Day 21 – June 23

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Current Location: Marietta, GA

As I’m approaching the 5,000 mile mark of “Expedition America,” I have been lucky enough to see so many amazing sites, places, and natural resources that exist within this country.  I have been through thirteen states and have stayed in eleven different cities along the way.  As I have made my journey across the U.S., I have experienced so many things that I had always wanted to visit but hadn’t gotten the chance to do so yet.  Today, I decided to switch things up.  Today, I wanted to bring a little piece of Marietta, Georgia to all of you who have been so gracious in sharing your hometowns with me.  Today, I bring to you, the self-proclaimed “world famous” KFC.  I bring to you… drum roll please… the Big Chicken.

We moved to Marietta shortly after I turned seven years old.  As fate would have it, our move coincided with a major catastrophic event taking place in our new town.  The Big Chicken had fallen into disrepair as a result of a major storm in the area, and the powers that be were threatening to tear it down.  The town was not taking this news lightly.  I vividly recall going into the restaurant in 1993 (the only other time that I can remember actually going inside the place other than today) and seeing hundreds of letters displayed on the walls.  These were “Save Our Chicken” letters.  This was the “Save Our Chicken” campaign.

The Big Chicken was originally completed in 1963 by S.R. “Tubby” Davis for his new restaurant, Johnny Reb’s Chick, Chuck, and Shake and was designed by Hubert Puckett, a student studying architecture at Georgia Tech.  The structure stands at the intersection of Roswell Road and Cobb Parkway, once the only four-lane road in Marietta.  Because of this prime real estate, Davis wanted to make the most of the location and commissioned this fifty-six foot structure as an advertising gimmick.  Much has changed about the city of Marietta, including the addition of about a million (using a rough estimate) four-lane roads, but one thing has not changed.  The Big Chicken remains the town’s shining star.

For people living near Atlanta, the most important thing to know is the location of the Big Chicken.  In fact, it’s the only thing to know.  No matter where you’re going, your directions will always start from the Big Chicken.  No matter where you’re going.  You want to go downtown?  “No problem, from the Big Chicken you just….”  You want to know how to get to Chick Fil A on Sandy Plains?  “Easy.  If you start at the Big Chicken…” Oh really?  You’re headed to the moon?  “Yep, just hang a left from the Big Chicken, you’ll see it, big thing in the sky.”  No matter where you’re going, if you ask someone in the Atlanta area how to get there, you will always be coming from the Big Chicken.  Always.  You’re looking for the Big Chicken?  You might as well drive off a bridge.  You want to know how to get to the nearest bridge?  It’s two miles west of the Big Chicken.

This phenomenon can be a little alarming if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of this landmark.  “Everyone keeps telling me to start out at the Big Chicken… what the heck does that mean?!”  Unfortunately, I’m sorry to report that this obsession doesn’t become any less alarming even after you’ve actually seen the thing.  In fact, I’ve spent most of my life being afraid of it.  Of course, I’m completely in love with it at the same time, but the steel structure towering over me, peering down at my car with it’s beak pecking in my direction isn’t the most calming visual I’ve encountered over the years.  The pool where I swam throughout high school is very close to the Big Chicken, but I always avoided looking its way.  Luckily for you, today, I faced my fear head on, drove right up to the thing, and looked that damn bird straight in the eye.  I wasn’t going to let that overgrown piece of steel hold any power over me anymore.

It was when I got to the Big Chicken that I started to experience the “I’m not a tourist” phenomenon for the first time. As I mentioned before, I’ve driven around this country for almost 5,000 miles.  I’ve waited outside of the gates at Bosse Field with a camcorder.  I’ve marched up to a statue of Jesus and posed in front of it, attempting to make it appear as though we were engaging in a high-five.  I’ve taken pictures of people’s general stores and wheelbarrows.  I’ve photographed the “would-be” museum at McDonald’s.  I’ve stalked a random person’s (make that two random people’s) houses.  And despite all of these potentially awkward scenarios, it wasn’t until I was seen taking the pictures of a structure in my hometown that I suffered my first brush with humiliation.  I wanted to stand there, camera in hand, and yell at the top of my lungs, “I am not a tourist!”  Of course, this feeling didn’t stop me from silently smirking at the other people taking pictures of the premises.  “Ha,” I thought to myself, “they must not be from around here.”

Despite the embarrassment that I felt while gawking at Sir Chicken, I was curious to see what was going on inside, so I allowed my tour to continue.  Sure enough, there is fresh merchandise, pictures of the original Big Chicken, and news clippings chronicling the threatened demolition of 1993.  My favorite story includes a photo with a caption that reads, “Marietta, are you lost yet?”  I just looked at it and smiled.  Yep, I suppose they’re onto something. It’s true.  As stupid as the thing might be, in one way or another, we would be lost without our chicken.

Tomorrow I will spend another day in Marietta before heading to North Carolina and making the final climb up the East Coast.  I can’t believe it’s already been three weeks worth of driving, but I’m looking forward to another great week ahead.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you all for sticking with me throughout my travels!  And I hope you enjoy the Big Chicken as much as I have over the years.

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Day 20 – June 22

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Current Location: Atlanta, GA; Miles Traveled: 256.5

As Paula Abdul once wisely noted, sometimes the course that we’re given by the universe allows us to take one step forward but then forces us to retreat two steps back.  For me today, it appears that Paula knew what she was talking about.  I took a giant Neil Armstrong-sized leap ahead only to then be seemingly pushed back in the opposite direction.

I blame myself for the minor downfall.  Things were going too perfectly, and I knew it.  I had even been thinking to myself, “hey, a positive attitude really goes a long way.  I thought that everything would work out perfectly and it has.”  Right.  In the words of Stephanie Tanner, “ha. ha. ha. ha. ha.  I fooled you.”  It was as though I had never heard about the dangers of speaking too soon.  It was like I was brand new to the planet.

I’ll start out with the good.  Shortly after reporting that there are no apartments in Nashville, I drove around the area of town where I want to live and saw a sign outside of a complex claiming that there were apartments for lease.  I had fallen into this trap before.  Despite a sign reflecting the existence of a vacancy in the building, typically one does not exist.  Luckily in this case though, I went into the leasing office, and the building manager told me that there was an apartment available in a building down the street.  Upon further description, I realized that it was the same building where a friend of mine lives.  The same building that I had wanted to move into originally.

I told him I would take it.  “Whoa, slow down,” he responded, “you should at least go take a look at it first.”  I told him I was staying in that building as it was and that I didn’t need to look at it.  He insisted that I go to see that specific unit but also cautioned me to hurry because there was another person “right behind.”  I took off like a shot.  For a brief moment in time, I was a contestant on The Amazing Race and that apartment was my million-dollar prize.  There was no way that I was going to be the loser again.  Not this time!  This apartment was mine.

I went over to the complex, but I had no idea which unit I was supposed to be looking at.  I checked all of the paperwork that I had been given, but the apartment number didn’t seem to be listed on any of it.  I called Jim back.  He didn’t answer so I had to leave him a message, “I just saw the apartment.  Looks great.  I definitely want it.”  And that was it.  Next thing I knew I was handing over checks and signing paperwork, and I finally have an address again!  Ultimately, I did find out the unit number and went over to the building to look at it.  It looked exactly as I had expected it would.  Phew. I felt like I had cleared a major hurdle.

Of course, the thing that I had failed to take into account is that in the Olympics, when a runner clears a hurdle, there’s another one waiting to be tackled in just a couple of strides.  This hurdle is the one that I ran straight into.  And then I fell down and rolled into yet another one.

See, some of you might be wondering how I managed to rent an apartment without having a job.  Without incriminating myself too much here, I managed to figure out a way to get around that, but employment does remain a goal of mine.  In fact, without getting into too much detail, I had a pretty good lead for a job.  “Yep,” I thought to myself after securing the apartment, “today is the day when everything falls into place.” “Not so fast,” God’s voice boomed from somewhere beyond the clouds, “I will decide when everything falls into place.” And so needless to say, I’m still waiting on the edge of my seat for that moment.

To quote Rachel Green from Friends, “so you guys, like, all have jobs?”  And then to quote “all,” “yes, it’s how we, like, buy stuff.”  Ahh.  So that’s how you guys do it.  Lately, it has occurred to me that I should begin to think about what I’ll be doing at my trip’s end.  Some of you might have thought to think of this next step prior to your original departure, but really, I was driving across the country for thirty days, who wants yet another “plan?”  Kerouac didn’t know where the road was going to take him, why should I?

Luckily, someone in Nashville at a company of interest to me agreed to have me come in for a meeting.  I had the fleeting idea that they might offer me a job on the spot and that would be it, case closed.  Unfortunately, as I learned after my meeting today, it was more like “case reopened.”  “Hmm,” I thought as I headed back to my car, “no time to worry about the job hunt now.  The road is calling, and I’m going home.  I want to make good time to Atlanta.”

I got into my car, and cranked it up.  And then I repeated this step.  And then I tried repeating it again.  And again.  Evidently, my car had no imminent interest in getting to Atlanta whatsoever.  Somehow, despite being functional a mere one hour before, my car battery was now completely dead.

As a fairly careless person, I had found myself in this predicament a few times before.  Once, I left my car in the driveway over Thanksgiving break with the lights turned on.  Another time, I left my car in a parking garage overnight with the lights turned on.  Another time, I left my car on the street for an extended period of time with the lights turned on.  Get the picture?  But this time, I had done no such thing.  This wasn’t my fault!  Fate was failing me.

So there I was, staked out in the parking lot of the company that I had just begged for a job from.  It occurred to me that I was basically engaging in a sit-in, and I wanted to stand up and get the hell out of there.  Initially, I refused to believe that the battery was to blame for my car’s refusal to cooperate, but after calling the Honda dealership in Nevada where I had gotten the car (this is another story altogether), I became convinced.  I called AAA and then I waited.  And I waited.  And I waited.

Luckily, it just so happened that in my car, I had a book.  The back of this particular book had a review that read, “if you only read one book per year, this should be it.”  One book per year.  Perfect.  This book knew me so well.  After waiting for two and a half hours, the AAA truck arrived, and two minutes later, I was on my way.  Another step forward.   I figure I’m about where I started for the day.

As I drove, clouds started to form in the distance.  And then in began to rain.  I didn’t mind though.  I knew exactly what I was driving into.  I was headed towards summer in Georgia.  Of all of the places that I’ve been throughout this trip, there is no place that I was happier to be than Georgia.  I guess it’s true what “they” say, there is no place like home.  Of course, “they” also say that you can’t go home again, yet here I am, so I’m not sure what to make of that one.  Tomorrow (which is now today because the Internet wasn’t working when I arrived last night, so it’s now the following morning), I look forward to visiting one of my favorite Marietta, GA landmarks which I will later share with all of you (and believe me, it’s pretty spectacular).

Thanks so much for following along!

Day 19 – June 21

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Current Location: Nashville, TN

For the first time, my report on Day 19 comes to you with the fresh perspective of being written the following day.  That’s how extreme Nashville is.  No time to write…. “no time to study, I’ll never get into Stanford” (that one’s for for my fellow Saved By the Bell enthusiasts).  But seriously, so far, I have been busy.

One of my favorite shows is House Hunters on HGTV.  For House Hunters, a real estate agent shows a potential buyer several different houses, and then a short list is created.  The show then follows the buyers touring the three houses on their short lists and sees them through their decision-making processes.  Invariably, a compromise has to be made.  For instance, a newlywed couple might be able to live within close proximity to the city, have a backyard with a fence, or have a newly remodeled kitchen, but they cannot have all three.  There is never a house that matches all of the criteria, and sometimes, the buyers have to increase their budgets in order to really get what they want.  This aspect of House Hunters frustrates me.  I always say to myself, “are these really the best options?  I wouldn’t settle like these people are doing!  I want the better location, the pool, and the goose that lays the golden egg.  I want it all!”

After yesterday, I have a new appreciation for everyone involved in House Hunters because those really are the best options.  As it turns out, the show actually makes it look easy.  Even as someone who isn’t looking to buy a house, it seems that just apartment searching can be a tall order, and it is certainly this way when it comes to Nashville.  It really does appear to come down to either having a good location, a nice apartment, or saving money.  And it just so happens that I want all three.

The apartment market in Nashville is something that I was completely unprepared for after living in Los Angeles.  In LA, it feels like every other building is literally begging for your occupancy.   Sometimes they have balloons.  Sometimes they have reduced rates.  Sometimes they have someone out there holding up a sign, wearing a chicken suit (ok, I made that last part up).  But either way, there is no shortage of apartments in Los Angeles.  This characteristic is not so in Nashville.  Here, there are wait lists, hidden fees, and complexes after complexes with nothing available.  It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even want to see something that is available because I now see a vacancy as a huge red flag.  If there wasn’t something hugely wrong with it, it would be taken.  Oh, and people in LA (me) thought that it would be cheaper here?  Think again bucko.  It’s not cheaper at all.

I suppose that I should see all of this as affirmation that Nashville is awesome, and I do.  Nashville is awesome.  Of course, as a result of Apartment Hunt 2011, I haven’t seen much of it, but my friend, Ashley took me around a bit last night, and I can already tell that it’s a great place to be.  Although, it will be an even greater place to be if I’m not living in my car.  Actually though, I’ve been living in my car this long, maybe I could hack it for another couple months or years.  I would save money that way, and I could be in close proximity to whatever I wanted.

Although I haven’t seen much or interacted with many people here, I can already tell that one behavior of mine is going to have to change.  And that’s the behavior that I call, “I’m from Georgia.”  You see, in LA, whenever someone is from a place that’s remotely in the vicinity of the place that you’re from, you tell them about it.  “You’re from Houston?  I’m from Dallas.”  “You’re from St. Paul?  I’m from Milwaukee.”  “You’re from Iowa?  I lived in Indiana for two years.”  Or in my case, “you grew up in North Carolina?  I’m from Georgia.”  I suppose that if I were from Washington or Arizona, I could continue with this habit, but telling people here that I come from Georgia just makes me an idiot.  “Oh, you vacationed in Hilton Head, yeah, I love it there.  I’m from Georgia.”  “Uh huh, and I’m from Tennessee.”  Oh riiiight.  Dorothy, you’re not in LA anymore.

All the apartment hunting and thunderstorms aside (oh, did I not mention the raging storms?), I can already tell that I’m going to love Nashville.  Of course, it will take some time to adjust and get used to it here, but ultimately, I feel like it will work out for the best.  Especially if I find an apartment.

As a result of the torrential downpour and apartment searching, I don’t have many pictures to share from yesterday, but I do have one that highlights the diversity that seems to exist in Nashville…. of course, there is a Christian bookstore down the street too, it is still Tennessee…  Today, I will continue to look for apartments before leaving for Atlanta tonight, and then my travels will take me to North Carolina.  I hope that everyone is having a great week!  Thank you for reading!

Day 18 – June 20

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Since I know you’re probably curious, here are some fun facts about my new city:

* There’s a street in 1950’s theme that has a traditional diner and acapella singing group.

* There are shops that sell everything from pancake mix to pop guns to tin can banjos on every corner.

* The local cuisine includes funnel cakes, ice cream floats, corn dogs, and sausage on a stick.

* Everyone is accommodating, helpful and unfailingly polite.

* Games line the streets and prizes are awarded readily.

* There are mines, log cabins, bald eagles, and a locomotive within a two mile radius.

* Pie is served by the pound.

* There is a Titanic replica down the street.

* Several roller coasters without any lines line the perimeter.

* There is a queen and a museum dedicated solely to her life.

That’s right everyone.  Forget Nashville.  I’m going to the greatest place in the country.  I’ve decided to move to Dollywood.

Dollywood is one of the nicest theme parks that I’ve visited.  Everyone is Disney-friendly, but instead of peddling hats with Mickey ears on them, Dollywood offers coonskin caps… much more my speed.  The rides are fun.  The lines are short, and the park is hidden within the Smoky Mountains, so you have no idea where you’re going.  As a result, each turn of the corner offers yet another surprise.  You might as well be walking around wearing a blindfold.  Above all though, the people-watching at Dollywood simply can’t be beat.  In every way, Dollywood is head and shoulders above the rest.

Upon our arrival in Pigeon Forge, I knew that I was in love with the place the moment that I saw the Titanic on the side of the road.  No explanation.  Just the Titanic.  Apparently, it’s quite an elaborate museum dedicated to the ship’s artifacts.  Had I known about this ahead of time, I would have adjusted my schedule for additional time in the Smoky Mountains.  Luckily though, after today, I know I’ll be back.

Once we finally arrived at the park, parked the car, and took the tram all the way to the entrance, we proceeded to wait in line for twenty minutes to purchase our tickets.  “Was it that crowded?” you ask.  No.  No it wasn’t.  It turns out that for a person of a certain age, the employment choices are Wal-Mart greeter or manning the ticket booth at Dollywood.  For some reason though, we didn’t mind.  It was clear right away that time knows no existence in Dollywood, and this feeling seemed to miraculously transfer to me upon stepping onto the premises.  I’ve never been as patient in my life as I was in Dollywood.

After entering the gates of Heaven, confusion set in.  First off, how have I never been here before?  This place might as well be called Cathiwood.  Second, is this a practical joke?  The map is written in hieroglyphics and the only things visible are the trees.  Do we follow the trees to the left?  Or the trees to the right?  I had never been in a theme park that I couldn’t see before.  After going to the museum (where again, no photography is allowed.  Dollywood Museum, meet Dealey Plaza…), my mom suggested that we take the train to “get a feel of the park.”  I agreed.  A nice ride around the park sounded like a good idea.

In the words of my marketing professor, Dr. Adler, “wrongo buddy.”  We waited for twenty minutes to get onto the train, all the while thinking, “well, we’ve waited this long..” I now know for the next time that the moment it starts to occur to me, “I’ve already waited this long…” is exactly when I should make a swift about face.  Things will not improve.  While in line for the train, I checked out the map to figure out where we would be let off on the other side of the park.  The map was extremely confusing, so I couldn’t figure it out.  We eventually boarded, and about fifteen minutes later, we were finally on our way out of the station.

The conductor greeted us, “Is everyone ready to enjoy our tour into the Smoky Mountains?” Huh?!  Tour into the Smoky Mountains?!  It couldn’t be.  “No,” my mom assured me, “that’s not what they mean.”  Next thing I know, she tells me that she hates to be the one to break the news to me.  The map specifies, “five mile round trip tour of the Smoky Mountains.”  Five miles?  Round trip?  Can you say, “time suck?”  But, like I said before, time has no place in Dollywood.  And besides, it’s not the park’s fault that I can’t read a map.  Tip: When the train tracks are drawn going off the page, there’s a larger meaning to consider.

I love Dollywood.  As if the rides, food, and shops weren’t enough, the presence of several bald eagles cemented a lifelong infatuation for me.  What’s more American than a coonskin cap and a couple of bald eagles?  Even Wal-Mart’s torch starts to flicker when compared to the light of Americana that shines through Dollywood.  One piece of apple pie from this place could feed a family of ten (or, based on appearances, one typical guest of Dollywood), and the feeling of the American dream is nowhere more evident than this theme park.  Just one look at the replica of Dolly’s two room childhood log cabin that she shared with her parents and ten brothers and sisters cements that fact.  You see the rags, and then you turn around and realize that you’re literally standing in the riches.

Being in close proximity to Dollywood is already worth living in Tennessee for me.  I’m officially obsessed with the Volunteer State, show me no more.  As if the day wasn’t enough, while driving to Nashville tonight, I witnessed one of the best sunsets that I’ve seen in a long time.  Of course, I was too busy trying to take pictures of it to really enjoy it, but hey, that’s a different story.

Tomorrow I will explore Nashville and attempt to start putting a life somewhat together.  I think that I might be beginning to forget that I won’t be a nomad forever (so I assume…).  It’s gotten to the point where I see “200 miles” on the schedule for the day and I think, “oh, just around the block.”  I’m happy to report though that both the civic, my mom, and me are doing well.  She returns back to Massachusetts tomorrow, and on Wednesday, I will proceed onto Georgia.

Thanks for reading!

Day 17 – June 19

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Distance Traveled: 497 Miles; Current Location: Loudon, TN

A while back, after traveling through Texas, I mentioned that I don’t have a navigation system in my car.  I was doing well with my system, looking up directions online before leaving for the next destination, and after 4,000 miles, I had run into very few issues with this way of doing things.  Today, however, I changed things up.  I brought a navigation system with me into the car, and just as I had suspected it would, the navigator lead me completely astray.  It told me that my directions were wrong.  It told me to turn right when I knew that I should turn left.  It’s constant voice told me where I wanted to go and the places that I wanted to avoid, even when it’s advice didn’t prove to be accurate at all.  Finally, with thirty miles to go, I had had enough.  I looked at the navigational device and said (in my always perfectly pleasant tone of voice), “please be quiet, mom.”

Luckily, for the most part though, things continue to carry on quite smoothly, and the time in the car does seem to go by faster when someone is along for the ride.  I was happy to have my mom with me on this leg of the trip especially because along our drive from Sandusky to Knoxville, I had planned to stop off to experience the thing that I was most looking forward to on the entire journey (hopefully that doesn’t mean that it’s all downhill from here).  I had planned to stop off in Cincinnati to see the house that I lived in from age five to age seven.  I had never been back to Cincinnati since we moved to Georgia in 1993, and I have long been curious to find out exactly how my recollections would stack up to reality.

In preparation to see the house and our old neighborhood, I would often snap back to an argument that I vividly recall having with my mother when I was about seven years old.  In it, I was insisting that the tennis courts that I had played on as a toddler had a taller net than the tennis courts that I was currently taking lessons on.  “Yes huh, mom!  The net went over my head!”  With more patience than I would have had, she tried to explain to me that I had grown.  I refused to believe her.  In the back of my mind, leading up to today’s voyage to Cincinnati, I wondered if in seeing the street corner where I sometimes sat and ate my dinner so that I didn’t miss the ice cream man, or in looking at the elementary school that I attended, or in driving by our old Kroger, that I would notice a bunch of very short nets.  I wondered exactly how eye opening it would be to see the land that I lived in as a child through an adult’s eyes.

Turns out, not very.  Not very eye opening at all.  On this trip, I have experienced time travel by going to the Wal-Mart museum, and I’ve experience time change by driving through each time zone in the country, but it wasn’t until today that I experienced a total time freeze.  It wasn’t until today, when I went to Cincinnati, that I realized the meaning behind the phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  My house, my neighborhood, my street corner bus stop where I would sit and wait for the ice cream man, none of it could have looked anymore similar to the way that I had remembered it.  Everything was exactly the same.   Sure, there were a couple new houses here and there, but there were no tiny backyard fences, there was no magical rainbow with a pot of gold there to greet me, there were no short nets.  It was exactly as I had remembered.

Immediately after getting to the old country, I was glad that I had visited it.  I now realize that I can stop wondering what our old neighborhood looks like because I lived there for a year and a half, so I already know what it looks like, and besides, what’s the difference anyway?  I also now know that I never have to go back there again. I can focus completely on starting my current life so that I have some other place to visit twenty years down the road, and I can tell my kids, “you know, there used to be a very tall net here.”  Visiting Cincinnati again was one of my main goals for this trip, and I’m happy that I accomplished it.  Although it seems like a great city and I lived there once,  it also became clear to me today that just like the other places that I’ve been so far on this adventure, Cincinnati isn’t my city.

My experience with the Ghost of Cathi Past leads me into the next milestone of today’s trip, the brush with the Ghost of Cathi Future.  Today, we entered Tennessee.  My trip across America will continue on after this point by going to Georgia and up the East Coast to Massachusetts, but I thought that I should come to Tennessee on a scouting mission ahead of time rather than simply showing up in July with all my stuff and a really confused look on my face.  I’m 100% certain that this feeling was consciously created in my head, but as soon as I saw the sign that says, “Tennessee welcomes you,” it felt like I was being welcomed home.  Well, maybe not “home” per se, but at least to a place that I knew could one day become my home.

And that’s what I’m going with from here on out.  Throughout my trip, at various stops along the way, I have been asked where I’m coming from or have had to sign into a place, listing a hometown along with my name.  Although I have sometimes responded, “none,” it will be nice to have a simple answer to this expectedly simple question.  Though I am wholeheartedly from Marietta, Georgia, it hasn’t seemed appropriate to tell people that that’s where I’m coming from since I haven’t lived there in seven years.  Likewise, telling people that I’m coming from Los Angeles implies that I plan to return to it before hell freezes over.  So, from now on, I’m going with Tennessee.  As of today, I come from Tennessee.  After all, the rest of the drive will take place after my jaunt here, so this is technically where I am “coming from” anyway.

Tomorrow, we are off to experience Dollywood in Pigeon Forge!  While in my heart, Dolly Parton will never be The Judds, I still think she’s pretty fantastic, so I can’t wait to see what her kingdom has to offer.  Afterwards, we’ll be driving to Nashville for my first look in several years at the place where I’ll be living (ha!)…. hopefully I will feel more of an attachment to it there than I have thus far along my journey… if not, I’ll learn to love it I’m sure.

I hope everyone has a great week!  My trip officially has less than two weeks to go!

Day 16 – June 18

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Current Location: Sandusky, OH

How much would you pay for the luxury of spending a day standing around in a moshpit of strangers, some of whom look like they’re one bad decision away from Cops, if you’re promised that for each hour spent doing absolutely nothing, you’ll be rewarded with two to three minutes of entertainment?  Today, for me, the answer to this question turned out to be $47.99.  That’s the amount that I paid to enter Cedar Point.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved roller coasters.  While some kids have trepidation over going on big rides, my only concern was whether or not I would be tall enough for them.  Not that I have any lasting memories of being too young to ride or anything, (1989 – Storyland, 1991 – King’s Island and Typhoon Lagoon) and not that I have any doubt that I took this news in stride and simply picked a different ride without any tears, complaining, or argument – I was a dream child.  But I do remember that the more daunting an attraction appeared, the more I wanted to go on it. Sure, Disneyland is fun, but to continue with the theme of Clark Griswold, “enough with this kid’s stuff.  Where are the big rides?”

Luckily, thanks to my videotape of the top ten best coasters in the country that I watched repeatedly as a child, I knew exactly where to find the big rides.  The big rides are in Sandusky, Ohio.  The big rides are at Cedar Point.  I wanted to come here to experience the thrills that I have heard tales of, but more importantly, I wanted to make the trek to Cedar Point so that the next time I remark that I enjoy roller coasters and on cue, someone asks me whether or not I have ever been to Cedar Point, I can avoid the speech that unfailingly follows my response and begins with, “Dude!  You gotta go to Cedar Point!”

Sure enough, I now know that Cedar Point has some great rides.  I loved Milennium, Gemini, and Top Thrill Dragster especially, but there were several others that I enjoyed too.  Even the random Space Mountain rip off that takes place in a warehouse on the park’s edge turned out to be a good time.  Of course, based on the rickety nature of this particular ride, I’m guessing the warehouse obstructs it from view for a reason.  Overall though, I would say that Cedar Point is certainly a park for roller coaster enthusiasts.  I wouldn’t necessarily suggest traveling great distances to experience it, but hey, you guys probably weren’t in danger of doing that anyway.

As much fun as Cedar Point turned out to be, it did point out some ways to me in which it appears I might have changed a bit.  For instance, I found myself ready to leave the park at about 5:00.  5:00?!  Isn’t that when the lame putzes are just starting to leave?  Am I a lame putz?!  Secondly, some of the rides felt to me like what I would imagine it feels like to be in a literal train wreck.  Now, I’ve been “a train wreck” before, but I’ve never actually been in a train wreck, so I can’t say for sure, but I think that Cedar Point’s wooden coaster, Mean Streak, is a pretty standard virtualization. Before I got onto that particular ride, I had read that it’s the longest coaster at Cedar Point.  “Sweet!” the ten year-old voice inside me thought, “the longest ride!”  Moments into the experience however, my current voice took hold and yelled, “holy shit,  I’m one of the dice in the Yahtzee can, and this is the longest ride…!”

Even though I love roller coasters, being at a theme park can still be draining for me.  Typically, I try to engage in as little physical activity as possible, so having the opportunity to walk and stand for ten straight hours isn’t something that I would ordinarily offer to exchange money for.  I also prefer to spend the majority of my time indoors and am not one to mess with the elements of heat, rain, humidity, sleeveless shirts… etc. so spending an entire day outside doesn’t usually interest me either. Furthermore, I don’t necessarily strive for virtue, so though “patience” is listed as one, I don’t gravitate towards it.  Despite all of these negative factors though, I do love roller coasters, so every once in a while, I’ll put up with these drawbacks in order to ride them.  If you want to know why someone would pay this money to walk around, wait, and read all day though, you’ll have to ask my mother.

My mom doesn’t go on roller coasters, or any rides for that matter.  Actually, that’s unfair, she did ride both the train and the cable car that took us from one side of the park to the other.  She said she preferred the cable car.  After all, there is more of a daring element to that one.  The good news about having her join me at Cedar Point though was that I had someone to walk from one ride to the next with, and she was there to hold my stuff.  Major bonus on that one.  She also took pictures, even of a group of people in Amish dress riding the Mantis, but she took them on her camera, the one we don’t have the computer cord for.  When I suggested to my mother that she had never been on a roller coaster before and might want to try one, she got very defensive and corrected the record. “I went on Thunder Mountain Railroad!”  Well, that’s true, so I’ll let you all be the judges on that one.

Overall, we had a good time at Cedar Point, and I think we are both glad that we came here.  Tomorrow, we are off to experience the thing that I’ve been anticipating the most about my trip, so I am very excited, and I will tell you all about it once we arrive in Knoxville, TN tomorrow night.  And If I didn’t have my fill of theme parks for the week, Dollywood is scheduled for Monday!

I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Day 15 – June 17

1 Comment

Miles Traveled: 367; Current Location: Sandusky, OH

June 17, 2011

McDonald’s Corporation
2111 McDonald’s Drive
Oak Brook, IL 60523

To Whom It May Concern:

I had a gray carseat in the late 1980’s. Today, my nieces have beautiful carseats with flower designs complimented by bright colors and patterns, but when I was a kid, my carseat was gray. I didn’t have any designs. I didn’t have any flowers. But I was happy riding along in my carseat, listening to Raffi or the Beach Boys or whatever the heck else children listened to back then. I was happy, because at a very young age, I learned that there was one thing that I could depend on whilst strapped into my gray seat. There was one thing that would make any long trip fun. There was one thing that never let me down. And that one thing was my Chicken McNugget Happy Meal with an orange soda from McDonald’s. From a very young age, McDonald’s, I knew that I could depend on you.

It was with great joy and anticipation then that when I decided to take a “car trip” across the entire country, I added Chicago to my list of destinations in order to visit you, McDonald’s, my buddy of twenty-five years. Not only do I enjoy museums that recreate experiences from the past, I knew that embarking on a trek of modern day America without including the McDonald’s Museum on that tour would be unconscionable. What, aside from Wal-Mart perhaps, could possibly be “more American” than McDonald’s? I knew that I had to pay tribute to the great American franchise and to Ray Kroc’s dream.

I researched the museum prior to my departure. I read the reviews. I checked the hours. I scanned the Internet for information on Store #1. It all looked perfect. The original scene of McDonald’s. Vintage cars in the parking lot and all. After a journey of 3,300 miles from Los Angeles to Chicago to see your museum, I was high on anticipation for today.

I’m sure then, that you can understand the disappointment that I felt this morning when I arrived at your museum, camera in hand, and found large padlocks across the gate and tarps covering each one of the vintage cars. I’m sure you can understand the disappointment that I faced, after driving all the way to Chicago simply for your museum, to find that it was closed without explanation or warning. In addition to bitter disappointment, I’m sure you can also understand the confusion that I went on to feel after reading the sign outside noting that the store is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with the exception of July 4th. Does June 17th not match this criteria? Are we not currently in the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day?

With the look of disbelief strewn across my face, I went to the currently operating McDonald’s restaurant across the street and demanded answers. One of the workers there told me to try back on July 4th and proceeded to inform me that the museum had been permanently closed to visitors. A “museum that’s closed to visitors?”…. I ask you, McDonald’s, is that not just storage? And July 4th? The specific date for which your sign indicates closure?

Should the museum truly be “closed to visitors,” I’d like to offer this bit of information to you. So far, on my trip, I have passed museums dedicated to toys, old gas station signs, candy, barns, tractors, and pieces of tin. I have been to museums for UFOs, alien statues, and the replication of Bedrock City, Fred Flintstone’s hometown in the Hanna-Barbara cartoon. Does it then not make sense for McDonald’s, the world’s largest chain of fast food restaurants that serves over 58 million people each day, to have a functional museum that’s “open to visitors?” You’d think, after all, that you could afford the maintenance of such an undertaking.

I’d like you to know that we proceeded to have McDonald’s for lunch because it was the most convenient option, and I’m a sucker for convenience, but in the future, I will think long and hard before dining at one of your fine establishments again. Unless, of course, you would like to send me some coupons or reimburse me for the hundreds of dollars that I spent on gas driving to your nicely decorated storage facility.

I am willing to guess that I am the only one, of the 58 million customers that you serve each day, who has ever driven through nine states to visit your museum. So, as your most loyal customer, I think that a year’s worth of free McDonald’s would be a fair repentance for your wrongdoing in this matter… unless of course, you were thinking “lifetime supply,” which I would also accept.

I look forward to hearing from you and to speaking with you about my thoughts and plans for your future museum. Please let me know which date and time I should arrive for the ribbon cutting ceremony. I am happy to provide my own scissors.

Do the right thing, McDonald’s. Do not go the way of Mighty Casey’s. “What’s Mighty Casey’s?” you ask. To which I reply, “exactly.” And you should know that they didn’t have a museum either.

Good Day to You,

Catherine Sinkel

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