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comfort food at the goody goody diner ~ st. louis, missouri

while we were passing through missouri, we followed the interweb’s advice and went to have breakfast at one of the st. louis’ landmark eating establishments, connelly’s goody goody cafe . we pulled up to the restaurant on a hot, muggy mid-morning and were surprised by two things: 1) the location. 2) the size of the crowd.

for against a patchwork background of decaying industry, struggling businesses and post WW2 tract houses, as unexpected and as incongruous as a giant toadstool, sat the goody goody. its parking lot was full, the surrounding streets were lined with cars. and when we walked in, we were confronted by the sight of a small foyer jam-packed with folks waiting for a seat and a dining area overflowing with good vibes. my first thought was, wow, i bet this is going to be good!

goody goody is one of those rare and happy places that cater to people of every race, color, creed, sexual orientation and credit rating. having spent months in many places where i felt like the only brown person within a hundred mile radius (hello northern idaho!), entering a room chock-a-block full of this much diversity always makes me happy. add to that a menu featuring chicken and waffles, greek omelettes, and something called a hobo bowl, and you’re pretty darn close to diner-style ecstasy.

i had the spinach and cheese omelet with rice (instead of hash browns or grits), a biscuit (instead of toast or pancakes), and a side of sausage gravy. i would have posted a picture of this delicious meal, but in the excitement of its arrival, i lost all composure and devoured it in a way that would have made mazy proud.

the following audio offers a sample of goody goody’s happy clamor. we were seated between two young african-american women discussing their love lifes (one was beginning to wonder if the dude she was pursuing might actually be gay) and a group of middle-aged folks exchanging office gossip.

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lincoln home national historic site, springfield illinois ~ 09jul10

SPRINGFIELD, SPRINGFIELD IT’S A HELL OF A TOWN

the state of illinois is home to one, count ‘em, one national park site: the lincoln home national historic site in the state’s capitol, springfield. luckily for us, this place was not too far off of the highways we were following in a mad rush to make it first to michigan to drop mazy off with my sister, and then to chicago to celebrate the birthdays of two of my nearest and dearest.

in fact, we were in such a rush that when we first saw the signs announcing the lincoln home historic area my first inclination was to demur. it was only when i checked my national park passport and realized this was perhaps my only chance to get the single stamp offered by the entire state of illinois that i faltered. we are witnessing, after all, the historic obama presidency, a presidency that has strong connections both to illinois and to abraham lincoln, and what better time to take a moment and reflect on the man that president obama so clearly admires?

we pulled into a shaded parking lot on a quintessential mid-western summer day: glowering sun shepherding slow-moving clouds in a sky pale with humidity. i ran into the visitors center to get my passport stamp…and then proceeded to get sucked in by the various displays, historical models and movies scattered about the place.

before we knew it, hours had passed. we visited the dean house and the arnold house (the only two buildings you can visit without the presence of a tour guide), encountered the lincoln troubadors (listen to the audio clip if you want to hear their rendition of a familiar classic), and watched a short documentary about lincoln’s train trip from springfield to washington d.c. at the great western depot.

we had intended to arrive at my sister’s place at a reasonable hour, not only to spend some time catching up with her and (her husband) tim, but also to get mazy settled in and to pack our bags for our early morning train trip to chicago. instead, we arrived at 12:30am to find the doors locked and the windows dark. we spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get into the building. we finally got to bed at around 2 in the morning, exhausted and heat-stoned. i blame barack obama.

this audio clip contains a couple of excerpts from the cell phone tour offered at the lincoln home site and a song performed by the above mentioned lincoln troubadors. enjoy!

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canyonlands national park ~ southern utah


DEATH BY NEEDLES

if you want to skip ahead, there is a slideshow and an audio recording of tim talking about why he loves the needles district of canyonlands national park with such intensity. however, if you are willing to wait, and you want to read the story of how tim and i almost lost our lives in this unbelievably beautiful corner of the world, continue on.

the first big trip that tim and i took was in 2006. we caught amtrak’s lakeshore limited from springfield to chicago. we got off the train long enough to have a quick lunch with my chicago besties, wenner, freddie and m, and then we boarded the southwest chief and headed down towards albuquerque.

anyway, it was a long trip and very eventful. (ask tim about his relationship with our traincar attendant and why it was so awkward…seriously it’s worth it). after many adventures involving a tiny hyundai that we got from alamo rental and my first introduction to tim’s sister katja, we found ourselves entering canyonlands national park . what with all of our dilly-dallying in moab, we got a much later start than we had intended. still, it was a beautiful day, sunny and brisk, and we were very excited to be out on the trail.

you should know that it was march, and that winter still had a firm grip on the canyonlands. with the full sun pouring down on us, it was very comfortable for hiking, but in the slot canyons or in the shade, the air was brisk, edged with cold. we hiked up through the first pass and entered elephant canyon. a barely believable landscape passed around us; red sandstone spires giving way to wide sage-dotted plains, twisted bodies of junipers, and bright porcelain sky. we followed the dry bed of elephant creek, stair-stepping on god-sized risers of perfectly formed granite. and then we arrived at druid arch . for those of you who followed that link, i know, right? it’s beautiful! supposedly, it’s called druid arch because it looks like a celtic rune.

tim and i hung out at the arch for a good long while, taking photos and exploring the nooks and crannies along the canyon. then we continued on, making our way slowly to chesler park. we stopped at a grand overlook and ate our meager picnic lunch. we watched the sun began to settle towards the horizon. when we consulted the map, a slow horror began to creep into our consciousness. we had an 8-mile hike back to the parking lot and about 2 hours of sunlight to do it. this, through fairly demanding terrain, the path trailing up and around sandstone spires, disappearing into slot canyons, and climbing from the desert floor up through layers of geologic time. we checked our daypack and discovered that we only had one headlamp. the layers that we had brought along, which had felt so substantial in the noonday sun, began to feel meager and thin. we had no emergency blanket, no more food, and not a whole lot of water.

our pace quickened. the sun’s rays began to diffuse behind a layer of purple clouds crowding the horizon. darkness spread, swallowing the shadows like a rising tide. we decided to hike as long as possible without the aid of the headlamp. we had no idea how long the batteries would last and once we started relying on its light, we would be fully dependent on it. in the azure light of dusk, the path remained barely visible in our sensitized retinae; a pale ribbon twisting between the variegated darkness of plant life and cryptobiotic soil.

as if toying with us, the sky began to spit down a cold rain. lightning played on the horizon, illuminating what looked like a massive storm front heading towards us. my adrenaline addled mind began to frantically pursue possible outcomes. would we survive if we were forced to spend the night out in the wilds? would hypothermia claim us? would sharing body heat be sufficient? would anyone know we were still out here, scared and rushing heedlessly through the darkness?

eventually, the trail led us onto an undulating rock floor and then disappeared in its constant, monochrome surface. from here, our only guides were tiny, widely spaced cairns that stitched their way through a landscape made treacherous by sudden dropoffs and unexpected chasms. in the failing light, the cairns were all but invisible. we stumbled on, terrified of losing our way. the cold rain intensified. we turned on the headlamp and began casting about in the darkness, searching for the trail markers. when one of us couldn’t find the next one, the other would take the lead. slowly, in this staggering, frightened way, we continued on.

my memory began playing tricks on me. were we going in circles? had we rejoined the path that first led us into elephant canyon? finally, just as i was about to suggest that we stop and try to find a place to shelter for the night, we crested a low rise. tim shone the headlamp into the blankness ahead and uttered a cry of relief. he had seen the hyundai’s reflectors shining in the lamp’s pale beam. we had made it back to the parking lot!

giddy with relief, we hurried to the car and got in. somehow, the simple act of closing the doors made us feel safer. we hugged and high-fived, congratulating ourselves on surviving the ordeal. the awareness of how tenuous our situation had been came crashing down. if we had begun to bicker or lay blame, if we had taken one wrong step, one of us could have twisted an ankle or fallen and broken a leg. or worse. we could have lost the path and ended up wandering aimlessly, searching for a path that wasn’t there. we could have been soaked by the coming rain and succumbed to exposure or hypothermia. giddiness was replaced by wonder. how had we escaped unscathed?

as we left the park, a strange, almost surreal series of events taught us the price of our survival. in the few miles separating our parking space from a generous bed and a comfortable night waiting for us in bluff, ut a total of 14 desert hares streaked out of the darkness and sacrificed themselves to the hyundai. by way of comparison, in the entire 1 year and 4 months of this endless road trip, we have killed exactly zero animals. that night, we killed 14; the last of which lay down in front of us just as we turned into the sleeping town of bluff; just as tim uttered the words, “well at least we aren’t going to kill any more rabbits.”

in this sad way, we learned how much the canyonlands required in order to spare our puny human lives.

our latest visit to the canyonlands was much less eventful. we enjoyed a beautiful day with pati and andy, marveled at the incredible beauty of this sublime landscape, and made it back to our campsite without injury or loss of animal life. the canyonlands had accepted our sacrifice.

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rino’s italian restaurant and lounge, trinidad colorado

the unknowable vol. 3

let’s say you’re on a road trip through the american southwest. it’s a beautiful early summer day and slow, enormous monsoon clouds drift ominously across the desert horizon trailing veils of rain and shedding lightning. rainbows approach, as curious and as skittish as prairie dogs. the sun begins to tilt towards the golden hours of evening and you decide to stop for dinner.

you cross the new mexico-colorado border and find yourself in a place called trinidad. it’s an old industrial town trying desperately to reinvent itself as a tourist destination, but happily, it hasn’t yet shed its rough edges and calloused grip. the downtown is struggling to hold on against the onslaught of big box stores; all new cafes and abandoned storefronts. the streets are made of bricks, each one stamped with the town’s name in all caps. teenagers are beginning the saturday night cruise, speakers leaking bass.

on a corner, across from a decaying funeral home, a strange building shines in the light of the setting sun. is it a church? a gothic home remodeled in victorian colors? neon lights blink on: rino’s restaurant and lounge. you can almost taste the cannoli waiting for you at the end of dinner. the decision is made.

you enter. once your eyes adjust, confusion gives way to wonder. it is an old church! a friendly african-american man brings you to a table, making small talk from start to finish. you sit and are handed a menu divided into 3 sections: pasta, chicken and seafood. it seems a little pricey, but hey, it’s a saturday night and from the smiling faces and the cheerful sounds of cutlery, the food promises to be down-home and delicious. you order the penne rustico and a glass of chianti.

you decide to do a little surreptitious exploring before the meal arrives. you follow the signs downstairs to the bathroom and to rino’s lounge. it’s empty and half-lit. a colorful bar lined with glasses sits waiting for the next rehearsal dinner or work party.

when you return to the dining room, it is filled with music. it takes you a moment to realize that it is not the radio, it’s a live musical performance. the man who greeted you upon entry, who asked if you had reservations and who seated you, is now singing lady, by lionel richie. you glance around, trying to puzzle out this strange occurence. you begin to identify tourists by the befuddlement on their faces. the locals are beaming, as happy as linguine with clam sauce.

over the course of your meal, several more musical numbers spontaneously combust. a white man who looks like a retired marine, nautical tattoos and all, sings my way . in italian. next, the entire staff — waitresses, busboys and all — joins in, providing harmony and backup. as it turns out, the ex-marine is frank, the owner of rino’s since 2002. between songs, he busses tables and takes orders. the coloratura soprano? that’s your waitress.

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the dessert list, alas, offers no cannoli. after all of the blood, sweat and tears shed in the effort to entertain, you don’t have the heart to complain. besides, you have the sneaking suspicion that if you did, frank might drag you into an alley and beat you with a pillowcase full of oranges.

you leave. trinidad remains unchanged. you, however, feel transformed.

natural bridges national monument ~ lake powell, utah

BURNING BRIDGES IN MORMON COUNTRY

in this audio clip, tim and i attempt to relate some of our experiences at the national bridges national monument. on listening, i realize that i can’t stop using the words “beautiful,” “amazing,” and “unbelievable.” sigh. before i record any more stories about our time in southern utah, i will have to consult a thesaurus. attempting to describe the sights and sounds at bryce canyon, kodachrome state park, and canyonlands will surely require the usage of similar concepts.

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