Daily Archives: September 10, 2012

Brent/Chuck Road Trip 2012 – Trip Report

Here is the trip report from our road trip. I wanted to blog as we went but the trip got pretty busy.

August 14

We got a pretty late start because I needed to replace two tires on the Buick before we could leave. While I was at Belle Tire they told me that my right front bearing was a little loose. But I had just replaced the bearings about 5000 miles earlier so I figured they were just being paranoid and I said I would check it later.

I had a few little things that I needed to finish before we left to the point where we did not get on the road to Chicago until 4PM. With the time change we made it to downtown Chicago about 7PM. We settled in at the Silversmith hotel and decided to go to Kingston mines for dinner and some Blues.

The wings at Kingston Mines are particularly tasty – I like the fact that they put a base of french fries underneath the wings to soak up the hot sauce – it is a great idea.

There were two bands at Kingston Mines that rotated each hour. We stayed for four hours and then went back downtown.

August 15

The first order of business was to do an office hour for my Coursera Internet History, Technology, and Security course at the Starbuck in the basement of Palmer House. Brent appears in the office hours video:

After office hours, we decided where to go next. The decision was whether to go west and visit places like Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone or go south to Memphis and beyond. Brent decided he wanted to see cities so I booked a hotel in Memphis and we checked out from our Chicago hotel.

As we were walking to the car, Brent asked if they had an art museum in Chicago. I said ‘yes’ and we were exactly one block away so we decided to spend a few hours at the Chicago Art museum. It was pretty cool and Brent really liked it but by the time we were done it was about 4PM and we needed to be in Memphis that night. Also because it was 4PM we started to hit Chicago traffic and I needed to fill the gas tank as soon as we got on the road. It took over an hour before we were outside Chicago on I-57 going toward Memphis. By the time we were at real highway speeds, the GPS was estimating our arrival time at 12:30 AM. I was getting pretty sleepy so I let Brent drive for a while – he was not comfortable driving the Buick but I was pretty sleepy so I let him drive for about 1.5 hours and took a nap.

I got up and drove the rest of the way. With gas and bathroom stops our estimated time of arrival ballooned out to 1:30AM. For the last hour I was *way too tired* – I should have stopped and took a nap. I was sooo happy when we pulled into that hotel and I had not fallen asleep driving. I used to drive at night fighting sleep and it felt really unsafe – for the past few years when I am tired – I stop and take a nap and when I awake I go back on the road. This keeps me from fighting sleep while driving. But with the arrival at 1:30 it just seemed like we were “so close” so I kept wanting to “gut it out”. Ah well – I vowed not to do that again.

August 16

We woke up at about 10AM and decided to go to Sun Studios. It turn out that we arrived during Elvis Week and August 16, 2012 was the 35-year anniversary of Elvis death in August 16, 1977 and the city was full of Elvis fans. And Sun Studios was also full of Elvis fans. It was our second time at Sun Studios and with it packed to the gills with people it generally was not too fun. We waited 45 minutes for the tour and then had a Chocolate Malt afterwards. Sun Studios is awesome and Brent liked it better because this time he is a musician and has done recording and so he appreciated a lot of the artists and equipment much more this time.

After Sun Studios I wanted to go downtown and kill some time and have some barbeque. It was extremely hot so I wanted to go downtown to Peabody Place – the giant mall that we had been to on our previous visit. We found our way to the parking ramp and walked to Peabody Place – there was no one downtown and when we got to Peabody Place – it was *permanently closed*. An entire gigantic mall was closed. I was amazed – I guess the bad economy has hit more than just Michigan.

I thought that perhaps we would walk through the Peabody Hotel and see the ducks. As we rounded the corner and the entrance came into view there was an extremely long line that snaked around the block to see the ducks. It seemed that the only thing to do downtown was see the ducks.

I gave up and we got back into the car and went back to the hotel to take a nap in the afternoon to save up our energy for the evening on Beale Street.

After we woke up from the nap, we went downtown to Beale Street. I had never been to Beale Street so I did not know what to expect. We needed some food so we went to Blues City Cafe and had dinner while listening to music. Brent was loving the music and the food was pretty tasty. After we finished at the Blues City Cafe we sat for a while at an outside venue kind of in an alley and listened to a young group playing some classic blues and had a couple of beers. After a couple of sets in the alley, we wandered down the street to listen to a more jazz-oriented band and had another beer.

All in all Beale Street was pretty awesome. It was very focused on music and not too crowded. We ended the night about midnight and went back to the hotel.

August 17

We got up August 17, and I did an office hour at a Starbucks in rural Memphis – but no one showed up so I caught up with some E-Mail and some work. We got on the road to New Orleans about 11:30 AM – and with about six hours of driving it looked like it was going to be a pretty mellow day.

I had booked a Holiday Inn in the French Quarter because I did want to have to handle the car for two days and wanted to keep the walking to a minimum.

We made really good time and were driving through the bayou and near Lake Ponchatrain as the sun was going down. We were in pretty good spirits and Brent was enjoying seeing the Bayou and the long causeways that drove straight across a lake. While I was driving, the GPS tracking system kept telling us to get off highway to avoid slow traffic. I had no idea where it was suggesting we go so I just stayed on the highway. Pretty much as we turned onto highway I-10, the traffic slowed to a crawl. The GPS was right all along but I just would not trust it. After about 15 minutes in a traffic jam we sped up until we got to the airport and then again slowed to a crawl and then once we got near the Superdome – the traffic literally stopped. We moved about a mile in an hour. And it was starting to rain.

Once we got off the highway, we had to deal with insane traffic in downtown New Orleans and we needed to cross from the North Side of the French Quarter to the south side of the French Quarter. The last mile through town took another 45 minutes. By the time we pulled into the Holiday Inn parking ramp, we were tired and stressed and just wanted to slump into a bed.

When we got to the lobby in the Holiday Inn in the French Quarter – it was packed with people damp from the rain – and it seemed like everyone was checking in at the same time and no one was in a good mood. Brent sat in a chair and I waited to get checked in. After about 15 minutes I got to the check in – when I gave them my name, they said, “What was your name again?” My heart sank. Then they asked for my confirmation number and my heart sank further. I gave them my confirmation number and after some typing they said my prepaid reservation was cancelled because of a problem with my credit card. And of course the hotel was full.

I had made the pre-paid reservations two days earlier. They gave me a confirmation number and then later yanked the reservation without a call or e-mail.

They told me that there was a Crowne Plaza a block away that had one room left. I was not in a position to do anything except say ‘yes’. We struggled back through the crowded lobby and up the elevators to the parking ramp and got back in the car. The Crowne Plaza was literally less than a block away and it took about 10 minutes to get there because of blocked roads and one way streets.

The Crowne Plaza did Valet Parking only and again it seemed like the whole world was checking in at the same time. We were the third car and waited 20 minutes before the valet guy could reach us. And all the time a constant drizzle. Finally we get our car parked handed off to the valet guy and go into the hotel. The hotel is hosting the national convention of the Vietnam Veteran’s Mortocycle Club. It seemed like at all times 24 hours per day, the entire entrance and sidewalk near the entrance would be filled with wall-to-wall motorcycle dudes smoking. Because it was raining, all the smokers crowded around the entrance under the small covered entrance. And since it was New Orleans they were always drunk and because they felt they owned the place if you tried to move between them they would always react with “attitude”.

We finally got checked in and in the room – I was exhausted. But I decided we needed to get out and see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band so we would have at least one positive experience in our first day in New Orleans.

We arrived at Preservation Hall about five minutes into their last set – but they let us in anyways. Which was really great. This was the reason for the entire trip and it made everything worth while. Brent loved it. It had always been my “ace in the hole” and on that day we needed something to leave us with a good feeling.

We walked back to the hotel and crashed.

August 18

The next day, we got up about 10 AM and decided to walk down the French Quarter to absorb the “French Quarter Experience”. We went into stores of various kinds and had a nice lunch where Brent tried Oysters on the Half-Shell for the first time. As we walked, the rain kept coming and going. I was always worried about Brent slipping on his crutches because the sidewalks are mostly slate. After lunch we went to Jackson Square to see all the cool stuff there – luckily it was not raining so there was something to see. As we finished with Jackson Square I decided we should see the Mississippi RIver – but it started to pour. I pulled out my umbrella and we walked behind Cafe Du Monde and got to see the Mississippi River.

My next plan was to go to Cafe Du Monde and have some hot chocolate and beignets. Unfortunately it seemed as though every tourist in New Orleans had the same idea. It was raining, wet and slippery and I tried to sit Brent in a chair while I tried to get a table. No one was getting up and as soon as someone got up – some group of kids would run and grab the table. I decided to give up and go back to the hotel and dry out. But the walk back to the hotel was nearly a mile and it was raining and we had one umbrella and the rain made the sidewalks slippery.

I decided that we would take a pedi-cab back to the hotel. A pedi-cab is a three-wheeled bicycle with seats in the back. It is also covered and has a rain shield. So we grabbed a pedi cab and they took us back to the hotel – it was really the first time I had relaxed since we left the hotel in the morning. When we arrived at the hotel I gave the pedicab driver a big tip and told him how much I appreciated the ride.

When we got back to the hotel, the pedicab driver told me that I could call a number and they would pick us up anywhere in the French Quarter in about five minutes. I was incredulous but he assured me that it really worked. They have a little cell phone hanging around their neck where they get calls. He gave me a business card with their number on it – which I kept for the rest of the trip.

We got back in to the hotel room and took a nap, and dried out all of our clothing and shoes and were feeling a little better. So we decided we would venture back out for the evening. This time we were smart and called the pedi-cab right away. Just as they said, within five minutes our chariot arrived. I was planning to start the night at Preservation Hall and then work our way back and hit a few music clubs.

We were talking with our pedicab driver about where to find good music on Bourbon Street and he said we should probably just go to “Frenchman Street” – he said it was more focused on music and less focused on frozen margaritas and acting stupid. He said that Bourbon Street was fast becoming “Disneyland for Drunks” – and I had to agree. Over the years of me coming to NOLA since 1993 the cool Blues places (like Bryan Lee playing at The Old Absinthe House) were being turned into frozen Margarita shops. Ironically while we were in New Orleans, Bryan Lee was playing in Chicago. We just missed him both places.

We decided to switch our plans to Frenchman Street so he took us there and dropped us off. We had dinner at a cute little place on the corner where we had some nice southern comfort food. After dinner we went to a coupe of clubs. The first featured a washboard and the second was an all-brass band that played very loud. It was cool for Brent because it was completely different style of music from our other experiences.

After we were done at Frenchman Street we called our new best friends – the pedicab drivers and as promised he showed up in five minutes. I told him to take us to Cafe Du Monde – when we got there, we immediately found an open table and we could have our requisite beignets and hot chocolate. When we were done we again called the magical pedicab and were whisked back to the hotel.

August 19

I was quite ready to be out of New Orleans about our hotel filled to the brim with annoying Motorcycle Club members. Of course 20 people were checking out at the same time and the valet parking folks were overwhelmed – it of course was raining. We were told that it would take an hour to get our car – or we could get in a bus and be taken to the lot and that would take about 15 minutes. We finally got our car and I was so happy to be able to start putting some distance between me and New Orleans. As soon as we got in the car it started pouring in earnest and we slowly crept out of the city going eastward towards Misisssippi.

After about three hours we were finally in rural Mississippi making good time with New Orleans slowly receding in the distance behind us. We had 2.5 days to get back to Michigan and no other agenda – we could drive a few hours and do something and stop when we felt tired. It felt good to finally be agenda free.

After about 100 miles, I started to hear a loud whine from the front wheels. I called my brother Scott and asked him for advice on how far I could get with a whining front wheel bearing given that we had about 1200 miles to go to get home. He told me that once GM wheel bearings started getting louder the would fail pretty quickly. He said not to push it. He said to find the nearest city that had a repair shop and stop for the night. He said that the right thing to do was to keep the car from breaking down completely so at least I could drive it to the repair shop instead of getting towed.

So I consulted my RoadAhead iPhone application and found Meridian Mississippi that had a bunch of hotels and several repair shops. It was a Sunday so we took my brother’s advice and got a room at the Motel 6. We had dinner at a Sonic and then went to the WIll Ferrel Candidate movie. The movie was actually not WIll’s best work – one ironic bit was that the Marty Huggins character drove a Buick LeSabre – which they used to show what a dork the other candidate – was – of course we were driving a 2001 Buick LeSabre on the trip so that was pretty ironic.

August 20

I got up bright and early Monday morning to be at the door of the Goodyear Service Center in Meridian Mississippi precisely at 7AM to get my bearing fixed. They were really nice and got me right in and gave me a good estimate (cheaper than the Belle Tire estimate back in Michigan). The waiting room even had WiFi and free coffee so I could catch up on a bit of work and E-Mail. After about 45 minutes they came back and said that they fixed the right front bearing and the left was making noise too – it was less noise but it was not in great shape – so I told them to fix the left front bearing as well. They quickly completed the work and I went back to get Brent and we were on the road by 10:30AM – It was actually the earliest we had made it on the road on the trip.

It was a nice feeling not to be listening to the bearings to see if they were about tho break down and leave us by the side of the road. It was also nice to not have a precise schedule and not to have any time pressure to make it anywhere. And it was nice to be driving on a full night’s sleep.

The miles piled up as we went through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. It felt good to be getting closer to home.

As we were driving along in Northern Kentucky, I saw a sign that said “Horse Cave Next Exit”. We had no particular agenda so I decided to get off the highway and take a look.

Horse Cave turned out the be pretty cool – we took a tour. Brent took a little extra time with his crutches – but eventually we were 150 feet under ground in a giant cavern carved by a river. It was nice to have done something on the spur of the moment instead of pushing to meet a schedule.

After a few hours we hopped back on the road and ended up staying the night at a hotel in southern Indiana. We were within striking distance of home and the next day should be a nice easy ride and a straight shot.

By this time Brent and I were feeling some flu-like symptoms. I had gotten them first and I was getting better – Brent was at the point where he was starting to feel pretty bad – so we had to run around the town and find him some chicken soup so he would feel better.

August 21

We got up about 10 AM and hopped on the road. As we passed Indianapolis, for me things became very familiar since I make the drive to Indy all the time. We passed Fort Wayne and then the Michigan border.

We pulled into our driveway at about 4PM. We arrived back home almost to the minute at same time as we had left seven days earlier. It felt good to be home. We had driven 2359 miles.


Interestingly we missed hurricane Isaac by about a week. Isaac almost exactly followed the path we took coming home from New Orleans. It hit New Orleans, Mississippi, and then went up the Mississippi valley and then turned down the Ohio valley – at one point they were reporting from Meridian Mississippi where we had our bearings changed.

It was interesting to watch the scenes from New Orleans and realize just how helpless they are if they did not evacuate long before the storm. Having driven into New Orleans for the first time in my life I realized how isolated it is and how much it is surrounded by water on all sides. The highways and roads are a mess and you just cannot get anywhere in a hurry. I would hate to be leaving in a hurry to escape a hurricane.

Afterwards Brent said he never wanted to go on a road trip again. I may try to convince him otherwise next year. I think that the mistake was to do a road trip that spent most of its time in cities instead of wandering around the west. I do think that if we want to go visit a city, we might as well fly and keep things nice and simple. But perhaps next summer we will do that “out west” road trip. My guess is that it will be a lot less stressful and more relaxing to drive with less of a schedule / agenda.

But overall it was a great experience and all the fun things we did were very fun. Because we were in such a rush and going a great distance and fighting through crowds with Brent on hand-crutches, logistics took a lot of energy. But the destination were well worth it and road trips are supposed have a few challenges !