Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 9 & 10 Manhattan to St. Louis to Home: Grinding to the finish.

Two weeks again. I should be ashamed of myself. I mean.. I'm not, but I should be.

People... There's a reason I've been dragging my feet to finish the final 2 days of the piano trip. As exciting as so much of the first 8 days were, and they really were, the last 2 days were pretty much all about driving and driving. Not many funny things happened. Not a whole lot of exciting moments along the drive occurred. Still... A task is a task, so here we go... the great finale.

We left Manhattan, Kansas and headed East (yet again) with designs of lunch in Kansas City.

The only thing that really stands out on this particular section of the drive is that to avoid the toll roads, our trusty Tom-Tom took us on the world's most round-about way around Topeka.

I'd thought that the whole thing about Kansas Fatigue was a bit overblown prior to this trip, but the more we drive through it, the more I realized that it was kind of true. It's not that it's so horrible, or anything like that. It's more that it's not that visually interesting, geographically, and what else is there really to do on a long road trip, but look out the window? When we drove through Colorado or Southern Utah or Eastern California the scenery is ever-changing, and awe-inspiring. There are only so many fields you can see before you start getting bored.

So we drove for a while, and ended up in Kansas City, Missouri right around lunch time, which was fortunate since we'd planned on hitting another Triple D restaurant.

A quick note about how I'd chosen the restaurant locations. After I planned the route, I went searching for websites about where old Guy Fieri had visited on his show, and the best site I found was an interactive map of the US. This was perfect, because I could just zoom in on the highways we were riding, and I tried to select interesting spots. I'm incredibly pleased with how it turned out, overall. Triple D is known for basically 2 different kinds of places. The greasy-spoons that have really indulgent food in large portions, and also the really unique places that sort of do their own thing, and play to the beat of a different drum... Those are the places that I tried to gravitate toward.

The trip to Kansas City brought us to Grinders.

What to say about Grinders...

Grinders is mostly a pizza place with some other good stuff. We came for the pizza, though, so to read about the rest check out their website.

The place itself was really fun. It wasn't particularly crowded that day. It was a Sunday... we got there right around Noon, and the Chiefs game was on TV. Because of that, we were able to sort of check out the place and take pictures and be weird without being self conscious about it. Not that we typically are, but still...

We ordered our meal, and checked out the sites and stuck our fingers in more holes.The decor at Grinders was eclectic. If you've seen the episode, you'll remember the owner is also a metal sculptor. A lot of his work is around the restaurant, and generally there was just a ton of cool, sort of off-beat, art around. It was awesome. Sort of like a mix of really aware art, and graffiti. It was sometimes hard to differentiate.

For Lunch, we ordered some deep fried mushrooms:As you can see by my thumb, I greatly enjoyed these mushrooms. I mean... I know that these aren't exactly the most exciting food items in the world, but sometimes just the fact that it's a REALLY good version of an item is good enough, and these were some really strong mushrooms. Good stuff.

Oh yeah... and we ordered one of the single most strange food items I've ever eaten.
The Grinders Bengal Tiger Pizza.

This pizza is a thin crust, oven baked pie with the following: Pesto, cheese, tandoori chicken (!), hearts of palm (!!), and wait for it... crab. (!!!).

I can't say that it was the best pizza I ever ate. The crust was delicious and perfectly thin and crispy and bubbly. Each item was well prepared, and the pizza itself was well prepared and the flavors definitely worked together. But... I don't love a slightly fishy pizza. I just don't. It was by far the most interesting pizza I've ever eaten, and I liked it well enough that the next time I'm in Kansas City I'll definitely stop at Grinders to try one of the other pies on the menu. At least 3 of them were calling my name. We ordered this one because it's the one featured on the show, and it was tasty... Just well... I've had it and now I don't need to again for a while.

One of the coolest experiences of being there was that it was the one place we visited that had actual regulars! Like a real dive. This couple came in and the servers all greeted them by name. It was awesome.

The Tofu Muchacha gave Grinders a 7.5. I gave it an 8.

The rest of the day (Day 9) was pretty uneventful aside from a stop off at an antique mall where we got some good stuff, but nothing particularly Earth-shattering. My primary goal was to get to St. Louis in time to check in at the hotel and find a sports bar to watch the Reds game. We'd planned to try Iron Barley restaurant in St. Louis, but they were closed on Sunday. We ended up just going to a B-Dubs and watching the Reds season end while in St. Louis, which... yeah. I have nothing to say.

We also had to get up super, super early on Day 10 in order to make it home to Cincy in time to meet the piano movers. We ended up leaving St. Louis at like... 4:30 in the morning, which was good (because we missed the AM Traffic) but sad, because I didn't get a chance to see the Arch during the day.

The rest of the drive was pretty run-of-the-mill, aside from a stop for breakfast at Hell. Also known as Denny's.Please note that this was the sunrise, and that we'd been driving for 2 hours prior to this.

A quick word about Denny's... My dad has often talked about how he hates Denny's based on one particularly bad experience with a "Skillet" or something, and he's a little bit of a food-alarmist sometimes, always calling things goopy or greasy or whatever. I usually don't let his opinions on restaurants sway me, especially when they're negative.

If only I'd listened to him.

Denny's is disgusting. I'm sorry to people who love it, but god damn... that place made me sick as a fucking dog. One reason we have so few pictures of Indiana is because I was barely able to keep my breakfast down the whole time.

I can only provide this one example of the travesty that is Denny's:
Folks... Just so you know you're not going crazy... That is a grilled cheese sandwich with whole fried mozzarella sticks stuck in the middle. I... I just... God damnit.

After we left Denny's and climbed our way out of the food coma we'd fallen into, we made the final push toward home.

It was a bittersweet feeling, because the trip was such a wonderful adventure, and something I'll remember forever, but I admit that seeing that Welcome to Ohio gave me the chills.We finally made it home. We still had to get that piano off the truck and into the house.The movers arrived, and in not so much time, we finally had our piano into our house. And I must say that even though it's been over a month since we got home, and over a month that the piano has been with us here, I still can't look at it without thinking about our amazing road trip.

It was a long journey full of incredible scenery, incredible food, Family reunions, terrifying drives, and so many other things. We spent time in 9 different states. We drove over 3000 miles. We made a weird little home out of a giant moving truck. We sang, we laughed, we drove and drove and drove. I enjoyed every minute of spending time with my true love, Kasmira (aka the Tofu Muchacha). For me, she turned this insane drive across the country into one of the most treasured memories of my life.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day 8 Denver to Manhattan: Not as Boring as Advertised.

Sorry for the brief hiatus. I've found that blogging about the trip, much like the trip itself, after Denver a little fatigue set in.

The drive on Day 8 started late, but for a very good reason. The T.M's family resides in Denver, and we couldn't pass through without at least saying hello. We did more than that, and had breakfast with a whole mess of them at a place called Benedicts. The trip coincided perfectly with the birthday of one of the T.M.'s sisters, so it was a doubly pleasant occasion. It's always very interesting to see the T.M. with her fam. I like meeting people who knew her before she was her. When she was, you know... turning into her.

The birthday girl, Carissa is in white. The other sisters are Cynda (the dark hair and black shirt) and Ping (The red hair and glasses). The TM's mom is on the far right, and Carissa's boyfriend Nate is on the end. As always, I am behind the camera. (you can tell, because people who gaze upon me always smile like that.)

And then we drove. And drove. And drove. A long fucking way. We had almost 500 miles to drive that day, and we got on the road around 10:30 am.

Oh... and as you can see by the sign above... most of it was through Kansas. The dreaded Kansas. My mother told me that Kansas was the greatest test of a relationship. When I posted on my Facebook wall a request for suggestions for things to do, I received things like: "Nothing". "Get through it as fast as possible." "Count the trees." Not exactly a glowing endorsement.

I even went on Kansas' tourism website to get suggestions for things to see along I-70. I gathered several ideas and off we went.

First thing I'll say about Kansas is that the welcome center was freaking sweet. It was huge, and full of brochures, and had fancy cement patterns outside the building.

In fact... you know what? I should have taken the Welcome Center as a sign that Kansas is a little self-conscious of their reputation. I mean... those fuckers are trying HARD to convince people that their state is awesome. I decided to reserve judgment until I'd spent more than 10 minutes there.

One of the goals for our time in Kansas was to find some cool antiques to fill the back of the giant truck we were driving. We kinda felt silly driving around in an empty truck, and according to the Kansas Tourism website, and our pre-conceived notions of what people in Kansas do... we thought there'd be a lot of antiques. The first place that was recommended on the website was in a town called Goodland, and it was closed. Not just closed like... for the day, but closed as in "boarded up".

Not a great start for the state of Kansas.

On the other hand, we did happen across another oddity... One of 3 current (of 7 planned) giant Van Gogh paintings in the world. Read about it here.

I mean... yeah. It was huge, and in the middle of Goodland, Kansas. Who'da thought?

We kept driving after taking pictures of the giant picture. We kept going and going, and eventually we DID find an antique "mall". I don't really remember where it was, exactly, but that's for the best, as it was mostly just creepy as hell...

It DID have a giant selection of racist collectibles. Lovely, isn't it? I mean... I don't believe that any particular item holds some sort of evil power, but man... a whole wall of whimsically racist salt shakers and piggy banks. It gives one pause. If anything, the casual way it was presented was troubling.

Kansas actually wasn't all that bad. It was a long, flat drive. Full of wind and grass and a bunch of cows (but not as many as you'd assume, you judgmental bastards...sheesh). But there was plenty of stuff to see and talk about. The thing I most looked forward to seeing was outside the town of Oakley, named after Annie Oakley herself.

It was a giant statue of Buffalo Bill Cody. I've been interested in Wild-West culture for a long time, and Buffalo Bill was a huge part of the glamourization of the Wild West. The town of Oakley is home to this amazing statue:

I've included this photo that featured the TM to show the scale of the thing. It was really, really cool. I'd probably rank this statue among the five coolest things we saw on the trip.

It also marked the start of a trend of us sticking our fingers in things and taking pictures. You'll see it continued on Day 9.

After the Buffalo Bill statue, we really didn't stop again. Even for gas. We drove into the night and ended up in Manhattan, Kansas. Home of Kansas State University. It was a pretty cool little town from what small part of it I saw, but I will say this...

It took me a single visit of about 12 hours to determine that something was definitely going on when Bob Huggins managed to convince 3 of the biggest college basketball recruits in the country to play in that place. Not exactly South Beach.

We're heading into the home stretch. Only 2 more days and 2 more blogs.