Me, my nose, and Greta
Here is my first thought after stepping off the Queen Mary 2 and reuniting, after two long and lonely months, with my family: It is amazing how much weight the human female can gain in a mere 60 days. Especially so if the female in your arms was 5 months old the last time your saw her, and has since aged to the ripe old mark of seven months. Back in Hong Kong, when I bid Greta and her mummy a tearful goodbye, she weighed 14 pounds; she now tips the scales at 18. In the interim, she has mastered several impressive new skills: She can sit on the floor without toppling randomly over; she can stick her tongue out, and at three a.m. she is able to make a compelling and rhetorically sound argument--without uttering a single intelligible phoneme--that a crib is a cruel and unusual place for a baby and that where she truly belongs is in bed between mummy and daddy.
Editor's Note: The Queen Mary 2 slipped under the Verrazano bridge at five a.m. this morning depositing Mark in the same location from which he departed 80 days ago. Awaiting him were his wife, Laura, and daughter, Greta, and a couple staffers from Conde Nast Traveler who came under the false impression that doing so would excuse them from going to the office.
For a man who has spent 80 days on the road writing blog posts, foraging for food, and pestering people with questions, he looked remarkably fresh. We credit the algae wrap (and the handsome budget).
Initially Mark promised to send a post today highlighting his last night on the QM2, but we insisted that he reserve his writing for tomorrow. An unlikely request, but we've been as blown away by the blog as anyone. After time with the family and some shut-eye, Mark will be back online tomorrow (no doubt trying to find out if he can resurrect the budget for a visit to Peter Luger Steakhouse).
Editor's Note: We interrupt Mark's cruise across the Pacific for more scenes from the California leg of his 80-day trip around the world.
Oahu. It has always struck me that Hawaii's most populated island was named after the particular yelp of excitement shouted by first time visitors. Perhaps this is why I envisioned several hours of euphoric tropical enjoyment during the cruise's all-too-short stopover on the island. Accordingly, I set myself the following itinerary: Dock at 10:30 a.m., take the shuttle to the Hyatt Hotel at Waikiki Beach (another outstanding name--Waikiki, not Hyatt) and rent a car. Drive to Hanauma Bay, go snorkeling, see tropical fish, return to Waikiki, sample two local delicacies: poke (pronounced "pokey") and shave ice, then hit the beach, where I would learn how to surf. Or try to learn how to surf. Or try to try to learn how to surf.
Schang, a big mahalo to you for sharing a little local information on Oahu.
I want to let you know that our Hawaii itinerary has been modified, for reasons that have something to do with the Coast Guard, apparently. Anyway, we get in at 10 a.m. on Saturday, then depart midnight that day. Not a lot of time. I'm planning on renting a car and taking the family to Hanauma Bay for some snorkelling, then to Waikiki Beach so I can try my hand at surfing. Does that sound doable to you?
I'd love to know where to grab a bite for dinner. Ideally, I'd really like to sample something Hawaiian, if that makes any sense. I imagine the fish and produce are excellent here and would love to find a chef who knows what he's doing. (I can get steak and burgers anywhere, after all.) And yet, I don't want to spend too much money. Any suggestions?
Editor's Note: As Mark and family steam across to the Pacific Ocean to points to be revealed in later posts, it's now time for a look back at his whirlwind dash across the United States; a trek that apparently involved driving and eating steak in equal proportions.
The author in San Francisco
The first local I met in San Francisco was just the kind of San Francisco local that Bill O'Reilly would warn you about. He was a transplanted New Yorker, and he had something of a refugee air about him, as too many transplanted Easterners do. Here was a man who resolutely refused to live in any other part of the country because, as he put it, "the rest of the country is insane."
"What about New York?" I said.
"New York isn't insane," he admitted. "But the weather sucks." He said this in a way that suggested putting up with New York weather was its own kind of insanity.
We made it to Napa despite the meth-user. He showed up five miles outside Reno, surging in our rear view driving in a blue 1960s Chevy pickup and showing no signs of slowing down. This was a bit of a problem, because the right lane was blocked by the late-model Buick we were in the midst of passing. But the pale-faced, neck-scratching, scraggly, meth-user seemed to be prepared to plow right into us. So Graham gunned the engine and pulled the car in with a couple feet to spare. But that wasn't the end of the meth-user. He pulled in front of us and braked, trying to give us a taste of the injustice he felt we had forced upon him. We pulled back into the left lane, but he followed, like a NASCAR-style, blocking us from moving ahead. It went on like this for several minutes, then the meth-user settled down and returned to just driving erratically and scratching his neck. He took the second exit in Reno, a city that, judging by how it looks from the highway, is right where he belongs.
The idea that everything happens for some overarching grand reason has always struck me as a stupid way of looking at life. Philosophers call it teleology, Harlequin Romance novels call it destiny and I now believe in it, thanks to the great state of Nevada, where it's known as Lady Luck.
East High School, Denver. Did Kerouac attend a civic luncheon here?
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you're ever struck with the notion of taking a detour from your relatively straight-line shot across the continent to visit Denver and hunt down the known haunts of Jack Kerouac. The first is that Denver is invariably larger than you expect. Yes, we all know it's a big city, with sports teams and industry and restaurants, etc. But the last thing you expect to see as you drive south from Wyoming, next to fields reeking of manure and mountains jutting in the distance is to suddenly find skyscrapers looming dead ahead. But when you get downtown and are driving in between said skyscrapers, you notice that the city still has a western feel. I can't say why that is, but if you happened to, say, see a horse tied up in front of a bank, it wouldn't seem all that out of place.
Illustration by Graham Roumieu
We pulled out of Chicago yesterday morning a little later than we should have. Rush hour was in full swing, which wasn't such a bad thing, because Chicago has to have one of the finest looking downtowns in America. The buildings are stately, yet beautiful, and it all seems to have been laid out coherently--not as haphazard as New York City. In all, we saw a lot more of downtown Chicago than we should have because our trip computer, who had been reliable up until this point, got pretty confused. She had us driving in circles, turning right down one way streets, and told us to pull onto highway on-ramps that were a hundred feet above our head.
I am writing from I-80, just west of Des Moines, Iowa. Half an hour back, the traffic was all stopped on the eastbound side, and there was a guy in jeans trying to coral a big pig off the paved shoulder, but the pig seemed to like it just fine where he was. About 300 yards further down the road, we passed a school bus filled with convicts. The theme of the day, it would seem, is forcible confinement.
I am sending this to you thanks to a miracle of technology known as the Novatel Merlin XU870 ExpressCard. I popped it in my MacBook Pro expecting there to be some long and drawn out installation process that would result, two hours later, in a drained battery and a guy on the phone from Bangladesh telling me I had a hardware problem. Instead, it just started working. I am reading the latest wire headlines--a real shame about that verdict, Scooter--while following a Pegler Sysco semi.
We just passed Desoto, Iowa, birthplace of John Wayne. My mother can't stand John Wayne Movies, though I've never seen one all the way through. If it came down to a gunfight, though, I'm pretty sure Clint Eastwood could take him.
Illustration by Graham Roumieu
I first met Graham not long before he and his wife split up. Graham is an illustrator and he's coming with join me on the trip across America, partly because, like me, he wants to gauge the state of the American soul, but also because Graham is one of those people who really likes road trips.
Graham grew up in a place called Smithers, British Columbia, which is about 300 miles south of the Alaska border. That may explain why Graham has written not one, but two books about Bigfoot although in my opinion, the best picture he's ever drawn is of smurfs.
This extremely beautiful stretch of asphalt is the pier at Red Hook, Brooklyn. Actually, it's the parking lot. I tried to get to the pier, but the security guard would hear nothing of it, for reasons that remain unclear. If all goes according to plan, I will be stepping onto said pier exactly 80 days from now. Soon after that, I will reach the parking lot. But I have many miles to go before any of that happens.
Today I start the first leg of my journey around the world. My objective: Los Angeles. I must be there by Sunday, when I am scheduled to voyage across the planet's largest ocean on a big, beautiful ship. All that lies between myself and the pier at Long Beach is 2500 miles, the Rocky Mountains, and a whole lot of highway. If it snows, I got problems.
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