From White Coats to West Coast: Roadtrip 2006

Saturday, July 8

Day 17-19: Putting the Cross Into Cross-Country (Albuquerque, NM to Greensboro, NC)

The scarcity of reliable internet access across the southern swath of the country has put us sorely behind in our blogging (apologies to our daily readers—we appreciate your loyalty!), but don’t think we haven’t been doing much: in three days, we drove 1717 miles! When last you heard from us, it was Independence Night in Albuquerque. The next morning, we breakfasted on huevos rancheros (con New Mexican green chilies, of course) with Rachel’s Uncle Saul and said hi to the house where Rachel was born. Then, we drove. And drove. And drove some more.

As the landscape morphed from starkly beautiful desert to the infamous drabness of the Central Time zone, we amused ourselves by practicing our Southern drawl (no, we don’t have any clips to post so y’all can also be amused). Losing an hour passing into the Texas panhandle and seeing storm clouds up above, we hoped we’d find some cheer with lower gas prices; but dangit, apparently “everything’s larger in Texas” really does apply to everything. On the bright side, it also applied to the huge rainbow that arched across the entire sky on the other side of that storm cloud, flanked by equally large crosses that seemed to officially welcome us into the Bible Belt.

We stopped briefly in Oklahoma City to see the memorial for the Murrah Building bombing (a highly symbolic tribute that thoughtfully memorialized those who died while emphasizing survivors, rescuers, and hope for the future), then pushed onward into Arkansas. Allison skillfully navigated the last windy piece through the very dark Ouachita Forest (pronounced “watcheeta”—though given the darting wildlife and shadows that threatened at every turn, maybe it should be renamed “Watch-outta!” ), and we finally flopped into Hot Springs, AK at 2:30am.

Ah, Hot Springs: historic therapeutic resort, Bill Clinton’s boyhood hometown. The next morning, we made sure to take advantage of all that this "City of Water, Foliage, and Flowers” had to offer (Foliage? What town committee came up with that zinger of a motto?): Rachel went the experiential route with the full package at the Buckstaff Bathhouse (including private bath, needle shower, steam cabinet, hot packs, and massage!). Allison opted for the historical (and less heat-intensive) tour, poking around the museum learning all about the latest medical advancements of the late 19th century. Before leaving , we dined at the King Kone Drive-in on absurdly cheap, yet also just plain absurd, local cuisine: fried breaded pickle spears, grape soda milkshakes, and most notably, pickle juice fizz. Unlike summer camp ‘bug juice’, or the delectable ‘mud pie’ we ate later that day in Memphis, this local favorite was no joke: as you can see, we were somewhat shocked to discover that we had, indeed, just paid a whole 80 cents for a Styrofoam cup full of bright green pickle juice over ice, complete with two slices of dill pickle at the bottom for anyone brave enough to gulp it all down (not us!). Perplexed but amused (a common state for us throughout this trip), we left Hot Springs and set out for Little Rock to see the Clinton Presidential Library.

The Clinton Library was, in short, phenomenal. The touching orientation movie (narrated by BC himself) and multiple displays about Clinton’s childhood, motivations, candidacy, presidency, and legacy (not to mention the adorable elderly volunteers answering questions and giving out “I miss Bill” bumper stickers) successfully left us feeling that if it were possible, we’d vote for him in ’08. Politics aside, some of our favorite parts included watching a hilarious spoof poking fun at the former President's last lazy days in office (starring Bill, who's no Ron Reagan, but it was a hoot to see him riding his bike through the White House hallways and learning how to buy honey-baked ham on eBay); and the binders containing the daily schedules for Clinton’s entire presidency. Want to know what Bill was doing on your birthday in ’96? Or how many inaugural balls he attended, and at exactly what time he left his 14th ball (1:43am) and arrived at the 15th (1:45am)? Speaking of birthdays, we happened to visit on our current President’s birthday, which the Clinton Library acknowledged with a continuous screening of Bush’s favorite movie: Field of Dreams.

We unfortunately enjoyed the Clinton Presidential Library a little *too* much, and arrived in Memphis 20 minutes after Graceland closed. D’oh! We did manage to tour Elvis’ jet plane and several gift shops, then cut our losses by taking a stroll down the famous Beale Street, riding the Main St. trolley (what fun!) to a restaurant with yummy roasted corn 'off' the cob", then taking one last look at Memphis over the Mississippi, as the sun dropped low in the sky and we realized we had a lot of driving left to do. We chugged on to Nashville and found an acceptable room on what appeared to be "Budget Motel Row".

The Friday morning sun rose long before we we grabbed breakfast at Waffle House (home of special jukebox favorites like "There Are Raisins In My Toast") and finally got onto the highway at 10:30...only to run into major construction traffic that sent us zooming out of Nashville at a whopping 3.1 mph for the first two hours. And that was only the first of multiple traffic holding patterns we negotiated throughout what turned into a very long day of driving. As the hours ticked by, we avoided getting ticked off by...studying! Yes, studying! If you've noticed that our blog contains a suspiciously high ratio of exciting adventures to studying hours, you'll be happy to know that we have in fact been pulling out the ol' review books every so often, doing practice questions and attempting to rewrite familiar songs with medical terminology lyrics.

In keeping with our inexpensive Southern roadside breakfast at Waffle House (a first for Allison), we had a late lunch at Cracker Barrel (a first for Rachel--who greatly enjoyed the biscuits and okra but was frustated by the paucity of other meatless vegetables). Thanks to a nice man at the gas station who led us on a detour around a particularly clogged piece of highway, we discovered an imminently sing-a-long-able Oldies radio station; that, along with time spent on all the calls to figure out where we were each staying over the next two nights (the upside of our traffic-filled Eastern return being the plentitude of friends all the way back up the Coast, leading to the downside of having to choose just one place to stay--so great to see you all!), we finally rolled into the North Carolina Triad at 8:30pm. Allison stayed with her cousins (including Amelia, their adorable newest family member--loved by all except 15 month old sister Greta, who is looking into the fine print on baby return policies), and Rachel stayed with friends from her days working at a Jewish boarding school in Greensboro.

Note: Today we hit our last thousand mile mark, at 7,000. Intriguingly, we have discovered a hidden talent that we share--looking at the digital odometer at precisely the moment when it resets from 999.9 to 0.0. This is no easy feat, as we don't keep the odometer regularly displayed, it goes by 10ths of a mile (giving us about a five second window of 0.0), and there is no click or sound to indicate the switch. Given that we've now caught it four of the last five times (2 each!), we've decided that this talent is an indication of our underlying perceptive powers (the tip of the intuitive iceberg, as Rachel likes to say), which we have both vowed to further develop in the coming year.

Wednesday, July 5

Day 16: Gallup-ing 4th (Prescott, AZ to Albuquerque, NM)

We took Shelley’s advice and made our first stop of the day in Jerome, AZ, and its “word-famous, only official” ghost town. We might not have actually stopped at the ghost town except that Jerome’s annual 4th of July parade was blocking highway 89A (a grandly labeled two-lane road). Say what you will about the efficiency of the interstates, but their mild monotony is never interrupted by the pleasure of streamer-bedecked bicycles and waving firemen.
The ghost town turned out to be an abandoned copper mining town (see the sign for population trends), complete with a dust-covered dentist office and shoe repair shop, and gas prices on the old pump that nearly made us weep.

On to Sedona, where the hotels welcome children, pets, and Martians; where everything (and we do mean everything; see picture) conforms to the red rock and stucco architecture; and where each “energy vortex” is labeled on the town map with a swirly spiral. Our plans to check out the nearest vortex were dashed by the discovery that all of the parks and walks in the area were closed after the recent huge fires near town. Homes and businesses were plastered with hand-made signs thanking the firefighters, none larger than the one in front of Allstate. We settled for a visit to a new age store, which sold stones and crystals for balancing one’s chakras. You know that old adage about how you can’t open a store and sell rocks? The southwest proves this dead wrong, with “rock shops” in every town, from tourist traps to high-end boutiques. Need meaning and purpose in your life? Come buy rocks (see picture)!

That particular rock promise came from the gift store at Meteor Crater, AZ, our next attraction of the day (after a brief Starbucks stop in Flagstaff, the town born on July 4, 1876). Meteor Crater was not a predetermined stop on our route, but after a level of billboard advertising that was approaching South Dakotan levels of persuasiveness and an AM radio station looping the advertisement to “Experience the Impact” at “one of the most extraordinary places on earth,” we were lured off I-40. Despite the steep $15 admission, Meteor Crater was all we could have hoped for and more. Who needs the Grand Canyon when you can see a 700-foot-deep crater formed by a huge flaming meteor and still used as a training ground for NASA astronauts? You may think we’re crossing the U.S. fast, but according to Bob, our affable guide, that meteor only took 4 minutes to make it to Arizona before slamming into the desert. A mere 50,000 years later and you, yes you, can buy astronaut ice cream and ceramic spider ash trays (helpfully labeled “not made by Native Americans”) on that very spot. Other features of the museum included the surprisingly fun interactive computer game where you can set the rock composition, velocity, density, and angle of imaginary meteors then aim them at earth and see what happens. Rachel only managed to demolish an area the size of LA, while Allison settled for nothing less than pulverizing the earth. Allison’s favorite exhibit, though, was the museum’s solution to the complaints that tourists are no longer allowed to hike down to the base of the crater. They’ve realized the fundamental truth that tourists really just want the picture showing they’ve done it.

The sun was dropping in the thunderstorm-filled sky, but we were determined to make it to national park #10, Petrified Forest N.P., before 4th of July fireworks in the next state. To save time, we decided maybe we’d just pop into the northern section of the park. Great plan, except that it turned out all of the forest, petrified or otherwise, was in the southern section. Ah well, at least the bathrooms were nice.

It turned out to be a very good thing that in addition to our regular stops we took the time today to explore a ghost town, a vortex, a new age shop, a meteor crater, and a park that, somewhere, had a petrified forest in it, because if we’d been all efficient-like, we would have come through Gallup, NM, much too early to see our classmate Karen, who is doing an OB-GYN rotation with the Indian Health Service and didn’t get out of work until 7:30.We set off in search of “authentic” dinner and happened upon approximately 84% of the population of Gallup spread out over huge baseball fields awaiting the town fireworks show. Dinner became some heavenly roasted corn on the cob ($1.50) and fry bread ($1) and we had a great time people- and firework-watching.

We decided to push on to Albuquerque, town of Rachel’s birth, even though we weren’t sure whether the hostel would still be open. Just in time, though, Mary, a friend of Rachel’s mom, called and offered us a place to stay. Undeterred by the news that we wouldn’t be arriving until midnight, she offered a big comfy bed and a refrigerator full of fruit from her 4th of July party. Thanks so much to Mary and to everyone who has offered us such wonderful hospitality, often on short notice, all across the country!

Day 15: Oh, the Places We've Been (LA to Prescott, AZ)

With a goal of leaving LA “early,” we’re proud to report we made it out by.…noon. Our car had earned a well-deserved oil change, the jacaranda trees were blooming, the free wireless was irresistible, and where did we really need to be anyway? Oh, right, home in Connecticut in less than a week!

After making the momentous shift of looking for highway “east” signs, we headed for Arizona, by way of a detour through Joshua Tree National Park (our 9th NP of the trip, if you’re counting, which we hope you are). With the eponymous U2 album playing in the background, we snapped pictures of what must have been the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ truffula trees and scrambled on boulders, admiring the wide diversity of lizards and asking each other fun questions like “Do you think that noise was a cricket or a rattlesnake?”(you know, those famous crickets that live in 112 degree weather).

Some long and winding mountainous roads led us up to Prescott, Arizona, where we met one of most loyal blog readers and posters (Shelley, and her cousin Lorraine, friends of Rachel). After dinner on Whiskey Row and a brief stop in a saloon, complete with swinging doors, we watched our first bit of TV in weeks and had a great sleep at Lorraine’s house.