May 16th — June 26th
Our trip in America was a whirlwind. We crossed the country at a rapid pace, and I was so concerned with it becoming just a blur in my memory that I wrote short notes of what each was like. Every place we went to in America had such a distinct flavor that I’m happy I have this diary as a key to certain areas of my memories. For anyone else reading this, it should be an worthy glimpse into various areas of America, and of what it’s like to cross the country by car.
Took off with the car. Eric and Jeff took us out to great food, including an epic lamb burger followed up by expensive hipster cookies from Helen's Kitchen.
Amazing day of driving and hiking. Of all things, Anaïs woke up first, and pushed us out of the house by 8:30. We visited Dry Falls Park, did a hike there and had a picnic in the middle of the canyon.
Then we went to Steamboat Rock Park and hiked around the plateau for some of the most breathtaking views I've ever witnessed.
Grand coulee dam was up after that. It's a full mile long and hooked up to huge power lines. Super impressive. Yay for infrastructure!
Weather was crap in Glacier and Yellowstone and will continue to be for the next few days so we are going down to Utah directly and stopping in Boise on the way. The roads were incredible to drive through.
Drive from Boise to Salt Lake City. Short hike around Shoshone falls which are nicknamed the Niagara of the west for a reason!
Long drive from SLC to Zion. We had time for a short hike at emerald pool trail. Then we went to or Airbnb in Kanab. Great couple of folks managing it. Had an interesting conversation about being your own boss, and living in the countryside as opposed to the city.
Went for a strenuous hike up to Observation point in Zion. I had wanted to go on a longer hike like this for a while. It's approximately equivalent in length to most hikes I used to do back in Névache in the Alps, with a 600+ meter elevation gain. Zion is probably the most incredible place we've visited since the beginning of our trip. It has a sacred and cosmic quality to it. The shapes and the colors of the canyon are so otherworldly that you can't help but stand there and marvel at it. I felt dwarfed by the scale of it all. This is possibly best illustrated at sunset, when beams of light, sent by a gigantic burning ball of fire millions of kilometers away, hit a wall of rock itself carved by the elements over millions of years on a sphere of dirt assembled billions of years ago. Hiking from the bottom to the top of it made me feel as though I’d been invited to be a small part of it all.
The actual hike up the canyon was overwhelming. Near the top, we reached ledges overlooking such heights, amidst rain and wind, that I truly felt destabilized. The magnitude of the landscape intimidated me and I felt for a moment that I was out of my element. Everything was telling me that I shouldn’t be there. I powered through, clutching the wall and combatting a dizziness that grew more poignant every time I tilted my head up to glance at the gorge.
Made a long drive from Kanab to Cortez. The drive was gorgeous once again. We wove in and out of Utah through Arizona then into Colorado. The landscape was as dramatic as ever, with mountains resembling ships sinking into a rock ocean. At times, it looked like entire tectonic plates surged from the desert floor.
We opted not to pay the fee to enter monument valley, but ended up spending some time in the valley of the gods. I think the name more than anything is what drew us in, but after driving past a few curves on a dirt road, a vast valley revealed itself, strewn with rock stacks, cliffs and intense layers of green bushes. A worthwhile detour!
Hit up Mesa Verde before heading to Montrose. Mesa verde had two out of its four main attractions closed, so it was a bit of a bummer.
That said, it was interesting to learn more about the Pueblos. It seems that they bifurcated from the Ute/Navajo/Apaches and lived in isolation from other Native American tribes for centuries. Or at least there is no indication that they met. Fascinating to learn more about how humanity has splintered out over the ages.
We arrived at our Airbnb host’s place late afternoon. Karen was an epic host. Cozy, welcoming. She is a pastor and we spent the evening chatting away about religion, theology, ethics, and trading life stories. She has a loose approach to religions that gives large amounts of room for interpretation.
She played fair and admitted that the Bible had “many human fingerprints” on it and that God was often something that humans projected their owns experiences of authority upon. She sees God as an expression of pure love, a creator, but not a micromanager.
At this stage, the bells and whistles of Christianity felt pointless and I was tempted to prompt her to drop Christianity altogether but she kept referring to experiences she had with Jesus and the fact that Christianity was a part of her heritage and that it was her preferred vehicle to transmit her vision of spirituality.
Drove through Black Canyon national park.
Made friends with an older Israeli couple who invited us to come see them when we come by their neck of the woods.
The canyon was wild and jagged. Very raw with some impressive views.
Then was a long drive to Colorado Springs with some dramatic views driving through canyons and lakes. We stopped for a burger that was actually quite good then crashed at our Airbnb. We stayed with a nice young couple. She's a Polish expat and he works in the air force helping pilots prep for high altitude situations. They just bought a big house that seems to have 7-8 rooms for a couple hundred grand. They are remodeling and transforming it into a guest house.
I grew kind of tired of never having time to unwind. It feels like we're constantly either on the move, or planning for our next move. I'm afraid that we’re going too fast and not spending enough time kicking back and taking places in.
After leaving Colorado Springs, we visited the Garden of the Gods which has dramatic rock formations but was completely congested with cars. It was impossible to park and take a walk. Furthermore, we had 7+ hours of driving to Lubbock ahead of us.
The hotel in Lubbock was a little sleazy. I call it a hotel because it was setup as such, but it was really an Airbnb. That night we went to a huge barbecue joint. Prices were low and quantities were huge. Welcome to Texas. Also the price of gas is crazy low. Some places had a gallon at $1.90…
We made the drive down to Austin and stopped by the Long Horn Cavern State Park.
Anaïs got a speeding ticket :(
Went to dinner at Torchy’s tacos and watched Zootopia.
Spent the day in Austin, woke up super late at Morgan’s Airbnb and went to the park where we walked and talked for a long time in the Texas heat and humidity. We stayed at another self-serve Airbnb that was kind of terrible. In an iffy part of town, dirty place etc.
Drove to San Antonio. Saw the Alamo, discovered that the only reason it is so well known is that the texians, who were independent from the US at that stage got their asses handed to them by the Mexicans. The texians used the massacre as a rallying cry and a PR move that ultimately helped them win the war. The John Wayne movie helped popularize the slogan “Remember the Alamo”.
The reality is that the texians were for slavery and that's why they fought for their independence, so it's puzzling that we still glorify the Alamo to this day.
We wanted to walk on the riverside but got rained out so we went to our Airbnb. Walter, an army medic hosted us. We got into a political conversation with him and his other guest Josh. Walter is a conservative. His home is filled with framed pictures of W. That said I think we still had a good conversation, showed him that we weren't all one sided and through that perhaps got him to see that some ideas from the other side of the spectrum aren't so extreme.
We also found a cat stuck in the sewage system while walking home from a restaurant that night. A group of 6 people including us and some neighbors tried to help him out and even lifted a manhole and left him some food but he was too far away down the tunnels. We had to go away and leave rescue services to try and figure it out.
We drove to Houston. The rain was scary and made the driving dangerous. Houston was hard to enjoy because we got rained out again. So we basically made Houston a Beyonce fan tour for Anaïs by going to her childhood house, and some of her favorite food joints, including Frenchy’s chicken and This is it. The food was just ok I'm my opinion, nothing to write home about.
We stayed at a comfy Airbnb that night, a woman called Kathryn hosted us.
Once more, we slept in super late (I really needed the sleep!) and hit the road. We went to New Orleans s directly. Again, the rain made it dangerous and the drive was long but it was worth it.
We made it to New Orleans at 7:30pm and started walking the streets in search of dinner. We went to a good but expensive place, which so far has been a trend in New Orleans.
We walked around the city and really got a feel for it. It's kind of like a mix of New England and the Caribbean. It really feels like you're in another country. It's surprising to me that America has anything this exotic.
The downtown area is imposing, like many other downtown areas of late American cities but the French quarter is so distinct with the balconies, shutters, parks, colors, etc. that it feels like another time and place.
We started to get rained out again and went to our Airbnb. We went out later for dinner and music despite the rain. We listened to a 6 piece band (bass saxophone, double bass, guitar, trumpet, violin, clarinet with three of them being singers) at a place called the Spotted Cat. It was in a loud bar with people dancing. All very old school but way more current than the last time I listened to a New Orleans band at the Hot Club in Lyon.
Our 12th anniversary! We strolled around New Orleans. Got rained on hardcore. Hung out in Louis Armstrong park, Cafe du Monde, balconies of downtown bars and watched people get married and march down old New Orleans. We had dinner at Eat New Orleans which was good.
Took it easy, woke up late. Went for a cheap brunch at Elizabeth’s then headed to Pierre Lafitte national park. Saw lots of cool plants and animals. Gators, turtles. Gators eating turtles. Jumping lizards, webbin spiders, buzzin dragonflies.
Got home, talked a bit with Ruby, our host. She was fit exactly to what I imagined a New Orleans resident to sound like, with the accent, expressions, the look, etc. she told us all about her family and her neighborhood. We eventually wound down ordering a huge pizza and chilling in front of Game of Thrones and tried to go to bed early.
We braced for a looooooong drive to winter springs. Google said it would take 9h30. I don't think I've ever driven in such dicey weather. June is hurricane season in Florida and we traversed a proper tropical rainstorm through Mississippi and most of Florida. I played it cool but our car slid more than a couple of times.
We stopped for gas twice, a quick pass through Mickey D’s and DQ and that was it.
We made it to my cousin Jade’s around 9pm. It was so good to see her and her family. Her aunt and uncle from Gaile’s side were also there, Marie, Rich and her cousin Kaylee. Lovely folks that I never had a chance to get to know earlier.
I was slammed from driving so much the day prior that we just chilled at Jade’s for the day. We chatted, played with the dogs, had dinner together, I swam in the lake. Just a good moment to get some family time and rest.
We made the drive down to Miami. Relatively short compared to what we had gotten used to in the past few days.
Our plan was to check into Airbnb and meet up with Francois Paille at a place called Whisk. It was a little awkward and a lot of fun to meet with Francois, a room mate we used to live with in Lyon that we hadn't seen in 8 years by his count. He got married with a Brazilian woman and is expecting a daughter. He is so much happier in the US than he was in France. Of course, he still works insane hours but at least gets paid good money for it and loves his work. He feels valued and rewarded and engaged. He said he would never consider coming back to France. I'm always ambivalent when I hear that because I love seeing old friends come to the US and succeed, but it's also sad to hear that France is a place they associate with so many woes.
The weather was crap again but we made a point of visiting key Biscayne all the same. Just a lot of beach. Nothing to go crazy over, although I have to say that the network of islands and bridges all over Miami makes for some dramatic drives.
That evening we met with Benoit Malige. He's married too now, and in the midst of transitioning from the hotel industry to the real estate industry. He strikes me as a real calm guy, thoughtful, with strong ideals, independent, entrepreneurial, and ambitious. It was cool catching up with him.
We decided the weather looked too dicey for us to stay another day and see the Everglades or key west.
Of course, as soon as we decide to leave, the weather clears out. We are making our way to Savannah with a pit stop in Melbourne for lunch with grandpa. It was really good to catch up! He looks to be in great shape and good spirits.
We rushed to Savannah after having spent a few hours with grandpa. My aunt and uncle, Tiffany and Ron welcomed us and we went out for dinner.
We came home to watch the basketball game, the last game the Warriors won that season.
We spent the entire day visiting Savannah. The temperature and humidity reminded me of what we experienced in southeast Asia. It's widely known that Savannah holds a special kind of atmosphere, but it struck me despite fully expecting it. The live oak trees with the Spanish moss infuse a distinct vibe throughout the whole region, and the extremely well preserved city center takes you back in time. Savannah has an undeniable charm.
Still, I couldn't shake the feeling, based on the time spent in my aunt and uncle's gated community, the conversations I overheard downtown and the affluence of local white folks, that there was an undue wealth. I had the same feeling in South Africa where I knew that the wealth of white people was only possible because of the misery of so many black people. Now and I'm not claiming that there is any equivalence in the level of disparity in wealth between blacks and whites in South Africa and Georgia, but it's obvious all the same that had slavery not taken place, the deck would be stacked in an entirely different way. While this may seem like a platitude, Georgia was a stark reminder of this fact.
We rejoined Tiffany, Ron, Brent and Earl for dinner that night. I hadn't seen Brent in well over a decade. It was good to see him and share some of our common gaming experience.
We spent a lazy last day in Savannah visiting Bonaventure century under blistering heat. We had a last dinner with the family and played a coop arena game with Brent, which we rode to 9 wins despite a mediocre deck.
We sped up north towards Charlotte where I would meet my cousin Brittany. We also had not seen one another for over a decade. She is married and has a kid!
Anaïs was getting sick, so I dropped her off at our Airbnb and rejoined Brittany and Brandon for the next game in the NBA finals.
Based on some loose research, we drove towards Great Smoky Mountain national park, which is apparently the most visited of all the national parks (it's free and on a big transit axis). We did the main attractions, stopped for some pictures and crashed in Gatlinburg after an exhausting drive and some diluvian rain (again!).
I can't say I was blown away by the park. I'm well aware that I only got a superficial impression of it, and I'll have to come back and spend some more serious time there on day hikes or back country camping but the entire experience struck me as just more “normal” than all the national parks you see out west.
After a brief ring around the Great Smoky Mountain’s motor nature trail, which although very crowded was surprisingly beautiful, we braced for a long drive north to Chippewa Lake. We got rained on again, hard, as we traversed Ohio. Tom and Claire were busy that night when we came home, but around 9 they both came back. Claire prepared some dinner and we opened a couple of bottles of wine.
I watched Chippewa get hit with the most thorough downpour I had ever seen the little lake endure.
Most of the day was dedicated to shopping for a digital frame, gathering pictures from Eric and Phil, editing them and loading them up into the frame. Phil had this idea as a birthday present for mom when she arrived.
We had another family dinner with Diane and Zach. Seeing them again was good.
We finished the evening by watching the penultimate game in the NBA finals. Tom was so wound up, it was kind of cute. All in all it was a good family moment and I look forward to being there again, this time with mom and the whole crew!
The rain finally went away. It was sunny, hot and humid, just like a regular Chippewa day. I said goodbye to Tom who left with the ski team for a competition and went out on the bike to see the neighborhood.
I went down to the point and looked for Margaret. She was out unfortunately so I went out to the water and sat on a tree stump, basking in the warm summer air, locking in with the slow pace of the lake. That was the feeling of summer. The stillness of the air and the temperature is what does it for me. The lyrics ‘summertime, and the living is easy’ were always just words in a song to me but in that moment, they became more meaningful to me.
When I felt like I had taken it in, I stopped by Jim and Pat Pojman’s place. Jim was there and we had a long conversation about travel, India, China, the political topics of the moment and what it's like to be the lone progressives in a conservative community.
I tried to see Margaret once more but to no avail. We went out with Claire for dinner and went to bed fairly early as we were going on the road once more the next day.
We drove towards Niagara Falls. I was surprised at how close the falls are to Chippewa. In four hours we were there. It was pretty similar to what I remembered plus all the commercial aspect of it that I somehow filtered out over the years. The infrastructure built around it, while useful to get around, really looks quite brash. It's also incredibly overcrowded but the sheer beauty of the falls is uncontestable. I should note however that Shoshone falls are actually taller than Niagara Falls which kind of shocked me because in my memory Niagara falls were always humongous. It just goes to show how young I was when I had last been there.
We stayed in a cutesy Airbnb near Buffalo ate a terrible fast food taco, some DQ and went to bed.
We made our way across New York State and stopped by some stunning parks along the way. There is a true charm to upstate New York if you take the smaller roads.
Watkins Glen state park in particular left an indelible impression on Anaïs and I. We reached the park somewhat late that afternoon which made for stunning light. The entrance of the park has a plate that states the original mission of the Rangers when they opened this park. It read something like this “bringing wilderness to civilization”. That's exactly what they did. The canyon is covered in a path and multiple bridges cross the canyon but their colors match those of the park so well that they blend in seamlessly and make what would otherwise be an intense canyon trek a leisurely stroll. The forest towering above the canyon filtered the late afternoon light to create a magical atmosphere. Rays of light cut through the myriad of waterfalls. Water carved the brittle canyon rock into smooth layered basins and cavernous passageways brought us from one level of the canyon to the next. This park is truly one of the most special places I've seen in America.
We finished the day in Ithaca. After checking in at our motel, we went downtown to the Ithaca ale house. Their beer and burger were top notch. We watched the last game of the finals. Cleveland ended up winning which ended up biting me in the ass given some rather brazen trash talk I had exchanged with Tom and Zach at half time, but it was a worthy ending to a roller coaster of a series.
Another day, another marathon drive. This time to Boston. We made it to one of the shoddiest Airbnbs we had ever experienced. It was my first time in Boston and I was eager to experience the city. Boston has witnessed the passing of time and many buildings that still stand are a testament to that fact. It also had a warmth to it that screamed summer. We took a subway downtown to enjoy the longest day of the year (or so we thought it would be, until we reached Iceland).
We went to an overpriced Italian restaurant (what's up with all the Italian restaurants in this city btw!) and walked around town a little bit more before calling it.
We woke up to find that our car had been towed. The 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month was when our tweet was scheduled to be cleaned and sure enough, we forgot to move our car. I went to fetch the car while Anaïs made some reservations for Iceland. This allowed us more time to enjoy the center of town. We lazed all afternoon in the park before strolling down commonwealth avenue. The old houses and alluring cathedrals blew us away. Boston. Impressed us!
We spent the evening at a bar called Wally’s cafe to listen to some live music. The bands were apparently from the Berkeley school of music. They had insane chops but their composing seemed rudimentary.
The final drive awaited us, from Boston to New York, but not before taking a peek at Harvard. The campus is stunning and oozes old money. It was enticing though. As a teenager, or a young adult, I could see how the simple sight of such a campus could motivate me to work very hard to study there. The clock was ticking though. We had a Marcin Wasilewski concert we wanted to be at in New York at 9:30.
We dropped the car off in Jersey City and lyfted to Xavier’s in Hoboken. We were happy to see one another after such a long time.
We parted in a bit of a hurry because we needed to be at Columbus circle by 9 for Marcin Wasilewski. Unfortunately, the person who took our reservation on the phone got the programming wrong: he wasn't playing at 9:30 but at 7:30. Bummer.
So we walked south towards the village. That was a long walk but we were up for it. We ended up chilling in Washington Square. It was a warm Summer night in New York. People were out enjoying themselves, singing, skateboarding, playing music. One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be way more people in pairs chatting, in deep conversation. It's something I notice a lot less in SF where I feel like I either see people alone or in larger groups, but less so in pairs.
When we got to Manhattan, I felt intimidated. New York is so competitive that only the best and brightest make it and what they accomplish impacts the world at large. People all looked and sounded like they were straight out of a Woody Allen movie. After having kicked back for the past few weeks and been immersed in the unassuming vibe of America and its roads, the thought of living in New York and keeping up with the appearances and the competition seemed daunting. And I usually get nothing but good vibes from New York, but this time the hustle and bustle was too much. It felt inescapable. Anaïs spent her time marveling and kept bringing up the idea of moving to New York but in that moment I just couldn't project myself living there. I think part of the reason why is because I'm already thinking a lot about coming back to SF and the challenges that await us there.
We decided not to take a Lyft to go home. So we took a subway to the port authority bus terminal, paid $3.50 each or something and got to Xavier's that way. We chatted some more with him until he went to bed.
We took the opportunity to rest. For once, we didn't need to pack, didn't need to be on the road. It was nice to kick back. We stayed in Hoboken for a long time before getting out to the city. I went to get my hair cut while Anaïs was still sleeping.
We went out for drinks in a hidden speakeasy called Angel’s share. The entrance was unmarked, within another establishment. The inside was fancy, the wait staff seemed hired from a modelling agency, as did everyone else in the bar, frankly, and the drinks were expensive. $16 for a cocktail, $13 for their import beers. Looking around me, I realized that while this was indeed a rather upscale establishment, I certainly wasn't one of a kind in New York. I got the impression that when you want to hang out in a hip venue and get some drinks, you go to this kind of place and pay through the nose. In contrast, a hip venue in SF that could be used as a comparison (at least to me) could be a place like Zeitgeist, which is way more low key and cheap. It just made me feel like being a socialite and going out often in New York must be a draining endeavor. Not that this is what I aspire to, but looking at the folks in these places, I wonder what their lives must be like. Is this something they have to do often? Is this part of what you need to do to exist in this city? I felt daunted for them.
But we were only there as a distraction from the main attraction, Ippudo, a ramen joint with an hour long wait. It was the first time we were going to eat ramen since Japan. We were ready to be disappointed but somewhat hopeful given the good reviews this place seemed to have garnered. It was expensive as hell, loud and ostentatiously trendy and fancy, the complete opposite of the best ramen places we enjoyed in Tokyo, but the food was rather good. Not close to the craziest ramen experiences in Japan, but better than most, and leagues ahead of what's in SF.
We walked to the village once more for an ice cream. We had planned to go see some music but we both realized that we were quite tired. Sheepishly, we hailed a Lyft and called it a night.
After lazing around for way too long, we went out, picked up a sandwich and walked towards Central Park. Our goal was to find the tree on which we carved our initials 11 years ago. Two years ago, we had been to that exact same tree and dug the carvings even deeper as they had started to heal and erase themselves. In 2014, we somehow managed to find the tree we had marked 9 years prior, without taking any notes as to the whereabouts of the tree.
In 2016, a mere two years after deepening the grooves, equipped with photographs of the tree and gps coordinates, we were unable to find it. We searched for over an hour, in different areas of the park, checking multiple trees and multiple angles.
After a while, we just had to give up. If I were superstitious, I think it might have worried me. I'm still sad about it. Who knows, maybe we’ll find it if we go back in 8 years for our 20 year anniversary.
We took a subway to the village. Robert glasper and Jason Moran were set to play and we found a spot at the bar surprisingly easily. The concert was overall good. They had some moments where I think they played a bit of gibberish and lost folks, but they had some real moments of genuine interaction and splashed some beautiful colors on classic tunes (especially on I mean you).
We went out for dinner late, after the concert ended. Some new American place that was quite refined but expensive as hell with laughable servings. I had to get full buying cheap cookies at a store nearby. We grabbed a Lyft to get back home.
We originally wanted to go to the Guggenheim museum before meeting Xavier for dinner but ended up changing plans. We went for a snack at a place showing a euro cup game, then joined Xavier for dinner at a vegan place. I had an excellent veggie burger there (kind of craving it right now as I write this in my b&b in Inverness, Scotland). We ended the evening at SPiN, the ping pong bar. It was quite fun and I actually took most games off of Xavier.
Our last day in the US after a long time. I left with mixed feelings. Coming back to the US was like coming home after spending months in very foreign lands. But getting on a plane and going to a new country brought an element of adventure and excitement that I had missed. Iceland was also an enticing destination that I felt was perhaps even more exotic than anywhere else we had been until then.