Pittsburgh, then paths homeward!

After breakfast at my aunt’s house, we were on the road from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. We arrived around lunch time and went to Mad Mex, a Tex-Mex place in Oakland, the university neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The restaurant was as dark as a cave (literally, I could barely read my menu), but the food was good. We decided to skip National Tequila Day (Tequila Tastings only $3!) and headed for the University of Pittsburgh campus. Dominating the area is a giant tower they call “the cathedral of learning”. From the outside it looks more like the skyscraper of learning, but on the inside it’s genuinely cathedral-like! And the coolest part is that it’s full of classrooms all done up with genuine furnishings in the style of different foreign places. The Chinese Room, the Greek Room, the Scottish Room, the Lithuanian Room…you name it, they have it. Definitely a neat building to have classes in, and a cool view from the top.





Scottish room!


As we walked through an edge of the Pittsburgh campus, we also passed the Heinz Chapel (really pretty!) and a random log cabin. This is the sort of thing that calls out for an explanatory plaque, but alas, no such luck.



Glimpsing the Carnegie natural history museum and the edge of Carnegie Mellon in the distance, we headed for Shenly Park, a giant green space on the edge of Oakland. Bill had been there when he went to University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon for grad student visits in the spring, and we’d seen a bunch of tents and cars from the top of the Cathedral of Learning, so we decided to investigate. We discovered that the park was hosting the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, so we sat on a hillside and watched some old race cars whir past. Once they finished, we wandered over to the Phipps Conservatory, a giant indoor greenhouse, where a butterfly sat on Erin’s hat! And we saw lots of beautiful plants.






Driving down 5th Avenue, out of Oakland and across a bridge into downtown Pittsburgh, I finally felt like I was approaching home — so many low red-brick buildings! And then skyscrapers, of course, downtown. We went to Point State Park, where the rivers meet, and admired the city’s many bridges. They seem to have decided to throw them up just to show what steel could do — it’s honestly a bit gratuitous. But cool! Alas, the park’s fountain (which spouts 150 feet in the air) was closed for renovation, so we didn’t get to see it in action. Leaving the park, we soon drove over one of the aforementioned bridges and up into the hills of Pittsburgh to meet our hosts.


And I really mean “meet”. Our hosts — the fantastic Paul, Jordan, and Callie — are high school friends of my friend Ben. We were scrambling to find somewhere to stay in Pittsburgh and Ben was kind enough to reach out and ask if they would host us. They’re a couple years older and all working in Pittsburgh and sharing a place together. They turned out to be wonderful people, and to possess a very adorable new puppy named Tugger. After chatting for a little while, all six of us headed out to the Doublewide Grill, a great restaurant on Pittsburgh’s Southside. Getting dinner with them was really fun, and they were very kind to put us up!

The next morning, after saying farewell and getting excellent directional advice from Paul, we set our sights on Delaware. Rather than go directly to Bill’s house, however, we first stopped at Fallingwater, the famous house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s buried in the middle of nowhere in Western Pennsylvania, but definitely worth the trip, even if most of the folks on the tour were a good forty to sixty years older than us. I grew up knowing that my grandfather loved Frank Lloyd Wright, but I never knew that he was such a pioneer in terms of building houses that connected with their natural surroundings, breaking the box, inventing open floor plans, etc. So I really learned a lot (from our very no-nonsense tour guide) and remembered how much I’d wanted to be able to design my own house when I was a kid. Not going to lie, living over a waterfall would be pretty awesome.


Our road back to Delaware took us through Amish country outside Lancaster, PA. I’d actually just been in Amish country when we were in Ohio — my cousin lives right in the middle of it, and I went to visit her and her kids while Bill & Erin were seeing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame — so it was funny to hit both major Amish areas in the space of three days. We bought some Mennonite lemonade & root beer, at a stand that involved driving up through cornfields to the backyard of someone’s farm house, then also stopped at a fruit stand to buy berries. The fruit stand was plastered with inspirational quotes, most of which had the general gist of “stop complaining about the wonderful world you’ve been given and fix your attitude.” Many of them were intentionally silly, but my favorite one went: “Ten Ways to Make Your Life Better: Do something for someone else. Repeat nine times.”



At last, around 6pm, we pulled into Hockessin, DE! Emily, Bill’s sister, came out to greet us and to take our picture with the car — proof that we’d made it! The final mileage on the round trip was 11,820 miles. Not too shabby. Bill’s family had made us a delicious summer dinner, so we enjoyed that and then went for ice cream — apparently at one of the top ten places nationwide, a spot called Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin. After ice cream, we stayed up unpacking, sorting out all our spreadsheets, and repacking for the next day’s train ride (in my case), while Bill played some Billy Joel and folk music on the piano. It was nice to unwind, to know that we had finally closed the loop, and to see Bill’s always-welcoming family.

* * * * *

The Simon & Garfunkel song “Homeward Bound” was definitely playing in my head for the last 24 hours of our journey. The trip had been great, but now that it was so close to over, I was missing Boston. Fortunately the train ride from Wilmington didn’t take too long, and I got to see both my parents as soon as I pulled into the station.

A number of people have asked me if I would change anything about the trip, particularly our pace. I admit that we moved pretty fast — mostly two nights in each place, sometimes one. There were definitely a few times when I wished I could pause the trip and stay somewhere for a while longer, just to have that different kind of traveling experience where you’re savoring a location rather than trying to “see it all” as quickly as possible. I’m looking forward to digging in like that in England, and there are honestly few things I enjoy more than really getting to know a new place. But I don’t regret the way we planned this particular adventure, because it allowed us to see so much. I’m still processing it all, but I really feel that I have a better sense of the expanse of America now, and a long list of places I’d like to return to for a more extended stay.

It was also so wonderful to see many, many people I love along the way, and to meet the hosts I didn’t already know! Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the blessing of living in such a large and varied country and still finding a welcome waiting for us in dozens of homes across its vastness. Thank you so much to all our hosts; I will need to be hospitable for the rest of my life to begin to pay your generosity forward.

Right now the debt crisis is looming, and so the general outlook on whether Americans can talk to each other reasonably anymore seems fairly gloomy. But I think one thing that cheered me a bit on this trip is the reminder of how mobile the country is, how many people are originally from somewhere else, and what an opportunity that gives us to find connections to one another and welcome one another into community, rather than just draw sharp lines of division. For real Americans — and no, I don’t mean some subset of more authentic Americans, I mean real as opposed to two-dimensional caricatures — a lot of identity lines are honestly pretty fuzzy, and almost everyone has a cousin or a former roommate or a friend’s friend or a neighbor whose life is pretty different from theirs. So my trip has left me thinking that this country affords a pretty great canvas for empathy, even if we don’t always take full advantage of it.

Anyways, this post has gone on long enough, so I’m signing off. Thank you for tolerating my over-long meandering, in this and other posts. I hope you enjoyed our updates and pictures; it was lovely to have all of you reading and encouraging us along the way! I’m sure I’ll be glad to have this written record of our adventures, although I also plan to liberally embellish our stories as time goes on, so hopefully Google will eventually bury this page. Have a wonderful summer!


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Cleveland Rocks!

From Ann Arbor, we continued on to Ohio, my last of 12 new states on the trip. We made it to Kenzie’s aunt’s home outside Cleveland around lunchtime. While Kenzie spent the afternoon with her aunt and cousin and cousin’s adorable children, Bill and I headed into the city to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Hall of Fame is a pretty strange-looking building located right on Lake Erie. Our afternoon in Cleveland happened to be a Saturday, and there were lots of people at the museum enjoying the exhibits and the air conditioning. Before even entering the building, we learned from a historical marker outside that Cleveland is important to the history of rock and roll because it was a Cleveland DJ who first used the phrase to describe a song.

There are tons of artifacts in the museum–costumes, guitars, concert posters, handwritten lyric drafts, letters, pieces of concert sets, even one of Elvis’s cars. The exhibits are set up mostly in chronological order, from the roots of rock and roll through the proliferation of various subsets of rock, like heavy metal, punk rock, and even hip hop and rap. There was a short exhibit on the relationship between technology and music that explained how Les Paul developed his guitars (including an early prototype made with a 150-pound piece of a railroad) and how the transistor radio helped rock to develop and spread (it let teenagers listen to music away from their parents). We also enjoyed the exhibit showing disapproving politicians and other concerned citizens complaining about the blasphemous and degrading nature of rock music. The people protesting rock were from the 50s and 60s, which seemed pretty funny today since the musicians at that time still wore suits and below-the-knees dresses, and the music seemed so tame compared to what was to come in later decades. However, we also noticed that we could replace “rock” with “rap”, and the complaints would be identical to many concerns about music today.

We were also lucky to be visiting the museum during its temporary Women Who Rock exhibit. We learned about the women who started singing gospel, and who influenced the men who are considered the essential early rockers–like the Chuck Berrys, the Elvis Presleys, and the Johnny Cashes. We discovered that punk rock was a gateway into the music industry for women, and that Carole King, in addition to the songs for which she is known, wrote classic songs for 60s artists like the Drifters and the Shirelles. And, we saw Lady Gaga’s meat dress.

After our visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we drove through a bit of downtown Cleveland, then headed back to rejoin Kenzie. The three of us enjoyed some Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean with Kenzie’s cousin Owen, and had a tasty dinner of burgers/veggie burgers with homemade french fries and vegetables and salad–delicious! The next morning, our hosts made us a wonderful breakfast of oatmeal and berries before we departed for our last stop on the trip, Pittsburgh.

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Ann Arbor & Detroit

In Ann Arbor, we were staying with one of my dad’s friends from college, Dave Jacobi, his wife, Liz Anderson, and their son Ben (Rachel was away at camp). We had an uneventful drive there from Chicago, and stopped in to see Liz and Ben before heading downtown to the Ann Arbor Art Festival. We got to see a bit of the University of Michigan campus as we drove in. It was really hot outside, so we started our visit to the festival by buying lemonade.


We wandered the festival streets, looking at the paintings, carvings, prints, jewelry, and more being shown and sold by hundreds of artists. I especially liked some of the photos, paintings, and carvings of birds and other animals. After wandering for a while, we decided to get some more lemonade and check out the University of Michigan law school quad and library, which are beautiful. The library has a beautiful reading room, with huge windows with the crests of other universities, both in the US and internationally. Harvard and Cambridge are of course both featured, along with many others. We also saw a heavy cube sculpture that you can spin if you apply enough force.




After exploring the art festival, we went out for a delicious Ethiopian dinner with Dave, Liz, and Ben. It was my first time at an Ethiopian restaurant, and they had a delicious vegetarian sampler that was essentially a served buffet. I also enjoyed eating with bread, rather than with utensils.

Afterwards, we walked with Dave back through the art festival to our car, and we went down the street where all the non-profits set up. We saw several religious groups there, along with booths for all sorts of causes and issues. Dave said one of his favorite things to do is just wander this street chatting with people about their interest.

We then headed to another section of Ann Arbor to hit up a cafe for some desserts and to see a fairy door. Ann Arbor businesses decided several years ago to beginning installing fairy doors as a fun way to attract and entertain children. They’re tiny little doors that may also have a little house or some information about the fairies who live there. Here’s the one that we got to see at our cafe:

While it may not be obvious, everything in this pictures is only a few inches tall.

The next day, July 21st, we headed in to Detroit. This was the one place on our trip that many people were curious why we were going to see it. Mostly, it’s because of the awesome Chrysler super bowl ad. And because it’s a city that while no longer at its peak, has been hugely important as a symbol of the United States economy that made us the world superpower of the 20th century. And because it’s the large city that is most directly confronting the challenge of how to downsize a city as the jobs move elsewhere.

So, we started off downtown, in the area with many of Detroit’s memorials and statues. We saw the Spirit of Detroit, and Joe Louis’s arm. We also saw a neat statue commemorating the role Detroit played in the underground railroad. It was one of the big entry points to Canada, and across the river in Canada, another similar statue stands. But the coolest one we saw was the monument to the labor movement:

The unfinished arch represents the arc of the moral universe that bends towards justice. There is a circular path leading to the center of the arch, that highlights some of the successes of the labor movement, like weekends and health benefits. There are also stones along the path with images of important industries in the labor movement. And in the middle of the circular path, there is a stone carved with many of the most inspirational quotes of the labor movement:

While downtown, we also had good views of the huge General Motors corporate headquarters:

Afterwards, we headed out to Dearborn, on the outskirts of Detroit, to have lunch and go to the Henry Ford. This is a gigantic complex that hosts the Ford museum, and a historical re-enactment village. However, due to time constraints, we opted to skip both of those and instead buy tickets to tour the Ford Rouge Factory. This factory was the crowning achievement of Henry Ford in the early 1900s, and there is still a working factory there today. We watched a movie about the history of the plant and of Ford, we enjoyed a somewhat over-the-top experience where you watch a Ford F-150 being made on giant screens, while the floor of the theater shakes, hot air blows out of vents in the ground, and water squirts down on you to allow you to feel like you are in fact an F-150 under construction. After that, we headed over to actually see them being made. Sadly, you aren’t allowed to take pictures of the plant, but we really enjoyed seeing so many parts of the car assembled. The windshield is put on by a laser-guided robot, humans put in airbags, put doors together, attach the steering wheel, and more. We were surprised by how spacious and calm the whole thing seemed, and by the number of women working in the production line. We were also surprised to learn that all of the trucks made there are made to order – a dealer has already requested that specific truck model, color, etc. While the whole thing was really cool, it actually made me a bit nervous, because it looked too easy to assemble these cars. We finished our visit by looking at some old Ford cars, including this Model A, the 20 millionth Ford vehicle ever produced:

And by going up to the observation deck to see the layout of the factory and to see the world’s largest living roof, on top of the F-150 plant we had just toured:

After finishing our tour, we headed to the Arab-American museum in Dearborn. The town has one of the largest percentages of Arab-Americans in the US, and has a neat little museum highlighting the stories of Arab immigrants to the US. The museum gave a bit of history about Arab immigration, from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and more, and had lots of stories about individuals who came to the US looking for a better life, and found it here.

After the museum, we met up with the Jacobis for dinner again, and had wonderful conversation over dinner and back at their house. We talked about John Rawls, Harry Potter, physics, education, and more.

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Went to Chicago…

Tuesday morning we got up in Grand Haven, ate a fruit breakfast, and hit the road to Chicago through Gary, Indiana. We got a later start than anticipated, but we gained an hour back as we reentered CST. Gary looked like a pretty smoggy industrial town as we drove through it, but we didn’t stop to investigate. We arrived in the Hyde Park neighborhood at about 11:30 and dropped our stuff in my friend Cecilia’s apartment. Her boyfriend Will was kind enough to come over and let us in, and Cecilia soon returned between work meetings. Her internship for a non-profit that helps other non-profits is running a contest where they talk to community centers and local organizations about their needs and then get online developers to write applications that can help meet those needs. So she gets to travel all over the city meeting people and building that bridge between people who understand a problem and people with tools that could help provide a solution. I think it’s super-cool work, and she loves it!

I should just say now that I was VERY excited to be back in Chicago, since I spent the whole summer of 2008 there (and loved it) but haven’t returned since. And getting to see some of my dearest friends there, including Cecilia, was pretty great too.

We went for lunch at the Medici, which is a very well-known UChicago spot that serves pizza, soups, salads, sandwiches, etc. There’s writing all over the walls and somewhat eclectic decor, which is fun. After lunch, we made the critical error of heading towards the Metra rather than the L to get into the city. The Metra is faster and more direct, but I didn’t realize how much less frequently it runs in the middle of the day, since I’d only ever taken it at commuter hours before. In the middle of the day, it turns out, they only run one train an hour! So 45 minutes later, we finally caught a ride into downtown Chicago. Once in the Loop, which boasts lots of cool architecture, we wandered down to the Harold Washington central library building and its gorgeous top-floor atrium. Then we walked down to the Sears Tower (now, as of 2009, the ‘Willis Tower’, but I can’t get used to that) and got a view of the city, though low-hanging clouds prevented us from seeing our across the lake.

Library atrium:


The northern half of Chicago:


Once down from the tower, Bill got a text from his blockmate Shelley saying that she was free for a little while. She’s beginning Teach for America and is busy for the summer doing her training (‘Institute,’ where the new recruits teach kids in a summer school program) in Chicago. It doesn’t leave her with too much time, between teaching and lesson-planning and training, so Bill and Erin hopped the red line south to Bronzeville to meet up with her. They chatted with her for several hours, hearing her stories about the summer so far. Then they headed back towards the Hyde Park area, walked through Washington park, got dinner at a Thai place near the apartment, chatted with Cecilia’s roommate Mary Claire, and turned in for the evening.

I took the red line in the opposite direction, up north to the Loyola stop. It’s a good 35 minute ride, and until we passed Wrigley was packed with Cubs fans going to a night game. But much of the trip was aboveground, so I enjoyed looking out the window. At Loyola I met up with Cecilia and Sophie, another close friend of mine, both of whose work had brought them northward. Cecilia was having another of her meetings. Sophie actually works as a supervisor for SummerLinks, a UChicago program that places students (including Cecilia) in nonprofit summer internships around the city. Sophie, also a UChicago student, did the program two years ago, and now she helps run it, including lots of work on trainings for the participants. She also does internship site visits, which is what had brought her north. She’s been very involved in fantastic community-based work of all sorts over her four years in Chicago, and she says it’s really cool to get to know even more local organizations through these site visits.

I initially introduced Cecilia (whom I know from church activities) and Sophie (whom I know from high school), so I totally claim an undeserved amount of credit for the fact that they’re now friends. The three of us hopped on a bus and rode 15 minutes west to Devon, Chicago’s Indian district. There we met up with Reya, my friend from San Francisco (another friend from high school) who was visiting Sophie at the same time. Reya is interested in urban planning and loves buildings, so she’s spent much of her stay exploring Chicago’s various neighborhoods. She’d already scoped out Devon, so following her lead we popped into a huge Indian grocery store, where we spent an inordinate amount of time examining all the options in terms of snack mixes, curry powders, etc. It was lots of fun, and Sophie bought a large number of supplies! Next we wandered up and down the main street of Devon for a little while, contemplating all our restaurant options, before realizing we really weren’t hungry yet. So we sat down on a strip of grass on a side street and chatted. We also watched an adorable group of children walk past twice and debated whether a deafening sound above was being made by a bird or a cricket.

Candid of Cecilia, Reya, & Sophie in the grocery store:


Once our hunger picked up a bit, we chose a vegetarian South Indian restaurant (Reya eats North Indian food at home, and that’s also mostly what you get at a standard Indian restaurant in the US), where we shared a delicious feast and only spent $10 each. We wrapped up the night by meeting Noah, another friend of theirs, at an Uptown sports bar, where we all made conversation while Reya ignored us and watched her beloved Giants play the Dodgers. Then we took the red line to a bus back to Hyde Park and parted ways for the night.

I got up early the next morning to walk over to Sophie’s apartment, print out some Cubs e-tickets, and eat breakfast with her and Reya before Reya left for San Francisco. Then Bill and Erin and I headed for Pilsen, the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community. Wandering down 18th St, we admired the murals, read signs in Spanish, stopped in at a tortilla factory, and then had a delicious lunch at Nuevo Leon restaurant. I’d really wanted to show Bill and Erin a distinctive neighborhood in Chicago, since the city is really a patchwork of such communities, so I was happy we’d made it to Pilsen.

Murals of Pilsen:




The tortilla factory:


Our restaurant:


After Pilsen, we took the L (short for ‘elevated train’) back into the Loop and switched to the red line, where we met Daniel on the platform. Dan is a fellow Harvard student whom Bill and I both know from freshman year, since he was in my entryway and Bill’s math class. He’s working in Chicago this summer, but he managed to get off long enough to join us for a daytime Cubs game!

Wrigley was great…we were surprised at how full the park was, given the daytime hour and the excessive heat warning posted for the day. And we were pleased to discover that our tickets, purchased on StubHub for $30 each, were really quite good! And, crucially, under the shady overhang. The houses surrounding Wrigley in the outfield all have makeshift bleachers atop them, a sight I find quite funny, but they were all pretty empty for this game, since the sun was beating down on them.



The bleachers beyond the park:


The game itself was a rout. The Phillies, Bill’s team, beat the Cubs 9 to 1. Nothing unexpected, since the Cubs are terrible this year and the Phillies are atop the league, but there really wasn’t much for me (rooting for the home team, of course) to cheer for. Dan at least was great company. And the Phillies pitcher, Worley, had a no-hitter going into the 4th, so that was exciting.

After the game, Dan headed back to work and we walked down to the Pick-Me-Up Cafe, recommended by Sophie and Cecilia. Originally we were only going to get shakes — delicious, and they have vegan ones too — but after looking at the menu we decided to eat an early dinner.

Post dinner, we caught the red line again (definitely our go-to this trip) and got off in time to walk up to N Michigan Ave and see the historic water tower, the one building that survived the Great Chicago Fire. We bused down the ‘Magnificent Mile’, getting off in time to see the Tribune Tower and walk across the bridge down to Millennium Park. It’s a park that was pretty central to the downtown redevelopment, with lots of public art. We checked out ‘the Bean’, a sculpture officially titled ‘Cloud Gate’ that some people think is silly but has become an iconic Chicago landmark.

Water tower:


Taken from the N Michigan Ave bridge over the Chicago River:


The bean!


Also in Millennium Park is the Pritzker Pavilion, a large outdoor concert venue that hosts free music performances throughout the summer. Many other folks had come out with elaborate picnics, but we just grabbed a spot of grass and sat down. We were joined by Bill’s friend Liana, also our class at Harvard, and settled in to hear the Grant Park Orchestra play a symphony by Schumann, Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel, and a short piece by a contemporary composer. When the music had finished it was dusk, and we went with Liana to see the Faces, a neat (if somewhat creepy) public art/fountain combination also in the park, before taking the train back to Hyde Park.

I love the crazy (acoustically-designed!) shape of the pavilion:




We’d had a long, hot day, so Bill and Erin were ready to sleep. I headed back out to join my friends, who were jumping in the lake. Alas, the park closed and they got kicked out before I got there, so we headed back to Sophie’s building, where we dangled our feet in a large courtyard fountain. Cecilia headed home and I stayed over at Sophie’s, where we chatted late into the night until we dozed off.

We made our way to Cecilia’s in the morning by way of the bakery-cafe where Sophie used to work. Picked up fresh-baked French bread, some fruit, and our respective caffeine sources. When we arrived, Cecilia had already started making pancakes, so we cut up the fruit and sat down to a big group breakfast — me, Erin, Bill, Sophie, Cecilia, and Mary Claire. The food was delicious, and it was great to share a meal before they all headed to work and we headed to Ann Arbor!

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Respite in Grand Haven

Grand Haven

Leaving the twin cities after our wonderful visit with the Dears, we headed to Manitowoc, WI, from where we planned to catch a ferry across Lake Michigan. We arrived at the ferry and were surprised to learn that we don’t drive our cars on or off the ferry ourselves, but that ferry employees take the cars and drive them on. This would provide fodder for both an interesting thought experiment, and a bit of frustration later on the trip.

The ferry, the historic S.S. Badger, looked on the outside much like a normal ferry. However, the inside was surprisingly luxurious. There were private rooms, a quiet room (for ‘retiring’), a theater room, two cafes, and reclined pool chairs outside on the front of the ferry for laying down. There was also a bunch of entertainment for the 4-hour ride, all led by the cruise director. We started out watching the very exciting women’s World Cup finals. After the game ended, Kenzie went to explore the boat, and found a nice place outside to finish reading her book. Erin and I stayed in our seats and napped a bit. We also heard the one song performed for Badger Idol (I kid you not). One man got up and sang all of Crocodile Rock. He was enthusiastic about it, and people enjoyed clapping along. Afterwards, the cruise director started Bingo, which included him telling corny jokes in between each called number. Eventually, Erin and I got up to walk around the boat. Erin was wearing her Cabot House sweatshirt, and as we walked past the Bingo game, the cruise director called out that anybody wearing clothes that said ‘Cabot’ had won a free drink at the boat’s cafe. She excitedly went up to claim her coupon, and he also gave her a little temporary tattoo of the S.S. Badger. She got a root beer from the cafe.

The ship:



Kenzie, Erin and I met up to watch the ferry come into the dock in Michigan. Kenzie and I discussed how we expected the cars to be returned to us, since the ferry employees would be driving the cars off the ferry. Our big question was, would there be anyone checking to see that each person got into the correct car. We discussed several ways this might happen, but none of them seemed that likely. As we disembarked, we found out that there was nobody checking, but that each person was just responsible for making sure nobody else took their car. The ferry had about 6 employees who were responsible for driving the cars off, and then running back onto the ferry to quickly unload another car. People then just picked up their cars with keys in them from the line of unloaded cars. This process was extremely inefficient, and it took at least 30 minutes for them to finally unload our car. Kenzie and I occupied ourselves by discussing how we could take advantage of this system to steal a car.

After finally getting our car back from the ferry, we drove down to Grand Haven for a very nice dinner at Snug Harbor with Kenzie’s dad and grandmother, with whom we were staying in Grand Haven. We had a lovely time chatting with them both at dinner and afterwards back at the house. The house is very old, but still very nice. The next day, we had breakfast and lunch with Kenzie’s dad and grandmother. The food at each meal consisted largely of fruits that they had purchased at a farmers’ market the day before. Michigan has a lot of agriculture and seems to be especially proud of its cherries.

On the house’s screened-in porch:


Between breakfast and lunch, Kenzie, Erin, and I walked down to the beach along Lake Michigan. It’s a very nice beach, with soft sand and a rock pier leading out to a lighthouse. We walked along the beach and the pier, and then set up on the beach to do some reading and a crossword puzzle. It was a bit cool outside, and the water wasn’t warm, but eventually we decided to go swimming. One remarkable thing about swimming in the Great Lakes is that while they look like an ocean, with waves and all, they are fresh water, so when you inevitably swallow some water, it doesn’t taste salty.

The lighthouse pier:


The beautiful beach:


In the afternoon, we went to see the final Harry Potter movie! Erin had to fill me in on what had happened and part 1, but I was all caught up by the time we got to the theater. We were worried about getting good seats, but it was actually surprisingly empty, so we got great seats. It was interesting watching a movie for the first time when you know basically what is going to happen and you’re mostly just waiting for the cathartic end. We all enjoyed the movie, but not in the way that one typically enjoys a movie. Rather, it fulfilled our expectations of what the final Harry Potter movie should be.

We went back to the house, where Erin and I read the newspaper and nibbled on more fruit, while Kenzie went out for a walk around Grand Haven. Overall, it was a very nice, relaxing day.

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Double the Cities, Double the Fun

We reached the Twin Cities and met our hosts Tina, Atul, and Meera Dear at the Twins-Royals game. It was a really exciting game, and an especially fun experience because it was Meera’s first time at a baseball park. Our favorite part was when Ben Revere of the Twins got a triple even after tripping and doing a somersault between second and third.

Kenzie & the Dears:


Our Saturday started with some delicious homemade chai tea, and then we set out with Tina and Meera for a tour of the Twin Cities. We started at the riverfront of Minneapolis, where we wandered through a farmer’s market and along what used to be mills along the Mississippi. We walked past the huge grain silos and could peak into the courtyard of one old mill at has been converted into a museum. As we crossed a bridge over the river, we could see the foundations of old mills built into the riverbank.

Mill Ruins:


On the other side of the bridge, we saw wooden steps leading down towards the river, and decided to go exploring. We discovered a muddy path along the riverbank, as well as a couple small bridges that allowed us to get onto a couple small islands in the river. Even in the middle of two cities, we saw a bunch of different birds on the river.

We found another set of stairs to get back up to the street, and went to get lunch at a deliciously spicy Thai restaurant. After lunch, we went for a stroll around Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. There were tons of people swimming and boating on such a warm Saturday, and we enjoyed partaking in the lake culture of Minnesota. We also went to a nearby sculpture garden, which had quite a variety of pieces. There were more classical-looking sculptures of people, a couple sculptures made of huge metal beams, and then, in the middle of the park, a cherry that sprayed water out of its stem perched on a giant spoon.

Kenzie and Meera by the lake shore:


Contemplating the spoon:


We went back to the Dears for a bit to freshen up, then the six of us headed back into Minneapolis. The Twin Cities have fantastic theater, and we were going to see Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore at the Guthrie. My only exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan had been an episode of The West Wing, and this alone was enough to get me really excited. The singing and dancing were fantastic, but I had definitely not expected the play to be so hilarious.

The stage at the Guthrie:


After the wonderfully funny musical, we got a late-night dinner at Cafe Latte. This was exciting for me because the Twin Cities were the only stop on the trip I had already visited, and I had eaten at Cafe Latte on my previous trip. It turned out that Meera and I shared a love for their delicious vegetarian chili. We then headed home for bed so we could set out early the next morning to catch a ferry to Michigan.

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South Dakota!

Just after high school, my mom took a similar cross-country road trip to our current journey, and the state I’ve heard the most about is South Dakota. I was always surprised that this state was her favorite part of trip, but now I can definitely appreciate the wonderful weirdness that is South Dakota.

For our first night in South Dakota, we were staying in the Black Hills, home of Mount Rushmore. Someday, the Black Hills wIll also be home to a monument of Crazy Horse carved into another mountainside, but for now, all that exists is a nose and forehead. We could see the beginnings of the sculpture from the road to our campsite, so we pulled over for a quick picture. The nice man in the booth told us it was 27 dollars to drive in to the monument, so we were content to observe the semi-sculpture from afar before continuing on our way. Our campsite was very close to Mount Rushmore, and we could see this sculpture from the road as well. However, we were saving this stop for the next morning so we could get dinner cooked and our tent set up before dark. We did stop to see some mountain goats on the side of the road though. We arrived at our campsite with just enough light to make our dinner, and before turning in for the night I caught my first lightning bug.


We woke up the next morning and had oatmeal for breakfast, even though it was a good deal warmer in South Dakota than it had been in Glacier or Yellowstone. This was great for sleeping, but later in the day we would miss the coolness of the mountains and woods. We started the day at Mount Rushmore, where we took a couple pictures, but got on the road quickly so we could get to the Badlands, about an hour and a half east of the Black Hills. The Badlands are strange rock formations jutting up from the vast South Dakota prairie, formed by harsh wind and water in the last 500,000 years. The stripes in the rocks are different geological ages, and the colors show different kinds of rocks. Red and orange are iron oxides, yellow and purple are shale, and white is volcanic ash.

Mt Rushmore:



It was quite hot in the Badlands, at least 15 degrees hotter than any other location on this leg of the trip. Before the heat wore us out, we did some exploring in the rocks. Unlike most other National Parks, the Badlands do not require that you stay on marked trails. Although there are rattlesnakes to watch for, the freedom to really explore such a strange landscape is pretty cool. We started on a mile long trail that climbed up a canyon wall and allowed us to look out over a bunch of other rock formations in the area. We drove a little farther, and scrambled up the side of some rocks. As we climbed, we could clearly see the different layers of rock. At the top, we were surprised to find a wide prairie reaching to the horizon, instead of a steep incline like the one we had just climbed.

Views of the Badlands:




We also stopped at a fossil walk that displayed examples of the different ancient species that have been discovered in the Badlands. Because South Dakota was once covered by a huge sea, and then a tropical climate, the area is rich with interesting fossils. There were signs everywhere telling us that there were stiff penalties for removing fossils from the park. This would lead to questions in Kadoka, but more on that in a minute…

After just a couple hours in the heat, we were very ready to get back in the car for a driving tour of the Badlands. We decided that we needed to see Wall Drug, a drugstore that became famous during the Depression for offering free ice water to travelers. The store has kept up its heavy advertising– we had seen Billboards for Wall way back in Wyoming. We wound through the Badlands, noting places to stop for pictures on the way back and, once out of the park, debating whether or not the Wall Drug ad for five cent coffee was still true. Once in Wall, it was clear that the former drugstore had evolved into a giant tourist attraction. They still offered free water and five cent coffee, but had taken over the entire street with shops like a camping store that didn’t sell propane (Bill is still bitter about that), and decorated their courtyard with a mechanical T-Rex head and a model of Mount Rushmore.




After experiencing Wall, we drove back into the Badlands, and pulled on to a side road that lead though an area with fewer rocks, but supposedly more buffalo. Sadly the buffalo seemed to be hiding, but we saw a huge field full of prairie dogs, a wild turkey, a family of fearless sheep, and even some antelope. We stopped several times to take pictures of the rock formations, and then headed back to our campsite with plenty of daylight left to make a very leisurely dinner. The sky was beautiful against the rocks, and we could see rays of sunlight during the sunset. When it finally did get dark, we could see a spectacular lightning storm off in the distance. It seemed like there was an incredible amount of lightning, but we weren’t sure if it only seemed like a bigger storm than usual because we were far enough away to see all of it.

Sunset over the campsite:




The next day was our long drive across South Dakota and up to the Twin Cities. In preparation for this very long drive, I had investigated online and found an entire website dedicated to the towns along I90 in South Dakota. Most of the towns featured pheasant hunting, and we missed lawnmower races in one town by a day, but I did discover a museum of petrified wood in Kadoka. It even opened at 7, so we rolled in first thing in the morning to take a peek at fluorescent rocks, an extensive collection of South Dakota fossils, and, of course, petrified wood. Probably the most interesting part of the museum was the inclusion of both geological and biblical timelines of the Earth’s history.

Glowing rocks:


An abundance of petrified wood:





Our next stop was Mitchell for the world famous corn palace. I had heard about the corn palace from my mom, but wasn’t sure what to expect. It turns out that there is a permanent structure–which is big enough for a small basketball arena–which is decorated each year with different designs of corn and other grain. This year’s theme was American Pride, and in addition to the expected bald eagle, apple pie, and baseball, the murals celebrated voting and the freedom riders.


Our last stops on the ride to the Twin Cities were unexpected–we got caught in an impressive thunderstorm, and had to pull over a few times. But we made it safely through the storm, and made it to Minneapolis in time to meet our next hosts, the Dears, for the first inning of the Twins game.

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