Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Welcome to the Salton Sea

A oasis in the Imperial Valley of Southern California, the Salton Sea was home to yacht clubs, supper clubs and resorts. Its boom was during that post-war honeymoon of mixed drinks and the care free melodies of Perry Como. In a little over 2 hours suburbanites could flee the congestion of LA and enjoy the Sea & Sun.
Today the yacht club isn't looking so swell. Instead of a happening riviera in the sun, I came across a ghost town with a god awful smell. With no outflow and increasing salinity the sea is becoming a ever salty garbage dump. Agricultural runoff is having an effect on what little can survive in the briny waters.
Over the years much has changed, there's still a sea and no shortage of sun. Unfortunately Salton City, Desert Shores and Mecca (named in a more open minded era) have been reduced to bare lots, streets, sun and sea. It was a community developed in an era of unstoppable progress with no problem we couldn't construct our way out of. For decades groups have attempted to gather support for a variety of projects that would help save the sea. So far nothing has developed into anything more than talks and the agreement that its a shame what happened. What I realized while driving the western boundary of the Salton Sea is that this area is only the #1 priority of a small group of people.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

El Paso= one part Texas + two parts Mexico

As a general rule driving West through Texas things get increasingly Texan. Dallas is more Texan than Houston, Midland is more Texan than Dallas. This theory works fairly well providing you avoid the hipster influx of Austin. So along I drive on a Westward discovery of all things stereotypical of the lone star state.
Being that Fort Stockton is more Texan than Chuck Norris, George W. Bush and T. Boone Pickens combined El Paso decided Ft. Stockton the undisputed champion of all things Texan. Instead El Paso transitions to a slightly cleaner and safer version of Mexico. Other than being on the Northern side of the fence and being surrounded by the Border Patrol investigating a rental Hyundai it's just like the real Mexico.
El Paso overlooks Juarez Mexico playing the role of the slightly more legitimate neighbor to the North. El Paso has plentiful Tex-Mex dining, decent infrastructure and, from what I've experienced, friendly people. El Paso also catches it's fair share of stray bullets from Juarez and is a stones throw from neighborhoods where anything sexual, narcotic or otherwise can be made readily available. A true product of its environment, El Paso features an international border with the murder capital of Mexico coupled with a climate of intolerable heat. The only heat that surpasses the climate is that of the cuisine. Below is the Rib Hut, walking in the door is a walk back in time to 1985. I endorse the jalapeno cheeseburger and apparently need to consume it in a less gringo manner (less tears, sweat and pain).
El Paso ability to achieve an identity all it's own is partially due to its prime location in the middle of nowhere. Over 2 hours from the nearest Ruby Tuesdays conventional suburbia is kept at bay by hundreds of miles of nothingness as far as the eye can see. A trip up Scenic Dr. to Murchison Park provides a incredible view the sunset over El Paso and Juarez. It also seems to be a popular venue for locals looking to make out on park benches accompanied with a ice cream treat and some heavy petting.

Oil Booms along the Gulf Coast

Early June 2010
Fishing like there's no tomorrow while the oil creeps towards the shore

West Texas = "Texas Concentrate"

Texas is as unbearable to drive through as it is easy to stereotype. I grew up thinking the ingredients of Texas were cattle, rodeos, open range, firearms and old men who drop the pronoun "Sumbitch" as often as they can fit it into a sentence.
Fort Stockton is located South of Midland and sums up West Texas pretty concisely. Ranching, railroad jobs, oil fields and Texas stereotypes of all manner. Wide streets lined with white super duty pickup trucks on the good side of town, small homes with one foot in the grave on the other. In the center rather large Fort Stocktonites gather at the big ass Walmart. Spiders are also bigger in Texas, this little fellow below was spotted from a half block away crossing a side street.
West Texas is definitely off the beaten path. Much of it is miles away from the Interstate and accessible by long solitary drives of epic magnitude. While I complain about miserable long trips I'll be the first to recommend a miserably long trip to anyone.

South of the Border

As I drove South along I-95 the billboards began right after Fayetteville, NC. Billboards that promised cheap gas, delicious food and ample motel rooms grew in intensity as I approached Dillon, SC's very own South of the Border.
In the 1950's Alan Schafer created a beer stand South of the Border. What was once a small, no frills roadside store has evolved into a large, no frills roadside monstrosity. Schafer's beer stand added gasoline, fireworks and for short while baby alligators to their inventory. Today it's easier to list what you can't find while shopping South of the Border. Anything good.
As I entered the South of the Border cantina I immediately realized this was as close to time travel as I'd likely get. Aging vinyl booths, uncomfortable plastic chairs and extremely cheap ash trays pressed out of tin. It is now that the inherent charm becomes painfully clear, this may be one of the last places I will be forced to pay cash to get the option to smoke while dining on styrofoam wrapped poorly crafted fast food.
South of the Border... It's been real, I'll make fun of you, laugh at your tacky excess, but you and I both know when I'm in need of a 12 pack, a tank of gas and firework novelties there's nowhere I'd rather go.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why I'm through with the entire state of North Carolina

After an 11 hour day in the hostile confines of a Avis rental I arrived at my destination, Asheboro NC. Soon I'd be in the predictable comforts of a Hampton Inn, first I needed some processed fast food in a timely manner. I made my way to the local KFC.

At around 8:52 I enter the parking lot. I circle the building on my way to order via drive through, receive my mediocre dinner and retreat to look over paperwork in the hotel. With about 25 feet to go until the speaker a Suburban with loud music and large spinner rims cuts directly in front of me, I slam on the brakes. At this point a mac book pro and over $2000 of cameras take flight moving towards the dashboard, papers collect in the foot well and a otherwise uneventful day is marked by this country fried asshole who was fixin' to get some chicken on a Thursday night.
Before I could gather why I had a Suburban grill staring me down Jim Bob threw it in reverse and pulled right in front of me laughing all the way to the speaker. On closer inspection he appeared to look like an aging drunk in a car full of cheap hookers. Smoke rolled out of the windows as the passengers loudly discussed what they felt like eating. I considered driving off but this trailer park on wheels was too choice to pass up, is this the real life Roy Mercer or Kenny Powers? I had to investigate further. The driver argued with the speaker about the availability of discontinued promotional specials. As the conversation progressed a total of $64 was ordered.
Apparently this wasn't nearly enough, he pleaded for more food. "Could you get me a couple of cherry turnovers?", no sorry... not this late at night.
"Why can't I get some barbecue chicken" sorry, that was a promotion that is over.
Reluctantly the Suburban pulled up to the window after an unprecedented 8 minutes displaying what ignorance, selfishness and a lack of social graces personifies in one truly miserable human being.

I arrive at the speaker just in time to be greeted by a recording, "The time is now 9:00 and your Asheboro KFC is now closed." At this point I drive around to the honkey tonk on wheels that is the Suburban to greet them with more horn honking, light flashing and profanity than I had ever cared to express to another driver.

The passengers of the Suburban were more than willing to lay down a country whoopin' and one managed to reverse Dukes of Hazard out of the passenger window looking for a fight. At this point I elected to bail on the situation already in progress. I was no match for a local of the Piedmont, jacked up on Cheerwine and riding a fried chicken high it would have been an absolute disaster to stay around any longer. Don't you ever change NC...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fleabag Motels: A Beginners Guide

I have stayed over 500 nights at Marriott hotels, this creates a unique problem. As a traveler stays at the same chains it becomes less of an event and more of a chore. Unfortunately the more you return to a Marriott or Hilton hotel the more you have to encounter the fake sincerity of a front desk clerk who has been trained to suck up to platinum members like their job depended on it. The familiar trappings of a Residence Inn become annoyingly routine, the constant hoop jumping the staff put themselves through becomes exhausting to watch. I come from modest enough means that a staff waving and smiling as they wash my dishes and rearrange my toiletries on the vanity will never put me at ease.
A traveler reaches the point where the instruments of judging ones lodgings need to be reset and given a full recalibration. The prescription? A fleabag motel.
From the 1950's to 70's these gems of Americana sprung up along highways and helped invent the American road trip. Now 30-50 hard years later they are just the trick for getting out of that corporate chain hotel out by the interstate. How low end to go? Well that's a personal decision you've got to answer for yourself, if it's sign is at all similar to the one pictured below I'd advise to continue searching.
A good cheap motel is often located in a "rough area" closer to the city center than the chain restaurants of the bypass. Staying in one of these areas transports you into a land of mom and pop dining that truly reflects the region. Even a bad meal or disappointing motel will be over soon enough, the story of the broken door or god awful meal will last longer than the indigestion. So stop somewhere random, order the meatloaf special, take them up on a 3 night for $75 deal and lock your doors. Hide the camera and GPS... and lock your doors.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mini-Burger Battleground States

Over 140 years since reconstruction there is a new battle raging betwixt the states. This one is regarding their low grade fast food burger of choice. Yankee and Rebel pride clash as communities are turned once again into battlefields. Each sides fiercely loyal to their own brand of budget dining. The Northern and Southern franchise growth meets in Tennessee and Kentucky for a suburban showdown.
Most readers are familiar with White Castle, a tiny burger that is heavy on the onions and served suspiciously moist. Crystals burgers are the exact same thing, but with a squirt of mustard. When comparing the basics there isn't a whole lot to differentiate one from the next.
The folks at Crystals enter a league of their own when one takes into account the rest of their menu. While White Castle is widely considered to be 'only after drinking' gross, Crystals is 'never a good idea, ever' gross. The minds at the Crystals corporate kitchen push the envelope on what I'll order even in the most dire of circumstances.
The cheese pup is a small hot dog rendered worthless by a layer of melted cheddar cheese. Below is a breakfast promotional menu. Note the egg product in a Styrofoam cup. There is no amount of carb-savings that make it alright to start your day with the value-bowl breakfasts. They must be appealing to a demographic that needs a value bowl after smoking one.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Future Cira 1982: Knoxville Sunsphere

A relic from the 1982 World's Fair and a fine example of "1980s gold-everything design." The sphere gained international attention once again in March of 1996 when The Simpsons episode 148, "Bart on the Road" featured Knoxville's Sunsphere as the Wigsphere. It was that Sunday night in the mid-nineties that I vowed to one day experience the sphere for myself.
Sadly I have forgotten about the Sunsphere from April, 1996 until today while crossing the Southeastern US I saw a second bright gold ball in the sky. Upon closer inspection I learned that in the years since the World's Fair I wasn't the only one who forgot about the sphere. Over the nearly three decades of towering over Knoxville's riverfront the sphere's had some ups and downs. Low points being the several years it had been closed to the public during the 1990's and the painting below with an artists depiction of a naked President Obama atop a Sunsphere Unicorn.
The reopened observation room gives a 360° view of downtown Knoxville. Be sure to hit floor 5 because the others are all offices that enjoy the occasional stream of wayward tourists and the uncomfortable heat that goes along with working in a glass ball in the sky.
The Sunsphere comes equipped with an organ that I'm assuming has seen very little use. Not much of a market for weddings located in a room built around an elevator shaft.
Knoxville actually has more going for it than I had previously expected. It's a college town with a riverfront, a very low cost of living and several museums downtown. Cities the size of Knoxville (around 190,000) are an ideal size in some ways. Small enough to avoid the congestion of a large city while large enough not to be that boring. Knoxville's proximity to nothing in particular means it is responsible for creating its own attractions. It's own concerts, museums and awkward local TV news. It makes for an island of decency in the middle of the nothing that is Eastern Tennessee.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax Day 2010: teabaggers on their best behavior?

While passing through Raleigh I ran into my old friend the Tea Party. It had been weeks since our paths had crossed in Charlotte, I wondered if they had anything new to say.
In Charlotte there was more mayhem and crazy signs due to President Obama visiting. With the majority of tax day's speakers running for office they attempted to keep the fringe lunatic levels at a minimum. While the signs were slightly less offensive this time around their arguments and reasoning was as erratic as ever. Anger was directed towards taxes, health care, gun rights, the Federal Reserve, politicians not being Christian enough and Obama not being American enough.
A counter protest group accused the Tea Party of being a corporately funded movement, protested for workers rights and was a group as left from the center as the teabaggers were right. Being a smaller group they had to implement a more guerrilla approach to getting their message across.
Forced hugging, effective in both immobilizing the teabagger. Adding insult to injury the young Conservative will smell of Patchouli oil and stale pot for the rest of the day. Pictured below is the point where a camera in the face results in a sweaty embrace.
Speeches dominated the Capital lawn and Morgan Street became the front lines for shouting at the other side. Neither side could understand the majority of what was being said. The hippie just about put the Tea Party folks over the edge. As they shouted and waved signs this guy stayed with his message that he loved them. This put them over the edge, while I won't go so far as to suggest unconditional love helps sell health reform it does stir up tea party members rather effectively.
If a stoned college student offering his unconditional love wasn't enough to rattle the teabaggers they would be beside themselves if they knew taxes were actually lower this year. They would have known if the group had spent as much effort on covering issues as it does on political arts and crafts.
While the right to free speech and protest is not being criticized, protesting as the true Americans vs. an illegitimate regime is a gross misrepresentation of an administration elected by a solid majority of the people. I take issue with the argument over who is more American, but in my experience using overly emotional fear is easier for them than to get down to the issues.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I found the high point of High Point, NC

World's Largest Chest of Drawers
It's been a slow week in the deep South, this is the best I could do.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fighting Socialism with Irrational Fear

On the intersection of S. Tryon and Carowinds Drive a crowd gathered to show the result of partisan political views, misinformation, fear and entirely too much free time. Using hyperbole as a crutch the Tea Party lined the street during President Obama's trip to Charlotte on Friday. I covered the event attempting to blend in as a member of the media. I fooled some but was still received with suspicion.
They arrived with the standard issue Tea Party gear. Dated looking American Flag shirts, windbreaker like pants and blue blockers and spoke of the next American revolution. Apparently reforming health care will destroy Americans work ethic and will destroy our freedoms. It was argued that under the nanny state of Socialism there would be no incentive to work at all. Tea Party members shouted "freeloaders" to a group of black folks who stood across the street supporting the president. Officially the focus of the protest was "anti-Obama care" and the demonstrators feared our health care turning into a system like that of France, Germany or Cuba... all countries with a higher life expectancy than the US.
I have seen plenty of anti-Bush protests while in college, but there's anger and hysteria with the Tea Party group I've never experienced. It could also just be that historically the far right has struggled with humor and satire without appearing angry or bat shit crazy. While I champion free speech I take issue with groups accusing any opposing view as "Anti-American". As if they define the United States and have got the monopoly on morality. Call me old fashioned but I also like to limit the amount children used as pawns for political agendas.
I find it frustrating how children are used as a talking point. The classic "won't anyone think of the children" appeal followed by a smug mention of the heath care bills protection of children with preexisting conditions not taking effect for several more years. A problem that the Conservatives had not even begun to address. Somehow because the Democrats bill results aren't instantaneous the policy is even more of a failure than not doing anything at all. The "free market" wouldn't have solved it any faster. Like somehow the health of a child is almost as important as landing your political cheap shot.
A disagreement that is allegedly over a health care bill evolves and creates a life of it's own. Before too long the commander and chief of our country is a enemy of our country? He is a Socialist out to take your guns, freedoms and money. A foreign born commie who wants huge government and a dictatorship. What they need is a Hot Tub Time Machine or the next Ronald Regan... whatever comes first.
The issue with such a loosely organized, highly visible protest is that their main focus is lost. A few people had legitimate concerns with the national debt, others weren't sure Obama was actually a natural born US citizen. While some didn't want government controlling health care others wanted 2nd Amendment rights above anything else. One man wanted everyone to be saved by Christ and assumed that would pretty much be a comprehensive approach. Some at the protest were well informed and mainstream, most seemed to be classified as "the lunatic fringe." It's unfortunate for the Conservatives that the more radical of the right seem to be constantly in the spotlight.
The notion that a Beck/Palin administration is the kind of fix we need is beyond lunatic fringe. A man who weeps on camera, scribbles on a chalkboard and sees Socialism in the darnedest of places teaming up with what amounts to a blogger who can't finish what she starts. Fridays gathering of tea baggers ended up focusing on how angry they were, but misery loves company so they'll be doing it again on April 15th.