Friday, June 27, 2014

Iconic Conifer

This guy was behind our parking spot in North Bend, Washington on our recent visit there. He and about a half dozen of his brothers stood sentinel. Very pretty.

When I think of the Northwest, I envision trees like this.

Well, without the colorful vignette and digital frame.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Seafood City, Seattle

After our recent delivery in Seattle, we stopped at a large mall to run a few errands. The usual  mall shops were present with an occasional surprise here and there, but when we came upon Seafood City, we had to go in and explore.

The store, which specializes in Filipino foodstuffs - and to a lesser extent, Asian, Mexican, and other ethnicities - impressed us. It's clean. Organized. Well stocked. The help are friendly.

First, the produce section. Among the fruits and vegetables we would see in our local grocery were specialties I'd never spotted before. There were apples that couldn't be mistaken for anything else, but looked completely different from apples I'd ever seen before. Banana leaves?? What are those used for? Eggplants in every color and size. String beans long enough to lasso a calf. I could have spent hours just taking pictures and notes in the produce section, but the produce guy was suspicious of me as it is.

Indian Bittermelon
Banana Blossom Tip

Then we moved on to the dry goods ...

Got Rice?
Choose Your Noodle
Stacked Cases of 1 lb Bags of MSG
Datu Puti (what??) Next to Bottled Lye Water
And my favorite:

Hello Kitty Roasted Seasoned Seaweed Bar

A seaweed brownie.

Really? People eat this stuff willingly? Without the threat of death if they don't??

And then, a fruit I thought I'd never see in person. One that dominates extreme eating food shows.

Durian?? God, why?

And slightly less disturbing:

Chicken "Feet"
Also known as Chicken "Paws" in the local Walmart Supercenter, as we discovered later.

And fnally, we discovered the Department of Fish.

Which provided half an hour of camera fun for me, a diehard Sopranos fan.

But as impressed as I was, it still isn't a Wegman's.

Terminally Bruised

This is why my blog posts are few and far between: our bed fell on my laptop. We have a full sized bed in the sleeper that folds up against the wall and reveals a two-person dinette. Each night, the bed is unlatched and carefully lowered. One night about a  month ago, this nighttime routine occurred as it does every night, but without the "carefully". My laptop was in the way of the bed and the effect was akin to halving a watermelon with a two by four. The damage is dead center and affects a full third of my screen, making any computer task pretty darned aggravating. 

What hurts even more is that I paid $350 to have the screen replaced just a few months ago. 

This laptop was doomed from the start. I splurged on the thing, spending almost three times what an everyday laptop would have cost. This model had the top of the line graphics card, super high resolution, and plenty of memory and storage I wanted to process digital photos. Not ten days after its purchase, it slid out the open door of the truck and struck the concrete with as much velocity as it could muster. The monitor was in considerably worse shape than it is now and was, in fact, unusable. After months of hauling it around and trying unsuccessfully to find someone who could replace the screen on the spot, I left it with Caleb. He managed the logistics of the replacement for me. That repair alone didn't revert it to perfect working order - its suicidal leap from the cab rumpled the SD card port (grrrr!) and rendered the touchpad completely stupid, doing things I didn't ask it to do and not doing things I did.

But it was usable. Until recently.

When I buy a replacement next week - a cheaper, less fancy model - this unlucky guy going to laptop heaven.

I hope I don't go crosseyed before then.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Final Two

We've now visited each of the lower 48 states!

It took 4 years, 4 months, and 10 days, but we finally visited the two remaining states, Montana and Washington. On Thursday, we accepted a load offer from Houston to Seattle. The Northwest isn't a busy area for expedited freight, so each load offered to this area has to be considered with a potential wait for a load back east, or a very long deadhead to a busier area. This job paid well enough to mitigate either possibility.

When we left Houston, the temps were in the 90s with 80% humidity. It was what my grandfather would have called "close". I have a different word for it that's not as gentlemanly. As much as I love Texas, I was glad to leave that weather behind. We spent Thursday night at the Winstar Casino and celebrated Steve's birthday with a nice dinner, a few cocktails, and the most fun one can have at losing hard-earned money.

Our route took us through Wichita. I've been pining for a Barn'rds roast beef sandwich for, oh, twenty two years now. My beloved foodie husband readily agreed to the detour. Some things have changed. They have a few more menu options, they no longer make their own lemonade, and the multigrain buns have been replaced with a classic smooth-topped bun that had the same heft and soaked up all those delicious roast juices like the original. The original owner was working the counter, and since we were there mid-afternoon, she had time to chat a bit. She was thrilled that I came back just for their sandwiches, and was just as thrilled when I told her they were exactly as I remembered them. After our late lunch, I ordered four more for the road. I suspect we'll be stopping there again in the future.

In Wyoming, we drove into a hailstorm from hell. The stones were big as a quarter and they just poured from the clouds above. Luckily, we came upon an overpass (there aren't many crossroads in the badlands of Wyoming) and parked until the storm passed. There were actual drifts of hail in the road. We have an a/c unit on the roof of the sleeper, as well as a satellite dish and several specialized antennas, none of which were built to stand up to a barrage of ice cubes, so the overpass was fortunate, indeed.

Our 47th state, Montanta, was a pleasant surprise. I knew the western third of the state is all Rockies, but I didn't expect such a beautiful combination of high plains and foothills for the remainder. It's gorgeous. I like it there far better than the more celebrated Colorado, Utah, and Idaho.

After a quick jaunt through the chimney of Idaho, we arrived in Washington. Frankly, eastern Washington state is pretty boring. Things picked up as we approached the Cascades, when signs for chain up laws and runaway truck ramps and references to The Pass started to appear: "Best Food This Side of the Pass!", "Sno Pass Truck Repair", "The Summit Restaurant and Lounge", "Weather Conditions for the Pass, call *555", "Tune radio to 1610 for Pass Weather". As we approached the notorious Snoqualmie Pass, the temperature outside was 35 degrees and it was raining.

Uh oh. Rain + Cold = Snow.

We've conquered many infamous mountain passes. The most harrowing was Loveland Pass, Colorado. Placarded hazmat loads are prevented from using the Interstate tunnels, so we had to use Loveland Pass west of Denver to cross the divide. It's two lane, with no shoulders, nearly twelve thousand feet above sea level, with abrupt dropoffs of thousands of feet and hairpin turns that will curdle your coffee, and all of this with a grade of nearly 7%. We've crossed it twice in the summer months and once, in winter, during a snowstorm.

Steve has never really recovered from THAT trip.

So with all the roadside hysteria on our approach to Snoqualmie Pass, I expected a road engineered by certifiably demented mountain goats. Instead, it was kind of wimpy at just over 3,000 feet. Even with a 5,000 pound load of sloshing poisonous substances, we made the climb easily.

Wha--? Why then, was there such a panic over this piddling little hill?

Because it gets more than 400 inches of snow a year, due to Pacific currents and other meteorological causes I couldn't care less about. Okay. If you get more than 400 inches of snow and you offer 6% highway grades, you win.

Plowing "The Pass" in a Past Winter

Either way, we're here and we're 48 states down.

As for the 48 state accomplishment, I may be able to talk Steve into taking a job to Alaska but driving to Hawaii isn't likely to happen. Stay tuned. :)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Larger Than Life

Despite being quite dead, Sam Houston is still a pretty popular guy in Texas. I'm always surprised by the number of people who stop and take pictures of this statue on I-45 -- unlike me, who shoots at 70 miles per hour through truck windows coated in road grime and splattered bugs.  There aren't too many attractions honoring people that might tempt me to park and get out of the truck.

But stopping just a mile up the road to gaze at Old Sparky and an acre of homemade shivs and other gruesome artifacts from Texas Prisons: is on my bucket list.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Quiero Un --- wait, what?

One of my most fervent aspirations is to become conversant in Latin American Spanish within the next couple of years.

I took three semesters of high school Spanish. Four decades ago. I'm not what you'd call 'good' at it.

So when I hear and understand a word or phrase in Spanish - or better yet, speak a word appropriately - I feel accomplished. Well, no, actually, I feel vindicated.

Growing up in the north woods of Maine, the vast majority of language students chose French. I suspect that being surrounded by French speaking Canadien provinces weighed heavily in their decision. I, however, chose Spanish because I had thoroughly researched immigration trending and knew without a doubt that the Latino population would explode in the coming years and I would need to be ready for it.

Well, no ... that's not true. I chose Spanish because  it was rumored to be easier to learn than French.

Finally, forty years later, that choice has begun to pay off.

Our business transactions over the past few years have brought us within inches - literally INCHES - of the US border with Mexico. Most residents we encounter within a couple of hours of the border are flawlessly fluent in both languages. I envy them deeply.

Once, at a truckstop in Laredo, the ladies' room suddenly got quite busy when a passenger bus from Tamaulipas stopped on its way north. A wizened little woman, at least three hundred years old, stood at the lavatory and, perplexed, tried a dozen different ways to get the automated soap machine to dispense soap. She was barely five feet tall, with her heavily greyed hair twisted into a bun, wearing a floral patterned dress and a loosely knit black sweater. I smiled at her and said "¡Mira!", and waved my hand under the dispenser. The soap thusly dispensed and the little woman smiled broadly. "Ah! ¡Gracias!!" she said.

I was so pleased with myself that I nearly floated back out to the parking lot.

Alternatively, I once greeted a cashier with "¿Cómo está?" and was immediately overwhelmed with a rapid-fire response that was obviously friendly, yet completely undecipherable. I smiled widely, nodded vigorously, and exited rapidly. And I never attempted a ¿Cómo está? again. 

This last Saturday morning, we visited a very busy nearby grocery to stock up on fresh produce. I danced and dodged my way though the throng of shoppers and collected an armful of guacamole ingredients. As I approached the spool of produce bags, an energetic young man of perhaps three years beat me to it. He chattered excitedly in Spanish to his mother and sister, a dozen feet away, as he swatted and pulled on the length of filmy plastic. He looked up at me as I approached, his dark eyes dancing with mischief as he continued to talk excitedly. I caught "quiero un" - "I want" - but absolutely nothing else after that. I pointed at the roll of bags. "¿Cuántos?I asked. "¿Uno? ¿Dos?" (how many? one? two?)

"¡Uno! ¡Si!" he replied, followed by more Spanish I couldn't begin to understand. His mother pushed her shopping cart over to us and laughed at his antics. As did I.

That little munchkin will never know he was my very first fully interactive bi-lingual conversation. I'm richer for meeting him, though, as he has motivated me to work harder at it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Frosted Toast

Mexicans have the best junk food. Especially their baked sweets. Visit any area with a sizable population of Latinos and every retail food outlet will have an abundance of sweet, chewy/crispy/spongy portions of goodness all wrapped up in shiny, colorful wrappers printed with words I can hardly pronounce:

On this trip to Texas, a new pastry caught my attention: Rebanadas. Frosted Toast.


I was compelled to try it.

Plain old white bread, toasted to a completely dry state. Two slices of the same, with a fairly thick, sweet, whipped filling not unlike the stuff inside Twinkies.

I broke one sandwich in half (the package contains two full sandwiches). I got a lapfull of crumbs and a rather unappetizing view of the shiny, almost metallic sheen of the filling therein.

Gawd, do I eat this?

I nibbled on the corner of the dried toast. It tasted like ...... toast.

I took a small nip of the center of the sandwich ...... dry toast enhanced with a rather tasteless whipped goo.

The remainder went in the trash. I think I'll limit my border junk food adventures to aguas frescas.


We delivered last Saturday morning to a consignee just outside of Charleston, South Carolina. This was one of those very rare deliveries that could be planned ahead - the majority of the time, we don't know where we'll be or when. Since our whereabouts could be predicted this time, though, we arranged to have all of our mail forwarded to a UPS store in North Charleston. A clerical screw-up at our Texarkana mailbox forced us to wait through the weekend, out of service. Well, we'd had a good week, so why not enjoy the weekend and see the sights in Charleston?

We got a hotel room (in my opinion, they're missing an enormous marketing opportunity by failing to advertise their hideous choices in lobby furniture) and rented a car. On Sunday morning, we found our way to the Charleston City Market - admittedly a tourist trap, but a very charming one. We browsed the market vendors, picked up a few Christmas presents, then decided the best way to see this historic section of the city would be from one of the many horse-drawn carriages.

Our last stop was the Circular Congregational Church, directly across the street from the lot where we parked:

We managed a brief stroll through the church's graveyard before the gates were locked at 6 pm. Even that quick, unorganized jaunt resulted in sighting several 250 year old headstones.

Breakfast the next morning was at the Hominy Grill, a newish venue that is damn near as famous as the White House. We ordered two of the breakfast entrees that made them famous - Shrimp & Grits and the Charleston Nasty. Both were so good, I didn't stop snarfing long enough to snap a pic. I did catch a shot of the simple-yet-adorable table arrangements:

We finished with an order of the Chocolate Pudding - designated as The Best Thing I Ever Ate by Alton Brown:

And I concur. With every fiber in my being. Best. Ever.

I not only bought a cookbook (sorry, no chance in HELL it's going to be a xmas giveaway; I'm keeping it for myself), but I fell in love with the strong flavor of their unsweetened tea and persuaded the head waitress to sell me a pound and a half of bulk tea leaves. FTW!

Charleston is a very charming city. I'd love to go back someday and spend more time and money.

But just how much time and money will be determined by the number of references I encounter referring to Yankees and Northern Aggressors.

It was over 150 years ago. Get over it already.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mexican Cookies

I can't resist these rich little shortbread cookies. They're like tender, sweet, sugary little hugs. The Laredo TA sells them along with a handful of other varieties, but I go straight for these.

I don't get the translation, though. "Fallen Leaves"? That kinda kills my appetite.

Wait, maybe that's a good thing.

The best part of being back in Texas:

Spotted on the Road:

A slightly newer version of  Cousin Eddie's RV

Doswell, Virginia

Discovered tucked away in the corner of a parking lot of a family owned truckstop: the sweetest, littlest church I've ever seen:

Gator Spotting

As many times as we've crossed the Atchafalaya Basin, we've yet to spot an alligator.

That doesn't stop us from gaping and gawking each and every time, however.