- Where We Started: Pleasanton, Calif.
- Where We Ended: Pleasanton, Calif.
- Miles Driven: 107 (11,857 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 19 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
The FHMA quartet spent the past two days in the Bay Area catching up with family and friends, so there wasn't much sightseeing to speak if, unless you count going over the Dumbarton Bridge about 10 times. So we're combining Sunday and Monday into one entry, as we get ready to hit the road again today.
Good news on the dog front: Fred's paw is improving steadily, and Saturday's beagle brawl seems to have been forgotten, as the dogs have resumed socializing with each other. The humans are also doing well, as we both got a lot of sleep the past two nights. And the car is back to its normal self, and even now has this wacky thing in the trunk called a jack. I hear they can come in handy at times.
Because everyone and everything is now either rested and/or repaired, that doesn't leave me with a hell of a lot to write about.
But there is one thing I've had on the back burner for a while, and that's an answer to the questions some of you have asked about how we packed for this trip and how we handle the almost daily move from one hotel to another. First off, here's a photo of everything we normally bring into a hotel room.
What you may notice from the photo is that there are no huge bags. One of the major learnings from the 2003 trip was to travel light. On that trip, we had a huge suitcase that we had to lug out of the trunk and into the hotel room every night. This time, Joan had the excellent idea to use that huge suitcase as a staging area instead. So, while we still have the huge suitcase, Joan now pulls the clothes we'll need for the next day out of it, and puts them in a small bag she brings into the hotel room. This saves my back and makes us much nimbler.
This army-of-small-bags approach has worked extremely well for us. The only exception has been when we've checked into nice hotels and the bellman wheels the cart loaded with these small bags through the lobby. Undoubtedly, the other guests are wondering what contest we won to be able to stay there.
So what is in all these bags? You can see the scale and the two atlases (I have two because one has all the info from our 2003 trip), so I won't cover those here. Here's a quick summary of everything else:
- Blue carry bag (back right): This is the bag where Joan throws our clothes for the next day, and also carries important accessories like our power strip, Joan's hair dryer and our toiletries.
- Black computer bag (middle right): This is where I keep my Mac and all the power cords for the many electronic accessories we've brought along, per our post earlier this month about trip technology. I also keep some books and assorted professional files in there as well.
- Orange and black bag (back center): This is Joan's computer bag, which also includes all of her power cords and her backup cameras.
- Light blue bag (behind the scale): This holds books and magazines in case I have time for some leisure reading. Needless to say, I have not cracked that bag much, and often don't bother bringing it in the hotel room at all.
- Black knapsack (the 2003 atlas is on top of it): This is the dogs' bag. It has their food, treats, toys, drugs, etc. This is the bag Hank sniffs around all day long in the hotel room, waiting for it to magically open itself.
- Laundry bag (back left): This one is relatively self-explanatory. It's also the bag that, when being wheeled into the Four Seasons on a luggage cart, seems to generate the most stares from other guests. And why not? With that bag, we're just a bottle of Old Spice away from the perfect sailor-in-port image.
- Small black bag (under newer atlas): This is Joan's "purse," holding basic daily necessities like tissues. Although apparently not frequently used for this purpose, it can also hold money for tolls and water for dogs.
- Big black bag (front left): This is where we keep all our travel books for trip research. Inside the bag, the books are organized in a flat filing cabinet. I keep this bag behind the driver's seat in the car, and I can just take the whole bag out of the car and put it back in without having to pack and unpack the books at every stop.
It should be noted that we've managed to go down a bag since the start of the trip, as I used to bring in a second bag with even more books and magazines. It became clear early in the trip that I wasn't keeping up with my magazine reading, so I started tossing them when they got stale (which, in the Web world, means after about a day). Also, once I had all my fantasy baseball drafts, I was able to rid myself of all the preseason baseball magazines I had brought. The end result: One less bag.
What normally doesn't make it into the hotel room but eats up room in the car?
- The big suitcase I mentioned earlier.
- The backup toiletry case, which carries refills of basic supplies.
- The dog beds and pillows, since the dogs prefer being in the hotel room bed anyway.
- All the emergency car supplies (i.e. flares, jumper cables, motor oil, etc). Yes, and a jack.
- A small bag of non-perishable food in case of emergency or major hunger. This includes Saltines, almonds, water, etc.
- Two soft cooler bags, where we can store extra dog food.
All in all, we've settled into a good rhythm in terms of unloading luggage into the hotel room, getting the hotel room organized and then repacking the car.
FHMA PROGRAMMING NOTE
The result would be “Frank and Hank Mark America,” an addictive daily chronicle of Jim and Joan Brady’s cross-country journey with their beagles (Fred and Hank). Jim is the former editor of Washingtonpost.com; Joan is a very talented photographer and foster care activist who serves as a perfect complement to her husband."
We're always glad when FHMA can get some blog love, so thanks to Chris and Dan (and Mark).
- Joan's began her Monday with an appearance in Castro Valley, Calif., before the third-grade class of an old college friend, Polly Altrocchi Clark. Dusting off some rusty PowerPoint skills on Sunday night, Joan put together a slide show of photos of the dogs at national monuments, parks and other educational sites. She reported that the kids were adorable, and that they had lots of questions and comments. In an attempt to make this as educational as possible, Joan discussed the consequences of bad judgment, i.e. bringing no water for the dogs (or money) on a long walk to Disneyland, bringing no tire jack on a cross-country car trip, etc. She also discussed the importance of helping people in need -- a recent theme of ours, obviously. The kids chimed in with lots of their own examples. Unfortunately, three of the kids in the class were allergic to dogs, so Fred and Hank couldn't join us in the classroom. But after Joan finished the slide show, Fred and Hank met the kids outside -- with the poor trio of allergic kids mournfully standing off to the side. Polly's attempt to let only one child play with the dogs at once proved fruitless, and quickly, the pack mentality won out and the kids swarmed the dogs. Fred -- who seems to feel safest when lying down on his side -- dropped to the ground so that the kids could pet him. Hank sat patiently and happily accepted the kids' adulation.
- Because we had competing appointments on Monday, we rented a car from Avis, and split up for most of the day. Now, as I just mentioned earlier, Joan has come under heavy fire -- most notably from my parents -- about her adventure back in Anaheim, where she wandered down Harbor Boulevard in hot weather without bringing water or money, all in order to get a picture of the dogs in front of what turned out not to be the main entrance at Disneyland. As my mother good-naturedly asked, "How much room can a $20 bill take up?" Well, Joan had a similar adventure on Monday. As she was crossing the Dumbarton Bridge, she realized she had no money. Figuring that the toll-booth collector probably would find that unacceptable, she decided to use the extra-pathetic approach she usually saves for cops who have pulled her over. Joan told him that she had some change. He asked how much. With the line of cars undoubtedly piling up behind her, Joan counted out exactly $1.99. Since that wasn't the $4 she needed, the toll-booth collector told her she had two options: turn around and go back from whence she came, or mail in $29 at a later date. Joan's response was to make small talk, and although she won't admit it, she knew this meant the toll-booth line would keep getting longer and longer. In toll-booth standoffs like these, the power of the deadbeat in the car increases every moment they're blocking a lane. Finally, the toll guy pulled $2 from an unknown location, declared the negotiation over and sent Joan on her way. Epilogue: When Joan reached her destination, she found $3 in her wallet.
- We had dinner on Monday night with our friends Bill and Jennifer Youstra, but before we headed out, we met at their home in Portola Valley to have a drink. While Joan was begging her way out of tolls, I was trying to make it there from San Francisco, and running into significant problems, both because of traffic and human error. When I arrived, the hunt had begun for a missing Hank. The dogs had been exploring the Youstras' beautiful home since their arrival, but only Fred had returned to hang out with the humans in the kitchen. A full search soon commenced, with Bill, Jennifer, Joan, me and two of the Youstras' children fanning out. After 10 minutes, still no Hank. A mild panic was starting to set in, but only a mild one, since the Youstras' backyard is fenced in. Finally, I spotted a door ajar in a back room. I went out and called Hank's name, but heard nothing, and after a minute or two, went back inside. Joan then came in, and while we were standing there discussing where to look next, Hank wandered up to the door. Apparently, he'd gotten out, the door had closed behind him and he'd spent a while trying to figure out how to get back into the house. While Hank was probably freaked out, we were never really worried. Young Hank seems well aware of how lucky he is; he ain't going anywhere. This marked the second time on the trip that one of the beagles had locked themselves in or out of a facility. While we were visiting our friends Caroline Little and Dan Burton in Santa Fe, N.M., a nosy Fred managed to get into a back bathroom, only to have the door close behind him. After we realized we hadn't seen Fred for a while, we started looking for him. After turning up nothing, we heard a pathetic bark from a far room, and found him trapped in the bathroom.
- The dogs actually got a fair amount of exercise the past few days, as we brought them to the homes of friends and family, giving them some coveted off-leash time. The one place we couldn't let them off leash was when we went to visit Joan's cousins, aunt and uncle at a Little League baseball game in Oakland on Sunday. They were generally well-behaved at the game, but soon after it ended, a full tray of chocolate-chip cookies was laid out for the players, about 10 feet away. This event led to the day's best workout for Joan and me. If you've ever tried to hold back a beagle who is 10 feet away from food it desperately wants, you'll know what I mean. Suddenly, 32 pounds feels like 320. So after we each did our requisite 100 beagle pulls, we decided that qualified as our exercise for the day. Bonus fun for the beagles: Joan's cousins, Rebecca and Zach, each took a dog for a run through the outfield. Soon, the dogs were back in the car, visions of chocolate-chip cookies taunting them all the way back to the hotel.
- The music report will return tomorrow.
MEAL REPORT (SUNDAY)
- Lunch: Gyros Gyros, Palo Alto, Calif.: Because I was trying to get caught up on the blog Sunday morning, Joan ran out and grabbed some take-out. I went with the gyro and some hummus and pita bread. Joan had a falafel and some baklava, which she thought was fine but nothing to write home about. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5). The hummus and pita was not helpful to the cause, but the gyro itself wasn't bad. Restaurant Rating: 3 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). Not a memorable place, but perfectly fine.
- Dinner: Mark & Lena Wohlfarth's, Oakland, Calif.: We had dinner at the home of one of my college friends, Mark Wohlfarth, and it was wonderful to have a delicious home-cooked meal. His wife, Lena, made veal chops, a potato and zucchini salad, garden salad and asparagus. For dessert, we had chocolate lava cake. Mmmm. The irony of the trip: We don't rate meals at friends' homes, since people already get stressed out about having the restaurants they choose rated in this blog. But every home-cooked meal we've had has been amazing. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). In addition to being delicious, the meal -- besides the cake -- was quite healthy.
MEAL REPORT (MONDAY)
- Lunch: Red Robin, Pleasanton, Calif.: After Joan spoke at her class, we had a quick lunch before I headed down to Silicon Valley. So we met at a Red Robin, where I got a bacon burger and fries, and helped Joan with her onion rings. It was all excellent, and will undoubtedly be a key factor in the heart attack I have in 2013. Joan had only a cup of chili as a main course so she could rationalize the onion rings. Jim Nutrition Rating: 0 stars (out of 5). There is absolutely nothing I can point to here that would even merit a half-star. It was ugly. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). Red Robin really does make excellent burgers, and this one was no exception.
- Dinner: Left Bank Brasserie, Menlo Park, Calif.: After we recovered a wandering Hank, we went out for dinner with the Youstras. We walked into this place right before closing time, and could see the kitchen staff looking out, all but begging the host to not seat us, but alas, he did. We were slightly worried the kitchen staffers would exact revenge for us keeping them there longer -- and, the truth is, we'd never know if they did -- but the food was very good. I got French onion soup to start, and the chilled seafood platter for the main course, and both were very good. Joan had a Nicoise salad with Ahi tuna that was also good. Jim Nutrition Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). The soup wasn't a healthy choice, but you can't do much better than chilled seafood as a main course. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- Weigh-In Update: No, I have not forgotten the fact I promised to weigh in twice a week. Frankly, I was a little worried to get back on the scale. So imagine my surprise when I got on the scale on Tuesday morning to see that I was at 248 pounds. Yes, peanut gallery, that would be two less than the last time I weighed myself, and leaves me exactly where I started this trip. Hey, I'm stunned too, but what possible reason would I -- after openly discussing how much I weigh and how crappy I'm eating -- lie about this? How, you ask incredulously, could this be? I really think it's because we're not snacking in the car, we're getting a decent amount of exercise in our travels and I'm not drinking much beer at all. I deserve no pats on the back for merely maintaining my weight, but I am surprised to be able to say I have.
- Best Western Pleasanton Inn, Pleasanton, Calif.: This hotel, while certainly not as nice as the Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto, is a totally serviceable hotel that was in the middle of where we had social and professional commitments over the past few days. It also recently was remodeled. Hotel rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5). It was only dinged because the room smelled smoky. That's not the hotel's fault, mind you, but since Joan hates the smell of smoke (unless it's coming from a washer or dryer), it did impact the visit.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO