Tuesday, September 29, 2009

National Public Radio

We didn't bring a whole lot of digital music with us on our cross-country drive. Instead, we listened to the radio most of the time. And it has never been more apparent than now how repetitive commercial radio is. It doesn't matter what the genre is, either. You can hear the same songs on the radio over and over again from coast to coast!

Satellite radio is a solution to the repetition, but it costs money, and I don't feel it's worth it. So how about a free solution? For driving around town, my solution is 88.1 FM (the college station from NC State), as it has been for over two years now. But we didn't have a whole lot of luck finding good college radio stations on our drive across the country. It appears that stations such as WKNC are few and far between. Instead, we often settled on National Public Radio.

Now...I've never been an NPR listener. Never. What's changed? First off, I pay far more attention to politics now than I did when I was, say, 19. That's the major difference, as a lot of NPR's content is politically-based. But as we kept listening, I learned a few more things about NPR that I really appreciate. For one, there doesn't seem to be any bias one way or the other. As a self-proclaimed "moderate", I appreciate that. And better yet, they talk about the entire world, not just our country. I'm generally more interested in what's happening in places like Asia and South America than I am what's happening here. I already know what's happening here. Tell me something I don't know.

We didn't listen to NPR the entire time, by any means. Every now and then, we did find a station that played a good variety of music that I was either unfamiliar with or hadn't heard in a very long time. But when all we could find on the dial was repetitive junk, NPR was there for us most of the time. And it must have made an impression, because the local NPR affiliate is now the #2 station on my presets. Sorry, 96 Rock: you've been demoted.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Cheap-o Theater

Ten years ago (or so), I went to see The Sixth Sense at a second-run (a.k.a. cheap-o) movie theater. Price of admission: $1.50. It was awesome. Shortly thereafter, the theater went out of business, and it took me all this time to discover another cheap-o movie theater.

It turns out that Raleigh has two cheap-o theaters: the Blue Ridge 14 ($1.50/ticket), and the Garner Towne Square 10 ($2/ticket). Yesterday, we saw Up at the former. You can save a lot of money on movies by staying a few months behind. Just pretend movies aren't actually released until they make it to the cheap-o theaters! The cost of a first-run movie is one reason we don't go to see more movies. This was the first non-Harry Potter movie we have seen in a theater in over two years. (By the way, the Harry Potter tickets were more than 8 times the price of the Up tickets. Yes, Harry Potter was in IMAX, but needless to say, Harry Potter was not 8 times more enjoyable.)

I have to wonder if Both the Blue Ridge 14 and the Towne Square 10 will suffer the same fate as the cheap-o theater I went to ten years ago. are older movie theaters that probably can't compete with the newer 20+ screen megaplexes, and have gone the cheap-o route by necessity. I don't see how cheap-o theaters are profitable. Blue Ridge tries to make up the difference by charging ridiculously high prices for popcorn and drinks, but I still don't think this place can turn a profit. It's in an obscure location, not visible from any major road. It's not really near much of anything except the Fairgrounds and a Kmart, both of which are empty most of the time. (Trivia question: Where is the world's largest Kmart? Answer below.) So I'm not sure how long the Blue Ridge 14 will last, even though the theater itself is actually in decent shape.

So now that we've discovered a good cheap-o theater 20 minutes from home, will we be going to see more movies? Probably not, because we still think most movies coming out of Hollywood these days are complete garbage. There are good movies out there, though. It just takes some effort in order to find them, because I've found that to a good approximation, the quality of a movie is inversely proportional to the size of the movie's advertising budget. In other words, if you can get plastic cups commemorating the movie at Burger King (collect all four!), the movie is probably junk.

And, finally, the world's largest Kmart is in...drum roll please...Guam. Kmart may be losing big to Walmart and Target in North America (made-up statistic), but dammit, you can't take Guam away from them!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

We're Number One!

It's September 27th, which means it's our wedding anniversary. Yay for us! You can definitely consider Amber and me to be a happily married couple. We're celebrating our anniversary by...working on Sunday. But that's okay, because this will allow us to take Friday off. Yep - we have another road trip coming up next weekend. (More on that tomorrow.)

Popular opinion is that it's always the husband that forgets the wedding anniversary, right? Well, that's not going to be a problem for number-obsessed me. If anything, the wife is going to be the one who forgets in our marriage. Actually, I've been keeping a running count of how many days we've been married. I do it mostly as a pleasant reminder to start the day. I also keep track of how many days it's been since Amber joined me in North Carolina (860 days).

Maybe there are traditions associated with each wedding anniversary, but the only super-duper anniversaries I know of are 25th and 50th. Seems as though the 25th anniversary is a popular time for married couples to take a super-duper vacation. (My parents did, and I got a free trip to Hawaii out of it. Yay!) So, only 24 more years to go! Something tells me we'll have already gone to Hawaii by then, so maybe we'll go to Australia instead. And then in 49 years, we can take an old people cruise somewhere. That'll be fun.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

College Football Saturday: 9/26/09

It always seems like the last weekend in September is the least interesting week of the season. Perhaps this weekend often falls in that void between the exciting season-opening games of the first couple of weeks and the beginning of full conference play. And even conferences that begin full conference play today, such as the Big Ten, don't schedule their best games for the first week. (No, this is NOT why we scheduled our wedding for the last Saturday in September last year.)

BUT, thanks to the influence of a certain four-letter TV network on the college football schedule, we're guaranteed at least one or two big games every week. Hooray!

Time slot 1

Game 1 - South Florida at Florida State, 12:00p, ESPNU: My brother (a USF alum) and I have been looking forward to this game for a while. Unfortunately for the opposition, USF starting quarterback Matt Grothe injured his knee last week and is out for the season. D'oh! Talk about bursting the bubble of anticipation. Oh well - I'm sure FSU will find a way to make this game more exciting than it should be. As I'll talk about later, last week's FSU win over BYU wasn't as dominant as the final score indicated.
Game 2 - North Carolina at Georgia Tech, 12:00p, Local TV (WRAL): Maybe the reason I haven't developed a deep loathing for UNC yet is because I don't watch enough local television or listen to enough local radio to experience UNC overload. That's the problem with living in Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, it's all Florida Gators, all the time, and the local media in Jacksonville is borderline worshipping of the team and their Quarterback Whom Shall Not Be Named. I don't get that vibe from the local media here. For example, despite being one of the best college basketball players in the country for four years, Tyler Hansbrough was never the local celebrity / second coming of Jesus that Gator Quarterback Whom Shall Not Be Named is in Jacksonville. I guess what I'm saying is that as a whole, UNC fans are nowhere near as obnoxious and annoying as Florida Gator fans. That, and there are three major colleges to share the spotlight, and the local media does a reasonable job (most of the time) of covering all three fairly.
Game 3 - Michigan State at Wisconsin, 12:00p, ESPN: Second most interesting of the Big Ten openers, at least for me.
Game 4 - LSU at Mississippi State, 12:00p, MSG: Has high potential to be a dud, but I'll keep an eye on the score.
Game 5 - Southern Miss at Kansas, 12:00p, FSN: This game may sound like a dud at first, but Southern Miss is on an 8-game winning streak. How about that?
Game 6 - Minnesota at Northwestern, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Definitely wouldn't have been a dud if Minnesota beat California last weekend. Now...not so sure.
Game 7 - Fresno State at Cincinnati, 12:00p, SNY: This game falls under the "I'll flip to it late if it's close and exciting" category.
Game 8 - Indiana at Michigan, 12:00p, ESPN2: Dud. In general, Indiana v. [fill in the blank] = dud.
Game 9 - San Diego State at Air Force, 2:00p, the mtn.: I never know what to do with these 2:00p games. Time slot 1, or time slot 2?
Not Televised - Wake Forest at Boston College, 2:00p, ESPN360.com: Can't say I'm surprised that a game between the two least interesting teams in the ACC is not on television.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Miami (FL) at Virginia Tech, 3:30p, ABC: Definitely the biggest game of the day. Normally I root hard for VT in this one. But, given how the previous game ended, part of me would like to see a Florida State v. Miami (FL) rematch in the ACC Championship game. So, what do I do? ... Nah, I can't bring myself to root for Miami (FL). Go Hokies!
Game 2 - Pittsburgh at NC State, 3:30p, ESPNU: I've got to pull for the ACC here.
Game 3 - Arkansas at Alabama, 3:30p, CBS: Has potential, if nothing else because CBS announcer Verne Lundquist makes any college football game about 50% more watchable.
Game 4 - Illinois at Ohio State, 3:30p, ESPN: ...but only if Illinois makes it competitive and has a chance to win.
Game 5 - Western Kentucky at Navy, 3:30p, CBS College: And, that's about all the interest I have in this time slot.
Game 6 - Akron at Central Michigan, 3:30p, Fox Sports Ohio
Game 7 - Idaho at Northern Illinois, 3:30p, CSN Chicago
Game 8 - UTEP at Texas, 3:30p, FSN: As a conference, here is a list of this week's Big XII opponents: Nevada, Southern Miss, Tennessee Tech, UTEP, Army, Louisiana-Lafayette, Grambling, Northwestern State, UAB, and Houston. (Yes, Houston beat Oklahoma State and is currently ranked, but I'm pretty sure Texas Tech scheduled that game assuming they would be a heavy favorite.)

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Iowa at Penn State, 8:00p, ABC: Those first three games don't really count. THIS is Penn State's season opener. Is PSU really the 5th best team in the country?
Game 2 - Colorado State at BYU, 6:00p, the mtn: So...about that FSU/BYU game. I couldn't watch it live, but I did skim through a replay of the game on the Mountain West Network (a.k.a. "the mtn"). Yes, the final score was impressive (54-28) for FSU, and the offense was excellent. BUT, Florida State has huge issues on defense, particularly pass defense. If BYU wouldn't have committed five turnovers, the game would have been pretty close. All of BYU's drives in the first half ended with either a touchdown or a fumble. While interceptions can be the result of good defense, fumbles are usually just the ball carrier's fault. So, FSU fans...let's not get too excited.
Game 4 - Arizona State at Georgia, 7:00p, ESPNU: Seems like this game should be on a higher network than ESPNU.
Game 5 - Notre Dame at Purdue, 7:00p, ESPN: I guess what I'm saying is that after watching Notre Dame the last two weeks, I've about had my fill of the Irish for this season.
Game 6 - Louisville at Utah, 7:30p, CBS College
Game 7 - Ball State at Auburn, 7:30p, Fox Sports South: Dud.
Not Televised - Arizona at Oregon State, 7:30p, Versus: Oh, right...I said I was done complaining about the DirecTV / Versus dispute again for a while. Never mind. By the way, Versus's two other games today are Cornell at Yale and Florida A&M vs Tennessee State. Wooooooo!

Time slot 4 (a.k.a. bed time)

Game 1 - Texas Tech at Houston, 9:15p, ESPN2: My initial impression of Houston is that they are this season's East Carolina. Win a big game or two early in the season and get ranked. Then, fall flat on their face against a decent - but unranked - opponent, and descend back into Conference USA mediocrity. We'll see...
Game 2 - Washington State at USC, 10:15p, FSN: USC's punishment for losing to Washington last week: a late start against a bad team that nobody on the East Coast will care enough to stay awake for.
Game 3 - Washington at Stanford, 9:00p, FOX College Sports
Game 4 - New Mexico State at New Mexico, 10:00p, the mtn: The rivalry!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Amber's Silly Race

Two weekends ago, Amber participated in something called the Flying Frog Adventure Race. I did not.

So, anyway, the gist of this adventure race is that it involves running, mountain biking, and kayaking, in an order and length that isn't announced until the day of the race. Sure, it sounds fun. Except for the mountain biking. And the running. I never even considered trying it myself, because I don't run, and I wasn't going to buy a $500 mountain bike just for this. (The bicycle I bought a few months ago is more of a road bike. It would not do particularly well on a technical mountain bike.) Instead, I stayed home and watched football.

What do I have against mountain biking? Nothing, really. It's just that I can't justify getting a mountain bike if I'm only going to do real, legitimate mountain biking it once or twice a year.

What do I have against running? Nothing, except that, you know, it's not fun. At all. I'd much rather ride my bike. Or stay home and watch football.

But hey, Amber enjoys this sort of thing. And despite an impressive collection of cuts and bruises from the 15-mile mountain bike trail, and the fact that she apparently got stuck in some type of quicksand at some point and pretty much ruined her running shoes, she wants to do it again next year. Personally, I think she's crazy. But apparently, the sense of accomplishment outweighs the experience itself. Or something.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Power Outage

Yesterday, the power went out. No big deal, right? One hour and 20 minutes later, it was back on again. This was actually the first sustained power outage I remember having since we moved into the house. ("Sustained" meaning the power stays off for at least a few minutes, as opposed to a "flicker" where the power comes back on again within a couple of minutes.) I think one power outage in eight months is a pretty good average.

Hey, that gives me an idea. I'm introducing a brand new statistic to By the Numbers: power outages! I'll keep track of how many sustained power outages we have, and for how long. (I can easily tell how long the power was out after the fact based on a couple of our plug-in clocks.) Since this was the first one I recall having since moving here, I'll claim the stat goes all the way back to moving day.

Apparently, if a hurricane or ice storm comes roaring through, a power outage lasting over a week is not out of the question. Won't that be fun??

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sofa Shopping

One of the first things most people do after they buy a new house is to buy furniture for the house. But not us. We might would have gone nuts with furniture buying if we had lots of money, but instead, we decided to wait a few months. "A few months" turned into eight months, which leads me to this past weekend. We decided it was finally time to upgrade that $120 love seat I bought from a used furniture store three years ago.

First question: what do we want?
- We both want a full-length sofa. It's time we upgraded to a three-seater.
- I want a recliner sofa so that I can prop my feet without having to deal with a footrest. This was my top priority. My primary test was whether or not I thought I could sleep comfortably sitting in the sofa.
- Amber wants something that allows her to lie down comfortably along the sofa. This means the sofa needs to be fairly flat from end to end, and not have annoying "bumps" in between the three seats.
- We want a fabric sofa. No leather. Yes, leather will last longer, but it's more expensive, and we're both more comfortable on fabric anyway.
- I didn't care what color it was, but Amber wanted something that was NOT a shade of brown, since everything else in the living room / den is already a shade of brown. Color was a lower priority than comfort, however.

Second question: where do we go? The first place that came to mind was La-Z-Boy, BUT we have heard that the quality of La-Z-Boy products has deteoriated over the years. Instead, we just picked three Durham-area furniture stores and shopped around for the best sofa. Two hours later, we bought one. It's a brown sofa, but it was by far the most comfortable, so Amber compromised. We're getting the sofa in two weeks.

Well, that was easy, wasn't it? No bickering or fighting required. The key is ironing out what you want before you go to the store.

One more comment on furniture shopping. Many furniture stores, including Rooms To Go, advertise things like "no payments, no interest until 2013!" My personal opinion is that if you need a loan in order to buy furniture, maybe you shouldn't be buying it. This isn't a car, a house, or even a boat we're talking about here. This is furniture. Does anyone really need living room furniture so badly that they're willing to take out a $2,000 loan, rather than just wait until they've saved up $2,000? If they don't think they can save up that much money in the short term, what makes them think theyll be able to make the payments three years from now? Just my opinion.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh! Brian's: Eulogy

When we have out-of-town guests, we almost always go out to dinner at least once. And at first, the question of where to take our guests was easy. Sure, we could take them to a chain restaurant, but that's boring. Instead, we thought it would be best to a place called "Oh! Brian's". It's a regular restaurant, reasonably priced, it's close to home, and best of all, it's not a chain. It could be our trademark! Come see Chris and Amber, and go out to eat at that restaurant with the awkward punctuation.

Well, to anyone who enjoyed eating at Oh! Brian's, I have some bad news: they've gone out of business. No more Oh! Brian's for us, or for any of our guests. Darn it. We only went to Oh! Brian's twice. But still. If I knew they were going to be closing, we might have gone three times!

Why did they close? I couldn't find any news stories on the matter, so I assume it's due to business. The restaurant isn't really in a great location, at least for business. The location was great for us, but it wasn't near other restaurants of that type (i.e. near the mall). So it was generally out-of-sight, except for people who live nearby, like us. It's near the interstate, but they didn't advertise on I-40 at all, so they probably didn't get any through traffic. It's also close to RTP, so they could have done a decent lunch business, but I don't think they really made much of a name for themselves. At my office, when discussing possible places to eat lunch, Oh! Brian's was never mentioned, not even in passing, not even once. Seems to me like if you're going to be a full-scale, traditional sit down restaurant, you have to make a name for yourself, so that you're at least "in the discussion" when people try to decide where to eat. That's why chain restaurants do so well. People have heard of them, and generally know what to expect. Meanwhile, it wasn't even immediately obvious when driving by Oh! Brian's that it was even a restaurant. The sign and building blended into the background and didn't stand out at all. So while the food at Oh! Brian's was pretty good, the restaurant wasn't marketed all that well, so it became yet another recession casualty.

So, now where do we take all of our houseguests? I don't want to take them to a chain. That's boring. You can go to a chain anywhere. I want to take people to a place unique to our area. Well, with that in mind, I think there is only one option. Backyard BBQ Pit it is!

Curling Recap: 9/11-9/18/09

I'm a little behind here. Lost in the midst of our cross-country drive is the fact that the Triangle Curling Club's Fall season is two weeks old. Yaaaay!

Friday, September 11th

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Our team....... 00203001 | 06
Other team..... 12020310 | 09

This was the first match of the 2009 Fall League, and if you follow the link, you'll see that our team only has three people on it. Unless the club gets lucky and the number of people interested in curling in the league is divisible by four, that's going to happen.

So this begs the question, how much of a disadvantage is it to have a team of three instead of four? Or is it actually an advantage?

The most obvious disadvantage to having a team of three is that you only have one sweeper per shot instead of two. This doesn't mean the sweeping is only half as effective, since the person sweeping closest to the stone always makes more of a difference than the person sweeping next-closest to the stone, but having only one sweeper does reduce the sweeping effectiveness by...oh, 30 to 40%. But one possible advantage to having a team of three is that the lead and vice-skip throw three rocks per end instead of two, and thus, get more reps. By the time you get to the end of the game, the three-person team may have a better feel for the ice than the four-person team. At least, in theory. It didn't really work out for us in the first match.

So, anyway, I think a 4-4 record is a realistic goal for this season.

Thursday, September 17th

End............ 12345 |TTL
Our team....... 01022 | 05
Other team..... 10100 | 02

This was a short (obviously) pick-up game on Thursday night last week. Two things of note from this one:
- The ice was really really slow. That happens sometimes, especially if the zamboni doesn't seem to get all of the hockey skate cuts out of the ice. I don't know much about the inner workings of zambonis, so I don't know why sometimes it's good and sometimes it's not...
- I was the skip for the winning team, and my all-time record as a skip is now two wins, one loss. But I'm not going to read too much into that. My first win as a skip was against an equally inexperienced skip. And, this one was a short game. So, I'm trying not to get too cocky here. I do have aspirations to be a full-time skip in the club some day, but not yet. For now, it's just a fun diversion.

Friday, September 18th

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Our team....... 02003111 | 08
Other team..... 10110000 | 03

Before the game started, our skip Mike told us that our strategy for the match was to just throw as many rocks into the house as possible, using take-outs as sparingly as possible. The general idea was that by throwing draw weight for the entire game, we would all have an excellent feel for draw weight by the end of the match and would be able to throw our best shots of the match towards the end. And that's exactly what happened, as we scored six and gave up none in the second half. But that's generally a good arena ice strategy anyway. So why doesn't everyone use that strategy all the time? Easy - because take-outs are so much fun!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

College Football Saturday: 9/19/09

Woohoo, it's time for more college football! The last two weekends in September aren't always the most interesting in the season, but I think today has potential, regardless of whether or not I get to watch the Florida State v. BYU game.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Temple at Penn State, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: I'm hoping something like last week here. Watch the first half, maybe the start of the second half, and then move along to a more exciting game. Such as...
Game 2 - East Carolina at North Carolina, 12:00p, ESPN2: These ECU versus major in-state rival games are usually pretty entertaining. I'm not sure who to root for, though.
Game 3 - Boston College at Clemson, 12:00p, Local TV (WRAL): This is a HUGE game. It could decide who gets that coveted Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl bid.
Game 4 - Ohio State at Toledo, 12:00p, Altitude: What's this? An Ohio State game that isn't on national television?!?! I'd put this game much lower on the list, but I actually think Toledo has a chance.
Game 5 - California at Minnesota, 12:00p, ESPN: I dig Minnesota's new outdoor stadium. It'll be even better in a couple of months when it starts snowing.
Game 6 - Louisville at Kentucky, 12:00p, ESPNU
Game 7 - Ball State at Army, 12:00p, CBS College
Game 8 - North Texas at Alabama, 12:00p, MSG: Well, whoopee, this must be this week's SEC Network game.
Game 9 - Eastern Michigan at Michigan, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Now...this hasn't always been the case, but Time Warner Cable now carries the Big Ten Network. However, they only carry the primary network feed, not all of those alternate channels. That means if I had Time Warner, I would only get this snoozefest of a game, and not the Penn State game. DISH also carries the alternate games, I'm pretty sure. Satellite TV For The Win! (And no, don't confuse Eastern Michigan for Central Michigan, who beat Michigan State last weekend. Central is a good team. Eastern never beats anybody.)
Game 10 - Northern Illinois at Purdue, 12:00p, Big Ten Network
Not Televisied - Furman at Missouri, 2:00p, Pay Per View: I just wanted to point out that if I were a Missouri fan, or perhaps a Nebraska fan, about half of my team's games would be on Pay Per View, ESPN GamePlan only, or otherwise unavailable. As a Florida State fan living in "ACC country", and a Penn State fan with the Big Ten Network, I have it pretty good.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Michigan State at Notre Dame, 3:30p, NBC: Notre Dame gets number one priority at 3:30 for the second week in a row. What's going on?
Game 2 - Nebraska at Virginia Tech, 3:30p, ABC: Important game for ACC pride, if there is such a thing anymore.
Game 3 - Utah at Oregon, 3:30p, ESPN: Give Oregon credit for a respectable schedule: Boise State, Purdue, Utah, plus nine Pac-10 games. Not a cupcake in the bunch. Well, except perhaps for one or two of the Pac-10 teams.
Game 4 - Virginia at Southern Miss, 3:30p, CBS College: Poor Virginia. They are awful this season. I think the old saying about "watching a train wreck" applies here.
Game 5 - Arizona at Iowa, 3:30p, ESPN2: ABC/ESPN2 usually (always?) gets the first pick of Big Ten games each week, and this week, the best game available is...Arizona at Iowa. Ouch. (Michigan State at Notre Dame is at Notre Dame and is therefore an NBC game.)
Game 6 - Tennessee at Florida, 3:30p, CBS: Usually when I say "this game is going to be a blowout for sure" and "there is no reason for me to even think about watching this game", it turns out to be a close game. And sometimes, the underdog even wins! That said...THIS GAME IS GOING TO BE A BLOWOUT FOR SURE. THERE IS NO REASON FOR ME TO EVEN THINK ABOUT WATCHING THIS GAME. [crosses fingers]
Game 7 - Tulsa at Oklahoma, 3:30p, FSN
Game 8 - Indiana at Akron, 3:30p, ESPNU: Whoops - almost forgot to put this game on the list. That would have been a shame.
Game 9 - Florida International at Rutgers, 5:00p, SNY: Is this the "Big East Game of the Week"? Seriously?
Not Televised - USC at Washington, 3:30p, ESPN GamePlan: Given how many regional sports channels I get, and the fact that I get the ACC Raycom games over-the-air, pretty much the only benefit to me getting ESPN GamePlan would be to get all of the ABC regionally televised games from the Big XII and Pac-10. And that's not worth $120 to me, or whatever GamePlan cost this season.
Not Televised - UAB at Troy, 3:30p, ESPN GamePlan: That, and a lot of the GamePlan games are games like this. I could justify it if my favorite team played in the Sun Belt, the MAC, or WAC. But...they don't.

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Texas Tech at Texas, 8:00p, ABC: I didn't even stay up past halftime for last week's USC / Ohio State game, so the odds of me staying up for the end of this game are pretty slim. But I could always record the end of the game and watch it the next morning. (That wasn't an option last week because of other DVR priorities and planned Sunday activities.)
Game 2 - Georgia at Arkansas, 7:45p, ESPN: Most of the late games are just general interest games that could prove exciting and "important". Hopefully at least one will live up to expectations.
Game 3 - West Virginia at Auburn, 7:45p, ESPN2
Game 4 - Cincinnati at Oregon State, 6:45p, FSN: FSN South isn't showing this game, but 10 other FSN stations on my channel lineup are showing it. Satellite TV For The Win!
Game 5 - Air Force at New Mexico, 7:30p, CBS College: My hopes for the late time slot are that the first four games will be good enough. And if they're not, chances are I'll go find something else to do rather than watch more college football. But they're here if I need them.
Game 6 - Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, 7:00p, FSN South
Game 7 - Louisiana-Lafayette at LSU, 7:00p, ESPNU: The rivalry!

Time slot 4 - I'm introducing time slot 4 this week, for games with late starts (9:30p or later) for which there is zero chance of me staying awake until the end.
Game 1 - Kansas State at UCLA, 10:15p, FSN
Game 2 - Hawaii at UNLV, 11:00p, CBS College: This isn't just a West Coast-friendly start time. This is a Hawaii-friendly start time. 5:00p in Honolulu!
Game 3 - Louisiana-Monroe at Arizona State, 10:00p, FSN Arizona

Enjoy your Saturday! That applies whether you plan on watching college football or not, but if you aren't, I'm assuming you did not make it all the way to the end of this post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

DirecTV Versus Versus

So...there's this channel called "Versus" that I watch from time to time, and it's no longer available on DirecTV. Let's address why this matters to me in Q&A format.

What the hell is this "Versus" channel? It's an obscure sports channel.

Why do you care about it? Because Versus airs lots of hockey, college football, and IndyCar racing (which I actually do watch occasionally). I estimate that over the course of the year, 5-10% of my television viewing is on Versus. In the short term, not having Versus means I can't watch this weekend's Florida State v. BYU football game. In the long term, not having Versus means missing most of the NHL Playoffs.

Why isn't Versus on DirecTV anymore? The contract between DirecTV and Versus ran out on August 31st, and they never agreed to terms to renew the contract. DirecTV wants to move the channel to a higher-priced programming tier, which Versus doesn't like. Versus wants more money, which DirecTV doesn't like. That's basically the gist of it.

Who do you blame for this - DirecTV or Versus? Both! Versus is owned by Comcast, a major competitor to DirecTV, and I think DirecTV is using this as an opportunity to stick it to one of their rivals. They're also engaging in quite a bit of childish namecalling, using words like "piggish", "unfair", "outrageous", and calling Versus "a paid programming and informercial channel with occasional sporting events of interest". (Yes, besides the live sports, Versus's content is a joke. But that's beside the point.) Meanwhile, I think Versus/Comcast has an over-inflated sense of the value of their own network and is asking for too much money. Versus/Comcast also has a long history of being stubborn in contract negotiations while DirecTV does not. Based on that alone, you would have to give DirecTV the benefit of the doubt. But I place the blame on both parties. It takes plenty of stupidity and ignorance from both sides to have a dispute like this at all, given that neither side benefits from it.

What are you going to do about it? Well, this week, I've already sent angry emails to both sides. I accused DirecTV of not negotiating in good faith and being biased against Comcast. I accused Versus of having delusious of grandeur. I received replies to both emails, but they weren't exactly reassuring. I expect this dispute to last several months, if not longer.

Are you considering switching to DISH Network or cable? Short term, no. If most of Florida State's schedule were on Versus, that would be one thing, but this is just one game. As for the NHL, I'm renewing NHL Center Ice this season. And, Versus is showing exactly zero Carolina Hurricanes games this season. So I don't need Versus for hockey, that is until the playoffs start and Versus is my only choice for over half the games. If this isn't resolved by the playoffs, I'll start weighing my options.

So, let me get this straight. You've been talking about how great DirecTV is for over a year. Are you actually considering dropping it just for one channel? All I said was that I would begin weighing my options. First off, going back to Time Warner Cable is out of the question. DISH Network, however, is an option that I will seriously consider if this dispute goes on for too long. DISH has its pros and cons, but I'm going to let this thing play out before I seriously consider it as an option.

With or without Versus, there are still far more sporting events on television now than there were 15 or 20 years ago. You're pretty lucky, you know. Quit complaining! A valid point. But cable and satellite television is also far more expensive than it was 15 or 20 years ago. I pay DirecTV a lot of money, and I expect results. Surely, it's not too much to ask for me to keep all of the channels I started with, right?

So, anyway, I'm done complaining about this. At least for a few months.

Yahoo! Sports Blog - "Puck Daddy"
The Deseret News
DirecTV statement re: Versus

States Visited the Most: Revisited

Hmm. I've now recapped the entire US-50 trip. I guess that means I have to talk about some other stuff now. So...here are some more dumb statistics!

In April 2007, I ranked all 50 states according to how much time I had spent in each in my lifetime (approximately). But that was a while ago, and we've gone lots of exciting places since then. Time for an update!

So, here are the updated rankings, with movement from the April 2007 and my last visit to the state in parantheses:

States I have spent the most time in: September 2009 edition

#1: Florida (no change / June 2009): Being my primary residence for the first 22 years of my life, Florida still has a healthy lead.
#2: North Carolina (up 1 / ongoing): I've lived here over three years now, which is plenty long enough to move North Carolina into the #2 spot ahead of Pennsylvania.
#3: Pennsylvania (down 1 / August 2008): Until I move somewhere other than Florida or North Carolina, Pennsylvania is the permanent #3.
#4: Virginia (no change / 20 days ago): Still think I've had enough vacation and family trips here to keep Virginia at #4.
#5: Ohio (up 9 / 19 days ago): Frequent visits to Toledo (two or three times every year) will eventually move Ohio up to 4th. It's impossible for me to know exactly when that will happen, so I'll have to guess.
#6: South Carolina (down 1 / 10 days ago)
#7: Georgia (down 1 / 11 days ago)
#8: West Virginia (down 1 / 20 days ago): Lots of guess work here with these "driving through" states. Unless I know I've spent a lot of time in one state compared to another over the last 29 months, I'm not going to make many changes, especially near the top of the list.
#9: Utah (down 1 / 16 days ago)
#10: Tennessee (down 1 / July 2008): Even though Tennessee borders North Carolina, we don't go here much.
#11: California (no change / 13 days ago): I moved California ahead of Hawaii based on the US-50 trip.
#12: Michigan (up 1 / December 2008): This is another state I really have no idea. We spent a lot of time here on the honeymoon, so I also moved it ahead of Hawaii, as well as Washington.
#13: Hawaii (down 3 / 1999): Hawaii is one of a few states that I've only visited on exactly one occasion - as in, I entered the state for the first time, and after leaving the state for the first time have yet to return. The other such states are Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
#14: Washington (down 2 / 1998)
#15: Montana (no change / 1998)
#16: Maine (no change / March 2007)
#17: New York (no change / March 2007)
#18: New Jersey (no change / March 2007): I had to think really hard about New Jersey, whether to move it below some of the next few states. But I think I've been here more than I remember. If that makes any sense.
#19: Arizona (no change / 13 days ago): I decided the 6 hours we drove through on our way back from California weren't enough to help.
#20: Missouri (up 2 / 18 days ago): Now begins the total guess work.
#21: Maryland (up 11 / 20 days ago): Huge jump for Maryland. Since April 2007, I have stayed overnight in Maryland on three separate occasions.
#22: Vermont (down 2 / March 2003)
#23: Nevada (no change / 15 days ago): Vermont and Nevada are probably really, really close now.
#24: Colorado (up 1 / 16 days ago)
#25: South Dakota (down 4 / March 2008)
#26: Wyoming (down 2 / March 2008): I need to spend more time in Wyoming.
#27: Kentucky (no change / July 2008)
#28: New Mexico (down 2 / 13 days ago): Three hours on I-10 = not enough to keep it ahead of Kentucky, which I've passed through twice since April 2007.
#29: Kansas (up 5 / 17 days ago): Now we're getting down to the states with only two or three overnight stays ever.
#30: Texas (up 7 / 11 days ago): "Just driving through" can add a lot of time in Texas, depending on which road you take.
#31: Minnesota (down 2 / October 2008)
#32: Oregon (down 4 / 1995): Definitely haven't been to Oregon enough. It's been 14 years, but there are two states that have gone longer.
#33: Illinois (down 2 / 19 days ago): Two drive-throughs = not much improvement.
#34: Nebraska (up 15 / March 2008): The biggest mover, up 15 spots. It helps when you start with nothing.
#34½: District of Columbia (N/A / 20 days ago): Whoops - I forgot to include the District of Columbia on the original list! I think it would go about here. I'm making it #34½ instead of #35 so the rest of the rankings aren't offset by one.
#35: North Dakota (no change / October 2008): Hard to judge down here, because I actually have visited most of the states in the 30-45 range within the last three years. Despite staying overnight in Grand Forks on the honeymoon, when I worked out approximate numbers, the result was no change.
#36: Arkansas (down 6 / 1993): Haven't been to Arkansas in 16 years. That's longer than any other state. (Oklahoma is also 16 years, but it came after Oklahoma on that trip. And no, Alaska doesn't count.)
#37: Indiana (down 1 / 19 days ago): The rest are all states I have only stayed overnight in for one night, or never.
#38: Wisconsin (up 6 / October 2008)
#39: Mississippi (down 6 / 11 days ago): I guess that I-59 drive-through didn't help much, did it? Lots of movement down here.
#40: Alabama (down 2 / 11 days ago): In the four years I lived in Tallahassee, I think I only went to Alabama once, and that was on the way to Louisiana.
#41: Louisiana (up 2 / 11 days ago): Louisiana went up from "about 4 hours lifetime" to "about 9 hours lifetime". Congratulations!
#42: Delaware (down 2 / June 2007)
#43: Oklahoma (down 4 / 1993)
#44: Connecticut (down 3 / March 2007)
#45: Massachusetts (down 3 / March 2007)
#46: Iowa (down 1 / March 2008)
#47: New Hampshire (down 1 / March 2007): Aside from Maine and Vermont, New England states have all been strictly pass-through states.
#48: Idaho (down 1 / 1998): We should make an Oregon / Idaho trip. We can fly into Salt Lake City and rent a car from there. I'm totally serious.
#49: Rhode Island (down 1 / March 2007): Will I ever step foot in Rhode Island ever again?
#50: Alaska (no change / never): You're next, bub!

And while I'm at it, here are Canadian provinces I've spent the most time in:
#1: Ontario (last visit - October 2008)
#2: Manitoba (October 2008)
#3: Nova Scotia (March 2007)
#4: Qu├ębec (1992)
#5: New Brunswick (March 2007)
#6: Prince Edward Island (March 2007)
Have never visited Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, NW Territories, or Nunavut

Three of the six provinces have exactly one visit (NS, QC, PEI). Manitoba is iffy, though. At the International Peace Garden, we crossed the Manitoba/North Dakota line multiple times, so I'm counting that as "multiple visits" since we left and then re-entered the province multiple times.

When people ask how I've managed to visit 49 of the 50 states, my typical response is that my parents are both teachers and we always had the summer off. But I've actually visited 42 of the 50 states just this decade, after moving away from home. Maybe I just like to take road trips. Have you noticed?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

US-50 Days 8-10: The Trip Home

In order to maximize our time on US-50 and in wacky, unusual places such as California, the plan for the drive home was to take the interstates and generally just keep on going until we get home, stopping at hotels for the night when it gets dark. So, it seems most appropriate to recap the entire return trip all at once.

View Larger Map

I'm going to break it down state-by-state:

State #1: California

Not much left to see in California, except lots of desert. And I should note that there is no agricultural inspection for anyone leaving the state - only entering.

State #2: Arizona

Seeing cacti in their natural habitat was neat, but the thing I'm going to take the most from our drive through Arizona is this: speed cameras. I had heard of speed cameras before, but had never actually seen one. But along I-10 in Arizona - especially in and around Phoenix - they were everywhere, including several mobile speed cameras that I'm guessing were deployed special for the holiday weekend. (We passed through Arizona on the Friday before Labor Day.)

Each speed camera was equipped with a warning sign up to a half-mile before the camera, and I didn't want to tempt technology, so I took each camera at the speed limit rather than the normal 5-over the limit (which I should add has earned me exactly zero lifetime speeding tickets). I was curious about two things with these speed cameras. First, exactly how fast do you need to be going to trip the speed camera get a ticket? Google research indicates the tolerance is 10 mph over the limit in Arizona, but that speed cameras in other countries are far less tolerant. Second, if you get clicked by, say, six consecutive speed cameras, do you get six separate speeding tickets? I couldn't find a clear answer on that one, but the impression I got was that technically, you could get six tickets, but in Arizona, human discretion would kick in and you probably wouldn't get all six. Only one-third of Arizona speed camera flashes actually result in a ticket (source). In other places and countries, however, you could in fact end up with multiple tickets in one day.

Speed cameras are obviously very unpopular, but I'll give them credit for one thing. Unlike most big cities, where fast cars will periodically zoom past you in the blink of an eye, nobody was driving ridiculously fast through Phoenix. Not one person. Everyone was pretty much going the same speed. It may have been the most orderly urban freeway drive I've ever been a part of.

State #3: New Mexico

I don't know which state these pictures were taken in. They might have been New Mexico, and since I don't have much else to say about New Mexico, I'll just stick them here.

If you look closely, you can see a weak dust devil in one of the pictures.

New Mexico gave us our first encounter with rain in a whole week, albeit only a brief encounter. You sure can see the rain coming from far away out here. Tornadoes, too.

We also crossed the Continental Divide in New Mexico, but if it weren't for the sign, we would have never known. It was a very boring Divide crossing. No mountain pass, no nothing. It was flat. Moving on...

State #4A: West Texas

Texas is a big state, so I'm splitting it up into three parts.

West Texas starts with El Paso, which is where we spent the first night. From some parts of I-10, we had a good view across the Rio Grande into Mexico. As someone who has no desire to ever go there, that actually made me a little uncomfortable. In fact, prior to this trip, I don't think I've ever been within 200 miles of the Mexican border, let alone within eyesight.

But on the bright side, El Paso had a really awesome grocery store: Big 8 Foods. And by "awesome", I don't mean "nice". But I'll remember two things the most about my Big 8 Foods experience. 1) I got 8 hot dogs for 48 cents. That's right - 6 cents per hot dog. Wow! And after eating a couple of them, I'd say the price was right. I left the remaining six in our hotel room fridge. 2) A sign inside the store said "Big 8 Foods will be closed on Monday, September 7th, in observence of Memorial Day."

By the way, this was also the first time I had ever stayed in a Red Roof Inn, as far as I can remember. My family has always avoided Red Roof, so it seems. Now I know why. It's a cheap hotel disguised as a nice hotel.

The California agricultural inspection station wasn't the only inspection station we had to drive through on the trip. We also had to pass through a Border Patrol inspection station east of El Paso. I guess they're looking for illegal immigrants or something. There was another station in the other direction in New Mexico.

Our next decision was whether to take I-10 or I-20 the rest of the way. We chose I-10, because we thought it would be more interesting, and it would take us through San Antonio.

State #4B: Central Texas

It's a looooong way from El Paso to San Antonio - 550 miles or so. But fortunately for us, this stretch of I-10 is one of the few places in the country with a speed limit of 80 mph. So, it all went by relatively quickly. We also happened to get our worst fuel mileage of the trip on this stretch.

This was my first time anywhere in Texas, not including the Houston and Dallas airports or I-40 in the Panhandle. And I wasn't sure when we'd be here again. So why not take advantage of that and spend an hour in the downtown San Antonio, including the acclaimed Riverwalk (which was recommended by multiple people)?

It turned out to be a fantastic idea. (Thanks!) Great place to get out of the car and walk around for an hour or so.

State #4C: East Texas

As we crossed Texas from west to east, the scenery gradually became flatter and greener. We transitioned all the way from western mountainous desert to boring old southeastern forest without leaving Texas. By the time we got to Houston, we knew we weren't going to see a whole lot the rest of the way.

Houston is the 6th most populous metropolitan area in the country, but driving through, it actually didn't seem that big. It took much longer to drive through the Atlanta metro area at the same speed. I obviously thought Houston was much bigger than it was. Or maybe the Houston area is just more north-south oriented than east-west.

Our stop for the second night was about 60 miles east of Houston in the town of Winnie. And as you already know if you followed me on Twitter/Facebook, we made it all the way home from there.

State #5: Louisiana

By crossing the Louisiana state line, Amber has now officially visited all of the 48 contiguous states. Congratulations!

Southern Louisiana is a really inconvenient place. There's water everywhere. So, they have lots of bridges. The three longest bridges in the United States are in Louisiana (source).

So...you may have noticed on that map up there that we didn't take the direct route bypassing New Orleans (I-12). Instead, we took the longer I-10 route that goes right through New Orleans. Why? Because this was the only remaining link in my quest to have driven all of I-10 from Jacksonville to Santa Monica. Hooray!

State #6: Mississippi

The shortest route from New Orleans to Atlanta is via Mobile and Montgomery on I-10, I-65, and I-85. So why did we take I-59 and I-20 via Hattiesburg and Birmingham, which is 20 miles longer? Two reasons: 1) I thought it would be more rural and more hilly, and therefore more interesting. 2) There was a NASCAR race going on south of Atlanta that night (this was Sunday), and I didn't want to risk getting stuck in traffic on I-85 near the track. (Atlanta Motor Speedway is much closer to I-75 than I-85, and we were most likely going to pass the area during the race rather than before or after, but I didn't want to take any chances.)

Mississippi was notable for two reasons. One, the cheapest gas of the entire trip was in Mississippi ($2.259/gal). Two, the welcome center had a lot of lovebugs. I had never seen so many in one place, all actively trying to produce more lovebugs.

State #7: Alabama

Even though we've covered up all of the walls in our map room, that doesn't mean we had an official state map from every state. One of the states I was missing was Alabama, so we stopped at the Alabama welcome center and got one. (We also got maps for two other previously missing states, Utah and New Mexico, on this trip.)

During the trip, Amber and I had a game going on: first person to spot a North Carolina license plate each day wins! But after leaving Ocean City, we didn't see another North Carolina license plate until we were in Monterey, CA (ironically, almost as far away from North Carolina as we got during the trip). Then, after that, the next North Carolina license plate sighting wasn't until the Alabama welcome center.

State #8: Georgia

I've always enjoyed driving through downtown Atlanta on the interstate, especially at night. Most cities' interstates stay a safe distance away from the center of downtown, but Atlanta's interstates go right through the middle of it all. It's pretty neat, especially when it's dark and the buildings are all lit up.

But unfortunately, driving through Atlanta also meant crossing I-75, meaning I was back in my zone of familiarity. Booooring. Given that we only had six hours to go, and that the rest of the drive wasn't particularly interesting, we decided to go straight home without stopping for the night. The plan was to trade off driving every couple of hours, but Amber started driving a little after 10 PM, and thanks to caffeinated headache medicine, she was awake enought to take us all the way home. We got home around 2:45 AM the next morning.

States #9 and #10: South and North Carolina

I slept through most of these states. And I must have slept pretty well, because after we got home, I don't think I fell asleep again the rest of the night/morning.

Welp...that's it for our US-50 cross-country trip. I guess now I have to provide some closing remarks?

In case you couldn't already tell, we had a blast. You see a lot more interesting stuff on regular roads than you do on the interstates. That is for sure. If you like driving, I would definitely recommend US-50. It is an excellent cross-country route. (Let me know if you're considering trying it yourself, and I can send you the detailed directions I typed up.) If nothing else, this drive gave me a great feeling of national pride. We live in a beautiful country.

The thing that surprised me the most was how quickly we finished driving cross-country. If you have lots of time and don't feel like stopping a whole lot, you can make it from one end of the country to the other in not much time at all. One moment, we were in Southern California. Less than 72 hours later, we were back home in North Carolina.

What's next? Our next ambitious goal is the holy grail of road trips: Alaska. But that won't be until next summer. In the short term, we're making a fall foliage trip to Pennsylvania and/or New York in a couple of weeks. Hooray - more driving!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

US-50 Days 6½ and 7: California

We may have finished US-50, but this is still "The US-50 trip", officially.

So, we've traveled over 3,000 miles across the country, and our journey left us in Sacramento. We have 5½ days to get back home. I planned for four days getting home via interstates, which leaves 1½ days in California. What do we do? Where to we go? What do we see?

Well, I've always wanted to drive the Pacific Coast Highway along the Central and/or Southern California coast, or at least a portion of it, so that was the centerpiece of our California plan.

View Larger Map

Let's split this into parts...

Part 1: San Francisco

In order to get to the Pacific Ocean, we had to go through San Francisco. (Well, we didn't have to, but it was the most logical choice given where we wanted to go.)

You may have heard that the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was closed over Labor Day weekend. We were here about 30 hours before it closed for the weekend. And by the way, this was the third bridge called the "Bay Bridge" - in three different states - we crossed that week. That has to be some kind of a record. (To recap, the others were the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia and Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland.)

Hey, an actual landmark that people might recognize without explanation! It's been a while.

I've been to San Francisco before, but it was 14 years ago, and I don't remember much about it. We just drove through this time around, and my general impression was this: Holy crap, they cram everyone in tight here! That's pretty much true about California in general. The weather is very nice here, so lots of people want to live here. But the complex terrain makes that very complicated, so the solution is to cram everyone into tight spaces. I guess everyone thinks it's worth it.

Part 2: The Pacific Coast Highway north of Monterey

Hey, it's the Pacific Ocean! Hooray! Now, we just have to get Mo the cow puppet in a picture with the ocean.

This stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway was nice, but it was nothing compared to what was coming.

Part 2A: Monterey

But first, we stopped in Monterey for the night, and hung out with newly engaged Jon (Petters) and Stephanie while we were there. We didn't bring the camera on our tour of Monterey, so we don't have any pictures of the city.

Monterey is a very popular tourist destination. I had a hard time figuring out why at first, but after spending a few hours there, here's what I've concluded about the area:
- The weather is very nice. No air conditioning required, most of the time.
- The scenery is also nice. They have a 17-mile scenic drive in Monterey that is supposedly among the best drives out there, but we didn't take it for a few reasons. One, it isn't free ($9.25). Two, I figured it would be over-developed. Three, we were going to drive down the coast the next day anyway.
- If you like shopping, seafood (especially clam chowder), or sailing, and live a couple of hours away, Monterey is a good place to spend the weekend. If you like all three, even better!
- If you like golf and have a lot of money, Pebble Beach is just down the road, along with a few other courses.

Part 3: The Pacific Coast Highway south of Monterey

I had high expectations for this part of the drive. And it did not disappoint.

The road was lots of fun and really intense - almost constant curves for nearly two hours. The scenery was amazing. There was hardly any traffic or civilization. It was almost as if the only reason this road existed in the first place was as a scenic drive, as if they made it just for me. This one ranks way up there on my list. I even considered moving it ahead of the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, but the Cabot Trail wins the tie-breaker because it's in Canada. And, I imagine the conditions were as good as they ever are on the Pacific Coast Highway. No fog, and almost no traffic. We were fortunate.

Part 4: US-101 and other roads to Santa Monica

The Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) joined back up with US-101 in San Luis Obispo. (Side comment: down here, and possibly all the way up and down the Pacific Coast, they refer to all highways not as "US 101" or "I-10", but using "the", as in "the 101" and "the 10". I'm going to use that convention for the rest of the post.) From here to Los Angeles, the PCH would occasionally split off from the 101, but it didn't look particularly scenic from here to, say, Malibu. It looked like the PCH from San Luis Obispo to before Malibu was just a business route and wasn't all that scenic. Time was also critical, for reasons I'll explain later. So, we just stuck with the 101 for a while.

But there was one important item on the agenda: In-N-Out Burger.

I've heard good things about In-N-Out. And given that it's a West Coast-only chain, wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and go to one. What did I think?

First off, the menu is very short. Basically, your choices are a hamburger, cheeseburger, or "double double" (double meat, double cheese). The fact that they have something called a "double double" is why In-N-Out can never coexist in the same town as a Tim Hortons, which also has something called a "double double", except that it's a coffee with double cream and double sugar.

In addition the short menu, In-N-Out didn't seem to be too accomodating to special requests. No tomato? No weird sauce? Too bad! Amber asked for one or the other or both, but didn't get her wish. If Burger King's motto is "Have It Your Way", In-N-Out's motto should be "Have It Our Way". And that's fine with me. After all, the name alone advertises quick and fast. Given the short menu and excellent service, ordering is quick and fast. The food isn't necessarily quick, but that may be because the food is cooked to order.

Anyway, the food was good, but holy crap, it was greasy. In-N-Out may be one of the unhealthiest fast food joints out there. I haven't had fries that greasy since I went to The Varsity (in Atlanta). While it was good, I could never eat there all that often. My digestive system agrees with that assessment. Maybe that's what I get for eating a double double.

Part 5: Los Angeles

With lunch out of the way, the next stop was a place I had never been to, or anywhere near, actually: Los Angeles. Except the plan wasn't to actually stop there. This was a driving trip, so naturally, the plan was to drive straight through Los Angeles. From one end to the other. All the way through. On a weekday afternoon. Why? Because I thought it would be fun to experience what Los Angeles's legendary freeway traffic was all about, and see how long it would take me to drive I-10 from the beginning in Santa Monica (along the Pacific Ocean) to the eastern edge of suburban Los Angeles (if you can even call it that), 77 miles east in San Bernardino.

View Larger Map

But at the same time, we weren't stupid. I didn't want to attempt this in the middle of rushhour. If you follow the Google Maps link, you'll see that this drive should take 1 hour, 15 minutes...OR, up to 3 hours, 20 minutes in traffic. Yikes! And I believe it, too. Leading up to our trip, I studied traffic congestion on Google Maps to develop a plan of attack. In the end, I concluded that if we made it to the beginning of I-10 before 2 PM, it shouldn't be too bad. If we don't make it there until 3 PM, we're asking for trouble.

We made it to the beginning of I-10 at about 2:15 PM, so I was only slightly confident that we could do the 77 miles in under two hours.

The 10 would take us right by downtown Los Angeles, which doesn't have any real landmarks other than the Hollywood sign, which wasn't visible from I-10.

This drive would take us through the busiest freeway interchange in the world, the East Los Angeles interchange. That was exciting. Now...there are a lot of really impressive looking interchanges in this country. For example, here's one farther east along I-10:

But despite being the busiest interchange in the world, the ELA interchange wasn't all that impressive-looking.

Part of the problem was that the interchange is spread out a little. The four roads that make up the interchange - I-5, I-10, US-101, and CA-60 - don't all converge in one place. Instead, I actually found the interchange to be poorly designed, and really kind of a mess. Maybe that's why it's so congested?

I've heard that one trademark of good freeway design is that in order to stay on the same road from one end to the other, you should theoretically be able to stay in the same lane from end to end. As you can infer from our location in the above picture, this interchange - and many others along I-10 in Los Angeles - fail that test. So much for my plan of hanging out in the same lane the whole way.

And actually, the traffic wasn't all that bad. It was stop and go every now and then, but we drove the 77 miles in 1 hour, 39 minutes, and were out of the steady suburban mess before 4 PM. I didn't even get honked at once. Yeah, I know. BORING.

Since we made it out of there sooner than expected, we decided to drive all the way to Indio (near Palm Springs) and stay there for the night. And it was hot there. I don't know for sure what the temperature was, because the cheap hotel we stayed at had a satellite feed of the Weather Channel (meaning no local forecasts) and didn't even have any local channels (!), but the high temperature in Palm Springs that day was 107°F. That's about right. I don't remember the "dry heat" feeling that hot last time I was in the Southwest. I was actually hoping for 110-plus when we drove through Phoenix the next day, just to experience it, but I'll take 107°F. And in case you're wondering, the much-publicized Los Angeles wildfire was northeast of Los Angeles, and we did not go near there, nor did we plan to anyway. I also did not notice a lot of smoke, so the winds must have been in our favor.

US-50 Day 6: Fallon, NV to Sacramento, CA

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Our Day 5 overnight stop in Fallon was fewer than 200 miles from the end of US-50, so we knew we would have no problem whatsoever meeting our goal. It all went by so fast! And even though the the drive had already climaxed, there was still some interesting stuff to see on the last day. For example, I had never seen Lake Tahoe before:

Hey, what are all those tall green things? It had been a few days since we had seen a legimitate forest. West of Carson City, the trees magically reappeared.

Lake Tahoe is, as we expected, a very touristy area. The Nevada/California state line was pretty much the exact opposite of the Nevada/Utah state line.

I can't know for sure whether or not Colorado did, in fact, have the largest state line welcome sign on the route. But I am pretty sure that California had the smallest sign.

Soon after entering California, we had to stop at an agricultural inspection station. Apparently, California doesn't like you bringing in certain types of produce from out of state. Why? From the California Department of Food and Agriculture:

California is free from many invasive insect, weed and disease species that wreck havoc on the agriculture and environments in other states and countries. This is largely because our State is surrounded by natural barriers — towering mountains to the north and east, scorching desert to the south, and vast ocean to the west. Most plant pests cannot cross these barriers on their own; however, the State is under constant threat of pest introductions by man. ... To reduce the number of pest introductions and subsequent infestations, California maintains a pest prevention system. A major part of this system is pest exclusion — inspecting commodities as they enter to prevent introductions. California’s Border Protection Stations (BPS) are the first line of defense in our pest exclusion efforts. At these stations, vehicles are inspected for commodities infested with invasive species.

Well, California...aren't you special? (Australia is far more restrictive, so I'm told.)

This area reminded me a lot of my previous visit to Northern California. (I wonder why?) California is a wacky state - almost certainly the wackiest of the 50 - but I have always liked Northern California. I could probably be happy living here if I didn't have to live in a big city.

The California portion of US-50 was very nice, although very busy.

Finally, I can't help but touch on this topic...

California's U.S. Highway signs look a little different than they do in other states. Now, I know what you're thinking. Who cares, right? Well, back in the day, Florida's U.S. Highway signs also looked a lot different: they were color-coded! It was awesome. Then, over the last 15 years, the colored signs went away in Florida, and now the signs look just like they do in most other states. BORING. Apparently, the federal government won't pay for new U.S. Highway signs unless they look like the boring standard ones, and Florida didn't want to pay for the colored signs themselves, so that was that. Meanwhile, you can still find special, "old school" U.S. Highway signs in California, which makes me a little bitter. (source)

As nice as the drive in California was, we knew this was California, so eventually the road would look like this:

US-50 officially ends at its intersection with I-80 west of downtown Sacramento. There is no "End US-50" sign here, or other indication that the we had reached the end of the 3,000-mile road we had begun driving on 127 hours earlier. Instead, the US-50 markers gradually disappeared, and we just had to know where the road officially ended. It wasn't very dramatic, in other words. So here's Sacramento...

...and that's that. US-50 is complete. Now what?

Well, we're in California, and we still haven't reached the Pacific Ocean, so we might as well keep going west, right? The second half of Day 6 seems to fit in better with the Day 7 post, so my next post will cover the rest of our California adventures.

Monday, September 14, 2009

US-50 Day 5: Fruita, CO to Fallon, NV

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This was the day I was looking forward to the most. Central Utah and Central Nevada. If you like "getting away", as we do, this is the place to be.

There aren't many roads in Central and Southern Utah, so US-50 follows the interstate (I-70) for the first half of Utah. Normally, interstate is boring, right? If we wanted to take interstates across the country, that's what we would have done, right? Fortunately, this stretch of I-70 is - in my opinion - the most scenic stretch of interstate in the country.

Most interstate highways were built parallel and adjacent to existing roads. But not I-70 in Utah. This was a brand new road, built where no paved roads had gone before. This means that aside from the beautiful scenery, there is a whole lot of nothing. For 190 miles from Fruita to Salina, there is exactly one town: Green River. Other than that, there is nothing. That means you better not run out of gas. If this wasn't an interstate highway and a major east-west road, this would be the Loneliest Road in America.

Once US-50 veered from the interstate, the scenery became more like what I would expect from Nevada - occasional mountains, accompanied by long, empty desert plains.

Who says you need to go to California to see wildfires?

I can only assume that was a wildfire and not a prescribed burn, though. I don't know for sure.

The stretch of US-50 from Delta, UT to the Nevada state line? Now that was empty.

Hardly any traffic, not much civilization. It was absolutely beautiful. And we hadn't even made it to the official "Loneliest Road" yet. To give you an idea of how desolate this area was, this might be the only Nevada state line crossing NOT accompanied by a giant casino.

In the distance, you can see a "Speed Limit 70" sign. Here's a close-up of a different sign:

A two-lane road with a speed limit of 70? You betcha. Utah wasn't far off, either (75 on the interstate, 65 off). So as you might expect, we booked it though Utah and Nevada. Utah is not a small state, but we got through it in 4 hours, 41 minutes, averaging 71 mph. And it's not like we were in a hurry, either. Far from it.

Now...about this "Loneliest Road in America" business. The moniker comes from a Life magazine article from July 1986. Life wasn't trying to be complementary of US-50 in Nevada - far from it, but the folks in Nevada decided to embrace the designation. This is not the only sign along the route proclaiming it as the "Loneliest Road in America".

It appears the "Loneliest Road" designation applies to the 300-mile stretch from Ely to Fallon, all of which we did that day. Has it earned its title? Well, in terms of scenery, this stretch looks like an even more desolate version of Utah. So, in that regard...yes.

On the other hand, there was actually more traffic on this stretch than there was on the Delta -> Ely stretch. Based on the traffic volume, I would not call this the Loneliest Road in America. Lonely? Yes. The absolute loneliest? Not quite. I guess that's what happens when you promote a road as "lonely". People will come. Then, it's not so lonely anymore.

Between Ely and Fallon, there is a grand total of two towns: Eureka, and Austin.

Austin has less than 500 residents; Eureka has just over 1,000. Neither town is that big, but boy, they sure do seem like it. Combine their desolate location with the fact that the speed limit goes down from 70 to 25 in both towns, and you get what may very well be the most dangerous speed traps in America. For anyone driving the "Loneliest Road", my number one tip is to slow down - a lot - for Eureka and Austin.

Here's a fun game to play on this road. How far away is that turn way up ahead? Two miles? Three miles? Five? Ten? (I don't remember the answer, unfortunately.)

Our stopping point for the night was Fallon. Fallon has its own Wal-Mart, thus signaling our re-entry into civilization. But we brought some reminders of the Loneliest Road with us.

I seriously think we took out several thousand bugs during our trip, at a minimum. Taking the road less traveled definitely results in a dirtier car. But that's okay - it's not our car!

While in Fallon, I took advantage of the opportunity to add to my collection of college hats, and added a Nevada Wolf Pack (two words) hat to my collection. Not to be confused with the NC State Wolfpack (one word), of course. Later in the trip, I added the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies to my collection.

Aside from the unexpectedly normal traffic volume in Nevada, Utah and Nevada did not disappoint. I really wish we could have spent more time here, especially in Utah. But I've already done two full-length Southern Utah vacations, and the priority was to go somewhere different on this trip, such as Central and Southern California. (Woohoo, I actually made a decent segway into the next post!)