Sunday, 27Jul2003: A Long Expected Party

The Journey to Minneapolis and the Wonders Seen There

So there it was, after a long month of waiting. My bags were packed, my car was fueled, and my computer was completely shut down. The time had come to venture into the Unknown and finally escape the Midwest for a time.

Which of course could not go completely smoothly, oh no. Although I pride myself upon my Bladder of Steel during car trips, the undeniable urge to mark my territory overcame me at a place named Big Spunk Rest Stop. I don't know exactly where that is in Minnesota, but it's right before Middle Spunk Creek. The rest of the trip went well and I showed up at the Candlewood Suites in Minneapolis around 1600 hours. I was completely unprepared for what I found there.

A little history is in order. Every other time I've stayed at a hotel (barring one of the nights in France), I've had at least two roommates. Also, the rooms have traditionally been of average quality or worse (Room 22 of Hotel Ajiel, Paris). My most recent hotel experiences have been in the Motel 6 of Urbana, IL. I consider myself lucky that I am always in the programming contest, and therefore I only have to sleep there one night.

So the Candlewood blew me away. Here's the rundown:

I mean, look at this place! Here's the kitchen area, which is almost as well appointed as the kitchen of our apartment:

And then there's the nice big recliner and clock-radio:

What's that on the bed? Oh, that's the complementary microwave popcorn that comes with every room. This place was so stunning I had to leave a (self-aggrandizing) message on the corkboard.

Seeing as how I was in the Twin Cities, I made it a point to visit the local White Castle and grab a big sack of burgers. The local White Castle turned out to be a mere two miles away on a very major road, so within twenty minutes I was back in my opulent suite with What I Crave. They still have some of the best fast food fries around.

After five burgers and a sack of fries I hooked up with an old friend, Pebbles, and her fiancee and oh my god why doesn't anyone TELL ME THESE THINGS?? We spent a nice dessert at Boston Market and caught up on our lives, and now one more person I know is getting married and I feel that much older.

I repaired to Candlewood just in time to catch a topical yet awesome Dead Zone and go to bed early. Getting up at 0600 is not something I would choose to do on vacation, but it's not the worst I could think of either.

Monday, 28Jul2003: Leaving on a Jet Plane

In Which the Hero of the First Part Makes His Way to the Eastern Coast

Getting up at 0600 isn't hard when you know you have 1100 miles to cover by evening. I decided to conserve my shampoo and use the hotel bottle, which turned out to be a big mistake. Although it claimed to be "conditioning shampoo", its definition of conditioning is "stick all of Monty's hair together in one big tangle". It was goddamn shamglue. I still managed to arrive at the airport and find parking (in "7 Gold Banjo") by 0700, anticipating some tough new security standards before making my 0900 flight.

At 0730, I was sitting at gate E10, wondering if I had enough Azkaban to get me through the day.

At 1100ish, my question was answered in the negative. Potter ran out while sitting in O'Hare during a short delay. All I remembered from my previous reading of Azkaban was "there is a werewolf and some grim reaper things". Boy, did that book show me. I can't imagine how they're making a movie out of it, but I hope they retain the temporal causality loop(s). My flight from Chicago to DC had originally been scheduled to take off at 1115. Between mechanical problems and maintenance we didn't actually take off until my watch said 1300, which sounds bad until you realize that I set my watch to Eastern time when they started boarding. My seat on both legs of the flight was on the aisle, and there was an empty spot next to me from O'Hare to Dulles, so I didn't even really notice I was flying cheap seats.

I landed in Dulles at a little after 1400, not much later than the original flight plan. Glothar and Isis found me in the baggage claim area, my duffel came through unscathed (though slightly damp), and we set off into DC.

We borrowed a (wonderfully comfortable) air matress from Glothar's sister and retrieved ingredients for dinner from the Big G. Justice joined us at their apartment shortly after we got back, and there much chicken pasta and conversing. A tentative plan was set for Tuesday: Justice and Isis would take Monty to see as much of the Mall as was possible.

Tuesday, 29Jul2003: "Of All Exercises Walking Is the Best"

In Which Our Hero Plays Tourist at a Frantic Pace

Tuesday dawned "cold" (mid-70s) and dry, unheard-of late July weather. Isis and I traveled to meet Justice at Pre-Crime Station around 1030, which made me want to see Minorty Report again. Throughout the week I was impressed with how clean and efficient the DC Metro was. I got to see it at its emptiest and (during some World Cup madness) its busiest, and there was none of the squalor and bad tempers that TV has associated with the New York City subway. Metro was a pleasant surprise.

After Justice arrived at Pre-Crime, we set off to see the Mall. And see the Mall we did. In less than six hours we hit almost everything the capitol city had to offer me:

Now granted, we didn't visit every exhibit in those two museums. I don't really care to see a history of Afro-American Migration, or see How Things Fly explained in baby talk. But by the end of Tuesday we were not only in pain, but also running out of stuff to see on the Mall.

It is also worth mentioning that I use a four-foot dog leash as a belt. This is not a problem in my normal routine in Fargo, but when traveling by airplane and especially when trying to get into Smithsonian museums, that much metal can cause some problems. I wore my tightest shorts while flying, but I completely forgot about the belt when entering the American History museum. I apologize to anyone who might have been in line behind me.

After resting back at the apartment for a bit, we collected Glothar and went to dinner at Minh's. Since Vietnamese restaurants are hard to come by in Fargo, I thought it'd be a nice change of pace. I ordered a "Minh's Happy Families", which purported to be squid, scallops, shrimp, fish, and vegetables in sauce. It was (aside from the rice) delectable, even though there were no pieces of fish in evidence. It reminded me of non-seafood stuff I could get in Fargo, and I was informed that Fargo Chinese restaurants really throw a bunch of pan-Asian dishes together because who in North Dakota would know the difference?

Good point.

Plans were made over dinner to see the Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, along with fulfilling Monty's craving for sushi.

Wednesday, 30Jul2003: Bethump'd With Seafood

In Which Our Hero Gorges Himself Upon the Bounty of the East

The whole gang met up at Asahi around 1130 for their $10 sushi buffet. Asahi is conveniently only a five minute walk from Glothar and Isis's apartment and right next to a Metro stop. Ten bucks isn't much for any buffet, and to my landlocked eyes the array of raw seafood was pure magic. Sushi is also filling far beyond its tiny size, but you don't realize it until you're half a plate beyond your limit. I didn't really like the eel sushi, but that's like saying my chocolate pony can't outrun a car. As we had arrived fairly close to opening time, new dishes kept appearing on the buffet right up until none of us could eat another bite, such as the tempura and fried crab rolls. The tempura basket contained the only sweet potato (satsuma imo?) I've ever eaten that didn't attempt to trip my gag reflex.

In a marked contrast to yesterday, we only visited one museum. The Museum of Natural History was large and packed full of interesting stuff. We meandered through the History of Living Stuff for quite a while. I took a wholly unsatisfying picture of the T. Rex, which gets only marginally better post-Photoshop. Then we went to the Shiny Things exhibit and saw the Hope Diamond (yawn) and a bunch of other sparkly and valuable rocks.

This brought us all the way to dinnertime, when Justice took his leave. The balance of us returned to the apartment by way of Iwo Jima. I know everybody has seen this image of the memorial, but it's deceiving in scale. I never knew it was this friggin' big.

Dinner was quick 'n' tasty chicken tacos. At 0700 it was back out the door, and into a teeming Metro of soccer fans. We ventured out to the Black Cat bar/club and saw a show of 50% decent bands. Whoever opened first (Interceptor? Interloper? Inquisitor?) sounded like they needed a bit more practice in the "singing" and "finding a sound" departments. M. Ward and the Band of Four played second and really tore shit up with their rock/bluegrass kinda music. I am at this moment trying to find mp3s of their band because I am a dirty pirate and like to steal things RAWWRRRR!! They had an interesting stage technique: the lead singer would play guitar and hide his face behind a blue baseball cap, while the backup guitar would sit down until he was needed and then suddenly pop up stage right. As their set wound down, random band members would vanish between songs, until finally it was M. Ward alone playing an acoustic instrumental. With a muttered "thank you" he slunk off stage and I guess that was the end.

We left soon after that to take the Metro home before it closed. It was much more manageable now that we weren't compressed between Brazilian jerseys.

Thursday, 31Jul2003: Books and Bengals

In Which Our Hero Peruses Our Nation's Rich Literary Tradition and Also Sees an Elephant Take a Crap

By Thursday we were running out of stuff I wanted to do in the city. The White House and Capitol both have tours, but tickets must be reserved months in advance or at 0600, neither of which are quite my style. There are other museums, but most of them are art or sculpture, with the National Postal Museum thrown in just for kicks.

So it was that at 1115 Isis and I entered the Library of Congress. A sign told us that a tour was starting in fifteen minutes, so we browsed the Bob Hope display until the tour started. This was the only official tourist tour I took in DC, and I'm glad. The building is constructed not of marble, but of symbolism, shot through with veins of allegory and painted in rich hues of metaphor. It also has a very nice view of the Capitol.

Just up the street is the Supreme Court Building. They get a pretty sweet deal, those justices: lifetime appointments, media coverage, constitutionality rulings, and a big ol' building fronted with fountains. I took a picture of this particular fountain because it contained the most normal-colored water. It also contains an homage to our Goa'uld overlords.

Then we got back on the Metro and went to China.

We came back from China and decided to finish off the day by going to the National Zoological Park (Smithsonian-speak for "Washington Zoo"). They have pandas there, too. On our way into the well-stocked reptile house I took some shots of the most active tortoises I've ever seen. There were tigers, and turtles, and snakes, and a giraffe, and elephants, and a rather pathetic selection of the "American Prairie" (two small bison and some prairie dogs).

Dinner that night was Legal Sea Foods. I have avoided fish for the better part of ten years, since Midwestern fish is relatively...well...fishy. Whenever there's fish on the menu, there's always shrimp, and I loves me some shrimp. But in the spirit of Doing Stuff I Never Do, I ordered some crabcake appetizers and wood-grilled Arctic Char. The crabcake came out looking like apple crisp, but do not make that mistake! It is most certainly some tasty crab meat in there. The Arctic Char was tasty beyond all reckoning: Glothar (catfish) and Isis's (trout) meals were fishier, while my char had a very smoky, almost beefy taste. I scraped every last bit of it off my plate. Legal also mixes a very potent Legal Lemonade.

On the way back we stopped at a grocery store called Whole Foods (which Glothar and Isis inexplicably called "Fresh Fields") that is all or mostly organic food. I have no idea how peanut-butter-malted-milk balls could be "organic", but there you have it. I saw many beautiful sights in this store (Shrimp the size of my fist! Pre-packaged deli sushi!), but very little that could survive a plane trip for even one day. I settled on some habanero cheese; a spinach-feta-chicken sausage; and raspberry ginger ale with 17 grams of ginger per 12 ounce bottle, at which point you might as well eat a damn ginger root, but $3 for four bottles of drink I can't get in Fargo? Hell yes.

Bed early, in preparation for my return flight the next day...

Friday, 01Aug2003: ...And Back Again

In Which Our Hero Is Given an Ugly Reminder of What 3 A.M. Looks Like

My flight was scheduled for 0610 Eastern Time, which meant arriving at the airport by 0500, which meant getting on the road by 0400, which meant that given my prissy nature and need for brekkist I needed to wake up by 0300.

The spinach-feta-chicken sausage was okay, but I was really hoping for more feta flavor. (Yes, I know what you think of feta. Hush, it's story time) What I got was a good chicken sausage with areas of greenish or whiteish non-chicken texture. Still a dollar well spent.

Isis braved the early morning non-traffic to get me to Dulles on time, and indeed we arrived at almost exactly 0500. We said adieu and I made my way to the United counter, only to find that my flight from O'Hare to Minneapolis had been canceled. I was quickly rescheduled for a flight an hour later, and gained enough bad experience to raise my flying level. That gave me a +1 bonus to Seating Area and the spell of Window Seat, with a duration of two flights. So even though I had my nose buried in Goblet of Fire, I could have watched the cloudy landscape below. Again, on the flight out of Chicago I didn't even have someone sitting next to me, even though the flight attendants insisted on calling it a "full flight". Combined with being in an exit row, I had plenty of space with which

I and my duffel returned to Minneapolis without incident. A short side trip back to White Castle (2 miles south on Lyndale Ave., exit 4B) and I was ready for the road at 1130. I was back in Fargo by 1430, refueled and home by 1500. Once again my car managed to reach the Cities and back (barely) on one tank of gas. 510 miles from 22 gallons isn't too bad for a twenty-year-old car.

Then I did laundry and slept until 1000 on Saturday. That's what I get for buying $300 tickets without knowing the flight times (the business model/gimmick of All told, my total trip expenditures (counting both Potter books) were just slightly higher than the next-cheapest plane tickets would have been. That automatically makes the trip a raging success, plus I got to see everything in the city and my friends and eat metric arseloads of seafood and have White Castle twice. That vaults it right up into a close tie with senior-year France touristing/petty theivery for Best Trip Ever.