South Dakota, Part 2

The next day I was headed out of Mission on to Wyoming.

In South Dakota, the world is flat.

Teresa had recommended that I make a small detour through the Badlands to experience some highly scenic scenes. I didn’t really need to, since I saw some nice views just on the highway out of Mission:


But despite these other nice views,

The view that keeps on going, and going, and going...

though they were quite scenic,

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way.

I took her recommendation (Couchsurfing tip: take all the recommendations of your hosts unless you are 100% positive you won’t like it. Hosts know what’s up.) and saw an incredibly scenic bunch of scenes in the Badlands. You’ll want to be clicking these.

They should be called the Baddlands becaause they are badd to the bone. The Lovemobile taking in the sights. Oooh, stratification! More wrinkles than a naked mole rat. Thinking about it, "echelonification" would sound cooler. A typical Badland skyline. The road sometimes wound around on the lower plain, between all the eroding hills. If there were such thing as a Man on the Earth visible from space, these would be his "concentration wrinkles." Earth, Sky Are you bored?  Because I wasn't. Those are some nice echelons. I passed some antelopes or something.  So I took a rear-view mirror picture of them. Sunset + Badlands = Sexy Contrast It's like there was a worldwide flood of yellow stuff or something. Light!  Dark!  Light!  Dark! Are you enjoying my captions? Ok, so that other view did not keep going and going.  THIS one did. An ibix! Lookoutte Pointe How is the earth like a seashell?  Give up?  Crenellations!

Then I and the Lovemobile took one last long look out over the Badlands before saying goodbye.

This is going to be my new top image, no doubt.

But wait! There’s more! I was headed to Wyoming and passed through Rapid City. I seemed to recall Mount Rushmore being in Rapid City, so I started following signs for Mount Rushmore. I also saw a sign that made me feel at home.

Home away from home!

It turns out I was wrong. Mount Rushmore is like 20 miles south of Rapid City. But by the time I realized this I was too far along to turn back. So I ended up being later than I would have liked to my host in Wyoming, but I did get to see the Mount… from afar. I approached from the side,

Coming up on the faces.

then realized I’d driven around and was on the way back down!

In South Dakota, George Washington leads a rocky existence.

I wasn’t about to pay the ghastly fee just to park for a couple minutes, so I pulled over by the entrance to the lot and grabbed this super-zoomed in shot before I left. Sorry, it’s the best I could manage in those conditions.

The frontal facade of the famous foursome formation.  Forealz.

NEXT: I ask my friend Ming what reason she had for choosing the 15th letter of the alphabet!

New Orleans, LA

The next day saw me scenically driving.

Light filtering through the clouds like delicious gourmet coffee through a filter.

To what city was I scenically driving? Why, New Orleans.

Coming in to the city. Dirty but still dignified.

New Orleans! A historic city in the development of American music. Also a prominent target for hurricanes. I arrived as they were recovering from Gustav, but things seemed to be pretty well in hand. Some people were still without power, but they had an astronomical number of electrical teams from all over the country working on it, so they would not be powerless for much longer. Most of the neighborhoods had been cleaned up pretty well, and the only evidence I saw of a recent disaster was the broken trees, and piles of tree parts lining the sidewalks.

Most of the neighborhoods I drove through looked like this.

New Orleans is also the home of Michael Raeder, a zydeco/cajun musician and enthusiast.

Mike with his zydeco accordion.

Mike plays a wide variety of instruments and has been playing with various cajun bands and musicians since he moved to New Orleans, picking up many of the genre-typical instruments along the way. First we put down some of the accordion (pictured above), then we moved on to some percussion, such as rub board, which is very loud.

Rubbing the board.  I wonder if that's where it gets its name. Seriously, someone make an animation out of these.  Please?

He also put down some triangle, which has some other name in the zydeco/cajun circuit, where most everything is still in old French. And after that, some electric guitar. It was a busy evening, and Mike’s family was very helpful in being quiet, like little mice. Except for one very loud incident.

Rubboarding is a much safer hobby for young people than snowboarding.

They also graciously treated me to dinner and offered me a place to stay. Furthermore, and I swear this was the real conversation:

Mike, out of the blue: Do you like Mojitos?
Me: … (in shock)
Mike: If not, that’s fine, but we grow our own mint so we could make some up if you like.
Mike’s wife: He makes a great Mojito.
Me: …

I had not told them anything about my hunt for an American-made Mojito that compares to the ones made by Lovo’s in Korea. But here was Mike, picking mint and making me one.

Mike the Mojito-making maestro.

Let’s go in for a closer look.

The majestic Mojito, a refreshing summery drink.

After refreshing ourselves properly, we were back to record a bit more before his children were off to bed. After that, we listened to music. Mike played me all kinds of zydeco and cajun music, showed me books on the subject, and talked about it at great length. It was very educational for me and a great look into one of America’s old but persistent musical subcultures. These styles are in some danger of dying out, but as long as people like Mike draw breath, they will live on. Every music style needs its champions — way to go, Mike.

I was listening back to some of the stuff we recorded, and I feel like some of the spirit behind that music was captured on this project. Exciting.

NEXT: Multi-instrumental mathematicians in Mississippi.

New York, NY

Spread the news — these vagabond shoes went to New York City! Rather than foolishly driving my car into the city and trying to find parking, I intelligently parked my car a good distance away and took the train in to the city. As it turns out, I could have still found parking a lot closer, but that’s as good as it got for my unresearched trip.

I had originally planned on three days in the city. But we couldn’t line up a host (for some reason my friends in NYC were all not checking their facebooks, and NYC Couchsurfers are booked year-round if they want to be), all the hostels were booked, and without a car as an emergency backup bed, I wasn’t going to venture into the city. I’m risky, but not hobo risky. (T-shirt idea. FRONT: I’m Not Risky; BACK: I’m Hobo Risky)

So the modified plan was just to take a train into the city, stay late seeing all the sights, then head back and sleep in the car. I was not happy with New York. It was not playing nice like all the other towns. It was separating me from my car and equipment. It is known for people being hasty and brusque. What’s to like?

So I arrived, bitterly, at the WTC.

Former site of the twin towers of the WTC, known in newscasting circles (and therefore everywhere) as as Ground Zero.

Well, so much for a pick-me-up once I’m in the city. In our efforts to get downtown, we inadvertently arrived the site of a great tragedy.

But I was determined to make the best of it. No host? No problem! Friends not reading their facebooks? No problem! Witnessing the site of a tragedy? No problem! Bitter? No problem! (If you don’t already know, ask me sometime about a superhero I invented — “No Problem Guy.”) So we set out to see some great NYC landmarks. First, the Statue of Liberty.

It's not 24 hours?  But this is New York!!

Yep, that picture is as close as we got. So much for that. With unsinkable optimism, I decided to give the Empire State building a shot. We set out from Battery Park on foot for a while and saw some fun sights.

NYC doesn't take bull from anyone -- they already have one. Mankind really got to work in this place.  Like little ants, or beavers. These buildings were so cool.  Also, so much bigger than this lens. Now I know how Gimli feels.

Things were starting to look up. Especially me, apparantly. (WARNING: I intend to use that bad pun repeatedly in this post.)

Finally we found a map and realized we would be walking a long time if we intended to walk to the ESB. So we hopped on the subway (that’s how you get on and off, by hopping) and made a shorter trip of it.

There it is in all its splendour.

I had been informed by the interweb that we should wait until late to go in the tower, since the lines would be much shorter and the view by night was just as good as the view by day. So we got some pizza.

JH: Good pizza.
Me: Yes.
Phone: buzz. buzz. Bleedeep!

Suddenly I got a text message from a Couchsurfer who figured there was no way we would still need a host, but was offering just in case. Elated, I promptly called her to confirm. We were finishing up —

Me: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much.
Angie: Of course, I’m awesome so it’s only natural that I do awesome things.
Me: Cool. Bye.

— when suddenly —

Phone: buzz. buzz. buzz. Da da da dumm dummm da da du–
Me: Hello?
Dude on the phone: Hi, this is Josh Homer.

Josh Homer! One of my non-facebook-checking friends finally checked his facebook. So now I had a place to stay and an old friend to meet. Yes, things were definitely looking up.

And heading up. While Josh was en route to rendezvous avec us, we thought we’d better quick hop up to the Empire State Building before he arrove. Unfortunately,

If this is a short line, I don't want to see the long one.

That’s right, I used a picture in a sentence. But I didn’t forget the period.

The line was about like this, except in four separate places. Buying tickets, taking souvenir photos, waiting for the elevator, and waiting for the second elevator. We kept thinking we were free, only to discover another line. But we had fun on the way.

TRUE FACT: The line was so crammed that I went through a turnstile with another person! I started walking through and there was some unusual resistance from the turnstile. I discovered that the cute Latina girl behind me was so close on my heels she got gathered in by the rotating arm of the turnstile. It was the perfect premise for a romantic drama — awkward situational closeness. Until her boyfriend walked up to her and put his arm around her. Make it a romantic comedy.

Peace amid exciting changes!

When we finally got to the top, it was one of those rare moments when everything was looking down and things were still looking up. (Note: for those of you who think I am overusing this pun, I will use it at least one more time in this post.)

No lightning in this one.  It was a beautiful night. The lights, the lights! Back to looking up for a bit. Sweet.

And my personal favorite:

When the moon hits New York, like a big piece of pork, that's... terrible.

Here are some pictures of us so you know we were actually there.

Jong Hun: really there. Me: really there too.

Besides us, there were also other people up there.

A view of people viewing a view.  Ooh, meta!

We were quick up there because Josh was waiting to hang out with us. I hadn’t expected four long lines to wait through. But I did see this on the way out:

It's made from LEGOS!

Then we met up with Josh. He was a bandmate and fellow architecture major when I was back at Wash U. He is now doing architect stuff in NYC. It was great catching up with him. He gave me a mini-tour of the immediate area, including some interesting architectural background of several of the recent and not-so-recent buildings.

Tourist zappers. These are a bunch of giant LCD screens that light up the whole block! I caught it right when the world was scrolling past. Like one of those cell phone advertisements. Fiber optic cables!  Just kidding, actually water.

And now some important “I was in New York with Josh Homer” pictures.

Josh Homer in Times Square! Me in Times Square!

If I may be serious for a second. Seeing sights is great, and I have enjoyed that tremendously on this trip. But as a friend of mine once said, in her second language, “It doesn’t matter where I’m, what I’m doing. The matter is people whom I’m with.” True that. And that’s what I have loved the most about this project. Through Couchsurfing I have met some of the world’s best people, I have been shown the little treasures of the places I visit, not just the grand touristy sites. The major tourist attractions do have some appeal (and obviously, some intrinsic merit), but I feel like tourism is more about self-gratification than self-enrichment. It’s a difference of focus, but a significant one. By staying with locals and asking them about what they like to do and the places they like to go I experience a place on a personal level, through the eyes of another person, and I am the better for it.

For example, we spent a good bit of time chatting with our awesome host Angie Han and some of her fellow CS friends. I got an inside perspective on some of the NYC goings-on that I could never have gotten from a map or a tour guide. They recommended (and took us to) some great local restaurants. When talking with Josh I got the inside scoop on the construction of a lot of buildings (which I still find highly interesting), as well as a lot of information on his church (Times Square Church — over 100 different nationalities represented in their congregation — an amazing, unusual, and commendable achievement for a church). This, my friends, is the way to travel.

Here is a great picture of our host warily eyeing a hamburger about the same size as her head.

Looks like Angie is experiencing genetic vs. societal tension.

INTERESTING TIDBIT: Angie’s Korean name is one vowel away from JH’s name! Compare:
JH: 종훈
Angie: 정훈

Next, morning, we hopped on the train, then hopped over to our car, hopped in, and then the car itself hopped down to New Jersey.

NEXT: I look up and hop to it!

Martha’s Vineyard

Continuing with the misnamed regions, Martha’s Vineyard is more of an island than a vineyard, and it never belonged to anyone named Martha. What was that guy Bartholomew Gosnold thinking in 1602 when he named the island?

Happy thoughts, most probably. We were certainly thinking happy thoughts during our time on the Vineyard.

MPM: It began like an ordinary ferry ride…

The Island Queen, ferry extraordinaire.

That’s right, we took a ferry to the island and it was great. It was about a 45-minute journey.

A shot of a fellow boat. Fellow ferry-ride enjoyers.

We pulled up right at the house of our awesome host, Anne DeBettencourt.

Anne and JH with a ferry in the background. Me and our awesome host!

She is the mother of Laura Irby (who you may remember from such posts as: Indianapolis, IN) and she had insisted that I visit her on Martha’s Vineyard when I made my way up there. “Sure,” I said. So we set a day aside for some much needed R & R on the Vineyard.

You can see the ferry dock from her deck.

There are several businesses operating out of her home, such as bike and car rentals. For years she lived off the incoming ferry traffic, helping tourists find their way around the island, and we reaped the benefits of her experience. She pulled out the map of the island and gave us a recommended course, then told us we could borrow her Jeep.

Seriously?  We can drive that?

What?? Really?? Um, okay.

Yellow Jeep, with top down, on island. A picture, taken from a position above the Jeep (because the top was down).

Our plan was to drive over to the west side of the island to watch the sunset, reputed to be extraordinarily beautiful. We also saw plenty of other beautiful sights on the way there.

A sight, taken while driving a yellow topless Jeep.

“So… you didn’t make it in time for the sunset eh?” asks Attractive Girl knowingly. “The sunset seems to be already happening in that picture.”

Well, we were close. There was still some light when we reached the coast.


But then it took a while to find parking. Evidently the population of the island roughly sextuples over the summer, not even counting the tourists, so it was a rather occupied area. But here, for your enjoyment, are some of the photos we managed to get.

Sunset residue lingering in the sky. Water residue lingering on the rocks. Light residue lingering on the clouds. Human residue lingering on the beach.

When we got back, we were further amazed to discover that Anne ordered a pizza for us. After walking over to pick it up,

Picking up the pizza.

we enjoyed a fine evening of eating delicious pizza and chatting with Anne about a wide variety of topics.

Next morning, we were off to the beach!

En route to (part of) the beach!

We swam, enjoyed some sunshine, and played with rocks for several hours.

Water!  Sunshine!  Clouds! Raise your hand if you'd like being here.  Thank you, I see that hand.

All too soon, it was time to board the ferry and head back to Falmouth, MA and the Lovemobile.

Approaching the mainland.

Thanks a lot, Anne, for an awesome and relaxing 24 hrs. on Martha’s Vineyard!

NEXT: Something interesting!

Portland, ME

ME! Not to be confused with myself and I, ME is actually the northeastmost state in the Union.

We arrived in Portland to find a pleasant city with a healthy dose of “small bayside shipping town” feel. When we got the the edge of the State, it was our first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean so we found a beautiful spot along the Eastern Promenade to watch the ships come sailing in, etc.

I saw three ships...

We sat and enjoyed the salty air, cool weather, and the great view for a good while.

I've been watching the ships, I've been watching them sail.

In particular, I liked the one with the cool sails.

List of people who dislike cool sails: idiots, fools.  Short list.

Then it was time to find the house of Phil James, shakuhachist. A shakuhachist is a person who plays the shakuhachi.

“Didn’t you, in fact, make up the word ‘shakuhachist’?” asks Mr. Yerfulovit.

Yes. Anyway, more information on shakuhachi can be found on Phil’s site. It’s a cool instrument, and Phil is quite skilled at playing it.

Phil employing his considerable shakuhachistic talent.

By the way, we saw this great sign while trying to find Phil’s house.

I am so smart, I am so smart...

Now back to Phil. We recorded some shakuhachi on several tunes, as well as some solo shakuhachi, using a larger, lower-piched one.

Riding the input volume knob. Record, record, record the shakuhachi.

Phil was a great guy and a pleasure to work with. Then, after packing everything up, we were on our way out when I saw something that looked like an instrument sitting near the door.

“What’s that?”
“A harmonium.”

So we set all the stuff back up and got him on harmonium for a couple tunes.

Super cool instrument.

Then we packed everything up again, and suddenly on our way out I noticed something resembling a piano just sitting there by the door.

“What’s that?”
“A piano.”
“No, it’s actually nothing.”
“Oh okay then. Take care!”

After recording Phil, we were off to dinner with fellow Couchsurfer Alissa Greenberg, who was in Maine for a bit before returning to her home in Boston. She recommended a place on the coast called the Lobster Shack. I was the only one of the three of us who had lobster. It was incredibly fresh and delicious. Also expensive, but I figured it was probably my only chance to try Maine lobster in Maine.

Alissa and JH at the little old shack.

It was dusk. It was also beautiful.

As with all my nature shots, it looked roughly 700% better in person.

Then we made a short drive to the place she was staying, which happened to be private property very close to the sea. Evidently due to some sweet familial hookups she can sometimes live at this amazing house on this amazing location. More stunning views ensued.

This place is called The Point.

The mosquitos were feasting on our warm flesh, so we couldn’t stay long. But it was lovely.

Then we were off north to a remote place somewhere between Bucksport and Bangor to meet our hosts, Molly and Shawn Mercer (pictured with children and pets):

The clan assembled.

Their house was off the beaten path. Also, off the power grid. They use solar power, drink well water, keep animals for food, and even made their own house using wood from their property! Don’t worry about deforestation in this instance. They still have far more than their share of trees.

View from their doorstep.

They have chickens, turkeys, cows, and dogs.

Some of the cows.  These are not like the cows in Texas.

Shawn is also a singer/songwriter, and does a bit of traveling to play various places. We had some good discussion about music and teaching (he’s a teacher, and I was before this project).

Next morning, we loaded up,

Autobots roll out!

followed them out on their long, long “driveway,”

This "driveway" is probably half a mile long.

and were off to our next stop — Boston!

NEXT: San Fransisco!

Trivial Update (Optional)

Some non-critical updates for you.

A Technical Update

At the suggestion of my good friend Matthew Campagna, I have begun integrating Shadowbox, an excellent standards-compliant media viewing solution, into this blag.

Presently it seems to be working on the home page, but not individual post pages, although the page code is identical. ????

Check it out on this scenic scene we got driving to Vermont:

Some awesome nimbulus clouds.

Hopefully I’ll get it working completely (or someone will) before I die.

A Descriptive Update

This update exists to provide more opportunities for you to see Shadowbox in action. It’s just some “on the road” type shots.

Let’s start with a dynamic action shot.

Action shot! (All blurry pictures are action shots.)

The carputer has mostly been working well. There were a few issues (one with the battery terminal bumping the frame of the car, shorting things and causing the carputer to reboot. I couldn’t figure out what was happening until we were driving at night and every time we hit a bump, sparks came from the engine compartment!) The GPS software also decided it wouldn’t load anymore, so I thought I was stuck until I discovered I still had the install files on my recording data hard drive. A fresh reinstall fixed the problem. Then the music stopped playing. Some weird setting with Roadrunner’s interface with Winamp was glitching. A manual run of Winamp to readjust the volume solved that problem.

Here’s a shot of the carputer actually working.

Look closely at the number of songs in the playlist.  That has since tripled.

Yeah, there are over 12K songs in the playlist now and things seem to be working. Except for that one time when it wouldn’t recognize the keyboard. Turns out it had come unplugged, and plugging it back in was not working. I’m not going to point any fingers, but I’m not the one sitting on the passenger seat… haha. Anyway, JH was a trooper and helped me fix it while we were driving.

Doing some on-the-road carputer maintenance.

When the carputer is working normally (which thankfully, is most of the time) we are free to enjoy nice scenes, such as the beautiful mountainous territory of Vermont.

Scenic.  TOO scenic.

NEXT: The beautiful mountainous territory of Vermont.