGHH!!!

Most enthusiastic reception ever at the new Mount Pleasant store. I'd previously had one partner in California shriek when I entered, but this time around three of the four partners were just gushing! One of them, off duty but hanging out at the store, said "You wanna go get lunch? You wanna go get a beer?" I did not figure she was serious, but I said that food sounded pretty good. She started to hesitate, but then she looked like she realized she did want to retract the offer once made.

I posed for many photos with the staff, then, at their insistence, took a photo of them for my site. Then I worked while Lisa ran and errand so we could head off for lunch. Lisa was attractive. Not in the cute-21-year-old Ashley kind of way, but in an older, more experience, more mature, covered in a coat and scarf kind of way. Because of this, I changed into a fresh t-shirt, one of the few remaining after three weeks of traveling, in case food and drink led to physical closeness.

Before lunch, we first had to go visit a new secret store, the existence of which was revealed by a newly-minted field agent (and her trusty assistant). That made four secret stores in three weeks, just on the east coast (counting Ontario). Who knew how many existed throughout the country. The Cabal's fiendish plan to keep me from my mission must be stopped!

Anyway, when we reached the secret store in Summerville, Lisa revealed that she needed to interview me for a documentary she and her friend were working one, about the life of their group of friends. Well, that was different, to be interviewed by a Starbucks partner for a change. But Lisa was being very generous--she even drove me to the Summerville store. Afterwards she took me to Poe's, a very cute Edgar Allan Poe themed restaurant on Sullivans Island. Out of respect for her budget, I did not order a beverage, and I initially went for the "Drunken something" chili, but then upped the order to include hand-cut french fries with cheddar because Lisa wanted some fries. During the meal we worked on a crossword puzzle, something I have not done in years, maybe over a decade, because Lisa seemed to think I would be good at it. She soon discovered that for all the information I do have at my disposal, there is a wealth of trivia that I do not know.

The new bridge from I-26 to Charleston, and parts of the old bridge.

As interesting and cool as Lisa was, I finally had to beg off around 6:00 because I wanted to reach Savannah before the mall store closed, probably at 9:00, and I didn't know what the rush hour traffic through Charleston would be like. Turns out the store didn't close 'til 10:30--that wasn't a problem at all. No, the problem was that barely 20 miles after leaving Charleston I started to feel very sleepy, with hints of dizzyness. The interstate turned out to be farther away that I had imagined from my map, and I had to struggle mightily to keep the car on the road. I hoped that once on the interstate the presence of additional traffic and more lighting would help me, but I still felt bad enough that at exit 8 I had to pull off. There was a pretty large conglomeration of parking lots in between a Comfort Inn, a strip mall, a Waffle House, and a Food Lion, with enough cars that mine didn't stand out, and I promptly passed out.

At 1:50 I woke up to find most of the lights off, and no cars near mine. The Waffle House was still active, so I figured I was probably okay, but I decided to play it safe and drove on down to the visitor center in Georgia. Sign prohibited overnight parking, so I only stayed 'til 4:15 and then drove on down to Savannah. I didn't mind so much, because I got to drive a bit around the city and see what it was like in the wee hours before heading over to Oglethorpe Mall. Across the street was a strip mall with plenty of cars in the parking lot, and some businesses with lights on, getting ready to open, so I parked there. I had crazy dreams, half-awake half-sleep. Why did Mary lose her sheep? Uncle Johnny is a creep.

December 15

At 6:00 AM the garbage truck woke me up, and then I noticed the leaf blowers. I moved over to a different part of the lot, hoping the blowers had already covered that area. I slept until 7:00, and noticed that the Midtown Deli was open, and advertising bagels. Took me a good 15 minutes anyway to shake the cobwebs out, change, and readjust the boxes in my car, and after a bagel meal and working on my log it was almost 8:00 AM, when the mall Starbucks would open.

After only having visited four stores on Wednesday, I was eager to make up the deficit in Florida. I wanted to visit Oglethorpe right at 8:00, but I was delayed by directions that told me to enter where the Payless was. Never saw a Payless from the outside. So I picked an entrance, asked a guard, and had to walk clear across the mall. Then I chatted with the DM for a bit, and after stopping at a different store to check my mail it was already 9:00 before I left Savannah.

I made good time down to Jacksonville though, 80-90 MPH most of the way. I had figured Northern Florida would still be cold, given what I was hearing about a storm hitting the Carolinas and Georgia, but when I got out of the car, I had to say aah. Warm weather! Gotta love Florida! Switched to shorts (for driving) for the first time in months. Unfortunately, the warmer weather meant I was going to start ripening quickly. But at the moment, my odor was merely "manly". I hoped to find a shower before it became "homeless".

Aye, yo, what's up with dis??? An unpaved road in a major U.S. city in 2005???

A brief moment of panic. With no phone number listed for the Cocoa Beach store, I had to call Melbourne to confirm that it was licensed. During the call I was told there were two in Melbourne, but I only had one listed. After some investigation I learned the barista was referring to the West Melbourne store.

Whew! 227 miles from Jax to Stuart. Not a great distance by any means, but the longest I had driven without encountering a new Starbucks in three weeks.

Oh, goddamn it! Opened up a copy of a Captain America comic book and found the bookmark to be a Muvico pass from the theater near where I used to work. Forgot to use it. Hope it's good at other Muvicos, if I find any along my travel route.

My hopes of blowing through the Miami area on Thursday night started to fade as I exited the interstate in Palm Beach Gardens and came to a dead stop. hand lane on PGA slow because of traffic entering Turnpike. Should have been in left lanes.

Almost lost more time due to bad directions to Yamato and Congress, but thankfully I called the store again and received the correct location.

D'oh! I'd been looking around for a grocery store to buy some fruit to tide me over 'til I could get some good Cuban food, and then I suddenly remembered I had a couple of Power Bars I'd bought for just that situation.

8:30, and I was already feeling really sleepy. Started looking for someplace to camp. Saw an office building with some cars in the lot near Sunrise and University, but then I saw a police car sitting way back in another parking lot and I thought better of it. Then it occurred to make to make the police work for me for once, and I drove back and asked him. He was a Plantation police officer, and he explained that most of the communities around the area had signs stating they are private property, and that none of the public streets allowed parking. I asked about Miami, and he seemed to be sure that there would be ordinances against sleeping in the car. The officer was about to suggest something, but he got a call and had to rush off. Didn't end up mattering, because I got a zecond wind and drove the short distance to visit Davie and Cooper City anyway. And then I found the energy (motivated by hunger, no doubt) to drive the nearly 30 miles down to Calle Ocho in Miami and get some yummylicious tostones y arroz moro from Versailles. The cool thing about moro is that, besides beans and rice, they also contain chucks on pork, which adds a meat flavor. Typically at Latin American restaurants, side orders like beans, rice, plantains, yuca, etc. are very cheap, and it is the meat dishes that make up the bulk of the cost of a meal. So when on a budget, I will often skip the meat. But with moros, I can get that meat taste, and a few chunks, for the low price of $5.25, and in a quantity enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

I slept near the restaurant until about 3:00 AM and then drove downtown, to one of the nearest Starbucks and updated my web site. Then I had to face the challenge the Superfriends of finding a toilet. I headed north along Biscayne Blvd, and I had to stop at three difference gas stations before I found a restroom that was working and open.

December 15

A little after 6:30 I saw the sky lightening and got on my way down Dixie Highway and called the Old Cutler Road store for directions, as I could not find the street on my map. Despite the directions, I still went the wrong way on SW 168th Street (because that's where my map says Cutler Ridge is) and had to turn around.

At my final new Miami store I chat with Eli, a manager very supportive of my project. He asks if I've lost weight. The first time I met him I had just started my road trip. This time around it had been over three weeks of less food than normal.

The gun incident kept flashing through my mind, along with images of doing all sorts of violence to that crooked deputy. I felt traumatized by the incident, and my desire to file a lawsuit increased to the level of a yearning.

After some light drizzle (and a rainbow) on the way out of the Miami area, the ride to Naples was superquick, 90+ all the way. My time was consumed with due diligence, calls to stores farther along my route to see which were open, and before I knew it I had reached my Naples exit.

A kinda of new experience in Naples, seeing the USA Today article about me up on the community board. They had me sign it.

I was on US-41 for a short distance on the way to the Naples store, but that was long enough to have doubts about the route to Sarasota plotted by Streets & Trips. Yes, taking US-41 out to the interstate was shorter, but I suspected traffic would be killer. A barista confirmed. In fact, he was not only 100% sure heading straight to the interstate would be quicker, he was 1000% sure!!!

Not good not good not good. Drifted off for a split second started to dream. It was about naked women, so I would have died a happy death, but I don't want to go there just yet.

I had been exchanging e-mails with a girl named Jessica who wanted to meet me when I visited Lakeland. I e-mailed her a day before I headed into Florida, and then from Miami letting her know I was on my way out west. I expected her to send me a phone # so we could sync up, but she just kept sending me short mails asking me to keep her updated. What? Did she expect me to e-mail her from every store? Either she didn't trust me with her number, or it just didn't occur to her to send me the number (something that seems obvious to me), or maybe she was mentally ill. Either way, I didn't have the energy or inclination to meet someone who was going to be difficult, and I decided to blow her off.

Ugh! Grounds in my sample coffee, and I had driven to far to go back, so I had to suffer through it.

Hmm... cranberry bliss bar.

While I photographed the Clearwater store a paunchy taxi driver with really bad teeth admired my camera, and we chatted a bit. It was a little amusing to watch the pair of us, my shooting the Starbucks with an $800 DSLR, and his shooting with a $88 HP "toy".

Shucks. I saw a Muvico, in Tarpon Springs, or just south of the city, but I was much too tired to really enjoy a movie.

At the last possible minute, and only because the Land O' Lakes store had T-Mobile, I received an e-mail with Jessica's #, and we made plans to meet at one of the Lakeland stores.

My thoughts continued to be consumed by the deputy with the gun. I was obsessed with getting justice, but also with figuring out how I could hurt him (which would require figuring out who he was first). I wondered if this is what it feels like after being raped? I did feel violated, forced to do something against my will at gunpoint. I began to think more and more of how I could sue him and the department. Would any lawyer take the case on contingency?

Oh that Faith Hill and that Tim McGraw. They sure do sing beautiful duets.

Jessica was older than I expected, and had a boyfriend and children. But she was interesting to chat with for a bit, but not long because I was exhausted. She told me of a nearby Wal-Mart, but I took a wrong turn and ended up driving a long way down Florida. Still, I was able to sleep undisturbed, next to a camper, for the rest of the night.

December 17

Managed to capture some dope lyrics that came to me just as I woke up at 7:24. If the rest of the song comes to me in a dreamlike state, I hope I have the discipline to wrote it down so I can sell it to 50 Cent and make a mint.

"Two crazy chickens coming at me--do they all be finger lickin'?" "I don't know but when I see them I can feel my pulse quicken." Aw. man, I got ripped off. Noble mandarin juice at the Wal-Mart had a sign under it said $2.28, which I noticed because it was different from the $2.43 I paid in Roanoke Rapids.

On the way to rephotograph the other store I passed Krispy Krust a kweerly-named bagel shop. The bagel sandwiches were all served with a "mini muffin", a first for me. This posed a dilemma, because I was not sure of which to eat first, the sandwich or the cranberry muffins. The order would surely affect the taste. I needed advice from Emeril, or even Martha Stewart.

Oops, my pants started falling down while reshooting a Lakeland store. Thought I'd buttoned them up enough, but obviously not.

As I approached Orlando I called my cousin's house, around 8:47. I already knew my cousin was not there, but back in New York working. He had said he would let the wife and kids know I was in the area. I expected the kids to be asleep, and I think I woke his wife up too. I just wanted to let her know I needed to continue on to Houston and didn't have time to stop. I could have used the shower, but I didn't want to drop by just for that. Didn't feel polite.

I heard an NPR report about upcoming movies, one of which is Spielberg's Munich. One of the movie's topics is revenge, and how it leads to loss of the moral high ground. This was particularly relevant to me, because I was still thinking constantly about getting revenge on that sheriff's deputy. Unfortunately for my satisfaction, my philosophy states that revenge is not generally justifiable as a rational activity.

More secret stores! Around Orlando this time, two of them! Nope, just one--Apopka not open yet.

Interesting. It's not labeled on my map, but there appears to be a little Vietnam area of Orlando along Colonial Drive.

Still no mapping information for The Villages, in Lady Lake. Just like the first store, I had trouble finding the second and took many wrong turns.

To get out to I-75 I took US-301 to where it merges with US-27/441. I could have taken a county road out to the interstate, but I figured I'd stay on the smaller highway and make sure I'd check it off my list, because I couldn't remember if I'd driven it already. An added benefit was that I passed a Cuban Restaurant in Belleview, Chicken Time (or maybe Casa de Pollo, which was on the menus they were folding inside).

It was bound to happen, and Florida was a likely place. After three weeks, I finally saw heavy rain. Lowered visibility combined with some fatigue prompted me to decide that reaching Valdosta during daylight was not so important, and I pulled into a rest area for a few hours. When I woke up, it was still raining. I thought about pushing on anyway, but when I saw a car in a ditch at the entrance ramp to the rest area, I decided to play it safe and slept some more. When I woke up again, it was still raining, but not as bad. It didn't look like it would stop, and I wasn't really sleepy anymore, so I finally had to push on. Despite not having felt sleepy though, I still had to fight off some sleep inertia, but at least I had more visibility.

Ok, bad combination: heavy rainstorm, a light car that doesn't handle so well, and taking your hands off the wheel so you can gyrate to the funky beat.

At the Valdosta store I met an off-duty barista with the loveliest face and the cutest Georgia accent. Born and raised. She seemed really curious, and I would have liked to stay and chat, but I was becoming jaded by all the women left and right who were disappointing me, and I didn't care to give up much more of my time for what would doubtlessly be another disappointment.

When I left the Starbucks, I caught the very end of a report about some restaurant that turned out to be the Colorado Kitchen in Washington, DC! Yes!!! I been there!!! I felt a sense of satisfaction from recognizing the place, and a validation of my never-ending efforts to find locally-owned places to eat whereever I lived and traveled.

A sad moment, as I finally drank the last of my final bottle of Tradewinds tea. Sniff.

In Tallahasee I was recognized by a partner originally from Tampa. It was our third meeting, and even more of a coincidence that she wasn't even on duty, just hanging out at the store before going to dinner.

I had thought about sleeping in the parking lot and waiting for cars to clear for a photo, but the presence of a sheriff's patrol car prompted me to push on. He was at the other end of the lot, out of sight from where I wanted to park, but I just didn't feel like being hassled.

I kept succumbing to fatigue stopped at several rest areas, and it wasn't until my third or fourth attempt, at 6:45 AM, that I finally made it out of Florida.

At one of the areas I felt an unusual draft while jogging over to the bathroom. I looked down, and I was surprised to see that my manhood was flapping in the wind. Somehow it had managed to align itself with the hole in both my briefs and my pajama pants. I felt really lucky that it was about 4:00 AM and the rest area was quiet, otherwise I could have been looking at some trouble. Maybe a cop, but maybe worse, a big burly man who might assume I was flashing his daughter. That wouldn't have been good.

December 18

Finally back in my natural time zone, where prime time starts at 7:00 PM. I think Central Time will always seem like the "correct" time zone to me.

Whoa!!! Huge difference in gas price, 15 cents per gallon, a buck 25 total, by driving about half a mile off the interstate to the Wal-Mart Supercenter in DeFuniak Springs and paying with my shopping card (3-cent discount).

I had not had a breakfast biscuit from Burger King in a long, long time, and it's always had a good ration of price to calories, so I popped in. I asked the cashier where I was, and she said "DeFuniak", but in an accent that is near unintelligible. No, not near. Completely. If I had not seen the sign for DeFuniak Springs when I exited the interstate, I would have had no idea what she said. And, yes, she left "Springs" off the name of the town.

Hmm... the Circle K on Airport in Mobile was out of gas--wazzup wit dat??? The hurricane and gas shortages were a long time ago.

Meanwhile, the hiccuping-like hesitation the engine was exhibiting was getting worse, and very worrisome. I really hoped it was something cheap and not the timing belt. The last time I had felt the car do the same thing, it had either required a timing belt, or a tune up. I couldn't remember.

More out of curiosity than anything, I had been calling a few of the massage parlors I'd seen advertised on billboards along the highways. In Georgia and Florida, the price seemed to be a standard $80, but in Mississippi it was $60 at a couple of places.

I finally reached Lousiana, and New Orleans. I could see the rubbish-strewn streets and gutted houses from the interstate. I exited before the French Quarter and took a drive up Franklin Avenue. It looked cleaner than some of the other streets, but there was still trash piled up in front of most houses, and gutted houses were all up and down the street. I noticed that all the houses were tagged in spray paint, in different colors and with different symbols, like "SPCA". I wondered what the symbols meant.

But there were clear signs of life and rebuilding, as indicated by the fresh paint.

Traffic lights were out all along Franklin and St. Claude on the way to the French Quarters. They were replaced by stop signs, many low to the ground. Of course I ended up running one, but thankfully, no cops saw me. A miracle, considering the heavy police presence I saw. Later I would see lots of flashing red lights, and I wondered why? I mean, if they have electricity, then why were the lights flashing?

On Rampart I spot a man with four or five plastic food containers. I figure he's just picked up food to deliver to workers or something. Then I see another man carrying multiple containers, and then I see the van, with its back doors open and a couple of people handing out containers. Couldn't tell if it was free, part of a relief effort, or if it was a business, because the van behind me started honking. I thought I was at a red light, waiting to turn from Rampart onto Conti, but the van seemed to think it was okay to go.

I cut across the French Quarter along Conti St. I see many tourist-looking people. I cross Bourbon Street, and it appears pretty lively. Given that there are more people than I expected, I consider myself lucky to find a parking space along Decatur Street.

The French Quarter is noticeably cleaner. Almost sparkling, even. Decatur Street and Jackson Square are pretty lively, as is Cafe Du Monde. I walk in and find a table. A waitress comes up to me right away and takes my order. At a table next to mine sits a couple. The lady calls out to the waitress, "Excuse me!" The waitress says something I can't understand and goes back into the kitchen. Outside, a band strikes up, crowd chatter is everywhere, and you would never knew there had been a disaster. The band walks by, men in uniform. Everyone seems to be excited by their presence. A waitress runs out to take a photo. I have no idea who they are.

Beignets and juice--$3.50, a price increase. But they are as good as ever. It takes all my will power to not order a second plate.

I spot at least two camera crews (photographer and microphone man) and a lone CNN cameraman, probably shooting segments about the French Quarter's recovery. I also noticed at least four or five different police agencies: NOPD, the sherrif, Louisiana Military Police, Homeland Security, and one or two others.

I had always passed on the strip clubs in New Orleans for a couple of reasons. I was usually in a rush to get somewhere, parking in the French Quarter is expensive, and I figured the prices would be higher because of the tourists. Well, because of the lighter tourist traffic I was able to find parking right on Bourbon Street, and I decided to pop into Deja Vu. But the door girl had been wrong, and lap dances were not $10, but rather $30, a crazy price, and I was out of there in a heartbeat.

Wow, a gas station advertising $1.08--how old must it have been???

LA 182??? What the hell is that? Okay, I really need to get an updated version of Streets & Trips, because LA 182 is a major road, yet not shown on the '03 version. I called the Houma store to try and get someone to tell me that 182 is the same as US-90 Business, or that the road was renamed, but the barista instead wanted me to go way out of my way to LA 24. I chose to stay on 182 and eventually started seeing streets that were on my map, and I found my way to the store.

An e-mail reminded me that I was in Sunday's Parade magazine insert into papers all across the country. I'd totally forgotten. It was just a blurb, "Worst Caffeine Addiction", and they got my name wrong. But at least I made $100 off the photo (better get that check soon, dammit!)

On the way out of Houma I passed Boudreau & Thibodeau's. It took the waitress a while to find the price for the cup of red beans and rice. When she did, $2.49, I figured the cup was going to be too little food to last me 'til morning. But it turned out to be bigger than I expected. Not the best red beans and rice I'd ever had, but still satisfactory.

With no particular hurry, when I reach Beaumont and saw a sign for the Gold Club (or was it Cup?), I decided to check it out. I couldn't find it and had to stop at a gas station and find a phone book, but that turned out to be a bonus because the book had $5-off coupons, and the attendant didn't care if I took one. But the dances were also $30, and I started to wonder if this was a trend around the country, dances going up to $30 from the $20 that I though was pretty standard.

I finally reached Houston and, after some debate, decided I'd save time and miles by not going straight home, but instead out west on I-10 to visit two stores, I-10 & Kirkwood and Memorial & Highway 6.

December 19

It was a bit after 4:30 AM when I arrived at the I-10 & Kirkwood store. I drove up to see what time it opened (5:30), and a barista arrived at the same time and was let into the store by another. I drove away so they wouldn't become suspicious and exited the parking lot out to the street and around to the other entrance before parking to take a photo so I wouldn't be noticed. At that hour, a barista who saw me taking photos would be likely to be even more suspicious. Photo was rubbish anyway. I think the parking lot lights gave the photo a tacky orange tint. I decided I'd have to sleep in the area to take a day photo after all, and I headed over to the other new store.

Highway 6 & Memorial was already open, and as I was getting my coffee one of the baristas asked if I had been to the other 99 stores in Houston. As it happened, that store happens to be the 100th in the Houston market, and they had caps and t-shirts to commemorate the occasion. However, I only had 98 stores listed for the Houston area. Rut-roh. I had to hope the discrepancy was caused by my having designated some stores as "Remote" instead of "Houston". College Station, maybe? I hoped it wasn't yet another secret store or two. For the Cabal to hide a store in my own home town, right under my very nose--that would be a true insult!

When I opened the door of my car I got a strong whiff of indigent odor. Definitely indigent odor. After 3 1/2 weeks of travel and a week sans shower, it was starting to permeate the car. I was very glad to be in Houston, so I could not only get a long hot shower, but also wash the sheet, blankets, and pillowcase, and vacuum the heck out of the floor and seats.

I headed back to Kirkwood, and when I stood across the frontage road to take the photo a lady exited the store and waved at me. I waved back and had to assume she had read about me in Parade.

I finally headed to the house in southwest Houston to unload my car and take care of other necessities. One of those was to meet with an attorney about processing a legal name change, necessitated by those accursed media who refused to cooperate with my requests to be identified simply as "Winter". When I explained to the lawyer that I didn't want to submit the petition right away, but rather after I started my next job and had income, she said I didn't need to meet her after all, that we could handle it all via mail. But I still had to go downtown, to the main police station, to obtain a pair of fingerprint cards required by the court. After I finished, the officer who fingerprinted me pointed out that the cards are only valid for 30 days. That really sucked, because I didn't necessarily expect to have started a job by January 19th. That would be a problem.

December 20

Later than I hoped, but I finally pushed off from home after a 29-hour pit stop. As I was leaving the neighborhood, I saw a maintenance light flicker, as had happened a few times in the past few days. But this time it was on long enough for me to see that it was the oil light, and I immediately stopped and discovered that the dipstick read empty! It had not occurred to me that the hiccuping symptom could be caused by low oil, but I hoped that was the problem, because then I'd get off cheap at the mechanic. Thankfully, I had nearly a pint of oil in my trunk, so I didn't have to pay more for some at the local gas station and could wait to pass a Wal-Mart to add a second pint, for good measure.

My mother slept in and never got around to making that soup, but she sent me off with fruit and granola bars. Still, I couldn't resist stopping at the Buffalo Grille, for excellent biscuits and scrambled eggs with cheddar and chopped bacon.

I found my Wal-Mart quickly, just a couple of parking lots away from the Starbucks at I-45 & West. Right away I could tell it was not a Wal-Mart where I would want to sleep, based on the presence of several off-duty police officers and sheriff's deputies. The Starbucks was not a UCO store, and it appears that Starbucks is more and more willing to go into sketchy neighborhoods on its own.

As I left the Wal-Mart, I asked one of the officers if they were being paid by Wal-Mart or the city/county. He replied it was definitely Wal-Mart. I figured this, but I wanted to be sure my tax dollars were going to subsidize Wal-Mart security.

Visual recognition in Humble by a pair of baristas from faraway Baytown (that's a heck of drive for them).

At the second new Kingwood store the supervisor was on the phone, so I asked a barista if they were sampling anything. She said no, but that they always could. So I asked for a sample of Christmas blend and was on my way. Easy peasy? Hmm... not so fast. One of the baristas spotted me taking my photographs and fetched the supervisor who came out to question me. He said that Starbucks was "sketchy" about photographs. I think he misused the word. What does say, I wonder? Well, it appears that I might be misusing the word too, but I could have sworn it had a connotation of "dubious" or "dangerous".

Why, why, why do these people keep wasting my time (and wireless seconds) asking "where are you right now" when all I want to know is where the store is!!!

Some fatigue and slight disorientation on the way to Tyler had me a little worried. It wasn't even 8:00 PM, and I had slept plenty the night before. Was I just getting to old? And why was the combination of rain and wiper blades giving me vertigo? But I pushed on and made it to the new store. I had planned to leave push on towards Dallas and sleep at rest area along I-20, but the Tyler store was pretty cool looking, so I wanted to wait until the parking lot cleared for a photo. Took me a bit of driving to find a place where I felt safe (from cops). There was a Wal-Mart around the corner on Troup, but it was not a Supercenter, and after a bit of looking I found a sign that read "no loitering". Nearby neighborhoods gave me a bad vibe, especially one in which nearly all the yards were decorated around the edges with bright yellow lights, producing a really cool effect from the top of the hill. But in any neighborhood that could organize such a display, the residents would probably be extra paranoid about a car out of place with someone sleeping in it, so I moved one. I finally found a street with a few cars parked, and on which the houses were raised up on a hill, so that the view to the cars on the street was partially blocked.

After weeks of moving boxes around my car, I had developed a habit, and as soon as I parked I immediately reached back for a box. Boy, it sure felt good to be able to just change and hop in the back without having to shift anything around.

A little after 1:00 I headed back and photographed the store. I worried about whether a Tyler cop would hassle me, but instead it was a couple of guys in a car who pulled into the parking lot and asked for gas money so they could get to Dallas. I declined as I held my camera tight and walked towards my car. Though I felt in no danger for myself, my $800 camera was a point of vulnerability.

A car speeding along at 80+ MPH gave me the energy to drive some 60 miles to Garland, where I found the next new Starbucks to be in the same parking lot as a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Cool! Not so much, actually, because it turned out to be a ghetto Wal-Mart, defined as one where law enforcement officials are found in the parking lot and signs prohibit overnight parking. What a contrast to the welcoming atmosphere found in rural Wal-Marts, where campers and RVs often dot the back of the lot.

I got lucky and found a suitable street nearby in front of an apartment complex.

December 21

When I woke up for a brief moment, I experienced something completely new--my foot had fallen asleep. I had never had this happen while sleeping in the car before. It must have been that when I stretched out and pressed my feet against the corner of the car, I fell asleep before curling up, and so my foot remained pressed there.

A little before 6:30 I headed over to the Starbucks. There was a middle-aged lady sitting at the closest table, and as I waited for the shift supervisor I heard her say something like "there's a difference between hitting someone and doing the right thing." She continued to mumble, less comprehensibly, and the baristas, if they heard, seemed to ignore her. I wondered if the supervisor would take me for a homeless person and think I was trying to scam for free coffee. She did give me a look, but she offered the coffee anyway.

When I took my photo, I could see the shift supervisor through the window speaking to the lady, but of course I have no idea what was being said. When I left, the lady had not moved to leave.

Incidentally, the sample of Christmas Blend tasted very different, more acidic. The baristas insisted it was indeed Christmas Blend, and I wondered if the fact that I had not sipped any water since waking up, leaving my mouth and tongue really dry, made a difference.

The most efficient route would have been to visit Firewheel next, but it wouldn't open 'til around 8:00 (the night supervisor had not been sure, and no one was answering at 6:45 AM). So I headed to Custer and 15th, then stopped for a Yuck-fil-a biscuit and headed down to Hondew to sit and hope I'd get out without too big a hole in my budget.

Marshall came back with a list of several things that needed to be done, but only one of them was deemed critical for the purposes of completing my road trip, the spark plug wires. It would take a couple of hours to get them in, so I left to visit I-75 & Campbell and then Firewheel Town Center. Then I headed back to I-75 & Campbell to meet April. She had teased via e-mail about a huge surprise, and it turned out to be, as I feared, pregnancy, with a possible marriage in the future. This of course put me in an awkward position because I was so close to beginning advocacy of a transition to a less primitive form of procreation.

Around noon I called Hondew to check in and learned the wires were walking in the door. As promised the job was done quickly, and I rushed over to Casa Vieja to exceed my daily food allocation on obligatory Columbian delights. On the way out to I-35 I stopped at a local comic book shop to pick up some stuff that had come out that day, and then I headed over to I-35 and Northwest Highway. There I checked my e-mail and received one that would prove to have a great impact on my trip. It was from a high school teacher, the last one remaining in the Vanguard program from the days when I attendeded. The holiday reunion would be on the Friday. I had assumed it would be on the 29th, and that I would miss it, but since it was already Wednesday, if I went down to South Texas, by the time I returned it would almost be Friday. I had missed '04, so I figured I might as well go. Little did I know what that change of plans would cost me.

But first I had to finish up with D/FW, and I almost started my misadventures early in Fort Worth. Crap, but that was close! As I approached downtown on I-30 I happened to notice a cop above me on an overpass. Next thing I knew I saw flashing lights on a mototcycle, but he puled over the vehchle behind me. Farther ahead I saw three more cycles, each with a car pulled over. Man, these Fort Worth cops were going nuts. Glad I made it out of there ticket-free.

WTF??? I finally heard confirmation on NPR that Jose Pedilla actually pronounces his name with the English double-L sound instead of the Spanish. What's up with that??? Hell, I don't care if the guy did intend to set off a dirty bomb or not. I think he should be punished for abandoning his Spanish.

I raced from White Settlement & I-820 to the Hulen Mall in the hopes of getting out of the city before the rush our. It was Christmas time at a mall, so of course I lost time, but less than I had expected. Then to Trail Lake and the two Barden stores. I hurried more and more because I had a tenative appointment with a masseuse I knew in Austin, but only if I could get there by 8:30 at the latest. Mansfield was next, and on the way I called the therapist and left a message. I needed her to get back to me before I had to decide whether to detour to Waxahachie or not. This turned out to be moot, because I found out from the manager at Mansfield that Burleson was indeed open. Starbucks takes priority over a cute masseuse, and so I turned around and headed to Burleson.

Since I wasn't heading down to Austin, I figured I'd hang with Howard a bit. But first I wanted to take advantage of my last chance to see the end of Jarhead. I stopped at Borders, after taking a call from someone who had seen me on TV, on Access Hollywood. I assumed it had to be the Inside Edition piece that they aired, but I couldn't be sure. At the Borders I looked at the movie listings and realized I needed to leave right away. I rushed to Grapevine so I could watch part of Syriana before the end of Jarhead. I ended up missing 10 minutes, but it would have only been 5 if I had not gone to the wrong cinema, the first one I saw from the highway.

After the movie I met Howard at Cafe Brazil, and I hung a while until I just could not keep my eyes open. I headed down towards Waxahachie, and I was surprised to find that I did not reach the rest area--it must be just past the town. Luckily, the Starbucks was in the same shopping center as a Wal-Mart Supercenter, the third or fourth such setup I had found during that trip, in Texas.

December 22

Woke up a bit after 7:00. It was light out, but the sun still wasn't shining on the Starbucks, so I went into the Wal-Mart to buy some motor oil, a Power Bar, and a different type of eye drops because the one I had bought a few days earlier was burning--I think they are for soaking the contact lenses, not to put directly in the eyes.

Dude--Wi-Fi at Chick-fil-a! But it didn't work. Boo!

As always, it felt good to be back in Austin, if only briefly. And to listen to KGSR. Damn, but I love that station!

I reshot a Round Rock store, and I didn't even get back on I-35 before I saw signs for McNeil Road. I turned onto it, and I quickly became confused as I drove through was was undeveloped, almost rural land. I wasn't really expecting that, and when I passed a highway under construction I was really confused. I finally spotted a thin line on my map tracing the route I was driving. McNeil had been a nothing road, but it was undergoing expansion, as that northern part of Austin underwent increasing development.

At the relocated Arboretum the manager just gushed over me, telling customers and insisting on a photograph.

I was all set to grab lunch at Threadgill's when I remembered I had leftovers from Casa Vieja, and I so couldn't justify the expense.

Down in San Antonio...

...the four stores I had to visit were arranged in a diagonal line from southeast to northwest. I had to choose from one of two routes, and I had no idea which one, so I just picked the southeast store, Military & Goliad first. Next was the Hear Music store, and it was really cool-looking. Unfortunately I could not take a good look around, nor go upstairs and check out the view, because nearby parking was hard to find, and I didn't want to pay $1.50 at the lot across the street.

While looking for parking I spotted a Shipley Donut. I hadn't had one of their donuts in years, maybe over a decade, maybe two. I experienced a sudden craving. At the next store, Vance Jackson & I-10, I asked the manager, and he directed me to one not far from Medical and Wurzbach. I bought two. They were pretty good.

Meanwhile, I exchanged several e-mails with someone at The New Yorker who was checking facts for an article. They never interviewed me, and the e-mail indicated I would be mentioned as part of a larger article, but still, it's The New Yorker. That's big time!


Mother fuckers!!! Some assholes decided to have wreck and shut down all of I-35 about 20 miles south of I-410. Thankfully I heard about it on the radio a couple of miles before I would have gotten on, and I instead continued along I-410 to SR-16. I quickly reached undeveloped land, and a sign indicated that I was still within the city limits of San Antonio. I enjoyed seeing this, but at the same time I felt a sense of dread, because I knew that eventually all that land would be paved over. If only I could force it to remain undeveloped forever. At Jourdanton I left SR-16 and took a series of smaller highways to the interstate, all the while cursing because I was forced to head west, right into the sun. Later I would learn it was not a wreck, but a police chase following a bank robbery.

Ooh, ooh, ooh! 75 MPH speed limit on I-35 heading towards Mexico!!! I had thought it was just west Texas. But no sooner had I settled into the faster speed and started wondering at what point a state trooper would consider the lower "night" limit of 65 MPH in effect than it finally happened--d'oh! Or rather, doe! A deer finally ran into my path so quickly that I couldn't avoid it. I should consider myself lucky that I did not strike it dead on, but there was still damage. The glass convering the right headlight was broken (but the light was still shining), and the bumper was loose on the right side. And there was coolant splattered and smoking all around the reservoir. That was what worried me the most. I drove to a gas station where there was more light, and I saw that the reservoir was only half full. I asked a customer about a Wal-Mart, but the town of Cotulla was rather limited in shopping opportunities. I had to settle for the overpriced gas station coolant ($6.48). I was worried, but I wasn't about to stay in Cotulla for the night, so I crossed my fingers and drove the 60 miles down to Laredo. I immediately checked the coolant level, and the reservoir was empty. Not good. I filled it again and went into the Starbucks.

The supervisor seemed very excited about my project, but she kept talking about a lady that she had heard about on the Internet that was supposedly doing the same thing. Another shark biter?

Before I left, I asked for recommendations for good Mexican food, and she directed me to a restaurant in the same parking lot called Salsa's. According to her, it was operated by a gentleman from Monterey. I ordered the flautas, and they came with a green sauce that I scraped off. Halfway into the second of four small flautas, I started to feel very nauseated. I tried to hold it back, but the feeling overcame me and I rushed to the bathroom. I heaved several times, but only phlegm came out. Needless to say, I did not continued with the meal, and I cursed the restaurant for having cost me $8 wasted dollars.

Laredo's Most Wanted

After dozens, if not 100, times sleeping in a residential neighborhood, I was finally noticed by a resident. At least that's what Officer Alvarez said when I asked what the problem was. I've had doubts about other cops who have said they were investigating burglaries in the area, but I believed this guy, because otherwise there wouldn't have been four patrol cars at the scene, and at least four very serious looking officers. The incident went much smoother than North Carolina, because, frankly, it seemed insane to do anything other than cooperate. After answering "What are you doing here?" with an explanation of my busted headlight, I think I handed the officer my license even before he asked.

His initial tone was interrogatory, and after my license came up clean it switched to cautionary. He seemed to imply that if I had been from Laredo, I would have known not to sleep in a residential neighborhood. Once they determined I had never been "48'ed", the officers started brainstorming places I could sleep. I told them I'd just head to the Wal-Mart. Officer Alvarez basically said "...anywhere but here."

As I left, I was not upset at the officers, but I was miffed at whoever called my car in. I wasn't sitting in the front street, which would indeed seem suspicious. Since I was under blankets and my windows were fogged, she could not have seen me at all, so why call the police on an empty car? Why???

December 23

About 7:24 it was light out, and I wasted little time in filling up the tank and heading over to grab a breakfast biscuit and photograph the two stores before heading out. I couldn't quite tell if the coolant level was lower, but when I reached the Starbucks I noticed that it was smoking again. I added more coolant and had to seriously wonder whether the car could make the 320-mile drive back to Houston.

Tax on groceries??? What's up with that?

I figured I might as well get on I-35 and drive the four miles down to the end (or beginning). And then back up to what I assumed was the start of US-59 so I could check that entire stretch off my list. Unfortunately, in Victoria signs directed my off US-59 and around the city. I assumed the highway had been redesignated, but when I got to the other end of town I realized the detour had caused me to miss a stretch. Bastard!

At first every 20-30, and later every 50-60 miles I stopped to add coolant. First just to the overflow reservoir, and later directly to the radiator. I wasn't sure if filling the radiator is harmful, like the way too much motor oil floods the engine, but I saw no way to detect the level. So I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Later I would notice that the coolant I had bought was pre-diluted, and I had been mixing it with water. Again, I hoped for the best, but I also, for no really good reason, cursed the company that made the coolant.

Farther down the highway, parts from my headlight started to fall off. As I saw them bounce along the highway in my rearview mirror, I could not help but think that it's never a good thing when parts fall off your car as you drive.

In Freer I encountered the world's most useless police officer. As I crossed an intersection, a white car turned left towards me and cut me off. The sign next to the traffic light clearly read "left turn yield on green". I quickly pulled into a gas station and waved at the cop and quickly explained what had happened, and that the white car was still in view! But the cop just said that he hadn't seen it (even thought it happened right in front of him) and apologized. Worthless!!!

The previous night I had seen a long delay at an inspection station and wondered about other routes out of Laredo. Well, there was one along US-59 too, but all the agent said was "US Citizen?" I replied "Yes", and she nodded and said "Go ahead sir".

I reached Houston and headed straight to the shop. I was pleasantly surprised when the manager said they could get started that afternoon, which would increase the chances that the car would be ready on Monday if the parts arrived in time.

December 24


December 25

Because dinner had run so late the night before, I didn't get up until around 7:30, but I still managed to reshoot 33 stores around Houston. Might have been more, but I lost time throughout the day. First, I spotted a "Starbucks Coffee" sign at the intersection of West Bellfort and Post Oak. I saw the store next to the Randall's, and I was sure it was a fake one, but I still had to check it, just like when I get all up on da mike I gotta wreck it. Then I headed to the Meyerland store, and that was a waste of time because the store faces west, which meant I needed to return in the afternoon. Then I lost time by visiting Fannin & Dryden in the wrong order because it had been plotted close to downtown. I'd been to the store twice before and should have remembered that it was down by the Medical Center. At the West Oaks store I lost time because, to my amazement, there was a security guard patrolling the lot. On Christmas Day! I could hardly believe it. I had to move out to the gas station and buy some gas and use my zoom lens to get the photo. And still that bitch came over and started asking me questions, which I refused to answer. Finally I took a short time out for beignets, because I couldn't take the hunger anymore. Still, 33 stores is pretty good.

View of downtown from Webster & Cushing.

December 26

After a couple of delays, first to reaffix the right side of the bumper (with a twist tie) and then to look for (but not find) my spare key, I left the auto shop at 4:3 and five hundred dollars poorer. That deer ended up costing me about a quarter of my remaining travel budget!

I hoped to reach Austin by 6:30 for Scrabble club, and with the lighter traffic (because Christmas fell on Sunday) it might have been possible if I had not taken a few wrongs turns. First in Houston, where the exit from the West Loop to I-10 was shifted to Memorial. I missed it and quickly decided to take US-290. Houston and Austin are a rare pare of cities in that there exists two routes between the two, each about the same distance and travel time. As such, it didn't make sense to waste 5-10 minutes turning around just so I could take I-10.

Later, in Brenham, where from the freeway I could see their first Starbucks being built, I somehow ended up on SR-36 heading northwest. By the time I realized my mistake, I had to travel all the way up to Caldwell before taking SR-21 back to 290, a 25-mile detour, plus a few minutes turning left in Caldwell.

It was past 7:30, and I feared I would miss the second game too, and on top of that it took a while and several u-turns to find the Austin Recreation Center. The reason is that the facility was closed. With no cars in the parking lot and the lights off, it didn't look like the place. I was a little disappointed because I had been wanting to play at the Austin Scrabble club for years. But the detour to Austin was not at all wasted. I had a chance to drop by Kerbey Lane Cafe, a favorite destination when I was in college, and then to see Ilse, whom I had not seen in at least a year, maybe two. I also stopped at the nearby 5th & Lamar store to check mail and refill my water, and I was surprised to see a Hear Music station. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, because I had heard that Hear Music would be going to Austin, but for some reason I had imagined that new stores would be built instead of these small stations.

Ilse's neighborhood seemed perfectly safe, and I figured Austinites were not as paranoid as Laredo residents, so I just moved the car up the hill to where the road flattened out a little (because I don't sleep well on an incline), and I slept just fine for the the night.

December 27

A bit after 7:00 it was not completely light out, but getting there. I felt a dehydration headache. Therapists routinely tell me to drink plenty of water after a massage. This time I did not, and in fact I think I was light on the water all of Monday.

I still felt sleepy, but 10:30 to 7:00 was at least 8 hours, and the sooner I got going the better my chances of photographing those four El Paso stores before the sun set. I made a quick stop at the Eglen's Deli for some to-go biscuits and eggs. I had driven through Fredericksburg at least a half dozen times and always meant to stop for food--figured now was as good a time as any. Before I reached SR-16 to Kerrville, I spotted another sign for breakfast, at the Java Ranch. I popped in to see if they had the good orange juice, like Good Flow, and also to see if they had biscuits so I could make a note for next time. Nope on both counts. And the Eglen's biscuits were passable. Not so good, for my first dining experience in Fredericksburg.

On the way back out to the interstate from the Kerrville store I saw these cute little critters. Naw, fuck that! They ain't cute. They dangerous!!! One of they brethren cost me fi hundred dolla! From now until eternity every deer on the planet is my sworn enemy!

Most of the ride to El Paso went by about as quickly as one could expect from a 480-mile drive. I didn't see a trooper the entire distance, but it wouldn't have mattered, because I wasn't the one going fast. It was first Oldsmobile Aurora, and later a silver PT Cruiser, both of whom I tried to follow with varying degrees of success, simply because my poor old little Civic engine didn't have the juice. I noticed one funny thing--when the gas tank was almost empty, the car seemed to struggled to even maintain 75-80 MPH. But after I filled it, it seemed to be doing 90 MPH just fine, even though I couldn't see that the grade nor the wind speed had changed. I wonder if more gas gets to the engine when the tank is full.

D'oh, Part Deux

Once again I proved to be the luckiest man alive. Don't know what happened exactly, but I only looked down for a second, and when I looked up a small gray car was much closer than it should have been. I'm sure there was nothing in front of me when I looked down, or I wouldn't have taken my eyes off the road. Regardless, as soon as I saw the car moving too slow, I swerved, which, though instinctive, is almost always a mistake at that speed. The car fishtailed, I lost control, and I went into the gravel median. Even as the car spun, it quickly became apparent that I was not going to be injured, so what was going through my mind was that this was it, the end of my trip. But I got lucky. I didn't hit a sign, a pole, or flip over, and when the dust settled I was able to drive out of the median. Several cars had stopped, and one pointed out that I had a blowout.

I was also lucky that I was only 40 miles from my first El Paso exit, so it didn't forever to get there as I tried to keep it around 70 (20 over the recommended 50 MPH). My luck continued in El Paso, as there were both a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Discount Tire Co. within walking the distance of the closest Starbucks on my list. The Wal-Mart had a tire for $41, cheap enough that I didn't deem it necessary to go over to Discount Tire.

Oh, and there was also a Chick-fil-a in the same area, though it's debatable whether you can consider that "lucky".

The mechanic found no axel damage, but he could not balance the tire because the rim was bent. He recommended I get one at a junkyard, but that was going to be tricky given I was on the road.

At the next store I met the first partner to recognize me on sight from my MSNBC appearance. She then mentioned it to the other partners, and customers overheard, and a kid named Hubert came over to me and said I was now his hero and asked for an autograph.

I kept hearing something funny, especially when my car dipped. At the next store I took a look and noticed two big rocks in my front drivers side tire!!! AARRGHH!!! I couldn't believe that Wal-Mart tech didn't at least glance at my other tires!

I had to decide whether to remain in El Paso so I could have it looked at in the morning, but I decided that the worst that would happen would be that it would go flat slowly. I didn't expect a blowout, but I wasn't really sure. I just didn't want to blow several hours of driving, as it was too early for me to get to sleep. The car started shaking almost immediately once I got it past 70 MPH, and I began to worry. But farther up the highway, into New Mexico, the shaking subsided, and I had hope that it had just been the highway. Regardless, I knew I needed an alignment and to balance that new tire, but the big question was whether I could defer the expense until after my trip.

From the interstate I noticed a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Deming, and, feeling tired, stopped there. I slept until about 2:00 AM and started driving again, but only about 20 miles to a rest area.

Something odd in the middle of the night, after I got up to go to the restroom. I returned to the back of my car and felt a dampness. The seat of my pajama pants was damp, either that or cold, and I couldn't figure out why. My thermal pants were dry. I didn't remember leaning up against anything. So where did the dampness come from? I felt around the sheet I was sleeping on, and it was dry. Very strange.

December 28

At 5:58 I felt fine enough to start driving, and I took the chance that good Sprint PCS reception would continue along I-10 so I could do an interview for a Westwood One radio network show. The call's timing was perfect, just a mile from an exit, so I was able to pull over without risking getting interrupted by a state trooper.

I had expected that sooner or later I'd find a Starbucks near a Home Depot, and the first new store I visited in Tucson fit the bill. As I expected, the key was duplicated from my original instead of being cut from the VIN like at the dealership. It fit in the lock, but only sort of, but that was good enough for me.

There was no direct route to all the new stores in Tucson without doubling back, but that actually worked out in my favor, because when heading back east on Irvington there were plenty of auto shops and dealers, and one of them directed me farther east to a group of several salvage yards. One of them, the cutely-named Beep! Beep! sold me a rim for $37, and it included a Bridgeport tire that had more tread than my last remaining old tire. After Kolb & 22nd I headed straight to the Wal-Mart and learned there was a two-hour wait. Well, the wheel had to be swapped out, and that gravel in the front tire needed removing, so I had to leave it. But at least there were two stores nearby, Broadway & Kolb and another on Speedway.

The work only came out to $13.50, good deal, but they could not dispose of the bent wheel, only the tire. Anybody else would probably have dumped that wheel anywhere, but I couldn't do that, at least not unless I got desperate. I first had to make a good faith effort to find a legitimate place to dump the wheel. I was worried that I'd have to carry the thing around for days, but it turned out to be really easy--at the first tire shop I passed the employee, once he understood what I needed, immediately said

Down the street from the next Starbucks was Ten's, a strip club memorable for $6 dances. They had gone up to $7 in the year since I'd last been, but that was still a helluvah good price. But as I was about to sit down with a cute young dancer, a waitress came by and said a drink was required. Two, actually, though they couldn't really force patrons to buy the second. Well, I wasn't going to take it anyway. I apologized to the dancer, but placed the blame squarely on club management, and I left. Thing of it is, I could have bought a beer for 3.50 and 3 dances for $21, for a total of $24.50, still a better deal than anywhere else in the country. But it was the principle of the thing. I don't pay for drinks I don't want!

At the next store I just couldn't take it any more and had to tell the barista that it's "Colombia", not "Columbia".

Mirastar gas instead of Murphy USA at Wal-Mart in Tucson.

At the final two Tucson stores my reception was increasingly cold. And at the second of the two, the manager gave me this icy stare when she asked what she could do, and then returned with barely half a sample cup. I asked for a full sample, and the look she gave me could have frozen one of the great lakes. She again returned with the cup, and, as I feared, it was short, off by a little. not even an ounce. Not even half an ounce. Maybe a fourth or an eight of an ounce. But her stare had been so icy, such a look of "goodbye and drop dead", that I didn't dare ask her for a few drops more. So while I stirred the sugar I debated what to do. And of course while I was thinking about it, the sun was going down, reducing the number of stores I'd be able to shoot in daylight in Phoenix. I considered asking a customer for a smidgen of coffee, but I finally decided that would be too weird, and I used a free drink coupon for an egg nog Frappuccino, figuring the calories would help supplement my food needs.

After I cleared construction speeds opened up, and I was able to hit 95 MPH or better while following a hooptie. I was quite pleased, and relieve, that I didn't feel the shaking I'd felt the night before. If I could avoid an alignment until my next job, so much the better.

Construction was crazy as I drove from Gilbert to Higley. Most of the roads were reduced to one lane, presumably for expansion as greater Phoenix continues to grow outward in a most detestable and probably destructive (to the environment) fashion.

After 10 stores, I was definitely feeling bloated. Additionally, my eyes were feeling really dry for some reason, not a typical symptom of overcaffeination.

I made three calls with no success, and finding out if the Phoenix City Hall store was licensed was becoming like pulling teeth.

At Priest and Elliot a creepy guy with funky hair who had been in the store said hello as he was leaving, and I made the mistake of answering. He came and sat next to him, and so I just ignored him and talked about how I couldn't figure out the camera, and then I said I was exhausted and left before he had a chance to ask for anything or start yakking.

I saved the coffee from the final three stores and, a little after 9:00, set out to find a place to sleep. 51st & Baseline was in Laveen, so I drove north and east until I reached the Phoenix city limits. I passed up a neighborhood under construction because there weren't enough other cars parked on the street to mask mine. The next area that looked good turned out to have plenty of sketchy looking characters milling about, and further down I saw a sign that made reference to a prison. Nope, not there. Finally I found a neighborhood with a car parked in front of a building that wasn't a house.

It was a very rough night. Sleep was rare. Around 3:00 I drove over to 7th & McDowell and updated my site, and then I found a spot closer to the next store.

December 29

I tried and I tried and I tried, but I just couldn't fall into a deep sleep. Having to whiz every 30 minutes didn't help, nor did the hunger. Finally around 6:00 I gave up and decided that I had enough caffeine in my system to carry me through the drive from Phoenix westbound.

Meanwhile, I continued to find more and more Starbucks sharing a parking lot with a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Though tedious, this was not necessarily a bad thing. After failing to see a bagel shop all morning, I finally had to get some food in my stomach, and for 45 cents something called a Persian roll, though bland in taste, still did the trick.

I finally finished up in Phoenix and sped west. My initial plan was to approach Blythe and decide wether to make the 150-mile round trip to Lake Havasu City, but after looking at the map again I make an abrupt change and decided to take SR-85 south to I-8 and hit Yuma first instead. I made good speed following an SUV, but I had to give up my escort when I was overcome by fatigue and forced to stop at a rest area. The cooler air allowed me to sleep despite the sun's shining into the car, and an hour later I felt much better and set off again. Less than 30 seconds on the highway and I picked up another speedster who made my trip to Yuma go by quickly.

Maintaining a safe distance paid off 20 miles from Yuma as I witness, for the first time, a four-car collison ahead of me and was able to change lanes and bypass the mess before first time witness collision 20 miles before yuma

4 days = gamy

Lost about 15 minutes in California as the right lane was closed by the Border Patrol. But they were just waving everybody through, so I was miffed that they were creating the delay for nothing. And as far as I could remember, that makeshift inspection station had not existed during my previous two trips into California along I-8.

Curses! I finally missed a secret store, supposedly in Calexico, according to a partner in El Cajon. And what's worse, the route along I-8 is not one I drive every year, so it might be a long time before I get back there!

Finally, Pollo Loco!!!

A rare revelation at my last new San Diego store. The supervisor, who had not known about me, did not realize I was in the bathroom, and that I could hear her talking at the bar. She kind of mocked me and my visit. I've always known, from the looks I get, that many baristas could not care, or are even hostile, to my project, but this was a rare moment of proof.

I cut across from I-5 to I-15 along San Marcos Boulevard which moved along at a speedy 55 MPH until I reached the city. I slowed down to see if I could spot a place to sleep, figuring to leave the new Escondido store for the morning. On a side street a lady in an SUV called out to me loud enough for me to hear through the window. She wanted a jump start, and she offered to pay. I gave her the jump, but I declined the $20, and I wondered what kind of people she was used to dealing with that she would actually offer money for a jump start. It's almost beyond my ability to conceive that someone would actually charge for a jump start.

I went ahead and visited the new Escondido store (or so I thought), and I could have headed up to Temecula, but I was beat, so I just found a quiet street and parked behind a camper.

December 30

Oh man oh man oh man oh man, but that was close!!! I averted a near disaster in Escondido when I, by sheer chance, noticed in the morning that I had visited the wrong store. Valley & I-15 is the new store on the east side of the freeway, but when I exited to the west and saw a store, I assumed that was it. But it was really Escondido Promenade. Thankfully, I was so tired that I didn't want to drive up to Temecula, so I found a parking spot nearby. Around 3:00 AM I headed back to the store to check my mail and take another photo, and then I went across the freeway and got some gas. Then I drove around Escondido a bit and, seeing some very dark streets, figured it would be easy to get a couple of hours sleep there. Finally, around 5:00 AM I headed back to the freeway and spotted the "NOW OPEN" sign. I quickly reversed, entered the shopping center, looked at my database, and realized my error. Whew!!!

Since the real new Starbucks was open and there were cars in the parking lot, I went ahead and go another hour of sleep, during which I had several dreams about, what else visiting Starbucks!

Bitch'n Stitch'n??? Somebody actually named a business this??? On Old Town Front Street in Temecula if you need some clothing mended.

In Hemet a very attractive blonde schoolteacher named Kahara seemed to be interested in my project. But of course I had to run off, and to get the girl you have to stand still.

At the next store there was a monstrosity of a vehicle parked outside, something called a Sprint, by Mercedes-Benz. I forgave the man driving it only because his two daughters, inside ordering, were extremely cute, especially the one with redder hair and freckles.

At the same store, a barista exited the bathroom and proceeded to answer the drive-thru while his foot was still inside the doorway. Ew, ew, ew!!! The poor customer would never realize that his drink order was going to be infected by bathroom germs and human waste particles. How? Via a process still not understood by the world's best scientists, but that is related to the way in which using the phone or sending e-mail from a bathrom transfers germs and waste.

In Cathedral City I met a regional manager for the first time. She was surprised that after 5400 stores I had never met one, and, now that I think about it, I'm surprised too. Seems like I would have run into one much sooner.

In Coachella I heard a couple of interesting stories. First, about a man walking from Washington to Texas with a donkey. More at Second, that one or more of the trains that ran across the street from the store occasionally stopped so the engineers could get some coffee from the Starbucks--I never would have imagined.

Pickings seemed slim in Coachella, so I just went across the parking lot to the Food 4 Less for some fruit. I spotted a different brand of orange juice, Senor Torres, for only $1.48 (16 oz) and decided to try it out. It was good, strong, and a dollar less than 15 oz of Odwalla. But distribution is probably localized, so I might never see it again.

The shortest route from Blythe to Lake Havasu City was straight up AZ-95 from I-10, but I chose to check a stretch of US-95 off my list. I exited at Vidal Junction onto SR-62 which I took into Arizona at a town called Parker. Well, after doubling back when I realized I was on the wrong road, Parker Dam Road, which would have put me on the wrong side of the lake with no way across. Anyway, in Parker I spotted the Crossroads Cafe. Since the sun had already gone down (for my Lake Havasu City photo) and since I was not likely to ever drive through Parker again, I decided to give it a try.

The place was packed, which was a good sign. But most of the patrons were old, and since human taste buds start to die past the age of 50, I couldn't really assume they all liked the food. A lady was smoking out in the open--there was no separate room. I guess these small towns are independent-minded like that--the owner probably scoffs at the idea of banning smoking.

Hmmm.... good biscuit!!!

The food made me sleepier, but I made the 38 miles to Lake Havasu City. There I pulled out my tripod for the first time in over a year, maybe two, because I didn't expect to return anytime soon, if ever. Actually, I first sat down on the sidewalk to try and get a steady shot, and a local cop asked me everything was okay. I said yes, and he drove on. Later I would see that the photos I shot while sitting were not noticeably sharper than the ones with the tripod, but maybe if I zoomed in I could see a difference. I had to wait a while to get the shot I wanted, first because a couple pulled in front and sat outside, despite the chill. As soon as they left, a pair of dumbfucks in a monster truck park in front even though I, with my tripod, was obviously shooting the building.

December 31

I woke up a few minutes before 5:00 AM, and my dehydration headache was really bad. I started defrosting the window, and I decided I felt fine to drive except for the headache. If I went back to sleep, I figured my headache would only get worse. Once I exited I-40 onto US-95 though, I started to regret my decision because the dips were making me dizzy.

In Henderson I was amused by the contrast between a man photographing (or filming) the clouds and sun through the palm trees while I focused on the building (and a rather bland building at that).

Craving for good yogurt, so I paid a little more at Wild Oats for Brown Cow (220 calories, 89 cents).

Why, why, why do these people exist??? These people who insist that you move out of "their" lane even though the road has two or more lanes that are free and clear of traffic. It's so much easier to simply change lanes than to honk and shout and give the finger.

I had read on some web page or newspaper article about how long it takes to metabolize coffee/caffeine. I couldn't remember the time, but I was thinking that the fifteen or so stores I'd been visiting a day was exceeding my body's capabilities, because after just four or five stores in Vegas I was already buzzing. I'd felt the same the previous day in California, and that was part of the reason I made the drive out to Lake Havasu, to give my body more time to adjust. And it was affecting my need to use the restroom to. I usually didn't shift to having to go every store until around 10 stores. But after just 6, I was in dire need, and so the fact that at the 8th the bathrooms were out of order really hurt. I mean really hurt. The next store was at the Fashion Show Mall, which was off the Strip, which was, as usually, packed with cars, and I had no choice but to suffer through it. It didn't help that, despite having a map right next to me and barely moving, I still couldn't see the mall and passed it up.

Meanwhile, I continued to hear, as I had for about three days, about storms wreaking havoc in Northern California. That was part of the reason I decided to play Scrabble on Sunday, to give the weather time to calm down before heading north.

I turned around and crawled south on the Strip until I reached Fashion Show Lane and turned right. I still did not see the Starbucks, so I had to call and ask for directions, which involved finding the underground parking lot (one of several) and working my way towards Neiman Marcus. At the Starbucks itself I was spotted by a customer who had just recently seen me on TV in Los Angeles. I'm glad she said something, because I learned that it was the NYC news segment I had shot two weeks earlier, presumably sold to the LA affiliate.

Thought about trying to win some traveling money at the poker tables at the Mirage, but I ran out of time.

Well, I knew it couldn't last forever... after calling ahead to California from the bathroom (it's okay if it's a business you are calling) I learned the window of $10 lap dances at the Deja Vu in City of Industry ended, and they went up to $20. Oh, well, more sleep for me.

Wacky Misadventures in (Fake) Massage

Near my next to next to last area store I spotted Three Dog Bakery and decided that a pastry would help me enjoy the massage I had scheduled. But the placed turned out to be a bakery for pets. But hey, my disappointment was nothing compared to what would come next.

While waiting for the sun to rise in Boulder City I had glanced at Craig's List and spotted an extremely unusual massage ad. The poster, a former jewelry designer (from her e-mail address) named Bridget, was offering the first 10 minutes free if the client didn't like the massage. I had never seen a deal like that before and immediately sent an e-mail inquiring about an appointment, and later around 9:00 called. Bridget assured me that she could be ready by noon, and we scheduled an appointment.

Well, when it was close to noon I called again, and she said she wouldn't be ready for at least 45 minutes, and she was supposed to call me. 1:00 PM rolled around, and she hadn't called. I tried a couple of times and finally reached her, and she said she still needed more time, so we settled on 1:30. She told me to take my time, so I bought some fruit, gassed up the car, and signed some autographs at another Starbucks.

I killed enough time to get her 15 extra minutes, and when I called at 1:40 she said she was ready. I arrived about 5 minutes later, found her condo unit, and called up as she had asked. She said she still wasn't ready and needed to take her dogs out to run around a bit. By that point, I had decided that she owed me for having made me wait so long, and I decided I would take a different approach. Before, I was actually hoping that the first 10 minutes would be bad, so I would have an ethical reason to opt out of the full thing and avoid paying. If I ended up liking the massage, I would have gone for the 30 minutes unless she agreed to take a check post-dated to when I started my next job. But now that she had wasted so much of my time, I decided that she would have to make it up to me by agreeing to take the check, and that it would be extremely bad customer service to protest.

It got worse. When she finally came down with her dogs and explained the delay by saying on them had defecated (not the word she used) on the floor. I asked if I could go ahead and jump in the shower while her dogs ran around, because I did want to head down to California soon. She winced and said she had forgotten that I had asked about a shower, and she said that the bathroom was in an "unacceptable" state. Turned out that's where one of the (four) dogs had defecated. Actually, one of the places--a carpet in another room had gotten hit too. Well, a shower was a must, an absolute condition of getting a massage. She suggested the shower next to the pool, but they were outside. She gave me a key to the pool bathroom, but the deadbolt was set. I was definitely getting a bad vibe about her level of professionalism and the quality of the massage, but I had already invested about an hour (the time waiting plus visiting the stores in a suboptimal order to give Bridget more time) and really needed a shower before the Scrabble tournament otherwise I'd funk up the room.

It took her about 30 minutes to clean the bathroom, in part because she spent about 5-10 asking me if I needed anything, if I wanted to watch TV, if I wanted to wait outside, and then showing me her a check from Nordstrom's for jewelry design that she had enlarged and framed. Finally I got in the shower, and even that took longer than I expected because, even though the condo looked new, the shower was one of those with a removable head, but it did not affix to the wall and there was no place to set it except the floor. Thankfully I had brought in a washcloth which made it easier.

As I dried off I received a sample of the awful attitude that was to come when she peeked in and asked me not to go through her things (drawers). That came totally out of the blue, because it would never have even occurred to me to open one of her drawers. That would have been completely inappropriate. And no masseuse had ever, ever asked me that. Why would she even think to ask that, I wondered.

Then she revealed that she was not a licensed therapist (because I kept using the word "therapist"). Well, that concerned me, because I was really looking for a good massage in addition to needing the shower, but I had already invested 90 minutes and figured it made sense to at least try the first 10 minutes like she had advertised. Actually, she might have mentioned that she wasn't a therapist before the shower--can't remember.

I finally got ready to get on the table when she brought up the issue of paying her first. I said I wanted to try the 10 minutes like she advertised. She said she wanted to make sure I had the money first, I started to explain that if I wanted the rest of the massage I was going to give her a check. I was going to explain that I needed to post-date the check until I started my next job in a couple of weeks, but I never got to that point before she went off on me. I actually had several hundred dollars in the car, and had her hands been magic I might have paid the $60 cash for the half or even $100 for the hour, but I would have definitely tried to guilt her into taking a check for at least part of the money given that she had made me waste a ridiculous of time. But, again, I never got to that point because before I knew it she had raised her voice, and then started yelling, and then started cursing. At that point, she had completely blown it, and I wasn't about to give her a cent and just wanted to get out of there and away from this crazy person.

She kept going on and on, and as I dressed I tried to calm her down by explaining that I had seen dozens, or hundreds, or therapists (she seemed to hate that word) across the country and written many checks, several post-dated, but the whole notion seemed to make her more irate. Besides calling me an asshole and a freeloader among other things, she then had the nerve to suggested that I owed her $20, no, $25, for the shower and wasting her time. Oh... my... god. I could hardly believe that she would suggest that after I had bent over backwards to be patient with her. She even said that I cost her money she could have made from another appointment, completely ignoring the fact that no other customer would have waited over an hour for her to get ready. That's ridiculous!

A call came in and she answered it and starting talking about the situation (from her point of view) to someone. She asked him if he wanted to come over for a massage, so I assumed she had no intention of trying to work anything out with me, and I moved to leave. She raised a finger to ask me to wait. I thought about trying to leave anyway, but she was in front of the door, and I'm not a violent person, and she seemed like she might actually turn violent. While on the phone with him, she mentioned that I wanted to pay with a check, and she said he started laughing. What kind of people are these, who just assume a check is going to be bad. I mean, it's a crime to pass a bad check.

Anyway, so I waited for her to finish and asked if she was not going to go through with it. She scoffed, and I said well then I needed to leave. She insisted that I owed her $25. I truthfully told her I had not brought any money with me (a smart move on my part), and she, seeming exasperated, allowed me to pass. I stepped out, and she asked some strange questions, like "Do you have a car? How did you get here? Did you walk?" I kept walking down the stairs and she kept going on about how I was a deadbeat and didn't have a job. I said I would have a job in a couple of weeks. She said it didn't matter, "'re going down."

It was funny, because I was thinking something similar about her, that she must have a hard life because of her attitude. If she just goes off on anybody she has an issue with instead of trying to work out an amicable solution, she's never going to be a full success.

Well, in the end I at least got a "free" shower, though given the 90 minutes that it cost me, which translated into several Starbucks father up the road that night, and the aggravation, I would have been better of paying $30 for half an hour down in California.

Despite the apple and banana, my hunger increased. I was ravenous, but I was holding back for a very specific reason. I was playing in a New Year's Scrabble tournament the next day, and it was going to be a pot lock affair with plenty of food (according to the director). So it made logical sense to starve myself and then make up for it at the tournament and thus help offset the cost of the event in case I won no prize money.

A light drizzle had started, and it was soon joined by a strong wind that seemed to increase. I visited one more store and got on the road to Caliornia, and I was soon struggling with the wheel because the wind kept threatening to blow my light Civic off the road. It was pretty rough for the 90 miles to Baker and then 50 more to Barstow, but there was one enjoyable sight, that of a stream, and then a veritable river, of lights of cars all heading north to Vegas to celebrate New Year's Eve.

Holey moley, a whopping 37-cent per gallen different in gas between stations across the street from each other in Baker.

Surrounded with reminders of celebrations to come (and ongoing in eastern time zones), I was reminded of my previous year's experience in Paris, and it just seemed like 365 days had gone by so incredibly quickly. Wow!!! A year already.

I had known that UT might go to the Rose Bowl, but I had not been keeping up. When I passed a camper painted burnt orange and adorned with the Longhorns logo, it was easy to conclude that UT must have made it, and I called my buddy Michael to confirm.

In Victorville, interesting music on 89.9, but is it a Christian rock station? Some of the lyrics started to make me wonder.

It was a constant struggle to fight my hunger, and I teased myself by heading away from the highway just to see what was available. When I saw El Pollo Loco, my defenses crumbled. But I was saved from spending some 5 bucks because it had closed just minutes earlier, at 7:00. But my mouth had already started watering.

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