This trip was a little different, but not a whole lot. There were a couple of “Lessons Learned”, but not much new. Still, some of interest.
The purpose was to pre-position a car in Florida so that we (me or spouse) can just “fly in” and be with wheels. It was also to get a bit of “stuff” to the Son in Chicago, see the Granddaughter I’d not yet seen, and explore some of Tennessee on the way to Florida. I’d also thought I might get in some “car camping” along the way.
That last bit didn’t happen, at least no more than prior trips. “My bad” on that. I had the time. I had “enough gear” had I really wanted to do it. There’s a couple of shareable points on that, too.
For several reasons, this posting will have eclectic bits from several topic areas. That makes the “categories” list a bit odd. Oh Well.
I’ll mostly go chronological, but with some topic threads that overlap in time.
This drive / fly trip started with loading the car. The car in question being a “Baby Benz”, so not a lot of space. I had a 4 room “family tent” that’s about 5 to 8 gallons of volume all rolled up (including poles bundle). The purpose I’d bought it for, a couple of decades back, was to have a tent big enough for my family of 4 plus Golden Retriever post “Great Quake” if the house was falling down.
Well, the Big One didn’t drop the house (I guess reading those soils / topo maps prior to buying was a good thing and worked well…) and time passed. The Golden went to Doggy Heaven and the kids grew up and moved away. Don’t need a Giant Tent for two old folks and a couple of 14 lb dogs. ( I still have the 3 other tents I bought over the years as the family grew. From a Pup Tent for one, to a 2 person tent, to a nice one for 3 people. What is to become of them TBD. All near pristine condition from good storage.) So that tent went in the car for the Son, who now has a “family of 4”.
Along with it, he has been given 2 camping stoves that are redundant to ones I have. A 2 burner propane and a single burner “Asian style” butane stove. Just right for cooking for a full-up family dinner. Then there was the “10 quart”? camping Dutch Oven. A Very Nice Lodge that’s just big enough to do a whole chicken with vegetables. Never going to use that for “Just the 2 of us”. Very right size for a family of 4 in the woods. The top flips over to use like a frying pan. So you can do baking (even breads and things like pineapple upside down cakes), roasting (meats and vegetables), wet cooking (stews, braises, boils), frying, and more. All from one big pot that works well with charcoal or with wood fires.
That kit covers the basics of shelter and cooking. Up to them to come up with bedding, preferred foods, lighting. Then again, they already have a big pantry, ice chest, and emergency lights.
But needless to say, that took up most of the trunk. Also in the trunk (but not given to “the kids”) was a 2 person sized slow cooker I’ve used when “on the road” in hotels, and a box of Paula Deen cookware.
Some folks may remember when Paula was maneuvered by a reporter into saying she would love to have a re-creation plantation style dinner with the whole family, then the “reporter” set the trap and asked ~”So being period correct, you would have black servers, yes?” (or roughly that). As the only non-lying answer to that is “Yes”, Paula (IMHO, innocently) said “Well, yes, I guess you would”. That resulted in one of the earlier Shit Storms of “Cancel Culture” and stores nation wide got shit posts in the face demanding they drop the Paul Deen cookware line.
When that happened, I was working in Florida. There were big clearance sales. I bought something like 4 full sets, including double boilers, ceramic baking dishes, and full pots-pans sets. Over the years, we’ve put one into use, have one in reserve, and I’ve given two sets away to others. I also got to drag 3 of the 4 back to California when the Florida gig ran down.
But this trip was to prepare for the return to Florida. The unopened box was in the trunk with the slow cooker and stay in Florida. When next one of us flies in and sets up some living space, the basic kitchen stuff is already waiting. I left one “camping kitchen” bag in the car too. (mini cutting board, Trangia mini-stove / mess kit, assortment of silverware and can opener, coffee funnel / filters, cup.)
The other plot complication was that I was planning to just fly back, and without a lot of return baggage (no checked bag fee for me. ;-) So that meant One Backpack Only of personal care items, on the road electronics, on the road financial stuff, clothes, etc.
So NOT taking things that can’t be left to sit in a car in Florida for a month or two. That meant the only added bits were a plastic sleeping bag I don’t really like (very effective but hot and kind of clammy, and tapers to a foot trap… I like my old square cut cotton one better) and a crappy pillow.
More than enough to camp with on the outbound trip, but no small tent for the Chicago to Orlando bit. I figured either the weather would be nice, or I could sleep in the car as I do in rest stops, or I could just buy some crappy one person tent for $40 if needed.
More on that down below.
So with the car fully loaded, the passenger seat reclined (with bag and pillow) and filled with the cheapest gas I could find, I headed out.
I start the trip full of Premium as that’s best for the car in hot weather and low altitude, especially in town with frequent accelleration. I learned on prior trips that it doesn’t knock on ‘regular’, so I think there’s a knock sensor that backs off the spark advance. It also means full throttle power is reduced significantly and high throttle setting fuel economy is not so good. For those reasons, I started on Premium for the giant Hill Climb up to Reno Nevada.
Two interesting bits happened on that segment. I typically have avoided the shortest route. It adds about 20 miles / minutes, but escaping the Bay Area via I-580 to Stockton has a lot less traffic and has no tolls. Going “north” to I-80 has more traffic and you get a bridge toll at the Carquinas Bridge on one freeway or at the Benica Bridge if you take the other one, which I did this time.
In September 2019, the MTC approved a $4 million plan to eliminate toll takers and convert all seven of the state-owned bridges to all-electronic tolling, citing that 80 percent of drivers are now using Fastrak and the change would improve traffic flow. On March 20, 2020, at midnight, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all-electronic tolling was temporarily placed in effect for all seven state-owned toll bridges, and as of December 10, 2020, all of the state-owned toll bridges will not be permanently cashless as toll collectors return
So I arrived at the bridge with my $6 in hand, and without any electronic “gizmo” as I’m part of the 20% not the 80%. Surprise, no way to pay. It claims it will bill by plate, but this car is registered in Florida, so any bill will go there. It had not shown up when I checked that mail address so they either didn’t bill at all, or I’ll get the bill in about 4 months when I next check that mail…
The “all electronic” has issues; and I hope they realize that, with a couple of dozen different “toll systems” nation wide, a HUGE number of folks will not be able to drive around the nation on toll roads with anything approaching ease. ( I have the one for Florida, actually, one of the 3 or so used in Florida… not the California one).
Also of note was that the traffic was “modest edge of traffic jam” with occasional full stops on the freeway from Santa Clara to just outside Sacramento up in the hills. Yup, about 80 miles of “stop and go”. Some of it you can chalk up to Friday Getaway, but I was driving around the noon hour, not after work bug out time. So, note to self: NEVER EVER plan a route through California toll facilities OR up the East Bay if you can escape out to the central valley on I-580.
The hill climb up I-80 to Lake Tahoe / Truckee was relatively clog free (once past the new “suburbs” that have sprouted in the foothills above Sacramento). There was another “stop and go” bit AT Reno Nevada, as the Friday Crowd showed up and was trying to figure out where to go. Gas around Reno was about the same $4.15 to $4.50 / gallon as in the South Bay area. I had enough range to go beyond that, so planned to do a gas stop at Fernley just a bit further on, and about 50 ¢/gallon cheaper.
It was at about the 300 mile point where I’ve got about 40 to 50 miles of gas left, so a nice place to stop. It also is after the hill climb, higher thin air, and usually cooler; so I can run Regular if desired (and on the freeway, I have one acceleration on, then mostly running reduced throttle cruise until next fill-up). So I get about the same MPG, no ping, and sometimes even a bit better mpg running Regular from that point until the next Big Urban Stop (where I refill with “super” for the in town full floored off the lights experience ;-)
Well, I saw a sign for “East Fernley” exit and thought “EAST Fernley? I didn’t realize it was that big. I’ll wait for the Fernley Exit.” Which never came… So about 20 miles further on, I’m beginning to realize I can likely make it back to Fernley, but I’m not really sure where it is off the freeway now, or I can press-on and hope. I parked by the side of the road to consult maps, figure MPG, and contemplate the 2 gallon can of “emergency gas” in the trunk. See, the “reserve” light is out in this car. It goes to the “you have a few gallons left” end of the gauge then stops moving… So no “2 gallon warning”. So I added the gas can after discovering this the hard way. (IIRC on the prior trip out to Florida, somewhere in Oklahoma or Nebraska…)
I made it to the 342 mile odometer reading, where I have at times in the past run out of fuel. About 60 miles past my planned refueling point, in the little town of Lovelock, Nevada. I had about 1 gallon left in the tank, plus the 2 gallon can, so not too much heartburn. OTOH, why did I get better fuel economy climbing up mountains in in traffic jams than on prior freeway runs? I think maybe it was that I wasn’t in a hurry so not doing 85 MPH ;-)
Stopped at the first gas station. Some non-brand quick market. Across the street was a “Mexican / American” restaurant. I decided to patronize Yet Another unknown. My mistake. The food was much more American Bland than Mexican. This may be because when they asked me if I wanted my Chile Relleno spicy or mild, I said “mild” (while looking at a table of Mexican faces and figuring the basic “spicy” was likely way hot). What arrived is best called “bland”. No hotness at all. The hot sauce on the table was “Tabasco”, not a Mexican red or green, but a Louisiana vinegar sauce. The meal was well cooked and visually very nice, but bland fajitas and chili? It would take a few spoons of sauce to raise this to “mild”…
So I’ll not be eating there again.
In comparison, the San Jose’s Mexican restaurant in Clermont Florida was GREAT! The Chili Relleno was just spicy enough, with a rich creamy cheese melted in it. The beef chimichanga was to die for. The Pork Carnitas Burrito was also very nice.
From there on to Chicago was largely uneventful “Fill with regular every 300 or so miles and sleep in the car in rest stops”. Only exception was that I got out of “Time Sync” in Nebraska. Took a nap at the wrong time and was back on the freeway about 8 PM. Nebraska has life at each end, and the middle is a long stretch of grasslands with a few little farm towns. At 9 PM EVERYTHING shuts down. I missed the exit where I’d planned to stop overnight in a hotel, and gas up. Ended up (in the rain…) pushing it to near Omaha where I found a Love’s Truck Stop doing giant business selling fuel and food to everyone who had spent the last 4 hours looking and finding nothing in the middle of Nebraska…
Note I did not end up camping. I’d thought maybe I’d camp in Nevada or Utah, or maybe even Wyoming. Just drove on instead. Didn’t want to deal with repacking a giant family tent if dirty or wet or ‘whatever’. The decision not to include a pup tent put me off the deal. Then reaching Nebraska, realized I’d forgotten it rains in summer in the East.
I got to Iowa after a nap in the car in Yet Another Rest Area. I had the very spooky experience of being on an Interstate at about 3 AM and not having ANY cars AT ALL in either direction. Dead black and empty. I think it was on the Exit from Omaha… on the x80 bypass to I-80 into Iowa.
In Iowa, during the day, took a side road middle of nowhere and ran into a “Scenic Route”. Went through 3 little middle of nowhere farm towns. Very quaint, and a lot like my home town in California; so now I know why Dad chose that town. It looked like his home.
It is on the approach to Des Moine. One town has a sense of humor:
The town of “Dexter”. I liked it just for the name ( As I’m a Dexter the murder TV show fan ;-)
Not much to add here. Like most big cities, traffic is horrible all the time. Got to the Son’s home. It is a very nice one. Big basement, then 3 floors on top of that, plus a garage.
Did basic “Show and tell” on the camping stuff. Re-positioned my gear to the trunk. Got to meet the grandkids (again for the boy, for the first time for the girl).
We went out to “take out” dinner. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the place. It is a competitor to Pizzeria Uno’s. We had a great deep dish Chicago Style pizza. One slice pretty much filled me up (with the side salad). Sausage about 1/2 inch thick, maybe 3/4 in places. Spinach and some other vegetable stuff. Enough garlic to wake the dead (and loving it ;-) and a raft of cheese and sauce. All on a thick well baked crust. Just OMG! good.
Chicago to Tennessee
Here’s where I thought I’d have a pup tent and camp along the way, and into Tennessee. Well, it was raining. At times A Lot. I decided just driving was a better idea.
The only interesting bit is that somewhere at the lower side of Kentucky, I checked into a Motel 6 for that “real bed and a shower” experience. It was an OK room, but the price was $80. I’d already stopped and was mostly checked in when I decided to ask the price.
Consider that “Motel 6” was named for the standard $6 cost of a room nation wide, you can see two things:
1) Inflation has been fairly bad to date.
2) They are no longer a lower end economy hotel after the French bought them. Prices are up, facilities not always…
I’ll not be bothering with a Motel 6 again. I’d rather “take my chances” on an unknown than pay up for still taking chances.
In any case, the room was livable. A bed and shower were a good thing. It also let me set out to Tennessee at a reasonable time of day the next day, and get to see the Tennessee Valley in daylight.
We are choosing between Tennessee and Florida. So inspecting it mattered. Beautiful mountains getting into it from the north. Knoxville is a cute little city wanting to be Big City but so far seems to have avoided the bad parts. The lady at the Welcome Center suggested I get off of I-75 and look at the small towns along Highway 11, which I did.
While just barely on Hwy 11, contacted Jim2. I thought I was out of Knoxville and said I didn’t know how to get to where he had suggested to meet. Instead I drove a block or so to a name place he could find if he drove to find me.
Jim had recommended we meet at “Charley’s”. I had no idea where that was or how to find it, so about 200 yards ahead saw a Red Lobster. I suggested we meet there and then decide. Well, Jim & Spouse showed up and it was pointed out to me that Charley’s was about 100 feet down the road on the other side ;-)
I also learned that it is “O’Charley’s” …
We had a great lunch. I had a “Half Rack” of BBQ Ribs that was, IMHO, a bit big for a 1/2 rack. With “bacon smashed potatoes” and a side salad. Nice, very nice.
If you are ever in the area, a lunch with Jim2 & Spouse at O’Charley’s is a very nice way to spend a few hours.
I got a few more pointers on houses from them, then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering down the valley, looking at small towns. I took a couple of photos in one of them, that I’ll review later. If any are interesting, I’ll put up another posting with them.
One odd bit is that you can have a traffic jam on a 2 lane country road highway middle of nowhere for no observable reason. Other observation is that it’s a couple of miles off to the East from I-75, and a few more miles east you are in the hills and it’s very rural / empty. Didn’t cover the West side of the valley, but for the length of it, the general trend is a semi-urban ‘strip mall’ like bit along the interstate, the Old School quaint old towns along the old highway a few miles to the side, and then out in the rural boonies. You can pick what you want with just a few east / west miles.
Again I’d planned to camp here, but again I’d not gotten a pup tent and was realizing the “Summer Rain” pattern (not to mention high humidity and heat and bugs) make that more of a challenge than I’d prepared for. I need to get my East Coast Camping skills up first, as I’m presently all ready for Dry Desert camping…
Crossing Georgia was the usual pain and suffering of “All roads lead to Atlanta and you don’t want to drive across Atlanta”. Next time I think I’ll “waste” the hour to drive to I-95 and go down the coast. On leaving Georgia, I took the time to search the exits from about mile marker 12 to the border, looking again for the Truckers Chapel.
I think I found the original place at mile 2 exit. Unfortunately, they are entirely redoing the exit and tore up that end of the place, so as of now I did not see it there. I don’t know if it is gone forever, or will come back some day. I think this TA Truck Stop is it (or was it):
6901 Bellville Rd, Lake Park, GA 31636
They were really screwing up the exit with construction and it looks like they chopped off some of the large parking lot at that end of the place. One hopes they just moved the Chapel to another TA’s somewhere else.
End Of The Line
From there it was just on down to Orlando and spending time with Florida Friend. That consisted of “welcome drinks” at a Cajun themed bar that I’d remember the name of were their beer not so tasty ;-) Food was great too. The map search finds this place, that I’m almost certain was it…
IIRC (increasingly questionable as the night wore on…) we had:
Kick-Ass Sausage Bites
A little bit of heat with a little bit of sweet. Andouille sausage sauteed in jalapeno pepper jelly on slices of toasted French bread topped with Gorgonzola cheese and drizzled with a balsamic glaze.
Our twist on a classic Louisiana dish. Shrimp sauteed and covered in a rich spicy honey garlic sauce served with French bread for sopping up that delicious sauce.
Dipping the French Bread in the BBQ sauce from the shrimp was divine… I wanted to try:
Filet of Gator cut into the perfect bite size pieces and fried in Chef’s own specially seasoned flour and cooked until golden brown. Served with our house made Remoulade sauce.
But I don’t remember if we ever ordered it ;-)
I’ll skip the doing errands and such in Orlando, and I’ve already mentioned San Jose’s Mexican place.
The flight back was eventful in 3 ways.
First, the whole question of “Have I jumped through enough hoops to actually get on the plane?”
Second, “Ambiance” in the airport and ~9 hours in a mask.
Third, 34 minutes to change planes, boarding stops 15 minutes before departure, and Phoenix from Gate B-hell and gone to Gate-A other end of hell, in under 19 minutes.
Taking them in order:
To get on the airline was easier than expected. The Usual 20 questions about have you had any symptoms, inspection of your Federally Approved One ID, microscopic examination of your luggage, clothes and more. Electronic Proctoscopy of your person. Did not need a “Covid passport” nor even evidence of a test. As I understand it, a fever or other symptoms would have bounced me off the flight.
They now have a small sign that you must COMPLETELY empty your pockets before the whole body scan. The problem is that the sign is on the scanner and AFTER you have filled your tubs and sent them on their way. I forgot 2 things.
1: To ask: “Would you tell me if I have any polyps?”
and 2: My spare mask and plastic comb in a pocket.
I got to have a pull aside pat down and fine manipulation of my spare mask and comb to assure they were not, um, I don’t know what, but something else.
They did, however, confiscate my 1/2 used tube of toothpaste. I think on the theory that though the weight was under the allowed limit, the tube was printed with a bigger weight, that being the unused size… The TSA, saving us from Toothpaste, one tube at a time…
I arrived at the airport about 3 AM ET as the flight boarded at 5:50 AM for a 6-ish departure. Being unsure I could wake u at 4 AM to get there, we opted for a late night then dump at the airport. Worked a champ. HOWEVER… upon entry to the Federal Airport Penitentiary Grounds, you MUST wear a mask at all times. As the constant robotic voice from the intercom reminds you every few minutes. Not as bad as it sounds, as that temporarily interrupts the horrible Muzack they had going. Some kind of “upbeat country western” where you could not quite make out the words but they sounded a little bit like Spanish (with the occasional long WEE-haaaa….) and with an odd sometimes Zydeco like riff out of place on the end of a bit. Endlessly repeating on a loop near as I could tell.
After about 3 hours of that, I had a bit over a 4 hours flight into Phoenix. That, then, had me doing the Long Run from one plane to the next from about as far away as you could get at one terminal end to as far as you could down the other. They load by groups. 1,2, 3, etc up to 9. 9 is “If you were not loaded or called yet, get on now we are going to button up. I had a group 8 ticket, and arrived just as the called group 8… On entering the plane, was asked “How are you today”? by the stewardess. My reply of “Hot” got me a worried look of “Oh No has he bypassed Covid Screening” so I rapidly added “I just ran from B-29 to A-28 (or whatever they were) with a ground hold before docking and a 34 minute connection…” and got “Oh I hate it when that happens”… as though it “just happens”. An automated system issued that ticket… Google reports that it is 200ft x about 14 of them = 2800 feet from one gate to the other, so “only” a bit over 1/2 mile. Ever try to pant through a mask?
An hour & 1/2 later I was in Santa Clara at the San Jose Airport, where I took the free VTA bus to the VTA Light Rail that gets me home. Only to find out they shut down Light Rail June 1st. “Why” is unclear, as they ran it all through the covid crap. Rather than ask the VTA Bus Driver who dropped me off at the VTA Light Rail why he didn’t know it wasn’t working (and what bus might get my somewhere useful), I chose to just call the spouse and wait. Good thing is that I finally got to ditch the mask. No longer on VTA or in the TSA Terminal Control Zone…
It was nice to sleep in a real bed, no AC noise, no schedule, no nothing. ;-)
Folks wonder at me when I talk of doing 24+ hour drives to get somewhere. Why on earth would I do that instead of just flying?
Well, let’s add it up. Woke up about 6 AM ET. That’s 18 hours to midnight. Did packing and final stuff (and found my cell phone where I’d left it the night before at Outback Steakhouse – Who, BTW, no longer serve lamb…) Stayed up to a 6 AM boarding time, then flew across country and arrived home about 1 PM PT (or call it 4 PM ET). So add another 16 hours. Total of 34 hours. So how is that better than a 34 hour marathon drive?
On the drive:
No mask. Eat what I want when I want. No cameras. No TSA cavity search. I can stop for the restroom or just to walk around whenever I want. No Muzak From Hell. No “Your papers please!”. No O.J. Run huffing and puffing through a mask after a 30 hour sleep deprivation process. I can choose to sleep in a bed whenever I wish. And, the biggie: I can keep my toothpaste… ;-) Or even travel with a knife, kitchen kit including fuel, whatever.
Yes, it takes typically 2 of those to cross the country instead of just one. But I still find it more interesting and, with Mercedes seats, a lot more comfortable.