he following is a list of festivals we have submitted to with the last of our funds, and are awaiting word of acceptance. There are dozens more we would like to submit to with your help!Read More
~From Brian James Griffo (Director) September 7th, 2012
After a long year of editing, friends and family were flown in for a private screening of Driving Blind at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, CA.
We had an incredible reaction, so positive and touching. It was an evening none of us will ever forget.
At times the work became so overwhelming the dream was in large part realized as soon as I saw the Purvis family together, to see the film and feel closure. (PICTURED)
Now we have submitted to Sundance and are crossing our fingers. Let the release year begin!
We all decided to get up extra early this morning and capture the sun coming up and some scenes around the homestead. We drove done to the Grovetown Trails at Euchee Creek, a park-ette/running path a couple of miles from the house and enjoyed the sun rise.
This was the earliest we had been up on the entire trip, the one day when we WEREN’T driving a long distance that day, and we are up at 6 AM!
We spent several hours there and got some great footage, and we wrapped and decided to treat ourselves to breakfast, so it was off to the Huddle House!! For those who don’t know, Huddle House is a slightly more highbrow Waffle House. For those who don’t know what a Waffle House is, come on down to the South, y’all!
After a big breakfast and talk of what was left to capture for the film, we headed back to the house to rest up a bit and record some audio for looping, which is some sort of technical movie jargon. They wouldn’t really explain it to me, but I think it is like sampling, so I have been listening to a lot of Rap since we got done to see if I am due royalties!
After we got all that done, we headed for what they call the Martini Shot, the last shot of the film, which would probably also be the most exhausting emotionally for Tod and I. Mum had arranged for both of us to be seen by the same ophthalmologist, here in Augusta, the one who had diagnosed Tod with CHM last year. She had made appointments for us at the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Augusta.
This place was like a Conglomo – A multi-story office building seeming dedicated to eyeballs, it was pretty cool. We filled out our paperwork and were ushered back into two adjoining rooms, where we would go through a few eye tests for the crew to film, and then we would talk to Dr. Fechter. Much to both Tod and my joy, they would be administering the Visual Fields Test.
Now the Visual Fields Test is very simple; you sit with your head in a giant sideways bowl, with your forehead and chin in these holders, staring a white or orange or red light directly ahead of you in the center of the bowl, with one eye covered, and you have to click a button on a remote every time you see a white light of varying intensity appear in your periphery. The trick is that you can’t look away from that white/orange/red light in the center of the bowl. Now let’s add on to it that the light you are staring at and the light you are “looking” for are not the only lit things, the interior of the bowl is also softly lit, which makes it harder to see the white light of varying intensity in your periphery. After a few minutes of staring at the light and holding the remote, I told the tech that she could start the test. There was silence from everyone. Apparently, they HAD started the test and I was just not seeing anything.
I still argue that, despite the fact that I know I can’t see that well, I did worse on that test, because of the extra light in the bowl making it harder for me to know when I actually saw the white light of varying intensity. One of the things I noticed about both this test and the Dark Adaptation test is the potential for false positives. I am staring at this light and occasionally a light flashes in my periphery, my mind starts to tell me that I am seeing these flashes. Maybe I am, or maybe it is like when you look at a light and then you look away and you still see it. So a lot of times, I was not confident to click the button on the remote. That is not an excuse, but if the bowl was dark, I would definitely see the white lights in my periphery.
Regardless, Tod and I finished up
the test and the results were processed and taken to Dr. Fechter, who
came in and talked to us about the results, which pretty much greatly
surprised everybody. It was filmed, and it will be in the movie, so I
will not spoil what happened...
After we finished up with Dr. Fechter, and thanked them all for staying open late to work with us, and we made our way out to the parking lot. Brian and the crew needed to get back to the real world and as sad as it was to think about, so did Tod and I. We talked about whether or not the crew would stay another night and head out in the morning or not, and they decided to hit the road that night and try to get some road covered before calling it a night. So we hugged good bye, and made sure that everyone had all their stuff, and then watched as the crew van crested the hill and slipped out of sight, like we were watching the sunset on our film.
Tired and a little sad, Tod and I went back to the Purvirosa, to tell our parents about the doctor’s visit and to prep for the last leg of our journey together: Getting home to DC.
When Tod and I woke up this morning, we heard from the crew that they had driven into the night and were basically at our parent’s house and that we should hurry up and get on the road to get to them.
We showered, packed up, gassed up and hit the road. The GPS decided to keep us off of the major roads to get to the Purvis Homestead, and I have to say, when you only have three hours of driving in a day, it makes the scenery so much more beautiful. We trotted down back roads, and country highways, and Tod started to get hungry, so we pulled off at what was apparently the only restaurant on all of these stretches of road; R & D’s Seafood Steaks & More, in Sylvania, GA.
this: a lonely stretch of country road (taking us home – oh John
Denver), lined with pine trees, huge wheels of hay, barns, and silos.
And then out of nowhere, BAM, a gravel parking lot, a neon sign in the
window and a VFW/Elks Lodge Hall looking building. How could we not
You know that part in the movie, when the foreigner walks into the bar, and the music stops and everyone turns and stares? Well, it’s based in truth, because that was what happened when we walked in there. Luckily, we weren’t run out of town on a rail or anything, we actually got fed, buffet style! The food was okay, typical buffet, a la Sizzler, or Golden Corral, and it was pretty inexpensive - $7 apiece, including drink.
We got a call from Brian seeing where we were, and we finished up eating and got back on the road again to get home. Besides, we had to get there in time for our welcome home party!
We got to the Purvirosa with plenty of daylight to spare, and were able to spend some time with Mum and Dud before we headed over to the church for the party. It was good to be back in the house. Neither Tod or I grew up there, but it was the first house my parents owned, versus rented out by the military for them, and I spent about 5 years there, so it was a welcome sight, to know the exact layout of the space after being in such unfamiliar territory for so long on the trip.
After short naps, we packed up Dud’s truck and headed for the Grovetown United Methodist Church. Dud had prepared a Luau for us; Chicken Long Rice, Kalua Pig, Poi, Hawaiian Rolls, the works! Mum made her famous Chinese Chicken Salad. That was one thing that I never got tired of: home cooked meals vs. road or fast food.
The night was great! We got to meet some many of the people who had been supporting us, financially as well as spiritually, while we were planning and taking this trip. It was a great show of support. We ate, drank, fellowshipped, and relaxed. Pastor Josh was super great for letting us use the fellowship hall for our crazy luau.
We packed up the leftovers, and cleaned up the hall, and headed home to the big screen TV, HBO and a good night’s sleep.
Tod and I woke up this morning and found a car wash to give the SUV a well deserved bath. I mean the full treatment: pre-rinse, soap scrub, light waxing, the works. Afterward, we went back to the hotel and repacked and reorganized the car. Tod had gotten a text from Brian saying that the crew was on their way up from Bradenton. We figured that it wouldn’t be until three or four in the afternoon when they got here, so we decided to grab some lunch and check out the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
We made our way to Neptune Beach, a section of Jacksonville right near the water, and found a great place to grab some grub before we went to the ocean; the Sun Dog Diner. This place was great; laid back atmosphere, good food, happy wait staff. We heard that they had a great burger, so I took the opinion of the locals and got the Sun Dog Burger. Tod opted for surf over turf and got the Mahi Sandwich. Both were really tasty. And then I saw the most adorable thing; an elderly couple was sitting a few tables away from us and they were feeding each other food from their plates. It was great to see love still going strong after so many years. But of course, they might have been on their first date, you never know!
We finished our lunch and walked the one block right to the Atlantic. The beach was not empty, but not full. As soon as we hit the sand, off came our shoes and socks, and we walked out and let the waves rush over our feet. There is something special about the feeling of sinking into the wet sand of the beach and water rushing back and forth across your body, enticing you to come and play. We sat on the beach and just stared out and talked for a bit, until we got a text from Brian. They had decided to head past Jacksonville and head up towards Savannah, GA, and they wanted us to meet up with them. We dusted ourselves off and hopped back in the car and started off to Savannah.
We made it up to Savannah just as the sun was beginning to set, and met up with the crew. We shot some scenes in one of the many cemeteries around the city and then headed off to find a more populated place to shoot, and maybe find some dinner. We found a cool pizza place called Vinnie Van Go-Go’s and took a load off while we filled our bellies. We talked a lot about the impending end of our trip and what we had accomplished and after we had finished eating, the crew decided that they were going to get some night time shots of the city and we would head on a bit out of town and find a place to stay for the night.
Tod and I woke up, feeling that initial tug to check on the guys and see if they were ready to hit the road, only to remember that we were on our own for the next day and a half. Realizing we had only a short drive (4-5 hours) ahead of us today, and no crew and second vehicle to worry about, we slept in a bit and decided to get breakfast before we hit the road. And when road tripping through the south, where do you go for a quality breakfast? That’s right; WAFFLE HOUSE!
It’s funny, both Tod and I have lived in the south many times in our lives, and we have been to Waffle House multiple times, but we never actually got waffles at Waffle House. We both decided to take the plunge and find out why they didn’t call this place Scattered Covered Smothered Topped Chilied Peppered House. Of course we got the obligatory order of hash browns, all the way, to go with them. The waffles were actually pretty good; savory and sweet, malty and fluffy. I could definitely put a few of those away on a hungry day.
After a leisurely breakfast, we got on the road towards Jacksonville, Florida. Crossing the panhandle of Florida is a lot like driving through Texas; a lot of road and that is about it.
We got into Jacksonville around 3:30 – 4:00pm, and got checked into our hotel. We decided that we would give the car a good scrubbing inside and out tomorrow before we got home to mom and dad’s. So we unpacked the entire car and put it in our hotel room. This was the biggest clean out and reorganize project we had done with the car; we literally took everything out of the cab. We left the car top carrier on, but everything else was piled in our room to be gone through, reorganized, and repacked tomorrow morning.
After we finished unloading the car, we decided to get some dinner. Tod’s friend had given him an Applebee’s Gift Card for the trip and, fun fact, you can tip on a Gift Card there! (So now you know) Dinner was light. Both Tod and I had been trying to eat fairly decently on the trip, excluding the Waffle House breakfast this morning, and so we just got a few salads and I had a couple of beers. After we were finished eating we decided to find something to do, maybe go catch a movie or go cosmic bowling. Whatever there was to do on a Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida.
THERE’S NOTHING TO DO IN JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA! We drove around looking for something and there was nothing, maybe we were in the wrong part of town, but it was dead. As we were driving, we saw a sign that said, Smokers Video II, so we decided to check it out. We walked up to the door to get in and found it locked and a voice said, “Please hold your ID’s up to the camera.” We instantly knew that this was not where we wanted to be, but we were both curious to find exactly where we were. Turns out, Jacksonville has a slew of 24 hour Adult Video and Marijuana Enthusiast shops, and we had stumbled into one, talk about awkward. We didn’t want to be rude, so we left with three 6 foot bongs and the entire Vivid Pictures Catalogue. (Just kidding, they were two foot bongs. Hehehe)
One of the things I find amazing about this place was that they had a small section of regular movies near the front and all of them were sun damaged. The covers were faded and cracked from sitting in the same spot for probably years, because people weren’t going there to buy those movies. It’s more part of the décor than an actual thing you could buy. I got the feeling that if I had taken one of these up to the counter the lady would have had no clue what to do. And besides that, the prices for these “used” movies were outrageous - $19.99 for Nurse Betty. That movie is like 10 years old, and I can buy it brand new for $5.50.
Feeling more than a bit dirty and uncomfortable, we decided to find a real movie place to get the taste out of our mouths. We found a Blockbuster and ran into it like it was the shower scene from A Crying Game. After a long cleansing bubble bath in the awesomeness that is Blockbuster’s used DVD section. We made our way back to the hotel to try and get some sleep and forget about Smokers Video II.
We woke this morning to a phone call from Lori about seeing the tiger cub she had spoken about last night. She told us that she was involved with the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, which was also know also known as The Little Zoo That Could from Animal Planet. She told us that we had an 11 o'clock appointment to see the tiger cub. Luckily, Bikini Bottom was just a few miles away from the zoo. We met Lori and she introduced us to Patti, who was the curator of this fun little menagerie. We talked to Patti, who introduced us to Jenny, who told us that not only were we going to be able to play with the cubs, but also we were going to get a V.I.P. tour of the zoo. We were going to be able to see the tiger cubs, adult tigers, lemurs, pythons, among the many animals that were at the zoo.
The tiger cubs are one of the main attractions at the zoo. They have an interactive experience for visitors to the zoo. When we got to the zoo we found a couple people waiting ahead of us, so while we waited Jenny decided to give us the "official" tour and then we would circle back to the tiger cubs. Our first stop on the tour was the lemur cage. Many of you have become familiarized with lemurs from the movie Madagascar. We find them to be fun loving, dancing creatures. Such is not the case in real life; they do not dance. Tod and I entered the cage with "Mike" and we were told that lemurs are somewhat skiddish. Mike (not sure if that is his real name, but he knows who “he” is) told us about lemurs as we sat in the closed in, can't get out without assistance, cage. So we should find some place to sit and allow them to come to us. "Mike" told us that lemurs, along with other mammalian species, have no sphincter control; so when they have to "go", they just go. There is no clench to find a bathroom; it just happens. And when it is time to go, they tend to run to the top of the enclosure. When you see them going to the top of the enclosure, chances are they will be going soon.
Tod and I found seats, myself next to "Mike", I was greeted with a steaming pile of lemur poo directly deposited upon my thigh. ("Mike" didn't say this, but I took it this way: a pile of poo on your thigh from a lemur is like a, "Hey, how do you do? Good to meet you.") "Mike" being the ever prepared, potential Boy Scout that he was, had a Tupperware tin that was filled with the necessary accoutrement including paper towels, baby wipes, etc., to remove anything that needed to be removed from a person. All that remained was a brown stain on my pants from that lemur “hello”
Tod was the popular one in the lemur enclosure; they seemed to shy away from me. "Mike" did his best to win them over to me. Ryan, our DP, came into the enclosure and filmed us with the lemurs. They were more fascinated with the cameras than by us, making Ryan the most popular man in the enclosure.
Fully cleaned up and lemured out, we left the enclosure and Jenny asked us if we would like to have an experience with the pythons. Both of us being slightly apprehensive, but me taking the forefront, I said yes of course. We then were taken to something that resembled a small amphitheater and were seated. Jenny left us to our own imaginations as we thought about what was to come. Out of nowhere, she and her coworker appeared with two pythons. One, an albino python that looked kind of like a banana milkshake, and the other which looked like it belonged in just about any tropical forest you might find; Tod and I seated, scared out of our underpants, and had these pythons placed upon us. Again, Tod seemed to be the victor in the battle of the brothers. His python seemed to take to him like flies to honey, whereas mine, let's hope, had just eaten a bad meal of rabbits and so was a bit drooly and was freaking me out.
After unsuccessfully controlling my python's drooling habits, they took him back and I shared in the experience of Tod's, more well tamed, python until we were ready to move on to the next curiosity - The kangaroos...
Jenny led us over to the kangaroo habitat and we were introduced to the joeys. We were able to have the experience of looking at them, touching them, and *bonus* we got to stick our fingers in their pouch. A completely weird feeling, indeed, knowing that these pouches expand as these joeys are growing and going and hanging out on the outside, because it seemed that these pouches were rather small in size until one realizes that a three or four month old baby kangaroo hangs out in there.
From there, Jenny produced two baby bottles full of milk and told us that we were going to feed some other tigers. She took us to a cage near the back of the zoo and introduced us to two adult tigers; one a standard Bengal tiger and the other a white Bengal tiger, almost seemingly full-grown, three to four years old. It was amazing being only a chain link fence between myself and a creature that is called a man eater and seeing the thing that connects all felines: a sense of co-dependency between ourselves and all animals. Almost as if I could enter the cage with them and not be hurt, but I knew that any interaction with them other than what I was told to do (i.e. the bottle feeding) could result in horrible things happening to me. Looking at these beautiful creatures taken from their homes and being domesticated (for lack of a better term) was both enviable and beautiful in the sense that I actually had the chance to be this close to them but also sad because they shouldn't be caged as such. It was a truly tremendous experience. It was amazing to just be there, feeding them. While they were drinking the milk from the bottles, my brother and I reached fingers through the fence and while they were distracted by our superior bottle feeding techniques, petted them just for the sake of being able to say that we done so. Not many people can say they have been able to do the same.
Jenny took us around the back of the zoo, where we had a chance to bottle feed two more tigers that were more rare tigers than the bengals, which was amazing. Little known fact, unlike many other felines, tigers are unable to purr. Instead they have a breathy utterance that they make. Jenny told us they are able to differentiate between different humans based on this utterance that the humans make. It was their version of a purr. Tod and I attempted to “purr” at them so that they might recognize them should we ever come back. Again, another truly amazing experience to be this close to these majestic creatures.
We circled back to the front of the zoo to get in to have the actual physical interaction with the white bengal tiger club, which was named Delhi. But while we were waiting for a family that was currently in the pen, Patti came up to us with a Capuchin monkey named Luka. Patti gave me his “baby,” a stuffed horsed that Luka carried around with him at all times. She also told me not to be concerned when Luka peed on me, it was his way of liking me and marking me as his property. Over the next 10 minutes, I got peed on quite a bit. But it was great to sit and play with Luka. Much like a small child, he was very inquisitive, and would run around the little circle of people that had gathered to see him, climbing up their legs and onto their shoulders. I felt like Ross from Friends.
Tod, the crew, and I finally were able to go into the enclosure with Delhi. It was very funny because a baby tiger, unlike most domesticated cats, was easy to attract but you had to keep in mind that this little baby creature, unlike domesticated cats, was able to kill and eat us. We each ended us with bites and scratches from Delhi as a kind of reminder that no matter how cute an animal might look, we must remember that underneath that lies a true animal; capable of potentially killing us. It was tremendous being with it, interacting with it, and knowing that in a few years this seemingly docile and psuedo domesticated creature would not be able to interact with people again (for fear that an interaction with them might end absolutely horribly). Strewn around the enclosure were the various toys that one might find laying all over the house of a cat owner (balls of yarn, toys, etc.) but still there was a sense of something bigger.
It was amazing to have one of the toys that Jenny told us to use to attract the tiger and seeing it begin to stalk you, much as a house cat might do, and something animalistic in the wild. I had a towel that I was dangling for it, hunched down, and we saw it begin it's prowl to attack. Slowly, it crept forward until it got into striking distance and then it went and it ran past the towel I had in my hands. It ran between myself and the fence behind me. And as you think with babies of any kind, you think it's safe and they will stop once it is far behind and it has gone beyond the scope of what was going to happen. But Delhi jumped from behind me and grabbed me with one claw on either side of me and began to chew on my back. I immediately stood up and had the thought of pain in my back and wanting to check it. Having two thoughts about it: first being, don't show pain to other people; second being, I hope I am bleeding profusely and just don't know it. When I lifted my shirt, I saw a two or three inch scar from where Delhi had bitten me. Luckily not a bad wound, more like a bad scratch. Each of us left that enclosure with some memento from Delhi like I had. But I was the King, after all, I had been pooped on by a Lemur, peed on by a Capuchin, and bitten by a Bengal Tiger. Ah, the stories I can tell, and which I just did.
After we finished with Delhi, we thanked Patti and Jenny for all that they had given us and we left to move on. When we got out to the car, we realized that we had spent five hours in this zoo; experiencing everything they had to show us and that we were going to have to revisit our entire schedule for the next five days. Lori told us about a nearby restaurant that was owned by Jimmy Buffet’s daughter, Lucy, where we could grab some dinner and talk about the next few days. We got to Lulu’s at Homeport Marina, and grabbed some food and ate before we started the talk, better to be full stomached and have the talk then not. We all decided that, as much as we wanted to make our way down Florida to Key West, it just didn’t seem possible anymore. We were supposed to be in Sarasota, Florida, by the end of today and it would have had us on the road until 1am if we tried to make up the distance. And then to get to Key West would have been another 7-8 hour drive tomorrow.
Add to the mix, that Ryan, our DP, had been getting quite a few calls from his wife about some issues going on at home, and it seemed like we were going to need to give him some time to go home and fix what was going on. Luckily he lives in Bradenton. Florida. With great sadness, for me especially, I made the decision to cut Key West from our trip, and Tod and I gave the crew the next couple of days off, the days we would have spent travelling down and back up through Florida. We agreed to meet up in or near Jacksonville, Florida, on the afternoon/night of the 10th.
After we finished our meals, we set off on our separate ways. The crew down south to Bradenton, and Tod and I east towards Jacksonville. Feeling a little down about losing Key West, Tod saw a Blockbuster, and thought that I might need some therapy. We stopped and looked around to see if there were movies that we needed to buy, something to take my mind off of what we had to do. I know, tough decisions for us to have to make, right? After looking around for a bit, and feeling a little better about everything, we got on the road towards Jacksonville.
As the sun began to set, we left Gulf Shores, and headed into Florida, to make it as far as we could before we called it a night. We ended up grabbing a hotel room in Chipley, Florida.
Before we left New Orleans, Art-Man took us to a little park that was near his apartment, and one that he grew up near. It was a beautiful little park. I like places where you can be in the middle of a big city and yet feel like you’re completely in the woods, away from civilization. It gives you a chance to decompress a bit before you have to go back and deal with the real world.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the south, and you forget some of the nice things about places you previously were. In this case, it was the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. It gave the trees an since of age, like it was a shawl being worn by grandfather cypress.
I had a moment that I never thought I would have. I was standing by the waterfront, looking across the water and I saw an Egret or Heron standing across the way. Something about the way the moment looked caught my attention. I told Art-Man and he said it was a beautiful moment and he pulled out his camera to take some pictures to later paint from. This sparked a conversation about how both he and Tod have an eye for photography, whereas I do not. As we talked about it, I realized that I do have an eye for it, I was the one who saw this moment, and realized what it could be, and told Art-Man. Without consciously knowing it, I had captured the moment. And having no training in photography, I wouldn’t know about lights and shadows, etc., so I might just dismiss the moment as simply a moment for the memory banks. It was a really cool revelation.
We said our goodbyes to Art-Man and bid adieu to NoLA, and made east for Gulf Shores, AL. Art-Man had told us about a ferry that we could take from Dauphin Island to Gulf Shores, but we decided to stick to the road, I mean we already did a boat, right?
We arrived into what appeared to be the sleepy little hamlet of Gulf Shores, Alabama. As we were heading down highway 59 to meet up with our hosts for the evening, the Michaelis’s, we noticed that the traffic began to get a little more heavy on this fairly small highway, and soon we found out why. Gulf Shores is known for it’s annual Shrimp Festival. It’s been featured on TV, so you know it’s a big deal. And after what happened in the Gulf this summer, this year’s festival is probably more important than ever.
After a bit of renavigating, many of the roads were closed for the festival, we found our accommodations for the night: a beach house right on the Gulf. Its name was Bikini Bottom. I love how all the houses on this beach area have names. It harkens back to the old days in the south, when you had to go home, you said that you had to get back to Tara, or Fernwood Estates, something like that.
My friend Dan O’Neill sent out our info to all his friends when he found out about what we were planning with his trip, threw it out to the universe, and the universe replied loudly. Lori Rosenblum Michaelis, contacted me and told us that we had to come to Gulf Shores and she would take care of everything for us. Her family, along with Dykens, who own Bikini Bottom, opened their arms as wide as they would go to welcome us and make us feel like family.
We arrived at Bikini Bottom, and Lori and her family were there to greet us. I’ve not had a chance to stay in a beach house like this before: on stilts, in case the waters rise up, white sand driveway and beach, private dock out back with boat and Sea-Doo, wrap around porch. Absolutely beautiful, in all honesty, we wanted to just move in there!
Lori introduced us to her family; husband Andy, son Ethan, and daughter Grace. Being a giant kid myself, Grace and I got along famously. Her favorite foods are fried shrimp and macaroni and cheese. I told her that she should try putting them together sometine. If they taste good separately, they will taste great together, just like chocolate and peanut butter. To which Lori admitted her weakness to PB&C, so much so they can’t keep the two in the house together,. Lori, I understand your addiction completely (This blog update being written on a computer right next to a big spoon and jars of Nutella and Jif.)
Lori took us out to the dock and brought out our amuse-bouche; steamed peeled shrimp, Old Bay peel and snd eat shrimp, tuna salad, and Lower Alabama caviar (a concoction of black eyed peas, onions, etc., and very tasty) All of the foods were locally caught and made. We sat on the dock and ate shrimp and talked with our adoptive family, tossing the shrimp shells right back into the lagoon. This reminded me of when Tod and I were kids and our parents took us to Norway and we would eat the shrimp right off the boat and do the same with the shells.
After a beautiful sunset, probably one of the more beautiful ones I have seen n this trip, Lori and Grace said they were going to be our guides to the Shrimp Festival. So we piled into her Windstar, or Windstar type vehicle, (what do you want form me?! It was dark and I’m blind! ☺ ), and headed over to see what al the hullabaloo was about.
As soon as we walked into the Festival, I was reminded of when my dad and mom used to work the Volksfest when we lived in Germany; kiosks and vendors hawking their wares, music blaring over PA’s, games of chance with tacky prizes, musicians jamming out for the massive groups of people there. And this was just local’s night, it gets really busy tomorrow. Lori lead us to get some Pistols; cheesy, shrimpy goodness fried inside a bread jacket, nom nom nom. Spicy, cheesy delicious! There were so many things there I wanted to eat, but I settled for the pistol and some alligator on a stick, just to make sure my tender tummy didn’t act up. Alligator is not to bad either. It does have the texture of chicken, a little bit more dense than chicken though.
Grace had denied herself a pistol and opted for a corndog. Oh, she and I are kindred spirits. She ate the outside of the corndog, which of the two parts of a corndog, really is the best part. I offered her some of my alligator, but she would have little to do with it. Kids, huh? Won’t eat their vegetables or their alligator.
We walked the length and breadth of the Shrimp Festival to see what else they had for us. Lots of food, including Sharkabobs, but I decided to save that for another time, one aquatic species a day for me, that’s my motto. Lori then tok us back to Bikini Bottom. On the way, she asked us if we would be interested in playing with a baby tiger. Uh, YEAH! She said she would contact her friends at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in the morning and see what could be arranged.
With thoughts of being where the wild things are, we drifted off to slumbertown, population us.
We woke this morning to the smells of chicken and sausage gumbo being reheated for our breakfast. Jolene had made the gumbo for us to eat last night if we hadn’t wanted to go to the banquet. I have to tell you, the Coles know how to cook well. It was so good, and a great switch up, to have dinner for breakfast! There were even hard-boiled eggs in the gumbo. I was in heaven.
Richard gave us a couple cases of energy drinks and water and took us to the gas station to fill up our tanks for us before we left. I have to words to say about just how giving the Coles were to us. It makes me very happy to think that there are people out there who will still give you the shirts off their backs. A little bit of human kindness redemption goes a long way in my book.
We hit the road for New Orleans, and even though it was only a three and a half hour drive, we had to make a few stops. Tod was feeling tired, and his eyes were a bit sensitive today, so we pulled over and I took over. And then the gumbo took over for me, and I was tired, so I pulled over to take a short break, stretch my legs and grab a coke.
We got into New Orleans and headed for Café Du Monde and have some coffee and beignets. When in NoLA, it’s what you have to do. After we finished up, we walked around the French Quarter., exploring New Orleans before we met up with our host for the evening, Art-Man.
We met these two musicians as we were walking around Jackson Square, Grover and Charles, and talked to them about what we were doing. They played some music for us and we sat with them and talked about music and senses. Grover said that if he had to lose a sense, it would be vision, because he couldn’t live without his hearing. We’ve found this to be a common opinion. If I could trade out my bad eyes for bad ears, I don’t think I could do it. Even in darkness, to hear a sound or a voice, would be very soothing. But with out hearing, you only know what you see. You lose half of you’re a wareness.
We left Charles and Grover and kept on exploring the French Quarter. At one point, Tod had to find a bathroom, who am I kidding, at many points Tod has to find a bathroom, the boy drinks sooooooo much diet soda and water. While Tod was in the restroom, I struck up a conversation with a homeless man named Reggie. He had seen us filming and asked us what we were doing. I told him abut the project and asked him if he would like to be in it. He said his face isn’t free, I told him he would get a copy of the movie, this was before I found out he was homeless, but he wouldn’t have that. So we had an intellectual conversation about moments had, and how they can never be captured or recreated. A moment is just that; a moment. It can happen when you are alone, or with someone, or many someones. But when it happens, you must attempt to truly experience it and then walk away from it. Now you can recall it with people were experienced it with you, but if you try to explain it to someone who wasn’t there, it won’t pass muster. It was a pretty cool moment to share with Reggie.
I wished Reggie a pleasant evening and then I called Art-Man to see about meeting up with him for dinner and seeing more of the city. Art-Man, Eric Hartman, is the current resident of the Choroideremia Research Foundation, and has lived in New Orleans almost all of his life. Art-Man told us about a great place near where he lives called the Parkway Bakery & Tavern. So we headed back to the cars and made our way over to him.
The Parkway Bakery is a pretty cool spot. They make really good shrimp Po’Boys, and the have fries with gravy. Now, gravy in New Orleans is called debris. It’s basically the leftover bits from slow roasting beef. And it is tasty. We sat and talked about New Orleans, CHM, dealing with our vision loss, women, the whole gamut. After we had finished eating, Art-Man showed us to his house. His apartment is great! A very cool set up with lots of art that he did. Art-Man has about 2 degrees of vision left, but you he still creates wonderful paintings and pictures, that have graced the walls of galleries all over America. He will go out with his camera and take pictures and then use the pictures as a reference when he paints the painting. His work is truly amazing.
AND his apartment is in a refurbished can factory. It was renovated and turned into housing years ago. He has a 900 foot studio apartment, and because when they renovated it, the government said that a specific portion of the apartments have to be subsidized, his rent is fairly inexpensive, which is good, because he lives on an artist’s wage.
Art-Man took us back down to the French Quarter to show us some of the nightlife of NoLA. I’ll leave it to your imagination what kind of shenanigans three bind bachelors can get themselves into in New Orleans.
Day three of still being in Texas. Apparently, it’s kind of big.
We woke up and went in search of breakfast items for the crew. We found a Subway a couple of blocks away and grabbed some breakfast wraps to get us going. Filled with artificial egg and funny bacon, we hit the road to finally eave Texas and get to Sulphur, LA.
We made pretty good time through Texas, but ran into some rush hour traffic in Houston. It was the first real traffic we hit in the entire trip.. And as you know, with great traffic comes great adventure. We were stuck in a far left lane , and needed to get right. The crew van was following us, and when we shifted lanes at the last minute, a truck got between us and the van, and they ended up exiting the highway. Luckily, it wasn’t that hard to get back on track, and we caught up with each other in the next thirty miles.
We made a quick gas stop and I found another thing to add to my new favorite foods: Bacon flavored Sunflower Seeds.
I called Jolene Cole to let her know that we were on our way and should be there by 6pm, and she told me that we were all going to a Ducks Unlimited banquet tonight in a town called Hayes, LA. Ducks Unlimited is a conservation organization, and they have these banquets once a week in different towns for the different chapters.
We were thinking that we would just meet them at the banquet because we were running a little behind schedule, but Jolene said that she was waiting for us at their place, and we should come there first. Something had caught fire on I-10 and the interstate was closed off, so we would have to take the back roads to get to the banquet. We arrived at the Cole’s house, and pulled into the driveway, and noticed some people waving at us from across the street. As it turns out, the post office makes everyone put their mailboxes on the same side of the street, so we had actually pulled into the wrong driveway. But Jolene told us that a little old lady with no family lived there and would have welcomed us with open arms.
Jolene had told us we could stay at the house if we wanted and have some home chicken and sausage gumbo, but both Tod and I were all gung ho for going to the banquet, so we all piled into her Suburban and headed of for Hayes, LA. I think both Tod and I were glad we didn’t have to meet them at the banquet, because these back roads were pretty tiny and dark as the sun set. Jolene gave us a brief tour of the area as we were coming through, filling us in like we were old family who had been gone for too long, and just now getting back home.
While we were on the road, Jolene’s husband, Jody, called to get our food order. We had the choice between steak, or fish and shrimp. Of course, this being Louisiana, we had to get the fish and shrimp plate.
We turned a corner on this dark road and we saw the lights of Aucoin’s Cajun Restaurant, and as we pulled in we saw the full extent of what we were getting ourselves into: row after row of pickup trucks, both old and new. It was really funny to me, because I am used to coming to a restaurant to find Mini Coopers, or Smart Cars, and various others small sedans, you know, city cars. But not here, here you need a truck. Roads flood here all the time, so a truck is a necessity.
Tod an I lived here in Louisiana as a kid, and I remember hating it here. I think it was because of the school I went to, it was a half military kids, half townies. And it was at that delicate time where you are just starting to blossom into who you are supposed to be when you grow up. For whatever reason, I was picked on, a lot, by the kids from town. Once, I got a phone call from a girl who asked me if I would be her boyfriend, and then the next day at school she acted like it hadn’t happened and they all laughed at me. There was a guy who decided he wanted to fight me and tried to picked fights with me every day. It was not a fun time for me in Louisiana.
Walking into Aucoin’s, all of those bad memories were washed away. The people were so friendly, the food was so good, it was like a different place completely.
Tod’s friend from scouts, Richard, was here at the restaurant to help with the auction. He is quite the Emcee. He brought Tod and I up and had us talk to the group about what we were doing. Then we got our plates of food and sat down to have our first real meal. I mean real because for the next three days, were going to have the best food of the entire trip!
The meal consisted of fried catfish, fried shrimp, French fries, and fried dinner roll. It was so good. They know how to cook comfort foods here. Jody told me that the dinner rolls are sometimes stuff with shrimp or crab before they fried and they call them pistolettes.
After dinner, they started the auction for items to help raise money for DU. It was a hoot! The auctioneer, never stopped making sounds. I say sounds because both Tod and I are sure that other than the actual numbers he would say, no other actual words were coming out of his mouth. To try and recreate, it was like, “One and a quarter manamanamanamanaman one and a half manamanamanamanama one seventy five.” It was totally cool. I was all smiles as we watched the auction happened. Richard was a spotter during the auction, he stood at the back of the room looking for bidders, and would holler out to help the auctioneer keep the bidding going.
There were some great items being auctioned off; several shotguns, knives, portraits and paintings, hand carved items, hunting weekends. There were so many things and they raised so much money for Ducks Unlimited, it was a really cool experience.
After we had all finished and the money had switched hands for the items, we piled back into the Surburban and headed back to the Cole’s house to crash out for the night.
We woke up starving this morning. The rock climbing had taken more out of us then we knew. We headed back into town and found a place called the Sunset Grill to grab some food. As I looked at the menu, I saw something that struck me: Sonora Dog. I have seen these things on the Food Network. Some people also called them Mexican Hot Dogs. It is a hot dog, wrapped in bacon, covered in chili, cheese, guacamole, onions, etc., served in a sour dough bun. I knew I had to have one, and I was super hungry so even if it was huge, I was ready for it. It was delicious. Pretty much any with bacon is delicious; Maple Bacon Bars, Sonora Dogs, Ice Cream. ☺
Filled with chili and pork by products, we hopped on the road towards Austin, via Lake Travis. The crew had been talking about doing some cliff jumping, so we scoped out where we could do it. I found a place called Pace Bend Park on Lake Travis on the way from Fredericksburg to Austin.
When we pulled up to the check in booth at the park, we saw a sign that said, “Cliff jumping is hazardous, we do not advise it. Jump at your own risk.” Ominous, no? But we were determined. We drove around the park and found a nice 30-foot cliff. We checked the water line to make sure it was safe enough to not get hurt when we jumped in.
There is something really exhilarating about throwing yourself of a cliff into water below. Probably the same with throwing yourself out of an airplane or off a bridge to bungee. The feeling of freefall for that small fraction of time and then the splashdown into water.
We jumped off four or five times, each time getting a little more tired swimming around the cove to climb out, but the energy loss is worth the experience. One the second or third jump, I felt something was wrong, I went into the water and sat down under there, just being present in water. Something felt off though and as I came to the surface, I realized what it was. My leather bracelet that I had bought in South Dakota had come unsnapped when I hit the water and was gone. As I surfaced, I looked around to see if it was floating nearby, but no luck. It was gone to Poseidon. Not much you can do about it. I took a moment to wish it safe travels and hope the fish like that taste of cow, and that was that.
We sat in the sun to dry off and pull the pricklies off of our clothing, the area was full of these bushes, and they hurt! We then hoped back in our car and beat feet for Austin. My friend Jess told me about a bridge that was home to 2.5 million bats, and that they came out every night when the sun set, so we drove there to see what all the commotion was about.
We got to Congress Avenue Bridge about a half an hour before the sun went down, and set up on this little hill near the bridge to watch them come out. Jess had said she would meet us there when she got out of work at 730. Jess arrived right as the bats started their swarm out to hunt for the night.
It was cool to see the bats all coming out from the bridge, silhouetted in the dying lights of the day and the lights of the buildings as they turned on for the night. Something you don’t see everyday.
Jess then took us to the place she said had the best Tex-Mex in Austin, a place called Curra’s on Oltorf. The food there was pretty tasty, and the beer was good, too. They have carnitas, which is pork marinated in Coke, OJ, and milk, and then fried. They also have an avocado margarita, which is definitely an acquired taste, but it is quite the popular drink there, I saw many a green slushee drink resting on tables around the restaurant.
Jess then took us to see some of the nightlife, but as it was Monday night in Austin, we had limited choices. So we ended in an area that Jess referred to as Frat City, where all the frat boys go to drink and accost women. Good times!
We were greeted, upon arriving there, by the mayor of Frat City; a collar popped polo wearing, sunglasses at night having on, backpack on cause he has to look the part, completely wasted guy, who proceeded to get in most of our faces. After a couple of words exchanged, the Mayor stumbled off into the night to accost another day.
Tod was then set upon by one of the local hooligan/roustabouts, who asked him if she could have his water. When told she could not have it, she let out a slew of epithets concerning Tod’s less than abundant gluteus, and his potentially being either gay or a female dog in heat. She was a bit hard to understand. People in Austin must truly be desperate for quality spring water.
We walked around downtown Austin for a bit and then made our way to this bar called Jackalope’s. There was super crazy art all on the walls of this place, including a few velvet paintings, you all know how I love me some velvet paintings. Good place, you should check it out if you’re in the area.
After all that time swimming and cliff jumping, we were pretty tuckered out and didn’t last much longer into the night, so we headed back to Jess’s place to crash out.
We got up around 9am, and grabbed some breakfast burritos from the grocery store. We weren’t in a real hurry, and I wanted to wait until the day got a little hotter before I jumped into a cold pond or whatever it was we were going to find here.
At around 11, we headed over to where the water was on the map of the park. Tod and I went in to check it out. Balmorhea is a pretty popular spot. There were some high school kids playing football in the grass and there was a gaggle of scuba divers in the pool.
They call it a pool, and it is a very interesting set up. Walking up to it, it does appear to be a pool, the sides and walkway look like a pool, with markings of depth if water, and diving boards around the perimeter, But as you get closer, you see that there are fish in the water, and the bottom is covered with algae and everything you find in a pond in the wild.
I walked around the pool, to see where this high dive was, but all I saw was these smaller diving boards. As it turns out, they had taken down the high dive. It use to be right in the center of the pool, you would have t swim out to it and then climb up it to dive off. My guess is that someone got hurt jumping off of it and they decided it was to risky to keep it up.
I was sad that I wasn’t going to be able to jump off into this crazy hybrid po-ol, half pond, half pool, still spelled the same. But life is like that sometimes, and you have to make the best of what you have.
We got back on the road, and headed towards Fredericksburg, and the next surprise I had in store for the guys; Enchanted Rock State Park. But more adventure was in store for us before we even got there.
We had made a stop to gas up and get sodas, and had just got back on the I-10. And Tod had grabbed the audio book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies out of the care package that I had gotten from one of the improv troupes I coach, Just Moxie. They had sent us lots of stuff, including fin-sized chocolate candies. Needless to say, they al melt within the first day, but we threw them in our cooler, and the reformed quite nicely. Many other things were in the box as well, but for this story, I will stick with the audio book.
We had just started listening to it as we were doing 80 down the I-10 (which is the speed limit there, Mom and Dad), when I happened to look in the side view mirror, and saw the crew van whip off to the side of the road. I pulled over quickly as well, probably a quarter mile or so down from them and called them to see what had happened. These guys just don’t seem to have any luck, their car-top carrier and broken again, their stuff had spilled out onto the freeway. Tod go t out and went back to help, and I whipped around and went back to the previous exit and scouted for any items that might have fallen out.
I didn’t see anything and met back up with the guys to find there was one victim, Ryan’s pillow. It had been run over by a Mack truck. It didn’t blow up or anything, but it had some sweet new tread marks on it. We got everything repacked and secured, and got back on the road, and then we had chapter two of our adventure between adventures.
Like I said, we were listening to P&P&Z, and I looked down at the gas gauge, and saw we were at an eighth of a tank left. We had just filled up three hours ago, so I as a little surprised to find that we had gone through almost an entire tank that fast. We had just gotten off the I-10 to head towards Fredericksburg, and so I used the GOPS to hunt down a gas station nearby. They were all behind us! The closest one was 22 miles ahead, so I programmed it in and hoped for the best. Getting to this gas station would involve us crossing back across the I-10, making us travel backwards in our journey, so I had Tod do a search on his phone for any others that might not come up on the GPS.
Td said he found a gas station up ahead a few miles, but it was like a mom and pop place. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t exist, but we went ahead, besides we were traveling the same direction as the gas station I had programmed in the GPS. We took a little side trip hunting for the station Tod had found, and after about ten minutes, I decided to get back to the main road, because at this point we were just wasting gas, and we had none to waste.
We got back on the main road heading to the one I had found. At every turn of the GPS, I was expecting to see that little checkered flag telling me the end was in sight. But at every turn, there would be another stretch of miles and another turn. I was really beginning to get worried, but I knew that if we were to run out, we were at least close to a gas station. I finally saw that little flag on the GPS, and at the same time the gas pump light came on in the dashboard. I knew full well that the light meat that we needed to get gas as soon as we could, but I still had to ask out loud whether or not Tod thought we would make it the 2 miles to the gas station. He affirmed my thoughts that we would make it and we pulled into the gas station and thanked God for getting us there.
The funny thing was there were 5 gas stations right there. Why couldn’t they have put one back on the road we were originally on and save us this heartache?!
Fully gassed up, we got back on the road to Fredericksburg, and got there to find Oktoberfest in full swing there! Fredericksburg has a 35% German population, I was really excited about getting some good German food and beer, but we had to get to Enchanted Rock, which was still about 20 miles outside of town. Hoping to come back into town, we headed off.
It was a lonely stretch of winding road that brought us to Enchanted Rock. As we came around a curve, we saw the rock formation. I was a bit awestruck. It’s not huge r anything, but just coming out of this wooded area to see this unwooded protrusion does something to your soul, as if it was calling us here the whole time. We got in and set up camp, and prepped for something a bit unnerving: a night hike, or more appropriately, night rock climbing.
At first, it’s definitely a bit scary, rock climbing in the dark, but after a few minutes, you begin to realize that it is not just pitch black outside of the scope of your headlamp. The crew was there, with us, filming our crazy adventure. But it was like they weren’t there. We don’t react to them when they are filming us, they don’t exist to us until they put down the cameras.
I think I always start off each adventure in my life a bit skittish, but then, as the spirit of adventure takes me, I become emboldened. This was no exception. I had my nightstick with me, I really need to give it a name one of these days, but I soon realized, nightsticks, flashlights, and rock climbing don’t mix well, so away it went. It turned out I didn’t need it anyway.
I started to clamber ahead of Tod, who started as the leader of the trip. I would scamper up a section of rock that I had just scoped out, and then stop, and use my headlamp and flashlight to shine light on the rock formations around me, looking for an interesting set up to explore and then head to it. The crew kept asking me to slow down, so they could catch up, and at times asked me to shine my lights on them so they could see where they needed to go to catch me up. Oh silly normies, who don’t bring flashlights. ☺
As it turns out, the blind were more nimble then the sighted this night. Of course, we did have the luxury of flashlights, and they were carrying camera equipment, but still neither Tod nor I had any mishaps, while there a couple of falls, one into cacti, that occurred for the crew. Luckily no one was really hurt.
We spent a couple hours exploring the rocks. There was a cave somewhere in the rocks, but I couldn’t find it. It was a great workout and exhilarating to me to do. Hearts racing and legs aching, we decided not to head back into town, and grabbed some quick dinner and went to bed.
We woke up and scoured Alamogordo for some sleds, so that the we could “surf White Sands,” but we couldn’t find any. While we were looking for sleds at a Walgreen’s, I went over to a place called Alamo Donuts to pick up some breakfast for everyone.
I went in and ordered some breakfast sandwiches from the menu, and the donista just shook her head at me. Apparently, you don’t order from the menu at this place, you look in the case of what’s left. Slim pickings, but I got some breakfast sandwiches, and these things called Kolaches; like a pretzel dog, it is a breakfast sausage wrapped in a croissant type pockety thing. Not too bad, all in all.
We got to White Sands and stopped at the visitor center, where we found sleds. They think of everything! We drove into the park and hunted down a good hill to sled down. White Sands is a pretty cool area, it reminds me of the beach. When you first get into it, the dunes have bushes up and down them, but as you travel further in, the bushes disappear and it becomes just beautiful sand.
We got to the very end and started walking around looking for the best dune. As we were walking, we saw a couple climbing up a dune. We stopped and watched them to see if they had found a good one. They had! Tod and I approached and asked if we could share their terrific find.
The dune was great, after you get yourself going the slide down is awesome! The crew came over and filmed us as we were sledding down the dune and they did a couple POV shots, where they would ride down the sled with the camera. I then did a superman where I ran and jumped o the sled stomach first and went down the hill, which was great! I got really good distance into the parking lot, but my glasses and new sunglasses fell off and went under the sled. Glasses were fine but sunglasses didn’t survive. Seems like a ongoing theme of this trip.
We talked to the couple, Maribel and Keith, after we had all sledded ourselves silly, and told them our story. They were really great people who told us that what we were doing was awesome! Maribel said that she wanted to see the Grand Canyon, because she had never seen it before. It’s funny to think that you could live so close to something so wondrous and never go see it.
It turns out that they are soon to be married and Tod and I told them about our adventures in Hawaii, and how they must absolutely go there and see the true beauty of these islands. They drove us back to our car, we had walked quite a ways to find the hill we all sledded down, wished us luck on our journey, and headed off on their own.
Pockets and underwear filled with sand, we drove out of the park, stopping off at the visitor center to trade in our sleds, and to pick me up another pair of sunglasses.
Now, as you know, the crew has had a few surprises for us along the way; fireworks, sensory deprivation chambers, etc., so I thought I would return the favor. My friend in Austin, Jess Graves, an amazing Ukulele player, told me about a beautiful state park in Texas called Balmorhea. She told me to go there and jump in the swimming hole from the high dive. So I decided to take the guys there, but not tell them where we were going.
We made it to Balmorhea just as the sun was setting, and as we entered the park, we saw a sign that said the pool closed at sunset, so we would have to wait until tomorrow to dive in. So we drove over to the camping area and set our tents. Brian and I went off looking for a grocery to pick up necessities for campfire cooking and set back to get our grill on.
While the crew was packing up their stuff, I went to see the front desk people at the hotel, and found out that The Corner, from the Eagle’s song was right down the block from where we were. Tod and I hopped in the car and drove down to see it. Alexandra, our front desk lady told us that we can’t miss it.
And she was right! In the middle of this somewhat sleepy town, there is a corner that now is a shrine to the Eagles. There is a statue and a mural depicting the line, “Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona …” It was super geeky cool.
We met back up with the crew and got gas and hopped back on the highway heading towards White Sands, NM. We had decided last night that we were going to go through the Petrified Forest on our way there.
About an hour east of Winslow is the entrance to the Petrified Forest. We pulled onto the side road that takes you right through the park. It is a beautiful stretch of road, which is also historic Route 66. Seeing these chunks of tree that have slowly become rock of million of years, and the painted desert, which looked like one of those sand art projects you do at camp, was tremendous. All those colors, one on top of the other, showing the history of the area through the colors.
We stopped by and old ford that marks a specific part of the park and Route 66, and shot some footage of me and Tod in it. Then we followed the road back out of the park and got back on the highway.
It was a long drive to get to White Sands, but we pressed on as best we could. We ended up stooping at a rest stop called The Fort to capture the sunset. While we were there, we met a fellow traveler named Rex, who told us a story about his brother, who was blinded in a motorcycle accident in 2002. Even though blinded, today, he still fixes cars and does carpentry, etc. He doesn’t allow the things he can’t control to stop him from doing the things he wants to do.
Tod went to the trailer that Rex was hauling, which contained the very bike that his brother had crashed and lost his vision on. Rex has been slowly fixing the bike up for his brother since after the accident.
We said our goodbyes and continued on to Alamogordo, NM, which is right next to White Sands. We got there and got a hotel for the night, deciding to get to White Sands early tomorrow. We got our room and as we tried to enter, we found the latch locked, so we couldn’t get in. We were a little confused by this until a woman popped her head from around the corner telling us she had already rented this room for the night.
So we went back to the front desk, expecting this woman to be a squatter or something, and then by the time we got back she would have taken off. But she had paid for the room another night with the morning person and the night person just didn’t know about it. Communication is key, I am learning that valuable lesson on this road trip.
Before we left Vegas, we had to make a run over to this place called Mad Man’s Military Surplus to pick up some supplies for the crew. Tod bought a military style head wrap, like the other crewmembers use when they want to view playback and need some shade to see it. But Tod mostly bought it for his delicate ginger features.
We headed off towards the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam. I think it is funny that the main road between Vegas and the Grand Canyon, has this traffic jam as part of it. As we got closer to Hoover Dam, the traffic gets REALLY slow. We spent probably an hour just getting the 15 miles to the dam! But seeing it was really cool; the windy roads leading up to it and the views from on the dam.
We reached the Grand Canyon about an hour before sunset. I have to tell you, I thought I knew where I wanted to be for my last seeing day, but now I am confused. Sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking out at this magnificent view, and just being alone with the sights and my own thoughts, I felt just like I felt when I was sitting out at Ka Ena Point in the North Shore of Oahu. When you look out from the edge, all you can see is the sky and the land in front of you. It’s like you are sitting on the edge of the world.
As the last rays of light disappeared from the horizon, we got back on the road to get to where we would be staying for the night. We had all talked about it and decided that we would try to get as far east as Winslow, AZ, before we called it a night.
As we were driving east on the 64 heading out of Grand Canyon, winding through the roads that took us back to civilization, thinking how we’ve done so well at driving safely in situations that could potentially be bad, we had our first run in with danger. An elk was standing in the road as we rounded a curve. I had just looked down at the GPS, and I felt the car coming to a complete stop, suddenly. Contents shifted in the car and I looked up to se what had happened. And standing dead in the middle of our lane, just staring at us, was this animal. We stopped a god twenty feet or more from it, and it gave us a once over and continued it’s stroll across the road and back into the woods.
After a moment to freak out and then calm down again, we continued on down the road and made it safely to Winslow.
PS – After we got to our hotel, we were all feeling hungry for real food, so I walked across the street to see if I could get some food for the gang. The only thing I found open was a Taco Bell, and the only open part of it was the Drive Thru. I walked up and hoped for the best. They turned me away. I was so sad that I could eat really junkie tacos at 11pm at night.
I woke this morning to find that I lost my prescription sunglasses somewhere in Joshua Tree. Now they might also be somewhere here in the car, but with all the stuff we have, it’s not easy to search through it all.
We finally got in touch with the crew and they met us at the hotel, and got back on the road to Las Vegas. Our route would take us through the Mohave National Preserve. The preserve was beautiful, we saw signs that said watch for tortoises. We did, but they didn’t show up. ☹
As we neared Las Vegas, Brian told us that he had another surprise for us. We’ve been batting about 50/50 in the surprises and how we felt about them, but we decided to see what was in store. Brian gave me the address and we punched it into the GPS.
We arrived into Las Vegas and to the address to see a big sign that read, “The Gun Store.” Brian told us that he knew that the last few weeks had been stressful for everyone and we could us to let off some steam. Now I am not a gun fanatic; they’re loud and they kill things, but I figured I’d give it a shot (Hey-Oh!). we went inside and met Emily who talked to us about the available shooting packages. We decided on the Coalition Package: M9 pistol, M-16 Rifle, and the M249 S.A.W. Tod was really excited because he said these were guns he shot when he played Call of Duty. They had us pick out our targets as well, and we opted for Nazi Zombies, because both are completely fictional. Just kidding, zombies are totally real.
Emily introduced us to Burt, who would be our Range Master. He was a really low key, easygoing guy. He took us over to get our ear and eye protection. Everyone had to wear them, even the crew. Burt took us into a private range to shoot, originally I thought we were going to be a while, because there was a huge line of people waiting to get on the range and release some stress. There was this cool feeling when we were able to cut in the line and go right to our own private gun range.
Burt showed us how to fire each weapon; how to hold, sight, and how it might recoil. Tod was the first one to shoot. He was much excited about it than I was. This is totally more his thing. Even with ear protection, in this small range, you could feel each discharge of the gun. I winced every single time Tod fired, even though I knew it was coming. Adam didn’t grab any ear protection because he was already wearing the headphone for the mics. As soon as the shooting started, he ripped the “cans,” technical term, off his ears and was trying to hold the boom mic up while squeezing his head against his shoulder to muffle the sound. Once Tod emptied his clip, Adam went back out and got some ear protection.
Now it was my turn. I stepped up and Burt walked through the way to fire the M9 with me again. Now, I was in the Air Force and I have fired both pistols and M-16s before, and I have watched enough movies that I understand how to fire a weapon properly. Acronyms like BRASS – Breathe, Relax, Aim, Squeeze, Shoot. All to help you to hit the target you are aiming at, I learned from watching movies and my military training.
The first few rounds were very cautious, I think mostly from my unease around guns, but as I fired off more I got more comfortable ad was able to fire in more rapid succession. One of the things I always found interesting, especially in movies, was that people who stay away from a thing, like shooting guns, end up being really good at them. It turned out to be the case with me. When Burt brought the target back in he commented on the grouping of my shots. I was both proud and a little concerned with how well I shot the pistol.
We moved on to the M-16s, and I was overly concerned with firing a semi automatic weapon. The combo of a higher caliber bullet and rapid fire could cause the weapon to spin a person around or fly from their hands. I have found on this trip that I am a fairly overcautious person, especially when it comes to things that can hurt someone else if they go wrong. I ended up over compensating for the recoil, and pulled a muscle in my shoulder about halfway through the clip.
The M249 turned out to be both Tod’s and my favorite gun, because of the ease. There were legs on the rifle to stabilize it, and we had to lean into it as well. Burt had gone and gotten me a zombie clown to shoot for the M249, and I spent some quality time making sure that zombie didn’t get us. I even pulled a Rustler’s Rhapsody, and shot him in the hands. The M-16 had a pretty touchy trigger, and we would end up firing off two or three rounds with the squeeze of the trigger, but the M249 was much smoother. You could pop off one round when you needed, or more, fairly easily.
We got done firing and we talked a bit to Burt and asked him The Question. It was an amazing to see him get all choked up when he was thinking about the answer. I think in that moment, I really saw Burt for the man he is. Through his sincerity and openness with his feelings, I got to really know a complete stranger and make a connection I hadn’t expected to on this trip.
We headed down to Las Vegas Boulevard and drove up and down seeing the lights and getting some good footage, and the we went over to the Bellagio to see the fountain display. We got to the fountain just as it was starting and we lucked into a great spot, for me at least. As we were watching the show, I noticed one of the water jets was clogged a bit, so it was not spraying as high as the others,. The normal jets were probably 20+ feet into eth air, where this one was maybe two or three feet in the air, tops. It reminded me of Finding Nemo, with his one flipper smaller than the other, and so he had to work harder to keep up with the others. I found myself rooting for this little jet that could, I found watching it more exciting than the rest of the show.
As the night began to cool down a bit, and we finished watching the water show, we headed down the strip to our lodging for the night. Let me give you some advice, mid week in late September, you can get a hotel room in Vegas for $28.
PS – Tod was the big winner in Vegas, playing a $20 bill in video poker, he won $100. I lost $57,000 and we had to sell the car to pay off the debt. We are now finishing the trip on a tandem bicycle.
Tod and I got up early today and headed over to Van Nuys, where Jolie Mason and set up a meeting with some professional drivers to talk to us about driving with limited peripheral vision. We rolled through this suburban neighborhood looking for Jolie and the people we were supposed to meet. As we turned a corner, we greeted by the revving engine of a NASCAR stock car.
We got out and met Danny, Sarah, and Jim, three very cool people. They showed us around the stock car and told all about it. I didn’t know that the lights on NASCAR vehicles are just stickers, they can’t have glass or plastic because they might shatter and cause damage to other vehicles or drivers themselves. Basically, they have to hollow out a regular car and leave only the engine. There’s not even a glove compartment, where do they keep their registration?!
Jim, the owner of the car, let us get in and see what it felt like to be inside. To be truthful, being inside there was like being in side my eyes; there were lots of dead zones, because of al of the safety precautions the drivers take. Roll bars, window nets, plexi-glass windshield, even the seat itself. It was like a cocoon, your body just conforms to the contours of the seat, and keeps you completely immobile.
Looking through the windshield I wondered how they even see out of them, it was scratched up from general track wear. Jim explained that his crew constantly feeds him information, so his sight is also not the only thing he has to rely on. When he is on the track, he only has one side view and a rear view mirror, so the pit crew and boss keep him informed about the stuff he can’t see.
After getting the run down of what it is like to be in a stock car, Danny and Sarah showed us just how limited the vision of a stock car driver is, with the helmet and all of the protection required to keep them safe, and gave us pointers on how to improve our driving when impaired through constant scanning of your mirrors, and even adding convex mirrors to the mirrors you already have to help give you a wider visual field. But I still think having a pit crew would be super helpful for us, too.
Also, Jim is the son of actor, Bill Smith, most notably known by me as Conan’s father in Conan the Barbarian and one of the Russian generals in the original Red Dawn.
We headed back down to Hollywood to grab lunch with some friends of Tod’s and then we hopped on the road towards Joshua Tree State Park. This was a recent addition to our schedule, because it is so beautiful it just can’t be passed up. We were able to rework the schedule a bit to accommodate the addition.
While we were o the road towards Joshua Tree, we did a call in radio interview with Jolie Mason and KPFK, just to do an update about where we were and what we were doing, and to talk about the mobile giving campaign that Jolie is working on for us. It was a pretty good interview, but it went on a bit longer than Tod and I had expected, we had pulled over at a rest stop to do the interview, so we were a bit behind getting to Joshua Tree. This is where the day gets super fun!
The crew had driven ahead about a hour before us, to get stuff set up at Joshua Tree. So as we neared the park, we were texting and calling back and forth to confirm where to meet, etc. Our last contact with them, they had told us which campground to go to, and that they were going to meet us at the main gate. Then all of a sudden there was no response. We’d call or text and get no reply. So following the GPS, and the address supplied from the National Park Service .gov website, we headed to the what we thought was the main entrance.
As we pulled to the entrance, we searched for the van and didn’t see them parked there, so we continued in to the campground they told us we would be staying at. The sun was setting by the time we entered the park, so it was getting harder for us to see, but still doable. We found the campground area, and went in to find the crew. Jumbo Rock campground is a BIG camping area, and we found out why we had not heard from the guys, there’s no cell service in Joshua Tree State Park. We drove through this fairly large campground looking for the crew, we even got up on one of the big rocks and tried to se the van, but we couldn’t find them. I looked at the map and saw that there was another entrance to the park, so I told Tod we should go there because that would be the next logical place to check.
By the time we made it to the west entrance to the park, it was completely dark. We found some maps of the park at the entrance booth, and I saw a third entrance to the park. I told Tod that I’d bet money that this third entrance was where they had been waiting for us.
Both of us unwilling to go back into the park in the dark, we headed back to Twentynine Palms and got a hotel for the night, figuring to meet back up with the crew once they got back into cell reception.
Auntie JoJo came in and woke us up at 7:30am, to tell us not to come to her class and speak. She teaches special ed students and wanted us to come, but in the night she decided against it, probably for our sanity. She knew the kids would love it if we did come, but since they didn’t know we’d come, they wouldn’t be disappointed if we didn’t. She told us there was breakfast stuff in the kitchen and to make ourselves at home.
She also said that there was a care package for us to take on the road. She had gone to the store yesterday and picked up a bunch of stuff for us to have: apples, popcorn (movie theater butter!), jerky, small cans of soda, peanuts, and a multitude of one of my favorite candies – Necco Wafers. Not many people like Necco Wafers, but Tod and I love them. It’s the one candy we both love equally, he’s a Marzipan man, and I am a black licorice fella, and we can’t stand each other’s candy, but Necco Wafers, they build a bridge!
As we were getting breakfast and prepping to head out, I decided to go out back and se the pigs that Uncle John is raising. As I neared the pen, I could hear them scuttling about in this house inside the gated area they called home. I stood there for a few minutes and they began to poke their heads out to see what I was. It was amazing to watch them, they were like dogs. The first pig that I saw poked his head out and stood there, looking at me, with one of his front raised up, waiting to take a tentative step forward to me. Others began to poke out too. He must have been there leader, or the one the other pigs were wiling to sacrifice, not sure which really.
They finally came out to approach me, but they kept scaring each other and running off to the far end of the pen. I undid the latch and went in to see if they would come to me. Let me tell you something about pigs right now before I go any further, flies love them! As soon as I got in the pen and squatted down so they knew I wasn’t going to hurt them, and was almost instantly swarmed by flies. At first I tried to shoo them, but that scared the pigs, so I had to let the flies cover me so I could get eh pigs to come to me.
The pigs slowly came and I held out my hands so I could pet them, I’ve never pet a pig before. They sniffed my hands just like a dog would! I was pretty blown away by this whole encounter, and they got more used to me, and all of them came around to find out more about me. The feeling of their snouts as they sniffed me was weird and cool. It made me think of an elephant’s trunk. Are pigs and elephants related?
They started to get fresh with me as they got more used to my being there and started to try and nibble my hand. Not knowing much about pig’s teeth, I didn’t know if they had sharp teeth or just molars, so when they would try and bite me I would just shift my hand under their chins and give them a little scratchin’. Their skin and fur was not what I expected, their fur is wiry, like bristles. Not really pleasant to touch, but friendly enough. I think I might have freaked out a bit being surrounded by the pigs and thinking about the movie Snatch, where the villain feeds people to his pigs, so I finished up with the pigs and headed back to get packed up and hit the road.
We got our care package packed up and headed off towards Monterey, so we could drive down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. When we got into Monterey, we pulled over and the crew rigged another car mount onto the car and we got some great footage of us as we traveled down the windy road running along the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at Bixby Bridge to stretch our legs and remove the car mount. We met these two guys, Randy and Paul, who were biking down the PCH to raise awareness for their Arthritis Foundation. It was cool to talk to them about our two journeys. Paul talked about how he had spent some time in Oahu, HI, learning surfing from a legend out there, Uncle Gabby. I told him that my parents lived on Oahu for 4 years and how I would love to move out there. Paul said he is taking another trip out there in October and when he gets back, he may just pack up his family and make the move. Maybe we’ll run into each other again out there.
As we neared San Luis Obispo, we pulled over to catch a beautiful sunset over the ocean. There was this beautiful thing that happened while I was watching the sun go down: I don’t know if it was just my eyes or it was actually happening. People talk about seeing a green flash sometimes when the last bit of sun falls below the horizon, when the setting is just right with the location and atmosphere. As the last bit of sun was falling below the surface of the water, I saw brilliant flashes of orange on both sides of the sun in the sky around it. It happened multiple times. It was like explosions of color, a dying sun’s last grasp for living, before being born again tomorrow. It put a lot of thoughts in my head, both positive for life, and how each new day brings us a chance to reinvent ourselves and somewhat sad about the loss of things we currently have at the end of each day and in life.
Tod and I spoke to a family that was at the vista point we were at watching the sunset, explaining our journey. One of the family members, Maria, talked to us about how she has had cataracts as an adult and he when she was pregnant, the hormone shift in her body caused her cataracts to accelerate. She was able to have surgery to fix it, luckily. They wished us luck on our journey and we said our goodbyes, and got back on the road for Los Angeles.
There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to re-energize your soul, even if it just 7 hours. Tod and I decided that we would take it fairly easy today, since we had done such hard driving yesterday.
We checked out of the hotel and took the car over to a Jiffy Lube to get an oil change, and grab some brunch. As we were walking around early Sunday morning Redding, CA, looking for a place to grab some food, we came across a movie exchange place, and you know us, we had to go in and poke around. They hand lots of stuff; DVDs, VHS, NES games, it was pretty cool. Unfortunately, nothing jumped out at us, even with the buy 2 get one free sale going on. So we sauntered off and continued our quest for food.
Redding is a quiet town on Sunday mornings, and we only found a few paces to eat; Mexican, Chinese, or Thai. We opted for Chinese, and headed into the Golden Lantern. We were one group of three eating there at noon on a Sunday. Not a bad place, though, decent fare.
We got back to the Jiffy Lube and while we were paying, the guy asked us about the tape all over the car. We explained that we had to cover up all the names, because we couldn’t show them in the film. Ford is not funding this project. Another customer waiting on his car, Jacques, heard us talking about the project, and as we were about to take off, approached us and asked if he could pray for us and a safe journey. It was a really nice moment, Tod and I sitting in the car while this man said a prayer for us.
We took the car over to the car wash and gave it a once over with the spray hose. Three weeks of bugs and dirt is something to behold rushing down a drain under from a high-pressure hose! Sparkly and beige once again, we headed off for Colfax, CA, to meet Jason McKinney, a fellow CHMer who owns a diner there.
We got to Colfax Max Diner around 4pm. This place was pretty cool. A diner in a strip mall, right off of I-80, with a huge selection of shakes and malts, including year round Egg Nog and Gingerbread flavors – DEEEEElicious! Jason met us and introduced us to his family. Wife, Tara, and children, Austin and Gertrude. Jason explained that Jason was lucky being the boy born to a CHMer and healthy spouse, because he did not have CHM, while Gertrude was a carrier and would potentially pass on the disease to her children, but would not be affected by the disease herself. We sat and chatted with them for an hour about how they deal as a family with the disease, and how Jason manages owning and working in a diner while being affected by CHM. Jason said he loved to work the grill, and how he would create a “defensible position” around it. Meaning that everybody else had to watch out for him, because as many of you know, even though we may be looking right at you, it doesn’t mean we actually see you. His talk of “defensible positions” gave me hope, because I have this somewhat secret dream of opening up a small restaurant/bar/stage space of my own some day, but my main concern is how to maneuver in an environment like that being limited sight.
Stocked up on soda and cool Colfax Max t-shirts, we did a trade out for some Driving Blind ones, we set back down the road for Tracy, CA, for our Uncle John and Auntie JoJo’s place.
We got to Tracy around 7pm, to find a quiet little family welcome and some good Italian eats. It was great to be back in this house, this was the house my mother and her brother and sisters had grown up in, and the last time I was there was for our grandmother’s, mom’s mom, memorial service, a few years ago. Seeing all this family that I rarely get to see, was very uplifting. I think I spend a lot of time wanting a family, whether through the friends I have or the relationships I get into, that I completely forget about the rather large family I already have. I want to make it a point, after this trip, to stay in contact with them more.
Greta, our great cousin, and Lina’s daughter, and our aunt Joellen, told us that they wanted to be our producers for the sequel, when we travel around Europe and Asia. They would get all the stuff set up for us ahead of time so we could just arrive with the crew and film. We WILL take them up on the offer if a sequel happens!
Chock full of good food, and warm fuzzies, we drifted off to sleep with dreams of meatballs and mini éclairs dancing through our heads.