Monday, January 19, 2009

Happy New Year!

Hi all--it's been a crazy holiday season--hence the lack of posting. I have a number of picture-heavy posts in the works, but those take me about 3 times as long as text-based posts, so I figured I'd write a couple of those in the meantime. I may get around to adding pictures. We'll see.

We had a busy holiday season around here. We had to work basically up to the last minute, so we didn't leave for Chicago (casa del Kate) until Dec 21st. We left for Southern Oregon on the 26th. On Jan 1st, we drove down to San Fransisco, where I had professional obligations in San Fransisco starting Jan 2nd. On Jan 5th, we flew back to Chicago and then immediately drove back to Ann Arbor.

Whew.

Despite the frantic pace, the whole thing was lovely.

Well...actually, scratch that. Once we got to Chicago, it was lovely. The trip from Ann Arbor to Chicago, which normally takes 3-1/2 to 4 hours, took 27 hours total--10 of which were on the road. There was snow and high winds through most of the state, but it wasn't too bad (good road conditions and ok visibility--60 feet or so) until we hit mile marker 55 in Michigan, at which point traffic stopped. We stopped at around 4 pm didn't move an inch for nearly 3 hours. We found out later that the accident ahead of us contained 6 jackknifed semis and at least a dozen cars. Given what we saw on our way through the site, I would be surprised if that figure included all crashes related to that initial accident.

It was 3 degrees outside, and the wind was strong enough to make leaving the car an unpleasant proposition--unfortunate, since I really really had to pee. However, all things considered, it wasn't so bad. We turned off our lights, ran the engine just enough to keep it and the car warm, and listened to NPR podcasts. I eventually admitted to myself that I didn't have the aim to pee in a bottle, and briefly left the car to take care of things. Good news is, I would be surprised if anyone could see my blazing white butt through the blowing snow. Bad news is, I froze my ass off (really--being a woman sucks). We had Roxy in the car (we left Maggie with a friend, but figured that Roxy could use a little adversity in her life), and let her out to wander around the car a bit. We hoped that she'd taken car of her kitty business before we left.

At some point, traffic started moving--we would inch forward 15 feet and then stop for 10-15 minutes. After a few rounds of stop-and-start, we realized that unless we wanted our windshield wipers encased in ice, we would have to run them constantly. Over the next 2 hours, the swish-swish would slowly drive me crazy.

The good thing about our piecemeal mode of travel was that it gave us plenty of time to gawk. First, we started to see cars off the road--presumably people uninvolved in the first accident who simply failed to stop in time. Then we started into the accident zone proper--all flashing lights and guys in uniform looking way cold. One of them cleared off our wiper for us, saving us a 10th trip out in the cold. They were dragging stranded cars across the median, presumably because the other side was more easily accessible. There was a semi tractor with the front smashed in, and several facing the wrong direction. Eventually, we made it to the next exit, where we were routed off the road into small towns. I was following a semi tractor for a while, but he made an ill-advised decision to pass a stranded semi who couldn't make it up a hill. He drifted away, and suddenly I was at the front of a massive, slow-motion parade. I didn't see the trailer again.

By the time we got back on the highway, visibility had fallen to about 20 feet. 4 hours of zero traffic left the roadway encased in snow. We found ourselves at the center of a sphere of snow. 20 feet from the car, the world may as well not have existed. It was impossible to tell where the road ended and the ditch began, so our parade took a firm position at the center of the roadway. A sedan in back of me (who had apparently missed our 3 hour long lesson in why- not- to- drive- like- a- jackass- in- a- blizzard) decided that this was a good time to pass. I saw him come up on my right, and then he slowly drifted off the side of the road. He left my personal bubble of world, and we didn't see him again. Nobody attempted to pass after that.

We spent an amusing interlude at East Bumblefuck Michigan (motto: don't stop here) and decided that we would have to try to make it the 13 miles to Benton Harbor. Although it seemed impossible, the road was even worse when we got back on. We could see as much as 20 feet in front of us, but when the wind shifted, all I could see was windshield, and I would have to stop on the roadway until it cleared. I've never driven in worse conditions. Long story not-so-short, we made it to Benton Harbor, checked into a hotel (best $80 I have ever spent), threw our totally freaked-out cat in the bathroom, and slept like the dead. The next day, it was still snowing, but not as badly. Since it was only 25 miles to get into Indiana, where the snow would probably stop (lake effect), we decided to go for it. It took us another 2 hours to get to my folk's house--a distance of probably 60 miles.

Once we got there, though, we had a lovely time. In addition to our traditional Christmas Eve gift of matching pajamas, the cats and dogs got matching bandanas. Suprisingly, Roxy didn't seem to mind hers and kept it on for the whole time we were there. On the whole, Roxy had a fantastic time at my folks' house. She seemed to enjoy having other animals around--even if she wasn't too fond of the dog at first. We made christmas cookies, wrapped presents, decorated the tree, and prepped the country ham we bought my mom for Christmas. We had an ice storm, and I took some pictures of my mom's winter garden (maybe I'll get to post some later). On a lark, we went to Cabella's, which is like Disneyland for hunters and included a mountain of stuffed game, an animatronic deer exhibit, a fish tank full of enormous fish, a wild-game cafeteria, a gun musem, and an entire section of disgusting bait items (I love looking at disgusting bait items). On our last day, we went to the Brookfield zoo. I love going to the zoo in the winter, and it's long tradition in our family. We saw gibbons singing to each other, a pygmy hippo, and some gorillas playing in the straw. We saw an orangutan going crazy over a giant orange-flavored popsicle. We saw an *enourmous* alligator (>15 feet long), and an owl with a lazy eye. We saw the keepers feeding the tapirs and hippos hamburger buns (hippo can haz cheezburger?) and indulging the elephants with big squirts of water. The best was the polar bear, who was playing with a small red ball. Early on it fell into the moat. He eventually decided to brave the icy steps to get it, but ended up falling into the moat. At that point, we looked in the mirror set up for moat-viewing and realized that all of the bear toys are in the moat. Reminds me of a certain cat I know, who likes to knock her toys down the stairs into the basement.

We seem to have used up all our bad luck on the trip to Chicago, because the trip from O'hare to Portland to Medford, which should have been fraught with trouble the entire way, was ridiculously easy. We headed out to the Oregon Coast to meet up with Caitrin (Ross's sister) the next day. The coast was lovely. We saw lighthouses, wind-bent trees, and crashing waves. We went to a wonderful aquarium with plexiglass tubes that let you walk underwater, and a petting zoo where you could touch anemones, sea cucumbers, sharks, and rays. We went to a garden with a fantastic light show, and a whale-watching center. The whale watching center has a real whale skeleton set up in the building. I also learned that little bits of junk in the ocean sometimes accumulate bits of plant matter in their travels, forming something that looks like a miniature tumbleweed. Later on, I looked for these balls on the beach, but didn't find any. We did find some jellyfish, though, and some blobs of clear stuff that felt a bit like rubber. Ross and I argued about the source of these--I thought they were organic (maybe dried out jellyfish, or whale barf or something), while Ross figured they were man made material (maybe packing material, or a component of a ship). I found a kid's toy--a plastic grenade--which looked pretty old, from the 70s maybe. We found some neat seashells, including one with a gradient from silver to purple, and another that was raspy and brown. We got a great lesson in the power of the pacific, when an extra-large wave caught me by surprise, and forced me to run up the beach to avoid getting wet. Ross's dad, who was taking pictures of me while I scrambled to safety, ended up getting caught too, and executed a neat little roll to get out of the way. The dunes themselves were the best part--covered in a spiky grass, making them look almost furry.

The trip down to San Fransisco was also uneventful. We stayed with Ross's aunt and uncle in Alameda. I had some professional obligations, but we also had some time to just wander around. We hiked up a big hill (though not by any stretch the biggest) and went to a toy store past Chinatown. We walked through a really sketchy neighborhood to a beer store that turned out to be closed. The brewery that we settled for was called the Thirsty Bear, and turned out to have some decent beers. That evening, we got to see some good friends who moved to Oakland a few years ago. We had fantastic sausages, made by a guy who was of Turkish decent, born in Germany, and grew up in Canada. Man knows his sausages! He was really nice, and let us come behind the counter to top our own sausages. He let us eat there while he closed up shop, and even gave us some of all of his french fry dips to try. The next day, Ross's uncle drove us around to see some different neighborhoods in the city. We went to yet another great sausage place, with the best business model ever. The sausage place is next door to a great bar. You can get your sausage for here, to go, or "for next door". We, of course, carried our sausage (wild boar for Ross, duck with figs for me) next door to have a beer. We were shocked to find that we didn't recognize a single beer on the menu! Awesome! We also subjected Ross's uncle to two different toy shops. But the second one was well worth it. We bought three original prints and spent only $48. Totally awesome.

Anyway, this was a long post, but it was a great trip. We were gone for much too long, but we enjoyed ourselves. How was your holiday season?

1 comment:

Althea said...

Your post left me imagining myself screaming with sheer frustration while Matt cowers on the other side of the car. Sounds like you handled it with much more aplomb than I would have.